Diane Sawyer’s priorities

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Dear Reader (including those of you who are C-Packing, a practice that will be banned in the first term of a Santorum administration!),

I was only there for a little while yesterday. I did a little panel thing that was . . . well, we can talk about that later.

Having been to quite a few of these things, I can tell you that while enthusiasm to be there was high (it really is the ComicCon for right-wing political junkies), enthusiasm about things in general was pretty low. I didn’t see a single Romney sticker or button in the place. The Romney folks respond that that’s because Newt and Santorum had people working the place pressing stickers on anybody they could. Fair enough. But it tells you something that the Romney people didn’t feel like it was worth doing the same thing. It also tells you something that no Romney supporters thought to take up the slack on their own.

That may change in the next day or two, but what I don’t think will change is the general attitude toward this field. Romney isn’t winning sufficient numbers of the GOP base. It’s really that simple. Whether they’re right or wrong in their animus toward Romney is almost immaterial at this point. The simple fact is the attitude is real, and I don’t think it’s going away. And that is a huge problem (see my column today for more).

Diane Sawyer’s Priorities

I’ve been meaning to write about this in last week’s G-File, but since last week’s G-File fell into an ontological and existential lacuna, I couldn’t.

Do you remember the ABC New Hampshire GOP debate? It was the one where Diane Sawyer seemed to be hopped up on Robitussin and model-airplane glue. She and her colleagues asked what seemed to be an endless stream of questions about what (in Sawyer’s words) “real viewers” really care (viewers obviously being the most important and relevant entities in our democratic republic) about gay marriage, gay rights, gay birth control, and other vital issues of gay gayness.

After George Stephanopoulos tried to hold a seminar on the constitutional issues emanating from Griswold v. Connecticut, Sawyer tried to get real:

I want to turn now, if I can, from the constitutional and elevated here to something closer to home and to maybe families sitting in their living rooms across this country. Yahoo sends us questions, as you know. We have them from real viewers. And I’d like to post one because it is about gay marriage. But, at the level, I would really love to be able to ask you what you would say personally sitting in your living rooms to the people who ask questions like this.

Sawyer then read a question from one viewer:

“Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?”

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably seen a lot of people, and not just conservatives, mock Sawyer & Co. for all this. But what I haven’t seen is anyone criticize her for her subsequent interview with the most important opponent of gay marriage in America: The president of the United States. Less than three weeks after the GOP debate, she interviewed Obama and the subject never even came up — and he’s the guy, more than anyone else in America, who is currently responsible for keeping gay marriage at bay.

And yet the subject didn’t even come up! Instead Sawyer fawned over the president, celebrated his latest military victory, and let him reassure “real viewers” how much he wanted to be reelected.

Yes, we all know he was always lying when he said he opposed gay marriage. And we also know that his position has been “evolving.” Heck it’s been mutating. The president of the United States now officially refuses to defend the constitutionality of a law his administration enforces. Last night he raised roughly $1.4 million from a gay married couple in Chicago.

Obviously, I have my theories about what Obama’s real positions are and how he reconciles them with his public actions. But it’s not my job to ask him about all of this. Nor do I find it the most interesting or important issue facing us today. But do you know who does?

Diane “The Real Viewers C’est Moi” Sawyer!

The point here isn’t simply to highlight for the millionth time the reality of media bias. It’s to note how issues like homosexuality now only have one purpose when it comes to political reporting: Make conservatives look weird. In all of these debates gay marriage and similar issues are not brought out to elicit a serious argument or elucidate a meaningful principle. The whole point is to get Republicans to look sex obsessed, “homophobic,” or mean.

If the substance of the issue mattered, you’d think Diane Sawyer would ask the one guy running for president with any control over the issue to explain himself. Heck, you’d think she’d ask the one guy whose position on these matters is an incoherent mess to clarify his views. But no. Asking Obama about these things would only hurt Obama. And that’s not why she’s in this business.

One Year Later

It was a year ago today that my brother died.

A couple weeks after the funeral, I wrote in the G-File:

Unique is a misunderstood word. Pedants like to say there’s no such thing as “very unique.” I don’t think that’s true. For instance, we say that each snowflake is unique. That’s true. No two snowflakes are alike. But that doesn’t mean that pretty much all snowflakes aren’t very similar. But, imagine if you found a snowflake that was ten feet in diameter and hot to the touch, I think it’d be fair to say it was very unique. Meanwhile, each normal snowflake has its own contours, its own one-in-a-billion-trillion characteristics, that will never be found again.

Families are similarly unique. Each has its own cultural contours and configurations. The uniqueness might be hard to discern from the outside and it certainly might seem trivial to the casual observer. Just as one platoon of Marines might look like another to a civilian or one business might seem indistinguishable from the one next door. But, we all know the reality is different. Every meaningful institution has a culture all its own. Every family has its inside jokes, its peculiar way of doing things, its habits and mores developed around a specific shared experience.

One of the things that keeps slugging me in the face is the fact that the cultural memory of our little family has been dealt a terrible blow. Sure, my mom’s around, but sons have a different memory of family life than parents. And Josh’s recall for such things was always not only better than mine, but different than mine as well. I remembered things he’d forgotten and vice versa. In what seems like the blink of an eye, whole volumes of institutional memory have simply vanished. And that is a terribly lonely thought, that no amount of company and condolence can ease or erase.

Alas, that’s still true. I can feel so much of my life fading away like a photograph left too long in the sun, so many memories like a name forever on the tip of my tongue. Punch lines to stories are forgotten, making trying to remember the stories they hang on too painful to bother.

I don’t quote poetry much because I don’t know a lot of poetry, and it always seems fake to me when people go hunting for poems to fit the occasion. But, particularly since my wife’s sister Paulie died last month, I keep remembering when, in my junior year of high school, we read John Donne’s “No Man is an Island”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I remember my English teacher saying that she didn’t find the “argument” of the poem all that persuasive. And I also remember responding that I did, though perhaps not entirely in the way that Donne did. At the time, I argued that the world and the universe is an infinite mystery and we’re all – in the most catholic sense – trying to figure it out. The loss of anyone is the loss of a perspective, a necessarily unique perspective, on that mystery. Everyone is a clue to the riddle, everyone is on the team trying to solve the puzzle.

I don’t know if that made too much sense then, or now. But it felt right to me for a long time.

It doesn’t anymore. The poem’s meaning has more significance for me now, but in a different way. We each live in our own world. I don’t mean this as a matter of solipsism. There are other people in our world: our families, our friends, the people we know, care for, or admire. We’re part of little solar systems or galaxies, our own gravitational pulls and pushes worked out to a passable harmony through trial and error – sometimes lots of error. It’s not heliocentric in any hard Newtonian way, because everything’s moving simultaneously. New bodies come and, alas, they go. And when one body is yanked out of the balance, everyone’s trajectory changes. When my father died, it felt like I was a moon that had lost its earth.

It’s an extended metaphor I’m not sure is worth extending much further. But the point is that my old view of Donne’s poem was horribly romantic. There is no real connection between me and a total stranger half-way around the world. He is an abstraction to me and I to him. That doesn’t mean he is – or should be – nothing to me. Abstractions are not nothing. They are extremely important, or at least they can be.

The people in your life, however, are not abstractions. And their loss does diminish you, not least because your life cannot be squeezed into you alone. A lot of your life is on other servers and hard drives, as it were. When you lose those you love, you literally lose a part of yourself and a piece of all the things you hold dear.

In this very real sense, when the bell tolled for Josh – and when it tolled for Paulie, too – it tolled for me.

Various & Sundry

A vital post on the implausibility of the Star Wars Death Star trash compactor.    

Ten common misconceptions debunked [BROKEN LINK].  

Mmmmm Door mice.  

Twelve ways for Liam Neeson to kill you.  

Me stuff:

I’ve done a lot of new media stuff in the last week or so. Here’s my appearance on Uncommon Knowledge

Here’s my “debate”  with Matt Welch on whether Libertarians are part of the conservative movement. Answer: They are. (I like Matt a lot, but I don’t think he made much of a case that they’re not.)

Here’s a podcast interview with me about the subject.

Here’s a state policy network video, in which I appear.

I appeared on a panel yesterday at CPAC and eventually that video will be available somewhere. It all went fine, I suppose. Cal Thomas, flung the red meat to the crowd as only he can. I’m sure I’m just being a little thin-skinned, but I was a little put out that I wasn’t asked to speak on my own this year. You might recall, last year I was named the Conservative Journalist of the Year by CPAC, but because of my brother’s accident, I couldn’t receive the award (Rich graciously accepted in my absence). I assumed they’d at least ask me to deliver this year’s award as is the custom. But they went a different way. I’m positive no offense was intended, and it’s entirely possible I’m just being dyspeptic for, I hope, obvious reasons.

Anyway, in much cheerier news, the cover – art by NR’s own Roman Genn! – for my forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Clichés, is up over at the Amazon page, though the product description isn’t yet. Still, the idea that that should stop you from pre-ordering it now strikes me as one of the most preposterous contentions in the history of mankind.

To the Moon!

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Dear Reader (and those of you just hanging out here because Mitt Romney paid you to show your support),

I’m on the train to Philly to talk to a bunch of congressmen about “Liberal Fascism: Three Years Later.”

Who knew Obama would throw me a bone with that State of the Union? I’ve already vented about it quite a bit in my column and in the Corner and to this poor bastard sitting next to me.

Me: “Did you know that Mussolini was partially inspired by William James’s ‘Moral Equivalent of War’ stuff, too? It was one of the foundational concepts of both fascism and American progressivism. If you go back and read the works of Georges Sorel you’ll see that . . .”

Poor Bastard: “Sir, I am on the phone and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Me: “I know, that’s what I’m trying to explain to you. Militarism doesn’t simply mean bellicosity, it’s a vision for how to organize society. When my book comes out you’ll see how . . .”

Poor Bastard: “Sir. I am still on the phone. And why are you are still sitting in my lap?”

The Limits of the F-Word

I’m often asked why I don’t invoke Liberal Fascism more in my columns (I think I’ve mentioned the book twice in two years in my syndicated column). It’s not like I have a strong principled position against self-promotion. Heck, if you folks can get my next book to open at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list this spring like Mark Levin’s, I will shave my head on YouTube swallow a goldfish on YouTube kiss Helen Thomas on the mouth do something whacky to be named later.

Basically, the answer is that Liberal Fascism was a failure in at least one regard. It was never my intent to make abuse of the F-word a bipartisan affair. The idea was simply that the Left should stop using the word because they don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re looking in the wrong direction in their eternal vigilance for fascism. Conservatism in the Anglo-American tradition has no basis in, or relation to, European fascism. And it is not just slanderous but hypocritical for liberals to hurl the term at conservatives when the fact is American progressivism does share DNA with European fascism. But that doesn’t mean we should go around calling liberals fascists.

We shouldn’t do it because it’s rarely true or appropriate, but we also shouldn’t do it because most Americans are sufficiently ignorant about the nature of fascism to make conservatives hurling the term sound crazy or extreme. It’s counterproductive. The irony for me is that my critics on the left insist that the whole point of the book was to call liberals fascists. It really wasn’t, which is why it failed in at least one regard.

So, yes, I could absolutely have written today’s column about the similarities between Obama’s fantasy of a militarized America and fascist doctrine (Mussolini described the exact same thing as the “socialism of the trenches”!). But, as George H.W. Bush used to say, that wouldn’t be prudent. And prudence, unlike fascism, is at the heart of conservatism.

To the Moon!

I’ve got to say, I don’t like the way everyone thinks Newt’s desire to go back to the moon is proof of his craziness. Now, yes, when the country is drowning in debt, proposing a moon colony is arguably politically crazy (though Floridians on the Space Coast probably don’t think so). Indeed, when you have a reputation for saying whacked-out stuff, leading with your lunar ambitions can be confused too easily for lunacy itself (“I see what you did there” – The Couch).

But look: I like the idea of space exploration and I see it as one of the few areas where government can and should be involved. No, that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of a big white elephant, or Amtrak in space. I think Gingrich is largely right about prizes and the like. When Romney had his line about corporate America having no interest in going to space, he was being deliberately obtuse. Of course “corporate America” isn’t much interested in going to space (though obviously some firms are). That’s why you create prizes so you can get corporate America, and Americans generally, interested in going to space. 

I’m a cathedrals-in-space guy. In a previous life, I made a breathtakingly mediocre documentary about Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I learned a lot in the process. One of the enduring takeaways for me was that there are some things society invests in to inspire everyone. The rich can always afford art and inspiration; cathedrals provided art and inspiration for rich and poor alike. In the Middle Ages, cathedral-building represented a space race of a sort. They were built on the highest land around and city-states competed to build the tallest spires in order to get closer to God.

We are a pioneering people, and I see the effort to, as Reagan said, “slip thesurly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God” as a worthwhile endeavor for a great nation. I bet the Founders would be more comfortable with the idea of American expansion to the moon than with, say, Medicare. Can you say “Louisiana Purchase in spa-a-a-a-a-a-ace”?

If that’s all too frilly for you, think of it this way: Lord knows I’m no Keynesian, but if you believe even a fraction of this multiplier stuff or a scintilla about the need to train up a new generation of scientists and engineers, then spending money on space exploration makes a lot more sense than most of the junk in the stimulus. I’m completely pragmatic about how to do it, and heavily biased toward free-market approaches, but I think it’s worth doing.

The mockery of Gingrich over this seems more like a poor reflection on our own national spirit than on Gingrich himself.

Cutting It Short Today

I’m now back on the train to D.C. My speech to the congressmen about Liberal Fascism three years later was short but well received. I was almost late for it because the train was delayed. You’d think that when I’m giving a talk on liberal fascism, Obama could at least make the trains run on time.

I’m in California next week – come on down to UCSB on the first if you can. It’s open to the public and, as Newt knows, it always helps to have a friendly crowd. Embarcadero Hall, 6:45.

Farewell

While I despair that today’s G-File was so mediocre for all the normal reasons, I’m also deeply chagrined to contemplate the fact that this is the last G-File I will ever inflict on Helen Rittelmeyer, who has been dutifully editing this “News”letter from the beginning. She’s moving on to new adventures and I’m grateful for her efforts (as you should be, given some of the things she’s yanked out of the G-File like Richard Dreyfuss pulling license plates from a shark). I’m sure she will move on to great things.

Dog-whistles and clarion calls

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Dear Reader (and the owner of the 9,097,812,417th monkey who successfully banged out this “News”letter on his own – not to be confused with an earlier monkey who appeared in an earlier form of this gag),

“To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

Before we get into it, let me just say, I disagree with Newt here. I can imagine a lot of things that would be more despicable. A lot more despicable.

Just off the top of my head: John King could have held a gun to a panda cub’s head and opened fire every time one of the debaters went over his time limit. Even more despicable, he could have pulled the trigger before the time limit, just to know what it feels like. CNN could have doctored videos of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum so that they appeared to be playing Stratego with each other. Oh, wait did I say “playing Stratego”? I meant to say “having wild gay sex, with a midget riding a pogo stick in the background and an expression that says ‘Things are going to get a lot weirder than this.’“

And keep in mind, that’s just a fraction of the things that could have happened in the studio. There’s a whole universe of wildly despicable things that are worse than what John King did – wildly despicable things that I can conjure from my feeble imagination like demons from a bottomless pit of depravity that I must contain lest they overwhelm us all. And that’s just me. Imagine the despicable things Newt could imagine. Take a long look at him while he’s laughing sometime, and then think of all things that could be going through his mind. It stews the bowels.

