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 other victims of the pitiless Cromnibus!),
I learned from Twitter this morning that Gustave Flaubert, born this day in 1821, said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” So, as Jay-Z says every morning he enters a music studio and as Joe Biden says every time President Obama gives him a fresh 64-pack of crayons, “Let’s make some art, bitches.”
Let’s start with Jonathan Gruber. I have to say I was disappointed by the hearings. Oh, sure, it was good theater-as-human sacrifice of the sort Washington does so well (though I am glad they stopped short of rectal rehydration).
But this was one of those moments where they really could have put the system on trial. Gruber’s consistent answer was that he’s a shabby, shallow, little man who belittles others, including the American people, to make himself look good. “I tried to make myself seem smarter by demeaning others.”
In almost every exchange, Gruber fell back on language you’d expect from a stockbroker tied up in an S&M dungeon. I did it because I am a flea! A worm! I am no master of the universe, I am nothing! Punnnniissshhh meee!
All that was missing were some riding-crop and melted-candle-wax welts, and maybe a shorn scrotum. Hey man, it’s a defense.
But it’s not a good one. You can blame your arrogance for calling the American voters stupid, but you can’t blame your arrogance for claiming that the bill was designed to hide taxes and deceive the public. If I stab someone 34 times, the jury might want to hear about my arrogance, but whether I’m arrogant or humble, it doesn’t change what I did — and apologizing for it doesn’t clarify where the body is buried.
Gruber’s strategy of emotional self-abasement was very clever because it distracted from the central arguments of fact.
It’s Not about the Money
When Republicans tried to get at the facts, they mostly did so narrowly. They seemed especially interested in how much money Gruber made as a remora on the belly of the leviathan. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an interesting and important line of inquiry. And the fact that Gruber essentially lawyered up on the issue tells me that the GOP should release the hounds.
But it also misses something important. As far as I am aware, when you win an Academy Award, there’s no cash prize. But an Oscar is still worth millions to an actor or director. Why? Because the prestige of having an Oscar opens doors, creates opportunities, and generally increases the value of your brand. It also makes you a bigger deal in pretty much all the communities you care about. Paul Krugman’s Nobel Prize is worth a hell of a lot more than the check that comes with it. When Valerie Bertinelli’s lesbian-kiss, rock-star-bride, diet book knocked Liberal Fascism out of the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, my old agent told me “That’s okay Jonah, hitting No. 1 is like winning a Super Bowl ring, no one can take it away from you.” She was right. (“Impressive how you managed to work in that humble brag” — The Couch.)
Gruber’s title as “the architect” of Obamacare was worth a fortune to him, literally and figuratively. The problem is that the figurative part is hard for politicians and journalists to talk about or quantify. They always want to follow the money because everyone understands money corruption and there’s a natural bias towards those things we can objectively measure.
But the most corrupting things in life aren’t financial and cannot be tallied so easily on a spreadsheet. Most of history’s greatest — and worst — figures were not motivated by money, but by glory or some other intangible desire. My dad always used to say the most corrupting thing in journalism was friendship. If a stranger offered a $10,000 bribe to the average editor at a major newspaper, the editor would be indignant and have security escort the guy out of the building. (I know many of you are skeptical about this, but I do actually believe it.) But if that same editor was asked by his old college roommate or some other lifelong buddy to help him out, the editor would be much more likely to do it. My point isn’t that this kind of thing is always wrong. Friendship is often the lifeblood of civil society and the measure of real success. It’s merely that unless you’re a particularly dull-witted Marxist assclown, following the money doesn’t always help you understand what motivates the human heart. Many people would rather be famous than rich. Others would rather be powerful than rich or famous. Others want respect for the good they do. Some just want to ensure that Trieste belongs to the Italians or that Fox renews Firefly. Most of us do things for a combination of these and many other reasons. I even know some people who make really important decisions they disagree with just to avoid making their wives angry.
As for Gruber, he said this week that he wasn’t an architect of Obamacare. And yet, for several years he let the New York Times, The New Republic, PBS, and countless other media outlets describe him as exactly that. That label was of great financial value to him. But it was probably of greater social, psychological, and professional value. And that is probably why he seems to have not once taken the time to ask them to stop calling him that. Gruber is of a class of people who take great satisfaction from the belief that they are not only smarter and better than normal Americans, but that their superiority entitles them to manipulate the public and system in whatever way they think necessary.
