Dear Reader (Well, maybe not so dear. It occurs to me that going by the logic of the White House, you people should be presenting me with proposals for this parenthetical gag and then I’ll decide which one I’ll deign to use),
I know it’s been a while, and for those of you new or recently signed up to this fully operational “news”letter let me say a few things. 1) Booger! 2) Hitler was a “man of peace,” and 3) you are not a zombie.
As longtime readers of this product may recall, point one is a reference to the inaugural episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, where Johnny Fever (“That’s ‘Doctor Johnny Fever’ to you kid” – The Couch) is lured from his exile in disco and called back into doing Rock and Roll. His career had taken a bad turn when the FCC dinged him for saying “booger” on the air. Andy Travis, WKRP’s new station manager, tells him he can not only do Rock and Roll again, but he can even say “booger” on the air if he wants to. Jack Fowler, NR’s publisher, made me a similar offer when he asked me to revive the old Goldberg File. The Doctor was well-pleased, and so was I.
I bring this up because I just want to emphasize that I get to write about what I want here. We have a lot of new subscribers coming and, even though in my imagination you all talk to each other, in reality some of you don’t know the score and have been complaining. So there it is. B to the double Oh to the G, E-R.
Hitler the Moderate
Twice this week I wrote columns I didn’t like that much, and that always puts me off my feed. When you have to grind out two syndicated columns a week, this happens. The muse, that selfish tramp, decides to stay in bed all day watching reruns of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. And you’re left hunting and pecking letters on the key board without the power of Greyskull coursing through your fingers. Or something like that.
The first column, on Mohamed Morsi, was perfectly passable, but it wasn’t fun to write, and I just didn’t get to make the point I wanted to make.
Well, like the cummerbund on a really fat man at a super classy cheesesteak-eating contest, the G-File is here to catch the crumbs so I can take a second bite. Which brings me to point No. 2.
The point I made about Morsi is that simply because he opted not to join Hamas in a war against Israel right now doesn’t mean he’s a moderate.
The point I wanted to make is that there’s no inherent conflict between what we routinely describe as “pragmatism” and being a fanatic or even an ideologue.
Consider the man in the mustache.
In a major speech in May 1933, Hitler proclaimed he had set “only one great task” for himself and his government: “to secure peace in the world.” The National Socialist Party craved “from its innermost heart to live in peace and friendship.” He continued to hit this note throughout most of the 1930s. In 1935: “National Socialist Germany desires peace from its innermost ideological convictions. . . . Germany needs peace and desires peace.”
Historian Ian Kershaw writes, “Since the Munich Agreement, there was, it seemed, little room for doubts about Hitler’s diplomacy, and his speeches in the spring and summer of 1939 – especially his highly effective rebuff of President Roosevelt on 28 April – made a considerable impact, seeming to confirm to many Germans that his underlying aims were to preserve peace, not to wage war.”
It’s also important to remember that Germans weren’t the only ones who bought Hitler’s peace talk. For years, in America and the U.K. it was respectable, albeit debatable, to claim Hitler was a “man of peace.” Wyndham Lewis, an oddball and right-wingish character, said as much in his 1931 book,Hitler. He recanted in 1938 with the book The Hitler Cult. But just as Lewis was coming to his senses, many on the left were losing theirs. Forget Neville Chamberlain. In 1938 former Labor Party leader and president of the British Peace Pledge Union, George Landsbury, proclaimed, “I think Hitler will be regarded as one of the great men of our time.” Landsbury was also apparently the head of War Resisters’ International and chairman of the No More War Movement.
Hitler’s peace propaganda in the 1930s did exactly what he needed it do: buy him time. In a secret speech to the German press in 1938, Hitler explained:
[BLOCK]Circumstances have compelled me to speak for decades almost solely of peace. Only through continued emphasis on the German desire for peace and intentions of peace was it possible for me . . . to provide the German people with the armaments which were always necessary as the basis of the next step. It goes without saying that such a peace propaganda which has been cultivated for years also has its doubtful side; for it can only too easily lead to the view being formed in the minds of many people that the present regime identifies with the determination and the will to maintain peace under all circumstances. [BLOCK]
My aim here is not to preach the usual – albeit wholly valid – sermonettes about the follies of appeasement and the need for vigilance and all that. Rather, it’s to point out that even though Hitler meets just about everyone’s definition of a fanatic and at least most folks’ understanding of an ideologue, he was still capable of what sensible people took to be moderation and pragmatism. And it wasn’t all propaganda or Teutonic Jedi mind tricks, either. Hitler was a pragmatist, particularly on the world stage but also with regard to economics, when it suited his purposes. For instance, when the fascist chancellor of Austria Engelbert Dollfuss (yes, you read that right)was deposed in a Nazi coup, the fascist dictator of Italy Mussolini sent troops to the Austrian border to defend Austrian independence from Nazi aggression. Hitler backed down, renounced the coup, and played nice. He was after all, a “pragmatist.”
Indeed, pragmatism in political affairs is in no way incompatible with ideology, and yet they are one of the intelligentsia’s (and would-be intelligentsia’s) favorite false antipodes.
That’s right, I used the phrase “false antipodes” and I liked it. But if that bothers you, feel free to substitute “ersatz orthogons.”
Yes, yes, I know I wrote a whole book on how pragmatism and ideology aren’t what people think they are, but this is sort of a new point. There is something about the modern mind in general and the liberal mind in particular that seems incapable of grasping that ideologically dogmatic people can also be reasonable.
