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 (and your little dog, too),
Everyone says you shouldn’t beat a dead horse, but it’s infinitely preferable to beating a live one. First of all, it’s a pretty good workout. Look at what beating just half a dead cow did for Rocky Balboa’s upper torso. More importantly, as an animal lover, no horses are harmed when you pummel a dead one.
#ad#Also, if you beat a dead horse in front of its living comrades, it might send a clarifying message.
And so in that spirit, let me return to this clip from MSNBC, which I already suggested might have been the “dumbest 57 seconds ever on TV.” I will concede that this was probably hyperbole. I recently watched The Bachelor for the first time in a decade and in the process I felt IQ points evaporating off me like au jus under an Arby’s heat lamp. And even restricting the criteria to the fare on MSNBC, where I hear they have a big bowl of lead paint chips in the greenroom (“Even though they’re white, I eat them because they’re non-fat” — Al Sharpton), it’s entirely possible that dumber things have been said. But if the X axis tracks the seriousness of the issue and the Y axis the degree of perverse moral and intellectual vacuity, I stand by my contention that this is one of the highest scoring entries in the history of the genre.
A quick recap: Eric Bates, formerly of Rolling Stone and now a colleague of Glenn Greenwald at First Look Media was on Alex Wagner’s MSNBC show. He said:
I think we also have to remember that this isn’t just Islamic extremism. If you go back to the ’80s — during the Reagan administration — when Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine for portraying him having — I believe it was drunken incest with his mother in an outhouse — again, in a visual form — and won a $150,000 court case against Hustler for that. It was overturned by the Supreme Court, I think, eight-to-zero. So, you know, religious fundamentalists of all stripes and of nationalities have this penchant to say, “We want to be able tell you what you can and can’t portray.”
You can stare at that all you want, it won’t get less stupid. In fact, it only gets more stupid. It’s like the Goodfellas of stupid; you can watch it over and over and over again and each time you will take away some new stupidity to appreciate. I covered a lot of the obvious stupidity in my Corner rant the other night. Comparing an entirely defensible personal-defamation lawsuit to the premeditated murder of a dozen journalists is such a huge red herring, I want Egon Spengler to walk on screen and explain, “Well, let’s say this red herring represents the normal amount of irrelevant codswallop in the New York area. Based on this morning’s sample, it would be a red herring . . . 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds.”
Worse than that, it’s not even a real red herring because the factual assumptions behind the Falwell comparison are all untrue. As Ben Howe recounts over at Red State, Falwell’s suit focused on the fact that Hustler made up quotes by Falwell. Moreover, not only did Falwell not murder Flynt, he became lifelong friends with him. Flynt even spoke at his funeral. So much for the supposedly equivalent fundamentalist mindsets.
But it’s worse than that. This 57-second transcript is so outside-the-box stupid that a million monkeys banging on typewriters would come up with the screenplay for Gymkata years sooner than this. And when you told the head monkey-wrangler what you were looking for, he would reply with Chief Brody understatement: “We’re going to need more monkeys.”
Who Are the Anti-Speech Fundamentalists?
The great irony here is that since the 1980s, when Falwell allegedly tried to usher in an era of Evangelical sharia where smut peddlers wouldn’t be allowed to accuse people of shagging their own mothers in outhouses, the Left was already well underway in its war on free speech. Jihadi nutters are routinely allowed to rally the poltroons on college campuses with stem-winders about “Islamophobia” and peddle their extremist twaddle. But you know who has a hard time talking on a college campus? People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Brandeis is a safe place for ignorami to cheer dead cops but couldn’t muster the intestinal fortitude to let the world’s premier victim of the real — and only — “war on women” tell her story.
By the way, who has spent tens of thousands of hours defending bans on “hate speech”? Where has the idea that climate-change skeptics should lose their jobs and be prosecuted for their dissent as traitors to the planet flourished? Not among the Falwells, I can tell you that. MSNBC’s raison d’être is to come up with fresh arguments — half-baked daily! — to scold, censor, and silence any voices that don’t fit their editorial line. I’m fine with calling this a fundamentalist mindset, but it’s not a Christian one, nor a conservative one, it’s liberal fundamentalism.
David Brooks says it well today:
The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.
Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.
