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The Coward’s Way Out
Clichés really send cold shivers down my spine.


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Jonah Goldberg

Clichés really stick in my craw. Normally, I play things pretty close to the vest, but if you use a cliché with me, you’ll be skating on thin ice, because clichés really send cold shivers down my spine. In fact if you step into the breach and open that whole can of worms with me it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I could go on until the cows come home, but unfortunately time waits for no man.

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Clichés in writing are always signs of laziness, which is why I have so many of them in this column. But there are also clichés in thinking which represent more than simply laziness, they are signs of intellectual cowardice.

The most annoying example for me is the old saw which says that “better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail.”

Who says?

This is constantly invoked as the height of wisdom. But by what calculus is it better that, say, ten murderers and rapists go free than have me go to jail for a crime I didn’t commit? To be sure, it would suck for me. But for the families of the people who were raped and murdered — not to mention the actual victims — my sacrifice might seem acceptable. Indeed, ask a moral man if he’d be willing to go to jail to prevent the barbaric deaths of ten innocent people. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Of course, we have to risk some number of innocent men going to jail in order to get the bad people into the bad-people place (also known as prison). But this “10 guilty men” cliché doesn’t even set the target number. All it says is that it would be better that ten guilty men go free, than one innocent dude going to the pokey. It’s silent on what the right number would be.

Indeed, why even mention “10″ guilty men? Why not a hundred? Or a thousand? Or, for that matter, 2 guilty men?

McDonald’s — and the Department of Agriculture — are willing to accept a certain number of parts-per-billion of rat fecal matter (mmmm, rat fecal matter) in its products. GM is willing to accept a rate of deaths per million for its cars. Why shouldn’t the Justice Department have a similar formula too? Surely, it’s not better that 10 million guilty men go free in order to keep one innocent man out of jail, just as it is surely wrong for 1 innocent man to go to jail for every two guilty ones.

In short, the whole phrase is a dodge designed for people who want to avoid hard or unpopular thinking. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember why I started writing about this. But it does remind me of something else.


BACK TO THE SOUTHERN THINGWhich brings me back to the South Carolina Flag. Last week I wrote an item for NR Online about how the Confederate flag should come down [Link defunct] over the State Capitol even though almost everybody who says so is being idiotic about it. We’ll get into the numerous arguments from readers who think I’m wrong another time, though I should say there is something about the Civil War that brings out the most thoughtful arguments from my readers (henceforth known as the rank and G-file).

Anyway, the one argument that I find absolutely absurd is the “It’s up to people of South Carolina to decide” schtick. This is a new formulation of an old dodge for politicians. Of course it’s up to the people of South Carolina to decide. So what?

Let’s be honest. If South Carolina announced it was going adopt a flat tax; privatize its schools; legalize drugs, or put a Pamela Anderson centerfold on the State Seal, Republican presidential candidates would not hesitate to sound off. The fact that Republicans are silent on this “state issue” but no other, makes the Left’s criticism more tenable.

I’m a big fan of federalism, states rights — all of that sweet, sweet, devolutionary stuff. Here are the issues that I think should be left to the Federal Government in a perfect world: war, diplomacy, monetary policy, immigration, antitrust enforcement, taxes, upholding the text of the Constitution, and um, I’m running out of stuff. Uh, maybe some space-type stuff? And maybe, er, like, um, no…I think I am fresh out, though I am sure someone will tell me what I forgot (and I’m sure even more of you will tell me I put too many in the list).

But if the definition of states rights is only going to mean what knee-jerk liberals think it means, i.e. sticking it to black people, than I don’t want anything to do with it. When “pro-Federalism” candidates bloviate freely on prayer in school and urban sprawl but feel that it is “not their place” to opine on tough race-related issues, I’ve got no use for ‘em.


OH, AND THAT THING ABOUT JESSE JACKSON… In Friday’s column I hinted that I wanted to write about Jesse Jackson’s new conspiracy theory. We’re running out of time here, so I’ll give it to ya quick. Jackson said in a speech last week that he believes American high schools have implemented “zero tolerance” policies on school violence in order to throw more black kids into prisons in order to feed “the prison-industrial complex.”

If you haven’t heard about the “prison-industrial complex” you haven’t been reading Mother Jones and the American Prospect enough. I hope you can live with that. Anyway, in my opinion, the “Prison Industrial Complex” is going to be the Next Big (Dumb) Idea of the Left. The essence of it is that America’s economy runs on the profits generated by the prison population. As you probably know, lots of inmates have jobs — telemarketing, broom manufacturing etc. The unions despise this because it lowers wages. The racialists hate it because they hate prisons.

Anyway, Jackson believes that schools with harsh, “zero-tolerance” policies don’t really care about the kids. Instead, they are part of a vast conspiracy to feed the “system” more young able-bodied black men to work in our prisons. He calls this the “Decatur Syndrome.”

(This is sort of like the Simpsons where principal Skinner and Mrs. Crabapple concocted their plan to eat all of the kids who got assigned to detention. Eventually, if you dropped a pencil you got served up for lunch. If you know what I’m talking about, you’re already laughing. If you’ve never seen it, I can’t make it funny for you. So I’m not gonna dwell here.)

Jackson says, “There’s a Decatur syndrome in America, which we must address. It started in Decatur; it will end at the United Nations.” I would make fun of this, I really would. But race is a tricky subject for humor and Jackson is so monstrously, hysterically ridiculous, I wouldn’t want to do anything that stepped on his message. But, I also need to leave room for the following:


AND FINALLY…Today is the last day of the month and NR Online is down in page impressions. Essentially, we need 50,000 more in the next six hours to reach our quota. If I don’t hit the numbers William F. Buckley will keelhaul me on his next sailing trip. I don’t even want to tell you what they’ll do to the webguy. Let’s just say you don’t want to know what he’ll be forced to type with from now on.

Alas, the only way to do this is for you people to continually hit your “re-load” and “refresh” buttons as much as possible. But if that is unacceptable, you can check out the newly revised Goldberg File Frequently Asked Questions sheet — with 17% more words and no more information. Or you can read Larry Kudlow’s latest column. Or you can read all of our dispatches from New Hampshire. Or you can troll through my archives. Or you can write a brilliant computer program that constantly racks up hits for our site. I don’t want to know what your methods are, I just want results.

And tomorrow, look for more exciting New Hampshire news.



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