Obama Ate Our Dog(ma)

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Dear Reeder (and those of you who are too busy reading this to put grooves on the edge of coins),

Like everybody and anybody eager to see Barack Obama get to work on his third autobiography as soon as possible, I have not been immune to feelings ofschadenfreude over the president’s recent troubles.

When a politician takes out an ad saying, in effect, “What I meant to say was . . .” It’s like sending your girlfriend flowers with a note that begins, “When I said you could lose a few pounds I didn’t mean . . .”

By the way that analogy works better with “girlfriend” instead of “wife” not only because I would never say anything of the sort regarding my own lovely bride, even in a generic hypothetical, but also because in America we do not marry – even metaphorically – our presidents. We date them. If we vote out Obama this November, it won’t be a divorce, it will be a dumping. And the voters will be telling Obama, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Obama’s Success

At least that’s what I hope they will be saying. When a politician loses, we tend to hang the failure on his (or her) shoulders alone. That’s a good thing, most of the time. But it’s not necessarily true, either. Sometimes the fault lies not in the political stars, but in ourselves. Indeed, sometimes a politician’s failure is a sign of their integrity. The politician who will say or do anything to get reelected may be a winner electorally, but he’s a failure in terms of his honor.

For conservatives, it’s easy to understand this point looking rightward. The reason we can’t get, say, Phil Gramm elected president isn’t that he’s not qualified, or a poor communicator, or anything of the sort. It’s because the American people won’t buy what he’s selling. I see that as a shortcoming of the American people more than I see it as a shortcoming of Phil Gramm. (If you’re not a Phil Gramm booster, this illustration works just as well if you insert your own “extreme” politician who can’t get elected because he’s an “extremist.”)

It’s important for conservatives to stress that Obama’s failures have less to do with his incompetence and inexperience and more to do with the fact that he’s just not sympatico with the American political tradition.

By now you’ve probably seen Charles Murray’s reaction to Obama’s Roanoke gaffe. An excerpt:

There’s a standard way for Americans to celebrate accomplishment. First, we call an individual onto the stage and say what great things that person has done. Then that person gives a thank-you speech that begins “I couldn’t have done this without . . .” and a list of people who helped along the way. That’s the way we’ve always done it. Everyone knows we all get help in life (and sometimes just get lucky). But we have always started with the individual and then worked out. It is not part of the American mindset to begin with the collective and admonish individuals for thinking too highly of their contribution.

That brings me back to the creepiness of it all. It is as if a Dutch politician – an intelligent, well-meaning Dutch politician – were somehow running for the American presidency, but bringing with him the Rawlsian, social-democratic ethos that, in the Netherlands, is the natural way to talk about a properly run society. We would listen to him and say to ourselves, “He doesn’t get this country.” That’s the thing about Obama. Time and again, he does things and says things that are un-American. Not evil. Not anti-American. Just un-American.

I think this is exactly right. David Maraniss goes to great lengths to demonstrate how Obama conceived of himself as something other than an “American.”

Obama’s rhetoric, not just in Roanoke, but across a long career as a writer and politician, has always started with the collective. In 1995, Obama told theChicago Reader: ”In America, we have this strong bias toward individual action. You know, we idolize the John Wayne hero who comes in to correct things with both guns blazing. But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”

Obama hoped to change that, to fix our dogmatic preoccupation with the individual, with personal success. That’s what Michelle Obama meant when she said he would fix our broken souls.

And he’s succeeded, a little.

Obama Ate Our Dog(ma)

Longtime readers should really take speed-reading classes if they want to be faster readers. Longtime readers of the G-File should know my views on dogma (which I discuss at great length in Tyranny of Clichés). I like dogma. I think it’s important. Societies succeed or fail on the quality of their dogma. As Charles notes, Obama’s point – at least the one Obama claims to have been making – is entirely defensible as a general proposition. The Elizabeth Warren-Barack Obama emphasis on infrastructure and the role of government is not necessarily wrong factually; it’s wrong intellectually, philosophically and emotionally. In short it’s wrong dogmatically.

When a Thomas Edison invents the lightbulb, the American way is to celebrate Edison, then his assistants and mentors, then his patrons, and eventually – after his wife, mother, chiropodist, and second-grade math teacher – we congratulate the taxpayers who subsidized the powerlines. And yet the other day, when I made a “Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb” joke on Twitter, I got a whole lot of smarmy blowback from liberals saying, in effect, “but the lightbulb wouldn’t matter without the taxpayer-funded electrical grid!”

To which a reasonable person must respond, “Arrgghhh!”

This is what scares me about Obama. By virtue of being in power and running one of the two major political parties, he’s forcing millions of liberal Americans to break what few dogmatic commitments they have to the traditional American way of understanding accomplishment. By moving leftward, in terms of policy and rhetoric, Obama gives the left more slack in their leashes to move even further leftward. Change the dogmatic commitments of the people, and you change the people. This is the overarching theme of so much of Mark Steyn’s writing the last few years.

Nobody – nobody – is “born American” save in a legalistic sense. Americans are made in America (some people are Americans by heart, but not by birth). If we Europeanize our dogma; if we start stressing the collective first and the individual a distant second; if our first instinct is to celebrate the wisdom of government in our every success and the stupidity of the entrepreneur in our every failure; then, simply, we won’t be making Americans in America anymore.

Ish

Last week I proclaimed that “similarish” is now a word. Nobody disputed the wisdom of my coinage. But I did get an interesting e-mail from my friend Andrew Malcolm over at IBD:

Do you know where the -ish thing came from?

It’s British. 800 years ago (seriously) a rural doctor was studying a patient’s urine sample. He held it up to the light and made notes, couldn’t think of a word for the appearance so he made one up. He called it cloudish, as the skies often are in Britain. That’s the first known use in Middle English of the -ish as in Hollywoodish.

I learned that reporting an editorial on language once and found it fascinatingish.

And here I thought it came from a dyslexic man who found a tar-like substance and wrote in his notes that it was “Ishtar.”

Travelogue

I’m in Friday Harbor, Wash., today and through the weekend. I love this part of the country. My sister-in-law lives here and the Goldbergs always try to spend at least a little – and hopefully a lot – of time out here. Cosmo is too old to make the trip anymore, but longtime readers of the original Goldberg File (OGFers) will remember this is where Cosmo and I drove to for my wedding (click here [BROKEN LINK] or here if you want to feel old (“Or bored” – The Couch)).

I’m flying home Monday, but my wife and daughter are driving to drop off my progeny at summer camp in North Carolina (a Mr. Jerry Aldini explained to us that my daughter will be able to stalk and kill her own bear). Then, I’m taking my wife on a real vacation. Woot!

This is a long way of explaining why the G-File is late today. Hard to get up really early to write it when you’re already three hours behind the home office.

Various & Sundry

My column on Aurora and the death penalty.

My review of Dark Knight Rises.

My take on Chick-fil-A, Sista Souljah & the Liberal Gleichshaltung.

Poooooooping…..In…..Spaaaaaaaaaaace…….

Olympic medals in fine arts?

So the brain is a teenage boy? “Brain sees men as whole, women as parts.”

The Internet’s carbon emissions equal half of the U.K.’s.

The seven worst parasites on the planet. (Note SEIU omitted.) (Second note: Don’t look over lunch.)

Shaaaaaaark!

Experts & Angels of the God-State

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Dear so-called Reader (I know you think you’re reading this, but when you finish this “news”letter you should know, you didn’t read this, somebody else read this),

Well, this is a little awkward. Just last week in this very space, I made the case that nobody really does anything of consequence alone. At the same time, Barack Obama was making a seemingly similar point in a political act of cranial-posterior insertion the likes of which none of us had any right to hope for.

Here’s a bit of what I wrote, just in case you’re just tuning in or if you recently suffered short-term memory loss due to a coke bottle dropped from a small plane that smacked you in the head or perhaps a freak kiln accident:

Put it all together and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

is not merely akin to a time capsule, it’s a memory back-up, an auto-save of a document still being written. At least 99 percent of the things we know are things other people figured out first. Our manners, morals, technology, language, culture come to us on an assembly line that stretches off into prehistory with laborers in animal skins at the front and lab coats at the end.

Even rugged-individualist survivalists living completely alone in the woods somewhere are plugged into a support network of millions of human beings who came before him. Nearly every single thing he does alone in the woods was figured out for him by someone else. He didn’t discover how to start a fire. He probably didn’t forge his own gun or knife, and even if he did, he didn’t learn the techniques for doing so all by himself.

I think the contrast between my point and Obama’s is interesting, and so therefore I am going to expand on my interest here.

Even though the two points sound similar-ish (I declare that a word), they are in fact completely opposed to one another, like my old basset hound and that grey poodle he hated so much (“I think that reference was awfully inside, even for you” – The Couch).

In Obama’s vision, the state drives social good, it is the engine of history and the imposer of meaning. No great or good thing happens without the state driving it, nudging it, influencing it, enabling it, or causing it. The state is the demiurge, the stand-in for God since God does not exist or is busy elsewhere. Indeed, all serious philosophical progressivism works from the position that the state is either God’s standard-bearer or His replacement. (Michael Potemra had a nifty post related to this on the Corner the other day. ) Here’s how liberalism thinks about the role of government: Put yourself in the position of what your best-self would do if you were God, and your will becomes what progressives call “social justice.”

This is true even if Obama’s comments have been taken “out of context” as the campaign claims. At its most banal, as Shannen notes in the Corner, the upshot is still largely the same. The state makes success possible through roads, therefore your success isn’t wholly yours. The state gets a production credit.

According to the Hegelian-progressive vision, the state manages the evolution of the society to the point where society and state are almost indistinguishable concepts. In the Hayekian-conservative vision, the state is merely one of many institutions – albeit an important one – thrown off by the churning creativity of society itself.

The state’s experts don’t – can’t – create society. At best they try to guess where it’s going next, and they usually fail. Which I think deserves its own subhead doohickey thing . . .

Experts & Angels of the God-State

“The Internet didn’t get invented on its own,” Obama declared in Roanoke. After all, “government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Er, that’s not why the government created the Internet. It’s like Obama thinks the web was a stimulus program aimed at “mouse-ready” jobs. As convicted moperer Nick Schulz notes, the world wide web was never intended to be what it is, but in the statism-justifying logic of the Left, all of its benefits had to be intentional and those who think their taxes are too high are simply ingrates even though it was their taxes that paid for the damn thing in the first place anyway.

The notion that the state should get credit for the creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurism, and general success of those who pay for it with their tax dollars is particularly pernicious when, as Obama does, it’s used to suggest the state intended any of it.

Dewey vs. Hayek, Again

In the Tyranny of Clichés I write that the great philosophical divide of the last century is best represented as the battle between John Dewey and Friedrich Hayek. Hayek was the great champion of spontaneous order and trial and error, while Dewey was the carnival barker for central planning and collective action.

From TOC:

Hayek explained, and not just in the realm of economics, that knowledge is communal and collective. It is bound up in, and communicated by, traditions, customs, laws, prices, even language. There’s a lot of philosophical and epistemological overlap between Hayek’s philosophy and the pragmatists’ – in terms of how we know and learn things as individuals. But on this core point the two could not be more different. Hayek understood that markets are collective, cooperative endeavors precisely because individuals are empowered to make their own decisions. Dewey believed the only way we could have a collective, cooperative system was if we took away the individual’s ability to make his own choices. Citizens needed to be forced to become the kind of citizens Dewey believed would be productive. “Social arrangements, laws, institutions . . . are means of creating individuals. . . . Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out,” Dewey wrote.

Hence, the great irony: Hayek, one of the greatest champions of individual liberty and economic freedom the world has ever known, believed that knowledge was communal. Dewey, the champion of socialism and collectivism, believed that knowledge was individual. Hayek’s is a philosophy that treats individuals as the best judges of their own self-interests, which in turn yield staggering communal cooperation. Dewey’s was the philosophy of a giant, Monty Pythonesque crowd shouting on cue, “We’re All Individuals!”

Quantity Time

Speaking of planning, I’m in California with my daughter (“Hence the rich stink of a phoned-in G-File, eh?” – The Couch). I have some business out here – I was on the Adam Carolla podcast the other night (I made sure to put noise-cancelling headphones on her and let her watch a movie on the iPad. She didn’t need to hear any of that dialogue), and on Dennis Prager’s show yesterday. Plus I took some meetings as they say out here. But for the most part it’s just been me and Lu, at the pool, at the Santa Monica pier, etc. We saw the The Amazing Spider-Man yesterday. She really liked it, but her take was that it had “too many stories,” by which she meant too many plotlines. And, she was absolutely right! Moreover, she beat me to realizing the problem with the movie.

On the Carolla podcast (where I felt my contribution was sub-par for the most part), I argued that the idea of “quality time” with your kids is b.s. What matters is quantity time. I’d forgotten that Fred Barnes had made this exact point in The New Republic more than 20 years ago: “Forget quality time. You can’t plan magic moments or bonding or epiphanies in dealing with kids. What matters is quantity time.” I don’t have the piece in front of me, but if memory serves, Barnes had this epiphany about unplanned epiphanies while taking his kid on a trip to a speech or a conference.

(If you need political relevance, think about how hard it is to plan things for your own kids – and for all intents and purposes your kids are chattel slaves, impressionable chattel slaves who look up to you. Now think how ludicrous it is to believe that the government should be able to fine-tune its management of hundreds of millions of adults.)

What’s particularly poignant for me is I remember reading that two decades ago and thinking how cool it’d be to have the kind of job where I could bring my kid(s) with me on gigs like that. Two decades later, I do. I’ve brought Lucy to countless speeches and events over the last few years. Heck we put her to work at the concession stand at a tea-party rally in Racine, Wis., a few years ago.

Anyway, I consider myself a very lucky man.

Various & Sundry

The Bookworm review of the Tyranny of Clichés is out.

Speaking of books, I just finished a long review of Ten Years of the Claremont Review of Books for The Claremont Review of Books. It should be in the next issue – and I expect some blowback from some friends on the right. But what you need to know for now is that it is a great collection and would make an ideal gift for your chattel-slave progeny heading to college.

You can download the Carolla podcast here, where there’s a big picture of me looking large on the homepage as we speak.

Oh, and if you’re interested, here‘s my “class” at Prager University. Don’t let the haircut (or lack thereof) throw you off.

Sorry I don’t have a lot of weird links today. I haven’t been on the interwebs too much. But here are Debby’s links for today.

The President’s Biggest Mistake?!

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Dear Reader (and the dancers! Don’t let me forget about the dancers!),

The president was asked what his biggest mistake was in his first term. He responded, “The mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry – or drive a three-penny nail into my frontal lobe using only this stapler as the hammer (you can’t see the stapler, but trust me).

