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 (Especially those of you who would rally to my cause with sympathy and concern if I was found face down in a brothel, having OD’d on hookers, brandy, cocaine, and herbal Viagra),
It’s weird. I’m kind of a politics junkie, but not like some of my colleagues and friends. There are politics addicts in this town who’d walk Wilshire Blvd in six-inch heels just for a glimpse of some exit-poll numbers on Election Day. “Gimme a fix, man. I’ll do whatever you want.” And I’m talking mostly about dudes.
Still, I’m interested in politics more than a normal, healthy person should be. And yet, I really resented watching the Democratic debate. I watched because it’s part of my job. I felt a little bit like the stock boy at the grocery store being told “some kid just barfed up an inhumanly large amount animal crackers and corn kernels in aisle three. Take care of it.” But I also felt like Peter Gibbons in Office Space, listening to his bosses drone on about their TPS reports, his soul slowly evaporating under the fluorescent lights.
(That’s a fact, by the way: Fluorescent lights are like ectoplasmic kilns; sit under them for too long and your eternal soul essentially turns to chalk dust. This is why some believe Sidney Blumenthal was raised in an old refrigerator box under fluorescent klieg lights.)
The Loser Brigade
Still, I don’t normally feel that way about Democratic debates. I think part of what’s going on is that it was all a kind of set-up. Remember that scene in Rocky III when Mickey explains that Rocky isn’t up to the job of fighting Clubber Lang? Mickey says, “This guy’ll kill you to death inside of three rounds.”
Rocky doesn’t believe it. “He’s just another fighter.”
Mickey, says “No, he ain’t just another fighter. This guy is a wreckin’ machine. And he’s hungry. You ain’t been hungry since you won that belt.”
Rocky says, “What are you talking about? I had ten title defenses.”
“That was easy,” Mickey replies.
“What do you mean, easy?
“They was hand-picked!”
“No, they weren’t set-ups! They was good fighters. But they wasn’t killers, like this guy. He’ll knock ya into tomorrow, Rock.”
(Ah, crap. I just found the YouTube video of the scene here.)
Well, the protagonists on that debate stage may not have been a set-up in the sense that the fix was in. But of course Hillary Clinton won the debate! Her opponents were like Mohammed, Jagdish, Sidney, and Clayton from Animal House. It was like a line-up at the station house where all the other suspects are cops in uniform, except for Hillary.
#related#I mean good gawd, Lincoln Chafee? He’s less a presidential candidate and more a cautionary tale of what happens to WASP genes when you drench them in scotch, ink residue from old issues of Mother Jones, and bong resin. I could swear I’ve seen him walking down the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica wearing nothing but a bathrobe, Oberlin College sweat pants, and a stained Jefferson Starship T-shirt. He’s like the Kathy Geiss of American politics. In other words, he represents a major swath of Bernie Sanders’s base.
I’m being unkind to Jim Webb, who was kind of fascinating and awesome. He seemed almost like a different species than Chafee. I loved Webb’s last line about his real enemy being the guy who threw a grenade at him in Vietnam for all the reasons David French gives here. (Still, I keep using my Ron Burgundy voice to say, “Jim killed a guy!”) Webb’s a great reminder that serious men once found a home in the Democratic party.
But he has no chance of getting the nomination. None of them do, really — with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders. But Sanders is like Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai; he’s sticking to a principle in spite of what is actually required of him. At some point he’s going to look over his shoulder at the Clinton locomotive barreling down the tracks and say, “My God, what have I done?”
Gift or Gaffe?
That said, for what it’s worth, I don’t think Sanders meant to give a gift to Hillary on the e-mail controversy by saying he was “sick and tired of hearing about [her] damn e-mails.” I’m told that on the stump he blames Clinton for her poor judgment, which made the scandal possible. He may have just flubbed the line. Or it may have been smart politics, as I wrote here and here:
That’s one reason why Sanders wasn’t as foolish as some think for his “gift” on the e-mail scandal. Many Democrats now reflexively take the view that if Republicans or Fox News think something is bad, then it must be an illegitimate issue. Lending even rhetorical aid and comfort to the enemy is counted as “unprogressive” even on issues that progressives should be horrified by. The Clinton Foundation’s incestuous cronyism should horrify the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic party. But saying so would be seen as using “right-wing talking points” so they stay mum on the issue. The same people who freaked out over the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity should properly want Clinton indicted for what she did with her e-mail. But if the Republicans think so too, it must not be so.
Clinton did well. She’s had a lot of experience in these things. But to the extent she shined, it was because the competition was so pathetic. Put me out on the basketball court with a bunch of second graders and I will go Dikembe Mutombo on their asses. Boom! “Not in my house , Timmy!” I’d be like Billy Madison playing dodgeball.
