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The Year in Review
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Jonah Goldberg

Editor’s Note (I can write that because it’s a note from me, get it?): My apologies for the very long hiatus. Issues beyond mortal ken were at play. But as the Couch is my witness, NRO will never go dark again, at least not without a better explanation. Also, I should notify you that today’s is a very long column. So, you might want to go to the bathroom before you start it. On the other hand, it offers lots of opportunities to stop for a quick game of Tetris or Minesweeper before continuing on. See you tomorrow.

When I was in third grade, the teachers thought it would be a good idea for us to learn how to use a calculator. In the future, they reasoned, my generation would make a living like George Jetson, pushing buttons and asking our robot maids to do all of our chores (even though most of the chores on The Jetsons involved pushing other, presumably more onerous buttons. Anyway, calculators were the key to our bright futures and our first test on them was to compute how old we would be in the year 2000. I followed the instructions on my Texas Instruments calculator — which cost more than it would take to adopt several Sally Struthers kids in perpetuity — and discovered that in the year 2000 I would reach the outlandishly ancient age of 31, assuming I lived that long.

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Wow, I thought, that is old. Old enough to spend my own money on Dungeons and Dragons figures, comic books, and — dare to dream — Playboy. At the same time, I feared the world would either be so scientifically cold and sterile, like a libertarian’s marriage contract, or such a Hobbesian post-apocalyptic wasteland, like the inside of Alec Baldwin’s skull, that life wouldn’t be worth enjoying — defined by the ability to play dodge ball all day and night.

Well, now 2000 is over. I don’t have a robot maid, but I do make a living pushing buttons. Recently betrothed, I can easily afford D&D stuff and even Playboy, but I am hardly free (or that inclined) to buy them. The world is neither Hobbesian nor is it cold and sterile; instead it’s enjoying unprecedented peace and prosperity. But, these days, aside from being too busy, I’m so out of shape I sweat like a fat man eating tacos in a sauna at the mere thought of playing dodge ball. In short, some things turned out as expected but not the way I wanted them to, and other things turned out like I wanted, but not the way I expected. In short, it was a mixed bag of a year . . .

Cue squiggly melting screen flashback effect.

It was a time of great disappointment for some and not just because the Boy Band phenomenon hadn’t turned out to be a joke. The gang at MSNBC and the other cable networks were crestfallen that they would not become the Emergency Broadcast Channel of the Y2K computer-bug disaster. For the two months leading up to New Year’s, the networks spent their time saying responsible things like, “Up Next, News You Can Use: How to survive on puddle water and dog-hair croquettes while avoiding hyper-intelligent vending machines bent on world domination, mutant spleen-eating lab rats, and telepathic long-distance companies that can interrupt your dinner by bursting your brain. It’s a must-see if you want to avoid having your children sent to the Silicon mines and your womenfolk consigned to the breeder colonies.”

And a Child Saved Them
The disappointment over the fact that millions of old people survived when their respirators kept working didn’t last long though. Thank goodness for the Fourth Estate. A young boy’s mother died at sea while trying to find freedom in America. What a wonderful opportunity for the much maligned press corps and the left wing of the Democratic party to find their patriotism. And find it they did — 90 miles off the Florida coast.

Who knew that the Blame America First-ers were still here, thriving amongst us? Unlike the sleepers in the movie Telefon who needed to hear a line by Robot Frost, all these sedated sycophants of despotism needed to wake them up was the sight of a “spontaneous peoples’ demonstration” in a country that bans non-government-sponsored peoples’ demonstrations.

There was, of course, Jim Avila. Waving aside concerns about Elián’s reception in Cuba, Avila asked, “What is deprogramming? What is reeducation? . . . The school system in Cuba teaches that Communism is the way to succeed in life and it is the best system. Is that deprogramming or is that national heritage?”

In another report, Avila ridiculed the idea that Cubans were dissatisfied, saying some kind of “meat” was available “most” nights in Havana and at best only 20 percent of Cubans would leave the country if they could do so without being executed or imprisoned (for you civil libertarians concerned about the plight of “oppressed minorities” in the states — you know, all those people whose performance art isn’t sufficiently subsidized–that would translate into roughly the combined populations of Texas and California, or just about all American blacks and Hispanics combined being held within our shores at gunpoint).

Then there was the New York Post’s Douglas Montero. One can’t help but suspect that he has a Soloflex poster with Castro’s head airbrushed in hanging over his desk. Montero endlessly sang the praises of Fidel, a.k.a. “The Powerful Man.”

