The G-File

Culture

Krauthammer’s Take on Life

Charles Krauthammer (Fox News/YouTube)
He couldn’t use most of his body, but he was a man in full.

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 members of the Remnant everywhere),

My plan was to do something new this week: Write a “news”letter in which the number and ratio of consonants to vowels in each word advanced in accordance with the Fibonacci sequence until, like a pointillist painting, seen from afar this “news”letter would have the definitive take on Scott Pruitt’s tactical pants.

But Charles Krauthammer died last night, and I figured I should follow his advice and not change a thing with the Goldberg File.

When Charles first revealed to me that he read the G-File, it filled me with a kind of embarrassed dread, like finding out your father-in-law saw a video montage of your college frat parties, or when your favorite English teacher reads the note you passed to a friend out loud to the whole class. Because, that’s sort of how I’ve always thought about this thing — as a note passed to a friend. If I went into it thinking, “Charles Krauthammer is going to read this” or — the still terrifying — “Is George Will going to read this?” there would be remarkably fewer pull-my-finger jokes, never mind satirical porn titles. (My favorite still being the necrophiliac gay porn film inspired by the Florida recount: Hanging Chad.)

Still, this was back when I didn’t know Charles well, and I assumed he was the imposing figure I admired from afar. I soon learned that the Charles you saw on TV was just a sliver of the whole person.

The Charles you saw on TV was a bit dumber than the Charles you saw in real life — but that’s only because TV makes pretty much every smart person seem a little dumber because of the demands of the medium (though the margin is far, far less than the degree to which TV can magically make some very dumb people seem quite smart).

But more to the point, Charles Krauthammer could sniff glue all day long, frying brain cells like Michael Cohen throwing files into a burning garbage can, and still be one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. He could toss out IQ points like the flight attendant on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane, distributing tetracycline to the passengers en route to Tijuana, and still be sharper than a Ginsu knife cutting through a tin can like butter.

Where was I? Oh, right. The point was that as smart as Charles was on TV, he was so much smarter in person. But you noticed his brilliance more on TV both because he was so frick’n brilliant and because he mostly had to keep the other sides of his personality in check. Once he got off the set, however, his intelligence became just one jewel of the mosaic. He had this amazing sense of humor, of which viewers only saw glimpses and hints of on TV. He had a depth of empathy that was shocking, particularly in a town and profession where empathy seems to shrink as reputations grow.

I wasn’t qualified to talk to him about baseball, so we talked more about history. We also talked a good deal about dogs, weird words, oddball trivia, and gossip. Charles liked gossip. Not mean or sordid gossip, but intellectual, professional, and political gossip. He was a real student of humanity and gossip is — or at least was in Charles’s hands — a major resource of the field.

There’s been a lot of talk about how Charles was the most important and influential conservative columnist of the last 30 years, or as Chuck Lane put it last night, since Walter Lippmann. I certainly think that’s defensible, but I have some quibbles. Charles was certainly a conservative, and he definitely was one of the most influential columnists ever. But I think it’s worth noting that not only would some of this praise make him uncomfortable, he might also have disagreed.

He had deep admiration for his friend and collegial rival, George Will, and he talked about him in ways that might suggest he thought George deserved the crown. I suspect Charles would have also thrown Bill Safire into the mix and probably Bill Buckley, too. But my real point is that the power and influence of his writing didn’t come from an effort to come up with the best conservative take on a subject. He approached the page, literally and figuratively, almost completely free of doctrine or dogma — which is ironic given that some of his most famous work was on defining the Reagan and Bush doctrines.

Now, I like doctrine and dogma — but what Charles did was bring the reader along as he thought through an idea or an argument. Lots of pundits do most of their reasoning first — if they really do it at all — and then pass off their conclusions as if they were arguments. When you read a Krauthammer column, you might still disagree with him but you never had any doubt about how he got to his conclusion or that his argument was formulated in good faith.

When I told him how uncomfortable it made me to think that he was reading the G-File, he laughed. He was very kind and generous about it, giving some advice about how more writers need to have fun, how the only audience you truly must satisfy is yourself, and that the ability to make people laugh was an important way of making people think. (There’s a reason jokes are ruined when you explain them. The laugh often comes from that sort of magical epiphany when your brain discovers a relationship between two things that you always saw but never connected. It’s why I always thought philosophy and comedy were more closely related than people realized. We talked about that for a while.)

As I mentioned on the Remnant podcast last week (and on TV this morning), one of my goals was to make Charles laugh on the Special Report panel. I had once said about someone — I have no idea who — that he was “a couple fries short of a Happy Meal” or something like that. And Charles cracked up. He’d bring it up every now and then, like it was an inside joke. Well, to mutilate the metaphor horribly, Charles — a truly happy man in the broadest sense — had more fries in his Happy Meal than any man I can think of. He had more reason to be bitter or haughty or vain than the next 100 men, and yet he overflowed with eudaimonia. He couldn’t use most of his body, but he was a man in full. And just being around him made me feel lucky — like finding that mysterious curly fry amidst all the normal ones.

