Dog-whistles and clarion calls

by Jonah Goldberg

Dear Reader (and the owner of the 9,097,812,417th monkey who successfully banged out this “News”letter on his own – not to be confused with an earlier monkey who appeared in an earlier form of this gag),

“To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

Before we get into it, let me just say, I disagree with Newt here. I can imagine a lot of things that would be more despicable. A lot more despicable.

Just off the top of my head: John King could have held a gun to a panda cub’s head and opened fire every time one of the debaters went over his time limit. Even more despicable, he could have pulled the trigger before the time limit, just to know what it feels like. CNN could have doctored videos of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum so that they appeared to be playing Stratego with each other. Oh, wait did I say “playing Stratego”? I meant to say “having wild gay sex, with a midget riding a pogo stick in the background and an expression that says ‘Things are going to get a lot weirder than this.’“

And keep in mind, that’s just a fraction of the things that could have happened in the studio. There’s a whole universe of wildly despicable things that are worse than what John King did – wildly despicable things that I can conjure from my feeble imagination like demons from a bottomless pit of depravity that I must contain lest they overwhelm us all. And that’s just me. Imagine the despicable things Newt could imagine. Take a long look at him while he’s laughing sometime, and then think of all things that could be going through his mind. It stews the bowels.

Moreover, what John King did really wasn’t that despicable. I think he had to ask the question. Maybe he didn’t have to open the debate with it, but it had to be asked, Newt knew it had to be asked, and he was waiting for it like a lion at the coliseum on “Punish the Blind Beggars Night.”

Gingrich’s rage was well articulated, but it seemed canned to me. If he really believed that John King did one of the most despicable things imaginable, why did he rush up to King to congratulate him on a great job immediately after the debate?

Part of it is just me. When I lose my temper at someone, when I’m convinced they’ve done something bad – never mind close to the most despicable thing I can imagine – it stays with me. I suspect the same is true with Gingrich. So when he (and, I believe, Callista) ran over to do the post-game chit-chat, it struck me that the term “post-game” isn’t just an expression – it really was a game. I have to hope at least some of the people who gave Gingrich a standing ovation for his theatrical outrage recognize that.

Where’s That National Conversation?

I’m not going to do a whole post-debate wrap-up (here are my initial thoughts from last night), but there’s a point I want to make, picking up on the previous debate. Juan Williams stirred the pot by asking Newt Gingrich about his comments on food stamps, child labor, and all that. I thought Juan got a little too righteous and sweeping in his characterization, but I also think conservatives offended by the question are off-base. It was fair game, and Newt won the exchange in all the ways that mattered, i.e. with the Republican voters in the audience and watching at home.

But the mainstream press won’t let it go. They insist there are dog whistles, troubling implications, racial overtones, etc., to Gingrich’s comments. I think that’s all for the most part a crock (as I argued here last December). Moreover, if what Gingrich says is out of bounds, if he can’t say what he thinks out loud without all this nonsense, how are we ever going to have this “national conversation about race” liberals keep clamoring for?

As I’ve written a million times now, the pattern goes like this. Liberals insist that we must talk openly and honestly about race. A conservative says something open and honest about race. Liberals scream “Racist!” and try to destroy him for saying what liberals hoped he would say. The same goes for gays these days. In the ABC debate, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopolous made it seem like they were eager to deal with the thorny issues raised by homosexuality in America. But what was obvious to everyone was that all they were really interested in was trapping one of the candidates into saying something that the media could go hysterical about.

On Work

Look, there are a lot of issues, biases, and misinterpretations swirling around whenever white Republicans talk about the travails of inner-city blacks. Indeed, one of the most annoying criticisms I get is that I can’t write or say anything about the plight of inner-city blacks because of my race or background. I think that’s unpersuasive for too many reasons to recount here. It’s also more often than not a pretty naked attempt to police unwelcome perspectives. I mean, nobody ever tells white liberals they can’t talk about race. Why? Because white liberals say whatever black liberals want to hear for the most part.

But let’s not get into all of that. Suffice it to say there’s room for a lot of different theories and interpretations out there. But I think people haven’t really figured out that one big reason people appreciate Gingrich’s talk about the importance of work is this: Conservatives really like work. Liberals really like “jobs.”

