Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (Including those of you who have merely stumbled onto this “news”letter via the filthy Internet rather than receiving it via the space-age pneumatic technology it was intended for),
Say you work for a company that depends on sales (“Um, are there other kinds of businesses?” — The Couch).
Imagine you have a saleswoman who everyone says is the best — THE BEST!! (ideally said in a Kenny Banya voice). Whenever you point out that her sales numbers stink, everyone calls you “sexist” or insists that you just “don’t get it.”
You respond, “What has she done?”
The universal answer is, “She clocked more miles on sales calls than anybody in company history! She’s driven a million miles! One. Million. Miles!”
You ask: “Yeah, but has she, you know, sold anything?”
“Sexist! You don’t get it!”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton. When you ask her diehard supporters what she did as secretary of state they start with, “She travelled a million miles! More than any secretary of state.”
Put aside the fact that the “more than any secretary of state” part isn’t actually true — Condi Rice flew more. When you ask, “Okay, what did she get for it?” you get a blank stare or you get some stuff about championing women’s rights. Two people have told me she did good work in Myanmar, but I’ve never really gotten to the bottom of that. I suppose I could look it up, but at the end of the day we’re still talking about Myanmar, which is not the locus of America’s most pressing international problems. (“That’s right, because Hillary prevented the Myanmarese hegemony,” someone at MSNBC just shrieked. “She stopped it cold.”) While the Wikipedia page on her tenure doesn’t even mention Myanmar, it does mention her championing of better cook stoves in the Third World. That’s good. And so is improving the plight of women in various countries where their status ranges between “Slightly More Important than the Village Mule” to “So Incredibly Delicate We Must Keep Them Covered with Burlap Sacks All Day Long Even Though It’s Like 115 Degrees in the Shade Today.”
But when I take out my handy pocket realpolitik calculator, I just can’t make all that add up to much. Particularly when you compare it with our worsening problems in the Middle East, Asia (minus Myanmar!), Europe, Russia, and South America. Those problems are by no means all her fault (nor are they all Obama’s fault). But Clinton was the second most important foreign-policy official. If you were, say, the assistant coach of the 1999 Cleveland Browns or the deputy spokesman for Baghdad Bob during the lead-up to the Iraq War, you might — just might — want to highlight other things on your résumé. So it is with Clinton. As our chief diplomat, she presided over a long slide into foreign-policy suckitude. On her watch, America’s standing got worse every place it matters (except Myanmar!), despite all of those sales calls.
What Difference It Makes
And that leaves out the little issue of Benghazi. The Senate Intelligence Committee report is at once a fascinating and utterly banal artifact of Washington. It identifies a huge mistake. It denounces said mistake. It concludes that the mistake could have been prevented. But nobody is responsible for the mistake. The bureaucracy did it!
Okay, you ask, who was in charge of that bureaucracy?
Shut up, they explain.
Liberal pundits and reporters are utterly contemptuous of the idea that the Benghazi scandal will be a problem for her. Eugene Robinson writes today that the Senate Intelligence Report is a total exoneration of the administration. This is bizarre on many levels. It’s also hard to square with the fact that the White House is livid with the Democrats who signed on to the report (or so a couple of Hill folks have told me). Why get furious at an exoneration?
The lack of curiosity about the report from the mainstream media is really remarkable. Why, exactly, aren’t reporters camped outside Clinton’s home demanding a reaction? I mean I understand that she didn’t close a couple of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, but four murdered Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, is important, too. Maybe if she had joked about putting traffic cones in front of the embassy on September 11?
Still, it is obvious that this is bad news for Hillary Clinton. No, she won’t be indicted. No, it won’t sink her candidacy (if she runs). Yes, it’s true: There aren’t many Americans who would have otherwise voted for Hillary were it not for Benghazi. But when you have pretty much no real accomplishments to put on the pro side of the scale, and you have a U.S. ambassador murdered in an attack your department could have prevented (and which you subsequently lied about) on the con side of the scale, the scale simply won’t balance in your favor. Nor should it.
Another Word about Hillary
I’ve been saying for a while, if by a while you mean two decades, that Hillary Clinton has never lived up to the hype. She wasn’t an effective senator, she was effective at managing her image as a senator. She wasn’t an effective manager; HillaryCare was a paper behemoth that never even came up for a vote, but nonetheless helped her party lose control of the U.S. Congress. She isn’t a great politician; she’s the wife of one. She’s not even charismatic. As I wrote last May in USA Today:
Clinton has been in the news for two decades. And even with Obama’s glory in full fade, it’s worth noting he’s still a vastly more compelling personality. Watch January’s (journalistically vapid) 60 Minutes interview with both Clinton and Obama. The president comes across as engaged and energetic. Clinton seems like the person who comes up to tell you “there’s no eating in the library.”
