Knox, Media Bias, and Hoover’s Mistake

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Dear Reader, (and faster-than-light neutrinos who’ve already read this column),

As some of you may know, the Goldberg household often begins the day by watching The Today Show. We’re not proud of it, but it’s not always terrible, and there’s value to be had in seeing how the legacy media covers things. Yes, I realize I sound like a bit like a trucker defending his collection of kitten posters (“Hang in there, baby!”).

Anyway, The Today Show has been covering the Amanda Knox story like the nation is transfixed by it. Now, maybe the nation is transfixed by it and I am so cocooned in my political bunker I’ve lost my Fingerspitzengefühl for the Zeitgeist. I really have no way of telling, because nobody I know ever talks about it and the only news I get about the story of this attractive American girl comes from The Today Show. And going by that alone, I can only conclude the Italians have wrongfully convicted a girl who should be in Noxzema ads and this is more important than pretty much any other news story because pretty much every Today Show anchor has been out to Italy to hone their Fingerspitzengefühl for the state of Perugian justice.

Just this morning, Matt Lauer was “reporting” from there but still managed to get in a few words about the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Anyway, I bring this up for the simple reason that I’m always telling people that there are many kinds of media bias, not just liberal media bias. (This can be a little awkward when the subject of media bias hasn’t come up naturally, as when the cashier at the supermarket asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” and I respond, “You know, there are many kinds of media bias . . .”)

If this trial was in, say, Whitehorse, Canada, in February, I sincerely doubt we would have seen Ann Curry, Matt Lauer, and Lester Holt rotating their pilgrimages to ensure that there was no miscarriage of Yukon justice. But, you know, a jaunt to Perugia in late summer or early fall is not exactly hardship duty. Heck, since today is Friday, Matt can make a nice long weekend out of it. Do you think these murder mysteries in the Bahamas and Caribbean are given so much attention solely because the story is so compelling and rich, as Ron Burgundy would say?

Obviously, location bias is not the only bias either. If Amanda Knox had been a horse-faced 40-year-old dude, we might not have heard so much about this case. Similarly, it is an outrageous fact that missing black girls don’t get the same coverage as missing white girls.

Also, if Knox didn’t have a sympathetic family to interview constantly, perhaps coverage would suffer. Which brings us to a different kind of bias. Because this is a “national obsession,” The Today Show spends most of its time working from the assumption that Knox is innocent and that her family’s ordeal is therefore particularly acute.

Now, Knox may be innocent. I have no idea. The Wikipedia entry is pretty confusing on the issue. But you’d think guilt and professional due diligence would at least prompt The Today Show — which is part of NBC News, after all — to spend a bit more time speculating about that.

 

Suskinder, Gentler Press Corps

But let’s not give short shrift to liberal media bias. For instance, when Ron Suskind wrote not one but two flawed attacks on the Bush White House, the mainstream media took it all at face value. To this day we still take it on faith that someone in the Bush White House mocked liberals for living in the “reality-based community.”

But now that Suskind is embarrassing the Obama White House, everyone is deeply, deeply dubious that Suskind himself is a member of the reality-based community. Which — hey, look at that! — brings us right back to The Today Show. As Byron York pointed out, when Suskind was invited on The Today Show to discuss his anti-Bush book, the interview might as well have been conducted by Suskind’s publicist. When it’s his Obama book, he gets grilled as some sort of the flim-flam man.

Or consider Slate’s Jacob Weisberg. He got the pneumatic tubes of the interwebs a-buzzing recently with his pretty devastating review of Suskind’s Confidence Men. The headline for his review:

Don’t Believe Ron: Suskind. His book about Obama is as spurious as the ones he wrote about Bush.

And here’s his first paragraph:

As an editor, you develop a B.S. meter — an internal warning system that signals caution about journalism that doesn’t feel trustworthy. Sometimes it’s a quote or incident that’s too perfect — a feeling I always had when reading stories by Stephen Glass in the New Republic. Sometimes it’s too many errors of fact, the overuse of anonymous sources, or signs that a reporter hasn’t dealt fairly with people or evidence. And sometimes it’s a combination of flaws that produces a ring of falsity, the whiff of a bad egg. There’s no journalist who sets off my [male bovine excrement] alarm like Ron Suskind.

(Note: I bowdlerized the term that rhymes will full-knit out of fear it would get snagged on spam filters like Dom DeLuise’s cape when he crawls under a barbed-wire fence).