Moreover, what John King did really wasn’t that despicable. I think he had to ask the question. Maybe he didn’t have to open the debate with it, but it had to be asked, Newt knew it had to be asked, and he was waiting for it like a lion at the coliseum on “Punish the Blind Beggars Night.”

Gingrich’s rage was well articulated, but it seemed canned to me. If he really believed that John King did one of the most despicable things imaginable, why did he rush up to King to congratulate him on a great job immediately after the debate?

Part of it is just me. When I lose my temper at someone, when I’m convinced they’ve done something bad – never mind close to the most despicable thing I can imagine – it stays with me. I suspect the same is true with Gingrich. So when he (and, I believe, Callista) ran over to do the post-game chit-chat, it struck me that the term “post-game” isn’t just an expression – it really was a game. I have to hope at least some of the people who gave Gingrich a standing ovation for his theatrical outrage recognize that.

Where’s That National Conversation?

I’m not going to do a whole post-debate wrap-up (here are my initial thoughts from last night), but there’s a point I want to make, picking up on the previous debate. Juan Williams stirred the pot by asking Newt Gingrich about his comments on food stamps, child labor, and all that. I thought Juan got a little too righteous and sweeping in his characterization, but I also think conservatives offended by the question are off-base. It was fair game, and Newt won the exchange in all the ways that mattered, i.e. with the Republican voters in the audience and watching at home.

But the mainstream press won’t let it go. They insist there are dog whistles, troubling implications, racial overtones, etc., to Gingrich’s comments. I think that’s all for the most part a crock (as I argued here last December). Moreover, if what Gingrich says is out of bounds, if he can’t say what he thinks out loud without all this nonsense, how are we ever going to have this “national conversation about race” liberals keep clamoring for?

As I’ve written a million times now, the pattern goes like this. Liberals insist that we must talk openly and honestly about race. A conservative says something open and honest about race. Liberals scream “Racist!” and try to destroy him for saying what liberals hoped he would say. The same goes for gays these days. In the ABC debate, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopolous made it seem like they were eager to deal with the thorny issues raised by homosexuality in America. But what was obvious to everyone was that all they were really interested in was trapping one of the candidates into saying something that the media could go hysterical about.

On Work

Look, there are a lot of issues, biases, and misinterpretations swirling around whenever white Republicans talk about the travails of inner-city blacks. Indeed, one of the most annoying criticisms I get is that I can’t write or say anything about the plight of inner-city blacks because of my race or background. I think that’s unpersuasive for too many reasons to recount here. It’s also more often than not a pretty naked attempt to police unwelcome perspectives. I mean, nobody ever tells white liberals they can’t talk about race. Why? Because white liberals say whatever black liberals want to hear for the most part.

But let’s not get into all of that. Suffice it to say there’s room for a lot of different theories and interpretations out there. But I think people haven’t really figured out that one big reason people appreciate Gingrich’s talk about the importance of work is this: Conservatives really like work. Liberals really like “jobs.”

That’s a subtle distinction for some, but I think it’s a major cultural and sociological divide. Conservatives don’t see too much nobility in poverty (though they don’t necessarily see shame in it either). Liberals treat poverty like it is a sacrament of some kind. Conservatives emphasize habits of the heart. Liberals emphasize material conditions. Liberals exalt labor unions, whose purpose is to maximize the number of jobs offered but curtail as much as possible the amount of work required to get a paycheck. Conservatives think jobs should be allotted based entirely on merit. Liberals think jobs should be allotted based, at least in part, on considerations of need, race, and gender.

When Gingrich talks about the glories of work, it resonates with conservative audiences on a host of levels that have absolutely nothing to do with race. Indeed, for me and I think a lot of conservatives, the reason we find the racial aspects of the argument compelling is that we have a serious and humane concern for the plight of inner-city blacks. I don’t know many conservatives who don’t believe in their bones that if poor blacks from broken homes could just have the same work ethic and values as, say, immigrant Koreans, they would be significantly better off (and they feel the same way about poor whites from broken homes!). A liberal hears that and thinks it’s simply racist. But that’s not how it is intended. And this isn’t to say there aren’t other factors at play, but conservatives side with Booker T. Washington while liberals side with W.E.B. Du Bois. It breaks my heart that Republicans haven’t been better at embracing the Washingtonian tradition.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. Herman Cain represents the Booker T. Washington tradition and that’s one reason why he’s such a natural fit in the Republican party.

And so does Clarence Thomas. There’s a wonderful scene in Thomas’s memoirs. When he was just a little kid growing up in abject poverty (his mother could barely put food on the table), he and his brother were left homeless by a fire. His grandfather agreed to take them in. He told Thomas, then seven years old and hardly living the good life, that his “damn vacation is over.” Thomas’s grandfather believed in backbreaking work. “Never let the sun catch you in bed.” I have never met a conservative who doesn’t eat that stuff up.

Yes, of course, there are plenty of hardworking liberals and slothful conservatives. My only point is that the rhetoric of conservatism has frequencies that liberals have a hard time hearing. What they think is a dog-whistle about race is in fact clarion call about the virtues of work, for blacks and whites alike.

 

Quick Question

I’m giving a speech next week on the subject of Liberal Fascism three years later. Obviously, I have some ideas on the subject, but if you have ideas or examples of how Obama fits into the themes of my book (preferably ones that are non-obvious but also non-crazy) send ‘em my way.

Various & Sundry

Last week’s G-File was what some people call “divisive.” Some people loved it, some people really hated it. One lady on Twitter told me that she loves William F. Buckley and she loves Greg Gutfeld, but she doesn’t like it when the two come together in the G-File. In that spirit, I told her agere sequitur credere and then I drove out to her house and set her tool shed on fire. I try to mix things up around here style-wise, mostly because I’m always in a different mood when I write these things on Friday mornings. So some G-Files are weirder than others. If you don’t like this week’s, you might like next week’s. After all, it’s not like I ever take the same medication and/or dosage two weeks in a row.

The important thing – really the only thing – is that you all agree now to buy my book when it comes out. I kid, I kid. There are, like, three other important things. I just bring it up because I’m dealing with a lot of stuff with my publisher: book tour details, the cover art, edits, whether to keep the centerfold, etc., and I’m starting to get stressed out about the whole thing. I really like this book (and if you like the G-File you should too) and, more importantly, I need it do well so I can justify doing things like the Goldberg File, working at National Review, and spending vast swaths of disposable income on exotic Scotch-tape dispensers.

Anyway, this is what they call in the movie business “foreshadowing,” or more technically “foreshadowing so obvious you might as well turn to the screen and shout at the audience.” There’s going to be book plugging in here come this spring. There will also be tales from the book tour, book-talk announcements, etc. I hope to keep it all edifying and entertaining. But, please, do your part. For now, if you’re interested in having me come do a book talk to a group (preferably large, capable of buying books, and with access to some kind of indoor venue), drop me a line.

In the meantime, speaking of weird collections . . .

Here’s a collection of predictions from Ladies’ Home Journal from a century ago.

Here’s a collection of  dismaying statistics about our president.

Here’s a collection of suggestions for where to go if Western Civilization goes tits-up.

Here’s a collection of the 7 weirdest things about women’s clothing.

And of course, here are some weird collections of collections.

Capitalism on My Mind

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Dear Reader,

“I think a lot of people like capitalism in theory but not in practice,” the inestimable Mr. Nordlinger (which sounds a lot like “the Talented Mr. Ripley,” though I should be clear the similarities end there) wrote recently in the Corner.

That statement, which I think is inarguably true, has been rolling around in my head like something that loudly rolls around inside something else in an unexpected but bizarrely analogous way.

But I also think there are people who don’t like capitalism in theory but like it – like it a lot! – in practice. The most obvious example is the familiar class of poo-flinging Hollywood gibbons who seem to believe there is no incongruity in spending large sums of money on white-smock-clad cadres of small third-world women to provide intensive grooming of their undercarriages while at the same time insisting that Communism is a great idea. It’s as if they think that, under true socialism, they’d still be able to get a Brazilian wax.

The more consistent bunch are those in academia who hate capitalism both in theory and in practice. They rightly understand that under socialism they would probably be better off — not materially perhaps, but certainly in terms of their status in society. I’ve always believed that if capitalism rewarded poetry majors more, free markets would be in a lot better shape today.

Where Are the Odes to Enterprise?

Think about it. Socialism is about enforced conformity, central planning, and homogeneity. It reduces people to purely economic actors and is traditionally predicated on the theory that there are cold, immutable forces controlling the course of history. Free markets, meanwhile, are about creativity, self-determination, risk, failure, success, self-fulfillment, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The free market assumes that the future is an undiscovered country that each of us can explore and homestead to the best of our abilities. Like I said when I gave my wife a sixer of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a large bag of extra-spicy beef jerky, “That’s pretty frick’n romantic.”

And yet, how many odes to the free market are there? I don’t know the answer, of course, but my hunch is: not many. I do strongly suspect that respected poems – and plays, novels, movies, songs, sculptures, paintings, etc. – celebrating socialism outnumber ones dedicated to free markets by a greater margin than people who would prefer to feed a large group of dyspeptic and hungry badgers sticky wet marshmallows from a crotch-mounted papier-mâché bowl are outnumbered by those who’d prefer a free vacation to Hawaii instead.

My apologies for using such technical social-science metrics.

High Status Anxiety, It’s You that I Blame

Anyway, the point is that certain academic and romantic types hate capitalism because A) it doesn’t make them rich, comparatively speaking, and B) it doesn’t make them sufficiently powerful or important either.

Hold on, I know what you’re saying: “If the police find all of those decapitated Barbie dolls in my trunk, they might find it suspicious.” And after that, you’re saying, “Wait a second, Goldberg’s sounding an awful lot like Richard Hofstadter here.”

And it’s true: I am starting to sound like Hofstadter. A quick recap: The late liberal historian Richard Hofstadter – borrowing from Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School, but also a little from Max Weber and C. Wright Mills – used to call this sort of thing “status anxiety.” According to Hofstadter, the progressives craved “reform,” the populists yearned for political upheaval, and the new Right sought vengeance and purity of some kind, all because these groups couldn’t handle the psychological tumult and loss of prestige that came with capitalism, industrialization, and modernity.

Hofstadter wrote somewhere – maybe the bathroom wall at Columbia, I’m not sure — that his generation grew up on the Marxist reductionism that says everyone’s behavior is motivated by economic self-interest. Hofstadter’s emphasis on status represented progress of a sort because he at least argued that people have other motives – which is true. The problem is that Hofstadter — and generations of his intellectual offspring — ended up arguing that movements that do not follow their strict economic interests (as defined by Hofstadter and smug liberals everywhere) are therefore irrational. Liberalism was in your objective economic self-interest, so if you aren’t liberal you aren’t rational.

The result, as Christopher Lasch argued, is that we were left with an analytical framework designed to be richer and more nuanced than cold economic determinism but ended up being a mode of slander that reinforces Marxist clichés by holding that anyone who deviates from their economic interests is nuttier than Mr. Peanut (forms of nuttiness can include racism, overt acts of Christianity, opposition to illegal immigration, fear of Communism, not voting for Barack Obama, as well as more traditional salted and dry-roasted flavors of nuttiness).

We see the legacy of this sort of thing all over the place, as I’ve written . . . let’s see, carry the 2, uh . . . about a trillion times. See: Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas; Obama’s remarks that the voters who didn’t support him in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary were bitter clingers who couldn’t let go of their sky god and boomsticks; the editorial page of the New York Timesfrom 1952 thru 2012; and so on.

Where I deviate from crude Hofstadterism is that I don’t think you have to be crazy or psychologically insecure to care about non-economic issues. A lot of the things in politics we really care about have little or nothing to do with narrow economic self-interest, and of course status plays a role in how we view the world. A society that rewards everything you care about and value will seem more healthy than a society that doesn’t. So I understand the folks who dislike capitalism in theory and in practice. I think they’re wrong and to a certain degree selfish. But I understand where they are coming from.

The Praxis of Evil?

Now, how did I get here? Oh, right. I took the blue pill. Anyway, perhaps because the Goldberg File would not exist were it not crafted inside the white-hot furnace of my own solipsism (hey, look, a naked Indian just offered me a Krispy Kreme donut!), I think the more interesting folks are the ones – like me – who have more problems with capitalism in theory than we do with capitalism in practice.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Krispy Kreme donuts, I just prefer them glazed . . . Oh, sorry, I was talking to the Indian.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig capitalism in theory. What has two thumbs and digs free markets? This guy (my thumbs are currently pointed me-ward, which makes typing incredibly difficult). But I have more problems with it in theory than I do in practice, for the simple reason that I think capitalism is an insufficient theory of human behavior. My friend Ronald Bailey always used to say that if socialism worked, he’d probably be a socialist, but since it doesn’t, what’s the point in being a socialist?

I’m not sure I go entirely that far. If socialism worked – and defining what works is a very messy subject – I’d probably still have problems with it. Free speech doesn’t always work – some people say dangerous and unhelpful things – but I’m still in favor of free speech. Similarly, free enterprise could be as bad as the Left claims and I’d still support it on the grounds that free enterprise is a form of freedom. That doesn’t mean it can’t be regulated where necessary, like speech, but at the end of the day the ideal is to maximize liberty. What was it Robert Nozick said? “The socialist society would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults.” Then again if socialism worked, it would be much harder to defend abstract freedoms that make people poorer.

There are some capitalist purists who are in shocking agreement with socialists. Both reduce human behavior to mere economics. What separates the capitalists from the socialists is this: The former are comfortable with reducing human behavior to mere economic self-interest, and the latter aren’t. They think that if you just shove the round peg of humanity into the square hole of socialism hard enough, you can make people not care about economic self-interest (ironically these are the same people who favor socialism precisely because it’s all about economic self-interest).

Socialists find capitalism unlovely in theory, so they go looking for lovely theories like a little girl looking for daisies. The seductive power of lovely theories that aren’t true is well-established (See: 20th Century, Socialist Horrors). It can be found in the coprophagous phylum of intellectuals who keep insisting that socialism has “never been tried,” which is every dumber than saying “no one has ever tried to ride a unicorn” — which is at least true, because unicorns don’t exist.

In theory, I would much prefer if cute animals weren’t dangerous. Who wouldn’t like to hug a grizzly bear? The problem is that in fact, and contrary to reputation, the grizzly bear is not a hugger, strictly speaking. A similar line of thinking explains why most people opt not to exercise the aforementioned hungry badger option.

Ultimately, whether you like capitalism in theory is irrelevant so long as you accept that it’s superior in fact. Capitalism alleviates poverty. Socialism democratizes poverty. Conservatives can accept that capitalism has some unlovely implications while still celebrating its lovely result. If that hurts the feelings of the corporphagous set, so be it. As Emerson said, there’s a “certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.”

Capitalism on My Mind

Given the riot of beclowning cannibalism overtaking the GOP these days, you might understand why capitalism is on my mind. But I didn’t want to do the usual defense of Bain and private equity. Still, if you’re interested in such stuff, here’s my latest column, which touches on the subject. Also see our editorial  and Rich’s column.

Various and Sundry

Yes, Pets with Newt is for real [BROKEN LINK]. I like that the pets are “with” Newt and not “for” Newt. There’s a certain Narnian quality to using “with.” It’s as if the animals have expressed their solidarity in the great battles ahead. I can imagine things at Newt HQ: “Quiet, everybody! I just received word: The ferrets are with us!”

Ten things our kids will never have to worry about, thanks to the information revolution.

The New Hampshire NR event was great fun. Thanks to all of you who came down for it, particularly those who stayed to the bitter end.