The fascination, the excitement, the thrill of Hillary Clinton is like a psychological potluck dinner for liberal Democrats and the Washington press corps: They bring their own. All she provides is the venue.
And when I hear people talk about how amazing or unstoppable or charismatic she is I feel like Will Ferrell in Zoolander:
On Propaganda, Left, Right, and Everything in Between
So apparently the Left hates Lone Survivor because it’s “propaganda.” On the political substance of the complaints, I pretty much agree entirely with David French’s dispositive post on the subject. In fact, complaints about the movie are kind of bizarre. Are we not supposed to root for the Americans and against the Taliban? Is it really racist that the Talibanis are dark-skinned? I mean it would have been super convenient for all concerned if Marcus Luttrell’s squad had encountered a platoon of Norwegian jihadists? (When they die, they get 72 virgins and all the herring they can eat.) But reality conspired against it. Moreover, the whole movie hinges on the decency of non-Taliban Afghans. As David suggests, the biggest problem with the depiction of the Taliban isn’t that they’re treated as cartoon villains, it’s that they’re not treated cartoonishly enough. What the Taliban do in real life is far worse than anything you see them do on the screen.
Still, I should say that while I liked Lone Survivor, I don’t think it’s anything like a masterpiece (I agree with many of David Edelstein’s perfectly valid criticisms). Lone Survivor is very effective, but not very artistic. The movie works mostly because the story is true and the heroes involved are, you know, heroes.
But Peter Berg is not exactly a brilliant auteur. He’s a good journeyman director (I have a soft spot in my heart for him because, like most cinephiles, I loved him as Dexter Rutecki in Aspen Extreme. “Top Gun on the ski slopes!”)
In fact, it’s a bit ironic that Bergs’s latest film is being denounced as right-wing propaganda, considering that he is particularly sensitive about the issue. Berg also directed The Kingdom, a pretty good thriller about FBI agents hunting down terrorists. But when Berg previewed it to an American test audience he was horrified that they cheered at all the wrong moments — like when the Americans on the screen killed the bad guys. “I was nervous it would be perceived as a jingoistic piece of propaganda, which I certainly didn’t intend,” the anguished director told Entertainment Weekly. “I thought, ‘Am I experiencing American bloodlust?’”
He wanted the movie to be a cautionary tale about the cycle of violence. The Americans in the audience — weirdoes that they are — actually wanted to see the Americans, you know, win.
This raises an interesting question: Can an audience make something propaganda even if the author didn’t intend it that way? Let’s put a pin in that for another day.
What Is Propaganda?
Propaganda is a funny word. No really, say it a bunch of times.
It’s also an odd word. Like “censorship,” propaganda is a word that describes something everyone is okay with in practice in one circumstance or another but is 100 percent against in theory. As I’ve said a million times, everyone says they’re against censorship, including the people who think it should be illegal to broadcast snuff-film porn on Saturday-morning television.
Similarly, everyone says they’re against propaganda, when they really have a problem with the propaganda they disagree with. Everyone thinks they know what propaganda means, but they have a hard time defining it. The dictionary definitions tend to give it a negative connotation. Here’s dictionary.com: “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.”
Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda statements may be partly false and partly true. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.
So according to these — and other definitions — pretty much every political ad ever qualifies as propaganda. Politicians don’t normally spend a lot of time explaining the other side of the argument in their 30-second spots. Every public-service ad is propaganda, too. The new Obamacare ads? Propaganda. Those commercials I suddenly keep seeing about how it’s wrong to use “gay” as a pejorative? Propaganda. The Americans for Prosperity anti-Obamacare ads? Propaganda. Billboards, campus fliers, Occupy Wall Street puppet shows: propaganda all.
And, so what? Just because it’s propaganda doesn’t mean the ideas the propagandists are propagandizing are wrong. I would rather spend less time talking about good or bad propaganda and more time talking about good or bad ideas.
Art is a tougher subject. A good artist is always making a kind of argument about the world. And, artists are by definition manipulative. They try to persuade you — emotionally at least as much as intellectually. Any artistic effort to persuade will of necessity leave out some opposing arguments and emotions. The clichéd claim that art and propaganda are opposites strikes me as too simplistic. Triumph of the Will was artistic. It was also the most famous propaganda film ever made. The Left denounced John Wayne’s The Green Berets as propaganda. Fair enough. The Right condemned Coming Home as propaganda. And that’s fair enough, too.