#page#Which brings me to Ms. Wagner who, judging from her response to Bates, probably spent several hours in a stairwell at 30 Rock after the show wondering when the maintenance people would get around to fixing the escalator she was stuck on. After nodding along at Bates’s sagaciousness she added:
And yet, Islam is — because of the age of terror in which we live, occupies — is a third rail, in a way, that you can show, sort of, blasphemous photos or drawings — not photos, but drawings of the Pope. Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity slanderer or satirist — whatever you want to call it — in terms of religion. And yet, we focus very specifically on Islam, because it is much more incendiary and much more controversial to talk about.
#ad#We focus on Islam because barbarians battling under its banner murder people who fail to show it sufficient obeisance. It’s as if Wagner wants to say that we focus on Islam because of some sort of unfair climate of bigotry or “Islamophobia.” Like maybe it’s some irrational obsession with Islam on our part that explains the focus on such satire.
Blaming America First and Last
If you can clear away the wilted and slimy bits from Wagner’s poorly tossed word-salad, what you see on display here is the gravitational pull of anti-Americanism.
I’ve always liked the line, usually attributed to Robert Frost, that a liberal is too broadminded to take his own side in an argument. But if you think about it, it is sneakily self-serving. Broadmindedness is not what drives these people, it is merely one of the many terms of their self-flattery. “We liberals are open-minded to a fault!” It’s like those job-interview jokes where you say your biggest fault is “caring too much” or “being too much of a perfectionist.”
In reality, the liberal ideological comfort zone is incredibly narrow. If an issue can’t be turned into a critique of America (or: white privilege, the religious Right (variously defined), capitalism, the GOP, or some other float in the parade of horribles that is the legacy of those horrible Pale Penis People who gave us so much of Western civilization), then the conversation must be pulled in that direction. It’s simply where their minds go. Rhetorically they have to fight every fight on home turf.
Hence Bates says, “I think we also have to remember that this isn’t just Islamic extremism . . .” Blah blah blah. No, we don’t have to remember anything of the sort. You have a pathological need to change the subject. People like Bates can’t help themselves. They have to get the conversation back to a place where they are comfortable talking about their preferred enemies and demons, even if he has to haul a 30-year-old 600 pound red herring into the studio to do it.
Bates of course is not alone. You could feel the relief wash over parts of the Left when it was reported that one of the Hebdo jihadis was mad at Bush and Abu Ghraib (Noah Rothman has examples here). Finally, there’s something here we can blame on America! We can work with this! Heaven forbid America is ever clearly and unabashedly on the right side of anything.
Bad = Conservative
So what happens when events and facts make it impossible for liberals to change the subject to more convenient topics? They figure out how to make the villain or problem at hand “conservative.”
Here’s a small example. In that New York magazine interview of Chris Rock I keep bringing up, Rock says that college campuses have become “too conservative.”
What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?
Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.
In their political views?
Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.
#page#Now I understand — and agree! — with what Rock is talking about here. And part of the problem is just the limits of our language. The word conservative — shorn of its political connotations — simply works better for the phenomenon he’s talking about. But it’s worth noting that everything he’s saying about the uptight humorlessness of American college audiences is true and absolutely none of it is conservatism’s fault. All of the nonsense about microaggressions and hate speech, all of the namby-pamby self-esteem boosting, the elevation of feelings, the paranoia of offending people, the thousand flavors of political correctness including informed-consent for every romantic overture: They did it. Them. All by themselves. And they are still doing it. Conservatives aren’t behind any of it and libertarians certainly aren’t.
But the moment it becomes impossible to ignore the huge frick’n mess they created, what do they start calling it? Conservatism.
#ad#Here’s a more apt example. Noah Rothman points me to a BBC documentary that describes North Korea as right-wing.
“North Korea has a higher share of the population in uniform than Nazi Germany and fascist Italy had until the Second World War,” said Brian Myers, an American professor of international studies at South Korea’s Dongseo University. “So, I think it’s much more accurate to look at North Korea as a far-right state. An ultra-nationalist state.”
Now, I know you’re expecting a long rant about all this given my particular hobby-horse about fascism. I will say (again) that the notion that nationalism can’t be left-wing is a vestigial brain fart from Marxism-Leninism. Of course it can be left-wing. See: Castroite Cuba, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Chavez’s Venezuela, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, et al. The same goes for militarism. The Soviet Union was militaristic, was it not left-wing? Castro wore a military uniform almost every day. Was he a right-winger? How about Daniel Ortega? Moreover, the claim that nationalism is right-wing is only trotted out when a left-wing nation does something embarrassing to the Left. The Left loves wars of national liberation. The Left loves self-determination against colonialism. But when such nationalism becomes a problem, out come the smug lectures about how nationalism is right-wing.