Because if I did lobotomize myself with the penny-nail-and-stapler combo or even if I plunked down the three easy payments of 39.95 for the Norelco home-lobotomy kit, I might actually take this pernicious lunacy seriously.

Take my word for it as someone who grew up a text-book under-achiever, I am very familiar with the technique of trying to protect your ego or your reputation with claims that you didn’t even try.

But here’s the thing: Barack Obama’s not an under-achiever. He’s Mr. Harvard Law, wunderkind, super-intellectual, creased pants, did the extra-credit-reading guy. Oh yeah, he’s also the frick’n president of the United States of America.

Which is what makes his claim that his biggest mistake was failing to use his Jedi-like communication skills to give the American people a “sense of unity and purpose and optimism” so incredibly lame.

What makes it infuriating, however, is the simple fact that it is a monumental lie. Does he think no one has been paying attention? He’s been prattling on in speeches, presidential addresses, interviews, and – if he’d followed Elizabeth Warren’s advice – smoke signals, about hope and unity and “we’re all in it together” for his entire presidency. By claiming that he was too distracted by the imperative “to get the policy right” even to try to inspire the American people, he’s letting himself off the hook for something he most emphatically did try, over and over and over again.

But Wait, It Gets More Asinine.

Since when did Obama get all of the policies right? Every economic assumption has been wrong. He talked about “shovel-ready jobs” as if only ignorant Huns – like members of the tea parties – didn’t understand that he had it all figured out. He’d said the right spells, turned the right knobs, borrowed just enough money from the Chinese; all that was left was to watch the jobs pour out of the stimulus like walking broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. But wait, what happened?

Well, not much. The whole White House stood around like toddlers who’re convinced any second now the bunny will emerge from the magician’s hat. Alas, no bunny:

Energy was a particular obsession of the president-elect’s, and therefore a particular source of frustration. Week after week, [White House economic adviser Christina] Romer would march in with an estimate of the jobs all the investments in clean energy would produce; week after week, Obama would send her back to check the numbers. “I don’t get it,” he’d say. “We make these large-scale investments in infrastructure. What do you mean, there are no jobs?” But the numbers rarely budged.

Way to focus like a laser on getting the policies right.

Oh. One last point. In the interview Obama makes it seem like he’s pulling this argument out from some deep, buried place. He’s dredging up an uncomfortable truth, a painful admission. This is raw, emotional, off the cuff TV-moment stuff.

The only problem? The White House has been spinning this nonsense for almost a year now. Here’s a bit from a post I did in October, when this spin was already in full flower.

The White House spent the first two years of this administration working from a slew of false assumptions not just about the economy, but about the political skills of the president. As Noemie Emery recently laid out, this president isn’t nearly as good at politics as he and his advisors thought he was. Now their explanation is that while he may not be great at politics, it’s only because his true gift is for “getting the policies right.”

Home Cooking and Civilization  

Marion Cunningham has passed away. No, not the lady from Happy Days. The home-cooking evangelist. I heard a little obit on NPR yesterday and it included this sound bite from an interview with her:

Eating food that strangers cook is vastly different than eating what’s cooked at home. The real key is sharing food at that table and, believe me, we know we’re not born civilized. We’re small savages, so you have to be taught the table is the place where you learn who you are and where you’re from, understanding that a lot of people just do nothing but fight at the table. Nonetheless, you come to know one another. The result is you know who you are.

Now, I’m not completely behind Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous statement “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” While this is almost entirely true for vampires and cannibals, it’s not entirely true for the rest of us. I think we get closer to the truth when we say “tell me how you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Longtime readers can probably guess one of the reasons why I dig this so much. For starters, as Jenna Maroney might say on 30 Rock, “Me want food.”

More important, this little insight of Cunningham’s “we’re all born savages,” is a point I’ve been making here and elsewhere for years. Hannah Arendt’s famous observation that every generation Western civilization is invaded by barbarians – we call them children; Hayek’s spontaneous order; the importance of trial and error; the importance of intangible capital; the Burkean undercurrents in Animal House: These are some of the benchmark references of my oeuvre (“Um, I think you’re leaving out the women’s prison movies, French-bashing, cheese-cinderblock-eating, begging Lowry for a raise, oh and me and that shedding-machine you call a dog, just to name a few” – the Couch).

And while I agree entirely with Cunningham about the importance of home-eating (that’s eating at home, not actually eating homes) and home-cooking, particularly for civilizing kids, this gives me a chance to discuss a point that fell on the cutting-room floor from Tyranny of Clichés. Food is one of the most amazing storehouses of embedded knowledge.

It is hard to fathom all of the trial-and-error that has gone into any great cuisine. Imagine how long it must have taken to come up with the idea that food should be cooked in the first place. How many deaths or vomiting sessions stemming from eating spoiled raw meat led to that discovery? How many mistakes were made – and learned from – in the process of aging and curing meats and fish? How many corpses are long since buried and decomposed thanks to someone working out the technical details of food storage? And then there’s the whole wonderful universe of flavor and technique that defines any truly distinctive cuisine. This much salt, that much paprika. Age the cheese this long for this taste, this much longer for that taste. Cuisines are the manifest product of wars, invasions, famines, revolution, religious awakenings, boom times, and scientific breakthroughs. The culinary lessons learned from these momentous times are humbly recorded, without much commentary, in cookbooks. Put it all together and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is not merely akin to a time capsule, it’s a memory back-up, an auto-save of a document still being written. At least 99 percent of the things we know are things other people figured out first. Our manners, morals, technology, language, culture come to us on an assembly line that stretches off into prehistory with laborers in animal skins at the front and lab coats at the end.

Even rugged-individualist survivalists living completely alone in the woods somewhere are plugged into a support network of millions of human beings who came before him. Nearly every single thing he does alone in the woods was figured out for him by someone else. He didn’t discover how to start a fire. He probably didn’t forge his own gun or knife, and even if he did, he didn’t learn the techniques for doing so all by himself.

One of the ways we plug into all of this knowledge, how we transfer the data banks of civilization onto the empty barbarian hard drive of humanity, is at the dinner table. We teach our children not to be savages by eating with them and including them in the process of cooking. Food is primal, and by diluting and harnessing the primal urge to eat we start turning barbarians into less-than-barbarians.

Sorkin’s Hot Mess

I’ve wanted to write about HBO’s Newsroom for a while, but I’ve been traveling so much I haven’t had a chance to actually watch more than a few minutes of it. Last night I watched the third episode. Oh my stars and garters, it is so much worse than I thought it would be. Indeed, it is a fundamentally dishonorable show because while it sanctimoniously preaches the importance of delivering honest news and information to the public, it in fact distorts, deceives, and denies the truth in such profound bad faith, I would think it was a parody if I didn’t know better.

Anyway, if I can manage I will watch more and maybe offer a more sustained argument. But sweet fancy Moses, it is awful.

Thanks!

Thanks so much to Michael Graham and his band of degenerates for putting on such a fun event for me in Boston. Great turnout, great people, great fun.

The same goes for the wonderful folks at the Mackinac Center for a great time in Traverse City.

Indeed, thanks to everyone who’s been so gracious and supportive on the otherwise Hellish book tour I’ve been on.

Various & Sundry

The Ricochet podcast is out and I’m on it – with John Podhoretz to boot!

I’ll be in LA next week (no public appearances, alas) with my daughter. It’s mostly Daddy-Daughter time, but I will be recording the Adam Carolla podcast. Any guidance on that front welcome.

But enough about me, shark attack! (And reactions.) 

How slipping on a banana peel became a comedy staple

The physics of Batman’s cape.

Delicious fashion: dress made out of 50,000 Gummy Bears! 

Drunk Hulk’s best pick-up lines [BROKEN LINK].

How all 50 states got their names.

One-year-old baby in crib gets bitten by escaped python.

Albuquerque woman tries to sell her soul on eBay.

Church vs. beer on Twitter, geographically.

Eleven product names that mean something unfortunate in other languages.

Caving to the Liberal Zeitgeist

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Dear Reader (and those not yet readers who will be required to become readers through the taxing authority granted me by me),

“Why do you keep calling it a tax?” Justice Breyer asked the solicitor general during the oral arguments for Obamacare last March.

The whole room burst into laughter.

But apparently not Chief Justice Roberts.

Despite the fact that pretty much every lower court found this tax claim laughable; despite the fact that President Obama indignantly insisted it wasn’t a tax; despite the fact that the administration largely ignored the tax question in its defense of the law; despite the fact that the Congress made every effort to insist the mandate penalty was not a tax – short of carving “this is no tax” with a potato peeler into their collective foreheads . . .

Justice Roberts concluded it is, in fact, a tax.

Now, I don’t want to simply recycle my column today, but my problem with this is that this is b.s. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial this morning notes that the dissent keeps referring to “Justice Ginsburg’s dissent,” suggesting that until very late in the process Roberts agreed with the majority and had planned on overturning Obamacare outright, but then chickened out and concocted the most elaborate capitulation since the switch in time that saved nine.

Yes, yes: I know. Already numerous people I respect are praising Roberts for playing the “long game” (See: Jay Cost, Sean Trende, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, et al.) I get the argument: The decision rolled back the Commerce Clause; it created new political limits on expanding government (in effect, everything the nanny state wants to do now has to be called a tax to get over the constitutional plate); it restored the reputation of the Court so that future conservative decisions will be more readily accepted; it showed Roberts is the tortoise and Obama the hare.  

Meh.

Look, I’ll be delighted if all these things turn out to be true. But as a conservative, I’m skeptical of these three-carom-shot approaches to politics. I remember all of the people who wondered whether it would be better if McCain lost in 2008 (including me!). It turns out Ed Koch’s mother was right when she told him, “It’s always better to win than to lose.” Everyone hailing Roberts’s brilliance is in effect congratulating Jack for bringing home the magic beans – before they grow into a giant stalk. He traded the cow of overturning Obamacare now for some “long game” beans that might one day grow into something cool. It is an un-conservative tendency to credit one man with being able to plan that far out into the future.  

The argument you hear a lot is that Roberts was a genius for figuring out how to gut the Commerce Clause while still preserving the Commerce Clause. But you know what else he could have done? He could have gutted the Commerce Clause and overturned Obamacare! How? By simply ruling what he believes and signing on with Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas. Instead we’re being told that win-lose is better than win-win. Not. Buying. It.

Moreover, what Roberts did is not in his job description. Whatever his motivation – whether it was to defend the Court’s reputation or his own, or if it was to deliver some ingenious slow-acting poison to the Nanny State – that’s not what justices are supposed to prioritize. If he’s the umpire he claims to be, he should be umping.

Now, I’m not naïve. I understand that the justices take politics – internal and external – into account. But they’re supposed to hide it better.

Caving to the Liberal Zeitgeist

Roberts didn’t hide it at all. Instead he all but declared that the Today Showand Meet the Press chatter about polarization and partisanship on the Court got to him. This is an error of Aesopian proportions. If you think you can appease the Doris Kearns Goodwin Caucus you don’t understand how liberalism works. I guarantee it: The next time there’s an important case before the Court, liberals and “moderates” will insist that Roberts capitulate again if he wants to keep his hard-earned reputation as a reasonable man. Indeed, all he’s done is fuel the notion that a reasonable conservative is one who surrenders to liberals while offering interesting explanations for their surrender.

Judicial Activism in the Name of Restraint

I must say I really liked the ease with which David Brooks rationalizes Justice Roberts’s brazenness as a form of restraint:

In his remarkable health care opinion Thursday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court restrained the power of his own institution. He decided not to use judicial power to overrule the democratic process. He decided not to provoke a potential institutional crisis. Granted, he had to imagine a law slightly different than the one that was passed in order to get the result he wanted, but Roberts’s decision still represents a moment of, if I can say so, Burkean minimalism and self-control.

Like School on Saturday: No Class

You’ve probably already heard that the Obama campaign is selling these T-shirts.

It’s a small thing in the grand scheme, but symbolic of something larger. At least I think so. I’m still working through what I want to say. So herewith some quick notes on Tackiness in the Age of Obama (soon to be a coherent article somewhere).

Just yesterday, in response to the Supreme Court ruling, DNC aides started tweeting “It’s Constitutional Bitches!” and “Take that mother****ers!”

At first, I was going to say it was just his campaign’s more youthful staffers, but the truth is they take their lead from the president. It wasn’t too long ago Obama was joking about his wife performing oral sex. Not even Bill Clinton would do that.

And while that obviously is a pretty damning indictment given that Clinton is something of a white-trash pontiff, it’s also a bit unfair. Clinton was a sleazy man who understood that the office required certain public concessions to decorum and protocol, which he often failed to live up to. I don’t think Obama the man is remotely as sleazy as Bill Clinton was (as far as I can tell, he’s a good father and husband). But Obama seems to think he’s bigger than the office he holds. Moreover, politically, Obama wants – and needs – to be seen as cool by young voters. And today’s hipster culture requires a certain glib profanity married to a weirdly forced earnestness. “We care more than you heartless Republicans, but we’re also cool enough to drop f-bombs.”

Perhaps the best example isn’t profane at all. The Obama Gift Registry is perfectly banal, but so incredibly tacky. I cannot imagine ever giving anything like that as a (non-ironic) gift, not because I care less about politics than the progs, but because it just strikes me as terribly inappropriate, dragging politics into places it doesn’t belong.

The thinking behind it strikes me as a variant of the thinking behind the Life of Julia website. There’s no aspect of our lives where politics and government don’t define us. It’s the idea that progressive politics is so cool, there’s really no boundary for progressivism. It can intrude anywhere because it’s the f’ing bomb, as it were. It strikes me as the partisan façade of political correctness, now with more cursing.

It’s all made acceptable because of Obama’s cult of personality and the misperception that he’s more dignified than he really is.  

Or something like that.

No Various and Sundry today. I’ve got to get on the road and drive back to D.C. from Columbus, Ohio.

See you next week!

Take Your Time

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Dear Reader (the moving walkway is ending. Attention, the moving walkway is ending. Attention the moving walkway is ending),

I know I hide it from you, dear readers, but I’ve been in a lot of airports lately. I started writing this G-File last week at O’Hare in Chicago. Since then, I’ve been back home to D.C. – twice – to Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and Phoenix, where I am now (at Sky Harbor International Airport: America’s Crappiest Mid-Size Transportation SphincterTM where I had one 6:00 a.m. flight cancelled, another hopelessly delayed, and am now waiting on a third). I’m on my way to San Francisco for a luncheon speech, and then I’ll be in Seattle by tonight. Then it’s off to an undisclosed location for two days, and then I’m in Dallas.

