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 (please petition the Federal “News”letter Authority not to revoke my license),
Even for someone who thinks the only difference between 2016 and 2017 is that in 2017 the universe decided to take the condom off, this has been a truly remarkable week. Rather than focus on the totality of it all, however, I’m gonna try to make one extended point.
Allow me to quote . . . myself:
One of my favorite scenes in Scarface is when Meryl Streep compliments Peter MacNicol’s seersucker suit. Oh, wait. That’s Sophie’s Choice. I get them confused sometimes. One of my favorite scenes from Scarface is when Tony Montana shoots the Colombian assassin in the head before he can blow up some guy’s car. There are just way too many expletives for this family-oriented “news”letter to transcribe more of the dialogue than absolutely necessary. But you can find it here. Besides, the line I have in mind is pretty short: “You stupid f**k, look at you now.”
Hold that thought.
In last week’s decidedly un-jocular “news”letter, I wrote about how the hypocrisy of the Left’s newfound outrage at Russia’s meddling in our politics can’t be summarized by saying “Romney was right!” when he said Russia was our biggest geopolitical foe in a debate with Barack Obama. Starting with George Kennan’s Long Telegram, conservatives spent the entirety of the Cold War pointing out that the Russians were undermining American life, and we got mocked and ridiculed for it by self-styled sophisticates who thought such concerns were little more than paranoia.
The ridicule didn’t end with the Cold War (when, by the way, the extent and danger of Russian meddling were much greater than they are now). Liberals were so invested in the idea that the political Right made too big a deal about Soviet Communism and that we used our hawkishness as an unfair wedge issue against Democrats that when Mitt Romney said an incandescently true thing about Putin’s Russia, liberals rolled their eyes and then laughed uproariously at Obama’s “the 1980s called” quip. In other words, they were so married to the myth of their moral and intellectual superiority, liberals preferred to stick with the punch-line than even imagine that reality wasn’t on their side.
Which brings me to another Mitt Romney debate comment that received similar mockery and self-flattering giggling. During the second presidential debate in 2012, Romney was asked about pay equity. In the course of his answer, he said:
I had the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men . . . I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” and they brought us whole binders full of women.
Now, I’ll happily grant that the phrase “binders full of women” is an awkward one. It sounds like the menus they bring out on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane when Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein settle in for a weekend getaway.
But here’s the thing: What Romney did was exactly what feminist groups insist elected politicians should do. He saw that there were “too many” men in the applicant pool, so he reached out to some feminist groups and asked for help. Some feminist groups reached out to him — and he listened to them, too. And then he hired more women.
Here’s the thing: What Romney did was exactly what feminist groups insist elected politicians should do.
Here’s Jon Stewart mocking him for it. Here’s Ronan Farrow. And here’s Bill Maher, a man who must be sweating like a hooker in church over Hollywood’s post-Weinstein zero-tolerance for piggishness toward women.
Blinded by the Might
“Virtue signaling” is an over-used term these days. One problem with the concept is that it often implies a touch of cynicism to the signaler: “I want people to believe that I’m as righteous as this symbolic gesture suggests.”
To be sure, there often is cynicism involved. For instance, people who drive Teslas in states in which electricity is predominately coal-generated signal a lot of virtue — but they do nothing about greenhouse-gas emissions because their cars essentially run on coal and condescension. More relevant, Harvey Weinstein, that bloated carbuncle of hormones and insecurity, virtue signaled with cash quite a lot. In his initial statement after the scandal broke, Weinstein tried it again, offering to atone for his transgressions by going after the NRA. Even for Hollywood liberals, that was too pathetic. It wasn’t virtue signaling so much as an attempt to buy an indulgence from the Church of Liberalism.
Speaking of indulgences, we should note that Weinstein is no fool. He had good reason to believe it might work. Ten years ago, Republican senator Larry Craig was caught using airport men’s rooms like a Greek gymnasium. At the time, I wrote a cheeky column on how if we have carbon offsets to atone for sinful fossil-fuel use, we should also have gay-sex offsets:
The same market-based approach is used by environmentally crapulent liberal celebrities all the time. They use private jets, drive around with big entourages and own numerous energy-sucking homes. To make amends, they purchase an indulgence in the form of “carbon offsets” — a contract whereby the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases are soaked up by newly planted trees and the like.
So why not do the same thing with gay sex? Cruise the bus station, cut a check to the heterosexuality-promoting organization of your choice.
You laugh (I hope), but this is how much of liberalism — and, alas, conservatism — operates today. Public piety, support for the right causes, and old-fashioned power and celebrity can buy a lot of indulgence from your “side.” That was true of Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, and, of course, Donald Trump.
Not all their sins were equal, but the patterns were mostly the same. The only one in that list, by the way, who “got away with it” in the end was Bill Clinton. The Big He was too big to fail.
But here’s the thing: What we call virtue-signaling isn’t always cynical. Some people actually become convinced of their — or their side’s — inherent virtue. The flipside of that coin is their equal conviction that the other side is inherently un-virtuous.
