ALL CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS, ALL THE TIMEThird World cultures need to be brought into the 20th century — or the 21st century — even if that means liberals in Cambridge and San Francisco will no longer be able to sip Chardonnay as they watch PBS documentaries about them. Bill Bradley’s choice of Woodrow Wilson, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Jimmy Carter as his role models should disqualify him not only from all public office for all time, it should disqualify him from any kind of labor doesn’t require safety scissors. Linux is not, never has been, never will be, never should be confused as — never even used in the same sentence with — the words “programming language.” Linux is the most important, valuable, happy, good, puppies-licking-ice-cream, sunny day, foot massaging, cancer curing, get your dry-cleaning on the same day like the sign says, life affirming, brilliant operating system since the 1 ever allied itself with a zero. To say otherwise would be as dumb and bizarre as saying 2+2 is a cow, “there is a trout in my milk,” “Mr. Clinton I would be honored if my daughter could be your intern,” or that Woodrow Wilson, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Jimmy Carter are proper role models for a president.
I’ve been receiving a lot of email from people saying I don’t get to the point quick enough in my columns. So, now if you haven’t figured it out yet, today is corrections and clarifications Friday. And the above statements were in regard to the most disputed or affirmed comments in recent weeks.
There were some smaller bones of contention and flat out screw ups. For example I said “Wow, that’s a real dog bites man story.” Thanks to my brother for being the only reader to call me on that. I spelled “horde” — as in “the French surrendered in hordes” — “hoard” as in “I hoard frozen pizzas.” Yesterday I discussed the Post Office in terms that made it sound like it was a tax-dollar using government agency. In fact, it isn’t really. They self-finance. Though I am sure that I will get an email from some economist type who will explain to me that there are hidden subsidies using tax dollars of one sort or another in the postal system. After all, I don’t believe the Post Office pays taxes — which according to most people is a subsidy.
In my column about Sean Wilentz’s op-ed in the New York Times I ridiculed the notion that a poll showed that 13% of Americans rate health care as their primary concern. Some people wrote me saying that 13% on such an open-ended question was actually very high. To this I yawn with well-nigh French disdain. I’ve long considered such polls to be ridiculous. First, just because people feel like they have to say something. Second, these polls almost never reveal what the voter thinks should be done about their “hot” issue. In the early 1990s crime was the number one issue among many voters — receiving much higher “number one issue” responses on polls than Wilentz’s vaunted 13% today. But saying crime is a big issue doesn’t reveal whether you are a Volvo-driving, “Arms Are For Hugging,” bumper-sticker sporting, give-’em-all-a-hug squish, or whether you are a reasonable person who knows that the place for bad people is called “jail.” (Other acceptable answers — depending on the circumstances — for “Where do bad people go?” are: “prison,” “the woodshed,” “Hell,” or “Southwest Airlines.”
Now, back to the big topics. Bill Bradley’s leadership role models are the figures who belong on the anti-matter universe Mount Rushmore. A lot of people wrote me about how I know nothing about history and that I am a fool and that Wilson was a great this and Jimmy Carter was a wonderful that and of course how Gorby won the Cold War. Well, all of these assertions are somewhere between somewhat and entirely wrong. Yes, yes, Woodrow Wilson was very smart, but smart people are often the biggest fools. That’s why God created French intellectuals: to remind us of this fact. Wilson was a utopian schemer who loved bureaucracy and despised black people in a way that no twentieth century president has.
As for Jimmy Carter, yes he is one of the greatest ex-presidents (but, cynic that I am, I am confident that someone will write a demystifying piece on his post-Oval Office ventures). But calling Jimmy Carter a role model for leadership largely because he is a great ex-president is like calling Bob Uecker a great ball player because he was really funny in beer commercials 30 years into retirement. Jimmy Carter was a loser as President. In the platonic realm of pure things there is a pristine, unalloyed loser president and that person’s shadow is Jimmy Carter.
And finally there is Gorby: Ender of Cold Wars, Liberal Hero Of the Endtimes, Canny Out-Foxer of The Gipper. A recent issue of The Economist recalls that when Gorby was still the emperor of the Evil Empire, he anguished over whether or not he would give three Hungarian hairdressers permission to operate privately for profit.