Before we get to what very few people call the “substance” of this “news”letter, a quick travelogue. This week’s tale of adventure: Chicago. The windy city, hog butcher to the world.

Love that town. I spoke at a bar event organized by the Heartland Institute and America’s Future Foundation. They had whiskey waiting for me. Good times.

The one hitch: On advice of a plurality of Chicago-savvy Twitter followers I took a cab straight to a place called Portillo’s with the intention of buying a Chicago-style hot dog. But by the time I committed to going to Portillo’s, they explained to me that I would be defying my thymos, my destiny, all that is holy, the old gods and the new, man code, Zagats, the Shanshu Prophecy, the Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies, the Taxi Customer Bill of Rights, and the Seven Habits of Not Necessarily Effective People if I didn’t get the Italian beef sandwich instead. “Big.”

With cheddar.

And hot peppers.

Oh yes, hot peppers.

So that’s what I did. I was so excited waiting for it, I half expected Morgan Freeman to narrate the moment like I was seconds away from my friend Andy Dufresne at the end of the Shawshank Redemption. The spirit of “I hope” filled me, though not as thoroughly as the awesomely awesome Italian beef sandwich. And while I’ve become convinced that I should have gotten the Italian sausage combo, it was fanfrickingtastic.

Anyway, after walking for an hour in the hot sun and then smoking a cigar, my perspiration level lay somewhere around Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, George Kennedy in Cool Hand Luke, or the perimeter of a full Big Gulp sitting on the hood of your car in New Orleans. I have no doubt that if there were a race of giants who considered the musky manbrosia of Italian beef mingled with cigar and Irish whisky to be the scent of the gods, I would be dangling from the rearview mirror of an enormous Bentley right now.

Perhaps even worse, however, was that I got stood up by Iowahawk who had promised on Twitter that he would attend my talk. I was much chagrined by his absence. I was even more dismayed to learn that the cornhusking jingoist doesn’t even live in Iowa. He lives in Chicago! As I explained to the audience, this is a scandal of enormous proportions. I haven’t been this dismayed since I learned that Elizabeth Warren isn’t an Indian and that the Cherokee don’t eat crab. (I think it’d be awesome if they made like a Quest for Fire-type movie where the Cherokee of the 15th century made the roughly 700 mile trek to the ocean to find some crab and proactively verify Elizabeth Warren’s cherished Indian recipes.)

Take Your Time

I’m sure you read it already, but just in case, there’s an interesting new paper that says we probably won’t be able to get to the nearest star for another 500 years, at least. In “Energy, Incessant Obsolescence, and the First Interstellar Missions,” M. G. Millis argues that we won’t have anything like the energy required to get a vessel, or even a manless probe (Note to self: Add “manless probe” to the “Things That Sound Dirty but Aren’t” file) to Alpha Centauri – or to slow it down once it gets there – for a very long time. I have no idea if he’s right, and if you actually think I’m qualified to check his math well, bwahahaha.

From what I gather, he extrapolates growth in energy trends, carries the one, adds the numerator to the other thing, and figures we need boatloads more energy to send stuff a kabillion miles away.

What caught my eye was Ezra Klein’s summary of one point made in the article:

Millis, who’s now at the Tau Zero Foundation, also raises an interesting paradox. No matter when we launch the first interstellar probe, it’ll take a long time to reach its destination. Which means it’s quite plausible that we’ll later invent a newer, faster interstellar probe that gets to the star even sooner, with more modern equipment. Which raises the question of why we even bothered to launch that first probe.

Here’s the interesting part (“We’ll be the judge of that.” – The Couch). For years I’ve been trying to find a Ray Bradbury (Praise Be upon Him) story that makes a very similar point. I read it when I was like eleven years old (“You’re like an eleven-year-old now” – The Couch), but have never been able to track it down. That hasn’t stopped me from invoking it a few times in columns on global warming. Basically, in the story, humans set out in a space ship for the nearest star. They don’t have faster-than-light (FTL) technology, so they plan on going into suspended animation for hundreds of years and/or breeding generations of new explorers en route (I can’t remember). A couple months into the trip, they briefly encounter a space ship that has FTL tech. The captain says, “Right then, let’s go home.”

The crew responds, “What are you talking about? We just left Earth!”

But the captain explains that if faster-than-light propulsion can be invented, it’s ridiculous to spend centuries moving slower than light only to get to your new planet and find it populated by your great grandkids. Or, something like that.

What’s this got to do with global warming? Well, take the Kyoto Protocols (please!). According to Kyoto’s drafters, the treaty would have delayed projected warming by about four years a century later. I’m writing all of this from memory so someone can check my math, but my point is right. Incurring massive costs to negligibly minimize a problem a century from now is ludicrous.

Think about how much cheaper things get as you get richer. And I just don’t mean in the relative sense. As you get richer over time, things actually get cheaper thanks to technological improvements. Less than ten years ago, flat-panel TVs were outrageously expensive. Pretty soon you’ll be able to get one if you supersize your Happy Meal.

If global warming is a problem, there’s very little Earth can do to stop it – right now. But what seems like an insurmountable problem today is often a trivial problem a few decades later. That doesn’t mean you can’t research the issue, indeed you almost surely should. But the trick to solving most of the world’s problems lies in getting rich as quickly as possible so as to make insurmountably expensive problems trivially inexpensive problems. Despite what you may have been taught about Indians or Africans or ancient Celts, poor people are terrible stewards of their environment. For instance, if my kid were starving to death, I would happily feed her fresh panda.

Madagascar 3

I liked it. Really. I laughed. It moves quickly and works on levels for all ages, just like the previous two. In fact, my daughter, a huge fan of the franchise, (not to mention the entire talking-animal oeuvre) thinks it might be the best one yet. She’s wrong, of course. But, still, she makes a good case. It’s certainly better than the second one, I think.

But I have a criticism. I know how absurd this criticism is. Really, I do. But I’m going to throw it out there just in case I’m not alone.

I thought it was less believable than the first two.

There are internal rules to works of fiction, particularly sci-fi and fantasy, that authors and filmmakers need to be very careful not to break, lest they also break trust with their biggest fans. One of the reasons the Star Wars franchise went off the rails (other than the really crappy writing and Jar Jar Binks) was George Lucas’s lack of respect for the internal logic of the universe he created.

The same holds for cartoons. The later Tom and Jerry cartoons are an affront to all that is holy (okay, maybe not all) because they make Tom and Jerry friends rather than existential foes. It’s like making Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty into a Hope & Crosby road movie team. In Bon Voyage Charlie Brown, they violated the sacred rule of not showing grown-ups, never mind giving them real voices. In the realm of Peanuts, adult language is boiled down to “Wah-wah” sounds and nothing more. It was a travesty.

Now, the sins of Madagascar 3 are nowhere near as profound because the rules are nowhere near as rigid. But still, what meager constraints that did exist for the franchise are simply thrown aside. I’ll spare you the spoilers for another time.

Book Stuff

The book stuff is winding down of course, and pretty soon the Tyranny of Clichés blog will as well. There’s time enough for a post-mortem, but in the meantime a few things.

Here’s my interview on C-Span for After Words. I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback on it.

Here’s my column today on Obama’s Truthiness

Various & Sundry 

Bears! My wife has a complicated attitude about bears. She secretly loves them, but she is ideologically offended by what she calls “bear propaganda.” As an Alaskan, she finds the nature channel-Hollywood-MSM treatment of bears to be a national scandal. Whenever she catches my daughter and I watching some nature-channel show on bears, she says “bear propaganda!” When my daughter says, “Aw look how cute” about a grizzly, her mommy will reply “that thing will eat your face.” Anyway, this is for her. Five fictional bears and whether they’d kill you.

Play dough (and I don’t mean Sheldon Adelson’s super PAC donations) was created as wallpaper cleaner.

World GDP from year 1 to year 2008.

41 Biden facial expressions you must know.

The NSA’s nom-de-budget was Bureau of Ships.

Awesome slo-mo slinky video!

Help Us Socialized Medicine, You’re Our Only Hope

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Dear Reader (particularly any of you with great Cherokee crab recipes you’d like to share),

If you’re like me, you never miss a column by Nick Kristof. No wait, I said that wrong. If you’re like me, you often go months without reading Nick Kristof’s column.

I stumbled on this one thanks to Mark Hemingway’s Twitter feed. It’s kind of fascinating. Kristof wants to launch a nationwide boycott of Anheuser-Busch products because the company legally sells beer. The problem is the beer ends up in the hands of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota. Not surprisingly, there are lots of alcoholics on the reservation. Kristof even advocates having the federal government move the border of the reservation to include the tiny off-reservation town that sells the beer so that the Indian authorities can extend their reservation-wide booze ban.

I think Kristof is sincere and admirable in his concern. Alcoholism among Native Americans is a huge problem and I have sympathy for the tribal authorities eager to do something about it. I’m not prepared to second-guess their decision to ban the sale of booze on their lands.

But it is an intriguing thing to see a liberal embracing Prohibition. And that’s what he’s doing. His argument boils down to his belief that Indians can’t handle the freedom to buy booze on their own. And he may be right for cultural, historical, and biological reasons. Some Native Americans, like some Asians, have a genetic handicap when it comes to alcohol.

Still it’s intriguing because it is a widely held article of faith – on the left and the right – that Prohibition was stupid. Amusingly, today’s progressives never like to mention that their ideological forebears were at the forefront of Prohibition, and that the temperance movement was inextricably entwined with the suffrage movement. I always chuckle when progressives brag about all the wonderful things progressives did, but conveniently skip over Prohibition.

The contradiction becomes even more acute when you consider the fact that drug legalization is so fashionable among progressives today. Kristof himself has come out in favor of drug legalization.

It should be obvious to people that many illegal drugs – meth, heroin, cocaine – are just as destructive and addictive as booze, at least for very large numbers of Americans. Of course, some people can try hard drugs or alcohol and then turn their backs on it forever without much trouble. Other people can’t. My own brother, who died in no small part because of his troubles with booze and drugs, was one such person.

Call me crazy, but I find it very hard to reconcile support for banning Budweiser for Indians with advocating the legalization of narcotics for everybody.

Help Us Socialized Medicine, You’re Our Only Hope

There are other ironies here as well. Life expectancy for the Oglala Sioux is according to some estimates as little as 48 years and the infant-mortality rate is 300 percent the U.S. average. That’s horrific (and one reason we should have some humility before we condemn tribal leaders for advocating prohibition). But it’s also worth noting that Oglala Sioux have long benefited from the one thing liberals insisted above all else would raise the national life expectancy rate in the U.S.: socialized medicine, in the form of the Federal Indian Health Service. And yet things are not all going well in South Dakota. How could that be?

Culture and genetics are far more relevant to American life expectancy than is access to health care. And yet, Paul Krugman, Bill Clinton, and Michael Bloomberg – just to name three – routinely claim that our lack of government-provided health care is to blame for our trivial shortcomings when it comes to life expectancy compared to Europeans and the Japanese.

This is a point I talk about at some length in The Tyranny of Clichés:

Cultural choices and genetic nonchoices play a role, too. Here are some interesting statistics: According to the 2006 study Eight Americas, Asian American women have a life expectancy of 87 years (in Bergen County, New Jersey, Asian American women live on average to 91 years). Asian Americans as a group – e.g., men and women – have a life expectancy of 84.9 years. This isn’t because they’re rich. Their per capita income according to the study: $21,556. Second-generation Asian American women live three years longer than women in Japan – the longest-living national group in the world. . . . Black inner-city men do almost as badly [as Native Americans], living to only 66.7 years. White folks in the Northern Plains live longer than most other whites, especially whites from Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley.

Are you really going to tell me that implementing ObamaCare will smooth all that out? If we really want to improve life expectancy for black men, we could put them all in jail, because their life expectancy in prison is higher than it is outside of it (which, for the record, is just a monumentally depressing statistic). The point here isn’t to relitigate the debate over our health-care system or to claim that our system was great before Obama got his mitts on it. . . .

Our life expectancy is just three years and four months lower than number one-ranked Japan’s. Moreover, if you factor out things like murder, car crashes and other fatal accidents, etc. – problems that have little to nothing to do with our health-care system – guess what happens? America has the highest life expectancy in the world. Indeed, in America, the longer you live, the longer you’re likely to live (at least until you die).

I have no great overarching lesson here. Freedom has costs. And I think it is reasonable to ask whether some of those costs are too great for society to bear. Conversely, there are very strict limits to what you can accomplish with paternalism. And I think it’s beyond foolish to ignore those limits out of a desire to fix a demand-side problem with supply-side solutions. As a society, we’ve decided not to ban alcohol. That was the right decision, but it had costs. As a society, we are pondering whether to lift the ban on drugs. Excepting marijuana, I think that is the wrong decision. Reasonable people can disagree and they may be right. But reasonable people cannot dispute that doing so will have costs, too.  

Obama’s Birther Literary Agent & Elizabeth Warren

I find it absolutely hilarious that Obama’s own literary agent touted him as Kenyan-born. I still believe Obama was actually born in Hawaii, but that’s not the end of the story, is it? What if Obama’s Kenyan birth was actually just a bit of embellishment, like Elizabeth Warren’s equally hilarious claims to be an Indian. Warren benefitted, whether she admits it or not, from her claim to be (1/32nd) Cherokee. Perhaps Obama was simply trying to make himself more exotic by touting his Kenyan birth? If this story has legs, I expect that a lot of people will start making the Elizabeth Warren comparison as a safe-harbor criticism so as to avoid being labeled a birther (“Sort of like you just did here?” – The Couch).

And Now for the Really Important Thing

I have added a new category of people to my misanthrope’s List of Humans I Can’t Stand: people whose self-esteem is deeply bound up in their rights as a pedestrian.

I don’t know if this is a major issue where you live. I know it’s not in New York, where “Don’t Walk” signs are as binding as the rule to lift the toilet seat before peeing in Porta-Johns at Black Sabbath concerts.

But here in Washington, D.C, there are an inordinate number of people who feel like their ability to walk through a crosswalk is not only an inalienable right but a reflection of their autonomy and identity. “I, sir, am the kind of person who is not intimidated by your newfangled horseless carriage.” In my neighborhood, there are very few stoplights. There are mostly stop signs and those painted crosswalks which drivers are supposed to yield to when someone is in them.

