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 any of you poor souls for whom “Dear” or “Reader” is a trigger word and you weren’t even able to read this parenthetical gag without stewing your bowels. Frankly as a fan of Telefon, I think we need more trigger words. I don’t want anyone hurt, but it would be cool if at the mention of the word “flutterbutter” several of you suddenly walked away from the keyboard and drove to the nearest Starbucks and then did the Shake a Tail Feather Dance.),
When you lose or fail, there’s a natural human tendency to insist that the game is rigged or unfair. If you haven’t noticed this tendency in others it’s probably because you are inanimate matter — Styrofoam packing peanuts, a brick, perhaps some kind of smoky cheese — in which case you shouldn’t be subscribing to this “news”letter in the first place. If you are a sentient being and haven’t noticed this tendency at some point in your own life, it’s probably because you’re a Billy Zabka character from a 1980s movie.
Everybody feels this way occasionally, in ways large and small, and sometimes for good reason. I myself have been known to get resentful at the way Washington D.C., sometimes rewards certain kinds of people — schmoozers, flatterers, yes-men (and women!), flimflammers, quacksalvers, mountebanks, pretty-faced or handsome airheads with prop eyeglasses, grifters, and old-fashioned shmucks — because they are better suited to a certain kind of soul-strangling, glad-handing, and up-sucking that I can’t manage. Though I suspect that similar problems exist pretty much everywhere and everywhen (which totally should be a word). Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) in On the Waterfront isn’t wrong to resent his brother. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.” And Wes Mantooth probably had a point about the way the ratings system doesn’t measure homes with more than two TVs. But to paraphrase Shakespeare, sometimes the fault, Dear Wes, is not in the system, but in ourselves.
The Left Lashes Out
In Liberal Fascism I write:
In the liberal telling of America’s story, there are only two perpetrators of official misdeeds: conservatives and “America” writ large. Progressives, or modern liberals, are never bigots or tyrants, but conservatives often are. For example, one will virtually never hear that the Palmer Raids, Prohibition, or American eugenics were thoroughly progressive phenomena. These are sins America itself must atone for. Meanwhile, real or alleged “conservative” misdeeds — say, McCarthyism — are always the exclusive fault of conservatives and a sign of the policies they would repeat if given power. The only culpable mistake that liberals make is failing to fight “hard enough” for their principles. Liberals are never responsible for historic misdeeds, because they feel no compulsion to defend the inherent goodness of America. Conservatives, meanwhile, not only take the blame for events not of their own making that they often worked the most assiduously against, but find themselves defending liberal misdeeds in order to defend America herself.
This “heads we win, tails you lose” approach to the story of America has worked fantastically well for liberalism. It’s a tautology. The good guys are liberals and when America doesn’t do what liberals want, America is the villain. When liberals get their way and they fail, the failure can be laid at the feet of conservatives or America for not committing to the project enough. (The Great Society failed because it was underfunded!) Ever since Herbert Croly, liberals have been great at telling the rest of us what the “promise” of America is and then blaming Americans for not fulfilling a promise they never committed to in the first place.
I could rant about this historical dynamic for quite a while, but I think this tendency has a lot of contemporary relevance.
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Obama is kinda blowing it. His foreign-policy speech at West Point was a very highfalutin version of making a huge mistake and then saying, “I meant to do that.” Younger Millennials are already looking at the slightly older members of their cohort — the ones who voted for Obama when they were still in high school — and saying, “Uh, dude, what did you get us into?” The new progressive era liberals promised us is apparently sitting next to Godot on the bus. The New New Deal was the New Coke of New New Deals.
As a result, the Left is quietly giving up on waiting for Obama to deliver. They’re moving on to the blame game. When liberals screw up or can’t deliver, it’s not because there’s a problem with liberalism, it’s the system man, the system! We saw a preview of this early in Obama’s first term when the White House struggled to get its agenda through Congress. Suddenly, “Yes We Can!” became, in the words of Tony Podesta, No We Can’t because the American political system “sucks!”
It’s amazing how the recent spike in laments about “white supremacy” has coincided with the realization that there will be no big payoff from the Obama years. Maybe Obamacare will lead to socialized medicine, but you’ve gotta admit that so far it’s been pretty anti-climatic, like the day after getting your Christmas pony and finding out that not only is it kind of expensive and bitey, but it left a huge steaming pile on your favorite pillow. MSNBC barely covers the presidency from what I can tell these days, save as a news peg for why conservatives are racist evil morons.
Of course, some of the topic change is simply driven by a desire to talk about something that makes liberals feel good about themselves. When the real news is a downer, change the subject to something that isn’t. The political press has already moved on to Hillary. And the ideological Left wants to talk about hashtags, white supremacy, reparations for slavery, and really dumb stuff, like how half-Asian psychopathic murderers and surviving the Holocaust are best understood as proof white privilege is alive and well.