Speaking of bitter ends, I was not a big fan of 2011. As I joked on the comedy panel, I feel like I should be down at the police station with a detective asking “Show me where on the doll 2011 touched you.” Anyway, in case you missed it, here is my 2011 year-in-review column. I had to stop around 750 words (unlike the Goldberg File, to my editor’s chagrin), but I think I could expanded on my argument for another 2,000 words).

I will be speaking at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on February 1. Details to come.

I will be speaking at CPAC. Details to come.

I will be speaking in the Air Alaska bathroom, air marshals to come.

In tribute to Mollie Hemingway, the word of the day is retromingent.

Sincere Gratitude

Finally, as I mentioned last week, my wonderful friend and sister-in-law has died. Indeed, I’m finishing this G-File on the plane to her funeral in Fairbanks, Alaska (thanks to in-flight wifi). Pauli was a fan of the G-File and I like to think she’s reading it now and is pleased by it. Regardless, I want to say thank you to all of the readers who shared their condolences. It was appreciated.

Was Santorum Successful or Just Lucky

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Dear Reader (including those of you who didn’t miss their flight to New Hampshire like I did and are not now sitting at Reagan National Airport waiting five hours for the next one),

It was a first for me: Charles Krauthammer snapped at me on Special Report, “Give me a break!”

The context matters a bit. Charles and Bret Baier – praise be upon them – both subscribe to the view that Santorum’s retail-politicking doggedness in Iowa had finally paid off. While I don’t want to denigrate Santorum’s impressive work ethic and hustle, I don’t buy it, at least not entirely. I think Santorum’s political victory in Iowa (though not technically a win) was largely attributable to the fact that he was the last non-Mitt left standing and unscathed. The race to find a non-Romney has been a game of musical chairs, and Santorum was in a great spot when the music stopped. Yes, he might deserve to be the conservative alternative to Romney, but as Clint Eastwood says in Unforgiven, “Deserve ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”

(The narrow context of Charles’s exclamation stemmed from the fact that he thought I was saying Santorum was no more qualified to be the frontrunner than Herman Cain – which wasn’t my point at all.)

Obviously, there’s a chicken-egg dynamic at work. If Santorum hadn’t worked so hard at the retail politicking, he might not have been in a position to take advantage of the Newtastrophe (“Newtplosion”?) in Iowa. When Newt surged last month, everyone said his timing couldn’t have been better. If you’re going to surge, surge late, goes the conventional wisdom. Townhall magazine’s cover for January features Newt vs. Mitt with the tagline “Gingrich: The last non-Romney standing.” Well, they – we – were wrong. Think of it this way: Remember when Indiana Jones is escaping that South American temple and he manages to slide under the closing door in the nick of time? The audience thinks he just made it with not a moment to spare. But wait – then he grabs his hat! The hat is Santorum.

Okay, don’t think of it that way. But you get my point.

Santorum may now translate his deserved/undeserved victory into even more political success. But he’s a fool if he takes it for granted. Rick Perry took it for granted that he deserved to be a frontrunner because he’s Rick Perry from Texas, dammit. Newt Gingrich took it for granted that he was going to be the nominee, because the polls and the guiding hand of History spoke to him the way goat guts talked to Greek priests.

They all blew it because they were unprepared to take advantage of their luck. Santorum’s in an even trickier spot, because it may just be too difficult to exploit his luck now, but at least he’s proven that he doesn’t take anything for granted. In that sense, at least, he earned his win.

Iowahhhhhhhh!

I don’t want to sound to sound hyper-cynical (I want to hide my hyper-cynicism just enough so that it sounds like objective-yet-biting analysis), but one of the reasons I am skeptical about the Santorum-earned-his-win line is that it’s in everyone’s interest to subscribe to it.

Obviously Santorum wants to believe it. Between believing that a year of tireless campaigning on the ideas you hold most dear bore fruit or believing that you in effect won the lottery, which do you think is the more attractive prospect? In a similar vein, my hunch is that most rich and powerful men like to think that their Hawaiian Tropic model trophy wives married them because of their fantastic sense of humor and sex-Ninja bedroom skills. And, conversely, the model likes to think she landed the big kahuna because of her searing intellect, commitment to the environment, and astounding skill at making potholders and candlesticks from 100 percent recycled materials.

A related point could be made – nay, will be made! – about Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Obama always discounted the fact that his initial success had less to do with his ideas or compelling arguments and more to do with the fact that voters simply wanted a change and he was the most change-y plausible candidate. George W. Bush, meanwhile, benefited enormously from polls in 1998-9 that reflected nostalgia for his father, not support for him. It didn’t matter – both men exploited advantages they didn’t deserve, which is what smart politicians do.

Anyway, back to Iowa. Santorum’s not alone in having an interest in promulgating the idea that he earned his win through old-fashioned politics. Gingrich subscribes to it because it not only helps to explain why he cratered there, but also lets him denounce Romney’s allegedly outrageous campaign tactics. Romney likes the idea because it enables him to claim that Iowa was a minor part of his “national campaign.” But most of all, the press and the Iowa hacktocracy are deeply invested in the idea.

In the last few months, we kept hearing from reporters how sad it was that the old Iowa model was shrinking in our rearview mirror, giving way to the hideous megaplex of national debates and viral videos. Or something. I remember NBC’s Chuck Todd saying about a week before the caucuses that Iowa was only then starting to resemble the traditional model. Reporters like the traditional model. They get to eat fried butter and pork chops on a stick in the traditional model.

The only people more invested in the traditional model than reporters are the Iowa political class. Look, I’m sure Terry Brandstad’s a nice guy, and I’ll take their word for it that he’s a pretty good governor. But I am overjoyed that I don’t have to hear his mind-numbingly banal cheerleading for Iowa any more. As a Republican pundit, Branstad is hard to distinguish from Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Wasserman-Schultz is the blonde), and as an Iowa booster, he reminds me of the mayor in Jaws who wants to keep the beaches open no matter what. It’s all so transparent.

So when Rick Santorum runs the old-fashioned way – reaffirming the glorious, democratic, republican virtues of corn-fueled campaigning – of course the Iowa hacktocracy is going to celebrate. “See! That’s how it’s done! You’ve got to put in the time!”

I’m not saying that everyone who subscribes to the view that Santorum pulled it out because of his pluck and nerve is wrong. I’m just saying that we should be watchful about readily believing that line simply because it reaffirms what we – or at least some of us – want to hear.

It . . . Is . . . Alive!

Oh, there’s yet another constituency that wants to believe that Rick Santorum’s success was based purely on the merits – people who subscribe to Santorum’s political philosophy. Here’s Michael Gerson this morning, pounding the drum for his cause:

But perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to its center. Rick Santorum is not just an outspoken social conservative; he is the Republican candidate who addresses the struggles of blue-collar workers and the need for greater economic mobility.

Gerson is certainly right that Santorum’s win has put compassionate conservatism back in the limelight for the first time in years. Indeed, as I told someone the next morning, my biggest problem with Santorum’s surge is that it represents a comeback for compassionate conservatism, only he actually really believes in it. Unfortunately, the person I told this to was a barista at Starbucks who hadn’t been talking to me. She responded, “Huh?” and I said, “Oh, sorry. My internal monologue dampener is on the fritz again.” At which point the small German man living in my head named Fritz said “Ja! And it is killing me!Gott im Himmel!”

The great thing about the limelight is that it makes it a lot easier to hit whatever’s in the limelight with a great big mallet. So where’d I put that mallet?

I’m not saying I disagree with all of Santorum’s ideas, and I certainly don’t think his concerns about the working class and the family are illegitimate or unfounded. I’ll even admit that my biggest problem with compassionate conservatism is the label itself. Yes, it bothered me that Bush (and Gerson) were insinuating that conservatives who disagree with their policies lack compassion. But my problem with the label goes deeper than that.

The very idea of compassionate conservatism buys into the bedrock fallacy of Great Society and New Deal liberalism – that the quality of your soul is directly correlated to your commitment to bloated, inefficient government programs. It embraces the fundamental category error of progressivism, the idea that the government can love you. Some of Santorum’s ideas may be sound. And he may be driven by love for his fellow man. But government is a poor conductor of love.

In Memoriam

In the last G-File, I was pretty gloomy for reasons I don’t need to rehearse here. Alas, things have only gotten worse since then. Right after Christmas we got news that one of my wife’s sisters had taken a terrible and sudden turn for the worse in her fight against cancer. My wife left immediately to be with her, while I stayed behind to take care of our daughter and the animals. Jessica has been out there ever since, caring for Paulie as best she could. Paulie died yesterday. She was a beautiful, brilliant, quirky, funny, unbelievably opinionated woman who was always a joy to be around. I’d write about her more, but it’s too soon and I’m already crying in an airport trying to type this.

Rest in peace.

Sorry, but that’s it for today.

By Great Odin’s Raven, Have a Merry Christmas!

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Dear Reader (but not the ghostwriter who I will one day claim wrote all of the offensive things in the Goldberg File that I will eventually disassociate myself from and walk off the set if any TV interviewers dare ask me about it),

By Great Odin’s Raven, Have a Merry Christmas!

In my column today, I briefly discuss how Hollywood’s effort to make Santa a more “inclusive” figure – inclusive means “not Christian,” if you couldn’t tell – requires making him more explicitly pagan.

Like many of you, I am “forced” to watch a lot of Christmas family programming around this time of year. My daughter loves all of the Christmas cartoons and movies, from the really awful claymation to the really awful CGI stuff, with all the good cartoons and movies in between.

One franchise that’s been on constantly is the Santa Clause series starring Tim Allen. The premises and storylines are way too complicated and irrelevant to discuss here. Heck, I don’t even know which of the movies set me off, there are so many of them. It might have been The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause or maybe it was The Santa Claws: A New Beginning, a straight-to-video feature where Tim Allen turns into a werewolf.

Anyway, in one of them, there’s a big speech at the end where Santa goes on about how we can’t lose the meaning of Christmas. Of course, the actual meaning of Christmas is utterly absent from the film. In Disney’s telling, Santa is some kind of pagan demigod who answers to Mother Nature, relies on the help of such friends as the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman, and competes against Jack Frost for control of the toy-giving franchise.

If the storyline is inspired from the Christian Bible, it’s the worst adaptation since they made Bonfire of the Vanities into a movie.

Ein Volk, Ein Santa!

Oh, one last thing. Isn’t it interesting that the effort to paganize Christmas was trailblazed by the Nazis? Hitler despised Christianity, not least because Jesus was a Jew and Christianity a “Jewish religion.” He preferred the “much freer” paganism of ancient times. The Nazis tried to turn Santa into either the Norse god Odin or “solstice man,” a hippie-like figure who apparently looked a lot like Shaggy from Scooby Doo with a bag of schwag for good little Aryan boys and girls. Hey, that’s not so crazy when you remember they tried to replace Jesus with Hitler.

Here’s a propaganda official in 1937: “We cannot accept that a German Christmas tree has anything to do with a crib in a manger in Bethlehem. It is inconceivable for us that Christmas and all its deep soulful content is the product of an oriental religion.”

You can read more about all that here.

My point in bringing it up isn’t to say the war-on-Christmas forces are Nazis. It’s not even to hawk my book (the cover of which, by the way, comes with some awfully yuletide-y colors). The Nazis tried to paganize Santa in an effort to make him a German creature of exclusion. The effort to paganize Santa today is close to the opposite – to make him a universal figure of inclusion. That’s an important difference in motivation.

The continuity, it seems to me, is the totalitarian mindset that seeks to purge the social landscape of competing sources of authority – Christmas must be for everybody or nobody. The thing is, if you make something for everybody, you essentially make it for nobody. (As Dash says in The Incredibles, if everybody’s special, then nobody is, or as Arnold Toynbee said, “To extend a privilege to everyone is tantamount to withdrawing it from everyone.”) If Christmas becomes a holiday for Jews, Muslims, and atheists, it can’t really be a holiday for Christians, or at least not the same one Christians celebrate. And once you allow the state to determine what’s permissible for a religion, you’ve set down a disturbing path. This would be a good place to start talking about Herbert Marcuse’s theory of “repressive tolerance” (“No, no it wouldn’t” – The Couch).

But instead, let’s talk about ESPN Ocho.

Why Aren’t They Doing This?

You know, I hear a lot about how conservatives don’t offer solutions to life’s problems. So I thought this would be good time to launch a new semi-regular tradition in the G-File (and by semi-regular, I mean whenever it suits me or perhaps never again). It’s called “Why Aren’t They Doing This?” and it will feature fantastic ideas – perhaps million-dollar ideas – I am too lazy to fully think through, never mind attempt to implement. However, if I discover that a Goldberg File reader takes one of these ideas and gets rich off of it, I reserve the right to come to your mansion and take any three items I desire. Don’t worry, this isn’t a Rumpelstiltskin kind of thing, I won’t take your kid or your wife or anything like that. But I may take that really expensive massage chair and that solid-gold bust of Bea Arthur.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen the movie Dodge Ball (no, not the sappy Merchant Ivory version), then you are missing out on some really solid B to B+ movie making. One of my favorite gags in the film is the fake ESPN channel: ESPN 8, “The Ocho.” Its motto is, “If it’s almost a sport, we’ve got it here!” You can watch a commercial for it here [BROKEN LINK].

Now, my question is: Why can’t ESPN actually do this? Don’t tell me it’s too expensive to come out with another sports channel. There are stretches of my cable guide where I feel like I’ll never get out again, there are so many sports channels. It’s like you get your own sports channel if you sign up three friends for Bally’s Total Fitness. And those are just the sports channels. Have you looked at your cable guide recently? I am amazed that all of these channels I’ve never heard ofcan make payroll. These are just some of the networks on my cable system I found after 30 seconds of scanning: WFN, MAVTV, CARS.TV, VERSUS, ID, and MSNBC. Have you even heard of any of these things?

So I ask you: Why aren’t they making a television network devoted exclusively to the bizarre dregs of the sports world? I understand that ESPN would hate to move its World’s Strongest Man coverage to a different channel. But there’s still competitive eating, goat-head polo, parkour in Akron, Saigon Russian Roulette (“Ditty Mow! Ditty Mow!” — The Couch), and Black Friday at Filene’s.

I’m not a huge sports guy (spare me your feigned shock). But I would watch that stuff.

Various and Sundry

First of all, as Winston Churchill said: “Puppies!

Second, thanks to all of you who sent “buck-up-camper” e-mails last week. It’s greatly appreciated. I read them all and apologize to anyone I didn’t respond to. There’s an unfair dynamic to reader e-mail. Sometimes the most thoughtful and longest e-mails are the ones I’m most likely to read but least likely to respond to, precisely because it’s so hard to do so in a thorough manner. Sometimes I just freeze up and say to myself, this is too hard, I’ll come back to it later. And then I never do. Also, if I spent 15 minutes responding to each deeply meaningful e-mail I got, I would have to spend several hours every day doing it, and I just can’t spare the time. It sucks and makes me feel guilty, but that’s the truth of it. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to hunt a real human being in a country without an extradition treaty. But that’s not important right now. Another resolution is to figure out how to set aside more time to reply to reader e-mail.

Third, since we spent some time on Jews and Christians today, I thought you might find this piece on Jewish Christians interesting.

Fourth, by the Power of Grayskull! If you get this reference, you should click this and say you’re under 21.