This is all fine and dandy, as far as I’m concerned. Except, as Inspector Columbo might say, one last question: Why didn’t Weisberg tell us this before? Search Slate, which he was editor of during the Bush years and is now the CEO of, and you’ll find bazillions of references to Suskind. Weisberg even participated in an online debate with Suskind, and he ended up agreeing with Suskind and disagreeing with Bob Woodward, a point Weisberg highlighted in Newsweek as late as 2009.

Funny how it becomes an imperative to shout “Don’t Believe Ron Suskind” only when what Ron Suskind has to say becomes inconvenient.

 

The Hoover Myth

Even though this seems to be an all-media bias G-File, that doesn’t mean we can’t go high-brow. (“This is usually where you’d make a pull-my-finger joke” — The Couch.) Pull my finger!

My friend and AEI colleague Nick Schulz has done something I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do: Read John Judis’s New Republic cover story on the economy. Apparently Judis believes he’s cornered Mitt Romney on the Achilles heel of Romney’s — and the GOP’s — economic agenda. Judis confronted Romney and asked him:

I want to ask you something about history. You know, when Herbert Hoover had to face a financial crisis and then unemployment, his strategy was to balance the budget and cut spending, and that made things worse. When Roosevelt came in, unemployment was twenty-five and went to fourteen percent by 1937. With deficits. Aren’t you repeating the Hoover mistake?

Ah, the “Hoover Mistake,” capitalized for your eternal reifying pleasure.

If you ever doubt that liberal historians have imbibed the partisan talking points of the New Deal, you need look no further than the maligned figure of Herbert Hoover. Judis’s characterization is simply what “everyone knows” to be true about Hoover’s response to the Depression of 1929. I say “the Depression” and not “the Great Depression” because it took FDR, the Tony the Tiger of liberalism, to make it Grrrrrrrrrrreaaat!

The problem is that almost everything “everybody knows” about Hoover is wrong. This creates a real challenge for conservatives and libertarians because while Hoover the man was very impressive, Hoover the Progressive Republican was, well, a Progressive Republican. As anyone who’s read Liberal Fascism should remember, Hoover was all-in on Wilson’s war socialism, serving as national food administrator; he considered “supper . . . one of the worst pieces of extravagance that we have in this country.” He promulgated the Little American’s Promise, a pledge card every child was expected to sign:

At table I’ll not leave a scrap 

Of food upon my plate. 

And I’ll not eat between meals but

For supper time I’ll wait.

I make that promise that I’ll do

My honest, earnest part

In helping my America

With all my loyal heart.

For kids who couldn’t read yet, he offered them a nursery rhyme:

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn!

The cook’s using wheat where she ought to use corn

And terrible famine our country will sweep,

If the cooks and the housewives remain fast asleep!

Go wake them! Go wake them! It’s now up to you!

Be a loyal American, Little Boy Blue!

Hoover was such a card-carrying Progressive, guess who considered running on his ticket as vice president in 1920? Wilson’s toady at the Navy Department, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But none of that matters. Hoover was a crazy, heartless libertarian, don’t you know anything?! I mean, just look at what a spendthrift he was during the Great Depression! Hoover mistake, Hoover mistake, Hoover mistake! I’m not listening to you!

Well, if you tell a certain breed of libertarian that Hoover was a budget-balancing fiscal tightwad, you’ll get punched in the face, at least figuratively. Here’s Tim Taylor:

Hoover’s budget strategy over his term of office was not to balance the budget. The budget ran a small deficit of -.6% of GDP in 1931, followed by a much larger deficits of 4.0% of GDP in 1932 and 4.5% of GDP in fiscal year 1933 (which, as Judis points out at a different point in his discussion, started in June 1932 and was thus mostly completed before Roosevelt took office in 1933).

Let me say it clearly: Hoover didn’t cut spending. In nominal terms, federal government spending went from $3.3 billion in 1930 to $4.6 billion in 1933. As Taylor notes, given the price deflation that came with the crash, the real federal outlays nearly tripled from 3.4 percent of GDP in 1930 to 8.0 percent of GDP in FY 1933.

In the spring of 1930, the New York Times said of Hoover’s efforts, “No one in his place could have done more” and “very few of his predecessors could have done as much.”

