The G-File

How Progressivism Works

Dear Readers (and those of you who can barely hear it being read through the covers as you go snorkeling with Eric Massa),

I’m writing this on Wednesday morning. By the time many of you read this, I will be in California and all of us may well have been “deemed” to live in a different country than the one we knew. I am not referring to the fact that we will live in a “Deemocracy” and all that, because, frankly, I’m far less appalled by the Deem-and-Pass process than I am by the Deem-and-Force substance.

If Obamacare passes we will have permanently transformed the relationship between the state and the citizen. Even if it is repealed down the road, in whole or in part, the idea that such a thing can be done will serve as a permanent precedent. Like a poorly broken-in baseball glove, no matter what we do, the originally impression will endure. Or you can think of it this way: Some things can never be fully taken back. If you hit your wife, or cheat on her, or if she catches you peeing in the kitchen sink, no matter how nice and respectful you are after ever after, things will never be the same. So it is with health-care reform.

Lots of liberals think this sort of rhetoric – “rhetoric” being a sly word intended to mean “unserious, irrational blather” – is bizarre and paranoid, except when they spout it themselves (see Douthat for more). This is just one of the countless ironies of progressive politics these days: When talking to the base, Obama and the Dems insist that Obamacare would be transformational, the greatest progressive victory in a generation, the fulfillment of a century-long dream to take care of everyone, that it would make this the best yearbook ever and finally extend the franchise to kittens and puppies. Yet when conservatives take them at their word, we are deranged militia-men gibbons, hysterically beating our chests and freaking out over a piece of luggage.

Forget the double-counting of Medicare cuts, the White House is triple-counting its own signature achievements. It wants to put Obamacare in the win column with the Left and the win column with moderates, and also use it to discredit the Right.

How Progressivism Works

When giving talks about my book (now in its 20th hardcover printing!) – i.e., when I’m taking old hickory to the progressives — I’ll often get a question like, “You say the progressives were similar to fascists, but the progressives loved democracy! They expanded the franchise, pushed for the direct election of senators and expanded the referendum process.”

There are a lot of political complexities to that history (progressives joined up with populists, the direct election of senators was an end-run around local machine politics, etc.), but that’s all true. My answer to these sorts of questions is usually “Take a shower, you dirty hippy.”

No, no, just kidding.

My usual response to this is that the way to understand the continuity of progressivism throughout the 20th – and now 21st – century is that progressives or, if you prefer, the Left, always runs where the field is open. Its support for a specific tactic is always exactly that, tactical. When democracy works to your favor, celebrate democracy! When the voters turn against you, run crying to the courts. When the courts grow weary of your antics, support a strong executive. When that doesn’t work, burrow deep into the bureaucracy. Wherever there’s an opening to impose your vision, that’s where you carry the ball. That’s pretty much the history of progressivism in America for the last quarter-century. The Left loved the legislative branch during the Progressive era. Then they embraced a strong executive under Wilson, then Hoover, and, of course, under FDR. When the executive branch started proving less helpful, they ran to the courts. At each of these stages, progressives insisted that they were committed to these mechanisms of state power out of high-minded principle. And whenever these mechanisms lost their utility or fell into the hands of the enemy, they suddenly saw the downsides. It’s like a combatant who will use any weapon near to hand suddenly whining how unfair it is that his opponent got a hold of the nunchucks.

The late senator Alan Cranston had a great line during the Watergate hearings: “Those who tried to warn us back at the beginning of the New Deal of the dangers of one-man rule that lay ahead on the path we were taking toward strong, centralized government may not have been so wrong.”

Anyway, I bring all this up because I think Nancy Pelosi’s now-familiar promise to get the bill passed is a good synopsis of my point: “We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health-care reform passed for the American people.”

Now, keep in mind, that it seems not to have occurred to Pelosi that these “gates” and “fences” are not merely hypothetical obstacles, but real obstacles put there for good reason. Few people put up fences and gates for no reason. Usually, people who disregard locked fences and closed gates do so because they are trying to go some place they shouldn’t go. Most often, we call them “criminals.”

