EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including those of you who feel entitled to a jocular parenthetical statement every frick’n week),
Let me just say I’m in a foul mood.
But that’s not right.
First, I’m not weeping — that, I suspect, may come later — and my dyspepsia is only partly driven by Trump mania. Save for the joy my daughter and my dogs took from the massive snowstorm, this last week has been an unyielding ass ache. (By the way, when I am czar, I will make “assache” an acceptable one-word compound noun.)
One of the most annoying things about Acela-corridor journalism is the assumption that our weather stories — and any other events that inconvenience New Yorkers and Washingtonians — are somehow newsier than events elsewhere. If New York or D.C. had Chicago’s murder rate, we’d be hearing a lot more about the resurgence of crime in America. If roaming bands of wolverines were attacking nuns in Muncie, it’d hit the NBC Nightly News well after the story about an exciting breakthrough in catheter technology.
So I for one refuse to be part of that. However, the weather has contributed mightily to my Crom-like contempt for my fellow man. On Wednesday, while driving to get a $15 haircut, I more or less wrecked my car. I’m okay. The other driver is fine, and her car is fine. And no, the dingo wasn’t in the car.
Still, most expensive haircut I ever had.
Then there’s the literal back pain just north of the figurative assache that comes from shoveling snow days on end.
Then there’s the fact that D.C. handles snow about as well as Bernie Sanders handles questions about the Wu Tang Clan (“Mr. Sanders, how would you describe the totality of Ghostface Killah’s oeuvre?”).
Speaking of Sanders, some wag on Twitter noted that the best thing about the run on the grocery stores in blizzard-besieged D.C. is that it gave the Beltway crowd a sense of what it will be like under a Sanders administration. I don’t want to live under a socialist president, but a silver lining would be seeing all those MSNBC hosts waiting in line for toilet paper.
D.C.’s Collective-Action Problem
Part of the problem is that there’s a tragedy of the commons endemic to D.C. during its snow freak-outs. I’m not worried that we will starve to death in our home, our corpses eventually consumed by the cats (and the cats by the dogs). My wife is Alaskan. She can make six kinds of soup from snow.
But that is precisely the way many other Washingtonians think. And so they run to the supermarkets like the kids in Red Dawn and grab enough provisions to last them until spring. That leaves sane people with a dilemma: Do you run to the store, too, not out of fear of the snow, but out of concern that the deranged masses will clear the shelves?
Irritable Trump Syndrome
And then, of course, there’s Trump.
But before I get to him, I wonder if you caught what I did above. I said I didn’t want to indulge in Acela-corridor navel-gazing, and then I proceeded to spelunk into the very kind of Beltway omphaloskepsis I condemned.
I was, loosely speaking, flirting with apophasis there. Apophasis is a rhetorical device where you bring up something while denying or condemning it. (It shouldn’t be confused with aposiopesis, which is when you . . .)
EDITORIAL: Against Trump
For instance, you might say, “I do not think the fact that Hillary Clinton put our national security at risk just so she could hide her illegal communications from congressional oversight, journalists, and FOIA requests should be held against her.” Or you might say, “I have no doubt that Bill Clinton is telling the truth. Though I cannot for the life of me figure out why he was pantsless at 3:00 in the morning, trying to push that goat over the fence.”
Apophasis came up on Twitter the other day because Donald Trump tweeted: “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!”I was mildly surprised by the number of people who thought Trump’s tweet was clever. But I was truly stunned by the number of idiots who thought he wasn’t calling Megyn Kelly a bimbo. His whole shtick is that he’s a warrior against political correctness. He wasn’t invoking political correctness as a legitimate thing, he was sarcastically hiding behind it. People not enthralled with Trump recognize this as smarmy cowardice.
Indeed, they would see it plainly if I were to tweet, “I’m not going to call Donald Trump an adulterous cad. That would be politically incorrect. So I’ll just say he’s a moral lightweight!”
The difference of course is that there’s no evidence that Kelly is a bimbo. There’s ample evidence that Trump cheated on his wife and slept with many married women. What’s the evidence? His own, boastful (!) testimony for starters.
My favorite part is that Trump’s “bimbo” tweet came immediately after one in which he condemned Fox’s response to his debate boycott as a “disgrace.” He added, “Who would ever say something so nasty and dumb?”
Back to back tweets. pic.twitter.com/WKeWLcqGCP— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) January 27, 2016
The almost Caligulan narcissism on display here is now familiar to everyone. The truly creepy part is how many conservatives overlook it or celebrate it. The slightest insult to the Donald arouses outrage and dismay from his digital court sycophants, but when he behaves like a boorish and childish lout, all praise and honor is due!
PC vs. Manners
But, as I hope to say one day with more lasting results, enough about Donald.
This does raise a point I always try to make when talking to campus conservatives. Rudeness and crudeness are un-PC, but that alone isn’t a defense of rudeness and crudeness. (I made precisely this point back in August about you-know-who.)