But, hey, maybe Hoover’s reputation as a spendthrift of Jack Fowlerian proportions (Jack, as you should know, is the head suit here at NR; he’d object but he’s busy searching for a 10 percent off at Arby’s coupon I told him was in the corner of a round room) is derived from his effort to cast himself as a responsible steward of the public fisc. Er, no. Here’s Hoover defending his record in his acceptance speech at the 1932 convention as he prepared to run for another term:

Two courses were open to us. We might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead, we met the situation with proposals to private business and to the Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic. We put that program in action. Our measures have repelled these attacks of fear and panic . . . We have used the credit of the Government to aid and protect our institutions, both public and private. We have provided methods and assurances that none suffer from hunger or cold amongst our people. We have instituted measures to assist our farmers and our homeowners. We have created vast agencies for employment.

Perhaps because I am so cynical, I’m no longer shocked that liberal historians and Democratic politicians still cling to the Hoover myth, but what is amazing to me is how liberal economists who swear they are empiricists and fact-finders propagate it as well. Paul Krugman is constantly invoking the Hoover myth. So is Brad DeLong, who has driven many decent students of economic history to the point of sputtering rage with his insistence that Hoover was a “liquidationist.”

The Hoover myth endures for a simple reason — it has to. Because otherwise the FDR myth will tip over.

 

Various & Sundry

Potpourri!

I returned to the Riccochet Podcast this week.

Here’s my column on the radicalization of the “center” under Obama.

Bomb shelters!

Frank Miller’s holy terror!

I passed 25,000 Twitter followers today. Which means I am only 975,000 away from my goal.

Correckshuns! Last week’s G-File misidentified Omega House as Delta House in Animal House. I also said Slim Pickens rode an ICBM when he clearly just rode a bomb. I beg thy forgiveness.

The Tank Is Empty

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Dear Reader (and those of you busy riding your stock portfolios like Slim Pickens on the back of an ICBM),

Not long ago in the Corner, I wrote that I think that much of Perry’s popularity is “unearned.” I got a lot of grief from readers saying, “How can you say that? Texas, Texas, Texas. Rick Perry fact, Rick Perry fact.”

The point wasn’t that he didn’t deserve to be popular in some way. Deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it, as Clint Eastwood might say. It’s that his popularity has been based in part on a lot of wishful thinking, dissatisfaction with the current field, and projection. I still think that’s true, though the air seems to be leaking out of him faster than a bean-eating-contest winner with poor sphincter control. Lots of people really like Perry at first sight and then look for rationalizations to make their view seem grounded in his record, when their knowledge of his record is pretty thin. Others, for entirely understandable reasons, looked at the current field like it’s the table at Delta House where they tried to seat Flounder (“Ken, Lonny, I’d like you to meet Mohammet, Jugdish, Sidney, and Clayton”). Perry seemed cut from a different cloth — or chiseled from a different stone, if you prefer — and people imposed expectations on him that, so far, he hasn’t lived up to.

I don’t mean to single out Perry as somehow unique in this regard (and he’s hardly doomed, he’s still the front-runner). It happens all the time. George W. Bush won the nomination in 2000 largely by brilliantly exploiting a similar phenomenon (and so did Barack Obama). But most candidates fail to translate infatuation into victory. Fred Thompson’s best day was the day before he announced his candidacy. Little did we know that would mean he would spend the rest of the campaign auditioning to be in a Bartles & James commercial. And Sarah Palin’s popularity is the result of many things, but few honest fans (never mind foes) would argue that it’s solely the product of her record in Alaska or her sweeping command of the issues.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. In politics it’s not a crime if voters like you first and look for the reasons second. But it is political malpractice if you don’t try to give voters a reason to stay with you after the initial infatuation starts to wear off. It’s like any other romance or relationship. It’s one thing to make a great first impression, it’s another thing to make it last.

I think Perry’s failing because he can’t bridge the distance between his image and his argument. As Rich, John Podhoretz and others have noted, his debate performances aren’t getting better. More and more, Perry seems less and less like the man responsible for the Texas miracle and more like the guy in the captain’s chair while the ship has been on autopilot.

Texans familiar with Perry keep telling me that the man is an incredibly disciplined workaholic. I’ll take their word for it, but I’ve seen no evidence this is true in the debates.

My suspicion is that Perry doesn’t really want the presidency. He got in because he thought he could get it. He didn’t wait as long as he did out of strategic considerations. He waited that long because he wasn’t thinking about being president until it dawned on him that he could win. He’s running for the same reason dogs lick their nethers — because he can. 