Gruber’s Pants Inferno
There’s another reason Gruber never corrected anybody when they described him as an architect of Obamacare: Because it’s true!
Which leads to another important point: Gruber’s a huge, monumental, Brobdingnagian liar.
To believe his testimony before Congress is to believe that on one occasion after another, he baldly lied over and over again to his peers, colleagues, students, and friends. Darrell Issa sort of gets at this here at the end of Gowdy’s interrogation when he asks Gruber, “Did anybody come up to you and tell you that what you were saying was inappropriate?”
That’s an interesting question and tells you a lot about the sovereign contempt the expert class has for the American people. But a better question would be, “Why didn’t anybody correct you on your factual claims? Or simply say ‘What you’re saying isn’t true’?” Gruber was on panels with other health-care experts. The audiences were full of people who were deeply informed about Obamacare and all its details. And yet no one said, “Hey, that’s not the way it happened.” Why? Because Gruber was telling the truth when he said they had to deceive the American people. And before you ask me what proof I have, I would like to direct you to the fact that Barack Obama deceived the American people over and over and over again when he said things like “You can keep your doctor” and “You can keep your insurance” etc. (and not one liberal journalist cheerleader for Obamacare ever felt compelled to push back on this obvious lie). Are we really so stunned that the same president might be willing to play accounting games with the CBO?
Sure maybe Gruber exaggerated his role or involvement. Maybe he embellished this or that. But you can’t exaggerate a lie; you can only exaggerate the truth. For years he told the truth to anyone who would listen, and now that it’s politically problematic he says it was all a lie.
So we’re forced to choose: Was he lying when talking to countless audiences full of peers, colleagues, and experts, or was he lying in front of Congress in order to save his team any further embarrassment and preserve a law he’s sincerely proud of (because he was an architect of it)? Personally, I think you’d have to be too stupid to beat Joe Biden at tic-tac-toe to think the “real” Gruber testified before Congress this week. But whichever side you come down on this question, one thing has been established: He’s a huge liar.
It’s also been established that he’s lying because Gruber is one of them. He’s a social planner from a class of social planners. His crime was being honest about it, and now he must atone by denying who he is and what he has done. His testimony was like wearing a Dunce Cap in the Cultural Revolution. Every now and then you’ve got to humiliate one of the eggheads to assure the rabble that the other eggheads are different and better. But you can be sure, after a period of penance, he will be invited back into the club. As they say in Cambridge faculty lounges, “He’s one of us, one of us, one of us, we accept him, one of us Gruber Gobble, Gruber Gobble.”
(Yes, if you watch that video you will be saying “Gruber Gobble, Gruber Gobble” all weekend. You’ve been warned.)
You can find my column on the issue of torture over on the homepage.
But I’d like to return, briefly, to a point I’ve made a few times over the years. To listen to opponents of torture, torture is always and everywhere evil and unjustifiable. I believe this view is sincerely held by many who hold it. To be honest, I would like to hold that view. I have no problem with moral dogma. I wish we had more of it in this country. But I’m just not persuaded.
And I have a weird partial explanation of why I’m not persuaded. Whenever I see a movie depicting, say, slavery, my view of the evils of slavery is either reinforced or unchanged. Slavery is always wrong. Even if I see some slave in a movie set in, say, Ancient Rome serving his master happily and loyally, that doesn’t change my view one bit. Similarly, I very much doubt there’s a filmmaker in the world so gifted he could artistically depict pedophilia without making me want to vomit and, when recovered, want to kill the pedophile on screen and all the people who made the movie. And so it goes with many moral horrors.
But it’s not true with torture. There’s a lot of mockery about the TV series 24, and that’s fine. But the truth is heroes in film and TV torture people all the time, from mild beatings to really horrific stuff, and they remain heroes. You can complain that 24 isn’t remotely realistic — which is true. Forget whether his torture techniques are effective, it’s simply unbelievable that Jack Bauer could get through traffic in L.A., New York, or London as quickly as he does. But what drama does is create a hypothetical situation, a circumstance we can imagine being in. And while we can suspend our disbelief about the laws of physics or the rules of traffic congestion, it is very difficult for us to suspend our moral sense, at least entirely. Quick: In Patriot Games, when Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan shot an IRA stooge in the kneecap to find out more about the ambush, who out there left the theater hoping for a sequel where Ryan was put on trial for his heinous deeds? Anyone?