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Note: Good manners, funnily enough, are sometimes un-PC, too. For instance, I hold doors open for women and try to remember to stand up whenever a woman enters the room. I’m not going to go look for examples, but I have every confidence that there are plenty of feminists out there who think this is some kind of outrage.
But what too many people forget is that on a Venn diagram, PC and good manners do overlap to a limited extent. Yes, huge swaths of political correctness amount to cultural-Marxist codswallop and other forms of leftist bullying. But some of it — just some — does have to do with figuring out how to show people respect. And that is exactly what good manners are all about: showing respect. And as someone who sincerely believes William F. Buckley was the most well-mannered man I’ve ever met, I’d hate to see conservatives defenestrate good manners in their indulgence of populist hysteria.
Look, I’m no absolutist in this regard. Not two minutes ago, I made a joke about a former president of the United States buggering a goat. There are any number of gray areas and subjective fine lines to be drawn. I hold writers — particularly of “news”letters like this one — to a different standard than presidential candidates. Comedians follow a different set of rules than pastors. I have different expectations for Boy Scout leaders than for pimps.
That so many people think such boorishness can be justified just because it’s an alleged knock against PC is just another sign of the metastasizing corruption of conservatism.
On Eugenics and White Privilege
The New Republic recently reviewed Thomas Leonard’s long-awaited Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. The reviewer, Malcolm Harris, wrote:
I was prompted to revisit the Scopes trial — which, like many Americans, I hadn’t thought about since an 11th grade history final — by a new book from Princeton scholar Thomas C. Leonard. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era is hard to classify politically. Conservatives can find a lot to like in Leonard’s research, and at times it feels like a serious, credentialed version of Jonah Goldberg’s screed Liberal Fascism. Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. But Leonard’s personal politics are hard to read, and at the very least he’s invested in progressivism, writing that it’s “too important to be left to hagiography and obloquy.”
As I noted in the Corner, I thought this potshot was kind of funny given that I relied on previous work by Leonard himself for much of my discussion of progressive economics and eugenics.
But there are a couple of other points to make. I thought this response to my post from Kevin Drum, whom I generally like, was intriguing and amusing. In a post titled “Enough With the Eugenics Already,” Drum writes:
Everybody needs a hobby, but this is sure an odd thing to keep obsessing about. Yes, many early progressives believed in eugenics. Modern liberals aren’t especially proud of this, but we don’t deny it either. There are ugly parts of everyone’s history.
So why go on and on about it? If it’s a professional historical field of study for you, sure. Go ahead. But in a political magazine? It might make sense if you’re investigating the roots of current beliefs, but eugenics died an unmourned death nearly a century ago. And no matter what you think of modern liberal views toward abortion or right-to-die laws, nobody can credibly argue that they’re rooted in anything but the opposite of eugenics. Early 20th century progressives supported eugenics out of a belief that it would improve society. Contemporary liberals support abortion rights and right-to-die laws out of a belief in individual rights that flowered in the 60s.
So what’s the deal? Is this supposed to be something that will cause the general public to turn against liberals? Or what? It really doesn’t make much sense.
There is so much one could say in response to this. So I’ll do it rapid-fire.
1. First, Drum is complaining about my talking about eugenics. He’s not complaining about Leonard or even Harris. That’s odd, given that I only brought it up in this context because of Harris’s dumb swipe at me. I also like the claim that I am “obsessing,” as if it’s somehow irrational or weird to care about this stuff. It’s funny how conservatives are so often accused of “obsessing” about things that are inconvenient to liberals. (See: Benghazi, Hillary’s server, Bill Clinton’s pants, etc.)
2. Drum says liberals don’t deny the eugenic roots of progressivism. This strikes me as, at best, a serious exaggeration. To the extent there’s any truth to it at all, it is a very recent development. When my book came out, the very facts that Drum suggests are widely accepted were treated as crackpot by many liberals, and ignored by the rest. Indeed, Leonard’s might be the first popular book to address the issue dead-on and in such detail. I don’t think waving it away as old news is fair.
3. I’ll leave it to Wes Smith and others to wade deeply into the highly contestable claim that modern liberals have no tolerance for eugenics. If Drum had said they reject the sort of racist eugenics that largely defined Progressive Era economic thought, I’d say he’d have firmer legs to stand on. But I don’t hear a lot of meaningful complaints from liberals about designer babies, sex-selective abortion, or the ongoing efforts to eradicate Down’s syndrome in utero.
4. The idea that progressivism’s deep roots in eugenics and race theory have no relevance today strikes me as just plain odd. For example, liberals still revere the Davis-Bacon Act, even though it was an explicitly racist law.
5. Drum’s claim rings particularly odd considering that today’s progressives routinely invoke the very same original progressives as their inspiration. When Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination in 2008, he held a rally at the University of Wisconsin, where he proclaimed, “Where better to affirm our ideals than here in Wisconsin, where a century ago the Progressive movement was born?” Is it really so ridiculous to point out that those very same original Wisconsin progressives wanted to keep people like Barack Obama out of the country, never mind the Oval Office?