 

The Tank Is Empty

You can’t say the same thing about Romney. He is clearly a much, much better candidate than he was in 2008 and, more interestingly, a much better candidate since Perry got into the race and scared the bejeebus out of him.

Look, I don’t want to do anymore punditry here, but let me just pre-but, as it were, the inevitable charge that I’m in the tank for Romney. I’m not. I am not a huge fan of the guy. I am more sympathetic to Perry’s supposedly outrageous apostasy on immigration than I am to Romney’s on healthcare. Despite the endless speculation and fantasy about National Review’s relationship with Romney, there’s zero — and I mean zero — institutional pressure to be for or against the guy. I have no idea whom Rich or Jay are for. Ramesh spent much of the summer arguing — in vain — for Pawlenty. Kathryn’s clearly rooting for Santorum. My sense is that everyone is basically like me (and most of you): We want to see Obama lose more than we want to see any of these guys (or gal) win.

 

Empiricism! Fact Finding! Expertise! Oh My!

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but liberals have been investing a lot of time and energy into the idea that if smart people run government, if they’re guided by science and facts and reason, they can do all sorts of wonderful things. As I discuss in my upcoming book, this is a very old line of argument (see Comte, Condorcet, Lippmann, Dewey, Dukakis, Obama et al). But it’s intensified in recent years. The liberal fad of describing themselves as members of the “reality-based community” and the sophomoric bilge about the “Republican war on science” marked the beginning of this boomlet for liberal “empiricism.” And what with the terribly embarrassing failures of Obama’s Keynesian schemes and industrial planning, the Left is particularly defensive (after all, all of this economic news is just so “unexpected”!).

On that note, the other week, I wrote this admittedly mediocre column about the cult of expertise. It elicited a lot of tittering and guffaws from the usual suspects on the left. On Twitter, Matt Yglesias summarized the depth and sophistication of the responses by calling me “dumb.”

I don’t want to get into all of that now (it’s a big theme of my forthcoming book). But it did keep springing to mind while I was writing today’s column on the death penalty. Discussing the “doubt” surrounding Troy Davis’s guilt, I write:

At best, his case proves that you can’t be certain about Davis. You most certainly can be certain about other murderers. If the horrible happens and we learn that Davis really was not guilty, that will be a heart-wrenching revelation. It will cast a negative light on the death penalty, on the Georgia criminal-justice system, and on America.

But you know what it won’t do? It won’t render Lawrence Russell Brewer one iota less guilty or less deserving of the death penalty. Opponents of capital punishment are extremely selective about the cases they make into public crusades. Strategically, that’s smart; you don’t want to lead your argument with “unsympathetic persons.” But logically, it’s problematic. There is no transitive property that renders one heinous murderer less deserving of punishment simply because some other person was exonerated of murder.

Brewer was one of the thugs who dragged James Byrd to his death in Texas. He was executed the same day as Davis, but got much less attention.

Anyway, I couldn’t make this point there so I’ll make it here.

Conservative and libertarian opponents of the death penalty enjoy a logical consistency liberal opponents do not, at least on one point. The Right is skeptical about government’s competence. So when they say that they don’t trust the government to implement the death penalty unerringly, it makes sense.

But when liberals make this case it’s a huge contradiction. The history of liberal technocrats’ screwing things up is long, rich, and deep. This Solyndra mess is just a tiny footnote to that epic tale. And yet, despite all evidence, progressive technocrats and “empiricists” insist that they have the brains and the know-how not only to manage wildly complex phenomena involving literally billions of variable and millions of individual actors but to predict behavior and events years from now. But when it comes to the infinitely more discrete task of determining the guilt of a murderer, they suddenly say, “It’s impossible to be sure! We can never be certain!”

Really? What about when we have the murderer on videotape committing the deed and then confessing to it afterwards? And DNA evidence confirms he’s telling the truth. What about the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik who took the police back to the scene of the crime and explained how he did it? What about Tim McVeigh? Just because it’s hard to be certain in some cases doesn’t mean it’s not easy to be certain in others.

At this point, liberal opponents will respond that the death penalty is different because it’s “irreversible.” Well, it’s true that it’s irreversible, but that doesn’t make it different — because all decisions by government are fundamentally irreversible. Even if the government “reverses” a policy that doesn’t mean policymakers can go back in time and start over. If we decide to spend money on this and not that, that decision is made even if down the road government demands its money back.

