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 early Boris Johnson, in case he feels inclined to make my skull explode),
I am sitting here on the Acela barreling towards Washington, D.C.
“Barreling” is a generous term for the relatively plodding pace we’re taking. But I’m in a generous mood. And, frankly, who isn’t? Why, the people on this train are celebrating like joyous Bolsheviks moments after seizing the Winter Palace or after Bernie Sanders won the Michigan primary. Everyone is grinning like Bill Clinton after the Secret Service gives the “all clear” for the strippers to come out from their hiding places underneath the bed and behind the window curtains. “Pantsuit One has left the building, sir.”
It’s all hugs, smiles, backslapping, and joy for as far as the eye can see. As I look out the window, I can see people skipping and dancing to the tune of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” as played out of their own butts.
Obviously, I’m referring to the wonder and glee that comes from living in an age when a woman can finally be the presidential nominee of a major political party.
Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one at all was reading this “news”letter (“That’s always been my expectation” — The Couch). I mean, why should I bother when every street corner and crack-vial-strewn alleyway is now as majestic and glorious as that alpine slope where Julie Andrews sings about how the hills are alive with the sound of music?
Sorry, none of this is the case. But you could be forgiven for thinking so if you took Tuesday’s election-night coverage seriously. I have no doubt some people — Donna Brazile, for instance — were entirely sincere in their glee that a woman broke the “glass ceiling,” etc. Others like Paul Begala were no doubt happy that their friend, and gravy train, was that much closer to heading into White House Station.
But all in all, the lip-service about how thrilling it is that a woman has finally become a major party nominee felt far less sincere than the applause for Kim Jong-un’s demonstration of the latest technology at North Korean Peoples’ Hula Hoop Factory No. 7. Over and over again Tuesday night, anchors and pundits said, “Let’s just take a moment and appreciate the historic nature of it all,” with all of the emotional intensity of a college president required to talk about how excited he is to be at the ribbon-cutting for the new faculty parking lot.
And, it is historic and good and all that. As the father of a daughter, I’m glad this utterly inevitable and predictable moment with the thing and the girls and the broken-glass whatever has happened.
It’s just that when I read this tweet from political scientist Katy Perry — “A lot of little girls are in bed right now dreaming for the first time, without limits. You broke the mold @HillaryClinton” — I felt compelled to call b.s. on the whole thing.
First of all, this makes no sense. The whole idea of dreaming revolves around the fact dreams don’t have limits. This is pretty much why we call them dreams instead of “Third Quarter Budget Proposals.” Last week I dreamed about a bat-winged basset hound that harassed the local villagers by flying in through their windows and aggressively napping in inconvenient places. In another dream, Carrot Top was not only funny, he was a very large rabbit who kept trying to eat his own head. Why just last night, Morpheus — the god of dreams, not the guy from The Matrix — planted in my mind a vision of the GOP nominating a mature and principled conservative for 2016. In other words, the craziest s*** can happen in dreams.
So the idea that Hillary Clinton’s nomination lifts one of the final ectoplasmic shackles on the dreams of young girls strikes me as . . . implausible.
It’s also ironic. While I have no problem with my daughter — or any young girl — setting their sights on the White House, I would dearly hope they don’t follow Hillary Clinton’s path to it. As Iowahawk put it, “Hopefully Hillary will inspire a new generation of girls to marry ambitious perverts who will pay off their embarrassment with Senate seats.”
However, if my kid’s takeaway is that she, too, can grow up to give utterly banal speeches for a quarter of a million dollars a pop, I’ll be like, “Follow your dreams, sweetheart.”
I mean, where else but America, or possibly Canada, can you get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sound like a cross between a random cliché generator and Charlie Brown’s teacher?
Race, Gender, and Uncategorical Hillary
Anyway, back to whatever point I was trying to make. Oh, right. On Tuesday night, I was laughing watching all of the talking heads say the right words with their mouths but yawn with their eyes. It was like on Seinfeld when everyone has to say “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” or when newscasters insist on saying “allegedly” even when they have video of the guy pleasuring himself in the frozen-food section of the Winn-Dixie. It’s just something they have to say.