New Deals for as Far as the Eye Can See
And then there’s the substance. I guess a more meaningful cause for my resentment is that the debate was a joyless ass ache of a reminder of what liberalism really is. Bernie Sanders thinks you can pay for an 18 trillion dollar expansion of the welfare state — to make it align with a Denmark that doesn’t actually exist — simply by taxing “the billionaire class.” There are 536 billionaires in America. Even if you confiscated everything they had — which, by the way, would surely destroy the American economy by triggering the greatest round of capital flight in human history and amount to government seizure of countless businesses — it wouldn’t come close to covering the tab of Sanders’s proposals.
The scorpion must sting the frog; water must seek its level; Anthony Weiner must text junk pics; and socialists must pretend that they have serious ideas.
But saying stupid things about economics is why God put socialists on this planet. Sanders has to say such things because that is what socialists do. It’s Aesopian: The scorpion must sting the frog; water must seek its level; Anthony Weiner must text junk pics; and socialists must pretend that they have serious ideas.
What really bothered me was Hillary Clinton’s “We need a new New Deal” line. Ever since I started working on Liberal Fascism, I’ve had a heightened sensitivity to this liberal obsession. I can’t count how many times I’ve written about it. Here’s what I wrote in 2008:
The New Deal is 75 years young this month.
A host of commentators have invoked the current mortgage credit crisis as justification for a sweeping intrusion of the government into the economy, not just into the credit markets. American Prospect editor Harold Myerson says, “Bring on the new New Deal.”
For all this talk of newness, you might be surprised at how old the idea is. Liberals were calling for a “new New Deal” when the first New Deal was barely out of diapers. That’s one reason FDR launched a “second New Deal” from 1935-1937. In 1944, he attempted to jump-start a third New Deal with his “second Bill of Rights.”
Let’s set aside Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal,” JFK’s “New Frontier,” LBJ’s “Great Society” and Bill Clinton’s “New Covenant.” I’m sure Jimmy Carter had something like this, too; I just try to avoid paying any attention to the man.
Even the New Deal wasn’t as new as many claimed (as I argue in my book, Liberal Fascism). FDR himself sold the New Deal as a continuation of the war socialism of the Wilson administration, in which FDR had served. For example, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the signature public-works project of the New Deal, had its roots in a World War I power project. (As FDR explained when he formally asked Congress to create the thing, “This power development of war days leads logically to national planning.”)
If the CNN moderators had been doing their job, you might expect someone to ask Hillary Clinton why, after seven years of Barack Obama(!), we still need a new New Deal. I mean, does anyone remember this?
The depressing answer is that for progressives — and please forgive the all caps — It Is Always Time for a New New Deal.
You can explain all day how the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression and they won’t care. They’re like our new canine visitor Pippa, who apparently thinks every moment is the best moment for a New Throw of the tennis ball.. After 9/11 Chuck Schumer raced to the pages of the Washington Post to explain that terrorism requires a new New Deal. After Katrina, liberals said “Aha! This proves we need a new New Deal.” Thomas Friedman has a shortcut macro on his keyboard that allows him to vomit up a column arguing that pretty much everything (but especially climate change!) requires, , nay demands, a new New Deal.
They don’t always use the phrase “new New Deal.” Often, they use the hackneyed language of the “moral equivalent of war” instead (see this latest installment at The Atlantic of this ancient trope). But, as I’ve written 8 trillion times, that’s the same frickin’ argument.
The New Deal is synonymous with a time when progressives had nearly unfettered political power to do what they wanted.
The real appeal of the New Deal wasn’t its alleged success, it’s that the New Deal is synonymous with a time when progressives had nearly unfettered political power to do what they wanted. Liberals don’t really worship the New Deal, they worship themselves. The New Deal is just a talisman in their undying faith in their own ability to guide society and make decisions for others better than people can make for themselves.
And, at a fundamental level, the desire for an unending string of New Deals going on forever, is indistinguishable from socialism. Liberals used to be honest about this point, as when Arthur Schlesinger let slip in the pages of Partisan Review that “There seems no inherent obstacle to the gradual advance of socialism in the United States through a series of New Deals.”
It’s all just so exhausting. And I guess what I resent most of all is the fact that I will spend the rest of my life arguing with people who not only think that their faith in progressivism and the State is smart and modern, but that their opponents are the ones who are stuck in the past. And in the process, they’ll keep making the country worse, with every failure providing the latest evidence that now, now, is the time for a new New Deal.
Various & Sundry
Zoë Update: First let me say, you are under no obligation to read this. Some people couldn’t give a rat’s ass about my dog — or any dog — and that’s fine, I guess (though I am sort of a “love me, love my dog” kind of guy). But I’ve learned from many of you that if I don’t include a Zoë update, this “news”letter is not worth reading.