The Remnant Is Smaller

Earlier this week, Kristen Soltis Anderson wrote a column offering a taxonomy of Washington Republicans. The first three are: the Trump enthusiasts, the Establishmentarians, and the internal opposition. The enthusiasts sing Trump’s praises and welcome his agenda and his personal excesses. The Establishmentarians go with the flow and skim their winnings and collect their vigs where they can. The internal opposition works to undermine Trump and salvage the ancien regime. What unites these three groups is that they have resources and infrastructure of some kind.

It’s not symmetrical, of course. The enthusiasts have the White House, the RNC, and a big swathe of right-wing activist groups and nearly all of the opinion side of Fox News in their corner. The Establishmentarians have a big chunk of Congress, K Street, and the Chamber of Commerce at their disposal. The Internal Opposition has some email lists, Twitter accounts, and a smattering of institutional and financial resources. There are some people in the Internal Opposition I admire and sympathize with, such as Bill Kristol. There others who I think have become unhinged, such as Evan McMullin.

Meanwhile, the fourth species of Washington Republicans, in Kristen’s telling, has virtually no infrastructure at all. She writes:

But there is a fourth group. For lack of a better name at the moment, I will shamelessly steal the name of the excellent podcast hosted by columnist Jonah Goldberg: “the Remnant.” Goldberg in his introductory episode notes that his show will be neither pro- nor anti-Trump, but rather something for those who feel left behind by the other factions, who live in a constant state of feeling that everyone else around them seems to have gone crazy.

The Remnant is the least organized or easy to describe of the four types of Republican in Washington today. The Remnant does not have meetings. It does not have an agenda or a manifesto or a super PAC or a c(3). When they feel the president has done something good, they will praise him. When they feel he has erred, they will criticize him.

The trouble for the Remnant is that taking things issue by issue, day by day, is a perfectly admirable thing to do from an intellectual perspective but is nearly impossible to organize around politically. But for a thriving ideological movement — not a political movement, which prizes choosing sides — perhaps the Remnant is the most interesting group of them all.

Nock, Nock

I wouldn’t necessarily describe things exactly this way myself — not least because I’ve never much cared about the GOP label — but I think this is basically right. It’s true we don’t hold meetings. Indeed, this is in keeping with the grand tradition of the Nock Society, inspired by Albert Jay Nock, whose first rule was “no officers, no dues, and no meetings.” Nock adapted the term “The Remnant” from the story of Isaiah. From my essay on Nock:

At the end of King Uzziah’s reign in 740 b.c., the prophet Isaiah was tasked with warning the Jews of God’s wrath. But, in Nock’s rephrasing of the Biblical text, God gave this disclaimer: “I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah asked why he should even bother, then? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.” For Nock, the Remnant was his audience. At times, the idea of the Remnant is unapologetically elitist, but in a thoroughly Jeffersonian way. The Remnant were not the “best and brightest,” the most successful, the richest. Rather, they were those occupying the “substratum of right thinking and well doing” (in Matthew Arnold’s words). “Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness.”

Now, I think Nock’s vision was a bit too bleak, fatalist, and, truthfully, too arrogant (and I am not convinced it was entirely sincerely held). But what I take from Nock’s Remnant is the recognition that arguing for the right principles is right in itself.

The larger point of his Remnant — and my own less grandiose version — is that it’s worth making a long-term bet on conservative ideas for two reasons: 1) It’s wrong to lie or compromise core convictions for popularity, expediency, or even — dare I say it? — to own the libs; and 2) Because, if our ideas don’t win in the long run, we’re screwed anyway, and at least we’ll be able to live with ourselves. I am not saying that supporting Trump or donning a MAGA hat amounts to some profound moral compromise. I know plenty of people who have done that to one extent or another and remain decent and honest people. But you shouldn’t put your faith in princes, nor should you let your ideas become servants to a person.

(I guess there’s a third reason, too. Young conservatives are disproportionately members of the Remnant, for reasons Ben Shapiro lays out here. You wouldn’t know this from the new crop of opportunists, hucksters, and connivers working their way up through MAGA Twitter and elsewhere. But it’s true. And they need to be shown that this stuff isn’t normal.)

This morning, I was on Fox talking about Charles, and I got a little emotional towards the end. I am fully open to the idea that my remorse got in the way of my clarity. But the point I was trying to make is one I am happy to reiterate here: It’s great and good that people are praising Charles. But it would be nice if more people on the right thought for a moment about why his insights and contributions were so valued. Charles came to play. He brought facts with him and he never went beyond them. He never caved on principle, either. In short, he didn’t pander to his audience. He told them what he thought they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. Moreover, Charles was never mean or conspiratorial or demagogic. There was not an ounce of cruelty in Charles Krauthammer, yet we live in a moment when too many people think cruelty is a form of strength.