It’s no coincidence that Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century became such a sensation at this moment in American political life. It is (or claims to be) an indictment of the system. It goes deeper that any one (disappointing) president or party to explain why liberalism hasn’t succeeded and the answer to all of liberalism’s problems is more liberalism — and more power for liberals. The reaction, as much as the book itself, says the system itself is rigged (I spent pretty much all of May working on a very long essay on Piketty’s book for Commentary so I can’t get into all of it here).
In short, liberals are deeply bummed out at their own team’s failure to deliver on the “promise of America” and they are looking to assign blame anywhere but where it belongs. Because, ya see, they coulda been contenders.
Shorter Clinton: We Can Never Know What I Did Wrong . . .
As I write this, a woman in Britain has a sudden image of a guy tapping at a laptop keyboard. Six thousand miles away, I’m tapping at my keyboard. It’s dismissed as a coincidence.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way. For some reason the old Time-Life “Mysteries of the Unknown” commercials sprung into my mind (“Dismissed as self-indulgent claptrap.” — The Couch).
Meanwhile, a woman in Washington says that what happened in Benghazi may become the next chapter in the Mysteries of the Unknown. Hillary Clinton says that “there will never be perfect clarity on everything that happened . . . But that should not be confused with a lack of effort to discover the truth or to share it with the American people.” This comes from the 34-page chapter on Benghazi in her new memoir, a chapter that probably had more experts consulting on it than an alien space craft discovered in the New Mexico desert. Just think about all of the spinners, hacks and other bipedal remora of the Hillary Industrial Complex in their figurative white lab coats testing each phrase with focus groups of suburban soccer moms; the squads of lawyers debating the semicolons and haggling over the past-participles.
Anyway, I love this talking point that “perfect clarity” is elusive. She will certainly use it to perfect her obfuscation. Already, you can be sure interns at “Ready For Hillary!” are rehearsing in the mirror “We may never know exactly what happened in Benghazi . . . We may never know exactly what happened in Benghazi . . . ”
Case in point: Even as Clinton insists that the lack of perfect clarity doesn’t imply any lack of effort to get at the truth, she apparently couldn’t find space in her chapter about the attack on Benghazi to divulge where she was and exactly what she was doing on the night of the Benghazi attack. That was the very first thing the guys in the white coats at the New Mexico hangar had yanked out and buried in the desert. I mean she’s right, we probably can’t find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, Libya that night — the fog of war and all that. But she could help us know what she did that night. Unfortunately, the fog of Hillary will prevail. It always does.
When in Doubt, Attack National Review
You might have missed Salon’s hyper-ventilating attack on National Review for our collective failure to weep for Maya Angelou like female soldiers at Kim Jong Il’s funeral. Note, the critique isn’t that we insulted her. It’s that we disrespected her by failing to lavish sufficient praise on her. I particularly like the insinuation that I should have been more generous because Maya Angelou’s family is seeking solace in my eulogizing words. The thing is, I only said nice things about the woman, in part because I actually consciously try not to jump ugly on the recently deceased. It’s a mistake I’ve made in the past when I used to get too caught up in the asininity of Internet instantaneity. Of course, you can’t win in such things. If you lavish too much praise then you get called a hypocrite for complimenting someone you criticized only after they died. It’s like John Winger’s warning about Tito Puente.
Anyway, it seems to me that these sorts of attacks on National Review have been increasing of late (I’ve been around a while, they tend to ebb and flow). I think this, too, is a symptom of the funk the Left is in. They don’t want to defend Obama because, ugh. They want to attack the system and create narratives that justify their high moral self-regard. That makes National Review a useful foil, particularly if you have no problem distorting what we say and making up charges that fit your fantasies more than any semblance of reality. That certainly seems to explain the ridiculous mobbing of A.J. Delgado.
A Personal Note
Please forgive the informality while I loosen my pants. Oh and please forgive the informality of what I am about to say as well. I am concerned. This “news”letter, as you know, has a rich and storied history. I am in fact the 18th G-File writer. The first was Joachim of Fiore, whose “news”letters — written on buckskin with the blood of second-born peasant children — liberated men from their due allegiance to the sanctity of the created world in favor of a false dream of a world that could be created anew by the minds — and passion — of men. Since him, the quill, then the pen, then typewriter, and eventually the keyboard has passed like a torch from master to apprentice. Like vampire slayers, each generation, only one is chosen.
