Politics & Policy

The Unspectacular NOW!

The Fierce Urgency of Now in Times Square, NYC (Andrew Burton/Getty)
For feminists and gun-grabbers, an infantile rallying cry

Time is running out to do something stupid and irreversible. Act now!

“Now,” especially when followed by an exclamation point, or written in all capital letters, or both — Now! — is the least conservative word in the English language. “We must act now,” proclaims a gentleman bearing the appropriately apocalyptic name of “Flood” in the letters section of the Times-Argus of Vermont. The subject is global warming: “It is unjust and immoral for us to leave a damaged and hostile world to our children. We need to act now.” From Flood to exodus: “Act now or homeless could move to San Francisco,” warns a writer in Chico, Calif., and I am just enough of a crusty old right-winger to wonder what the downside is for Chico in that case.

The new year is inevitably a time of rhetorical immediacy: “Act now to shed fat added over the holidays.”

Now!” is a rhetorical short circuit, a way to preempt anyone’s thinking too deeply about a proposition. In Bill de Blasio’s New York, the streets are full of idiotic riff-raff chanting: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it [sic]? Now!” When the country is convulsed by the shooting of a petty criminal in the suburbs of St. Louis, the answer, according to the sort of people who made de Blasio mayor, is dead cops in New York. Don’t bother pointing out how little sense that makes — the “Now!” punctuating that murderous sentiment is all you need to know. Not that killing police in Missouri is any more sensible, but I was puzzled about why New York City had become the locus of anti-police protests until I tightened in and asked further why within New York it is the site around Union Square, rather than One Police Plaza or Staten Island, the scene of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD, that is the center of the scene. The answer, so near as I can tell, is: better bars.

“What do we want? Craft beers! When do we want them? Now!”

Now!” is the eternal cry of the infantile — “What does baby want? Diaper change! When does baby want it? Now!” — and Barack Obama, who has a keen appreciation of that fact, has made immediacy the hallmark of his style. Executive amnesty, minimum wage, climate change — these are all within the realm of the holy Now!, the sort of thing that cannot wait. (Wait for what? Democracy.) The president does his stentorian best to beat some meaning into “the fierce urgency of now,” the phrase from Martin Luther King Jr. around which he once organized a famous speech almost entirely devoid of content. That this is so effective a strategy is despair-inducing. Grown men, and facsimiles thereof, are routinely taken in by this sort of thing; consider Andrew Sullivan’s soft spot for Obama’s dopey “fierce urgency of now” shtick, taking it as evidence that the empty suit from Chicago “meets a moment in history.”

In truth, Obama’s “Now!” huckstering should be utterly familiar to anybody who has ever seen poor Henry Winkler, looking like a Madame Tussaud’s wax sculpture of himself, on television hawking reverse mortgages and promising you a free lighted magnifying reader if you call . . . Now! Not later, not after talking to a financial adviser, your family, or somebody who might have experience with similar products, but now, now, now, because what is your moldy old family home compared with a shiny new free lighted magnifying reader? A strange choice of promotional items, that: Giving the oldsters a means to read the fine print while discouraging them from thinking too hard about it.

Now!” is the compact variation on “the time for debate is over,” which, as Jonah Goldberg points out, it always is when a Democrat is losing the argument. But it’s the same time when the Left is winning the argument, too. Professor Krugman of the Times is arguably the most influential public intellectual of the Obama era, but when he addresses hoi polloi, his rhetorical style is pure Ph.D., where those three letters denote “pretty heavy diapers.” End This Depression Now! was the title of his communiqué to the general public. Neither his doctoral thesis nor his Nobel lecture contained an exclamation point in its title.

When Ferguson protesters bucked at being co-opted by the self-serving antics of Al Sharpton Inc., Kirsten West Savali of the Root chalked that up to the “fierce urgency of now” and its uncanny ability to inspire young people to “bum rush the mic,” to use the fierce urgency of slang from 1987. In 2012, Peter Dinklage led a band of po-faced celebrities taking time out from the extraordinarily profitable creation of blood-drenched entertainment to advise the sort of people who take their political cues from Game of Thrones actors to “demand a plan — right now!” on gun control. The accumulation of celebrity brainpower around Dinklage would not provide enough neuro-electric juice to fire up one of Henry Winkler’s free lighted magnifying readers, but never mind — Now is the point, the alpha and the omega. Don’t just stand there thinking carefully about the nature of the problem and considering your options with mature judgment — do something! Peter Dinklage and Will Ferrell — the main artistic forces behind Elf — demand nothing less.

Organizing for Action, the permanent Obama campaign, would very much like to sell you a limited-edition — “while supplies last!” — poster bearing the slogan: “The Time to Act Is Now.” The catalog of asininity goes on forever.

The people who genuinely believe that the existential future of mankind is at stake might be forgiven their “Now!” even as we take note of the fact that practically everything they want, from organic cupcakes to bike lanes, they believe to be necessary to the survival of mankind. But it does not stop with Armageddon. Consider this current headline: “Let’s fix our female Asian-American writer blind spot now!” To Celeste Ng, a female Asian American who recently published her first novel, our purported cultural blind spot for female Asian-American writers must present an intensely important occasion for the fierce urgency of now, though she gives cruelly short shrift to female Asian-American left-handed writers of historical romance novels who work while suffering from sleep apnea and living in states whose names begin with the letter “M,” women who truly dwell in the shadows of a culture that seems almost aggressively unwilling to take note of them as a group.

And the grandda — ! — grandperson of them all, the National Organization for Women, makes NOW! its fundamental message: “What do we want? Whatever we want! When do we want it? Now!” (Which is, admittedly, a bit of an improvement over: “What do we want? Dead children! When do we want them? January 1973 and forward!”) Ironically NOW and the woman who embodies its ethic, Gloria Steinem, have only the most tenuous of connections to the present, being about as much a product of the here and now as the costumes seen on reruns of The Partridge Family.

Conservatives should know better, but we are as vulnerable to temptation as anybody. Whoever the nominee is in 2016, expect him to issue a plan for his first day in office, his first 100 days, etc.

Why? Consider the alternative: “My plan is to try to behave in a generally adult fashion, to avoid making hasty decisions, and to consider my options in full knowledge that almost none of our serious national problems has a self-evident solution, that everything is a matter of tradeoffs, and that the best we can reasonably hope for is to choose the least-bad option in most cases. I am the least-bad candidate in this race, and I promise to govern accordingly. And that means few if any dramatic moves.”

That is what we need now, and what “Now!” ensures we cannot have — not now, not ever.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent of National Review.


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