This isn’t simply the nature of policy making, it’s the nature of the freakin’ reality. I’m reminded of this passage from Steven Landesburg’s wonderful book, The Armchair Economist:

Economics forces us to confront a fundamental symmetry. The conflict arises because each side wants to allocate the same resource in a different way. Jack wants his woodland at the expense of Jill’s parking space and Jill wants her parking space at the expense of Jack’s woodland. That formulation is morally neutral and should serve as a warning against assigning exalted moral status to either Jack or Jill.

The symmetries run deeper. Environmentalists claim that the wilderness should take precedence over parking because a decision to pave is “irrevocable.” Of course they are right, but they overlook the fact that a decision not to pave is equally irrevocable. Unless we pave today, my opportunity to park tomorrow is lost as irretrievably as tomorrow itself will be lost. The ability to park in a more distant future might be a quite inadequate substitute for that lost opportunity.

And don’t give me this guff that the death penalty is unique because it’s about life and death. So is a lot of policymaking. Healthcare, abortion, war, crime, consumer-product safety, mass transit etc: All of these things involve a lot more lives — a lot more innocent lives! — than the death penalty, by orders of magnitude.

Anyway back to the point I wanted to make. The process of a criminal procedure is vastly more “reality-based” and empirical than the policy-making process. Adversarial arguments, rules of evidence, an overseeing judge, hostile witnesses, a jury of peers: Do you think anything that went into the stimulus involved a fraction as much due diligence?

In short, if you think courts can never — ever! — be certain that a murderer did the deed, then you must become a full-blown libertarian to be logically consistent.

Discuss.

 

Travelogue

Last week there was no G-File because the missus and I went off to celebrate — belatedly — our tenth wedding anniversary in San Francisco. We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant called Quince (a reader helped us get reservations, no less!). Other highlights included a tour of Alcatraz, where I learned that the “Bird Man of Alcatraz” never had any birds at Alcatraz. He was the bird man of Leavenworth. This hit me hard because I loved that movie when I saw it as a kid at summer camp. I also learned that Robert Stroud (played by Burt Lancaster in the movie) was actually a brilliant but deranged and brutal psychopath. My wife asked me “What was he like in the movie?”

I replied, “He was Burt Lancaster, like he is in every movie.”

Now, that’s not entirely fair. But it did get me thinking about how so many actors in old movies simply played themselves over and over again. How many movies did John Wayne make where he wasn’t simply John Wayne, this time as a Marine, this time a cowboy, this time as a different cowboy. Ever see Tony Curtis (born Bernie Schwartz in the Bronx) in the Black Shield of Falworth? Hey, it’s Tony Curtis with a sword! Old English sounds really funny with a thick Bronx accent.

When you do the tour of Alcatraz — which I highly recommend — you pick up your audio guide in the prison shower. As we walked in, my lovely companion, took off her jacket because she was too warm. I held her handbag for her. Why am I telling you this? Just so you’ll be able to say from now on, “Goldberg’s so self-confident he can carry a woman’s purse in a maximum security prison shower without fear.”

Elizabeth Warren’s social contract explained! http://i.imgur.com/sHUN2.jpg

A Space-Time Continuum Problem, Among Others

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Dear Reader (including those of you who have subjected this gag to floccinaucinihilipilification.)

Obama gave perhaps the best speech of his presidency last night and no one cares (for an excellent recap see this Taiwanese animation).

Maybe I am alone in this, but have you ever noticed that when you watch a recording of a movie — on a DVR, DVD, Blueray whatever — and you rewind a scene or even a snippet of dialogue, it suddenly makes whatever the actor is saying seem fake? Watch Don Corleone deliver a great little 30-second speech in The Godfather and then rewind it and watch it again, and suddenly you can see that it’s an actor reciting words. The more you do it, the more fully you’re removed from the flow of the movie.  

Something similar happens for political reporters who follow politicians around on the stump. Once you’ve seen a candidate give the same speech — with the same uhs and ahs, the same choked-up moments, the same comedic pauses — a dozen, two dozen times, it becomes impossible not to grow jaded and cynical about it. You may still like the politician, but the substance of what he’s saying fades into the background.

Heck, we all know that if you just say a word over and over and over and over again, it soon starts to sound funny or fake. Quick: say “sponge” twenty times fast.

That’s where we are with Obama, I think. He’s become an endlessly looped highlight reel. He says the same things, makes the same arguments, uses the same debater’s tricks, and can’t understand why he’s not getting the same reaction he got in 2007-2008.