I have no problem stopping for pedestrians – some of my best friends are pedestrians – but some of these people seem seriously aggrieved that a photographer isn’t there to capture the bravest moment since those black kids tried to walk to school in Arkansas or since that guy stared down those tanks in Tiananmen Square. Particularly annoying: Some even wait until the cars are approaching the intersection and then suddenly walk out to assert their God-given pedestrian rights in the most inconvenient manner possible.

And yet, if I were to mow down one of these people with my car, I would be the one to go to jail.

The Book

Since many of you have been asking, here’s how it’s going. Feel free to skip if you don’t care.

The Tyranny of Clichés was an instant bestseller as they say. It opened at ten on the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post bestseller lists, but at 24 on the NYT list. What happened there? Well, it’s complicated. They say their super-secret formula doesn’t count bulk sales. And we had some. AEI bought a bunch and so did NR for the subscription promotion (I’m sure you’ve seen those not-at-all-annoying pop-up ads). So, according to bookscan, if you include all of the bulk sales, I sold more books than any but the top four books on the NYT list. If you take out the bulk sales, I should have landed around ten on the NYT list. How they got to 24 is beyond me.

After the first week, it looks like sales are okay, but not as boffo as I – or the publisher – hoped. It’s early yet, graduation presents, summer reading, etc. are still in the mix. And, of course, we can count on Obama to keep my book(s) relevant for a long time to come. But the book market is incredibly crowded and conservative books over all aren’t doing very well (unless you have a radio or TV show of your own). What will matter the most in the long run is word-of-mouth. And on that front, I think I am in very good shape.

In fact, what’s funny is that the critical reception of Tyranny of Clichés is so much stronger than it was for Liberal Fascism at the outset. Commentarypanned Liberal Fascism. The Wall Street Journal review was a mess. Steve Hayward’s review in the Weekly Standard was positive and so was theClaremont Review of Books and the NY Sun, but Liberal Fascism didn’t even get a particularly good review in National Review (from Paul Johnson!). This time around the conservative reviews have been uniformly positive. The Weekly Standard’s Andy Ferguson calls it “Dazzling.” Mark Hemingway’s actual review at the Standard was a qualified rave, and over at Goodreads.com he said it ”might be the best and most fun-to-read primer on the tenets of conservative politics since P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores.” My only problem with Rob Long’s wonderful review [BROKEN LINK] in NR is that it’s too short. And John Nolte’s review at Big Government makes me blush. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

One big difference between Liberal Fascism and Tyranny of Clichés, is that LF generated a kind of hysterical pants-wetting on the left, and TOC so far hasn’t. Until this Sunday. Joe Klein has a thoroughly asinine review of my book in the upcoming New York Times book review. I hope to respond in the Tyranny blog this weekend.

Various & Sundry

Breaking ground on academic hooey:

“This point may not be popular. It may not win me friends. But I must make it. Harpo [Marx], like most men, has a symbolic vagina, somewhere on his person. Harpo, a starry man, has many vaginas. One is his wig. Another is his silence.”

Star Trek White Rabbit.

Eleven fantastic regional phrases we should all adopt.

19 facts about junk at Toys R Us.

I didn’t think this was all that funny, but it does show how subtle anti-southern bigotry isn’t going away.

If the climate-change crowd had been talking up dinosaur farts from Day One, things would be going a lot better for them today.

20 animals in milkshake comas.

Obama the Hero

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Dear Reader (and those of you like Piers Morgan who can’t get past the cover),

Well, it’s been a busy week. I won’t recount it all here. For the most part book-media tours aren’t all that exciting – at least to hear about. At 9:05 I was on so-and-so’s radio show. At 10:15 I did you-know-who’s radio show. It can be fun for me (and it can be an awful grind, too). But save for when things go horribly wrong, there’s really no story to tell.

Which brings me to the Piers Morgan debacle. I’m not sure that I have any more to say than what I said here. Also, I think David Limbaugh’s take is right on target.

This is only my second book, so there are a lot of people more expert on this stuff than I am, but now that I have a basis of comparison, I’m starting to draw some conclusions about the process.

It’s hardly a novel insight to say that writing a book is a bit like having a baby. Though you work on it for far more than nine months (in most cases, at least), the gestation period for both feels like an eternity. You simultaneously worry that there’s something wrong with it and at the same time you’re convinced it’s the greatest baby/book it could be.

When it’s finally delivered, the people most excited about it are the ones closest to you, and, as the circle widens, the less excited people become, until ultimately their congratulations are largely pro-forma. It’s also true that people are less excited about your second book or baby than your first. I have friends on third and fourth kids now, and there are no baby showers and pop-ins to see the new bundle of joy anymore (in part because everyone’s so busy with their own kids). As the parent, you care passionately about your progeny, but everyone else is – entirely understandably – going on with their own lives likes it’s really not that big a deal.

The differences are pretty stark as well. Since humans aren’t like alien spider creatures, the initial print runs of books are considerably larger than even the biggest humanoid litters. It would be pretty scary to have a first edition of say 25,000 copies of my daughter. Similarly, when you drop a brand new book or use it to prop up the short leg of a table, you don’t go to jail for it.

But given what a wreck I am this morning, one similarity comes through more than any other. It’s exhausting. You’re up at weird hours, you’re worried how it will work out, you’re not sure if you’re doing anything right, and, of course, you’re constantly covered in vomit. Okay, maybe not the last one so much. It’s easy to lose perspective. You can get very annoyed with producers for whom your book is just one of hundreds, or thousands, that cross their desk every day. To expect them to care for your book a fraction as much as you do is like asking the hostess at Chuck E. Cheese’s to think your kid is more special than all the others. You can even get pissed at your fans. Heck, if everyone of the people reading this G-File were to buy the book today, it would be at number one on the best-seller list by next week. If every one of my Twitter followers (save the sex-spam bots) went to the bookstore and got it, it would be a massive publishing sensation. So sometimes it’s easy to drink a liter of gin, handcuff a Cartagena hooker to a motel-bathroom towel rack, and start screaming at the framed clown portrait on the wall, “Why won’t you ungrateful bastards buy it! Why!?!”

But then you realize, it’s only natural. I don’t immediately buy every book that comes out from authors I like. I don’t immediately pop in with a new Diaper Genie for every friend who has a baby, either.

What will be will be. Word of mouth is still what moves most books (at least for people without radio shows) and I think the word of mouth will be very positive and very strong. The reviews already in are great and I am told more are to come. If it doesn’t do as well as Liberal Fascism, so be it. That’s probably really bad news for the hooker in the bathroom, but otherwise I’ll be fine. I’m incredibly lucky to have the job(s), friends, and family I have. The rest is the small stuff.

Obama the Hero

I think this new ad going after Barack Obama for spiking the football is effective. And I understand why everyone is beating up on Bill Clinton’s repugnant line about how the death of Navy Seals would be really bad for Obama. How does that phone call work?

President Obama: “Hello, Mrs. Jones, this is the president of the United States. I am so sorry for the loss of your husband, and the father of your three small children. . . .”

Widow: “Thank you, Mr. President.”

President Obama: ”Hey, in the spirit of misery loves company, this whole crapstorm has cost me ten points in the polls, so I’ve got it even worse than you.”

But here’s what I don’t understand: No one, not the ad makers nor the pundits, has paid much attention to the fact that this is the view of the administration itself. 

Remember when Joe Biden turned himself into a flashing idiot beacon, allowing other idiots to triangulate their stupidity to his location? Okay, okay, I need to be more specific (“You might also try making sense,” The Couch). Remember when he said the Bin Laden raid was the most audacious plan in 500 years?

Well, nearly in the same breath, Biden also explained how he sees his boss’s actions (and all the Democratic activists in the audience seemed to agree). He said, “Do any one of you have a doubt that if that raid failed that this guy would be a one-term president?” Obama, he said,”is willing to do the right thing and risk losing.”

Again, good for Obama. But clearly, his reelection prospects were a big issue. It’s almost as if these guys see the decision to kill Bin Laden as an incredibly brave bet where the stakes are his reelection chances. Kill him and Obama wins in 2012, fail in the trying and lose. I’m delighted Obama rolled the dice, but I’d prefer he hadn’t gone into it with a political wager in mind.

The Real Politicization  

And another thing, all of this talk about Obama “spiking the football” misses a really important point. After all, we don’t actually know if he was making a purely political wager when he sent the SEALs in. And, as a strictly partisan matter, it is hard to denounce Obama too much for gloating, given the spectacle of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” moment.

But what we do know is that Obama tried to use Bin Laden’s death as a reason to support wind farms and other white elephants. Just shy of a year ago, I wrote about how Obama tried to turn the killing of Bin Laden into his “Sputnik moment.”

According to an article in the Washington Post headlined “Bin Laden raid fits into Obama’s ‘big things’ message,” the White House believes taking out the world’s most wanted terrorist is a boon for the entire Obama agenda.

The president says killing bin Laden proves that “as a nation there is nothing that we can’t do” and reminds us “that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”

When asked what effect bin Laden’s assassination will have on Obama’s agenda, White House press secretary Jay Carney explained, “We obviously think that if there is a takeaway from it, it is the resolve that he has, the focus he brings to bear on long-term objectives, that he keeps pushing to get them done. When talking about immigration reform, he keeps pushing to get it done. And I think that that was reflected in his approach to dealing with Osama bin Laden.”

Meanwhile, David Axelrod, Obama’s former White House consigliere, now running the reelection effort, says that this was all a “reaffirmation of that American determination and American spirit – the ability to do the things that some people thought impossible. And that has value.”

And then there was his “This. Is. Sparta!” State of the Union address just a few months ago, in which he tried to turn Bin Laden into the Vercingetorix to his Caesar.

If only all of America could be like SEAL Team Six! If only Americans could shut up and follow my orders!

Forget spiking the football, he wanted to take the football and suspend the rules of the game entirely. All because he killed a man who needed killing.

Book Stuff

You can always go to the Tyranny of Cliches blog to get updates on the “Tyranny tour,” but here are some highlights:

Here’s John Nolte’s wildly generous review.

Here’s my talk with NRO’s own John Miller.

Here’s the Commentary review.  

Here’s the Roll Call review.

Alas

There’s no Various & Sundry section today. I wrote most of this during radio commercial breaks and podcasts, and looking for weirdness on the web is hard to do under such circumstances.

Making Things Legible

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Dear Reader (including those of you who continue to insist they won’t preorder my book despite the fact that I slave at this “news”letter for you almost every Friday morning when I could be sleeping right now, hence putting off the undesired, sleep-deprivation vision quest I am drifting in and out of as we speak – someone please tell Rutherford B. Hayes to put down that trident and stop scaring the minotaur. Besides, I personally like pecan pie particularly when the batteries are fresh and that guy who played Captain Stubing guest stars in a very special episode of Manimal where the man-duck hybrid tells Punky Brewster he won’t be her friend anymore unless Mork wins the Holitacker – man would I like to see Pam Dawber during Pon Farr! Do I have something in my teeth? Let me open the jar and check . . .),

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the White House would drop the proposed Labor Department rule, basically bringing to an end the traditional family farm, crushing 4-H, and, by extension, infuriating vast swaths of America. I don’t mean it was inevitable because the White House is so open to reason and opposing points of view. I just mean that the president is running for reelection, and I imagine that when word reached David Axelrod that the Obama administration was about to hand over every farming state in the country to the Republicans without a fight, he threw his plate of chicken wings across the room and pressed his buffalo-sauce-drenched lip-warmer to the phone and barked out orders to stop it.

(Upon hearing that bark, President Obama popped his head into the office and said, “Hey are you making lunch?”).

Now, the eagle-eyed reader of my oeuvre will probably conclude that I do not have an extensive farming background. No, no, it’s true. But I have nieces and nephews who do 4-H. I’ve been to a lot of county and state fairs on my numerous cross-country drives and I know quite a few people in agriculture-related businesses. So I do know enough about the America outside the Bos-Wash corridor to know that going after 4-H and the family farm is, for tens of millions of Americans, like telling Manhattanites you’re going to pave-over Central Park, ban brunch, defund NPR, and invite Rush Limbaugh to speak at the 92nd Street Y.

And, for what?

Via Brit Hume’s twitter feed, I found this info sheet at the Department of Labor. Look at question four:

Question: Are these proposed revisions in response to any event or accident, or string of events or accidents, or child labor violations?

Answer: The Department of Labor has continuously reviewed the federal child labor regulations to better protect working children while still allowing them to enjoy the positive work experiences that they can safely perform. Secretary Solis directed the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) to take steps to update the child labor regulations in agriculture after the WHD had concluded a similar rulemaking in May, 2010 for children working in nonagricultural workplaces. The Department’s comprehensive proposal is based upon the enforcement experience of the WHD, recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the desire to bring transparency to the agency’s procedures for assessing child labor civil money penalties, and a desire to equalize as much as possible the agricultural and nonagricultural child labor protections. The child labor provisions for agriculture have not been updated in more than 40 years.

Translation: Nope.

Making Things Legible

In today’s regular column I write:

If there were one thing I could impress upon people about the nature of the state, it’s that governments by their very nature want to make their citizens “legible.”

I borrow that word from James C. Scott, whose book Seeing Like a State left a lasting impression on me. Scott studied why the state has always seen “people who move around” to be the enemy. Around the world, according to Scott, states have historically seen nomadic peoples, herdsmen, slash-and-burn hill people, Gypsies, hunter-gatherers, vagrants, and runaway slaves and serfs as problems to be solved. States have tried to make these people stay in one place.

But as Scott examined “sedentarization” (making mobile people settle down), he realized this practice was simply part of a more fundamental drive of the state: to make the whole population legible to the state. The premodern state was “blind” to its subjects. But the modern state was determined first to see them, and then organize them. This is why so many rulers pushed for the universal usage of last names starting around 1600 (aristocrats had been using family or clan names for centuries already). The same goes with the push for more accurate addresses, the standardization of weights and measures, and of course the use of censuses and surveys. It’s much easier to collect taxes, conscript soldiers, fight crime, and put down rebellions if you know who people are and where they live.

I was writing in the context of the Arizona immigration law, but the same points work just as well in the context of this Department of Labor thing. This wasn’t an initiative from the White House, this was simply DOL bureaucrats doing their jobs as they saw fit.

Children on farms are “invisible” to government when government doesn’t have rules covering children on farms. By requiring kids to be trained by a federal program instead of 4-H or similar non-governmental agencies, the kids suddenly become visible. Once visible they can be manipulated, organized, directed. (Ironically, 4-H itself is already a government program! But it has embedded itself in civil society, it seems to me, in ways the Department of Labor couldn’t countenance.)