Fifth, a few weeks back, I ate an entire jar of cocktail onions like they were peanuts, and then I ate a jar of peanuts like they were peanuts. I also teased that I had a big announcement coming up. I’m not sure it’s that big ([inappropriate double-entendre joke redacted]). But it looks like I will be launching a regular podcast later in 2012 — on an experimental basis. The suits involved want to see if I would be a good radio host. I just want to see if I like it. Either way, the plan is to do something like an audio version of the G-File, only with a lot more nudity. You’re probably the wrong people to ask about this, but I’d love your feedback about the whole idea.

Sixth: More good news! I’m officially no longer a “visiting fellow” at the American Enterprise Institute. I am simply a “fellow,” which I gather means they want me to stick around longer. I guess I better dismantle all of the explosive charges I set in anticipation of being let go. I’d hate to implode the whole building by accident now.

Seventh: Is the integer that comes after sixth!

Eighth: I’ll be on Special Report tonight. By the way, thanks to all of you folks on Twitter and e-mail who (politely!) nudge Fox to have me on more. It makes a difference.

Ninth: In last week’s G-File, I implied that Daniel Bell was a former Communist. He wasn’t. My apologies.

Tenth: (“You’re just filibustering now” – The Couch) How men pee in public restrooms.

Eleventh: Happy Christmas and Merry Chanukah!

Christopher Hitchens, RIP

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Dear Reader (and the growing ranks of “former readers,” if you haven’t left yet),

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

I knew Hitch pretty well (certainly well enough to never repeat the mistake of calling him “Chris”). For starters, we lived in the same building for a couple years. He had a palatial apartment on the top floor of the Wyoming (a great big pile of bricks in D.C.). My wife and I had something more modest on the ground floor. He got along famously with my parents, not least because all three kept alive the ancient journalistic tradition of punctuating their drinking with smoking. But also because my Dad could talk about forgotten dead Communists and my Mom about their shared animosity for Bill Clinton. Over the years we saw each other, if not often, then often enough. We weren’t close friends, but that was never an impediment for Hitchens to start a conversation – or an argument. I was even a referee of sorts to one of his many fights over God, when I wrote the introduction for this book.

Nobody who knew Hitch even a little lacks stories. Some have better ones than others. My friend Matt Labash has tales about getting booze in the war-torn Middle East. I have stories about my new dog – yes, a very young Cosmo – peeing in his apartment. Or getting absolutely pickled with him because, after all, it was a Wednesday. And there was that time Peter Beinart invited my wife and I and the Hitchenses to his house for a Sabbath dinner and Hitchens proceeded to go on an anti-Israel, anti-religion, anti-God tirade that made everyone check their watches a lot. It was an odd occasion for Hitch to bust out that whole shtick. Why go to a Shabbat dinner in the first place if you’re going to spout all that stuff? It was like going to a tailgate party at Notre Dame and badmouthing the Irish.

I once wrote somewhere around NRO that I thought that maybe – just maybe – Hitchens could be considered a “man of the Right.” He was no conservative. You can’t really be a conservative in the Anglo-American tradition and hate religion. You can be a non-believer, I think. But you have to at least have respect for the role of religion and maybe a little reverence for the role of transcendence in people’s lives. Hitch had nothing but contempt. It was one of the last truly asinine Marxist things about him.

But a man of the Right is something different. A man of the Right is not a doctrinaire conservative. What a man of the Right is, however, is something harder to define. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

I first got the idea that Hitchens might be a man of the Right after watching him on C-Span discussing the Odyssey. He was on with, among others, Jody Bottum and a left-wing female academic who (at least as far as I remember it) had little to offer other than blah-blah-blah-white-males-blah-blah (I’m paraphrasing). Hitchens had no use for the woman and really had nothing to say to her. Meanwhile, he could have a real argument with Bottum because they could at least agree that the text matters and that indictments of the heterosexist norms of the Pale Penis People were not that interesting. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that Hitch – who believed in the importance of Western Civilization (he said he’d rather defend Western Civilization than denounce John Ashcroft), gloried in the splendor of the Canon, admired other cultures but rejected utterly the asininity of multicultural leveling – was certainly not a man of the contemporary Left, or maybe not of the Left at all.

I no longer think Hitch was really a man of the Right, chiefly because you can’t be a man of the Right and reflexively, perhaps even childishly, reject the label. I’m not inclined to sugarcoat my take on the man given how he could be absolutely cruel when spouting off about the deaths of others. He could be mean, pigheaded, and insensitive (though never dull!). He could also be generous and kind. He was a brilliant and gifted polemicist who sometimes took the easiest way out by going after his opponents’ weakest arguments rather than their strongest. He defied easy categorization while having a gift for categorizing others. He’ll be missed because he was so damn good at being Christopher Hitchens.

 

On the Beaconsfield Position

In my universe, at least, the most famous use of the locution “man of the Right” comes from Whittaker Chambers. An ex-Communist like Hitch, though of a slightly different flavor, Chambers resigned from NR in 1959. In his resignation letter, he told Bill Buckley:

You [Bill] stand within, or, at any rate, are elaborating, a political orthodoxy. I stand within no political orthodoxy. . . . The temptation to orthodoxy is often strong, never more than in an age like this one, especially in a personal situation like mine. But it is not a temptation to which I have found it possible to yield. . . . I am at heart a counter-revolutionist. You mean to be conservative, and I know no one who seems to me to have a better right to the term. I am not a conservative. I am a man of the Right. I shall vote the straight Republican ticket for as long as I live.

I think Chambers was largely wrong here about Bill but right about himself. Chambers – much like Hitchens, Daniel Bell, Frank Meyer, James Burnham, and a zillion other ex-Communists – had a mind formed by Marxist categories and that categorizing impulse never left them. Chambers felt the tug of political orthodoxy the way an ex-junkie looks at a syringe or a drunk looks at a glass of scotch. He needed to resist the pull of ideology because he was a recovering ideology addict (I think Hitch had a similar addiction). That’s why he fled – literally fled – the affairs of men, for he could not handle the temptations of political life. He wrote to Bill:

If I were a younger man, if there were any frontiers left, I should flee to some frontier because, when the house is afire, you leave by whatever hole is open for whatever area is freest of fire. Since there are no regional frontiers, I have been seeking the next best thing-the frontiers within.

That simply wasn’t the case with Buckley. He did not flee the world of politics like a man fleeing a burning house. He rushed in like a firefighter, hoping to save what he could. But even a firefighter – especially a firefighter – must respect the fire. He must know when to attack, and when to fall back. When to fight for the salvageable and when to write off what cannot be saved. After long and heroic work in the trenches, Chambers understandably lost his stomach for such efforts. He preferred to escape to his inner frontier even as he understood the stark nature of the fight he was leaving. In a letter to Bill he wrote:

Escapism is laudable, perhaps the only truly honorable course for humane men – but only for them. Those who remain in the world, if they will not surrender on its terms, must maneuver within its terms. That is what conservatives must decide: how much to give in order to survive at all; how much to give in order not to give up the basic principles. And, of course, that results in a dance along a precipice. Many will drop over and, always, the cliff dancers will hear the screaming curses of those who fall, or be numbed by the sullen silence of those, nobler souls perhaps, who will not join the dance.

Chambers called the decision to deal with the word as it comes “the Beaconsfield position,” a reference to Benjamin Disraeli, who was the Earl of Beaconsfield and a great conservative modernizer. What Chambers meant was that times change and, for conservatives to be successful, they must change with them. The “machine age” – the car, the tractor – is more of an enemy to opponents of change than intellectual radicalism will ever be. Conservative orthodoxy, warned Chambers, risks making itself – and the men who hold it dear – obsolete by not adapting to the times.

He claimed that he was not a conservative because he believed in changing with the times. But he was the one who fled. Bill Buckley, the alleged dogmatist, was the man who leapt from the bleachers into the arena to fight the gladiators as they came.

The fatalists flee and stay clean, those with hope for the future get bloodied.

 

What’s My Motivation?

Why am I writing about all of this? Well, partly because Hitch is dead and I am still sick of death (the closing of 2011, and the holidays that come with it, comes with too many reminders of my brother’s absence.).

But also because of the reaction to National Review’s editorial. I responded to some of the reaction here. I tried to make the point Chambers was making even as he retreated to his personal Shire in Westminster, Maryland: Conservatism, like politics generally, is not a science. Nor is it a matter of literary whimsy. It’s not an easy game where if you just read all of the manuals you’ll have all the answers. Nor is it a test where if you just fill in the oval for “(e) Most Conservative” you’ll be right every time. It requires making judgment calls, with limited information, about complicated human beings and how millions of other complicated humans beings will react to them.

Maybe it’s because I honestly and truly consider NR’s readers my friends, collectively and often individually, that I take real personal offense at the way so many critics cannot muster the intellectual courage to hold out the possibility that there’s simply a sincere difference of opinion at work here. It has to be that we’re selling out. It must be that we’re caving in. Somehow we lack courage or principles.

Why can’t we just be drawing different conclusions? I mean, I’m not asking anyone to defer to the fact that NR has a lot of smart, experienced, knowledgeable people who’ve dedicated their professional lives to this stuff. All I’m asking is that you don’t immediately assume that any disagreement withyou must be the product of stupidity, cowardice, or greed (particularly when you’re arguing that Newt Gingrich is the real outsider candidate now, but you were saying he was a sell-out six months ago – I’m not anti-Newt, but c’mon!).

I get being angry. I get being disappointed. But when I hear from people that they’ve lost all respect for me because of a perfectly defensible editorial I didn’t write, my reaction is not “Man, we blew it with this editorial.” It’s “I’m sorry I ever had your respect in the first place.”

If I sound pissed, it’s only because I am.

 

Various and Sundry

Sorry for the lack of pull-my-finger jokes, but I’m not really in the mood.

How Many Times Will Obama ‘Find His Voice’?

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Dear Reader (even those of you who whined about last week’s politics-free G-File),

The reviews from Obama’s Kansas speech are in. People who heard what they wanted to hear loved it. Everyone else . . . eh, not so much.

The consensus among those who loved it was that Obama has finally “found his voice.” Here’s the Newark Star Ledger: “In Kansas, Obama finally found his voice to make that case.” By the way, the “case” the editors are referring to is the same case we’ve heard for a long time: spend piles more money on education, infrastructure, etc., and tax the wealthy to pay for it. You know, the same “new ideas” liberals have been touting for more than ten decades now.

Howard Gleckman – yes, that Howard Gleckman! – of the Urban Institute agrees that Obama has found his voice. He tells Politico, “It is hard for me to believe Republicans are still making a fight of this. This is a total political loser for them. President Obama has finally found his voice on this. It is even hard for Democrats to screw this up.”

Yes, absolutely! Now that Obama has found his voice, it’s like he’s found the One Ring to Rule Them All and nothing can stand in his way!

Tom Brokaw – who, as we all know, spends his days slipping sawbucks to his vast network of shoeshine boys, newspaper hawkers, drifters down at the docks, soda jerks, and other snitches to keep his finger on the nation’s pulse – saw all this coming. He said on Meet the Press way back on October 30, “I think he’s beginning to find his voice. For the last nine months or so we have not known which Obama would show up from week to week. Now they seem to be on track to what the campaign strategy is going to be.”    So that was it. After all, Brokaw is always the first to spot a political trend. I believe it was just days after the Tet Offensive that he was saying how public opinion was moving against the Vietnam War.

But . . . whoah, what’s this? U.S. News on September 20, 2011: “Obama appears to have finally found his voice in terms of dealing forcefully with the Republicans.”

And it appears that U.S. News was simply echoing the Washington Blade, which proclaimed in a headline five days earlier: “President Obama finally finds his voice.” That blade cuts deep!

Now, hold on, this is strange. Margaret Carlson announced in Businessweek in April that “Obama Finds His Voice on Cuts That Matter.”

April? Feh! Historian H. W. Brands noted that Obama had located his political chi back in January, after his speech in Tucson. “Barack Obama has found his voice again,” he announced on CNN.com.

This is getting ridiculous. Maybe Michelle should pin Obama’s voice to his sleeves like a little kid’s mittens, because that guy apparently loses his voice more than Jon Corzine loses billions of dollars.

On October 26, 2010, the Washington Post, reported that “in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, Obama has found his voice.” This voice was going to turn around the midterms – you know, the ones that turned out to be an electoral hot-tea enema that psephologists are still marveling at and which even Obama conceded was a “shellacking.” Ah, yes, but as Alec Baldwin might say, “Imagine how much worse the shellacking would have been if he hadn’t found his voice.”

More than a month earlier, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute was sure that Obama had already found his voice. On September 24, 2010, he proclaimed: “Obama Finds His Voice – And America’s.” Twelve days earlier, the St. Petersburg Times spotted the same trend. “President Barack Obamafound his voice last week,” the editors insisted. “In a speech in Cleveland and at a news conference Friday, he fought back against Republican demands to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts and resisted election-year pandering to antsy voters.”

I mean, who among us can forget Obama’s famous Cleveland Speech? Barely an hour passes on cable news without someone referencing that watershed moment in American politics.

But that’s not where the trail begins in the hunt for Obama’s voice. “So Julie,” NPR host Jackie Lyden began a conversation with health-care reporter Julie Rovner, “a lot of people are saying Barack Obama has found his voice on [Obamacare], quite a shift in strategy.”

Who was saying that? Susan Estrich, for one! “Democrats like me steeled ourselves for the bloodbath to come, wondering only how truly bad it would be,” Estrich wrote twelve days earlier. “But something seems to be happening on the way to disaster: Barack Obama has found his voice again.”

Okay, you get it already. All this represents a fraction of a fraction of the times the press and liberal pundits have proclaimed Obama has “found his voice.” (I didn’t even include David Gergen’s bold proclamations in this regard!) It’s amazing how hearing what you want to hear amounts to proclaiming everyone else has heard the same thing. When Occupy Wall Street materialized from the vaguely urine-colored mists, liberals instantly announced that a movement that speaks for the 99 Percent had arrived. When the filthy hippies battled the cops in Chicago ‘68, Tom Wicker immediately wrote in the New York Times that the “idealistic, demonstrably brave” kids were “our children.” The majority of Americans looked at the cops and said, “No, those are our children.”

This is a corollary to the White House’s longstanding “more cowbell” strategy (first identified by yours truly, I believe, long ago) which holds that all Obama needs to do is give one more “big speech” and everything will work because Obama is so super-terrific-awesome. It turns out it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Predict that Obama can fix everything with one big speech in which he says all the things you want him to say, and then when he gives it you proclaim “He’s found his voice!” even as his poll numbers continue to flounder, he fails to govern or lead, and the economy drifts further out to sea. Then, after a little while, repeat.

 

It’s Like They Never Want Liberal Fascism to Go Out of Print

Obviously, there’s more to be said about Obama’s Kansas speech. An excellent place to start is NR’s editorial. You might also want to see my column today. But here are a few more points in rapid fire:

1. Nationalism = socialism. I’ve been saying for years that the presumption that nationalism and socialism are opposites – an idea ingrained in many Marxist minds – is nonsense. Nationalism, in terms of public policy if not necessarily culture, is socialism. When we nationalize health care, we socialize medicine. Teddy Roosevelt’s “new nationalism” was a call for a “new socialism” – a point his advisers, Charles van Hise, Richard Ely et al., would have happily conceded.