Yes, I understand “it’s just a movie.” I’ve gotten that response before. But the very same crowd tells me that Zero Dark Thirty was an evil piece of propaganda for suggesting that waterboarding works. No one disputes that film and TV not only reflect but also influence the culture, they just tend to be selective about what they complain about.
But again, why is it that it’s so easy to imagine situations where torturing someone is defensible but so hard to do so for other taboo deeds? I truly don’t think the answer is simple, nor am I saying anything in the popular culture justifies a public policy on torture or anything else. I’m really just asking the question because I think it offers an interesting insight into how social norms, law, and popular culture interact.
My own partial explanation is that torture is ultimately a subset of violence. And violence, as I’ve written at some length here, is imbued with less moral significance than people sometimes assume. Violence is a tool. Violence used to enslave is evil. Violence used to free slaves, not so much. Violence used to rape? Evil. Violence used to subdue rapist? Fine by me. This is the problem with doctrines of non-violence. They end up being exercises in moral equivalence. As Bill Buckley famously said, if you have one man who pushes old ladies in front of oncoming buses and another man who pushes old ladies out of the way of oncoming buses, it simply will not do to describe them both as the sorts of men who “push old ladies around.”
I think it would be very, very hard to create a heroic character in film or TV who enjoyed torturing people simply for pleasure or money (though I’m sure some asshat is working on that as we speak). But it’s easy to create a likeable character who beats a bad guy to find the bomb at an orphanage or rescue a kid from suffocating in some pit. In other words, when it comes to violence, the why still matters more than the what for most people. I am entirely open to arguments that this shouldn’t be the case. But I think, simply put, it is the case for most people. And until persuaded otherwise, I’m with most people.
Various & Sundry
Here’s my fundraising letter for why “We Need Your Help.”
Cromnibus! I have failed you! My apologies, but I simply haven’t been able to get up to speed on all things Cromnibusian. I realize this was less than cromulent of me. I am sure the issue isn’t going away.
Note to celebrators of abortion: Don’t make Ramesh angry.
The Department of Justice has finally debunked the claim that one-in-five college women are victims of rape. It would have been nice if the White House and countless media outlets had never insisted on using the transparently bogus stat in the first place. It will be interesting to see who among the people who used that fake number now admit it was never true. The new number is about 1 in 52 college women have been victims of sexual assault. That’s still way too many if you ask me (and non-college women are more likely to be assaulted). But the campus rape-epidemic stuff was always a power grab, as I write here.)
Oh in case I forgot to mention it, Jonathan Gruber lied!
So for reasons I think are kind of interesting, a lot of lefty troll types are suddenly upset again about Liberal Fascism. I find the taunts on Twitter a lot like Al Gore, both annoying and boring. They’re also impossible to respond to because a) they’re taunts and b) it’s Twitter. But I did have the gang at NRHQ pull out this reply to critics I wrote when the paperback came out. You may find it useful. Or not.
Zoë Update: She’s at the vet right now because she cracked a claw badly. Apparently they need to remove the whole thing. She’s still a bad girl about getting in the car when she’s having a good time (“Mom! Can you smell the deer poop?! I must find it! I’ll bring you some!”). My wife has started simply getting into the car and driving away, knowing that Zoë will chase after her if she actually thinks she’ll be abandoned.
Anyway, I’m very pressed for time because I’m recording a GLoP podcast in a few minutes and there are so many important things left to discuss like . . .
And the world’s weirdest Christmas trees!
My prayers have been answered! Sheep in Christmas sweater is reunited with his family
Honestly, I kind of wish we’d done this at my wedding — if my mother-in-law wouldn’t have boycotted (she warned us that if Cosmo was in the wedding she would not be attending).
I’d love to hear the meetings on this. Walgreens pulls swastika wrapping paper from its shelves
If you are immune to the charms of this puppy, don’t worry, you are probably already dead.