It’s not altogether different from parents who demand their teenaged kids check in with their parents by phone or text periodically. If you don’t hear from your kid, you don’t where your kid is. He, in effect, becomes invisible to you. Or think of ex-cons on parole. They need to repeatedly check in with their probation officers, take urine tests, etc. They must remain visible.

But here’s the problem: We are not the government’s kids! Nor are we presumptive criminals.

As the fact sheet makes clear, the DOL didn’t craft this proposal in response to a real problem, it crafted this proposal because this is the sort of thing government agencies do when left to their own devices. They make the population visible, then set about organizing it.

Vote For Me! I Will Give You Money – Maybe

“If there had been any formidable body of cannibals in the country,” H. L. Mencken complained of Harry Truman’s 1948 presidential campaign, “he would have promised to provide them with free missionaries fattened at the taxpayers’ expense.”

And then there’s Obama trolling America’s campuses for votes the way Bill Clinton trolled the White House intern pens for thong snaps. What makes Obama’s student-loans-for-votes offer so pathetic is that it is designed to seem like a far more generous bribe than it actually is. Like trying to trick the cannibals into thinking some emaciated vegans and a few mannequins rubbed in bacon fat are the fattened missionaries Truman apocryphally promised. The interest-rate extension amounts to a whopping 80 cents a day and isn’t even available for most of the students he’s talking to. It’s all so pathetic.

The Coming Days

I am exhausted. I didn’t get home from California until about 2:00 A.M. So I need to keep things light. And I have much work to do before I sleep. But I wanted to give you folks a heads-up about what’s in store.

In the next issue of NR I have a long adaptation from The Tyranny of Clichés.

In this Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook section I have a different adaptation.

I am writing something pegged to the book for my Tuesday USA Todaycolumn.

One problem I’m having with these adaptations is that they don’t really allow the room for much of the G-File-ish jocularity of the book to come through.

On Monday, I will be on the Piers Morgan show discussing the book. On Tuesday (Pub Date, Baby!), I will be on Fox and Friends, Sean Hannity’s radio show (though not TV, alas), Red Eye, and Glenn Beck TV. On Wednesday, I’ll be doing – among others – Dennis Miller’s, Michael Medved’s, and Jim Bohannon’s radio shows.

And then things get busy.

Last chance for the preorder.

Please check out the Tyranny blog or my Twitter feed if you want more regular updates. No heavy sell from me; while I am eager for the preorders, I am so glad to be done with this part.

Various & Sundry

Don’t Drive Safely!

Now, here’s a salesman!

Cindy Sheehan vs. the IRS (h/t James Taranto) Let’s give both sides nuclear weapons!

A similar battle from the world of nature (warning: icky).

Actually, I guess now that she’s an anti-tax nut, Maureen Dowd no longer thinks Sheehan’s moral authority is absolute.

History of English in ten minutes.

Lah-dee-dah, out for a stroll . . . what the!?!?!

Debby’s Links!

Complexity Is a Subsidy

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Dear Reader (and those of you having this read to you by your secretary, even though she’s taxed at a higher rate than you),

Distractions & Surprises

In my column today, I write about the infuriatingly predictable tendency of the media to buy into liberal wedge issues – i.e. “distractions” – and dismiss conservative ones as illegitimate. Republicans have “troubling associations” with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who’s within six degrees of separation. But, you know what, Bill Ayers was “just a guy who lives in my neighborhood” according to Obama and just about everyone else in the press. John Kerry belonged to a group of ex-military radicals who (apparently not in his presence) discussed assassinating conservative public officials. That was a youthful dalliance not worth the time of serious journalists, save in the context of showing how irresponsible Republicans were to bring it up in the first place. Anyway you know the drill.

I didn’t have space to mention the latest example of this ancient trend: The battle between Mitt Romney who apparently air-dries his dogs but stops short of turning them into jerky, and Barack Obama who has been, by his own account, peckish for pooch in the past. If that’s not enough information – or alliteration – for you, John Podhoretz has a pitch-perfect piece on the pooch puffery into today’s Post.

Now, if I put on my actual dog-lover’s hat (as opposed to the dog-I-love’s hat in my Twitter picture) I’m un-amused by any of this. You shouldn’t strap your dog to the roof of the car, nor should you braise him in coconut milk when you get him down. I find dog-eating absolutely atrocious, but I don’t in fact hold the practice against Obama in any way (unless, of course, I find out they’ve been serving German Shepherd’s pie at state dinners). But I am 100 percent in favor of turning the tables on Obama on this sort of stuff. If his supporters want to use this sort of thing against Romney then I have no problem with Romney turning the tables. If it causes outrage among liberals, all the better because that outrage is like a siren calling attention to their hypocrisy.

Surprise!

It’s been a joke for a while that whenever bad economic news is released, a lot of news outlets describe it as “unexpected” or a surprise of some kind. It seems that sort of thing is migrating to anything that reflects poorly on the POTUS. Here’s the subhead on a Telegraph story on Obama’s Maldives gaffe. “Barack Obama made an uncharacteristic error, more akin to those of his predecessor George W Bush, by referring to the Falkland Islands as the Maldives.”

And here’s Wolf Blizter inadvertently (I hope) synthesizing three years of MSM coverage of Obama. It’s a CNN piece on the GSA scandal and at about the 2:38 mark Blitzer says: “It’s pretty shocking that four years into the Obama administration stuff like this is going on.”

Uh, shocking to who Wolf?

I like Wolf and was on his old CNN Sunday show for several years, but good Lord, why should we be shocked? The naïf raised on Chicago politics who couldn’t believe there were no “shovel-ready jobs” until he blew hundreds of billions on them to little effect, was supposed to stamp out government malfeasance and incompetence by now? Really? The upshot seems to be that this is the sort of thing we should expect from the Bush administration, but four years into the Obama administration everything should have been fundamentally transformed by now.

The simple truth is that the more you expand government the more likely scandals like this become, for the simple reason that there’s more money sloshing around to be wasted. Add in the preening sense of entitlement that comes with progressive governance and these sorts of scandals are inevitable.

Complexity Is a Subsidy

The other day Mary Katharine Hamm tweeted a link to one of those utterly predictable stories about how corporations with more lobbyists pay lower taxes or some such. She also remarked “complexity is a subsidy” – and that really stuck with me. In many respects those four words distill vast swaths of scholarship from everyone from Friedrich Hayek to Charles Murray.

Again, it’s not a new idea, but I think it’s an extremely useful and pithy description of a very complex argument. The more that financial success depends on high IQ; the more demand there is for lawyers, lobbyists, and accountants; the more onerous regulations become for men-with-strong-backs to find work or for entrepreneurs to start businesses – then the more we move towards a society where the government rewards people based on their ability to navigate paperwork or fulfill quotas on a political to-do list. Complexity benefits statists because increasing complexity allows statists to claim we need more government to help people navigate through these complex times. In the process of helping, they make the government more complicated, creating new services for “fixers” of all stripes to solve problems the statists created in the first place.

The more you look around at spots where society and government intersect, the more you can see how pervasive and pernicious this dynamic is. The more rules you have, the more power you bequeath to the people well-suited to make or manipulate the rules.

Anyway, just a thought.

Don’t Go Into the Light!

Michelle Obama says that her husband “has brought us into the light.” Daniel Harper over at the Standard sees this as conjuring all sorts of biblical allusions to Jesus. Harper writes, “In the book of Matthew, we read, ‘the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.’ (Matthew 4:16) The phrase is used to describe the words Jesus preached.”

Now, back in the days when Liberal Fascism was fresh in my mind, Obama seemed to be going whole hog on the political religion stuff and people were talking about him as the Messiah, I might have made a big deal about all of this.

But fast-forward nearly four years later and when I hear her say that Obama has “brought us into the light,” the first thing that comes to mind isn’t immanentizing the eschaton, but the movie Poltergeist. See what I mean [BROKEN LINK].

Biden, Literally

By now subscribers to the National Review mothership should have gotten the issue with my Biden cover on it. G-File readers should know that the reason I wrote it in the first place was that Rich Lowry read a recent G-File in which I proclaimed Biden “the most audacious gasbag in 500 years,” or words to that effect. He asked me if I’d ever written on Biden for the magazine itself and I said no. The rest, as pretty much no one says, is history. But here’s a nice extended excerpt for those interested:

The word “literally” has taken a beating in the Age of Biden. He’s often proclaimed that Obama had the opportunity “literally to change the direction of the world” (which, if possible, might help fulfill that promise to lower sea levels). Biden announced that “before we arrived in the West Wing, Mr. Boehner and his party ran the economy and the middle class literally into the ground.” His speeches are “literally” festooned with “literally”s, like hundreds of tethers to the hot-air balloon that is his head.

The standard joke is to quote the scene in The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The problem is that Biden insists that he does know what it means. One of his favorite ways to emphasize his seriousness is to say, “and I mean literally, not figuratively,” as if “literally” meant “I’m really serious” and “figuratively” connoted some effeminate lack of conviction. He says JFK’s “call to service literally, not figuratively, still resounds from generation to generation.” He told students in Africa, “You are the keystone to East Africa – literally, not figuratively, you are the keystone.” “The American people are looking for us as Democrats,” he has said. “They’re looking for someone literally, not figuratively, to restore America’s place in the world.” Speaking at a rally for Senator Patty Murray, he said, “I have now gone into 110 races around the country, and everywhere I go I see ordinary people who play by the rules, get everything right, paid their mortgage, showed up in their school helping their kids, made sure that they did everything they could to save to get their kid to college, took their mom and dad in when they needed help and hoped to save a little bit of money so they wouldn’t have to rely on their own kids when the time came.” Here’s the kicker: “And all of a sudden, all of a sudden – literally, not figuratively – they were decimated.” If they were literally decimated, Biden doesn’t just see ordinary people, he sees dead people. But only one for every nine among the living.

Let’s give the poor word some smelling salts and ask it to get back in the ring for a moment. It is literally absurd to say, “This is a guy who walks and talks like someone who grew up in Scranton,” as David Wade, Biden’s spokesman at the time, told Politico in defense of his boss. (It’s also not literally true that Biden grew up in Scranton; he left town at the age of ten.) As part of my research for this article, I visited Scranton – not literally, mind you, but literally enough in Joe Biden’s America. Statistically speaking, Scrantonites are not more likely than, say, residents of Muncie to instruct a wheelchair-bound man, “Stand up, Chuck, let ‘em see ya.” In 1929, there were a handful of experimental television sets being developed in discrete locations around the country, but literally none of them were in Scranton. Which explains why very few Scrantonites believe, as Biden explained to Katie Couric, that FDR, who was sworn in as president in 1933, went on national television after the stock-market crash of 1929 to reassure the American people.

The Wade defense – he’s authentic! he’s real! he literally talks like a real American! – is an explanation much of the press corps uses to rationalize why they don’t care about Biden’s gaffes. I doubt that all of them believe this, but clearly some do. And those who do are revealing that they hold the American people in remarkably low regard. It’s a frightening prospect, really, that large numbers of pols, flacks, and hacks in Washington think we live in a nation of Joe Bidens. Not least because Joe Biden is crazy.

Now I don’t mean Joe Biden is literally crazy, just figuratively (although sometimes it is very easy to imagine him at the mental hospital, dressed in stained white PJs, standing on a card table and explaining how the shortage of lime Jell-O is “literally the greatest outrage to be visited on mankind” since the orderlies took away his fern). Biden’s logorrhea dementia is the most popularly diagnosed malady in political life since Bill Clinton’s priapism.

Various & Sundry

It’s a light G-File today because I’m quite literally exhausted. I just got back from a great time in West By God Virginia and today my daughter has off from school because of parent-teacher conferences (we had ours early, on Monday. By the way, I find that if you bring a whole stag carcass and skin it on the table – a la Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones – during the meeting, it focuses the teacher on your child’s merits). And since things are going to get ever crazier as we get closer to pub date, I’m taking the day for some Daddy-Daughter time.

The Preorder Plug

Yes, I know it’s gotten a bit ridiculous and I really can’t wait for the book to stand or fall on its own merits, but I’m grateful to everyone who has preordered the book already. Just to be clear, the reason for the preorder push is really quite simple: The more preorders you have the better your first week sales, which in turn improves your chances to be on the bestseller list. If you are on the bestseller list, the more likely it is bookstores will push your book and producers will want you to hawk it on their shows to promote it.

So anyway, once again: If you preorder and send your receipt totyrannyofcliches@gmail.com you get The Goldberg Variations, an e-book collection of my best cover stories from NR, and a chance to win the TOC tote bag.

Also, anyone who wants me to sign a bookplate, just send me a stamped, self-addressed, envelope c/o The American Enterprise Institute, 1150 17th Street, NW WDC 20016. I haven’t started sending back all the ones I’ve gotten yet, but I’m definitely saving them for a signing session soon.

Anyway, I’m really grateful to you all for the support.

Oh and remember to check out the Tyranny Blog when you have a chance for upcoming events and appearances and what not. Once the reviews start coming in, I will start mixing things up a bit more heavily.

And now, for some other stuff.

Beer Ad Wars!

Corgies are one of my favorite breeds. Here are some reasons why.

World Historical Trash Talk!

 

Rosen Follies

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Dear Reader (and the little green man in my head, and he said “you’re not going crazy . . .”)

Look, it’s hardly a new insight that Barack Obama has become pretty much everything he said he wasn’t. Lots of folks have noted that the candidate of hopeful changey goodness has become an utterly cynical figure. For instance, two months ago I wrote:

Instead of fulfilling his promise to deliver a “new kind of politics” and a new era of idealism, he’s made politics more cynical than ever. The case for Obama has become the case against everyone and everything inconvenient to his success. Don’t agree with Obama’s policies? Well, you can’t possibly have a good reason to do that. So you must be racist, greedy, dumb, or corrupt.

Meanwhile, Obama casts himself as the humble servant of the 99 percent, even as he forklifts cash from Wall Street into his campaign coffers and exploits the very sort of super PACs he not long ago claimed were a “threat to democracy.”

But to point that out is just cynicism.

And I was far from the first person to make that case.

But I have to say I was taken aback by the cynicism on display yesterday when the Obama administration opted to attack Mitt Romney by “celebrating” the anniversary of Romneycare’s passage. Superficially, I guess there’s nothing wrong with Obama tweaking Romney over that. But the subtext of the whole episode is stunning. The Obamatrons are playing guilt-by-association with their own immensely unpopular law. It’s hardly as if Obama would be eager to give credit to Romney if Obama’s signature accomplishment didn’t stink like a used diaper filled with Indian food.