Obama isn’t an ideologue, we’re constantly told, he’s a pragmatist! Why? Because he doesn’t automatically and indiscriminately take the cartoonish left-wing position. I can’t count how many times I’ve read or been told that Ted Kennedy was a “pragmatist” because he was willing to work with conservatives to achieve his profoundly ideological goals. And yet, if you call him an ideologue, the Morning Joe types roll their eyes as if calling a left-wing ideologue an ideologue is something only a right-wing ideologue would do.
President Obama marveled at Mohamed Morsi’s “pragmatism” because Morsi didn’t punctuate his ululating with chants of “Death to Israel!” Moreover, Morsi opted not to go to war with Israel now. Both Obama and Joe Klein took this as proof that Morsi’s a “moderate.” To me this is like someone in 1935 saying Hitler was a “moderate” for not invading Poland before he was ready to invade Poland.
Note: I’m not saying that I know Morsi will invade Israel. The future is unknowable. He may end up more constrained by the Egyptian people than he’d like. Who knows? What I am saying is that it is idiotic to conclude that Morsi isn’t ideologically committed to the tenants of the Muslim Brotherhood (which includes eventually erasing Israel), simply because he refused to let Hamas dictate his agenda to him. The pragmatist Morsi used his success with the cease-fire to parlay it into seizing dictatorial power – power Morsi the ideologue needs to take care of business.
Politics as the Zombie Walks
In other words, ideologues and fanatics (not the same thing, by the way) can be intelligent and patient, too.
And yet, sometimes all it takes for liberals to forget this is to stop saying the obviously stupid stuff and obtusely pushing in the same direction over and over again. We have defined ideology down to the point that so long as you don’t behave like a zombie, you’re pragmatic. And yes, this brings me to point No. 3, or as my inner Dadaist likes to say, “Melting Clock!”
Just as Charlie don’t surf, zombies don’t strategize. They smell fresh human flesh and they walk in that direction. If they hit a wall, they walk into the wall or maybe slide around it, gliding along their shoulder, like a drunk trying to find the back of the 7-11 to throw up. What they don’t do is think about how to get where they need to go. They take the path of least resistance, but always head in the same direction.
This is how many people think of ideologues. The assumption is that ideology is a high-bleach-content brainwash, making temporary concessions, reasonable adjustments, or intelligent course corrections impossible. The ideologue, like the zombie, walks into walls over and over and over again like a wind-up toy with an eternal spring. But that’s not a description of what an ideologue does, it’s a description of what an idiot does.
Take Van Jones (“please!”). He’s still a radical. But he realized that talking like one turned people off. His epiphany wasn’t to have reasonable convictions, it was to sound like he did. “I’m willing to forgo the cheap satisfaction of the radical pose for the deep satisfaction of radical ends,” he once explained when he decided to stop touting his Marxism.
President Obama clearly had a similar revelation at some point in the mid-1990s. And conservatives could learn a lot from him.
I deliberately avoided using this G-File for yet another post-election post-mortem. The stink of recriminations fills the air like the stench of stale flounder in the men’s bathroom at a trimethylaminuria clinic. But I just can’t help myself.
“Moderation in all things.” That was Aristotle’s advice. Lost to history is the fact that Aristotle drunkenly blurted this out while swinging from an elaborate sex-trapeze in a Macedonian brothel (“I think you should spend a few more minutes googling that” – the Couch).
I don’t think it’s great advice, truth be told. Nearly all categorical statements can be falsified. There are certainly areas where moderation is either ill-advised or moderation is simply a trite phrase meaning “something less than extreme.” I am not moderate in my hate for Nazis or my love for my daughter. Etc., etc.
That said, Republicans could stand to learn how to sound more moderate. Barack Obama usually (though not always) sounds reasonable as he moves the country on an unreasonable path. Ronald Reagan, almost always sounded reasonable when he was staking out fairly strong ideological positions. Both men took advantage of the fact that their seeming moderation elicited immoderate condemnations from their opponents. Nothing drives your opponents more crazy than being utterly reasonable. And nothing makes demonizing or delegitimizing your opponents easier than letting them shriek unreasonable things for you. The Republicans need to get back to being the party that elicits unreasonable shrieking from their opponents. Not the other way around.
Various & Sundry
One reason WKRP in Cincinnati was on my mind is that I was just in the Queen City for a speech. I would have announced it, but it was a closed muckety-muck event for the American Enterprise Institute. Still I had a grand time. And I finally ate at Skyline Chili. I liked it quite a bit. I don’t quite consider it chili in the same way I don’t think of Big Macs as hamburgers. When you crave a Big Mac (and it’s been a while), it’s not that you crave a burger, you crave a Big Mac. Skyline’s chili seems to have much better ingredients than a Big Mac (BM for short. Heh), but I think the analogy holds.
Speaking of AEI, I hope you’ll indulge me in a little experiment. This is a good post by Charles Murray on “benevolent sexism.” You should read it on the merits. But I’d like you to click on it even if you don’t want to read it. In fact, I’d like you to click on it over and over again like a capuchin monkey desperate for a “cookie” in a cocaine study. I want to see if any of the metric addicts at AEI say anything.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen this, but it’s still great TV. Jack Kerouac on Firing Line (small LF ping at 19 minutes).
Toaster Hands McGee – that’s my best reading of the Chinese characters here.
Ten things dogs hate about humans.
Fun with Rankings! Apparently folks in Haiti are happier than people are here.
Watch this and try not to have the name Almadovar play over and over again in your head.
And here’s the latest conversation at Ricochet where if you wade through a lot of drudgery you can hear me talk about Tiger scat.