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The Deal With Dubya; I’ll Be Here in Spirit


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Jonah Goldberg

THE DEAL WITH DUBYA Yesterday was a huge day for NR Online. We typed up a quick story on Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of G. W. Bush and the Godfather of webnews, The Drudge Report, linked to it. He’s done that before, but the interest, timing, and exposure resulted in a stampede the likes of which hasn’t been seen since someone yelled, “The president took Viagra!” outside the White House intern pens.

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Our server crumbled, our Webmaster became a quivering mass of glue-sniffing fear, and NR Online is still stumbling around in the dark like Bill Clinton at Greg Norman’s house. Still we shall persevere.

A number of readers have quizzed me on why I don’t criticize G. W. more (though I certainly have criticized him: see the 5/27/99 and 7/3/99 G-Files). And in the wake of Rush’s comments I guess the question becomes more timely. Well, the answer has been mostly that I don’t find the guy very interesting. I’ve basically been taking the Letterman approach — wait and see if this guy turns out to be a boob.

This sounds like a copout, I know, but describing George W. Bush is like doing origami with mittens on. The standard criticism on the right is that he is slick like Willie. But he really isn’t. In 1992, Clinton’s slickness was derived from the fact that he made everybody think that he was just telling the other guys what they wanted to hear, but when he spoke to you it was the real him talking. In this sense his lying nature helped him.

So far, Bush seems to be what he is: a transplanted East Coast Republican who may have found God but hasn’t really found real conservatism. This is the opposite in some ways of Steve Forbes, who’s found conservatism but seems to be playing at finding God.

Bush’s criticism of congressional Republicans didn’t bother me much because these guys are boobs. Individually they’re not too boobish but collectively they seem like they should all arrive at the Capitol in a clown car. When someone can explain to me how the census can fall under emergency spending, I’ll change my mind about them.

One sure sign of their boobishness is the denial they are living in about Bush. Because G.W. started saying nice things about the Congress, they think the criticism just a day before was meaningless. My colleague (my superior, really) Kate O’Beirne compares this to spousal-abuse syndrome. The Republicans think that Bush really loves them because after the beating he brings them flowers. I think it’s more like disciplining a dog. If you do it right, you only need to whap them on the nose with a newspaper once or twice and then the rest of the time you can toss them treats. But either way you can count on the House Republicans getting off the furniture every time they’re told.

But as for Bush, I for one don’t find anything objectionable with the idea that conservatives have become too dour. The entire Republican party should belly up to the bran bar. Most of the conservatives I know have far better senses of humor than most of the liberals I know. But at the national level, we’re only marginally funnier than Sheila Jackson Lee with a migraine.

The danger, of course, is that Bush’s “compassion” and all his talk about “solving problems” is really just a cover for Nelson Rockefeller me-too Republicanism. It’s just too soon to tell. What’s not too soon to tell is that the guy is profoundly cocky in a way that makes complete sense if you think about it. His noblesse oblige is on Texas-style steroids. And keep in mind that if he’s elected over the objections of the real Right, he’d be the first Republican president since Ford wholly unbeholden to the conservative wing of his party. If he turns out to be a Rockefeller Republican then 2000 will go down in history as the dawn of the conservative movement’s decline.

Rush Limbaugh was right: “Who wants a moderate Republican for president?”

On Bush’s bashing of social conservatives, to be perfectly honest, I find virtually all of the mainstream analysis about this to be both exactly right and overwhelmingly dull. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what he’s doing. And, if it enrages social conservatives they should stop supporting him — which they do now in huge numbers. Indeed, in a purely Machiavellian sense, social conservatives would be better off picking another moderate-but-acceptable Republican, say John McCain, who at least couldn’t get elected without help from the Right.

THE PROBLEM SOLVERS Yesterday, Maggie Thatcher attended a Conservative Party conference, “We are quite the best country in Europe,” she declared. “In my lifetime all the problems have come from mainland Europe, and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world.”

This is, of course, true. The Germans (Nazism), the Russians (Communism), the Italians (fascism), the Spanish (fascism), the French (socialism, surrenderism,) have taken their turns trying to screw up Western civilization. And not just with bad politics, but bad thinking (See Monday’s G-File).

But that’s not really my point. Instead, it’s the benefit of blunt speaking. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mail lately from readers who are convinced that I’ve “lost my edge.” They’ve informed me that the point of the Goldberg File has always been and should be now, “Clinton-bashing and exposing jackasses.” Mocking the French is fine because they, en masse, fall into the latter category. Gore, Hillary, Blumenthal, etc., fall into both categories.

This handful of critics — who have been longtime G-File readers — believe that I have become too “establishment,” or more generally “too soft.” Now anybody who has seen me roll out of a restaurant booth or sweat like Alec Baldwin taking his SATs, knows that I’m getting soft. Liposuctionists stop in traffic to give me their cards. But I take it they mean a different kind of soft. They suggest that my columns denouncing Pat Buchanan and damning Jesse Ventura with faint praise are examples of … what? Thinly veiled attempts to get a job in the Bush administration? Or maybe a gig as the guy who hands out the tinfoil headsets at the Reform party convention?

One mouth-breather responded to my announced vacation in November that a real “subversive” would never take a vacation. Well, who said I wanted to be a subversive? I don’t particularly like people who call themselves subversives. That’s the talk of dorm-room revolutionaries, lava-lamp intellectuals, and web-addicted wannabes. I love my country and I subscribe to a conservatism which distrusts political enthusiasm more than anything else. I think the phrase “political revolutionary” has been more often than not, synonymous with criminal or brigand rather than saint or hero. In my perfect world politics would be a passion for a very small number of people even if that meant nobody read what I scribbled.

Anyway, much of this is the price I pay for being the most accessible pundit around; whether I’ve lost my edge or whether I extend my pinky when I pound on my laptop is for others to decide. But there is a larger issue which is relevant to the topic of George W. Bush and how the Right behaves in the post-Clinton era. George W.’s triangulation and carefully crafted phrases and denials have invited many to compare the Texas governor to Bill Clinton. The right-wing chatterers constantly refer to him this way.

That’s not right and not for the injustice it does to Bush, but because of the compliment it pays to Clinton.

I really do think that Clinton was a malignancy introduced into our political system. We proud haters of Clinton or Clintonism (there is a difference between the two in the ranks) are akin to anti-bodies released by the national immune system. Well, Clinton is leaving the stage, thank God. It does not follow that we should see Clinton everywhere or in everything, like the mob in Salem looking for new witches.

He may have been our Moby Dick for a while, and Clinton too may be huge, white, and pasty, but we need not see him where he isn’t and we need not think that all issues require the passion and anger which he so richly deserved. It diminishes the perfidy of our current president to compare him to George Bush. Bush may be a creature incubated in a fraternity lab to the dulcet tones of “Louie, Louie.” He may be a sneaky and clever politician. But the republic has survived and thrived with sneaky and clever politicians. And whatever George Bush is, he is no Bill Clinton.

No, the greatest liar in American history is in a class by himself.

I’LL BE HERE IN SPIRIT One last thing: Many readers couldn’t get to the site yesterday because of the Drudge deluge. As I mentioned yesterday, I am going on vacation during the first week of November. I am planning to write a bunch of “evergreens” — columns that stand alone regardless of the headlines. If you’ve got any suggestions for topics, please send them to [email protected].


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