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 (and non-readers who can prove they never read this e-mail “news”letter by letting Lois Lerner “save” it),
It’s been a very busy time. It’s been something of a study in contrasts. A week ago today, I was still in London, having attended a fantastic conference hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies (you know it’s classy because of the way they misspell “Centre.”). Speakers included Nobel Prize winner V. S. Naipaul, General David Petraeus, Polish foreign minister (and former National Review correspondent) Radek Sikorski, economists Deirdre McCloskey and Luigi Zingales, philosopher Roger Scruton, historian Niall Ferguson, U.K. education minister Michael Gove, former Australian prime minister John Howard and, well, me. It’s like an egghead version of the placemat game: “What’s wrong with this picture?”
Then, on Tuesday, I flew to another cosmopolitan hotspot: Cleveland. I’ve long wanted to flee to the Cleve. Alas, things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I would give you all the highlights of my trip to Cleveland, but there were none. Oh the speech went fine and the crowd hosted by the Buckeye Institute, the Ashbrook Center, and the folks at NRI was great. But my flight was like visiting a proctologist who accidentally brought his carpentry toolbox to work by accident. Suffice it to say the flight was five hours late. But United in its wisdom felt that the passengers couldn’t handle a five-hour delay all at once, so the delays were parceled out in small increments so as to drag out hope and frustration for as long as possible. During that time I had been sent back and forth to different gates at different terminals at Dulles. And when I got to Cleveland, there was a huge accident on the 480 due to an overturned UPS truck. Packages were strewn about everywhere (I hope no one in Ohio is expecting a crystal candelabra from grandma anytime soon). My cabdriver, Samir, couldn’t have been more obvious about the fact that he was pissed about my destination. The cabs work on a fixed rate on airport runs and because of the traffic it was going to be an hour or more for what should have been a 20-minute trip.
And then I told Samir I would be taking off my pants.
Sweating like a fat man at an all-you-can-eat pasta bar, I had to change into my suit en route to the venue. So, yeah, I can scratch “getting undressed in a Cleveland cab with a guy named Samir” off my bucket list. My biggest worry while disrobing was that he’d look back at me in the rearview mirror and shriek “My eyes! My eyes!” and veer into an embankment. My second-biggest worry was that his eyes would linger longingly in the rear view mirror until he said, hopefully, “I will pull over.” Either way, I couldn’t help but think: “I bet this kind of thing never happens to George Will.”
Then again, George Will shall never have what Samir and I have.
Have you noticed that basically the only way this White House can get out from under one scandal or controversy is by getting crushed by another? The White House was reeling from the VA scandal, which is why they rolled out the Bergdahl news. They didn’t expect that the Bergdahl story would become so controversial; fortunately they were rescued by the June 6 news of thousands of immigrant children showing up at the border. Hey, quick question: I can’t get my kid out of an airport without her getting messy. Isn’t it strange that all of these kids seem to show up, after a 1,000-mile journey looking so spiffy? Anyway, the immigrant-kid story was pretty brutal for the White House; fortunately they were rescued three days later by the news that ISIS had taken Mosul. The “Who Lost Iraq?” narrative isn’t great for the White House either, which is why it might have been a relief when the IRS announced on June 13 that they lost Lois Lerner’s e-mails.
Elizabeth Warren: A Clarification
So the other night before Special Report Charles Krauthammer sang “Rapper’s Delight” perfectly. He did say that while he loves the old-school hip hop, his real passion is for GWAR. But none of that is important right now, and besides, what happens in the green room stays in the green room.
That same night, I went on a bit of a rant about Hillary Clinton and how she’s a pretty awful politician. I then concluded by saying something I wish I could re-phrase. I said: “And if I were Elizabeth Warren, I would jump in the race today because she is an authentic, truth-telling kind of politician and it would cause utter panic in the Clinton camp.”
In response to this my Twitter feed exploded. At the Cleveland talk, the last question was a dyspeptic inquiry into why on earth I would compliment someone like Warren. Michael Graham drove all night from Boston just so he could set fire to a bag of Tom Friedman columns on China (if you know what I mean) on my doorstep.
So look. Here’s the deal. I stand by what I said, but I wish I’d said it better. Yes, Liz Warren speaks with a forked tongue about her noble Indian heritage. Yes, I have huge problems with her. But my point is that she would create more problems for Hillary — and that would be awesome. Indeed, that’s what my Friday column is about.