It’s like that scene in The Sopranos where Christopher Moltisanti lashes out at everyone at his intervention (language warning). In effect the White House is saying “Who are you to criticize us for our incredibly craptacular and unpopular law? I saw you in the bathroom at Limelight two weeks ago snorting lines with a rolled up health-insurance mandate!”

Rosen Follies

There’s not much more to add to the Hilary Rosen hilarity, but that doesn’t mean one cannot have more fun.

And since we’re talking cynicism, on Monday (in that very special G-File), I laid into Jay Carney for being, well, a liar. Here he is responding to the fact that Rosen’s name shows up quite a bit on the visitors logs at the White House:

I know three, personally, women named Hilary Rosen. So I’m not sure that those

represent the person we’re talking about necessarily, so I really can’t comment on the number.

She is a Democratic strategist, she is a CNN contributor. . . . I don’t know how to assess her overall relationship with people here in the White House. But I have not seen her here very frequently.”

Obama himself played a similar game by simply describing her as “somebody on television,” like maybe she was nothing more than female Gladiator #6 in the credits of Spartacus.

In other words, the woman who runs a P.R. shop with former White House Communications Director, Anita “Mao is my co-pilot” Dunn, is a total stranger at the White House. That’s why Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, his senior adviser David Axelrod, and his wife all rushed to condemn this complete stranger’s comments.

By the way, I think this story will go away pretty soon, but it will have some significant lasting effects. First, it made an impression. For all the talk about the Beltway bubble, some controversies – manufactured or legitimate – cut through the din and stick in peoples’ minds. I think this is one of them. It won’t move a lot of votes, but it sets up a narrative.

Perhaps more important. It stopped the “Republican War on Women” thing in its tracks (a term Rosen brazenly tried to claim was a slogan cynically pushed by Republicans). The media – mostly out of an utterly hypocritical desire to carry water for Obama – has had to switch to the argument that the Dem War on Moms and the GOP War on Women are both fake stories. That’s actually fine with me, but the standard should have kicked in when Democrats were attacking Rush Limbaugh as if he was the author of the GOP platform and the Republican budget combined. My view is, if Democrats and the press want to set up these criteria for beating up conservatives, they shouldn’t bitch and moan when it blows up in their faces. Regardless, the Democrats had to go on defense, and when you’re on defense it’s hard to be on offense.

Barring a gaffe from the Romney campaign about keeping women barefoot and pregnant, it will be a while before the White House can effectively go back to the War on Women nonsense, which is great news for Romney in and of itself.

An MSNBC Reelection Strategy

Obama’s description of Hilary Rosen as “somebody on television” is nicely ironic. I’ve been thinking for a while that the only way Obama can get reelected is by running a campaign that turns the whole country into a cable-TV shout-show. Why? Because he desperately needs the election to turn on questions fundamentally unrelated to his own record. That means he will ask lots of loaded hypothetical questions about “What kind of country do we want to live in?” There will be lots of ginned-up outrage, charges of Republican hard-heartedness, radicalism, racism, and the like. The Democrats need to cast Romney as a racist, plutocratic, woman-hater out of touch with modernity for the simple reason that by Obama’s own standards, laid out in 2008, he has been a failure and the country feels like it’s stagnating.

The inestimable Jay Cost has a very good post on all this over at the Weekly Standard.

You Can Hear the Words Coming out of My Mouth

This has been an absolutely crazy week. I’ve been in a recording studio every day recording my first rap album (“My name is Jonah/This ain’t no ‘My Sharona’. . . the game is on/don’t immanentize the eschaton”). No. Really no.

I’m recording the audio version for Tyranny of Clichés. And it is hard. I’ve been in the recording booth every day this week and I’ve been really stunned to discover how difficult and exhausting it is to read nearly tens of thousands of words out loud. There’s not a huge amount of money in it for me (a crucially important metric!) but I wanted to do it because audiobook fans have been telling me ever since Liberal Fascism, that it’s better when the author reads. Also, I really liked the idea of being forced to reread the whole thing from the beginning, so the material would be fresh. I’m not sure I would ever do it again, but I’m glad I did it (19 pages left to go today). Given what an awful year it was – my brother died right when I was about to really hunker down on the thing – it’s been really useful to de-blurrify my memory of it. Much to my pleasant surprise, I really like the book. I was worried I’d revisit the text and cringe, but I’m proud of this thing, which is nice – and useful when the spitballs start coming.

One Last Plug for the Preorder

It seems that the e-book of my best NR cover stories is not a sufficient enticement for some of you to preorder TOC. That’s okay. Really. I don’t find the taste of my own tears bitter at all.

But I should let you know that I have lost the battle with the suits at Penguin. They want me to make this offer to the whole world, and not just G-File readers. I’m just telling you this so that you don’t feel betrayed or slighted by the implication that you’re not first in my heart.

Anyway, this offer – now not exclusive to you people – will definitely go away after Pub Date. So if you’re interested, send your receipt totyrannyofcliches@gmail.com and you’ll get the Goldberg Variations e-book. Buy three and get shmancy TOC tote bag. Buy 1,000 and I’ll come to your house and wash your car.

Look: I hate this sort of hucksterism. I cannot wait for the book to stand or fall on its own merits. But the terms of my Faustian bargain are clear, and I’m grateful for whatever support you can offer.

And . . . Some Other Plugs

By way of evidence it was such a busy week, the new NR has a cover story by yours truly on Joe Biden.

Also, I adapted some of my TOC chapter on social Darwinism for a piece in the next Weekly Standard.

Also, I penned a small item (that box-column I do every other issue for NR), on Kosherism and Corporatism. Pick up your copies now.

And here is my column today on how Romney needs to cultivate his un-coolness.

I’m heading to Milwaukee this afternoon for a speech tomorrow at Yafapalooza. April 18, I’ll be at West Liberty University in West Virginia. I’m going to drive down because it’s spring and I hate flying these days. Actually I don’t mind the flying, it’s everything around it I hate.

On May 23, I’m speaking at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Sign up now. I’m really psyched, not just because it’s a great group. But I’ve always wanted to go to Reno just to see a man die. So this is like a bonus.

Various and Sundry

Kim Jong Il has been named “eternal general secretary.”

More fatwas saying women who want to work should breastfeed adult coworkers. What could go wrong?

The original pitch video for the Muppets. Awesome!

In China chicks have tattoos in English.

I cannot wait to learn that Chinese hipsters are walking around with “Fried chicken special #7” or “I have chlamydia” written prominently on their bodies.

Seriously, if you don’t know what I mean, check out one of my favorite blogs which translates Chinese character tattoos for unsuspecting Western poseurs.

You know how you can tell the health bureaucracy has gotten out of hand? When there are this many codes for “struck by turtle.”

Very strange monuments to famous people!

Inappropriate test answers for children (language warning).

Speaking of Golf

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Dear Reader (including those of you who normally expect more jocularity from the G-File),

Chicks, Man.

From Reuters:

At a White House event on women and the economy, Obama noted “there has been a lot of talk about women and women’s issues lately,” a nod to the emergence of contraceptive rights, working women and all-male establishments as heated issues in his race for re-election in November.

Yes, all of the talk has been orchestrated by . . . the White House. It’s sort of like a mobster walking into a shop and deliberately knocking over all the glassware and crystal. “Say, there’s been a lot of talk about crime in this neighborhood . . .”

What I particularly like is Reuters’s claim that “all-male establishments” have become “heated issues” in the presidential campaign.

Really? First of all, are there any all-male establishments we’re talking about other than Augusta? I’m not aware of any.

Second, very soon after Obama said he thought Augusta should admit women, Romney followed suit. So where is the “heat” coming from on this “heated issue”?

Obama Man of the People, Particularly the Female Ones.

It’s now been roughly three years since we were told Obama would “pivot to jobs.” Meanwhile the White House has made it clear that they will make the question of who is more “in touch” with the average American the central issue of the campaign.

And look at what we’re talking about: Whether very rich women can be members of a country club for very rich men. Not since Caesar had loaves of bread hucked at the proles in the stands has there been such pandering to the masses.

Yes, I know that the real target of Obama’s “women’s issues” initiative isn’t working women, it’s the rich white women who work in the press and form the cadres of professional feminists. If he can gin up those gals, they will carry the message forth that Obama is for the little women. Even though, I would bet most economically struggling women could not give a rat’s ass whether or not rich women get to play at Augusta.

Whoops. There I go again, falling into the trap. The issue isn’t whether women can play at Augusta. They can, as guests. They just can’t be members (actually, they can be members, just none have been invited to become members yet).

In fact, there’s actually a far more exclusive men’s club than Augusta: It’s called Barack Obama’s golfing posse.

Far more women have played golf at Augusta than have played golf with the 44th president of the United States.

In 93 rounds of golf Obama has played with women twice according to the Associated Press (other sources says it’s been once out of 110 games, but we’ll go with the more charitable stat). And, in at least 50 percent of those outings, Obama invited a woman out of political expediency. After getting grief for having a “boys club” attitude in the White House, Melody Barnes, then the head of the Domestic Policy Council, suddenly got an invite to join him on the links. She beat him like a drum.

Speaking of Golf

I don’t hate the sport, but I’m not a huge fan of it either, given that I am arguably the world’s worst two-armed, two-legged, non-blind golfer (as Shannen Coffin can attest). But I also get the appeal a little bit and I don’t begrudge presidents wanting to hit the links. But the double standard for Democratic presidents is just a wonder to behold.

This is really Nordlinger’s turf, so I’ll be brief.

When Republican presidents golf, it’s proof of their insulation from the concerns of real Americans. When Democrats hit the links, it’s simply blowing off steam. The first president Bush was excoriated in the press for golfing during a mild recession. The second was vilified for golfing during a war. President Obama has played more golf than both men combined, amidst wars, recessions, Asian tsunamis, Polish funerals, with nary a word of serious criticism – except for the brief complaint that he didn’t play golf with enough women.

By April of 2010, Obama had already played eight times as much golf as his predecessor did in two terms.

In fairness, that statistic is a little misleading because Bush quit the game three years into the job. He didn’t make a big announcement about it; he just quietly decided it was unseemly. ”I didn’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf,” he explained in an interview in 2008. And even then, Bush got grief for it.

He’s Just Lying

You know, if we lived in a parallel universe where the elite mainstream media was overwhelmingly dominated by conservatives, there would be a whole highbrow conversation about how Jay Carney can sleep at night and whether he’s a disgrace to his profession.

I’m not saying he lies far more than any other White House press secretary – though he’s certainly to the right of the meaty part of the Bell Curve in the distribution of dishonest White House spokesmen. But Carney was once a journalist who claimed to be objective. He hasn’t betrayed anything by revealing himself to be conventionally liberal – nobody who actually read his work ever doubted that, no matter how much he insisted he was impartial (Right, because Joe Biden and Barack Obama just plucked him from the press corps on ahunch he might be an effective mouthpiece for a Democratic administration).

Still, his job now is to lie to the press. That’s not his whole job description to be sure, but if he couldn’t do that he wouldn’t have the job.

This week, he not only insisted that there was nothing political to the White House’s conference on women’s issues, he even got his dudgeon up. “Why are we focusing on small businesses with the small business job creation act? Are we discriminating against big businesses?” He mocked when asked about the political nature of the conference, “we are focusing on women because there are a number of issues that are important with regards to women in the economy, women’s safety, women in education that are very distinct and important, and we’re proud to host the conference.”

Uh huh. Carney’s lying. He knows he’s lying. There isn’t a person in Washington who doesn’t think he’s being glibly dishonest. Again, it’s nothing like a first for someone with his job. But liberals would care, indeed they’d consider it a betrayal, if a mainstream reporter left Time magazine (or the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc.) and lied to the press that way for a Republican president.

On Derb

By now you’ve probably heard that NR and John Derbyshire have parted ways. I understand that there are good people conflicted on both sides of the issue.

This is not the place to go over every claim, charge, and complaint. But I unequivocally stand by my personal view, expressed on Twitter Friday night, that I find Derb’s essay indefensible and offensive.

I will also say I can certainly understand the anger and consternation among his fans. I’ve been a defender of Derb’s over the years when people have argued he should be forced out (it’s a very old refrain). My argument went like this:National Review needs a paleo-ish, literary curmudgeon and misanthrope and if we got rid of Derb we’d have to replace him with someone far less talented or interesting.

Let me deal with a few of the most common, least racist complaints. First: “Of all things he’s written you guys are firing him for this!?”

Look there’s a reason we talk about the straw breaking the camel’s back. Camels’ backs do not normally break from the weight of a straw. The point is that at some point the additional weight is just too much. There’s a long history that a lot of people are willfully ignoring.

More to the point, what Derb wrote was no straw.

Which raises a second common complaint: “What he wrote was the truth!” But in important ways, that’s a misreading. His anecdotes may be true, but anecdotes aren’t data. For instance, he links to this horrible story to declare that one shouldn’t stop to help black people in apparent distress. This isn’t a statistical argument, it’s inferring a sweeping racist and wicked principle from an anecdote.

I’ve been stunned by how many people have sent me e-mail to the effect of “have you seen the video of the black guy beating the white guy in Baltimore?!” as if this is somehow a defense of what Derb wrote – or even germane. If I send them a video of a white guy beating up an undeserving black guy, does that prove all white guys are violent racists? Does it prove all of these black race-peddlers correct? If George Zimmerman turns out to have targeted Trayvon Martin after all, does that prove there’s a huge racist tide sweeping the nation? C’mon. Think people.

Derb says white people should teach their children, as a statistical rule of thumb, to avoid blacks; to never help a black person in distress; that they should leave anyplace where blacks congregate in large numbers; that they should assume that the blacks they encounter are dangerous and dumb; that they should assume black public officials are more likely to be corrupt, and that they should follow these rules for fear of their lives.

That’s indefensible. It violates the conservative – and basically decent American – view that you should take people as you find them, that we are individuals and not simply interchangeable emissaries of a race. In Derb’s advice to his children, skin color is the overriding variable, the first thing his kids should notice, and the last thing they should forget.

For my entire adult life, conservatives have been arguing that we are the true inheritors of Martin Luther King’s exhortation to judge people on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The upshot of Derb’s view – not just this one piece written for Taki(!) – is that it’s not racism if you can appeal to the authority of statistical inferences and the rules of large numbers. Right, because racists has never invoked science before.

The last refuge for Derb’s defenders is that he was writing sarcastically, turning the tables on the racial Left. I buy the second part, but not the first. There’s nothing in Derb’s essay that suggests he’s not being serious and literal. Nor is the essay anything like a grand departure from his past writings. Indeed, all of his concessions to the existence of decent and intelligent blacks are his way of saying nice doggie until he can find a rock. Derb is an incredibly gifted writer. If he wanted to say or suggest that this isn’t really the advice he gives his own children he could have done so – easily. He didn’t.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Rich and Jack Fowler. But I think it was the right one. I wish him good luck in future endeavors.