He’s the political equivalent of an aging Vegas crooner who doesn’t understand why 25-year-old girls don’t still give him their hotel room keys when he sings “Fly Me to the Moon” the way they did when he was 50 pounds lighter and 30 years younger.

The old lines don’t work anymore either. C’mon baby, did I tell you that Warren Buffet wants his taxes raised? You’ve got to dig that.

This has always been an acute problem for Obama because his meteoric political rise had more to do with the dynamics of faddishness than they did with merit or experience. He belonged in the category of Beanie Babies and Justin Bieber more than that of Lincoln or FDR.

It must be very frustrating for Obama, because he seems to think he “delivers” when he gives a good speech. But politicians, even non-faddish ones, aren’t like baseball players, who deliver the goods when they get on base or hit a home run. If a good baseball player does the same thing he did last year or ten years ago, he’s an all-star. If a politician simply repeats what he did last year, he’s in danger of being a has-been.  

Obama’s speeches get “better” in the same sense that when we talk to people who don’t speak a word of English, we think if we say things louder and slower they will suddenly understand English. Rhetorically, he talks louder and slower by simultaneously clarifying and becoming more strident in making arguments he’s made a million times before.

Meanwhile, his political operation is like the entourage who tells the crooner he’s still got it baby. Work that cowbell one more time.

I think the reason it comes across so glaringly as a performance is that Obama, for all his creased-pants Niebuhrian nuance, is stunningly unreflective about himself. His public persona is nearly always “I meant to do that.” So there was no acknowledgment that all of his “new ideas” last night weren’t new. No acknowledgement that he tried this stuff before in the stimulus. It’s just one more encore of “Fly Me to the Moon.”

I should say there have been times where he has admitted fault, but even then it comes across badly. His admissions that “shovel-ready” wasn’t shovel-ready (which should have been a scandal) either took the form of a condescending giggle or a report of fact that he assumed everyone else would be surprised by, too. He discovered that “shovel-ready” was b.s., and rather than report this as confirmation that Obama was outrageously learning on the job, the media acted like the man had confirmed the existence of a heretofore unknown atomic particle. Of course we can forgive you for not knowing shovel ready jobs don’t exist, the New York Times crowd seemed to say, because we thought they existed too!

All of the other times he’s admitted failure, it’s been a kind of humble brag. After Scott Brown’s election and again after the 2010 “shellacking,” he explained his biggest failure was that he, in effect, hadn’t sung “Fly Me To The Moon” louder and better with accompanying cowbell. In other words (heh), if only he gave people more Obama, everything would be better. It reminds me of the Campbell Scott character in Singles who thinks if he can just explain that his idea for commuter rail involves providing commuters a really, really good cup of coffee, everyone will understand the genius of his boondoggle.

Yes, I know Obama is trying to “trap” the GOP, and his advisers are moving little pewter toy-soldier versions of Boehner and Cantor on giant maps in the West Wing playroom. But at its core, last night’s speech was built around the assumption that all that separates Obama from a second term and greatness is one more really good speech, when the truth is that all that separates Obama from a second term and greatness is Obama.

 

Space-Time Continuum Problem

Last night the president said:

Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers’ wages. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. If you have 50 employees making an average salary, that’s an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012.

This morning the White House confirmed it will get the bill to Congress sometime next week.

 

On 9/11

The other day, a young staffer at AEI asked me to record a quick remembrance of 9/11 — where were you when, how did it change you, etc. It’s always been an awkward question, because so much of my adult life began at the same time.

In late August of 2001 I drove cross-country to marry the Fair Jessica in Friday Harbor, Washington. We got hitched (a lot of money changed hands in a bookie parlor somewhere on that day) and went on our honeymoon. Afterwards, my new wife had to go straight home to Washington to return to her new job as chief speechwriter to the attorney general. I had to go back to get Cosmo the Wonderdog from my sister-in-law. One day after picking up Cosmo, I was in my hotel room in Pendleton, Oregon, working on my column, pre-dawn. I remember watching some poor guy from Newsweek hawking his book on Bush v. Gore on Fox and Friends when the host apologized to him and said, I’m sorry, we have to cover this breaking story about a small single-engine plane hitting the World Trade Center. Needless to say, that guy didn’t get another book interview for a long time. I started flipping around the dial and saw the second plane hit the towers even as Bryant Gumbel was throwing cold water on speculation this might be terrorism. I instant-messaged (remember instant-messaging?) Rich Lowry and told him he needed to turn on the TV . . .