2. President Obama has been shockingly nationalistic. Sputnik moments, “Beat China!” “We owe it to the troops to support green energy,” ”Kneel Before Zod!” And now he disinters Teddy Roosevelt’s “new nationalism.” In actual policy terms, he’s been vastly more nationalistic than George W. Bush was. The difference is that liberals hate cultural nationalism. They hate it so much they even see overt displays of patriotism as scarily nationalistic. But they love programmatic nationalism – Everyone shut up and build things liberal like! The danger is when you get cultural nationalists joining forces with socialists. In fact, that’s called national-socialism. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

3. Where the hell are the “new ideas”? Perhaps because I wrote a book arguing that liberalism remains loyal to the progressive philosophy first laid out over a century ago, or maybe because my next book is in no small part about how they try to hide this fact, I’m particularly vexed by the fact that conservatives are supposedly in thrall to “old ideas” but liberals are all about new ones. In his Kansas speech, Obama kept insisting that conservatives are beholden to the failed ideas of the past. Er, okay. And that’s why you dusted off a 101-year-old speech by a failed third-party candidate? Got it. Obama talks as if raising taxes on rich people so they can pay their “fair share” is a new idea when “let’s take more from that guy to pay for stuff I want” was an old idea when proto-humans were drawing stick figures on cave walls with saber-tooth-tiger scat. And yet somehow Republican politicians never turn the tables on this incandescently stupid argument. It vexes me. I am exceedingly vexed.

 

Looking Good, Democrats

Here’s something to noodle as we lament the sub-par Republican field. In 2008, the “major” Democratic candidates ran for president were: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden (I’ve left Dennis Kucinich out largely because he’s Dennis Kucinich). John Edwards goes on trial in January and may end up in prison. Bill Richardson is under criminal investigation and could conceivably join him. Chris Dodd opted not to run for reelection because he was enveloped in a cloud of scandal thicker than the bong smoke at an Occupy Wall Street seminar in a panel van.

So a third of the field might be in jail at some point soon. Everyone who didn’t join the administration is an embarrassment to the party (and you can throw Kucinich in there if you like). And of those who joined the administration, two thirds of those candidates are Joe Biden or Barack Obama.

Does the GOP field really look that bad in comparison?

 

Not So Various and Not Much Sundry!

I love the news that Obama had his Hanukkah party two weeks early (a good sign that, contrary to talking points, he clearly expects to be in Hawaii soon). The best part was that he let all eight candles at once like it’s just another Jewish candelabra.

Canine stealth mode!

Odds are you do not exist.

I spoke to E. J. Dionne’s class at Georgetown last week. It was nice of him to invite me. (Do I get to say I’ve lectured at G-Town now? I’ve given speeches there before, but it sounds cooler to say “Goldberg has lectured at . . .”). It was also surprising. I’ve known E. J. for nearly 20 years. But I’ve been terribly hard on him in recent years – you know, because of the things he writes. Apparently he hasn’t been reading the Corner. For each class speaker, a student is assigned to do a thorough opposition-research file. The kid assigned to dig up stuff on me found all of the things I’ve ever written about E. J. “Your most recent post says ‘E. J. Dionne is not an idiot, but . . .’” the kid began. Awkward.

Last week I promised an intriguing announcement would be coming this week. I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell the truth. But, as Eric Holder would say, I lacked the requisite intent of actually telling a lie. Stay tuned.

Sports vs. Art

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Dear Reader (and those of you never get past the “Dear Reader” gag and then complain when it’s not here. I’m looking at you, James Westfall and Dr. Kenneth Noisewater. Okay, actually, I’m not looking at you, because that would be pretty gross) (“Oh, man, when people Google that, they’re going to cancel their G-File subscriptions” – The Couch),

I don’t want to talk about politics here. This is a safe place. A haven from the shouting and yelling that’s going on upstairs. Think of this as the man-cave underneath NRO where we can watch Xena reruns and talk about how awesome it would be to be a level-25 paladin. Or maybe you can think of it as that tree out in the woods by your house you run to and hide behind when Rich Lowry dips too heavily into the peppermint schnapps again and grabs his BB gun. Or maybe it’s just where you go inside your head as you hug yourself in the corner of the room, refusing to leave to have lime Jell-O with the group. However you want to think about this week’s G-File is fine with me, just know that you’re welcome here. Warm hands, open hearts, amigos.

If I seem a bit fragile, it’s only because we are now in the phase of the primary where friends turn on friends. In short, this is the season of the RINO. (Speaking of which, why, here’s me and Geraghty talking about the field. Could we be more RINOish?)

Charges of running-dog RINOism are of course nothing new. And as I’ve said before, I find the term itself pretty stupid. I plead guilty to being a Republican in Name Only for the simple reason that I take no particular pride in being a Republican. I’m a conservative, and the GOP is the more conservative of the two parties. If it stopped being that tomorrow, I’d stop being a Republican tomorrow, the same way I’d stop being a Chipotle customer tomorrow if they replaced the meat products with tofu.

I guess what’s annoying is the tendency of people who normally agree with me, or who argue in good faith when they disagree, to suddenly start thinking that the only possible explanation for my writing something critical or even insufficiently laudatory of a candidate must involve some woeful character flaw or dishonesty on my part. It’s not just the accusations — you’re a liberal, a RINO, a liar, a post-op transvestite with hairy legs and a lazy eye — that annoy me, it’s the thought that readers I’ve long valued could turn so easily the second they hear something they don’t like. I have friends who support virtually every one of the candidates. I haven’t once assumed they were post-op trannies because of it. They all desperately want Obama to lose, and so do I. Those are the ends. Everything else: the means.

 

Sports versus Art

Man, I said I didn’t want to talk politics and I spent 422 words talking politics. Okay, enough about that. Let’s turn to two topics that don’t get a lot of coverage around here: sports and art.

Sometimes, I say to my self, “As far as names for invisible Hobbit friends go, ‘Self’ is a very confusing one.” But that’s not important.

Other times I say to myself: “Man, that’s an ugly building. Why would someone build that?”

I once read somewhere that architecture is the best example of an “artistic” school that has completely broken with popular tastes. Architects certainly seem to design buildings to please each other and the critics and not the public. The average intelligent person goes to the Louvre in France and marvels at the beauty of the 17th-century buildings. The average architecture critic yawns at the musty old antiques and gushes over I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid. I don’t hate the glass pyramid (okay, maybe I do a little). But I don’t go to Paris to see a structure that I could see at a relatively upscale suburban mall. The phenomenon is even more pronounced when you look at modern architecture in more conventional businesses and houses. What’s more appealing to the eye, stately Wayne Manor or the Hall of Justice?

Still, I don’t know if architecture is the best example of the phenomenon. Modern art caters to popular tastes just as little as architecture. A great deal of performance and installation art strikes most normal people as a colossal joke or a straight-up con. And please don’t tell me that my failure to appreciate three squares and a triangle or a blob of paint on a canvas is my shortcoming. If something isn’t aesthetically pleasing or interesting, doesn’t require skills I do not have, and makes a stupid point stupidly, I don’t appreciate it as art. That doesn’t make me a philistine. It makes me a non-rube.

Anyway, it seems to me that the more a relatively artistic field of endeavor caters to critics over consumers, the worse it gets. You can see this all over the place, from haute cuisine to music. Some of my best friends in college were music majors, and they would ramble on about how Philip Glass is a genius. Maybe he is. But I’ll take Beethoven or the Beatles over him any day. I don’t follow the literary world too closely these days, but my impression is that the same is true in the world of fiction. If you write for the critics, only the critics will read you.

Academia certainly suffers from this problem. Visit the history section of a bookstore and you’ll find a fascinating disconnect between history books written by popular historians and those written by academic historians. In fact, you won’t find that many histories written by academic historians or for academic audiences. Arguably the most popular form of history is military history, but the academic establishment shuns the field almost entirely, preferring far more relevant topics like lesbian mores in antebellum Delaware 1856-1861.

Now, obviously this is a generalization. There’s good academic history, good modern art, good high-end food, and good modern architecture. But there are some really interesting things to noodle here. Interesting to me, at least.

First, I think people underestimate the importance of mass markets. When you become wholly disconnected from the metric of commercial success, catering wholly to elite micro-markets – like the eccentric rich and unknown critics – you become untethered from your culture and from quality. Iconoclastic shock and newness for their own sake become the standard, because that’s what will please the a-holes bored with the canon.

Of course, there are problems if you go completely in the opposite direction as well. Designers of Happy Meal toys don’t exactly strive for beauty or excellence.

But there’s one area of performance – broadly defined – where the performers are driven by excellence, are hugely popular and successful, and haven’t been captured by either the market or the critics.

 

Sports.

Unlike art or music or architecture, being shocking or “transgressive” in sports is always a sideshow, not the show itself. Yes, Dennis Rodman gussied himself up to look like a cross-dressing assassin in a bad Blade Runner rip-off. But if he didn’t get 20 rebounds a game (or whatever the stat is), people wouldn’t care whether he’s edgy or radical, they’d just think he’s an idiot with a pierced nose and improbable hair color. I remember in the 1980s reading stuff about how Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon was some radical new kind of rock-and-roll quarterback. Whatever. If he didn’t score touchdowns, no one would care how radical he is.

There are a lot of similarities between sport and various art forms. They both involve personal excellence, performing for an audience, etc. But one thing sports has that most art forms don’t: defined rules. And with those rules come defined metrics of success.

This takes a lot of power away from the critics of the sports world, a.k.a. sports writers. They can celebrate this guy’s style over that guy’s. They can say so-and-so hasn’t gotten his fair chance. But they can’t overrule the authority of the scoreboard. There’s an objective authority that completely trumps their subjective authority – or almost completely. Every now and then a sportswriter can make the case that this or that boxer was “robbed” by the judges or that the umps or refs blew it. But that’s small-bore stuff. In the big picture, the critics don’t get to choose the winners, they only get to write about them.

I have no idea what the practical or political implications of any of this are. I think there’s a Hayekian point to be made in there somewhere about the importance of permanent rules and the value of market tests. But we’re running long and I’m running out of time.

 

Speaking of Academia

The other day, while researching a column on prisons, I got caught up reading a whole pile of Marxist twaddle about the “prison-industrial complex.” I don’t think people really appreciate how just plain nuts some of this stuff is or how absolutely corrupt the academic establishment is for nurturing it. My impression is that the University of California is a particularly outrageous breeding ground for this nonsense.

Here’s an abstract from a paper by Dylan Rodriguez, currently “professor and chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside,” in a 2003 issue ofSocial Justice.

Rodriguez offers few points of departure for the theorization of prison praxis as a field of radical social theory. He argues that the emergence and rapid growth of a qualitative carceral formation since the early 1970s, outside and symbiotic to the hegemonic social formation, has produced its own historical bloc of counterhegemonic radical intellectuals.

Rodriguez writes of prison intellectuals like Mumia Abu Jamal:

The cultural productions of these captives of the state, while rarely surfacing on the discursive radar of either academic discourses or popular culture at large, represent a decentered, imminent political possibility of departure from the essentially conservative ordering of both. In an extraordinary mirroring and rearticulation of the dystopic structure of imprisonment – a regime founded on the symbiosis between the logics of displacement and degradation – this prison praxis constitutes a multilayered field of alternate vernaculars, including the construction of new languages of agency, politics, freedom, identity, and self-actualization. These meanings, which are often generated for consumption by free world audiences (including loved ones, children, political allies, and attorneys), nonetheless constantly exceed and slip from the grasp of conventional modes of political discourse. It is profoundly endangering and discomfiting for any “free person” to attempt engagement with this praxis, precisely because it casts civil society’s – the putatively free world’s – condition of existence as the troubled production of mass-based unfreedom.

 

Speaking of the Couch (“You weren’t speaking of the Couch, idiot. I think you’re losing your mind”)

I was on the NR cruise the other week and several people asked me, “What’s the deal with the Couch?” Apparently many of you never read the original G-File back in the old days. Well, the Couch was my imaginary critic (“Whoa, whoa, whoa, cool it with the ‘imaginary’ stuff. You don’t want me talking about your imaginary talent, do you?” – The Couch) who would, ironically enough, help me keep it real. It dawned on me that maybe it would be a good use of the G-File to start working on an NRO glossary. I’ve been arguing in house for an NRO-wiki for years, something that would help explain terms, inside jokes, personalities, etc. If you have suggestions for terms you would like defined, send me an e-mail about it.

 

Various & Sundry

Goodbye, incandescent light bulbs, we loved ya, baby.

Speaking of which, who loves you, baby?

There’s a disturbing development in the Goldberg household: The good cat (Gracie) now comes on the morning and evening walk with Cosmo.  A picture from this morning.

Awesome story about poop-tattoo great save for the fact that it’s not true.    

In Muncie, from 1891 to 1902, one out of 20 books borrowed from the library were by Horatio Alger.

Twenty-five blogs to make you smarter.

Coming next week: Interesting announcements about interesting things disproportionately having to do with me (and good old Self, if the Couch hasn’t killed him). 

Having Fun at Jon Corzine’s Expense

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Dear Reader (in particular those readers who complained about the lack of a parenthetical “Dear Reader” gag last week),

Well, I’ve got to catch a plane in a few hours for Florida. The latest National Review Cruise sets sail tomorrow for Ames, Iowa (“I think you really need to look at the itinerary. And a map” — The Couch).

So, like the penile-enhancement surgeon who was terrified of operating on himself said, I think I’m going to keep this short.

 

MF Stands for What Now?

If you’re like me, you think goat cheese tastes like it was scraped off the underside of a corpse, but that’s not important right now. However, if you’re like me, you’re probably also enjoying watching Jon Corzine come undone like the Wicked Witch of the West in a dunking booth (“Market accountability! Look what you’ve done to me! I’m melting . . . “).

There’s been a lot of fun at Corzine’s expense, given that he destroyed his firm by doing exactly the sorts of things he criticized other firms for doing. (See Jon Stewart’s take here.) But I don’t want to have fun at his expense over his hypocrisy. I want to have fun at his expense over an entirely different point.

I’m not one of those fancy-pants numbers guys with consistently demarcated parts in their hair who can explain all the ins and outs of how bond markets work, but I do know that big firms aren’t supposed to lose $600 million. I don’t mean “lose” as in a lost investment. I mean lose as in a stoner and his car keys. From the WSJ:

“Their books are a disaster,” Scott O’Malia, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, one of the regulators leading a hunt that has stretched 10 days so far, said in an interview. “We’re trying to figure out what numbers are the real numbers.”

Several people who reviewed MF Global’s trading records and balance sheet before or after the New York company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 31 said they saw incomplete transactions, numbers that didn’t seem to add up and other inconsistencies.

“I always knew the records were in shambles, but I didn’t know to what extent,” said Thomas Peterffy, chief executive of Interactive Brokers Group Inc., which had for years considered doing a deal with MF Global. The company walked away from a handshake agreement to rescue MF Global after discrepancies in its books emerged, according to people involved in the discussions.

An executive at another company that considered making a bid for parts of MF Global as it was going downhill said officials at his firm “couldn’t get a good sense of what was on the balance sheet.”

Routine information about assets and positions on MF Global’s books took hours to produce, the executive said. Such information should be accessible instantly, he added.

Now, obviously, it’s an understatement on the order of “Helen Thomas doesn’t have a great chance of making the cover of the next Victoria’s Secret catalog” when I say that plenty of Wall Street firms have made mistakes in the past. So I don’t want to go too far with this.

But I can’t help but note the irony that Corzine’s firm was run like a shady New Jersey bureaucracy, not a lightning-fast hub of global capital. Corzine’s schtick for quite a long time was that he could bring his business and financial expertise to government. It turned out that he brought all of the efficiencies and cleverness of government to business.

This is a point that seems lost on Stewart. He’s mad at Corzine for turning out to be an irresponsible jerk. But the Corzine he liked was the same Corzine he doesn’t like now. And they both sucked.

 

American Horror Story

Like a lot of people this week, I can’t shake the Penn State scandal.