If Warren jumped into the race, it would mess up the Clinton’s delicate plans like a drunk orangutan with irritable bowel syndrome in a wedding-gown shop. The whole feminist argument behind Hillary’s campaign would come apart like something that comes apart in a really funny way (“Dude, how hungover are you?” — The Couch). She would get all kinds of money from left-wing fat cats and the hardcore grassroots crowd. An early Warren candidacy would force Hillary to get in the race earlier than planned if she’s going to run. Hillary couldn’t stay a “private citizen” above the fray and simultaneously criticize Warren. If she criticizes Warren, she gets into a mess similar to the one she got into when she tried to criticize Obama in 2008. The base loves Warren — perhaps not as much as they loved Obama, but enough so that Hillary attacks their hero at her peril. Criticizing Warren also exposes Hillary for what she really is. And the sooner Hillary is seen as what she is — a (bad) politician — the sooner her poll numbers go down. Moreover, according to game theory (or maybe not, I just think that sounds cool), a Warren candidacy will have the added incentive of encouraging other Democrats to enter into the race. The moment Warren gives her announcement speech on C-SPAN, aides to Joe Biden will run into his office and shout “Mr. Vice President, I think you should put down your crayons and see this.” Andrew Cuomo will stop midway through cutting off the head of Bill de Blasio’s favorite horse and have to decide if he’s going to get in. Every candidate who gets in encourages more candidates and soon what was supposed to be a Hillary coronation ceremony becomes the Democratic-party equivalent of the fight scene from Anchorman. It’s ragnarok, baby!
Now, it’s true, I’m being a bit Leninist here. I want to heighten the contradictions, and I do think worse is better when it comes to the Democrats. But that doesn’t mean my column or my comments are, in the words of one Twitter follower, a “false-flag operation.” I do think Warren taps into a very real populist trend. And while she’s probably to the left of Clinton on many issues, I have to say in my gut, I’d rather Warren as president than Clinton. The good news, however, is that I think Warren would be a bad candidate and would lose handily in the general election. So, where’s the downside?
Operation Weak-Sphinctered Orangutan Commence!
While I was in London, I had some really interesting conversations with some British conservatives. It was a disparate bunch, but there was a consistency to a lot of what they had to say. Nearly all the Brits I talked to think their country has lost its cultural confidence. They also think that the U.S. is in the process of doing likewise. That’s a worthy topic for discussion, and I think both contentions are largely true. But I want to talk about something else. When talking about politics, many of the same Brits would cavalierly mention that they don’t care about “social issues” or that social issues aren’t relevant in British politics. As an analytical matter, that seems right. But I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s a connection there.
Now of course, it depends what you mean by social issues. But it seems to me that as a broad generalization, social issues revolve around the role and authority of the family. Arguments about abortion, gay marriage, obscenity, sex ed, etc. all connect to the family directly or indirectly. Even gun rights have a lot to do with the family, and not just because “gun culture” is primarily learned in the home. Guns fit neatly into the conception of the autonomous family and the role of parents as primary protectors of their children.
But the key word is culture. No institution transmits culture more effectively than the family. We learn language, dialect, and accents in the home (we learn grammar at school). We get most of our religion and morality at home. We learn from our parents how citizens behave in a society and what they should expect from society and government. It’s important to keep in mind that while parents teach their kids by telling them things, the real learning comes from watching what parents do — or don’t do. Kids are wired to emulate their parents. They see how we divide our time. The habits of the heart are formed in the home.
And this is why progressives of all labels have had their eye on the family. It is the state’s greatest competition. As I’ve written a bunch of times around here, if you listen to Barack Obama’s vision of America, it’s one where there’s the state and the individual and pretty much nothing in between. Civil society, mediating institutions, and other “islands of separateness” are problems in Obama’s eyes. Well, the family is the truest island of separateness. In the Life of Julia, the state is her family.
I’m reminded of a passage from Liberal Fascism where I am discussing “children’s rights” — a concept developed precisely to get the state into the home as quickly as possible:
Since Plato’s Republic, politicians, intellectuals, and priests have been fascinated with the idea of “capturing” children for social-engineering purposes. This is why Robespierre advocated that children be raised by the state. Hitler — who understood as well as any the importance of winning the hearts and minds of youth — once remarked, “When an opponent says ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already . . . You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community.’” Woodrow Wilson candidly observed that the primary mission of the educator was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Charlotte Perkins Gilman stated it more starkly. “There is no more brilliant hope on earth to-day,” the feminist icon proclaimed, “than this new thought about the child . . . the recognition of ‘the child,’ children as a class, children as citizens with rights to be guaranteed only by the state; instead of our previous attitude toward them of absolute personal [that is, parental] ownership — the unchecked tyranny . . . of the private home.”
James Pethokoukis cites a fascinating passage from George Weigel’s biography of Pope John Paul II:
Perhaps the hardest-fought battle between Church and [Poland’s] regime involved family life, for the Communists understood that men and women secure in the love of their families were a danger. Housing, work schedules, and school hours were all organized by the state to separate parents from their children as frequently as possible. Apartments were constructed to accommodate only small families, so that children would be regarded as a problem. Work was organized in four shifts and families were rarely together. The workday began at 6 or 7 a.m., so children had to be consigned to state-run child-care centers before school. The schools themselves were consolidated, and children were moved out of their local communities for schooling.
Marriage Is Great for Straight People, Too
Now I don’t think today’s progressives (at least not most of them) are consciously at war with the traditional family. But they are certainly not its biggest fans, either. Perhaps the most depressing thing about the Democratic party is that its electoral success hinges on the continuing unraveling of the traditional family. The more Julias, the better. Democrats have a huge advantage among single women. Married women recognize that the government can never be a family.