When I was trying to make that point, I referenced Corey Lewandowski’s mockery of a story about a little girl with Down syndrome locked in a cage (a grotesquerie Lewandowski has refused to apologize for, because, in his doofus-bro culture, apologies are a sign of weakness). In response, I was deluged by a torrent of Twitter jackassery.

What does it say about people like this, or the moment we’re in, that they take offense on behalf of Donald Trump — a man I never mentioned — because I pointed out that some people behave like jerks? Are their consciences so dirty that any denunciation of crudeness and meanness makes them immediately defensive about Donald Trump?

My point on Fox was that Charles Krauthammer modeled behavior that I think is sorely lacking today, including among many of the people heaping praise upon him. These responses proved my point.

I’m happy to acknowledge that I fall short of his standard — I hope not too much these days, though I know I have in the past. But people learn and they grow — or at least they are supposed to. Instead, we live in a time when too many are unlearning and regressing into bullies, brutes, and champions of mob-thinking — and boasting about it on TV.

I know — not think but know — that Charles was part of the Remnant. I know it because we talked about it. But I also know it because, as Charles said, “You’re betraying your whole life if you don’t say what you think, and you don’t say it honestly and bluntly.”

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Zoë will often follow a squirrel running on a power line or through the tree canopy on the off chance it will simply fall from the tree to the ground by accident. You would think this is an exercise in futility. I mean, how often do you see squirrels just fall from the sky? Well, over the years this technique has worked out surprisingly well for her. It’s almost as if she’s putting out signals that make the squirrels leap to their doom. Or maybe, she knows that if she locks her radar on them, the squirrels will be so scared they’ll be looking down at the dingo below and not watch where they’re going and fall. Or maybe the gods favor dingoes over squirrels. Whatever the reason, the technique worked for her yet again earlier this week. She followed a squirrel for a while. The squirrel jumped, botched the landing on the next branch, and fell into a swirling maw of swamp dog. Paint another tree rat on her fuselage.

Now, I don’t like it when she kills anything. Partly because I’m a sucker for animals (so was Charles Krauthammer, by the way. He would put out bowls of dog food in his backyard so the raccoons would come and put on a show for him). But also because I have no idea what they put in those things. Not to mention the fact that if Zoë had her druthers, she would take the carcass back to the car, bring it home, and nom-nom it on the living room rug. But she knows she can’t do that, so in a sign of her growing maturity, she no longer tries to eat the whole thing before we get the jaws of life to pry the corpse from her jaws of death. Instead she goes and hides the trophy somewhere she thinks we’ll never find it (which is technically true because we never go looking). Despite the layup nature of the kill, Zoe was very proud of herself which is why she tweeted this herself.

Then, this morning, there was even more drama (and I don’t mean the fight over who gets to sit shotgun, that’s a settled issue). While still in the car, Zoë spotted a rabbit. When I opened the door, she rushed out while I made Pippa stay inside. Zoë has far fewer rabbit kills than she has gopher and squirrel kills. In fact, I don’t think she’s caught once since the Hillsdale incident years ago. Since this is already long, you can just follow this Tweet thread.

Anyway, everything else with them is fine. And Pippa buttwaggling is going ever more viral.

Finally, because Kirsten is out of town this week, I had doggo duty this afternoon as well. I “let” Pippa get as dirty as she wanted because I took her straight to the hairdresser afterwards. Behold her new summertime doggy ’do (I said ’do!).

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The latest Remnant: Comfortable, Smug, but not Comfortably Smug

Child separation at the border

In honor of Father’s Day, the eulogy I wrote for my father

Trump’s administration is as swampy as it gets

Can the nation-state fulfill our tribal longings?

No, don’t fire Mueller

It’s time for reasonable politicians to take a serious look at immigration

Was the Enlightenment racist?

My appearance on Monday’s Special Report

And Special Report’s tribute to Charles Krauthammer

And now, the weird stuff:

Debby’s Friday links

A lot more people would run marathons if they still included this

The cities that never existed

Just the bear necessities, the simple bear necessities

This is why you don’t eat broccoli

A drone with a flamethrower, the most terrifying/fascinating thing you’ll see today

Who would win in a battle of the boroughs?

The lost ovens of the Revolutionary War

What your dog does when he thinks you’re not looking

Phille Phanatic injures fan after shooting her in the face with a hot dog

Like carbs? You could have been a gladiator

Jumping soccer fans cause a minor earthquake in Mexico

A dust storm blankets the entirety of Mars

Burger King offers a lifetime of free Whoppers to women impregnated by World Cup players

The world’s largest tree house

The Czech president invites you to watch him burn some huge red underpants

Words of wisdom from Chris Pratt (including advice on how to poop at parties)

Four-term dog mayor of Minnesota town announces retirement

The world’s most expensive milkshake

And the world’s most expensive joint

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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