Unless this turns out to be one of those bizarre, entirely fabricated witch-hunt stories like the Amirault case – which I doubt pretty much entirely – I think this is going to get a lot worse before it gets “better.”

Too many things don’t make sense.

For starters, how does the Board of Trustees get blindsided by a story that was in the papers in August? They didn’t even need to read the papers, of course, because there’s no way this was all kept secret, particularly after people started getting dragged in front of a grand jury. How do the trustees find themselves in a situation where they have to fire Joe Paterno at ten o’clock on Tuesday night just days before the last home game? Obviously, boards can be clueless about what’s going on, but this kind of cluelessness had to be cultivated by someone.

A more flummoxing question: Who in the world sees a grown man buggering a child and doesn’t stop it? If fighting words exist, surely fighting deeds must as well.

I’m not going to rehearse all of the arguments everyone’s already heard or made themselves. But the absolute breakdown in decency and responsibility on display in this tale should be a reminder of how normal people can surrender to the perverted and evil logic of complacency.

 

On Corruption

I will admit it’s easy for me to be self-righteous about this. Because of the nature of what I do for a living, I’m not entirely beholden to one employer or institution. I want to stay at National Review for the rest of my life, all things being equal, but if I lost my job here I’d probably land somewhere else. Maybe for less – or more! – money. But I’d be okay. So I am very lucky.

But I’ve tried to put myself in the position of the various witnesses. The “graduate assistant,” Mike McQueary, was a young man at the beginning of his career. So I try to think of myself in, say, 1995 when I had a younger man’s worries about getting ahead. If I saw someone I revered, respected, and feared doing what McQueary says he saw Sandusky doing, I’d like to think I’d grab a fire extinguisher and smash it into his forehead nonetheless. But I can see myself calling my dad for advice, setting up a meeting with someone like Paterno, and working through channels. What I can’t grasp – and pray I would never do – is the possibility that I would just leave it there: “It’s out of my hands now.”

The same goes for the janitors. Again, I’m trying to be open-minded about a situation I’ve never been in myself. Again, I’d like to imagine I’d become a helicopter of fists the second I saw what they saw. But I also understand they don’t have the options I have. They needed their jobs, their pensions. So I can grasp the caution at the outset. But over time, as you saw that nothing was being done, you think through your options. You discover that as a “whistleblower” you’d have protections. And yet you still do nothing? I can’t get my head around it. It would eat at my conscience and, eventually, my soul.

I think part of the answer lies in the rich complexity of corruption. In Hollywood and on the left, corruption has been reduced to a naked transaction of money (and occasionally sex) for services rendered. There’s also the much-discussed and misunderstood corruption that comes with power (I discuss that at length in my next book).

But corruption is so much richer and varied than all that. My father always used to say that the biggest source of corruption isn’t money, but friendship. He’s right. Go offer a newspaper editor or politician $10,000 to hire someone. Most won’t even consider it. But if a friend asks for a favor, the answer is much more likely to be yes. Friends strike bargains with friends, even though they could get a better deal elsewhere. Friends forgive mistakes in business because that’s what friends do.

Not all such transactions are corrupt so much as part and parcel of how civil society works. Besides, because friendship goes both ways, paying a premium for the trust and reliability of such relationships might actually be a good business decision. Which is simply to emphasize the fact that corruption is a very complicated thing, with variables and considerations not immediately apparent to those looking from the outside in. Still, tribal, familial, and social allegiances most certainly can be corrupting, in large ways and small. After all, in many circumstances we’re more likely to lie to our friends than to strangers. “I loved your column!” “I read your book!” “Your daughter’s beautiful!”

Anyway, this is a long way of saying I don’t think there’s any amount of money — nor any job — that would cause me to turn a blind eye to something like this. But I could see it taking more effort and time to do the right thing if it were a friend or a loved one. I told one of my best friends yesterday that if it was him, I’d give him 24 hours to turn himself in or to commit suicide. I’d like to believe that’s true. I know I never want to be put to the test.

 

Happy Veterans Day

I don’t know what to say, except thank you. Fortunately Leon Kass can think of more.

 

Cool Links!

Okay, on to more cheery matters. Decoding the symbolism of movie posters!

A tiger mama gets depressed over losing her cubs. They call in porcine replacements.

Don’t tell the Saudis: Israel enlists owls to catch rats.

The  Pride of Texas (and I’m not talking Rick Perry).

Cracked’s guide to progressive rock.

Herewith my musings on the shortcomings of Walking Dead (fans and zombie aficionados should read it for the comments section alone).

Thanks to my wonderful hosts last week at Furman University and Americans for Prosperity. In case you hadn’t heard, at last week’s AFP event the first three outside speakers were, in order, Mitt Romney, Jonah Goldberg, and Herman Cain. Who wants to sign up for my exploratory committee?

Oh, and lastly, I thought folks might like to know I spoke – via Skype – to a class at Harvard earlier this week about Liberal Fascism, which has been assigned in a course on fascism there. Most of you won’t care, but the right people will be annoyed by that news. More on all that later.

Off to the Caribbean! You can follow me on Twitter while I’m gone. Though I’m not sure I’ll be allowed to live-tweet from the blackjack tables.

The Trouble with Experts, and with Parallel Universes

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Dear Reader,

 

Herman Cain’s Expert Problem . . .

Herman Cain just doesn’t seem ready for the job of president. I thought that before this maybe-sorta-possibly-kinda-not-really scandal, and his campaign’s utterly craptacular response to it only reinforces that impression.

But that’s not my main reason for thinking he’s not ready. First of all, there’s the fact that his “unconventional campaign” looks remarkably like a book tour. The guy was in Alabama last week.

And please don’t tell me that criticizing his unconventional campaign is unpersuasive because he’s been riding so high in the polls. Cain’s impressive performance in the polls is almost surely not the result of his campaign genius. It’s a product of the fact that Cain’s an impressive, charming guy with a bold plan, amidst a less than thrilling field of competitors. If Rick Perry hadn’t thrown up all over himself like a fraternity pledge who ate too many pickled eggs after drinking a bottle of Everclear, no one would ever have defected to Cain and none of us would be talking about his brilliant maverick campaign style.

Time after time, Cain responds to pressing questions by saying, in effect, “I don’t have enough information for that now. I would need to be briefed.” (I’d provide actual quotes but A) I’m lazy and B) I don’t have Wi-Fi on this plane.) He says this sort of thing in particular about foreign-policy issues, such as the war in Afghanistan. If you think you need a classified briefing to have a basic opinion about that war, it means you don’t understand the job.

I’ll give you a better example. Cain often says that he would bring the best experts into the Oval Office and go with what they tell him. That’s what leaders do, he explains.

But that’s not true. A decision shouldn’t even make it to the president’s desk if the experts don’t already disagree on it. That’s what presidents are supposed to do: make the call when expertise alone won’t suffice.

And in fairness, on that level I trust Cain. I think his instincts are right about most of the big-picture things, even if from time to time he says things he clearly hasn’t spent two seconds thinking through (his claim that he might swap all of the prisoners at Gitmo for a captured American being a good example).

In a way he reminds me of the father-in-law from the movie Fargo. A smart, tough, older businessman who believes that the answer to every problem is to “hire a professional.”

Well, the first professionals he hired are the people running his presidential campaign. How’d that work out for him?

 

. . . and Romney’s

I have a similar complaint about Mitt Romney. As Mark Steyn and others have pointed out, Romney has a disturbing tendency to simply take his ideas off the conventional-wisdom shelf. He lacks the conservative’s skepticism that the “latest thinking” might simply be very old thinking gussied up as a breakthrough idea.

It’s hard to see this tendency in him when he’s in campaign mode, because it gets obscured by the pandering and positioning, but trust me, it’s there.

Where I think Romney differs from Cain in this regard is that Cain’s a manager. Hire a professional, motivate him, and stand back. Romney’s a technocrat. He thinks that the government is there to fix things. That’s what Romneycare was about, after all.

What worries me about Romney is that since he starts from the assumption that government can fix things, he thinks the way to fix things is with government. (Obviously, this is sometimes true, even according to us extremists. There are legitimate functions of government, and in those areas I can see Romney being a pretty good, even possibly great president.)

While I certainly don’t like the pandering, flip-flopping, parsing, tacking, difference-splitting side of Romney, it doesn’t bother me as much as it does some of my friends, for the simple reason that I don’t think it tells us too much about the kind of president he would be.

Sometimes campaign styles tell us a lot about what kind of president a candidate will make, and sometimes they don’t. George H. W. Bush campaigned one way, and governed another. His son pretty much campaigned the way he governed. Obama tried to campaign the way he governed but he found out that his campaign style – promising a unicorn foal in every home, same-day soul mending, tidal prestidigitation, dragging “cynicism” out of its barca-lounger and junk-punching it for the children – was hard to translate into a workable governing agenda.

I see Romney much more in the tradition of George H. W. Bush. He sees politics as a tacky business where you dance for the rubes so you can get the job your dad always wanted you to have.

The trick, therefore, for conservatives in a Romney presidency – should it ever come to pass – is to see Romney like a tool. I don’t mean tool in the pejorative sense, like “Man, that John Kerry is a tool.” I mean it in the figurative-yet-instrumental sense. Romney needs to see that his number-crunching wonkiness must be applied solely to ways to dismantle the current inefficiencies of government, not for creating new ones.

I don’t think his experience at Bain Capital is all that well-suited to creating jobs in the private sector, at least not in the way he talks about it. But the ability to effectively downsize and streamline large institutions to get them refocused on their core competencies, strikes me as something we can use in the Oval Office, so long as we point him in the right direction. If he’s pointed in the wrong direction, well, ugh.

 

Parallel Universe Problems

Speaking of doppelgängers, I finally caught up with this season of Fringe so far. Oh, wait, I wasn’t speaking of doppelgängers (“Yes, but maybe I was” – Parallel Universe Me).

So anyway, now that both me’s are speaking of doppelgängers, let me just say . . .

So, speaking of doppelgängers, Fringe is chockablock with them.

If you didn’t know, Fringe is a TV show. If it wasn’t so enjoyable, the charge that it’s a ripoff of The X-Files would sting more.

One of the central premises of the show is the existence of a parallel universe where a near-exact replica of Earth exists with all the same people, living under just slightly different circumstances.

This, of course, gives me a chance to offer my longstanding complaint about the multiverse. First of all, you’d think with an infinite number of universes, it’d be easier to find good deli.

Regardless, as we all know, parallel universes – alternate dimensions, twin planets – are one of the oldest conceits in science fiction. How many parallel earths, antimatter universes, and the like were there in Star Trek? Don’t answer that.

Also, as I understand it, the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, or realities, has some currency among actual physicists. I have no idea if that math holds up, though, as a complete science ignoramus, I find the idea that every moment is a fork in a decision tree and every possible outcome actually happens, creating a separate universe, to be battier than that old cave outside stately Wayne Manor.

My scientific objection to that idea is simply that I don’t understand where all the energy would come from. Last I checked, a whole freakin’ universe uses a lot of energy. Are we supposed to believe that because some quantum mechanical scribblings say so, every time I choose a V-8, a parallel me chooses a Shasta and a parallel him chooses a Mr. Pibb? (What’s that, parallel me with the Mr. Pibb in his hand? You shoulda had a V-8? Hah, sucks for you. Enjoy eternity on your subpar timeline.)

And keep in mind, according to this multiverse crap, I’m not just creating a new timeline for me. I’m creating a new timeline for everybody and everything. That’s a new Jupiter and a new solar system, a new galaxy every time I choose to use the farthest urinal from the next guy at the Union Station bathroom. And it’s not me, it’s all of us and everything creating new realities. Call me crazy, but that’s a lot of stuff to be created ex nihilo.

Oh, and I know I’m going to hear from a bunch of physics geeks explaining how I don’t understand. And they’d be right.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to talk about Fringe, so that’s what I’m going to do. My problem with Fringe rests on the idea that these two earths are very, very similar because there’s a doppelgänger-us over there. My problem is that once you allow for the fact that little differences occur, then the idea that anything would be similar no longer works. I just watched an episode where a serial killer on alternate earth killed 22 people, but his opposite on our earth didn’t. Well, that’s 22 people who won’t show up for work. Won’t have more kids. That in turn creates big differences. Someone gets their jobs or their apartments. And so on.

In the alternate earth, they use zeppelins while we don’t. Have any crashed? Who died? Did they not have kids?

I think the parallel-earth thing is a useful literary device, but taken literally it’s impossible even if you don’t care about the physics. It’s an interesting exercise to imagine an exact replica of earth being created right . . . now. It would have exact copies of all of us. How long do you think it would be before that earth looked very different than this one? I think it would happen very quickly. Unless of course you don’t believe in free will, in which case all of my doppelgängers are writing this exact G-File on this exact plane, at this exact moment, which seems like an even bigger waste of energy to me.

 

Kibbles and Bits

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s no syndicated column today. I had a miserable flight to Texas yesterday and it was simply physically impossible for me to type on the plane.

I’m speaking at the Restoring the American Dream conference in Washington today. I asked for some guidance on my speech and I was told to be entertaining, insightful, and inspiring. That’s a tall order. Then I realized that I’m speaking for a total of ten minutes.

So I watched the Captain America movie on the flight out. Not bad. Obviously, it could have used a lot more nudity. Regardless, here’s an incredibly dorky objection. Captain America’s shield is made of “vibranium,” which apparently absorbs all vibrations, making it a pretty awesome shield. But, wait a second, if it absorbs all vibrations, how can he bounce it off walls and stuff? Wouldn’t something that absorbs all vibrations be, like, the most un-bouncy thing ever? Also, aren’t vibrations another word for energy? So wouldn’t Cap’s shield get really hot?

Somewhere there is a parallel me not taking Captain America seriously as he sits on the beach in Hawaii. Why couldn’t that parallel me be me?

True story: This morning at DFW security – I had a 6:10 AM flight – I went through the scanner and set off the alarm. I took off my belt. The alarm didn’t go off, but I was still pulled aside by the TSA guy. I was expecting the full rubber-glove-snap search or some other infuriating intrusion of the Leviathan state. Instead, he leaned over and said, “Excuse me sir, your fly is down.”

Who says government is good for nothing?

You’ve Got to Give Him Points for Consistency

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Dear Reader (and the folks in Gary Johnson’s campaign who overslept and missed this G-File),

In Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, he said:

In Washington, they call this the “Ownership Society,” but what it really means is that you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck, you’re on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You’re on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don’t have boots. You are on your own.

A few days ago, President Obama explained that if Republicans win:

The one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if we don’t work even harder than we did in 2008, then we’re going to have a government that tells the American people, “you are on your own.”

Give him points for consistency.

Take away points for everything else.

First of all, this reminds me of a story one of my best friends loves to tell. He went to one of those blue-bloody old-line boarding schools in New England. Exeter, Andover, Arkham Asylum, or something — I can never keep those places straight. Regardless, in 1984, Jesse Jackson visited my friend’s school as part of his presidential campaign.

Jackson, either completely unaware of where he was or clueless about what he was doing there, gave the same self-esteem-boosting spiel he gives in poor inner-city schools. The only problem: These kids were overwhelmingly rich, white, and overflowing with self-esteem. They didn’t need Jesse Jackson to come and incite them into a frenzy of self-congratulation and chants of “I am somebody! I am somebody!”

But they loved pretending.

So the sons of Fortune 500 CEOs, ambassadors, senators, and various scions of privilege got caught up in the call-and-response. Repeat after me, “I am somebody,” Jackson insisted, and the progeny of the top 0.1 percent responded, “I am somebody!” Not as self-affirmation but as factual confirmation, like “No, really, I am somebody!”