Getting married was once a celebrated life goal. It still is for millions of people, of course, but it’s less and less celebrated as a cultural priority — at least not for heterosexuals. One of my biggest peeves is that 99 percent of the time you hear a liberal saying anything positive about marriage, it’s about gay marriage. And now that we’re getting gay marriage, some activists don’t feel the need to saying anything nice about it at all.
Think about how often you hear politicians, economists, educators, and journalists talk about the importance of going to college. Now consider that getting married is about as beneficial to your lifetime economic prospects as going to college. And let’s be clear: It is far better for children to grow up with married parents (even if they didn’t go to college!) than it is for them to grow up with a single parent with a degree in gender studies from Princeton.
Charles Murray exposed the ugly secret of the American elite in his book Coming Apart: The rich and successful are closeted traditionalists when it comes to how they raise their own children. They’re just horrible hypocrites when it comes to everyone else’s children. “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, told the New York Times.
As Charles puts it, the biggest problem with today’s elite is that they refuse to preach what they practice.
Anyway, I guess my point is that when I hear people say they don’t care about social issues but they worry about a loss of “civilizational confidence,” creeping socialism, and the rest, I just wonder if they’re not part of the problem. I’m not saying that there’s a direct link between, say, being pro-life and supporting laissez-faire capitalism. But I do think that much of what passes for laissez-faire capitalism is an artifact of our cultural heritage, and that cultural heritage is formed and transmitted by cultural institutions. Change those institutions, subvert them to the state by making them dependent on the state, and the culture goes with them.
Not All “Social Engineering” Is the Same
Opponents of child tax credits and the like are shouting “social engineering!” I like and respect some of these critics, but I think that this is an asinine criticism.
Think of it this way. I love artificial reefs. They provide new habitat for all kinds of wildlife. Over time a pile of concrete or a sunken oilrig can turn into a whole vibrant ecosystem. But it is absolutely true that building artificial reefs is a kind of meddling with the natural order. I have no problem with meddling with the natural order if the meddling helps the natural order heal from other negative meddling we do all of the time. The oceans are overfished and too polluted. Why not help counteract that?
As Brad Wilcox, Ramesh Ponnuru, Robert Stein, and other champions of a conservative family policy will tell you, their proposals are aimed at counterbalancing the burdens liberal social policy has put on families. It’s a bit like Bill Buckley’s famous line about moral equivalence. If one man pushes old ladies in front of oncoming buses and another man pushes old ladies out of the way of oncoming buses, you simply cannot describe both men as the sort who push old ladies around.
If one political party wants to engineer family formation and another political party is invested in engineering the destruction of families, you simply can’t denounce both approaches as “social engineering.” Or I guess you can, but doing so is dumb.
Various & Sundry
If it seems like my heart wasn’t in today’s G-File, that’s only natural since my heart is in my chest. If it was in the G-File, I’d be dead. But figuratively speaking, I guess that’s the case. I’m finishing this “news”letter on the flight from D.C. to Boston. We’re taking my daughter to Maine today for seven weeks (SEVEN!) of sleep-away camp. I’m very excited for my daughter, but it’s pretty brutal on the Fair Jessica and me.
Zoë Update: The dingo is doing just fine. I brought her to the office yesterday where she immediately turned the cave under my desk into a den.
The real bad news is that the person we’ve relied on for boarding Zoë (and Cosmo before her) is getting out of the business. We hate sending Zoë to doggie Gitmo (a.k.a. the kennel). But we don’t have many better options for when we travel.
Piketty Palooza!: As I warned you, I’ve written a very long review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century for the July-August issue of Commentary (It’s a double-sized review for a double issue!). The feedback so far has been very flattering, though I am sure the criticisms will be coming shortly.
In honor of fed employees: EPA Employees Asked To Stop Pooping In The Hallway (since they are the EPA perhaps they were trying to fertilize the carpeting?).
In honor of your airline troubles: Man Sues British Airways After He’s Sent To Grenada Instead Of Granada.
In honor of traffic: Road-Rage Driver Sets Car Afire with Flare Gun: Police.
In honor of sleepaway camp: 5 Things to Expect When You Send Your Kids to Overnight Camp.
In honor of Ohio: Edwin Tobergta Accused Of Sex With Pool Raft YET AGAIN.
In honor of Thomas Piketty and the French: Eiffel Tower made out of chairs created in 125th birthday tribute.
In honor of the World Cup: Chileans asked to stop World Cup barbecues as pollution rises.
In honor of Hillary’s book: Hillary’s Book Sales Fall Sharply, May Not Sell Enough to Repay $14 Mil Advance.
In honor of the IRS hearings: Inside the World’s Largest Gathering of Snakes.
In honor of PETA: Horrifying scene as dead whale is butchered in front of schoolkids.
In honor of inappropriate selfies and e-mails that are DEFINITELY not lost: Man Emails Picture Of His Privates With Resume For Job Application.
And of course, a nice dog story: Dog found nearly two years after going missing in California forest.