If you compare this moment to 2008, it becomes entirely obvious that even for most hardcore liberals, Hillary Clinton’s accomplishment isn’t nearly as emotionally exciting as Barack Obama’s was. Part of that has to do with the differences between race and gender in American culture and history. But that is a conversation for another time.
Besides, it has more to do with Hillary Clinton herself. As I’ve written before, she really just isn’t a “woman” anymore.
Oh sure, she’s a woman in the biological sense, which is kind of ironic given that her becoming the presumptive nominee comes at the precise moment we’re being told that biological sexual categories are just another way for the evil patriarchs of the Pale Penis People to keep everyone down. Maybe Donald Trump should declare he’ll be the first woman president, too?
No, my point is that Barack Obama was largely a blank slate in 2008, and he was seen in no small part categorically as The First Black President. That’s not the case with Hillary Clinton. She’s a known quantity, love her or hate her. She is like one of her husband’s cold sores; she’s been in plain sight for decades.
What is a victory for feminism is a setback for Clinton. On the merits, she’s not even a fraction as interesting or exciting as the category.
The fun part of all this is that what is a victory for feminism is a setback for Clinton. That’s because on the merits, she’s not even a fraction as interesting or exciting as the category. Another woman might have excited all of those young Bernie Sanders fans early on in the primaries. But they were more excited by breaking the taboo on socialist presidents than female ones.
Sometimes the shadows fall very far short of the ideal in Plato’s cave. It’s like a little kid who daydreams of getting a dog. Dog-as-category dog fetches and does other tricks. Categorical dog protects you from bullies and goes on adventures with you.
Then your parents get you a real dog and it’s a three-legged narcoleptic Chihuahua with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Since I don’t want to be interpreted as calling Clinton a dog, I will make the exact same point about a condo in Port Arthur, Texas. In your imagination, it’s all pool parties and barbecues with beautiful people. In reality, it’s sunburns, ridiculous condo fees, and a shared too-thin wall with a hard-of-hearing dude who watches way too much Canadian porn. (“Oh yeah, baby, what are you going to do aboot it?”)
In other words, Hillary Clinton isn’t about to bump her head on any Platonic ideals any time soon. She’s boring, paranoid, corrupt, and deceitful. If she had never been a martyr to her husband’s pants, she’d never be within striking distance of being president. Spare me the talk about how in private she’s so charming and wonderful. She’s had over 30 years to pull the curtain back and show how great the real Mrs. Oz is. Instead she laughs like a broken animatronic pirate at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride every time she’s asked about the — alleged — felonies she’s committed.
But let no one say they aren’t excited that she’s a woman.
What Is Dead May Never Die
Since my train is already blazing past Delaware I need to start wrapping this up.
Earlier this week, I responded to an argument laid out by Steve Hayward and “Decius” — one of the anonymous bloggers at the Journal of American Greatness. In turn Decius posted a long and thoughtful response lacking the bile and smarm that marks some other posts over there. And while I think it makes some fine and clarifying points in the particulars, it is fundamentally and dangerously wrong on one central claim. He writes, in part:
Here’s what’s really going on. The old American ideal of judging individuals and not groups, content-of-character-not-color-of-skin, is dead, dead, dead. Dead as a matter of politics, policy and culture. The left plays by new rules. The right still plays by the old rules. The left laughs at us for it — but also demands that we keep to that rulebook. They don’t even bother to cheat. They proclaim outright that “these rules don’t apply to our side.” They can be openly biased, and justly so, because of past injustice, present white privilege and so on. But for the right, it’s always 1963. And not the actual 1963 (which was bad) but the 1963 of the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech (one of the greatest ever, by the way), as if it were actually the law of the land right now. Which, of course, it isn’t.
So Paul Ryan and the rest of the pious right denounce Trump for undermining that noble vision, as if the left hasn’t been undermining it in its own interests for the last 50 years. The left demands that we pledge fealty to a colorblind society — which we at JAG think is superior to any practical or theoretical alternative — that they have no intention of honoring. They shame us into that fealty because they know that we believe our principles demand it. They even know that, at some level, American principles demand it. But they care much less about American principles than about winning. They use our commitment to American principles the same way that Islamic radicals in the West use Westerners’ commitment to Western principles to cow us into acquiescing to anti-Western measures.