Anyway, telling a room full of rich Democratic donors in San Francisco that the only thing separating them from a Hobbesian state of nature is Barack Obama’s reelection is almost funnier, because at least the boarding school kids understood the irony.

Second, there’s a tendency on the right to see this kind of ideological consistency as more proof that Obama’s always been a left-winger. I think that’s all true. But it misses other contributing conclusions and modes of analysis. Such as:

a. He’s arrogant — he thinks that once he’s gotten an idea or a formulation, there’s no need to ever change it.

b. He’s dogmatic.

c. He’s a really bad politician who is far less flexible and nimble than a president needs to be. See Ponnuru.

Third, philosophically, Obama’s vision is 100 percent catawampus (that’s right, catawampus) from the traditional American understanding of government. He sees civil society as a vacuum where, absent the federal government, we are autarkic, anarchistic individuals left to fend for ourselves, drinking puddle water and using cat fat for Chap Stick (“Nice Book of Eli reference” — The Couch). If the federal government won’t do it — whatever it is — then we are all on our own. But that is not how the vast majority of Americans live. Nor do we define our understanding of communal, cooperative life purely through the prism of the federal government. If the federal government won’t organize a bake sale at my kid’s school, we are indeed “on our own,” but we are not alone.

 

What’s Democracy Got to Do With It?

Yesterday I heard a fascinating, albeit too brief, interview on NPR with Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in the field of decision-making. His book sounds really interesting, but I want to focus on something I learned from the interview.

A recent study out of the National Academy of Sciences found that Israeli parole judges are more likely to grant parole in cases they heard immediately after taking a meal break. “Presumably they are hungry, but certainly they are tired, they’re depleted,” Kahneman explained. “When you’re depleted, you tend to fall back on default actions, and the default action in that case is apparently to deny parole. So yes, people are strongly influenced by the level of glucose in the brain.”

For the sake of argument, I will assume he’s reading the study correctly and the study is as careful as he claims (I have no reason to assume otherwise).

What I found intriguing was Robert Siegel’s follow-up question:

I mean, the implication of a study like that is here, democratic society is based on people at all different levels making decisions and if we assume that they’re as driven by the glucose content of their bloodstream at that moment or other odd biases that they bring to factors, it undermines all the underpinning of a democratic society.

I understand what Siegel’s getting at and I think it’s intended as a perfectly reasonable question. But it does reveal a certain bias that runs through much of our thinking about democracy. We tend to hold our democratic system to a very strange standard. Yes, these findings should be troubling in the sense that they highlight how we are all far more dependent on our chemical impulses and wiring than we’d like to admit.

But why should it be particularly threatening to democratic society? It seems to me these findings underscore why democratic societies are superior to other systems.

If prisoners are in for a rough time if the parole board skipped lunch in a democratic society like Israel, imagine how much worse off inmates in Saudi Arabia, or China, or North Korea would be in a Star Chamber full of empty stomachs. Would you like your fate decided by a peckish Politburo — “the smoked salmon is late, liquidate them all!” — or by a branch of government accountable to the people and the press? A hungry president is second-guessed by a well-fed Congress and press corps constantly grazing on free food. A hungry despot, potentate, or monarch makes a decision and that’s it. You’re screwed.

This is a more important point than it sounds. This study proves something conservatives have always known: Men are fallible and flawed, hewn from the crooked timber of humanity. That is why democracy is necessary, but it is also why constitutional rules, checks and balances, and redundancies are necessary, too. There’s no guarantee that there will be no mistakes. The only guarantee is that our system will be somewhat more likely to catch the mistakes and offer a chance to remedy them, all the while trying harder to respect our individual rights. That’s pretty good, no?

It seems to me the progressive mind is routinely shocked by the news that even the most well-intentioned experts will be wrong because they’re still human beings. Worse, their response to the news is to assume this illuminates a flaw in our system, when in reality our system is the only one that takes this problem into account.

 

Oh, and There’s That Thing About Plotting Mass Murder

Shortly after that piece, I heard a story by NPR’s Dina Temple-Ralston, about the trial of Tarek Mehanna on terrorism charges. It was not NPR’s finest work.    I hadn’t followed this case at all, so for the first 90 percent of the story I was actually pretty sympathetic to the defense’s argument.      Here’s the beginning of the transcript:

MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is “All Things Considered.” I’m Melissa Block.

Opening statements began today in the trial of a Massachusetts man who stands accused, among other things, of distributing al-Qaida propaganda on his blog. Prosecutors told a jury that 29-year-old Tarek Mehanna was an online operative for al-Qaida. The defense insists Mehanna was just a young American venting about the Iraq War, speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Here’s NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: To hear prosecutors tell it, Tarek Mehanna supported al-Qaida when he translated one of its handbooks from Arabic into English. He also put English subtitles on a speech by and posted it online. Of course, lots of news organizations do more or less the same thing.

DAVID NEVIN: CNN probably still has on its website an al-Qaida instructional video.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That’s attorney David Nevin. He’s talking about that video that’s aired repeatedly over the years of al-Qaida operatives swinging on monkey bars and running through an obstacle course at a training camp.

And so the story went for next couple minutes. Sounds like an idiotic, anti-American blogger saying indefensible things about al-Qaeda on his website. It sounded repugnant and perhaps even technically illegal, but probably not worth a criminal trial and trampling on the First Amendment. At least that’s what I was thinking.

Ralston finds time to discuss Mehanna’s celebrity status with Occupy Boston and the fact that there are both hip-hop and rap songs written about the case (again: not just hip-hop songs but hip-hop and rap songs!). She even squeezes in the vital information that a flash mob showed up to dance to one of the songs, which then got airtime on taxpayer-subsidized radio.  

Alas, Ralston couldn’t find a prosecutor to talk to. But she did mention in the last few seconds of the broadcast:

Now, Mehanna isn’t just on trial just because of his blog.Prosecutors also say that he had conspired to shoot up a local shopping mall. And they told jurors that they will play wiretap tapes that will reveal the details of that plot. Mehanna is also accused of lying to the FBI. That means even if he wins the day on First Amendment grounds, there are other charges that could be harder to beat.

That’s helpful information, don’t you think? Plus, I can’t quite convey the subtle sound of disappointment in her voice as she admits he still might go to jail, even if he wins the First Amendment case.

She also neglected to mention that he’s accused of going to Yemen for terrorist training – also something that puts his blogging in a slightly more sinister light. The AP writes,

Prosecutors say Tarek Mehanna, of Sudbury, traveled to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp and conspired with others to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. When that failed, he began translating and distributing text and videos over the Internet in an attempt to inspire others to engage in violent jihad, according to an indictment.

Now of course, he hasn’t been convicted yet. But given the charges, the whole free-speech angle is, at best, an interesting legal footnote. It’s not the story. Except maybe to Dina Temple-Ralston and those flash mobs.

 

Various & Sundry

I love the story that Gary Johnson missed filing for the New Hampshire primary (actually, he had to race to NH and file in person because they missed the deadline for filing by proxy). Maybe they can make the campaign theme song “Because I Got High“?

Herman Cain’sgonzo ads have already been pretty well parsed. But one thing that hasn’t gotten enough attention is the clip of Cain at the end turning from that window and giving that delayed and then protracted smile. Greg Gutfeld and the folks at Red Eye (I was on Tuesday night) pointed out to me this YouTube comment, which I can’t get out of my head: ”I imagine Herman Cain is closing the curtains behind him at that shady motel, turning slowly, and making that creepy smile at a scared prostitute on the bed.”

Halloween is upon us. It remains my daughter’s favorite holiday and so every year we get more and more caught up in it. This is us last year.

She insists that we go as zombies again this year — but with a twist. So the Fair Jessica and Lil’ Lucy will both be zombie cheerleaders and I will be a zombie football player. Alas, last year we found a great, inexpensive makeup lady, to help us. This year we might be on our own. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Meanwhile, here’s a cheerier picture of my lass as Pippi Longstocking.

I’ll be on Special Report tonight.

I’ll be speaking at Furman University in South Carolina on Tuesday. Come on down — or up — if you’re in the area.

I’ll be speaking at the Americans for Prosperity National Summit on Friday

And here’s my column today.

Let’s Cut Red Tape – With a Giant Spool of Bright Burgundy Adhesive Material

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Dear Reader (and those of you who I wish knew what it was like to have a 200-pound G-File sitting in your e-mail box demanding that you submit),

Qaddafi is dead. I think it’s good news. As I’ve long said, what has two thumbs and digs it when brutal dictators who’ve killed lots of Americans are killed? This guy.

Still, when you put yourself in his shoes for a second, you have to appreciate A) Man, these are really comfortable, what are they? Silk? And B) what a bad day he had yesterday. First of all, everyone could see his bald spot, which he successfully hid under throw pillows, Leona Helmsley head scarves, and the head gear of various Los Vegas hotel doormen for like four decades.

Also, those had to be some long final minutes in the drainage pipe. When they caught him, he kept saying “What is the matter? What’s going on? What do you want?”

It’s possible, even probable, that he was saying that because he was concussed and disoriented from the whole run-in with the arsenal of democracy and all. Hellfire missiles are a bitch. But I like to think he went down trying to bluff his way out of the situation.

Qaddafi was a certain kind of reptilian creature who survived by always assuming or acting as if he was in command of the situation. Like the Force, it’s stronger in some than others. Depending on context and character, it can be a beneficial thing. It’s not natural leadership so much as the charisma and presence that gives natural leaders that extra leg up. But it’s also the charisma that lets grifters run the long con and the worst sorts of people survive when the best do not.

Regardless, I like the idea that he ended his days filthy, staggered, and bloodied, thinking that if he just got out of that drainage pipe with an air of indignation and authority he could brazen his way out of yet one more tough spot. Tucking in his puffy pirate shirt, he acted like it was all perfectly natural for him to emerge from a dark hole in the ground. And, in a sense, it was.

 

What Does It All Mean?

Good golly, how the heck should I know? Everything is speculation at this point. Libya could go Islamist, authoritarian, or simply tits-up Somalia style. The headlines for NATO are great, but the fine print not so much. Not only did NATO keep lying about not targeting Qaddafi, it ran into any number of serious problems imposing its will without the U.S. I don’t think anyone expects NATO to do this sort of thing again anytime soon, so the deterrence effect is not exactly as powerful as some think. The lesson for dictators in the region is hardly to cave to the Arab Spring. It might be to kill your dissidents faster and more thoroughly. Or it might be that America is an unreliable friend and so forgoing WMDs is a bad idea. Who knows? The future is unwritten.

 

The State of the Race

About six millennia ago, on a day called “Tuesday,” there was a GOP debate in Nevada. It was in almost every respect the worst one yet, but it was also the most consequential because everyone came out diminished, with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich.

I’m not going to get dragged into a lot of post-debate punditry at this point, because there’s really not much new to be said. But I think two points are worth making. First: This was the first debate of the season where the clips that came out of it mattered more than the actual debate itself. I think by any measure Romney won the debate, but Perry won the news cycle. All the news shows repeated that one clip where Romney was flustered (I couldn’t find it, but this will do).

Second, one thing is clear from these debates. Tim Pawlenty really, really blew it by getting out of the race. But what’s so weird is that his strategy was essentially right. He was gambling that the party would be desperate for a not-Romney candidate to Romney’s right. The party is now desperate for a not-Romney candidate to Romney’s right. But Pawlenty is out of the picture and there’s a major hole in the field where he could neatly slide in.

I’m sure that two years ago, it seemed like he had to run a big, honking national campaign to scare off Mitch Daniels and other Republican governors and to round up big money. But, at least in retrospect, that was a dumb play. If he’d simply gone lean and mean in Iowa and bided his time, he’d certainly be in much better shape today than Bachmann and maybe even Perry.

Oh, one last thing about the debates. I don’t much care that Rick Perry kept calling Herman Cain “brother.” But I will say this: When he said “I’ll bump plans with you, brother,” it sounded to me like the sort of thing really wonky gay dudes say.

 

Occupy Wall Street!

As I mentioned in the Corner, I love this story about the fraying tensions among the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

Aside from the general schadenfreudtasticness of it all, I found this bit to contain some fascinating contradictions. Apparently some of the “facilitators” — you might call them the avant-garde of the avant-garde of the avant-garde of the lumpenproletariat — have started censoring and taxing the drummers.

To Shane Engelerdt, a 19-year-old from Jersey City and self-described former “head drummer,” this amounted to a Jacobinic betrayal. “They are becoming the government we’re trying to protest,” he said. “They didn’t even give the drummers a say. . . . Drumming is the heartbeat of this movement. Look around: This is dead, you need a pulse to keep something alive.”

The drummers claim that the finance working group even levied a percussion tax of sorts, taking up to half of the $150-300 a day that the drum circle was receiving in tips. “Now they have over $500,000 from all sorts of places,” said Engelerdt. “We’re like, what’s going on here? They’re like the banks we’re protesting.”

Wait a second. The leadership of OWS is imposing a 50 percent tax rate on the most successful and entrepreneurial protesters and they’re regulating their ability to satisfy the consumer (as it were)?

This Engelerdt guy’s grasp of political theory is a bit off, though. First he says that the organizers are becoming the sort of government they’re protesting. Except that has it exactly wrong. They’re becoming the sort of government they’re demanding!

He then goes on to say that the decision to confiscate so much of the drummers’ obscene profits makes the organizers like the banks. But the banks don’t tax anybody — that’s government’s job. In fact, if these guys had their way, the drummers should be taxed at a much higher rate, right? Why should the drummers make so much more than the guy running the seminar on how to make hemp-twine condoms or the lady teaching folks how to recycle everything from urine to toilet paper?

 

Let’s Cut Red Tape — With a Giant Spool of Bright Burgundy Adhesive Material!

A month ago today, I wrote a column on “Catch-22 Liberalism.” I wrote, in part:

The Left yearns to “go big” but it wants to do so through the extremely narrow routes it has created for itself. They say government must rush into this economic crisis like firemen into a burning building. But they also don’t want to lighten the useless baggage the firemen must carry or remove the Byzantine obstacle course they’ve decreed the figurative firefighters must run through before getting to work.

Here’s another small example of the mess liberalism is in. HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius says:

It’s time to cut the red tape. Our new proposals eliminate unnecessary and obsolete standards and free up resources so hospitals and doctors can focus on treating patients.

They do so with 955 pages of new regulations!

Now, I understand that this may — or may not! — constitute progress. But take a step back. If you need to issue just shy of 1,000 pages of rules in order to cut red tape, you’ve got some major problems. This is like digging a hole to China and deciding that there must be a better way, so you change course to Australia.

 

Potpourri!

Some circumstantial evidence is quite strong, as when you find . . . this. Note: This video is for dog lovers only.

Here’s my column on Joe Biden. My apologies for all the points I could have made about the guy and didn’t, but writing this column was like sitting next to a huge pile of horse manure and trying to figure out how much could be crammed in a five-pound bag.

If you missed me on C-SPAN earlier this week, you can watch it here.

The Most Important Election Ever, Sort Of

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Dear Reader (and those of you who simply asked the new iPhone what today’s G-File says),

Every four years, people start saying “This is the most important election ever.”

It can’t actually be true, for the simple reason that it cannot be true that every four years our national predicament gets significantly more precarious. And yet it often feels that way. It’s like people who say the country has never been more polarized or divided, which is as dumb as saying dogs have never licked their crotches more. There’s simply something about the arrogance of the now that lets us think this moment is more important, more special than every other. Perhaps it’s because we play the movie of the past in our heads and assume the characters in the movie know what will happen next, so we can’t grasp that every “now” is important to those in it.