I’m just kidding, of course, Joachim of Fiore was famously identified by Eric Voegelin as the ur-gnostic from whom so many modern heresies descend. And, to borrow a phrase from Justin Bieber,
“Who fed my monkey Funyuns!?” “I ain’t no frick’in eschaton immanentizer.”
Anyway, my concern is this: Too many people are reading this thing. Why is that a problem? Well, how do I put this politely? Back when it was just me and you guys — you know who you are — it was fine to do the women’s-prison-movie jokes and long rants about Hayek (Friedrich, not Salma) and whatnot. I believe the first reader poll I ever launched at NRO was “What’s the sweatiest movie all time?” Those were the days (Answer: Cool Hand Luke. Also accepted: A Time To Kill, which John Podhoretz dubbed A Time to Schivtz).
But now some really serious and important people are reading this thing. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m not saying you’re not serious or important. But longtime readers of the G-File get it. Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing from billionaires and celebrity types about this “news”letter and it kind of freaks me out. Part of the fun when I started the G-File stemmed from the fact I was a nobody working at National Review of all places. They had me working in the Internet for the same reasons you have your slow-witted horse-faced cousin empty the rat traps; I wasn’t a front-of-the-store kinda guy. Me and the Couch were like Jake and Ellwood at Bill Buckley’s fancy French restaurant trying to get the maître d’ to rejoin the band. Now it’s like all of the fancy people who used to complain that my smell was offensive want to pull up a chair and share the meal. It’s flattering, but there are some people you don’t want to say “pull my finger” to. And there are other people who really couldn’t care less who Joachim of Fiore is.
Anyway, I’d hate for this “news”letter to evolve into the kind of snooty place where I’m expected to move the dishes before I pee in the sink. But I really don’t want it to be the kind of place where I am expected to do anything at all. In the last G-File I wrote the first 800 words or so on the superiority of dogs to cats. A bunch of people complained that the “opening joke” was too long or that there was too much throat-clearing before I got to the topic of the G-File. Folks, that was the G-File. There’s no point in looking under the plate or towards the kitchen for the real meal, that was it. Don’t like it, eat someplace else. Or come back next week and maybe we’ll be serving something completely different. But remember, when it comes to the G-File, it’s like Madge said in the old Palm Olive commercials: If you’re reading it, “you’re soaking in it!”
Various & Sundry
Zoë Update: She is fully recovered and so full of energy I may bring her to the U.S. Patent Office as proof of concept for a perpetual motion machine. She is still a work in progress behavior-wise. Yesterday I called home and the Fair Jessica informed me that Zoë ate “at least one, maybe two rolls of toilet paper.” Even for a dog, that seems to get the proper order backwards. We are now pretty much entirely convinced she is a Carolina Dog, a.k.a. the American Dingo. These pictures seem to settle the question. So now whenever she misbehaves we tell her she’s “such a dingo.” Maybe that’s unfair to dingos, but there it is.
Recommendation!:A new G-File feature! As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. A corollary to this truism: With a widely read self-indulgent newsletter comes great opportunities. So I’ve decided I’m going to start recommending products, and services I like. Why not? I’m often asked for cigar and booze recommendations, why not offer them? If I can help support businesses I like, why shouldn’t I? And, if I can get people to send me free samples of stuff, why not? (For what it’s worth, I will always disclose such things. Hopefully such disclosures will read like this: “The Bentley I drove was given to me by the manufacturer and it was awesome!”).
Anyway, this week’s recommendations: Double Premium Confections. As part of my ongoing weight loss program, I’ve taken to eating dark chocolate on occasion. I stumbled on their (dark) chocolate bar with sea salt and almonds at the cash register at the Organic Butcher (a fantastic butcher shop in Virginia). Since then, my wife, daughter, and I have fallen in love with pretty much their entire line.
Cigar of the week: A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva, my favorite cigar of late.
Hey, this is a two-way street. The fair Jess and I are going to be in San Francisco and Napa Valley in July. I was very disappointed to discover the window for reservations for French Laundry have already closed. But if you have other restaurant recommendations, please let me know.
My column from Friday asking “So what?” if Judd Apatow movies or video games inspired a deranged psychopath.
Expect to hear a lot more about this in the years ahead: the insurance implications of driverless cars.
Ideas for a photo shoot on the set of Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
Thirteen words that stymied spelling bee finalists
Twenty-six movies from the villain’s perspective
You would think every single Nick Cage laugh ever would be more awesome than this.
How civilizations fall, in a school field-day notice: “The competitive urge to win will be kept at a minimum.”
It’s about time! Drinkable sunscreen! Now all they need to do is come up with drinkable mosquito repellent.
They’ve got wood! The 13 coolest objects made of wood.
Bonus: Man crafts wooden Volkswagen Beetle.