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 (including those of you in the shadows),
Like a cannibal in a coma ward, I have no idea where to begin. It is always remarkable to me — which is why I am remarking upon it — how the only way this president can be rescued from a bad news cycle is if an even worse one comes along. This is a source of frustration for many on the right who get outraged by the fact that “we” don’t talk enough about Fast & Furious or Benghazi or the IRS scandal or the VA scandal or Ukraine/Syria/Islamic State/China/Libya/Gitmo . . . . etc. The reason some of these topics get pushed to the backburner, even on the right, is that another controversy or scandal suddenly eclipses the previous one. If I ask you to hold a bowling ball and then, five minutes later, I surprise you by throwing a second bowling ball at you and shouting “Catch!” it’s sort of unfair for me to expect you not to drop the ball. (“That may be the worst thing you’ve ever written” — The Couch.)
Phase One of Grubergate came to an end not because the White House or Jonathan Gruber or his legions of activist-journalist homunculi offered the necessary answers or contrition, but because a bigger mess came along. The current fight over Obama’s immigration diktat will probably end when the White House throws Israel under the Mother of All Buses by striking a deal with Iran (already Bibi Netanyahu must feel like Joe Pesci as he walked into the room with plastic sheets on the floor in Goodfellas). The subsequent controversy over that will likely subside when the administration reveals it has been running an illegal dogfighting ring in the White House basement. That brouhaha will conclude when Biden lets it slip that he routinely hunts human beings for sport on the grounds of the Vice President’s residence.
It’s My Way or My Way
So let me bow to the power of this fully operational news cycle and talk about the immigration thing first.
For the last several weeks, the White House’s court spinners have been arguing that Republican inaction is forcing the president to act. Here’s Eugene Robinson in a column titled “Boehner’s immigration inertia forces Obama to act”:
Oh, please. All the melodramatic Republican outrage isn’t fooling anybody. The only reason President Obama has to act on immigration reform is that House Speaker John Boehner won’t.
I repeat: That’s the only reason. The issue could have been settled a year ago. It could be settled in an afternoon. The problem is that Boehner refuses to do his job, preferring instead to spend his time huffing and puffing in simulated indignation.
That is some embarrassing twaddle right there. Even for a reliable Obama cheerleader, as a matter of political analysis, to gaze upon the grand and epochal pandering this move represents and completely discount any partisan motivations is like saying the Nazi invasion of France was solely attributable to a German fondness for runny cheese. No serious person believes — particularly in the wake of the midterms — that the Democrats don’t have a strong partisan interest in this. That doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the merits of what Obama is doing. But please, we are not children.
More to the point, the argument that Boehner’s refusal to pass the bill Obama wanted justifies Obama issuing a diktat as an end-run around Congress is a travesty. Thankfully, it’s only Gene Robinson making this argument and not the president of the United States. Oh wait. Here’s Obama last night:
And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.
By the power of greyskull, this is ridiculous. This guy is supposed to be a lawyer. The question of his authority to do X is independent of what Congress does. The executive branch may not write laws. You could look it up. Let’s imagine China pulls a Pearl Harbor and sinks the Seventh Fleet. On the merits, the U.S. should declare war. Those merits do not entitle the Gary, Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles to usurp Congress’s authority and declare war unilaterally.
Obama is in effect saying, “If you don’t want me to do something you believe to be illegal or unconstitutional (and I eloquently agreed with you not long ago), all you have to do to stop me is to do exactly what I want.”
Like Bill Clinton at an orgy, I don’t know where to start with this. Placating Obama’s wishes doesn’t erase his lawless deed, it establishes a precedent for a new presidential power of lawless action. It’s against the law for me to steal your car. If I do it anyway and then say, “Look, all you have to do to nullify my lawless action is sign over the title to me, that way it will all be nice and proper” does that really make it all better?
I’ve long argued that the only impeachable offense committed by George W. Bush was when he signed McCain–Feingold into law while admitting that he thought parts of it were unconstitutional. The president takes an oath to protect the Constitution every bit as binding as the one the Supreme Court Justices take. If you’re president or a member of Congress it is a violation of your oath to green-light an unconstitutional act, whether or not you think the Supreme Court will fix it. For much of American history, Congress and the president frequently torpedoed legislation they considered unconstitutional without outsourcing the question to the courts. For vexatious reasons, we now think that the court isn’t merely the final word on the Constitution, but the only word on the Constitution. It is a corruption of republican principles.
What Obama is doing is different. He said over and over again that he doesn’t have the constitutional authority to do what he is doing. Has he indicated even once that he changed his mind thanks to some new theory of the Constitution? Maybe he has and I missed it. But does anyone on God’s green earth actually believe him? Not me. In his speech last night, he didn’t invoke some novel interpretation of the president’s constitutional authority. Rather he invoked, however obliquely, a higher authority: History.
History Made Me Do It
Note: If you want more — or any! — straight-up analysis of politics and policy (which raises the question of why you’re here in the first place), my colleagues have flooded the zone over on the NR homepage and in the Corner. I, like the surgeon who entered the operating room in a gorilla suit, have decided to go a different way.