Mitt Romney is a perfect case-in-point. Romney is by no means a perfect man — he’d be the first to admit that. But he is, by any reasonable standard (particularly for rich politicians), a deeply virtuous man. But liberals were working off their dogma, and so they assumed that he simply must be sexist or racist or a nostalgic, irrational anti-Communist, because that is what conservatives are. They leapt on the binders and Russia comments and turned their myopia into proof of Romney’s falsehood and ran with it.
The Perils of Hypocrisy Witch Hunts
I weary of all the “this is why we got Trump” hot takes, but I think it’s appropriate here.
When the media and Hollywood insist that anyone they dislike must be a villainous bigot, the all-too-natural political and psychological response is to discount such claims as vacuous knee-jerk ad hominem wolf-crying. And when it seems like the standards of good conduct are only used as weapons against conservatives, it should not be shocking when conservatives say, “To Hell with it” and play the same game.
Back to that column on Senator Craig’s toe-tapping adventures:
Since most on the Left think Craig’s alleged sexual liaisons are perfectly benign, they shouldn’t object. “Who are we to judge?” and all that. Rather, the Left claims it hates Craig’s hypocrisy, not his behavior . . .
. . . The Left claims to hate “moralizers.” So any failure to live like Jesus while telling others to follow his example is an outrage, even the defining challenge of our lives. (In 2005, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean pledged, “I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy.”) One solution to the hypocrisy epidemic, of course, is to have no morals at all. You can’t violate your principles if you don’t have any. Another solution: simply define down your principles until they are conveniently consistent with your preferred lifestyle.
This is what has happened to vast swathes of the Right. Because too many right-wing celebrities are guilty of boorish behavior (or worse), including the president, the only thing left to argue about is how liberals “have no right to judge” Trump. In other words, they’re playing the same game liberals have played for decades. Moral behavior isn’t the issue, only the hypocrisy of your enemies. Take segments about liberal hypocrisy out of Sean Hannity’s show and all you’d have left is reports about the heroic wheat harvests under Comrade Trump’s heroic guidance concluded by some lady rappers doing extended cuts to fill in the other 48 minutes.
Lost in the bilious argle-bargle is the value of the virtues being betrayed. In the wake of my column earlier this week, I’ve been inundated with charges of RINOism, treachery, weak-kneeism, both-sidism, and moral superiority from “conservatives” — all for saying that harassing and assaulting women is bad when conservatives do it too. Failing to acknowledge that is itself hypocritical. From liberals, I’ve gotten reams of whataboutist rage. “Did you condemn Roger Ailes?” (Yes, but not enough.) “Did you condemn Donald “grab them by the p*ssy” Trump?” (Uh, yeah.)
Lost in the bilious argle-bargle is the value of the virtues being betrayed.
(Some conservatives even hit me with, “What about Clinton? Did you complain about Bill Clinton!?” I laughed pretty hard at that.)
But let’s assume I am hypocritical for having failed to unleash as much ire on Trump, Ailes, and O’Reilly as I have on Weinstein and Clinton. That is no exoneration of Weinstein or Clinton. There is no transitive property at work here. Weinstein and Clinton’s sins don’t absolve the sins of Trump or Ailes. The basic rules of decency are meaningless if they change depending on whether or not the accused has an R or a D after his name.
What a thin and pathetic moral bunker “whataboutism” is, if it lets you hide from the truth that morality and sin aren’t monopolized by a party.
Of course, sexual harassment is just one facet of the larger trend. If Barack Obama talked about revoking Fox News’ “license,” conservatives would rightly be furious. But when Donald Trump does it, the smart Trumpist response is, “LOL! Look at the liberal butt hurt!” “More trolling please,” and “Finally a president who fights!” The dumb Trumpist response is, “Yeah! Take away their licenses!”
Again, it is not shocking that some conservatives, weary of being held to a higher standard than liberals, grew weary of those standards in favor of the new idols of “winning” and “fighting.” What has been shocking, however, is the scale of conservative surrender.
It’s war, fight fire with fire; if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; what about X,Y, and Z?: These are the new rallying cries on much of the right.
And as much as that breaks my heart, I can’t help but want to shout leftward, “You stupid f**ks, look at you now.”
Various & Sundry
I’ll be on CBS’s Face the Nation this Sunday.
The latest episode of The Remnant is out. On the podcast, I talk to Ben Sasse about the logjam in the Senate and how to avoid politicizing our children. Corn came up again, too. Also, I responded to listener feedback, discussed whataboutism and journalism, and told stories about the dogs. Speaking of which . . .
Canine Update: It appears that the pooping-in-the-house crisis has abated, knock on wood. We think it’s because we switched their dog food. The beasts are doing quite well. They were very happy to see me when I got back from a speech to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, a wonderful group of patriotic Americans (and not just because I had the second-largest crowd in their history, edging out Kevin Williamson!). The dingo remains exceedingly needy. Zoë has kept the weight off since her diet (as you can see from this action-shot taken by our dog-walker extraordinaire). Therefore, we have resumed the occasional ice-cream treat tradition. You can tell the difference between their personalities here. Zoë is a scarfer; Pippa is a licker. Oh and here’s Zoë ruling over her pack.
ICYMI . . .
And now, the weird stuff.