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.
Dear Reader (Including those of you reading this while ensnared in a traffic study),
I don’t know how long this G-File will be as I am on a plane from Tampa with a low battery. Every percentage point it drops rings in my ears like the countdown from 24. The pressure is making me sweat like Chris Christie reading the Bergen County Record.
The Christie scandal is an odd thing. Outside the peculiar context of Christie’s presidential ambitions, the idea that this should be front-page news across the country is somewhat baffling. Quick: Show of hands. Who is surprised that New Jersey politicians play hardball with other New Jersey politicians at the expense of voters and taxpayers?#ad#
Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize it would be that many of you. Okay, just out of curiosity, for those of you who are legitimately shocked, I’d like to ask some control questions. Are you also shocked that bears use our national forests for toilets? Are you shocked that dogs lick their nether regions without much concern about who might be watching? Does it blow your mind that the pope is Catholic? When you smash your thumb with a ball peen hammer are you taken off guard by the throbbing pain?
Now I am not condoning or even trying to minimize the significance of “Bridgegate” — an idiotic term by the way. What these bozos did was bozoriffic. But come on. Do you think Rahm Emanuel hasn’t played games with which streets get plowed first after a snow storm? Do you think that the Cuomos have issued every business permit and license on a first-come, first-serve basis? Wait you do? Oh man, that is adorable. Bless your heart.
Like pretty much everyone else, I think that if Christie is lying about being out of the loop, he’s done for. Fair or not, he set the standard by which he wants people to judge him. I grew tired of his constant boasting of his straight-talking a long time ago. But he’s the self-declared exemplar of straight-talking. (I like the straight talk, mind you. I just don’t like all the allegedly straight talk about his straight talking. It’s a bit like Christie’s odd way of being arrogant about how humble he is. Just give me the straight talk; don’t give me a lot of hot air about how straight the straight talk is, ya get me? I love it when my waiter brings a great steak. But when he hangs around selling me on each morsel as it goes into my mouth, it really creeps me out. “Great steak, huh!? Man, you are lucky to be eating that. Take another bite. I bet it’s even better.”)
Also, I’m not a huge fan of career politicians talking about how they’re not really politicians. It’s like a salesman insisting he’s not like any other salesman. Maybe that’s true in some ways (maybe he has three nipples and a neon orange unibrow; what do I know?) but at the end of the day he’s still trying to make a sale which means — tah dah! — he’s a salesman. Christie’s claim to be above politics-as-usual always struck me as incredibly hackneyed and forced. He’s the governor of frick’n New Jersey. Being above politics there is about as possible as cleaning out a stable by hand without getting your white gloves dirty. The fact that voters want to hear that stuff doesn’t make it true. It makes it pandering.
Anyway, Christie set the standard for his straight talking. He set the standard of being better than petty politics. And, yesterday, he laid down a marker for what he knew and didn’t know. If that marker is proven phony, it will profoundly undermine the criteria by which he asks voters to judge him. And that wound will be entirely self-inflicted.
Upside Down and Backwards
But come on! You have to wonder how some of the folks in the media can look at themselves in the mirror. The three network news shows have devoted orders of magnitude more coverage to a story about closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge than they have to the IRS scandal. I know this is not a new insight, but WHAT THE HELL!?
The sheer passion the New York Times-MSNBC mob is bringing to a partial road closure is a wonder to behold. What about the children! The chiiiiillllldrennnn!!!!!
But using the IRS to harass political opponents — one of the charges in the articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon — well, that’s complicated. The president didn’t know. The government is so vast. I had a flat tire! A flood! Locusts! It wasn’t his fault! Besides Chris Christie joked about putting down the cones himself! The cones, man! The cones!
But forget about the IRS scandal. Obama’s whole shtick is to pretend that he’s above politics while being rankly political about everything, including his stated desire to “punish our enemies.” By comparison, Chris Christie looks like Diogenes and Cincinnatus rolled into one. From inauguration day forward, this whole crew has behaved like Chicago goons dressed in Olympian garb, and the press has fallen for it.
We don’t need to recycle the whole sordid history of the sequester and the shutdown to remember that this White House sincerely, deliberately, and with malice aforethought sought to make things as painful as possible for millions of Americans. Traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge are a stain on the honor of New Jersey. (Stop laughing!) But deliberately pulling air-traffic controllers to screw with millions of people is just fine? Shafting World War II vets and vacationing families at National Parks is something only crazy right-wingers on Twitter would have a problem with? And keep in mind, it is at least plausible Christie didn’t know what his staff was doing. It is entirely implausible that the president didn’t know about the WWII memorial closure, after the news appeared in the president’s daily briefing (a.k.a. the New York Times).
I’d say I just don’t get it, but I do get it. For the mainstream media, skepticism comes naturally when a Republican is in the crosshairs. It comes reluctantly, slowly, and painfully — if at all — when it’s a Democrat.#page#
Free to Choose
The other day I wrote a USA Today column (subsequently reprinted at NRO), in which I made what I believe to be an incandescently obvious observation: Life choices can have a profound impact on your economic prospects. Drop out of high school, start messing around with heroin, rob liquor stores: The odds are very good you will not end up being a one-percenter. No really, it’s true.
Your bad decisions don’t have to be so stark, either, to have an economic impact; they don’t even have to be bad! They just have to be choices.#ad#
Among the readers of this slapdash “news”letter there are millionaire hedge-fund types (please make your checks out to “Cash”), homemakers, college students, day laborers, convicted moperers, cops, soldiers, and, I would like to think, professional basset-hound wranglers. (Come on, just picture it.) But whatever it is you do for a living, if you didn’t know that your choices about how you wanted to live your life came with economic consequences, you are what social scientists call a “complete fricking moron.”