One of the great themes of the Obama presidency is the progressives’ faith in capital-H History as a real force in our political life. I mean this in all the obvious ways. Every president is of historic consequence, even the relatively inconsequential presidents. But the first black president is historic for reasons we can all understand, even celebrate to one extent or another.
But Obama’s relationship with history is something different. I’ve written many times about this administration’s almost religious obsession with the idea that they are on the “right side of history.” As I wrote for the magazine last month:
We’ve heard a great deal lately about the “wrong side of history.” It is one of the president’s favorite ways to describe whatever side he isn’t on, and it’s been a phrase on the lips of progressives for quite a while. Among the myriad problems with the notion of a “wrong side of history,” as many critics (including me) have long argued, is that in the domestic sphere it is a call for one’s opponents to surrender to the inevitability of defeat, and in the international sphere it is deployed rhetorically to avoid deploying anything real.
So, for example, on the home front, liberals insist that opponents of same-sex marriage should give up now because they are sure to lose eventually. And on the international stage, when Barack Obama castigates Vladimir Putin for being on the wrong side of history, what he’s really saying is, “Don’t worry, we don’t need to do anything, History and her long moral arc will do the heavy lifting for us.” No wonder the British historian Robert Conquest complained that the phrase has a “Marxist twang.”
While I think partisan motivations are a powerful driver of what Obama is doing, he clearly has an ideological framework that helps him justify it. And that framework is not the Constitution. It is History.
Obama is starting from the proposition that immigration reform must happen. Not should, must. Water must seek its level. Objects must fall when dropped. The State must bring these people “out of the shadows.” Hence the GOP’s refusal to play along isn’t simply obstructionism or a disagreement about policy. (The House has in fact passed many immigration-related bills, just not the ones Obama wants.) The GOP is refusing to bend to Obama’s beloved moral arc of the universe. They are standing athwart History, yelling Stop. As a result, the president is merely hastening the inevitable, doing what History requires of him.
As I’ve written many times before, the story of the progressive movement can best be understood as activists going wherever the field is open. If the people are on your side, expand democracy. If the people are against you, use the courts. If the courts are against you, run down the field with the bureaucrats, or the Congress, or the presidency. Procedural niceties — the filibuster, precedent, the law, custom, the Constitution, truth — only matter if they can be enlisted to advance the cause. If they can’t, they suddenly become outdated, irrelevant, vestigial organs of racism, elitism, sexism, whatever. Obstruction, or even inconvenience in the path of progressive ends is prima facie proof of illegitimacy. The river of history must carry forward. If History hits a rock, the rock must be swept up with the current or be circumvented. Nothing can hold back the Hegelian tide, no one may Stand Athwart History. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. This is the liberal gleichschaltung; get with the program or be flattened by it.
Barack Obama’s leapfrog over the Constitution is perfectly consistent with Woodrow Wilson’s hatred of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. It is of a piece with FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights.” It is the latest chapter in the progressive cult of History in which they — and only they — know what the universe requires and no mortal authority, and certainly not any old piece of paper, can stand in the way. Why? Because History is their co-pilot.
And this brings me to Jonathan Gruber. It is entirely possible that the political import of the Gruber story is being overplayed by conservatives, though not nearly as much as it is being underplayed by liberals (and by liberals I include virtually all of the mainstream media). During the Bush administration, Armstrong Williams was exposed as a secret paid flack for No Child Left Behind. It was a big story. The New York Times, Washington Post, and other MSM outlets wrote dozens of stories about it. And rightly so. Perhaps it didn’t deserve a feeding frenzy, but such antics by the government should be deplored, particularly by the Fourth Estate. But you know what? Armstrong Williams had nothing to do with getting No Child Left Behind passed. No one called Armstrong Williams the architect of No Child Left Behind. No one confused him for an objective referee. Also, No Child Left Behind was a piece of bipartisan legislation — co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy! — that did not pass thanks to lies and deceptions the way Obamacare did.
Here’s Chuck Todd explaining a near blackout of Gruber coverage in the MSM. “I’m not saying it’s not a story. Look, I’m not in charge of any of those network newscasts. But what is the news today of that? It’s a political story.”
I’m a fan of Chuck’s but good lord this is absurd. First, all Todd does is cover “political stories.” I haven’t seen every one of his stints at the helm of Meet the Press, but I feel I would have heard if Meet the Press had become a cooking show on his watch.
Moreover, the news is huge. An indispensable architect of this trillion dollar monstrosity of a law has been exposed as not only a deliberate liar, but as one who stood to make millions off the law without disclosing his role as a paid consultant. People love to say that Bush lied us into war, but to date no evidence of deliberate lies has ever surfaced. Yes, false statements have come to light, but those statements were believed to be true at the time. They were corroborated by the U.N., the French intelligence service, and countless leading Democrats — such as Bill Clinton — and Hillary Clinton, who voted for the war. It’s awful and scandalous that we got so much wrong, but there were no deliberate lies in a regrettable rush to war.