On the Gitmo Bar

Over the weekend Andy McCarthy and I had a little back-and-forth over the Gitmo Bar. Andy argued that some – some! – of the lawyers defending the Gitmo detainees are in fact supportive of al Qaeda. I took this to be a pretty outrageous charge. I could understand the argument that they are unwittingly or naïvely helping al Qaeda, but the idea that they’re consciously pro-al Qaeda seemed like a bridge too far. (Here, here, and here are the relevant links.)

Then came this op-ed by Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn in the Wall Street Journal, and I must say that Andy’s claims don’t seem nearly so far-fetched anymore. I’d still like to see more on all this before I completely sign on to his view, but if we’re going to apply the Duck Test (walks like a, talks like a) then it’s certainly true that we’re hearing some quacks from the Gitmo bar. And it may be necessary for me to eat some crow, when the ducks come home to roost.

(“Okay, that may be the single worst sentence you’ve ever written.” – The Couch)

While we’re on the subject. A lot of people on the left and, alas, on the right have been invoking John Adams’s defense of British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. I think the comparison is flawed in numerous ways, but I thought this post by Rick Brookhiser was brilliant, in part because he shows how it might be at least somewhat apt after all:

A Little Historical Perspective on the John Adams Comparison [Rick Brookhiser]

John Adams was part of his cousin Sam’s long-term revolutionary strategy. Sam wanted tension between Bostonians and the occupying British. When the tension exploded into American deaths, he exploited them to the hilt.

At the same time, he wanted to show that Americans were not barbarous savages, and could uphold a civilized legal system, so cousin John was dispatched to defend the Brits. (John was happy to do so, from his own sense of principle, and from his love of controversy and unpopularity.) The conclusion is to be inferred from a post-trial election to fill a vacant seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives: John ran, with Sam’s backing, and won. (He wasn’t that unpopular.)

Sam’s goal: to undermine British power and to prepare Americans to set up their own parallel institutions.

Now, I don’t think the Gitmo bar is the tip of the spear in a subversive effort to prepare the way for a revolution. But I do think the subversive aspect is one that deserves a bit more attention.

Random Asides, Clarifications and Correckshuns Dogs playing in the snow! To borrow a line from Greg Gutfeld, if you can watch this without smiling you are worse than Hitler.

If you can look at this and still think cats are somehow truly competitive with dogs in the category of worthwhile animal, you need to put down the crack pipe.

It is obvious that House is more realistic than The Office, because Dr. House’s obnoxiousness earns him a punch in the face pretty regularly. Michael Scott almost never gets punched, and he often deserves it more.

Season three of Breaking Bad is coming, and I am very excited. But when is season three of Sons of Anarchy going to start?

Last week I said that the HBO series True Blood was on Showtime. It’s on HBO.

Behold the Power of the G-File! There is now an e-mail address G-File readers should use this e-mail address for all of their most important suggestions and complaints. (“Give Goldberg a raise!” “Make Lowry eat potted meat!”)

Many readers complained that, in the last G-File, I focused too much on romantic vampire movies instead of action and/or allegorical movies. What about Blade? Daybreakers? My short answer is: “Get a job you dirty hippy!” Again, I kid. I didn’t talk about the action movies because I didn’t have much to say and that’s not where vampire-philia is breaking out these days. As for the allegorical stuff like Daybreakers and a host of 90s movies that were basically about AIDS, well, I just didn’t have the energy.

Oh, and I have a request. So far the G-File seems to be catching on just fine. Lots of good feedback, increasing subscriptions, etc. No one has sent me a gift bag full of scotch and cash yet, but I can only assume that’s coming. But a couple people – literally a couple – have written me to complain bitterly that they don’t like the G-File and that they want me to remove them from the list.

Here’s my heartfelt response: I truly don’t give a rat’s ass. I ain’t getting paid anything extra to write this thing. The reason I agreed to revive the G-File is that I missed writing stuff the way I want to without worrying about appealing to a wide audience or the sweaty-toothed madman pounding on my brain. This thing is for old school – and newly recruited – flying monkeys only. Think of me like Dr. Johnny Fever in WKRP in Cincinnati – I finally have a chance to say “booger” on the air again.

Besides, this is a newsletter (admittedly with less actual news than there’s “real fruit juice” in Hawaiian Punch). Don’t like it? Don’t read it. Regret signing up for it? That sucks for you. Don’t like my attitude? Send an e-mail to

Okay, now that they’ve left the room: Booger, booger, booger.


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