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Among The Gender-Benders
How we can all get along.


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Jonah Goldberg

Yesterday, an ABC News wire story began, “San Francisco employees who feel they were born in the wrong body may soon get a little municipal help setting things right.”

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I could hardly contain my excitement! All I needed to do was go to San Francisco, sign up for a job, and pretty soon I’d have the body I always wanted rather than the pale, bloated, sweaty apparatus I have now. First of all, my new body would be extremely strong and good-looking. I wouldn’t perspire profusely when eating chili, let alone salad. I wouldn’t creak and groan after a short walk to the mailbox. I could eat as much food as I wanted and, instead of my metabolism converting it into fat, it would get churned into fuel for incredibly powerful lasers for eyes that I could use at will to hurt bad people, heat hot dogs, or make 12-minute brownies in 7 minutes — whatever I wanted. I might ask for a tail, too. Yeah, a tail that was really, really, strong and could carry all my stuff behind me. And instead of an appendix, I would have an oxygen generator that would let me breathe when I was underwater or while listening to Paul Wellstone speak in congressional hearings (while other humans would asphyxiate because he was using up all the air). Yeah….

And then I read the next sentence. “Oh. I don’t want that.”

It turns out that what they meant by the “wrong body” is, like, you know boy-and-girl stuff, which is simply the last thing I had in mind.

The proposed rule would allow any employee who worked for the San Francisco municipal government for more than a year to claim a sex change as a necessary medical procedure. “If you are a non-transgender employee and you need a mastectomy or a hysterectomy or some treatment for a heart ailment, liver or kidney, your health plan would cover it,” Supervisor Mark Leno explained to ABCNews.com. “But if you are transgender, you would not have that same coverage, so we’re going to end that inequity.”

Now, honestly, I find this impossible to believe. Mr. Leno seems to be saying that municipal insurance plans didn’t cover transgender people for heart, kidney, or liver ailments — which would be criminal. Of course, what he is trying to say is that having a sex change is as necessary and as uncontroversial as a kidney transplant. Which, of course, is criminally absurd.

Regardless, you might think that I have nasty things to say about San Francisco’s decision to foot — to use a more palatable but less precise anatomical phrase — the bill for its employees to have their kibbles and bits switched around. After all, I have said some sharp things about people who want to turn their underoos inside out in the past. In fact, I still get e-mail from these folks from time to time.

Maximizing Happiness
Truth be told, I support San Francisco’s decision. Oh sure, I think its an odd thing for a city government to do and I would have voted against the measure (which still requires Mayor Willie Brown’s signature) but I don’t live in San Francisco and if the Camelot of bizarre and antiquated liberalism wants to saddle itself with another oddball entitlement, who am I to judge as long as it costs me nothing? Which is precisely the point.

Well, actually the real point is federalism. Yes, federalism is a topic second only to the War Powers Resolution as a source for mind-bogglingly dull political-science term papers by earnest sophomores at major universities across the country.

But here’s the cool thing about federalism as opposed to every other nut-bag ideology and hemp-smoked scheme out there: It makes more people happy than any other. Democracy voluptuaries think democracy makes people the most happy, but it doesn’t, because in a democracy 51% of the people can vote to pee in the corn flakes of the other 49%. Others think that socialism maximizes happiness, but all that does is make unhappiness more consistently uniform across all of society.

And of course, there are dictatorships, monarchies, anarcho-capitalist coffee bars, and feminist utopias, too. Dictatorships and monarchies are actually wonderful when you have good monarchs and dictators, but they’re just plain awful when you don’t. And the anarcho-capitalist, feminist, and “queer theory” hokum, at its best, only addresses how individuals should live, not how individuals should live together — which is what we actually do.

No, the fact remains that a federal republic works better than all of them. In such a system the nastier aspects of democracy get pushed down to a manageable level. I should explain but forgive me for aiming this explanation at college kids, but gosh-golly, the children are the future.

Imagine you have ten dorms on your campus and among your student body you have the usual distribution of shroomers, stoners, study geeks, sci-fi freaks, slackers, gays, goths, jocks, orthodox religious types, onanists, and exchange students with exotic headwear.

Now, if everybody got to vote on a single campus-wide dorm policy, a coalition of slackers, goths, jocks, and stoners could conceivably, with 51% of the vote, establish a policy allowing excessive buffoonery 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Studying, religious considerations, gay sensibilities, pressing onanistic scheduling requirements, etc., could be trumped by a pizza, a sweet bag of homegrown earl, and a DVD of Roadhouse — and 51% of the vote.

Or, conversely, a Popular Front of religious students, study geeks, sci-fi nerds, exchange students, and very mellow stoners and slackers could vote to keep excessive buffoonery out of the dorms entirely. Under their authoritarian regime you couldn’t even funnel a sixer during the Final Four.

Either way, a large number of students would be unhappy.

But if you set up a system under which these groups could decide amongst themselves which dorms they wanted to live in, and then set policies specific to each separate dorm, a lot more people would be happy. A hardcore Baptist kid wouldn’t need to see what the gay kids were up to, and the gay dudes wouldn’t need to see the Baptist kid throw up disapprovingly every time he saw the all-nude Oscar party going on in the showers.