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The point is that the cliché “everything changed on 9/11” has always seemed off-key to me, because as luck would have it, everything changed in my life around then anyway. By the time the Iraq war started, my daughter was born. By the worst of the Iraq war, my father had died.

That said, I have to admit that I’m less caught up in the remembrances than most. While, I get choked up over some of the stories from 9/11 as much as the next guy, I have to say there’s something about the way we’re marking the anniversary that bothers me.

For instance, where’s the celebration that we’re kicking the enemy’s ass? Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda is a wreck. Saddam Hussein, who may not have orchestrated 9/11 but who was certainly our enemy, is dead. I don’t want to turn the anniversary into Happy Revenge for 9/11 Day. But there’s something so maudlin and sad-sacky about the coverage that grates on me. Must everything be turned into an opportunity to wallow in remorse?

The hard left seems to think we did it to ourselves either figuratively (because we invite such hatred) or literally because it was an “inside job.” For the liberal establishment 9/11 is a day to embrace our victimhood. For both, it’s a day to lament that 9/11 gave George W. Bush and Dick Cheney a free hand. And for the right, well, the right seems all over the place about 9/11. Some of it is maudlin. Some of it strikes me as a bit desperate to keep the emotions of that day alive to justify continuing the war on terror. Meanwhile, I could just use a bit more celebration of that the barbarians who pulled on Superman’s cape got what they were asking for.

 

Various & Sundry

For those of you who didn’t bother to do the math, the fact that this is the tenth anniversary of 9/11 means it is also the tenth anniversary of the Fair Jessica’s miraculous miscalculation in agreeing to marry me. We couldn’t celebrate on August 25, for reasons that — really! — weren’t my fault. Indeed, I had a fantabulous plan lined up but it got all blown up by — again! — factors that are not my fault.

So we’re going to San Francisco next week. No, I can’t meet up with anybody. “Honey, I know tonight is our special night, but would you mind if we just stopped by this bar and talked to like 20 people about fascism and what Mark Steyn, Derb, and Rich Lowry are really like for like three hours?”

But since this trip is more on the fly, I’ll take recommendations for just about anything. Alas, it’s too late to get reservations at the trendiest restaurants. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late for the best ones.

Here’s my column on the problem with “Catch-22 liberalism.”

And speaking of blowing things up, you do know that real men don’t watch explosions. They just walk away.

The Speech Cometh

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Dear Reader (including members of my federal family),

I’m still getting my sea legs, or more accurately my low-altitude legs, after my trip out West with the wee-one (who, sadly, ain’t so wee anymore).

Shortly after my real family was reunited, the only institution with a legal monopoly on violence came up with a new term for itself: “the federal family.” Actually, according to this write up, it’s not actually new so much as newly overused.

While this happy-smiley-cutesy branding is certainly the sort of thing that would have gotten at least a brief mention in Liberal Fascism had I known about it, I don’t actually think it’s that big a deal. It’s one of those government branding euphemisms that is so absurd that people either immediately discount it or laugh at it. If your doctor offered you an “inner tickle” instead of a colonoscopy, odds are you wouldn’t fall for it.

 

The Speech Cometh

Quick: Can you think of a domestic-policy speech Obama has given that has worked? His post-Tucson massacre address is the only clearly successful speech I can think of on a domestic issue, and that was pretty much policy-free. It also did him no lasting good, in large part because he and his party violated its “new tone” prescriptions almost immediately.

The reason I ask is that I have a very hard time imagining how his speech next week can possibly succeed. No one will believe it’s not a campaign speech, not even the Shrummian creatures who will spin their political looms to depict it as the greatest example of oratorical statesmanship since Churchill promised to fight the Nazis on the beaches. If he “goes big” the way the Left wants him too, it won’t seem bold; it will seem desperate, and it will increase the likelihood his agenda fails to pass Congress, which in turn will make him seem ineffectual. If he goes small or “bipartisan,” people will wonder why he wasted everyone’s time with a joint-session address.

TV critic David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun writes, “Not only isn’t Obama the gifted TV performer he seemed to be during the 2008 campaign, TV is now one of his worst enemies.” The formerly Obama-smitten writer continues:

My first fuzzy notion of this idea came while I watched Obama address the nation after the debt ceiling compromise with its crackpot, kick-the-can centerpiece of a so-called Super Committee. Obama had performed pitifully during the crisis, and yet, here he was on TV thinking he could spin the economic embarrassment as “Good President Battles Bad Congress” or Responsible Adult reins in Mean, Selfish Children.”