Katie Couric, the perky protector of the proletariat intoned, “Some suggested over the weekend that it’s wrong to expect Elián Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami.” Of course they were.

Indeed, the it-takes-a-village liberals eventually won the battle, cheering the use of armed troops to settle the issue by upholding “the rule of law,” which was set at a whim by the administration. The New Yorker summed up the elite media’s cutesy ironic sensibility nicely saying, “…those who are troubled by the prospect of Elián returning to a country ruled by an unsavory head of state would do well to remember that the official observance of Father’s Day was inaugurated by Richard Nixon.”

Left-wing totalitarian murderers, democratically elected liberal Republicans who resign for the good of the country and — what the heck–throw in dudes who pee on the toilet seat; why make distinctions? Let’s just call them all “unsavory.” If you order your steaks through ads in The New Yorker you must think that’s hilarious.

In Domestic News….
The press distinguished itself in other ways too. They howled when the suits at ABC picked Leonardo DiCaprio, a booger-joking pretty boy, to interview the president about the environment. What appeared to upset the most elitist of trade guilds, the elite press, is that nobody would be able to tell the difference between Leo’s talent at reading index cards and, say, Barbara Walters. So like an electricians’ union that demands some guy get paid $100 an hour to throw a switch, they insisted DiCaprio was unqualified.

Oh, yeah, there was also this election in which the Democrats, armed with a media-sized megaphone, said that George W. Bush was a racist, lock-box opening, murdering moron who would plunge the economy into the Stone Age or, worse, the Reagan years. In response, George W. Bush said he wasn’t Al Gore — which put the Texan ahead in the polls for all but about five weeks of the entire year.

During the campaign, Al Gore said a lot of things that weren’t true. Bush said a lot of things that he pronounced funny. Obviously the watchdog press went after the mispronunciations. Who cares if Al Gore has a loopy penchant for prevarication, character assassination, and racial demagoguery, reasoned the Washington Post, NPR, Slate, et al, we can’t possibly risk a president who might put too many “K” sounds in Reykjavik.

All the really smart people predicted that Al Gore would destroy Bush in the debates, but it turned out otherwise. In the first debate, Al Gore sighed like a pimp whose “lady” didn’t come up with her quota of crumpled $20 bills. In the second debate, Gore was so scared by how he was portrayed on Saturday Night Live after the first debate, he decided to treat Bush the way Doug Montero treats Castro and agreed with everything he had to say. And in the third debate, Al Gore must have blood doped a lot of testosterone because he walked right up to Bush and got in his face like a prison-yard bully demanding a new fish’s tennis shoes. (See Debate Fantasy ). Bush responded with a look, that said, “You gotta be kidding me.”

Indeed, for quite a while, it looked like a landslide for Bush. But it was not to be. At the last minute, George W. Bush was hit by the first “November Surprise” recorded in a modern presidential election. A quarter-century old drunk-driving beef was sprung days before the election by Democratic operatives (and spearheaded by some duckbill-hat-wearing doofus from Maine who looked like the sort of guy the ACLU would defend in his suit to camp out in a public library). According to some, the unsurprising charge moved one in seven voters. Despite the cheap shot, Bush won by a narrow electoral-vote margin. But Bush lost the popular vote — largely due to a stunning get-out-the-vote effort by Democrats who forgot to tell their voters that they had to vote correctly, not just show up — but he won Tennessee and Arkansas, which was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, after Election Day Gore didn’t concede, even though he lost. They recounted the votes. And still he didn’t concede. They recounted many votes by hand, using post-modern theories better suited for interpretive dance classes at Brown. Even after that electoral séance, Gore wouldn’t concede. Things went to the courts. Jesse Jackson, who began this year insisting that it was racist to expect a handful of black thugs in Decatur to be nonviolent, said some terrible things. Al Gore walked to a Starbuck’s to buy coffee in front of the cameras to show that “everything was normal” — even though he’d never walked to a Starbuck’s to buy coffee in modern memory. Eventually he did concede when he had no choice, in much the way his boss confessed when he had no choice.

Alas, Jesse Jackson didn’t stop saying stupid things. If he can keep it up for another nine years, four months, and twenty-two days, he will surpass Gus Hall as the American who most consistently said stupid things. Earlier this year Jackson already passed Phil Donahue.