6. As an intellectual matter alone, all this is worth discussing. For instance, the phrase “social Darwinism” continues to be thrown at the Right. But what people mean by social Darwinism was never a right-wing or conservative value. And the Hitlerite connotation of social Darwinism (which is the exact opposite of the libertarian connotation) far better describes a great many of the founding fathers of progressivism. For a more detailed discussion of this point, see my piece from that other magazine.
7. Another thing worth considering for liberals: What if those racist eugenicists at the University of Wisconsin were right? No, not about the racial-inferiority junk and all that. But what if they were right about the effects of, say, the minimum wage? They wanted a high minimum wage to make it difficult for minorities — black and Chinese workers — to get into the labor market. Shouldn’t liberals, who celebrate these progressives when it comes to their policy legacy on countless other fronts, contemplate the possibility that they were on to something?
If intellectual history matters for the Right, it has to matter for the Left, too.
8. This is a major personal peeve, but it’s also a serious point: Why are self-described progressives unburdened by their historical baggage but conservatives are shackled by theirs? If a Republican called himself a “modern Confederate,” liberals would rain hatred and scorn down upon him for associating with long-dead racists (and understandably so). But Hillary Clinton can freely call herself a “modern progressive” and she is immune from any charge that she is associating with long-dead racists. If intellectual history matters for the Right, it has to matter for the Left, too.
9. Relatedly, large swaths of the Left are in a frenzy to catalogue the historical roots of “white privilege.” If that project is only defensible when it inconveniences conservatives, then it is not a serious intellectual project at all. I think the “white privilege” stuff is wildly overdone and is often little more than a b.s. shakedown racket. But to the extent it’s serious, how can you ignore the deep roots the liberal welfare state has in explicit notions of white supremacy?
One last point. When Liberal Fascism came out and I was being attacked on all sides, I remember my editor saying something like:
“Look, everyone’s going to scream about this for a long time. Then, someday, maybe in ten years, a more ‘reasonable’ person will come along and concede about 80 percent of your argument and claim that ‘everyone knows’ that stuff.”
We’re not there yet, obviously. And maybe we never will be. But the recent mainstream liberal acceptance that Woodrow Wilson was a bad, bad guy can be traced directly back to Liberal Fascism. I’m not claiming all of the credit, of course. The Claremont gang and the folks at Reason, among others, were beating up on Wilson long before me. But the anti-Wilson argument went mainstream on the right because of Liberal Fascism (largely because Glenn Beck picked up on it).
Similarly, the notion that progressives were eugenicists was crazy talk ten years ago. Now, everyone knows it, nothing to see here, move along. I can’t wait to see what becomes old news next.
Various & Sundry
I suppose I should have said something about last night’s debate. But, frankly, I just wasn’t in the mood. My short take is that I think Cruz blew it, which I think is unfortunate if he’s the only one who can slow Trump’s march to victory in Iowa. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. Bush had a very good night, but I don’t think that matters very much. And Rubio helped himself enough that he may be on his way to at least a much better than expected finish. I will say I am delighted that the ratings for the debate crushed Trump’s event and disproved the Trumpian predictions. Already his defenders are moving the goalposts, saying it was the second-worst rated debate. Okay. It was also the sixth debate. I’ve always thought Trump helped the ratings, but his claims that it was all him were always ridiculous. The first undercard debate — in which he did not appear — got three times the ratings of debates in the 2012 cycle. Republicans were energized even before Trump got in. What Trump does deserve a lot of credit for is the fact Republicans are energized and divided like never before, as I wrote earlier this week.
Dingo Update: As I said above, the dogs are loving the snow — too much. When I take them to the park, it’s almost impossible to get them back in the car, and when I do manage it I have to use guile. “Oh look, a squirrel with a limp! Come look!” only works so often. One of the downsides of the storm is that it has exposed Pippa’s IQ as somewhat lower than I realized. She is perfectly content to “fetch” snowballs indefinitely. The fact that they disappear or disintegrate is no deterrence of any kind. More and more she is reminding me of Fredo from The Godfather. Sweet and gentle, sure. But there’s no Don Corleone in there. Sometimes she looks at me and I expect her to say, “I can handle things! I’m smart! Not dumb like everybody says!” We did have one nasty moment. The raccoons got into our garbage and scattered the remnants around the back porch. Pippa saw the remains of Chinese spare rib. But so did Zoë. The old expression “fighting like two dogs over a bone” isn’t exactly apposite, because Pippa can’t or won’t fight back. It’s the first time the Dingo showed any real aggression to the spaniel in months. She gave the poor girl a nasty bump on her snout. But fear not, all is well between them now.
Upcoming Events: I leave shortly for the FEE event in Florida. I’ll be back in Florida in March to speak at the James Madison Institute. Details here. And a few days after that, I’ll be at the Pacific Research Institute’s Baroness Thatcher Dinner (details here).