Goodbye Trolls

Again, I don’t think you’re racist or evil or dumb, if you come down against the decision to let Derb go. If you think we made a mistake, that’s a fine topic for conversation. And if your view is that we at National Review are idiots, leftwingers, cowards, etc. and you’ve lost all respect for us/me, that’s fine too.

My only request: Go away.

While the general response from readers has trended toward positive, this episode has unleashed a Tolkienesque army of trolls in my e-mail and Twitter accounts. I can take the insults and anti-Semitic taunts. What I am amazed by is how many people simultaneously tell me they have zero respect for me and are desperate to impress me.

Where’s the Jocularity?

Sorry this G-File wasn’t as whacky as usual. The Derb affair and its aftermath put me in a foul mood, as did spending a big chunk of the weekend spelunking in Joe Biden’s brain. I have a big piece in the next issue on Biden. All of the wackiness missing in today’s G-File can be found there.

Order Now!

Last week’s announced promotion for pre-orders went well. But we’re hoping for more.

In case you missed it, if you preorder now, and send the e-receipt to tyrannyofcliches@gmail.com, you’ll get a free e-book with my ten best cover stories, and a chance to win a fetching TOC totebag. Indeed, as a sweetener, if you buy three or more copies, the suits at Penguin say they’ll send you a totebag as well (again: Booze sold separately).

By the way, while this is technically an exclusive to G-File readers (“For now,” quoth the suits), you should feel free to spread the word.

No weird links today, alas. Crazy busy.

Why Nations Fail?

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Dear Reader (though not readers “per se”),

I know that things could look better on the Republican side of things, what with the Roman slaves from Germania acting all surly. Oh, wait, sorry that’s the TV show Spartacus. My apologies, I keep turning away from the riveting news coming out of the GOP primaries.

Speaking of which, it’s looking like the long slog is coming to an end. Even Erick Erickson, Jim DeMint, and the Club for Growth have made an uneasy peace with the impending Mittatorship. I think Bill Kristol is still doing the stranded-Japanese-soldier-who-hasn’t-gotten-the-news routine, but that’s about it.

Maybe things will change. Maybe Newt Gingrich’s dream scenario where a delegate from Ohio spills Orange Fanta on his shirt, forcing him to miss the roll call which in turn leads to a hilarious and bizarre series of mishaps and one-in-a-million-shot weirdnesses will ultimately reveal Newt Gingrich as the nominee on the 27th ballot. Maybe.

Could happen. But in the meantime, I think my working definition of the conservative establishment is turning out to be prescient: You’re a member of the establishment if you prematurely reconciled yourself to disappointment.

I Feel Good!

But I’ll tell you, this week is making me feel a little better about things. No, I’m not, like the Griswold family at Walley World, whistling zip-a-dee-doo-dah out of my nethers with glee over Romney. (Though I do think Romney could end up being a very successful, very conservative president if we have a Republican Congress.)

But when you look at the fog of smugness and assclownery that is rolling off the White House lawn these days, you have to be heartened a bit.

First there’s Joe Biden, the most audacious gasbag in the last 500 years. And I say that with a little more historical rigor than Biden, who seemed to pull the 500-year thing out of thin air, if by thin air you mean the thing he sits on. In the early 1500s, I believe the Duke of Marlborough broke the existing European record for talking nonstop without saying anything of discernible merit. It’s rumored that Shakespeare chronicled the duke’s braggadocio in a sonnet lost to history (“His mouth galloped without heed to day’s pass/his words drawn from his steed’s ass . . .”). Oddly, he was also, like Biden, renowned for hypnotizing people with his teeth.

Anyway, when Joe Biden says with all of that earnest, canned seriousness, that the bin Laden raid was the most audacious military operation in 500 years, he does himself and his cause enormous damage. Never mind that it’s not remotely true. Never mind that grotesquery that is Biden’s criteria for courage: Obama risked his reelection chances (also, not necessarily true). Think about what we risked in the Normandy invasion. What George Washington risked. What the Israelis have risked. Think about the audacity of the German or French invasions of Russia? Nelson at Trafalgar. Even Obama, I hope, doesn’t think his reelection is a more precious bauble to wager with than the fate of a nation or the lives of thousands or the liberty of millions.

In other words Biden’s claims so outstrip reality, we’re lucky he doesn’t tear a hole in the space-time continuum. If he was just a bit more humble, a bit more reasonable, a bit more sane, he could actually use the bin Laden success to his advantage. Instead, by making claims about it no sane or honest person can support he sounds desperate and fritters away the actual political value of the operation’s success.

And then consider Obama. He’s coming unglued these days. He says Republicans who oppose his green-energy boondoggles would have been “charter members of the Flat Earth Society,” if they were around when Columbus came to America. First of all, the Flat Earth Society was founded in the 1950s (I believe – I am without Internet on this plane). Second, contrary to Obama’s insinuation Columbus didn’t prove the world was round – Europeans already knew that.

But he says in the same breath that Solyndra wasn’t his baby. Of course it was. At least, he took credit for it when it seemed like a good idea, poured millions into it, and is refusing to admit that the policies that made the Solyndra boondoggle so boondoggly came straight from his desk.

Obama cannot sell. He hasn’t sold Obamacare, which he only touts to targeted groups of women and lazy 20-somethings who want to stay on their parents’ health insurance and couches. He hasn’t sold his energy policies. He hasn’t even tried to sell his Afghanistan policy. But he mocks Republicans for being so stupid that they hold positions shared by a majority of Americans. I hope he keeps it up!

Ideally, he’d go out there and ridicule the stupidity of Republicans liking puppies and the sweet, sweet, taste of candy, but I’ll be happy if he continues to mock them for disliking Obamacare and wanting cheaper gasoline and more oil drilling.

Every time Obama goes out and tries to clarify how smart he is and how dumb his opponents are, he reinforces his weakness and betrays the implicit failure of his post-partisan presidency, and that undermines the rationale for reelecting him.

Why Nations Fail?

Again, I’m at a disadvantage on this plane because I lack access to the Internet and the ability to manipulate objects with my mind.

But I’ve been seeing all of this stuff about a new book Why Nation’s Fail. (Hopefully, the web monkeys at NRHQ will add in some links to this stuff when they get it. Hint, hint). It sounds like a good and interesting book. It looks at nations that are extremely similar, but exist on different sides of a shared border. North Korea and South Korea are the most famous and obvious examples for the point the authors want to make: political institutions matter.

I want to get the book, but what I find bizarre is the way the book’s being received. Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money team did a piece making it sound like this was stunning news. Finally economists have solved the mystery of why some countries are rich and some are poor.

Errr. Huh? It sounds like I agree with the authors: political institutions – broadly understood – are the foundation for prosperity. But this is a stunning revelation? Really? Seems to me this argument was ancient when I was reading comic books (okay, bad choice of words because I’m still reading comic books). Conservatives have been noting the differences between North and South Korea (and, once upon a time, East and West Germany) for generations. Hayek and von Mises, Adam Smith – all of these folks talked about the primacy of institutions. The rule of law, transparency, democracy, honest courts, property rights: These have been the key ingredients for the bouillabaisse of prosperity for as long as I can remember. (A few years ago, a World Bank study found that 82 percent of America’s wealth could be ascribed to our “intangible capital” – i.e., all the stuff that isn’t factories and commodities and infrastructure.) It’s nice to have more confirmation, but I’m flummoxed by the surprise.

Various and Sundry

Thanks very much to Students Fostering Conservative Thought at St. John’s University for having me out to chat about Liberal Fascism, drink beer, and smoke a cigar. Good times, smart kids, hideous architecture.

Also, thanks very much to the unnamed Goldberg File reader who brought me a bottle of scotch! I want to encourage this sort of creative thinking people. Though this did present a challenge given that I didn’t check luggage.

I’m in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for the next few days. I was charmed by the place when I spoke at the Steamboat Institute last Summer and went on that wild road trip with my daughter. Our chief mission is to teach Lucy to ski. She’s growing like a weed and my wife is afraid if we wait until next year she’ll be so tall and gangly the window of opportunity to learn while young will close. I keep forcing cigarettes and coffee on her, but it has failed to stunt her growth.

I was a little reluctant to do this trip because of all the travel I’ve been doing and all the work I have to do. But given how I won’t be around much after the book is out, and the horror that is a child on Spring break with nothing to do, we decided to go even more in debt.

Anyway, I apologize for the lack of oddities in this space, but I can’t do the weird links without access to the interweb. And once I land I’ve got to send this off and get on the road.

Tune in next week for exciting announcements.

 

‘Booger’

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Dear Reader, 

Almost exactly two years ago to the day I wrote in this “news”letter:

Oh, and I have a request. So far the G-File seems to be catching on just fine. Lots of good feedback, increasing subscriptions, etc. No one has sent me a gift bag full of scotch and cash yet, but I can only assume that’s coming. But a couple people – literally a couple – have written me to complain bitterly that they don’t like the G-File and that they want me to remove them from the list.

Here’s my heartfelt response: I truly don’t give a rat’s ass. I ain’t getting paid anything extra to write this thing. The reason I agreed to revive the G-File is that I missed writing stuff the way I want to without worrying about appealing to a wide audience or the sweaty-toothed madman pounding on my brain. This thing is for old school – and newly recruited – flying monkeys only. Think of me like Dr. Johnny Fever inWKRP in Cincinnati – I finally have a chance to say “booger” on the air again.

Besides, this is a newsletter (admittedly with less actual news than there’s “real fruit juice” in Hawaiian Punch). Don’t like it? Don’t read it. Regret signing up for it? That sucks for you. Don’t like my attitude? Send an e-mail to TheSuits@nationalreview.com.

Okay, now that they’ve left the room: Booger, booger, booger.

I bring all of this up because last night Dr. Charles Krauthammer said “booger” on national television, and not just once. He was very pleased and excited to have done it, though it was obviously unplanned. I was there on the Special Report set agonizing if I should take it up a notch with a WKRP reference. I had to explain to him during the commercial break who Dr. Fever was. That is not a stop on the highway of my career I ever thought I’d be making. I opted not to. And, as it turned out, during the commercial break, I had to explain to him who Dr. Fever was. That is not a stop on the highway of my career I ever thought I’d be making.

Now the thing is, if Charles Krauthammer – Charles frick’n Krauthammer – can say “booger” on the air what am I free to do in this semi-secretive missive sent to pop-culture-besotted rightwingers who need to appear like they are working at their desks during lunchtime? What brave new vistas have been opened up for me?

The mind reels.

Happy Days

Already, I’m getting a lot of blowback for today’s column. Even though I hinted up front that the column would be a tad too cynical. It begins: “Warning: What you are about to read is a deeply cynical view of the 2012 election. If you’re looking for puppies and rainbows, check back with me another time.”

Oddly, some readers were still taken by surprise by it.

I don’t want to waste your time defending my column’s morosely self-indulgent devil’s advocate cynicism, instead I want to spend my time nurturing my morose self-indulgent cynicism like it was a tiny baby bird living behind my radiator in my prison cell.

Good Times

These are glorious times in America. Let us review.

The future is illuminated with the happy glow of $50 light bulbs. There’s a fresh breeze of hope blowing off the wind farms, like the stench of golden eagle viscera drying in the hot sun. We’re replacing oil with algae – whoops, sorry “biomass,” itself a useful synonym for a specific bovine flavored sub-variety the president is flinging around like a human sprinkler system of ungulate feces.

Religious freedom is finally being relegated to the petty luxury the Founders always dreamed it would become. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither. But she who sells out religious liberty for $9 worth of birth-control pills is getting a bargain.” Hey man, that’s about as good as president Obama’s bit about Rutherford B. Hayes yesterday. As I joked on Twitter, “My friends, as Thomas Jefferson said so eloquently, ‘you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.’”

You know that feeling of “you’re not wanted here” you get from the bartender and waitresses when you keep ordering more buffalo wings and beer even after they’ve turned the stools and chairs upside down on the tables? No, well I do. And it seems like we’re getting the Pashtun equivalent of that vibe from the Afghans. Except there are major cultural differences at work here. Instead of merely saying “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” they’re murdering American troops left, right, and center. Yes, we had one lone gunman commit some unspeakably evil crimes, but it sounds like he had some major mental-health problems. Meanwhile, our allies are walking up and murdering our troops, and to date I haven’t heard anyone demand an apology from Hamid Karzai.

On to happier topics. The Congressional Budget Office reported this week that the joy of paying for Obamacare will be so much greater than we were told. According to the CBO, Obamacare, like Doublemint Gum, will now be providing double the pleasure for double the fun. Instead of the $940 billion per decade the White House deceitfully promised, we’ll get to pay $1.76 trillion. It reminds me of a friend’s painting company when he was in college.

Their motto was “We may be slow, but we’re expensive.”

Oh and who among us on the right side of the political spectrum can help but rejoice at the embarrassment of riches on offer in the Republican primaries. We conservatives are like Augustus Gloop when he enters Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, nearly paralyzed by the exciting and tantalizing options laid out before us. It’s like every new primary offers yet one more exciting candy surprise. The only worry: We might fall into the chocolate river (“That. Is. Not. Chocolate.” – The Couch.)

About book tours

Lots of folks have asked if my book tour will take me to wherever they are. The short answer in most cases is “I don’t know. But I hope so.” It looks for sure that I will be giving some kind of public talk(s) on The Tyranny of Clichés in D.C., NYC, Boston, Phoenix/Scottsdale, and Chicago. The rest are maybes (LA, Seattle, Denver) or flat-out I-don’t-knows.

Here’s the thing: I appreciate all the folks saying “Come to Yadahay Flats! We’d love to hear you speak. I’ll buy you a beer!” The problem is that publishers basically don’t do – and by do, I mean pay for – book tours any more, at least not if there aren’t sizable sales involved. A trip that destroys two days of my time that ends up selling a few dozen books just doesn’t make much sense, particularly in the early days after pubdate when media matters so much (I am not referring to the David Brock cult, btw). So I’m trying to arrange – with the help of AEI, my publisher, and/or my speakers bureau – events through various think tanks, clubs, etc. around the country that can make the economics of all this work. In a couple cases we’re bundling several small events together. Anyway, to make a long story short, if you belong to a group that wants to bring me to town to help sell the book, I’m flattered and grateful (truly grateful. I don’t think I’ve kept it a secret I’d like this book to succeed), please let me know. I hope we can work it out. But please don’t be offended if we can’t.