Elsewhere, the conservatives who in the 1950s protested fluoridated water were finally proven correct. Hillary Clinton won, thanks to untold millions of addled New Yorkers. On the bright side, the Republican party has learned it can raise millions of dollars by putting her face on fundraising letters.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s husband has spent most of his time giving interviews to fawning publications or fawning interviewers working for normally respectable publications. Alas, these interviews reveal that Hillary’s husband has succumbed to a bizarre complex of hallucinogenic disorders in which he is convinced that he “saved the Constitution” by insisting under oath that he never had sex with Monica Lewinsky; that he’s responsible for an economic boom that began a full year before he took office; that he tried to do something about genocide in Africa; and that he was the skipper of the USS Minnow. Thank goodness, doctors have cured him of the so-called “Gilligan’s Island” dementia, but, sadly, the rest of his delusions persist. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for him.

Among the Pointy-Heads
In the realm of public policy, there were a lot of odd arguments this year. The New York Times, in particular, became convinced that murderous thugs would never have killed certain people if only our laws asserted that murdering certain fashionable minorities is really, really bad. You see, murder laws — which often result in people being executed — don’t send a strong enough message.

Another intellectual oddity that kept flaring up like a cold sore before the State of the Union address describes what some people call “campaign-finance reform.” Proponents of this idea are precisely the sort of people who would gladly go on a hunger strike to protest a law regulating the sales of a book about pederasts at a petting zoo. But they insist that our liberties are best protected by a strict regime of government regulation of political speech. Another interesting argument was the idea that the surplus — i.e., excessive government profit on services very poorly rendered — was in fact found money for social schemers. The Democrats insisted that they couldn’t afford to give back other peoples’ money. The Republicans insisted that when you overcharge people, you can’t keep the money.

For a while it looked the election might be decided on this issue. Unfortunately, the press thought it would be more interesting to talk about prescription drugs, largely because pollsters and Democratic spinners said they should. It’s not an interesting argument.

What a Culture!
Moving on, another post-election disappointment was the fact that Alec Baldwin, noted star of Thomas and the Magic Railroad, is still here. He’d said he would leave the country if Bush won. Well, Bush won and Alec is still here, spending most of his time scribbling tinfoil-head letters to some supermarket flier called the East Hampton Star and scraping all the white-out he keeps applying to his computer screen because he can’t figure out the delete button. On the bright side, Pierre Salinger, a guy who should have spent his “celebrity” selling Posturpedic sofas on QVC instead of trying to exonerate Third World dictators, has declared he will stay true to his promise and move permanently to France.

(Speaking of France, we learned this year that for the first time since 1945, the French Navy doesn’t have an operational aircraft carrier. They decided their francs could be spent more efficiently on red carpets and German phrase books.)

Closer to Home
Okay, now forgive a little bragging.

This was simply a phenomenal year for National Review Online — and for National Review. A lot of people noticed our hard work. For a sampler, check this out.

We went to the conventions to chew gum and kick ass, but we left our gum in the hotel. On Elián Gonzalez, we were the only antidote — other than Fox News — to the instantaneously biased reporting on the web. And, as far as I’m concerned, no conservative media organ, cyber or otherwise, came close to our Florida post-election coverage (kinda makes you wonder why we don’t move the office down to Tallahassee).

According to the Committee of Concerned Journalists, National Review Online often beat the web operations of the New York Times, Time magazine, the Microsoft Network, and CNN when it came to original reporting during the primaries. Indeed, we scooped the Times on their own corrections — about their inaccurate reporting on everything from a global-warming scare story about the North Pole melting to the hilarious account of a nonexistent national groundswell against the Boy Scouts. As Terry Mattingly of Scripps Howard News Service recently wrote, this year’s election was about “The New York Times vs. National Review Online.”

Min’s New Media Report, a web-industry bible, recently wrote about us, “American conservatives are not accustomed to being called hip, cutting edge, highly personable, communal and funny, but that is the recipe behind NationalReview.com’s secret sauce.” Actually, the secret to our sauce is a phenomenal staff — Chris, Kathryn, and Jessica — that seems to have endless capacity to make me look good by making NRO so good.

Things look only better for 2001. We’ve hired on a very large fraction of Byron York for NRO (the rest goes to the print guys). Newt Gingrich is writing regularly for us. And we’ve got other huge surprises — like a trout in your cake — coming soon. Not bad for a guy who pushes buttons for a living.

Oh yeah, National Review on-dead tree isn’t doing too shabby either. For a profile of the guy who pays the light bill click here.

Announcement: Speaking of light bills, Ameritrade, the online trading firm, has just become one of our major thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another sponsors. I would never ask anybody to do something inappropriate, but there’s nothing inappropriate as far as I can tell with throwing them a few clicks and seeing what they have to offer (nod, nod, wink, wink).



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