There’s much to debate, discuss and, yes, agree with here, but if one cuts through the caveats and to-be-sures, Decius is saying that the Right just needs to abandon its principles and fight the Left on its terms. I think this is wrong across a number of analytical fronts.
Outside of Game of Thrones, when something is “dead, dead, dead,” that suggests it’s not coming back. It’s a lost cause and practical-minded people should just accept it and move on. Well, I’m not a big fan of lost-cause arguments, which helps explain why I am conservative in the first place. As of a year ago, it would have seemed like a lost cause for those who yearned for a thrice-married, short-fingered vulgarian statist huckster from New York City to take over the GOP and rally the support of anonymous Straussian luminaries. Now look where we are!
It’s certainly true that among activists and academics on the left, the hypocrisies and double standards Decius points out (some of which I’ve written about at length myself) are as pronounced and pernicious as he describes. But in real life, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as he suggests. Popular culture certainly hasn’t given over to the bleak worldview he describes. And, without wanting to sound like Peggy Noonan or Tom Friedman, who draw sweeping political conclusions from the people they meet out in the world, the blacks, Asians, and Hispanics I interact with — including liberal ones — don’t strike me as anything like the sort of unreconstructed tribalists suggested by Decius’s defeatism. The categories we talk about in politics don’t always line up all that well with the way we actually live our lives.
One can see this most clearly with regard to women. To listen to Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the rest of her pride of liberal lionesses, you would think every single woman in this country is a pro-choice liberal Democrat. That’s just not the case.
Obviously, just because I reject Decius’s assertion that this principle is dead thrice-over doesn’t mean I think it’s currently as healthy as I would like. I know the JAG guys don’t like my pop-culture references, but even so I’d say Decius would be on better footing if he claimed this principle were “mostly dead” in the Princess Bride sense.
For what it’s worth, I don’t even think it’s “mostly dead.” But even if it were, as Miracle Max says, mostly dead means a little alive. Indeed, the only sure way for that principle to die, die, die is if conservatives and libertarians in a fit of well-earned spite and frustration shout “screw it!” and embrace identity-politics tribalism, too. In the wake of last week’s “news”letter I’ve heard this argument from a great number of people and trolls. I don’t care about the trolls, but I do wonder where the smart and decent people think tribalism-uber-alles will lead over the long run?
I agree sticking to this principle puts us at a disadvantage in fights with the Left. But that’s true of most conservative principles. Certainly if conservatives turned their back on the free market, we would “win” more fights with the Left. But would those victories be worth anything? If we reject constitutionalism, we will get more policy victories. Ditto abortion and countless social issues. Are the Straussians at JAG game for all that? Shall we only fight on issues where our principles are popular or banal?
Decius says that liberals “use our commitment to American principles the same way that Islamic radicals in the West use Westerners’ commitment to Western principles to cow us into acquiescing to anti-Western measures.”
Okay, so should we all just convert to Islam and be done with it then? Or, maybe we should be Christian versions of Islamists? Where is this analogy supposed to take us? Surely some Western principles are worth the price of upkeep?
To ask conservatives to bury the “dead, dead, dead” principle of individualism asks too much under the best of circumstances. To ask it in the context of helping Donald Trump? Pass.
Yes, our principles make politics harder. Yes, maybe we could be more flexible and realistic in some of our fights and — as I’ve been saying for years — conservatives definitely need to take persuasion more seriously. But to ask conservatives to bury the “dead, dead, dead” principle of individualism asks too much under the best of circumstances. To ask it in the context of helping Donald Trump? Pass.
Various & Sundry
Canine Update: I don’t have too much to report this week. We’re worried that the restricted exercise with Pippa didn’t fix the underlying cause of her limpiness. That’s not to say she’s unhappy. The Dingo meanwhile is still her dingo-y self. In troubling news, we’ve learned that her kind can use tools.
My column today is on the magical, all-absolving, power of conversation starting.
Here’s some other stuff, train’s pulling into Union Station now.