You can’t say anything of the sort about Obamacare, which, as I argued in my column yesterday, was sold with lies, deception, and partisan brute force from Day One. And yet, if video of Paul Wolfowitz or Don Rumsfeld admitting that they lied or had secret financial interests in the war came out tomorrow, I cannot imagine Chuck Todd could say, “What’s the news of that now?”
The reason Gruber has been so outrageously under-covered by the mainstream media is obvious: The whole story is an indictment of the entire ecosystem of establishment liberalism, from the supposedly “explanatory journalists” who picked sides from the beginning, to the academic elites who serve as willing mercenaries for the Democratic party (while pretending to be unimpeachably objective followers of the facts) to the press corps that carries water for the whole enterprise. Grüberdammerung runs against the narrative that only lovers of limited government are driven by self-interest and greed. It gives the average person a glimpse into how the sausage is made and embarrasses the sausage makers.
Whither the Gruberian Jihad?
I first learned the word “jihad” as a teenager. I wasn’t studying Islam, I was geeking out over the Dune novels. In the back story of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, society was utterly transformed by a religious uprising against the rule of computers. A “thinking machine” had taken it upon itself to abort the child of Jehanne Butler. This was the last straw, and a revolution that was henceforth known as the Butlerian Jihad unfolded across the “Known Universe.” The first commandment of the new faith born of this travesty was, “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”
Now I don’t for a moment think we are on the cusp of a Gruberian Jihad, nor do I think anyone should grab their torches in response to Jonathan Gruber. But I truly believe we are on a path to such a thing. It won’t overthrow traditional religions or rely on drug-mutated slugs to drive spaceships, but there’s a populist revolt brewing that will make people nostalgic for the tea parties. This is what prompted my Special Report rant this week (with a follow-up rant on Cavuto). Very few things unite both the tea-party and the Occupy Wall Street crowds, but one place where the Venn Diagrams overlap is a general sense that the Powers that Be are playing us for suckers. The game is being rigged for the benefit of the players and the rest of us are not only not allowed to play, but we’re mocked and ridiculed for not knowing the rules of the game. And that ignorance is being used as an excuse to make the game ever more incestuous, complicated, and self-dealing. As I said on Cavuto, complexity is a subsidy, and the people making society more complex are the direct beneficiaries of that subsidy. If we continue down this path, we will look back at the Wall Street bailouts, the self-dealing legal corruption of the stimulus, the Gruberian passage of Obamacare, and, yes, Obama’s amnesty and wonder why we didn’t see it coming.
What’s That Now?
One last item I don’t want to fall down the memory hole. I was going to write a whole column on this, but Mona Charen beat me to the punch. Still, my jaw dropped when I heard Obama’s reaction to the beheading of Peter Kassig.
“ISIL’s actions represent no faith,” Obama said, “least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.”
Abdul-Rahman was Kassig’s Muslim name, which he adopted only while being held captive by Islamists. Perhaps the conversion was sincere, though I suspect Kassig did it to stay alive and certainly under duress and I can begrudge him it. Either way, there’s something disgusting about using Kassig’s Muslim name in order to score a propaganda point.
It’s even worse when that propaganda point is so incandescently stupid.
As Mona notes (and as I argued here), no one except Barack Obama thinks it’s a revelation that the Islamic State kills Muslims. No Kurd, no Shia, no moderate Sunni stays in his home when the Islamic State is at the gates, and says “Hey, we’re Muslim and Muslims don’t kill Muslims. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
But it’s the phrase “least of all the Muslim faith” that is truly infuriating. Least of all? Really? So other faiths are more implicated in this atrocity than Islam? Which ones? Does he really mean to be suggesting that while the Islamic State’s actions “represent no faith,” if we have to assign blame, Islam is the least culpable? Could a team of rhetoricians, theologians and logicians working around the clock in some Andromeda Strain bunker beneath the Nevada desert come up with an argument that puts even a scintilla more blame at the feet of, say, the Lutherans or Quakers? On the one hand we have a bunch of dudes who shout “Allāhu Akbar!”, memorize the Koran, and rape and murder in the name of the Islamic State. On the other hand, we have a grab bag of Buddhists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Southern Baptists. And the one faith least implicated here is Islam? Really. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
Various & Sundry
Zoë Update: I’m here alone with the kid and the Dingo as The Fair Jessica is in an undisclosed location finishing a book project (she’s, among other things, a ghostwriter if you didn’t know). The Dingo has been particularly Dingo-y this week. Two days ago she pulled another Gore Vidal and rolled in something I hope was deer poop but might have been much worse. She treed a raccoon this morning. And, as I understand it, the neighborhood squirrels have procured additional centrifuges in their effort to “wipe the Dingo off the map.”
Thanks to all of you who came on the NR Cruise. It was a grand time. If you haven’t gone, you should really think about it.
Here, via Ricochet, is the podcast of my “night owl” session with Rob Long and John Podhoretz.
And here I am sitting in for the Ricochet Podcast.
Here’s my column on shirtgate (I expected more blowback from the right, by the way).
Here’s Peggy Noonan giving me a generous shout out for my Fox rant.
Here’s LBJ ordering pants (NSFW).