If you decide to become a nun, that’s a beautiful and incredibly meaningful thing. But you shouldn’t plan on giving the crew from MTV’s Cribs a tour of your fat Malibu pad any time soon. The whole vow of poverty thing should have been your first clue. Americans don’t join the military to become rich, and few people major in finance because they plan on taking a vow of poverty. If you get a Ph.D. in Aramaic or some other dead language, don’t come crying to me that you can’t afford a $10,000 Japanese smart toilet. I know some absolutely brilliant and capable women — I even married one — who made the decision to spend less time in the work force so they could spend more time being moms. It is not a huge shock when their annual income goes down as a result.
Every normal American, man or woman, understands that these kinds of choices come with a price. This isn’t a problem with our system. In a very basic way, it’s not even a problem at all. Problems can be fixed. Problems that have no solution aren’t problems: They’re life. You can say the fact that 2+2 is 4 is a problem because you want 2+2 to equal a badger that craps plutonium pellets ready for a cold-fusion reactor. But that doesn’t make it a problem; it makes you a really weird dude, who should probably sit out the next few downs. Choices have consequences. That’s why they’re called “choices.”
People who choose not to dedicate their lives to getting rich aren’t making a mistake, they’re doing what they think and hope will make them happy. I almost went to law school. All things being equal, I think I’d make a pretty good lawyer. Except for one thing: I don’t think I’d like being a lawyer. I like being a writer — most days, at least. Is it unfair or wrong that I don’t make as much money as some lawyer who spends his days reading through stacks of low-flow toilet patents? No, because (a) I don’t care enough about money to spend my life doing that kind of work and (b) fairness has nothing to do with it. The market sets the price for such things.
My boss at the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, is the foremost champion of the idea of “earned success.” It turns out what makes people happy isn’t money, it’s the feeling that you made a meaningful contribution to life. Absolutely: You can get that from building a business and getting rich. But you can also get that from raising a family, starting a charity, being a winning coach or an exceptional teacher, from writing a novel, or, in my case, from your record for fitting 37 Cheetos in your mouth at one time. (“They’ll never take that away from you.” — The Couch)
What can’t give you a feeling of earned success is getting stuff you didn’t earn. It can make you temporarily excited. But meaningful happiness comes from finding meaning. And what counts as meaningful for you might count as a huge waste of time to me. That’s why the inalienable right to pursue happiness has to be an individual right.
There is a caveat. Some people need a little help — either from government or family or a charity of one kind or another — to get to the point where they can figure out how to pursue earned success. Actually all people need help, because we are all born little barbarians with no understanding of the consequences of our actions. This is the main reason why diapers are a multibillion dollar industry. But some people need more help later in life, because of the circumstances of their birth or the crappiness of their parents.
Which brings me to the point I intended to make. Which was . . . ? Oh, right. So I wrote this column about inequality. And it made a lot of liberal people really, really angry. And frankly I don’t understand why.
Borrowing from Kay Hymowitz, I made the point that the New York Times poster girl for inequality, Dasani Coates (apparently named after the bottled water) is the victim of bad parents more than she is the victim of a bad society:
The data say something else. Family structure and the values that go into successful child rearing have a stronger correlation with economic mobility than income inequality does. America’s system is hardly flawless. But if Dasani were born to the same parents in a socialist country, she’d still be a victim — of bad parents.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have sympathy for her. I have enormous sympathy for her. I’m a bit of a Rawlsian softy when it comes to kids. Kids can’t choose their parents. And when crappy parents make crappy decisions — starting with the decision to have kids they can’t take good care of — their kids did nothing wrong. What gets complicated as a matter of public policy is that kids of crappy parents often grow up to be crappy parents themselves. Multiply that out and you don’t have a family problem, you have a cultural problem. I am open to the idea of doing something to break the cycle of poverty, even if it comes at considerable cost (see today’s column). And obviously, all of this can get very complicated. But, at the end of the day, there will always be people who make bad choices, and those choices will have consequences. Why? Because that’s life.#page#
Various and Sundry
I will be on the Special Report “All Star Panel” tonight. I’d like to use this opportunity to dethrone the King of Fingers, but I’m not sure my Fox News overlords would like it.
I will also be making a special appearance for the 200th Ricochet Podcastpalooza in L.A. Buy tickets now! That’s right, people. Those of you who thought seeing me on stage with Pat Sajak could only be achieved in the dreams that come from chasing a fistful of Ambien with a shot of Jägermeister can spare yourselves the nasty hangover in that Mexican motel room.#ad#
For years I’ve been joking about wearing a spaghetti-strainer codpiece around the house. Now all of a sudden I find out I’ve been wearing it wrong, at least if I want to be a pastafarian.
That escalated quickly. Man kills stepfather with atomic wedgie.
I keep warning you about the rise of the robots. Well, behold the burrito vending machine.
Speaking of which, what do former New York City mayor John Lindsay and this vending machine have in common? They’re both capable of giving you crabs.
Those of you who don’t get that joke need to prepare yourselves for some really, really disturbing information. The former New York mayor gave Mrs. Brady crabs. Seriously.
Less seriously, I loved this piece from the Onion.
More seriously, when dogs and cats meet for the first time.
Eight historical movies that were saved by their inaccuracies.
Ten peculiar things public schools have banned.
Five villains who had unfathomable goals.
26 animals having a great snow day.
Some amusing Craigslist missed connections.
Cool WWII animation.