And that’s the point. Once something becomes too terrible to ignore, it must be labeled “right-wing” or “conservative” somehow. If you don’t believe me, find the smartest liberal you know and ask him or her to list all of the really bad things done by the Left. Odds are you’ll get silence. Or you might get “Well, I don’t believe in labels . . . ” (“Don’t get him started on that again, people!” — The Couch). But what you won’t hear is much of anything about the American eugenics movement, or the internment of the Japanese, or the Black Panthers, Weathermen, the manifest failures of the New Deal (economic and non-economic alike), etc. That’s because liberalism, by conviction if not definition, is never wrong. As I put it in my column a week ago:
If you work from the dogmatic assumption that liberalism is morally infallible and that liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces, then it’s easy to explain away what seem like double standards. Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.
Despite controlling the commanding heights of the culture — journalism, Hollywood, the arts, academia, and vast swaths of the corporate America they denounce — liberals have convinced themselves they are pitted against deeply entrenched powerful forces and that being a liberal is somehow brave. Obama, the twice-elected president of the United States, to this day speaks as if he’s some kind of underdog.
I May Disagree with What You Say, But I Will Preen Anyway
So I’m starting to see the alleged quote from Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” popping up on Twitter and elsewhere in response to the Hebdo slaughter.
(As I rant in The Tyranny of Clichés), I hate the quote. First of all, Voltaire never said it, his biographer did. And the quote was never intended as a serious defense of free speech either.
More to the point, it’s one of the classic examples of bravery on the cheap. Very few people who say it, mean it. Indeed, they usually say it to weasel out of having a painful discussion or escape losing an argument. More succinctly, it’s usually just a self-aggrandizing lie. It’s very easy to say you will lay your life down to defend someone else’s free-speech rights. But given how eagerly so many people in this country are giving away those rights without a gun to their heads, I very much doubt they would suddenly defend those rights when the gun barrel reaches eye level. Stop bragging about how brave you would be in a hypothetical situation that will almost surely never be tested, and start showing me a little courage when the stakes aren’t nearly so high.
#page#Various & Sundry
I’m coming to Chattanooga later this month (“Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes?” — The Couch). Details here. Come on out!
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#ad#My column today — which I liked — is on how no matter how you slice it, the Hebdo attack was a victory for the jihadists. First of all, there already is a chilling effect thanks to the attack. That’s a victory. The news outlets that don’t publish the images of Mohammed send the signal that they’re afraid. That’s a victory. The outlets that do run the images give the jihadists a recruiting tool. That’s a victory. Radicals — whether fascists, Nazis, Communists, Alynskyites etc. — all buy into the same strategic logic: Create a crisis that forces everyone to pick a side. This was part of the reason the Communists in the Reichstag voted with the Nazis; they wanted to “heighten the contradictions,” as the Leninists say, and undermine democracy. One of their slogans: “First Brown, then Red.” The jihadists understand that an anti-Muslim backlash helps them by driving more Muslims into their ranks. Meanwhile, in an effort to avoid an anti-Muslim backlash, Western leaders end up lying and sanitizing the Islamic nature of the threat, which only undermines their own credibility. It’s a vicious cycle and things will get much worse before they get better.
A good piece by Ross Douthat on “The Blasphemy We Need.”
Zoë Update: So the Dingo’s behavior was improving until we threw her in lockup over New Year’s while the bipedal Goldbergs went on a family vacation. She came back grateful but also defensive. The first couple days back she was unacceptably aggressive towards dogs that got too friendly with her humans. It seems to be improving a bit, but it’s still a real concern because we won’t tolerate that kind of behavior. Meanwhile, dogs that don’t say hi to us or try to get her treats are her favorite playthings. This is from this morning.
Congratulations, G-File readers, you are reading the best conservative newsletter (or “news”letter) in the Known Universe. (I’m also the No. 4 columnist on the right side of the planet).
Lucky he only cut off his dreadlocks: Dad cuts off dreadlocks of man found with his daughter
Stuff you might not know about Goodfellas.
Here’s a useful way to identify people who should not procreate: Whether they own a Belfie Stick.