That, my friends, is federalism. Of course, it doesn’t solve everybody’s problems. Despite what identity-politics demagogues might tell you, not everybody fits into each category neatly. Gay kids can be jocks and study geeks. Exchange students can be huge stoners. And sci-fi geeks can be really, really, really cool. No seriously, they can! I’m not just saying that. And of course there are other interests involved. The school has an obligation to maintain minimum standards and your parents would like it if you came back from school with something to show for their money other than a titanium rhino horn coming out of your forehead and the ability to make a can of Fresca into a bong.

But the fact remains that under such a “federalist” system, more students would be happy than under one where individuals got to do whatever they wanted, or under a system where the majority ruled totally.

Such was the genius of the Founding Fathers. They set up a system where Southern Baptists and Northern Jews and Midwestern Catholics could all live as they wanted. And if you happened to be a Jew among Southern Baptists, you could either make do or you could try to persuade people to change some laws, or you could move, a small sacrifice indeed to keep people happy. Besides, the brilliant part of this system is that people tend to want to move where they would want to live in the first place.

Indeed, federalism solves most of the conflicts among competing ideologies. For example, under a truly federal system, debates between conservatives and libertarians are reduced dramatically. If a local community wants to ban drugs and booze or censor porn or prohibit work on the Sabbath or ban women from military academies, whatever, most reasonable libertarians and conservatives would say that’s fine. Similarly, if some city, say, San Francisco, wants to pay for sex changes for anybody who asks for ‘em, that’s San Francisco’s business. Just don’t take my money to do it.

It is only the oppressive liberalism born out of the progressive era which says that the federal government should be able to take your money and pay for somebody else’s bad idea. And when you think about it, about 95% of the arguments we get into as a nation deal with the fact that the government wants to impose one standard (usually through the undemocratic courts). If we went back to proper federalism — maintaining enforcement of real civil rights, but not much else — conservatives and liberals and libertarians would very rarely even bump into each other, let alone scream at one another. But so long as the government is in the game of imposing one way of life everywhere, conservatives need to argue with liberals and libertarians about what that standard should be. But I gotta tell ya, in most cases I’d rather that there be no national standard at all. It would, at minimum, make this a more interesting country to drive across.

Announcements:
Oh good Golly, there are so many.

1. We are ecstatic to announce that the brilliant John Podhoretz of the New York Post and The Weekly Standard, will now be one of NRO’s cultural critics and a regular movie reviewer. Every week, he will appear on NRO Weekend and we are proud to have him.

2. Larry Kudlow, former Reagan economic guru and general intellectual boss, has officially accepted the title of economics editor for National Review Online. In all honesty he’s always been the economics editor of NRO, but now there’s more to be editor of. Again, we’re busting with pride.

3. Daniel Schorr of National Public Radio has written a memoir. I have reviewed it for the Wall Street Journal. Our confreres at OpinionJournal.com have been kind of enough to post it.

4. I am looking to rent my old apartment (how’s that for a gear change?). It’s in Washington, D.C., and it’s where NRO was launched, the Goldberg File was born, and where most of the G-Files were written. It is my couch’s first home and the final resting place of millions of pizzas, six packs, and, well, more six packs. And, I guess if you need to know, it is where the Monica Lewinsky tapes were first played for Michael Isikoff and, hence, if not the headquarters of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy than a major outpost of same. In short, it ain’t quite a landmark. But if you’re a conservative looking to rent a really cool two-bedroom apartment with all the trimmings in Washington, D.C., you could do a lot worse. Please, please, please, serious inquiries only to [email protected].

5. And speaking of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, you’ve probably heard that Sid Blumenthal had to pay Matt Drudge $2,500 to drop a suit that Blumenthal filed. Considering how Sid Vicious painted himself as Sir Thomas More, Joan of Arc, and Erin Brockovich all rolled into one by suing Matt, I’d just like to say how glad I am that we can close this chapter … Baaaaahaahahahahahahaha! Snort, chortle. Snort. Guffaw. Giggle. I’m sorry. Seriously, way to go Sid. You must feel so vindicated; writing him that check really put him in his place. Home run, man. Home run.

6. The suits asked me to lend a hand in the effort to get more of you folks to subscribe to National Review OnDeadTree. I couldn’t be more happy to help as I honestly believe it is a peerless magazine. But I do get squeamish about some of the self-promotional aspects of this sort of thing. So when you see the pop-ups, please don’t give me too hard a time and realize that this stuff isn’t my idea. I’m just a team player.

7. And finally, thanks to everyone for your continuing concern for Cosmo the Underdog. The surgery went well, but he was miserable for the first few days, like a 10-year-old kid who broke his leg right before little league started up. Now that the drugs have worn off and he isn’t in so much pain, he’s feeling pretty chipper. Still, until the cast comes off and the fur in his front-right quadrant grows back, he’ll be grumpy. If you’d like to see some before and after shots of him, click here.



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