Oh, and I’ll be at St. John’s University in Minnesota this Monday night (March 19). It’s at 7:00 p.m. Open to the public. So come on down, or up, or over.

Various and Sundry

If you want a very basic explanation for why big government schemes fail so often, spend a couple minutes watching “Toddler Economics.”

For some reason that reference to a baby bird earlier now has this disturbing scene from Deadwood stuck in my head.

If you haven’t seen Twitchy, and you like making fun of Obama’s historical illiteracy here’s a great twofer.

A list of Charles Dickens’s fake books.

Why Darth Vader is leaving the Empire.

Oh, and: Booger!

On Political Religions

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Dear Reader (and, of course, Andrew who is too busy in heaven right now asking how he can Saran Wrap Saul Alinsky’s toilet),

It seems like this “news”letter has become a death notice of late. I don’t want to write about Andrew here mostly because I would desperately like this to be a brilliant Breitbartian hoax (How great would it be if he’s in some spa so he could slim down enough to fit inside President Obama’s birthday cake, pop out with some videos of Obama shaking Mao’s Little Red Book, or a long-form birth certificate and dancing to Rock the Casbah?). But also because I’m sick of writing about dead people.

Yesterday I reread my Dad’s eulogy because it was his birthday, which happens to come just two weeks or so after the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death, which happened to come just a couple weeks after my sister-in-law’s death. A few hours after I read my Dad’s eulogy, I find myself at Fox being told that Andrew had died.

I am starting to discern a pattern here.

I wrote my column today about Andrew. It tries to make the point I struggled making on Fox yesterday. Andrew’s great strength was that he rejected the authority of those who didn’t deserve it. He was like a mark who realizes he’s been conned for years, an acolyte who wakes up and realizes he’s a member of a cult. It was as if Andrew woke up one day and said, “Your magic – i.e. your liberal guilt, your false charges of racism, your threats to deny me success in your system – it just doesn’t work on me anymore.” He was free from the bad juju and had no fear of it.

It’s a worldview I’m deeply sympathetic to, I hope for at least somewhat understandable reasons. It certainly explains why he loved Liberal Fascism and helped to promote it. He loved learning about how long liberals have been running some of these cons.

Anyway, enough about that for now.

On Political Religions

Speaking of Liberal Fascism, one of its core themes – and mine – is that modern liberalism is a political religion.

That’s why I’ve been so intrigued and frustrated by the discussion around Rick Santorum and his various comments, including: His ham-fisted remarks about wanting to vomit after reading JFK’s church-state speech, his defense of religious freedom, his insistence that Obama’s environmental theology is “not a theology based on Bible. A different theology,” his claim that David Axelrod is the reincarnated snake God Thulsa Doom. These have all sparked controversy, save for the last one, which I simply wish Santorum said.

I basically agree with the substance behind everything Santorum has said in this regard, even if I think his phrasing, timing, tactics, tone, tenor, and emphasis leave something to be desired. How’s that for an “I agree with you in principle but . . .” statement?

The idea that liberalism is a political religion is not an obscure contention of crackpots – even if I do hold it. As [BROKEN LINK] I’ve argued – some would say incessantly– the Progressives saw their political movement as a fundamentally religious one.

The 1960s have been seen by many liberal and leftist intellectuals as a religious awakening. As I wrote in LF:

The religious character of modern liberalism was never far from the surface. Indeed, the 1960s should be seen as another in a series of “great awakenings” in American history – a widespread yearning for new meaning that gave rise to a tumultuous social and political movement. The only difference was that this awakening largely left God behind. Paul Goodman, whose 1960 Growing Up Absurd helped launch the politics of hope in the first part of the decade, came to recognize in the second half how insufficient his original diagnosis had been: “I . . . imagined that the world-wide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, to which I was sympathetic, but I now saw [in 1969] that we had to do with a religious crisis of the magnitude of the Reformation in the fifteen hundreds, when not only all institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of Babylon.”

And a bit later:

In 1965 Harvey Cox, an obscure Baptist minister and former Oberlin College chaplain, wrote The Secular City, which turned him into an overnight prophet. Selling more than one million copies, The Secular City argued for a kind of desacralization of Christianity in favor of a new transcendence found in the “technopolis,” which was “the place of human control, of rational planning, of bureaucratic organization.” Modern religion and spirituality required “the breaking of all supernatural myths and sacred symbols.” Instead, we must spiritualize the material culture to perfect man and society through technology and social planning. In The Secular City “politics replaces metaphysics as the language of theology.” Authentic worship was done not by kneeling in a church but by “standing in a picket line.” The Secular City was an important intellectual hinge to the transition of the 1960s (though we should note that Cox recanted much of its argument twenty years later).

“Man is homo religiosus, by ‘nature’ religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living,” wrote the late Will Herberg.

As the Chestertonian line goes, if man stops believing in God, he won’t believe in nothing he’ll believe in anything. You can make a religion out of anything. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a stupid religion. People have worshipped all sorts of crazy stuff, including tree stumps. But just because it’s stupid to worship tree stumps, doesn’t mean you won’t piss off tree-stump worshippers if you desecrate their stumps. And it doesn’t mean the Holy Faith of Tree Stumpers won’t see competing faiths as a threat to their own. 

I could go on. Really. (“Please, no more about Immanentizing the Eschaton, please.” – The Couch.) I honestly think that today’s liberals have little to no conception of how liberalism has become a religion unto to itself. Indeed, modern politics could be seen as “a chapter in the history of religion.”

This is a huge, fundamental, first-order point about the state of contemporary life that we don’t have nearly the vocabulary to discuss adequately. And that’s why Rick Santorum’s discussion of this stuff is so frustrating: because he’s right, and yet neither he nor the rest of us have the vocabulary to discuss it easily.

If you clear the public square of what we traditionally call religion – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism etc. – we will not have a public square free of religion. We have a public square full of religion fighting under the false flag of “secular values” – with no opposing sources of moral authority to resist it. The utopianism, millenarianism and radical egalitarianism at the emotional core of liberalism are fundamentally religious in nature. That doesn’t mean liberalism is evil or totalitarian. But it is less than totally self-aware.  The nice thing about traditional religion is you know where it comes from. The unwritten faith of liberalism masquerades in the costumes of modernity, progress, social justice and the like without recognizing that liberalism requires leaps of faith, too.

Liberalism’s lack of self-knowledge about its nature makes it very powerful and very dangerous. Liberals can simply claim – without seeming like they’re lying, because they actually believe it – that they are cold, rational presenters of fact and decency. Comte’s “religion of humanity” has forgotten that it is a religion at all. But forgetting something doesn’t make it any less real. Wile E. Coyote forgets there’s no land underneath him. His ignorance doesn’t keep him aloft.

This is how the New Class of experts and helping professions become secular priests of a wholly political religion. We confuse credentials for ordinations, regression analyses for consecrations. And without a conception of a higher authority, without a more enduring and transcendent dogma to inform our consciences, we are left following the captains of rudderless ships leading us to ruin.

Ethicists for the Slaughter of Innocents

For instance, ethicists at Oxford have now declared babies – babies! — are “morally irrelevant” creatures that can be killed without consequence by their parents. This would be horrifying and repugnant enough, save for the fact that among the core missions of the progressive state is to supplant the role and authority of parents [BROKEN LINK].

Follow the logic of secular priests as far as it will go, and you have the recipe for a modern Sparta that makes talk of death panels seem cautious and optimistic.

Various and Sundry!

And on that cheery note: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Crashes the Golden Collars!

Awesome pics from the NY Times photo morgue.

Here‘s the DHS report on Occupy Wall Street. Wear nose plugs.

Did you know the word “Ewok” never appears in Star Wars? Or that there’s no talk of eggs in Humpty Dumpty?

Announcements and Such

My apologies for the late G-File, I was recording a new Ricochet podcast which contains a lot of great stuff about Andrew Breitbart, a discussion of my favorite Star Trek episodes, and an enormous amount of inappropriate sexual humor about Liberace. Here it is.

Oh, and I explain to a blessedly eager James Lileks why I can’t talk about my book but how eager I am for you people to preorder it.

Last, thanks for all the very kind notes and condolences. I really do appreciate it more than I can express.

 

Attack of the Burmese Pythons

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Dear Reader (which doesn’t include David Brock, who apparently is buried deep in a concrete bunker, receiving messages only by Gunga-din-like messengers, for fear that Roger Ailes or SkyNet will triangulate the frequency of the fillings in his teeth),

What speaks barely any French, is sitting by a pool in Hawaii, and has two thumbs?

This moi.

That’s right. I’m in Hawaii. In what has become something close to an annual tradition, my father-in-law has rented a house here on the big island as part of a fiendish plot to con his children and grandchildren into visiting him.

It’s also pretty much the closest warm beach to Fairbanks, Alaska, from whence my in-laws hail.

I was in Fairbanks a few weeks ago. It dipped to a frosty minus-51 degrees while I was there.

Winter is better here.

Invade This!

As this “news” letter demonstrates, this is a working vacation. Indeed, in an effort to dispel prevailing myths about people with names like “Goldberg” I am eager to find a way to write off this trip for my taxes (“I don’t think you know what the word ‘dispel’ means” – The Couch).

I know what you’re thinking, “Good lord, how much does it cost to fly a couch to Hawaii?” Rest assured, if I can hallucinate a wise-ass couch that always criticizes me, I can imagine him into my checked luggage as well.

Personal demons don’t even need a companion ticket, and neither does my dyspeptic sofa.

Anyway, as some of you may recall I recently wrote about the grave problem of illegal-immigrant snakes from Myanmar (formerly Burma) waging an unchecked killing spree in the Florida everglades. I wrote, in part:

Invasive Burmese pythons have nearly wiped out populations of white tail deer, raccoons, and other mammals in the Florida everglades. Now I am not an absolutist when it comes invasive species. I like wild horses and tumbleweeds, for instance. But I am biased against giant frick’n snakes that can eat small children and large dogs illegally sneaking into our country. That’s just me. (Oh and my one word response to the objection that there are no reports of feral Burmese pythons eating children: “Yet.”).

I’ll go one further: I think it is the right and proper role of government to protect us from giant alien snakes that are destroying our environment, threatening our children and pets. If you want to call me a RINO for that, go for it. I can do without the cowboy poetry festivals, but invasive giant snake genocide: mark me down for a yes.

Or as Homer Simpson might have said, “People, giant foreign snakes are eating American dogs with impunity, did we lose a war?”

Among the more asinine responses to this post was the charge that I am a hypocrite for endorsing government action to deal with huge rib-crushing snakes, but not when it comes to, say, the mohair subsidy. I loathe this sort of argument because it contains so much stupidity compacted under a nougat-y layer of ignorance. Conservatives and most libertarians acknowledge that there are times when government must take action. The Constitution begins:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

One can forgive the Founders their love of concision and brevity that they did not explicitly state “this includes eliminating the threat of an invading army of 400 pound, 30-foot long, serpents from the lands of the dictatorial junta of Myanmar.” But I don’t think I’m going down the road of Roe v. Wade or genuflecting at the altar of the living constitution when I assert that it is implied there. And I ain’t talking about no emanations of no penumbras.

The upshot of this sort of argument is that if I am to avoid the charges of hypocrisy or inconsistency and I am in favor of government officials taking seriously the threat of man-eating snakes, I must therefore also endorse the full scope of the New Deal and FDR’s economic bill of rights.

And while I don’t think we necessarily need the federal government to get involved, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine the Burmese pythons mutated in Floridian climes and sprouted hands with opposable thumbs and brains sufficient to the task of constructing rudimentary laser weapons. Would I still be a hypocrite if I had no principled objection to the federal government getting involved?

More realistically, I think that if the feds got out of the way, the state and local governments could do a lot to eliminate the Burmese menace pending such aggressive mutations. As I argued in the Corner, funding bounties and other incentives to hunters should be sufficient to the task for a good old-fashioned “whacking day.”

At least that is what I believe. I’ve proposed to Rich Lowry that I go down to the everglades to report on the situation as part of a larger piece on invasive species.

You’re Reading This to Help Me Avoid Taxes

Which brings me back to my tax write off my working vacation in Hawaii.

The Hawaiian Islands are a perfect place to research invasive species. There are no native non-marine mammals or reptiles here (with the exception of one ludicrous bat). Everything that walks or crawls here was brought either by the original Polynesian settlers or by Whitey®. In the late 1800s, sugar-plantation owners imported mongooses (not mongeese, alas) in the hope that they’d kill the invasive population of rats. Unfortunately, this was what biologists call “a really stupid idea” (the phrase sounds smarter in Latin). The rats are mostly nocturnal. The mongooses are diurnal (which is not to be confused with “die urinal!” – something Gary Busey screams when trying to punish bathroom fixtures with his highly acidic pee).

The result is that the two mammals basically pass each other like the sheepdogs punching in and out of work in the old Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

The islands have a huge population of lizards – all of them were introduced as well by the tag-team of Polynesian and the Man (not to be confused with the short-lived NBC 1970s crime-fighting “dramedy” Polly Nezian & the Man.

I like having the lizards around because they eat bugs and I don’t like bugs. The downside is they crap all over the place like Keith Moon in a hotel room.

There’s a lot of hoopla over the horrors of invasive species, but my view is that they are a mixed blessing. They do less damage than people usually claim. My friend Ronald Bailey has written a lot on the subject and notes that invasive species increase biodiversity and do not lead to extinctions. Indeed, Macalester College biologist Mark A. Davis wrote in the journal BioScience in 2003 that “there is no evidence that even a single long term resident species has been driven to extinction, or even extirpated within a single U.S. state, because of competition from an introduced plant species.”

But that doesn’t mean that invasive species are always a net good. I’m not a biological egalitarian. I think some species are better than other species. Better how? Well, for lots of reasons, but most of them boil down to “Better because I like them more.” I would be heartbroken to see the tiger go. The loss of a species of dung beetle wouldn’t bother me too much, if there were no significant larger ramifications.

Anyway, I’ll be researching these ideas intensely between tropical drinks because Goldberg never takes a vacation, Mr. Taxman.

Various & Sundry

Fascinating examination of whether this gun should come with the advisory “WARNING: DO NOT POINT GUN AT FACE.”

Behold: Lego Jonah Goldberg!

List of Bad Movie Cops.

My regular column today

Oh, and lastly, if you pre-order my new book. Nay – when! – you preorder my new book, save your e-mail receipts. We are working on a Goldberg File subscriber-only premium giveaway. Sort of like a right-wing Happy Meal toy. Haven’t figured out what it is yet, though. But that shouldn’t stop you from pre-ordering now.