That’s a subtle distinction for some, but I think it’s a major cultural and sociological divide. Conservatives don’t see too much nobility in poverty (though they don’t necessarily see shame in it either). Liberals treat poverty like it is a sacrament of some kind. Conservatives emphasize habits of the heart. Liberals emphasize material conditions. Liberals exalt labor unions, whose purpose is to maximize the number of jobs offered but curtail as much as possible the amount of work required to get a paycheck. Conservatives think jobs should be allotted based entirely on merit. Liberals think jobs should be allotted based, at least in part, on considerations of need, race, and gender.

When Gingrich talks about the glories of work, it resonates with conservative audiences on a host of levels that have absolutely nothing to do with race. Indeed, for me and I think a lot of conservatives, the reason we find the racial aspects of the argument compelling is that we have a serious and humane concern for the plight of inner-city blacks. I don’t know many conservatives who don’t believe in their bones that if poor blacks from broken homes could just have the same work ethic and values as, say, immigrant Koreans, they would be significantly better off (and they feel the same way about poor whites from broken homes!). A liberal hears that and thinks it’s simply racist. But that’s not how it is intended. And this isn’t to say there aren’t other factors at play, but conservatives side with Booker T. Washington while liberals side with W.E.B. Du Bois. It breaks my heart that Republicans haven’t been better at embracing the Washingtonian tradition.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. Herman Cain represents the Booker T. Washington tradition and that’s one reason why he’s such a natural fit in the Republican party.

And so does Clarence Thomas. There’s a wonderful scene in Thomas’s memoirs. When he was just a little kid growing up in abject poverty (his mother could barely put food on the table), he and his brother were left homeless by a fire. His grandfather agreed to take them in. He told Thomas, then seven years old and hardly living the good life, that his “damn vacation is over.” Thomas’s grandfather believed in backbreaking work. “Never let the sun catch you in bed.” I have never met a conservative who doesn’t eat that stuff up.

Yes, of course, there are plenty of hardworking liberals and slothful conservatives. My only point is that the rhetoric of conservatism has frequencies that liberals have a hard time hearing. What they think is a dog-whistle about race is in fact clarion call about the virtues of work, for blacks and whites alike.
 

Quick Question

I’m giving a speech next week on the subject of Liberal Fascism three years later. Obviously, I have some ideas on the subject, but if you have ideas or examples of how Obama fits into the themes of my book (preferably ones that are non-obvious but also non-crazy) send ‘em my way.

Various & Sundry

Last week’s G-File was what some people call “divisive.” Some people loved it, some people really hated it. One lady on Twitter told me that she loves William F. Buckley and she loves Greg Gutfeld, but she doesn’t like it when the two come together in the G-File. In that spirit, I told her agere sequitur credere and then I drove out to her house and set her tool shed on fire. I try to mix things up around here style-wise, mostly because I’m always in a different mood when I write these things on Friday mornings. So some G-Files are weirder than others. If you don’t like this week’s, you might like next week’s. After all, it’s not like I ever take the same medication and/or dosage two weeks in a row.

The important thing – really the only thing – is that you all agree now to buy my book when it comes out. I kid, I kid. There are, like, three other important things. I just bring it up because I’m dealing with a lot of stuff with my publisher: book tour details, the cover art, edits, whether to keep the centerfold, etc., and I’m starting to get stressed out about the whole thing. I really like this book (and if you like the G-File you should too) and, more importantly, I need it do well so I can justify doing things like the Goldberg File, working at National Review, and spending vast swaths of disposable income on exotic Scotch-tape dispensers.

Anyway, this is what they call in the movie business “foreshadowing,” or more technically “foreshadowing so obvious you might as well turn to the screen and shout at the audience.” There’s going to be book plugging in here come this spring. There will also be tales from the book tour, book-talk announcements, etc. I hope to keep it all edifying and entertaining. But, please, do your part. For now, if you’re interested in having me come do a book talk to a group (preferably large, capable of buying books, and with access to some kind of indoor venue), drop me a line.

In the meantime, speaking of weird collections . . .

Here’s a collection of predictions from Ladies’ Home Journal from a century ago.

Here’s a collection of  dismaying statistics about our president.

Here’s a collection of suggestions for where to go if Western Civilization goes tits-up.

Here’s a collection of the 7 weirdest things about women’s clothing.

And of course, here are some weird collections of collections.

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg