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Spartacus Notes

Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.) takes a picture with attendees at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in New Orleans, La., August 3, 2018. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Let no one claim that I don’t self-edit when writing my “news”letter. A few additional, fairly random, tidbits I couldn’t make room for in the final version:

In the latest edition, I went on a bit of a tear about Senator Cory Booker and his “Spartacus moment” comment. As I note, he didn’t actually call it his “Spartacus moment.” I write:

Perhaps the most telling sign that Booker cannot commit to his bad-boy routine is the actual quote so many people are inaccurately summarizing. Booker didn’t say, “I am Spartacus!” He didn’t even say, “This is my ‘I am Spartacus moment.’” He said: “This is about the closest I’ll probably ever have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment.”

I go on to explain how this phrasing demonstrates Booker’s inability to commit to the role he wants to play. But my point here is that we are watching, in real time, an inaccuracy become a piece of political and journalistic shorthand. This happens quite often and not just in politics. Pop culture is infested with misquotes. Humphrey Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.” Jim Lovell never said, “Houston, we have a problem.” Dracula never said, “I want to suck your blood.” Captain Kirk never said, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

But it happens in politics, too. Countless liberals are sure that Sarah Palin said, “I can see Russia from my house” and at least some conservatives are positive Al Gore said, “I invented the Internet.” Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech didn’t include the word “malaise.”

Similarly, Cory Booker didn’t really say, “I am Spartacus.” He didn’t say he was having an “I am Spartacus moment.” He said he was getting somewhat close to such a moment. This is all further confirmation of Aristotle’s famous observation, “People are lazy, and the Internet makes them even lazier.”

A second tidbit left out of the G-File is a darkly humorous story that I discovered while researching the history of the “I am Spartacus” line (contrary to understandable rumor, I do occasionally look stuff up before writing my “news”letter).

Roy Sorensen, in an article titled “Knowledge-lies” in the academic journal Analyses, recounts how Eric Douglas — son of Kirk Douglas and half-brother of Michael — felt eclipsed by both men’s fame and tried his hand at stand-up comedy not long after Spartacus was in theaters. Sorensen writes:

Eric Douglas lived in the shadow of his father Kirk Douglas and his brother Michael Douglas (who was becoming as famous an actor as his father). When Eric tried stand-up comedy, he was rudely received at one nightclub. Flustered, Eric blurted out ‘You can’t heckle me! I am Kirk Douglas’s son!’ The heckler stood and shouted back ‘No! I am Kirk Douglas’s son!’ Then another heckler stood: ‘I am Kirk Douglas’s son!’ Soon, the whole audience was on its feet.

Finally, I had to cut an extended riff about the Starz series Spartacus. I was a fan of the show, admittedly mostly because of the gratuitous sex and violence. The real Spartacus — like Cory Booker — never said, “I am Spartacus!” Well, actually, he probably did. (Perhaps when he was checking into a hotel or, John Kerry–like, telling someone, “Do you know who I am?” but not in the context depicted in the film. Neither did his followers. Or at least we have no idea if they did.)

But at the end of the series (spoiler alert), the writers came up with a clever twist on the famous movie ending. In the series, Spartacus instructs his most able lieutenants to spread out across the land harassing the Romans, shouting, “I am Spartacus!” so as to sow confusion throughout the empire as to the real Spartacus’s location. This stratagem didn’t work either, as nearly everyone ended up thrown into slavery or crucified. But I thought it was a clever play on the spirit of defiance amidst a lost cause, much more clever than the Democrats’ behavior in the judiciary committee.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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