Via Charlie Cooke, I learned that Harvey Weinstein is going to produce an anti-gun movie:
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein stopped by Howard Stern’s radio show this week and revealed plans for his next big movie.
Weinstein got into a discussion with Stern about the issue of gun control, telling the controversial radio host, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it. I think the NRA is a disaster area.”
“I shouldn’t say this, but I’ll tell it to you, Howard. I’m going to make a movie with Meryl Streep, and we’re going to take this head-on,” Weinstein continued. “And they’re going to wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.”
Maybe it will be very good. Maybe it will be awful (I suspect the latter). But why isn’t the Left freaking out over Weinstein’s decision to make a propaganda movie? There’s no freak-out because they like the intended message of the film. Likewise, the Left has no problem with NBC’s “Green Week” programming. But you can be sure that if Fox broadcast announced “Pro-life Week” during which they incorporated pro-life messages into all of their news, sports, and entertainment shows, the Left would get its dress over its head about propaganda.
Most of these people freaking out over the alleged propagandistic nature of Lone Survivor have absolutely no problem with propagandistic movies that sell a different message (Though it does vex them that anti-war, anti-American movies don’t do very well at the box office.) That’s what’s so damning and annoying about the hatred for Lone Survivor. I’m okay with people calling it unsophisticated or even propagandistic, I guess. What bothers me is the anti-Americanism behind the complaint. Yes, Peter Berg could have made a more nuanced and better movie. Fine. But that’s not what offends so many of the critics. What offends them is that the movie celebrates the American military and the rightness of their cause.
The Big Announcement.
So, as readers should know, we had to say goodbye to my beloved and trusted wing-dog Cosmo last fall. He was the greatest dog I ever knew, and his absence left a huge hole in my family’s heart. It’s taken a lot of time for the pain to turn into happy memories, and I still get choked up talking (or writing) about him. Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye.
Okay, I’m back. It’s taken even longer to think about getting a new dog. But, first of all, we subscribe to the view that a house without a dog isn’t a home. Second, our cats — both the good one and my wife’s — are getting quite smug. Also, the squirrel activity in Cosmo’s sector has simply gotten outrageous. The little buggers are openly defiant now. And Lord knows, once you let the squirrels have the run of the place, bears and wolverines can’t be far behind. Cosmo kept all of that at bay, which is why we commissioned a bronze plaque for his old spot on our front porch. It simply reads, “Semper Vigilans. Cosmo 2000-2013.”
Anyway, to make a long story short (and save it for a later write-up): We are getting a new dog. We wanted a girl, in part so it would feel less like we are trying to replace Cosmo the Irreplaceable. We wanted a rescue, because we’re saps about that sort of thing and because Cosmo was a rescue. We wanted a puppy because this is my daughter’s last chance to own a puppy as a kid. And we wanted a southern dog because they have better manners.
Okay, I made that last part up. But we did find a beautiful southern belle. I won’t tell you her website name because we’re going to change it. Dog-rescue websites have some awful names for dogs for understandable reasons (Cosmo’s slave name at the Humane Society was — shudder — “Snowball.”) She’s driving up from South Carolina tomorrow and we will pick her up tomorrow evening. We are very excited. She’s allegedly a German Shepherd mix, though she could be 100 percent German; they just don’t know.
What we do know is she’s 100 percent lovely:
Various & Sundry
In case you missed it, here’s my conversation with Yuval Levin about his new book, The Great Debate.
Speaking of conversations, I recorded a quick podcast about comic books, sci-fi, and cigars with R. J. Moeller the other day. Here it is.
Speaking of podcasts, here’s the latest GLoP Culture podcast over at Ricochet. Click for the mesmerizing image of me as Larry King; stay for the conversation.
Speaking of Ricochet, there’s still time to buy tickets for Ricochetapalooza. I’ll be there.
Speaking of time, my column today is on how the Democrats are running out of it.
In other news, tomorrow is Winnie the Pooh Day! Also, I was born on Fragrance Day, which explains why everyone loves my Manbrosia (“Not everyone” — The Couch). A full list of National Days here.
I think the cats overheard me talking about the doggie news. I found Gracie checking out this story.
You know what they say about arboreal primates with really big feet? They make for disturbing “Bigfoot Erotica” (Note: Not for everybody.)
It’s begun: blue meth found in New Mexico.
The Japanese soldier who inspired a thousand strained analogies by hiding in the jungle for too long, dies.
Pretty awesome chart about city populations over time.
Guess what? Americans actually are economically mobile!
How is the Finnish language like Pajama Boy? It’s genderless!
And, of course, Debby’s Friday Links!