This is not the behavior of a geo-strategic thinker of the first order.
These are the actions of someone who pulls a single brick out of a dam and thinks nothing will happen until he’s ready.
Gorbachev had no clue what was going to happen when he liberalized a little. He just wanted to be able to get fresh orange juice that didn’t have the fingernails of political prisoners floating in it. He didn’t think he was killing Communism. Yes, yes, he was a tool for good when he didn’t order troops to kill democratic protesters. But that makes him no less of a tool. His reluctance to kill was, I think, more dictated by the fact that he was terrified of being unwelcome at cocktail parties at the New York Times and the UN. Or more seriously, it might have had to do with the fact that he knew his soldiers — at least the East European ones — wouldn’t carry out his orders.
Regardless, the logic that a man is a hero for not ordering the murder of millions is, I think, morally feeble.
If that’s the case — if the guy who is on the wrong and losing side of a great moral crusade gets the credit for the outcome — well, then Bull Connor deserves praise for ending segregation.
As for the Third World stuff, I got accused of being a bigot and a racist, just as I thought I would. No one gave me any arguments mind you, but for so many on the Left accusations are a preferable substitute for argument.
My only point was that there is a profound moral hypocrisy going on in Leftist thinking in regard to the most impoverished people in the world. Why are “indigenous cultures” which have all sorts of barbaric practices and beliefs hailed as noble and pure, while men who open doors for women in the US are denounced as chauvinist throwbacks? Why are the self-defeating and impoverishing traditions and customs of certain exotic peoples acceptable — if not holy — but the sanitized and benign customs of Americans considered to be seething with hate and intolerance? The same people who write me saying that American Catholics are bigoted fanatics for peaceably opposing gay marriage in all likelihood think we should not “judge” African nations which brim with the most horrifying atrocities perpetrated in the names of religion, tribe and race.
Others agreed with me on the above but they made the nuanced point that other cultures — and even our own — need not buy into rampant capitalism in order to be modern. This is a legitimate argument that I respect and often agree with depending why it is being made (I hate being dependent on the motives of an opponent, but on the Left this point is often a Trojan horse for Luddism).
It is only very recently that Conservatism has become synonymous with an untrammeled free-market. Virtually every major conservative thinker going back to Burke argued that a free-market was a necessary but not sufficient ingredient of civilization. As Irving Kristol wrote in his book, Two Cheers for Capitalism, there should be only two cheers for capitalism. Daniel Bell offered a more drawn-out argument about the cultural contradictions of capitalism in his book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Before the neocons, Richard Weaver pointed out that ideas have consequences in his powerfully persuasive book, Ideas Have Consequences.
Not only did these conservatives write books you could judge by their covers, they illustrated how capitalism can destroy the institutions that make capitalism possible if society isn’t very careful. Weaver was a grand defender of Southern (but not racist) conservatism which often rejected the economic dynamism of the North because of its baleful effect on tradition. Russel Kirk devoutly believed in class and inequality because without class there would be no manners and eventually no beauty, and without beauty there would be no civilization. In The Conservative Mind he explained that he was against “a world smudged by industrialization, standardization by the masses, consolidated by the government.”
Obviously there is much to argue and discuss here, on the Left and the Right. But my point is more simple: even though conservatives adore tradition and are cautious about rapid change, none worth his salt would agree that a society which thinks dentistry is witchcraft or that a machete is a tool of diplomacy should be left in its “pristine” state.
And finally, back to Linux. I am very sorry. I am sorry I referred to Slashdot.org as slashdot.com. If I were an honorable man I would sever the fingers that typed those words. But nothing I can say or do could give proper testimony to my grief and anguish over calling Linux a mere “programming language.” That is like calling the Pyramids piles of dirt or calling Bill Clinton “frisky.” I know I don’t deserve it. I know I should be locked in an elevator with Jim Carville for a thousand eternities, but, still, I beseech you, could you please, please, please, stop sending me emails telling me that Linux is not a “programming language.” Message received.