I actually think that’s an interesting topic in and of itself, but what got me thinking about it is, well, the Most Important Election Ever!

Okay, maybe it’s not technically the most important ever – that’s a good G-File contest, what were the most important elections in American history where the voters made the wrong choice.

That’s right, that just happened. I just blew up your Friday plans with a brain-bomb of counterfactual historical discussion topics! (Attn: Marvel Comics fans – No need to look over your shoulders for Uatu, I’m right here wrecking your world with “What if . . . ?” questions.) As you’re picking pieces of your brainpan out of the tight weave of your cubicle carpet, ask yourself: What would America be like today if William Howard Taft had won in 1912?

Boom. Your Mind. Status: Blown.

Anyway, as the desert mirage of Mitt Romney getting the GOP nomination becomes ever more concrete, I hear more and more conservatives either claiming they’ll stay home or expressing the fear that others will. I think this is an exaggerated concern partly intended to scare voters away from moving to Romney.

But it’s not a baseless concern either (after all, you can only exaggerate the truth). And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. If Romney continues to gain momentum and the anti-Romney bloc remains divided, then Romney’s incentive for placating the party’s conservative base diminishes even before the first primary vote is cast. Already he’s looking like a candidate with one eye on the general election.

You can see how, in that immaculately clean and organized head of his, he’s thinking, “Why move farther right if I don’t have to? Why not move to the center a bit now?” It’s not a dumb thought by any means, but the price of positioning yourself to the center too early is that you signal to the right that you’re really not very conservative at all.

In other words, most conservative voters forgive running-dog centrism in the general election because they want to win. But in the primaries, they want to be wooed. If they’re not sufficiently wooed in the primaries, the nominee’s inevitable move to the center becomes less forgivable because it’s seen not as a tactical maneuver but as confirmation that the nominee isn’t a real conservative.

Romney is fast approaching that inflection point in the campaign, which is why even if you’re a conservative who’s reluctantly come to accept Romney, you should still want Herman Cain or Rick Perry to keep pressure on Romney for a good while longer (or perhaps to become preferable general-election candidates). Indeed, it’s in the interest of the Forces of Light and Goodness to see the GOP primary play out for a good long time. The longer we go without a single lightning rod for Democratic and MSM attacks, the harder it will be for Obama to craft a clear message.

 

So Where Was I? Oh, Right: What Happens If Obama Wins?

Whether this is the most important election ever or not, the stakes are really huge. We’re used to the top-line items. Obamacare is vastly more likely to stay the law of the land. Freed from the need to be reelected, Obama can revert either to his true left-wing instincts or to his desire to be remembered for Great Things. In either case, you can imagine a slew of decisions that will lock the U.S. into its current, if unsteady, course to Eurostyle social democracy. I’d be surprised if a second-term Obama pushed for slavery reparations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave the keys to the economy to the EPA. I would be stunned if the War on Terror weren’t folded into just another criminal file at DOJ.

All of those things are important, really important. But we’ll be hearing a lot about that sort of stuff in the weeks and months ahead. What the candidates won’t discuss is what an Obama victory would mean for the Republican Party.

A defeat for the GOP would almost surely produce waves of disillusionment among tea partiers (particularly if Romney is not the nominee) and conceivably the creation of a third party. If Romney were the nominee and lost, the only way to stave off a third-party movement would be to push the GOP further to the right and the establishment off a cliff in the process. If a more tea-party-friendly nominee lost, there would be utter chaos in the party, with the “We have to become more moderate” faction moving policy to the left. It would be bloody and ugly.

And contrary to what you might think, that doesn’t concern me because I’m so rah-rah for the GOP. The Republican Party is just a team which scores points by winning elections. If a more conservative third party could rise, destroy the GOP, and still win elections, I’d be just fine with that. Or, if the Democratic Party decided to become a thoroughly libertarian party, I’d be perfectly fine picking and choosing sides on an issue-by-issue basis between the two major parties. Also, maintaining the same level of plausibility, I would be totally psyched if Frodo had simply flown the Millennium Falcon to Mordor, saving all that time. Or we could use the proceeds from Meghan McCain’s invention of an all-in-one cold-fusion, perpetual-motion, and dashboard-mounted smoothie blender to simply buy a slice of America from the federal government and create our limited-government nation-state.

Alas, in this slice of reality, conservatives need the GOP for the simple reason that there aren’t any great alternatives to it. The Republican Party is the more conservative of the two political parties, and without it as a vessel – and a seaworthy one at that – conservatism in America is in grave trouble.

The GOP still faces long-term demographic trouble. Its current revival is largely a function of the fact that it’s getting an ever larger share of a shrinking slice of the electorate: white people. I don’t believe in straight-line projections into the future. But I think the Republicans need this win, badly.

 

They Call Him Mr. Hoover

I’m not usually prone to quoting Ezra Klein approvingly, but I think he gets at one of the reasons why this election matters a lot. While I think Obama’s made things worse, it’s also true he inherited a mess. Historically, the party that inherits the mess gets blamed for the mess. Hoover wasn’t responsible for the crash, though he made it worse. FDR made it worse too, but he also managed to take credit when the Depression ended. As lame as it sounds, if the economy gets better over the next four years, whichever president/party is in power will get a lot of credit for the recovery. Here’s Klein:

The pat story behind FDR’s victory and the ensuing decades of mostly Democratic dominance is that the president got the policy right and the politics followed. Whatever you believe about FDR’s policies, a more international perspective will disabuse you of the notion that the golden age for the Democratic Party was an ideological triumph rather than an accident of history. As Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, has written, globally, the pattern is clear: Whichever party was in power when the Great Depression hit was booted out of office, and whichever party was in power when the global recovery took hold reaped huge political benefits.

“In the U.S.,” wrote Bartels, “voters replaced Republicans with Democrats and the economy improved. In Britain and Australia, voters replaced Labor governments with conservatives and the economy improved. In Sweden, voters replaced Conservatives with Liberals, then with Social Democrats, and the economy improved.

Now, I do think the economy will improve more with a Republican victory than it would with a Democratic victory. The best way to clear out the uncertainty plaguing business but also consumers is a clear do-over with a new team. Moreover, repealing Obamacare, imposing growth-oriented tax reform, etc., would have non-trivial effects. But even if you’re a complete skeptic about the ability of Washington run the economy, the simple rules of historical musical chairs say it’s important to have a Republican at the helm in 2013 and beyond.

That may not be an uplifting, passionate, emotionally satisfying explanation for why, even if it’s Romney, you should hold your nose and race to the polls. But we don’t look to politics for our emotional satisfaction. We’re conservatives.

 

Speaking of Hoover

As several readers have suggested, isn’t it time we call these Occupy Wall Street encampments “Obamavilles”? You know that if this was a Republican president, they’d already be called Bushvilles or McCainvilles by the New York Times et al.

 

Steve Jobs, RIP

For some reason, I haven’t commented on his passing. Before the issue becomes completely stale, some very quick thoughts:

1) The hype has been a little over the top. I heard a guy from the Wall Street Journal tell NPR that there wasn’t a single American – other than Barack Obama – who would deserve the huge six-column headline Steve Jobs got on the front page. Really? If Bill Gates or Warren Buffett died tomorrow theJournal wouldn’t give them similar treatment? What about George W. Bush or Bill Clinton? Similarly, the idea that he was as monumental a figure as Thomas Edison strikes me as unpersuasive.

2) But before his defenders get their dudgeons up (can one do that?), these are hardly harsh criticisms. Steve Jobs was an amazing person with monumental accomplishments under his belt. To say there are a half dozen or so people who’d get similar headlines if they died is not exactly an insult, nor is saying his contribution is slightly less than Thomas Edison’s.

3) What I found interesting was how often I noticed the disconnect between what people were saying about Jobs and the conversation in Washington. He didn’t compromise! Republicans are dangerous extremists for not compromising! He created billions of dollars in wealth! It’s outrageous that the super-rich aren’t taxed more! Etc.

 

Various & Sundry

The new issue of NR is out, and I share the cover with good Kevin Williamson and the editors. Subscribe now or badgers will sneak into your bedroom at night and gnaw off your toes.

Here’s my column today. Short take: Iran is messing with us because they’re not afraid of us.

Podcasts! Here I am talking Iran, Occupy Wall Street, and the GOP with the guys from the Banter Podcast at AEI (it’s free!).

I’ll be on Special Report tonight for a very special edition.

The 99 Percenters Prove that ‘Libertarianism’ Is Doomed

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Dear Reader,

DEAR READER!

. . . and . . .

AND!

. . . those of you . . .

THOSE OF YOU!

. . . who are . . .

WHO ARE!

. . . hearing this . . .

HEARING THIS!

. . . read to you Occupy Wall Street style.

READTOYOUOCCUPYWALLSSSSSTREETSTYLE!!!! [jazz hands!]

After a long hiatus, I’m writing for the magazine again, so I’m going to try not to exhaust all I have to say on the subject here (or even here). But suffice it to say, I’m still loving Occupy Wall Street.

Again, I know that small bands of kooks tapping into popular angst can lead to very bad things (why, just look at what happened with Up With People!), but I still have confidence in America. There have been far, far, far more impressive gaggles of revolutionary goofballs in the past, and they failed to usher in a utopian realm where complaints about the unfairness of life are immediately translated into remunerable grievances against the State. How was I supposed to know that borrowing $200K to get two master’s degrees in two different dead languages wouldn’t land me a high-paying job? Why should I have to pay rent just because I signed the lease? Since when is it my fault that I have a credit rating that sounds like the temperature of the dark side of the moon expressed in Kelvin?

Or, my favorite, why should landlords refuse to rent me an apartment just because I’m an incredibly annoying person who is only 33 but still can’t figure out how to wait tables or make coffee and has no idea where my next paycheck is coming from? It must be because I’m a lesbian.

No, really. Read this:

Like so many teenagers, I believed in the “American Dream,” that I could move to New York from the Midwest and become an artist. I would achieve both fame and success, and I would never have to think about money. The first half was true. I made art and lived activism, and I achieved amazing amounts of success that I feel incredibly proud of. The second half, not so much. I have been able to live well, eat well, invest in my arts and make my own schedule, but I forgot to save money and think about my future.

This summer I tried to rent an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The process sent me into an emotional crisis and awakened me into a whole new realization of our economy, the music industry at large and, more specifically, what it means to be a queer artist in 2011.

I spent days trolling around Williamsburg, looking at shitty apartments with cockroaches lining the doorways, fighting neighbors, rats in the ceiling, bedbugs infesting the linoleum floors, fifth-floor walk-ups and cat-pee-soaked carpets. The rent was exorbitant, availability was scarce, and I was turned down by two different landlords for being “freelance.” To be honest, I don’t blame them. Not only am I freelance, but I’m lesbian freelance. Double whammy. What was the reason they turned me down? Because it was easier to rent to a rich, trust-fund, straight-guy banker who wants to live in the coolest borough in the world? Because when he met me he saw a tattooed gender outlaw who makes “queer electronic punk music” and isn’t sure when the next check is going to come in? Yeah, I don’t blame him. He doesn’t give a shit about how kids email me all the time thanking me for keeping them from committing suicide. It’s not part of his capitalist business practice.

You know those awesome farmer’s markets where you can get 20 different kinds of fresh tomatoes, weird mushrooms, and exotic apples? The above essay from “a tattooed gender outlaw” is just like that, except instead of “fresh tomatoes” insert “stupid” and replace “mushrooms” with “self-loathing” and “apples” with “unjustified and economically illiterate resentments.” Seriously every kind of stupid is available here for your inspection. Does this woman think that “rich, trust-fund, straight-guy bankers” are taking the pad with the cat-pee-soaked carpets and cockroaches? Really? Does she really think the “coolest borough in the world” is full of landlords turning down lesbians because they’re oh-so-edgy and subversive? Does she have any clue that her real enemies in this regard aren’t heteronormative landlords or trust-funded bankers, but liberal Democrats who cling to rent-control laws like a Liberty Park squatter with the last roll of toilet paper?

Then there’s this bit:

And if I need to, I’m ready to get a job, go to work in the morning, get a paycheck once a week, go to the dentist, get a check-up, bottom out to a boss and appreciate music without being worried that I can’t keep up.

Good for her. She’s willing to do her part! She’s “ready” – at age 33 – to go to the dentist. And yet capitalism remains unwilling to meet her half-way. Again, it must be because she’s a lesbian.

 

Why Liberaltarianism Is Doomed

The gist of it goes like this. There are libertarians who really hate conservatism and/or the Republican party. They like liberals for one reason or another. Therefore, they want to dissolve the conservative-libertarian marriage and get the libertarians and liberals hitched instead.

Well, what’s sort of fascinating about the Occupy Wall Street/Tea Party comparison is how much overlap there is between their complaints. Scrape off the 31 different kinds of Marxist mold growing on the surface of the 99 Percenters, hose off the stench of urine, bong water, and failure, and you’ll find a complaint that many Tea Partiers can appreciate: disgust at corporate bailouts, crony capitalism, and economic mismanagement.

That’s a major swath of agreement. The problem? The 99 Percenters’ proposed solutions and the Tea Partiers’ are absolutely incompatible with each other. The 99 Percenters aren’t against taxpayer bailouts – why would they be? They don’t pay much in taxes – they’re just against taxpayer bailouts of the wrong constituencies. After all, if Obama somehow forgave their student loans tomorrow, most of them would go home happy. They want debt forgiveness – and that’s a bailout. Meanwhile, the Tea Parties formed in no small part because, as Rick Santelli put it, taxpayers didn’t want to pay for their neighbors’ mortgages.

It’s really intriguing how the policy differences are informed by cultural differences. The twentysomethings haven’t paid much, if anything, in taxes and have received more than they’ve given. The Tea Partiers tend to be older and have spent a lot of time paying into the system. They resent paying for handouts. The Occupy Wall Streeters resent not getting them. And their definition of greed is not merely wanting to keep your own money, but resisting when others try to take it from you.

That’s a huge, huge difference.

Anyway, libertarians may be culturally “progressive,” but they aren’t economically. The protesters’ answer to the problem is more government and more bailouts, even as they trot out prefab arguments about self-sufficiency and getting away from materialism. (“We can charge our iPhones with generators made from, and running on, 100 percent renewable hemp!”) And yet somehow, the libertarians can’t explain to them that the reason government and big business are in bed together is that the government keeps intruding into business. Libertarianism is the answer, but these people refuse to ask the right questions.

It’s a shame that the libertarians can’t better exploit this as a teaching moment. But that’s just it, they can’t. Because psychologically, culturally, and intellectually, the Left is always going to be economically statist and egalitarian. Why? Because that’s what it means to be left-wing.

Libertarianism and leftism are – and here comes the vocab word of the day – incompossible worldviews for the simple reason that one simply means the opposite of the other.

 

Potpourri

I know I linked this in the Corner already, but everyone I’ve made watch it is glad I did. I think this guy is going to get himself killed. But it’s mesmerizing stuff.

In last week’s G-File, I somehow used the word “spendthrift” in exactly the wrong way. Blurgh. My apologies.

For those of you who liked all the Hoover stuff last week, here’s Steve Horwitz’s Cato paper which, weirdly, came out the same day as the G-File.

Mark your calendars: I’ll be on Special Report tonight. Also, on November 1, I’ll be speaking at Furman University in South Carolina. And I’ll also be speaking at the Americans for Prosperity Convention a few days after that.