For those of you who don’t know, the Zoë updates began about two years ago when we adopted our Carolina dog, Zoë. She who was supposed to be a German shepherd mix. She wasn’t. She came to us with parvo and almost died. Readers wanted regular updates on how she was doing. I can’t blame them. Here she is as a puppy:
Then, when Zoë got better, my wife and I discovered that Carolina dogs — a.k.a. “the American Dingo” — are quite an adventure (I keep hearing from people who ask “Seriously, what breed is Zoë?” and I have to tell them, “No really, she’s a dingo. They then proceed to make lots of “dingo ate your baby” jokes). The theory is they came across the land bridge with the Native Americans from Asia. What’s problematic is that this means they missed out on a whole bunch of domestication and breeding that dogs from Europe got, making them just a bit more wild than your average golden retriever. Now it’s possible, of course, that Zoë has some European lineage in her. But from what we can tell, she’s really mostly a white-trash swamp dog. Most of the time the dingo-ness is very entertaining, once you get past her ability to swallow mice whole. She has some amazing vocalizations. When I come home from work, she chastises me for my absence with this sound remarkably similar to the “Mystics” in The Dark Crystal.
Anyway, this week we took in Pippa, just about the sweetest English Springer Spaniel who ever lived. She belongs to my wife’s parents and is coming for an extended stay, at least through the winter. It has been an ordeal, for everybody. The poor creature spent 20 hours getting here by plane from Fairbanks, Alaska. We followed all of the advice from readers (thanks, by the way) and websites alike: Introduce them on neutral ground. Feed them separately. Etc. The one serious mistake we made was having my wife hold Pippa’s leash when we introduced them at the park. We should have had someone outside Zoë’s pack do that. When Zoë saw the Fair Jessica, she was too excited. When she saw this interloper all love-dovey with her, she put the fur in furious. I am convinced things would have gotten off to a much better start had she just met Pippa as another dog in the park.
Anyway, the first 24 hours were incredibly stressful for me (and Pippa!). It didn’t help watching the Democratic debate to be constantly worried that my dingo might kill my mother-in-law’s dog. We did feed them separately of course, but at one point Pippa merely walked by Zoë’s food bowl and that’s all it took for World War Three. Of course World War Three is a bad analogy because poor Pippa wouldn’t know how to fight back if you sent her to the canine Shaolin Temple for training. It was more like World War Two and Pippa was France. The stress has so many layers to it. First, there’s simply the concern for sweet, terrified Pippa. But there’s also the sickening feeling of being so disappointed in my beloved zo-zo. The only thing I can liken it to is when your kid becomes a drug addict or thief. You don’t stop loving them, but the disappointment is so painful. If you’re about to say, “don’t anthropomorphize your dog,” you should know that ship sailed a long time ago.
Anyway, long story short, there’s been a lot of progress, though we are far from out of the woods. They get along fine outside the house. There are the occasional blow ups when Pippa gets too cozy with us outside or there’s a disagreement about canine property rights (in short: everything belongs to Zoë if Zoë wants it). They even played together for a moment or two this morning.
But even here there’s a yawing culture gap. Pippa is like the lovely daughter of some 19th-century English aristocrats. She’s like a Downton Abbey dog. If she were a person, she’d be handing out tea and finger sandwiches to officers home from the war. Zoë, meanwhile, is like Daryl from The Walking Dead. Pippa’s a sportsman’s dog. Zoë is a hunter. Pippa wants to chase a tennis ball until she’s in a coma. Zoë wants to chase rabbits. Pippa’s idea of playing with another dog is running after the same ball. Zoë wants to wrassle. That’s why when they played it didn’t last long; Zoë’s idea of playing is fighting at quarter speed. Pippa’s a lover, not a fighter. This leaves out the fact that Zoë and Pippa represent, respectively, the rebel and royalist sides of the Revolutionary War,
I really, really, want to make this work. On Tuesday I felt like there was no hope. As of this morning, I’m much more upbeat, but it’s going to take a lot of patience.
Okay, in other news: I did a long podcast with Trevor Burrus over at Libertarian.org’s “Free Thoughts.” Some “ideological dorks” might find it interesting.
Also, the final installment of my conversation with Steve Hayward is now up.
Over at ISI, there’s an adapted version of my introduction to the new edition of What Is Conservatism?
Next week, I will be travelling a lot. There’s the National Review Institute Buckley Prize dinner I’ll be emceeing in Dallas. And then I’ll be speaking at the Fund for American Studies shindig in Colorado Springs. (Since my wife is coming to Dallas, my poor AEI research assistant, Jack Butler, will be attending to Zoë and Pippa. He’ll do great. He’s a Hillsdale man.) I have no idea if I’ll be able to get a G-File done on the road.
My first column this week was on what a Biden run might mean for Hillary and the Dems.
My column today was on the Democratic debate and how only Republicans are asked tough questions on divisive social issues.
And now, the weird stuff:
What’s the most rewatchable movie of all time? (Take note, Sonny Bunch: Willow is notably absent from the list.)
(But of course the Ancient Greeks didn’t exist)
(Speaking of Indy: This also would have worked)
(Related: The Boss makes the case for elephants)