Politics & Policy

The Age of Minions

(Paul Begala: Brendan Smialowski/Getty)
Some politicos are born servile, others have servility thrust upon them.

The Pantone Color Institute, which normally finds itself in the news exactly once a year, when it proclaims the “color of the year” — 2015’s is marsala — last week heralded the christening of a new color: “Minion Yellow,” named for the rascally henchmen who assist Gru in the “Despicable Me” films. Apparently, the proprietary-color world is trolling the political world.

This is the Age of Minions.

Practically all colors have symbolic associations, and yellow’s baggage is ugly and complicated: The yellow-bellied are cowards; yellow journalism is dishonest and irresponsible; the yellow light is the cautious, indecisive point between “stop” and “go.” The word “minion” is rich in connotation, too: A “supporter” or a “loyalist” might retain some self-respect, but a “minion” is an inferior, a lackey, an underling. A man I know was some years ago employed by the eccentric millionaire, Cadillac enthusiast, freelance semiotician (and creepy creep) Stanley Marsh, and the job title on his employment contract was “henchman.” One has to admire that frankness, and there’s a certain masculine self-possession to being a “henchman.” Who wants to be Paul Begala when you could be James Carville?

Begala is of course the exemplar of the minion type, the tireless monkey-butler of the Clinton crime syndicate, bowing and scraping as members of the imperial family come and go, garnishing their altars between coronations. Begala has minion in his DNA, though he did once seek power for himself, running for student-body president at my alma mater, the University of Texas. He was defeated by an imaginary write-in candidate, Hank the Hallucination, but rather than concede defeat, Begala had Hank the Hallucination ruled ineligible on the grounds that he was not registered as a student.

Begala has been triumphing over imaginary foes ever since.

But he plainly has never recovered from that undergraduate distress. Like many trauma survivors — particularly survivors of blunt-force trauma to the head — Begala suffers from a diminished ability to communicate, his speech having been reduced to a narrow selection of clichés and banalities. One day, neurolinguists will call it “Begala’s aphasia.” Listen to him talk and watch his face: It’s like a testosterone-free version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, scrolling hesitantly through preprogrammed conversational options before settling on one. Which is weird, considering that Begala goes to one of two choices 99 percent of the time: 1) “Middle class something-something,” or 2) “Republicans! Nasty! Filthy! Republicans! We hates them! They stole our Precious!”

#related#Asked how such a familiar and decrepit figure as Herself might present herself as something new and fresh, Begala told Jake Tapper: “I think you’re going to see some new ideas particularly focused on the economy and on the middle class.” Really, that is what he said. His programming frequently gets stuck in that loop: In a column of only a few hundred words, he used the phrase “middle class” 16 times. And what does “middle class” mean? “It means working hard, playing by the rules, and getting ahead,” Begala writes, still chewing the rhetorical cud of 1993. Never mind that “ahead” is a positional adverb — keep moving ahead and you’re not in the middle — and that Begala’s formulation is nearly meaningless: Such sentiment settles gently upon the minion’s ear. In the world of minions, the inability to articulate an original thought is a virtue — they call it “staying on message.”

The slavishness of Minion Begala is something to behold. Asked whether he thought it was possible that Bill Clinton might damage Herself’s presidential prospects, Begala sniffed that 73 percent of Americans tell pollsters that they have warm and fuzzy feelings about the Clinton administration. That is the typical minion answer: Never mind all of the possible ways in which a man who spent part of his presidency diddling interns in the Oval Office and perjuring himself on the matter might possibly slip up and further humiliate his wife — the polls have spoken. For the minion, political life is not merely a popularity contest but a circular popularity contest: The Clintons shall be popular because they have been popular. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be.

Politics is therefore its own justification. Herself clearly broke the law in the matter of her e-mails and has more or less dared the federal government to do anything about it. Is that a problem for someone who wants to be president? Begala thinks not. Why not? Because it isn’t giving her any problems, i.e., it’s no problem because it’s no problem. “Voters do not give a s—t,” he writes. “They do not even give a fart. Find me one persuadable voter who agrees with HRC on the issues but will vote against her because she has a non-archival-compliant email system and I’ll kiss your ass in Macy’s window and say it smells like roses.” (You know what Sigmund Freud would say about that display of anal fixation? Nothing; Freud’s dead.) For the minion, a crime is only a crime if it is punished, and therefore crimes that have not been punished should not be punished. It’s a peculiar, jaundiced mode of thought.

Minionism infests every aspect of public life. A writer for the Guardian praised — this is not made up —“Hillary’s flawless Chipotle choice.” Flawless! The servility of Chris Matthews before Barack Obama — thrill up the leg and all — is nearly identical to that of Mark Morford, who argued for the San Francisco Chronicle that the president is “a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet,” italics Mr. Morford’s, drones Mr. Obama’s.

Some men are born servile, some achieve servility, and some have servility thrust upon them. There is something rank and defective in some men’s souls that simply needs to abase itself — not before God, or Nietzsche’s Abyss, or the Stoics’ clockwork universe, but before ordinary mortal men and women who might, had things turned out only a little differently, manage a Chipotle rather than use one as a stage for political theater.

The question here is not mere political disagreement. There are a great many admirable, intelligent, self-possessed men and women who sympathize more with François Hollande’s approach to government than with Ted Cruz’s. The minion goes far beyond that: You see a smart guy like Chris Hayes on television talking what he must know, at some level, to be absolute nonsense in the service of people he must know, at some level, to be a gaggle of opportunists, fanatics, and snake-handlers, or a man such as Paul Krugman turn his powerful intellect toward the most slavish and juvenile sort of political rah-rah-rahing/cis-boom-bahing, and you cannot help but see something primitive at work, the weak little man at the bottom of some stone-age clan’s totem pole prostrating himself before the big man at the top of it. Of course, the fact that the bad-ass tribal chieftain here is daft old Hillary Rodham Clinton motoring about in her Scooby van does add an air of surrealism to the ritual.

At some point in this movie, Begala will bite a finger off of Frodo or Terry Sullivan, and, like Sméagol, he won’t be claiming the Ring of Power for himself — he’ll be claiming himself for the Ring of Power. That’s what minions do.

Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.

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