But as I looked at the screen, I couldn’t help thinking how diminished Obama looked and how thin his voice sounded. I wondered if there actually was something happening physically with him.

He re-watched President-elect Obama at Grant Park and grew wistful, but then:

Viewing him now on TV in his promise-not-realized persona made me both sad for what might have been and angry for letting myself believe in the TV imagery of a night in Grant Park in November.

Having never been all that smitten with the man, I’ve been waiting for this moment for quite a while. (I’d link to all the different times I’ve tried to make this point, but why bother?) I don’t say that with glee, rubbing my hands together as the bunny rabbit hops into my steel trap. I just mean that Obama’s act was always an act, and eventually people will see through any act. In February of 2010, during the White House health-care conference, I wrote in the Corner:

I think one of the great explanations for the mess the Obama administration is in — the whole cowbell dynamic — is that he, his advisers, and many of his fans in the press cannot fully grasp or appreciate the fact that he is not as charming to everyone else as he is to them (or himself). Hence, they think that the more he talks, the more persuasive he will be. Every president faces a similar problem which is why, until Obama, every White House tried to economize the deployment of the president’s political capital. The Obama White House strategy is almost the rhetorical version of its Keynesianism: the more you spend, the bigger the payoff.

The hidden cost of this strategy is that the more he talks, the more pronounced or noticeable this tendency becomes for the average American. Eventually, it could come to define him. Presidents — all presidents — get caricatured eventually because certain traits become more identifiable over time. That’s one reason why parodies of presidents on Saturday Night Live get more convincing and funnier at the end of their terms — everyone can recognize the traits and habits by then. The more instances where Obama grabs all of the attention while acting like an arrogant college professor — particularly as memories of Bush fade — the more opportunities the White House creates where people can say, “Hey, I finally figured out what bugs me about this guy.” Not long after that, it becomes a journalistic convention, a staple of late-night jokes and basis of SNL parodies.

Last spring, David Axelrod finally admitted that they were overusing Obama. He compared the tactic to how the Chicago Bears relied on running back Walter Payton for everything. It “was Payton left and Payton right and Payton up the middle,” Axelrod told New York magazine. “It became kind of a dreary game plan . . . [In Obama] we have one of the great political performers of our time. But I think we degraded that to some degree by using him as much as we did in the ways we did.”

That’s true — except is he really such a great political performer? I guess I’m willing to concede he’s a very good campaigner (though 2008 was a perfect year for Obama). But again, as president, has he ever — ever! — closed the deal, made the sale, flipped the opposition? I can’t think of a single time. Walter Payton won games for the Bears, right? What games has Obama won? His defenders will say Obamacare and the stimulus. But Obama didn’t win those battles, his party’s big majorities in Congress did. And even then, the way he won those battles hurt him politically and cost him the majority in the House and seats in the Senate.

Obama’s problem is that he never had any conception of the position much beyond the rhetorical presidency. He thinks he fulfills the job description when he juts his chin upward, pointing to the middle distance of history, says some Very Important Things, and then postures as if he’s mildly impatient with the applause he expects.

But that’s not the job.

 

Zero!

Speaking of jobs, the news this morning is that the U.S. economy didn’t create any in August. Over on Twitter, I’ve been trying to figure out how the White House spins this.

Some quick thoughts:

This is the first jobs report since 1945 that is carbon neutral.

He may have created zero jobs, but he saved millions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is racist.

George W. Bush’s chickens are coming home to roost.

I killed Bin Laden!

Hey, what’s that shiny thing over there? [Runs away.]

 

Happiness v. Regulation

I think happiness research is interesting. I am still thinking through how it should inform policymakers. The idea of a government actively trying to make people happier gives me the willies. I don’t want the federal family getting into that business too actively. At the same time, I’d like to see it get out of the habit of making people less happy.

A couple weeks ago, Bryan Caplan had a good review of a new book on happiness research and economics. This passage stuck with me:

Mr. Powdthavee deserves credit for concluding his book with some of the big questions: “Is happiness overrated?” “Should government force people to be happy?” But he neglects the many ways in which government could sharply increase happiness by intervening less.

For instance, happiness research makes a powerful case against European-style labor-market regulation. For most economists, the effect on worker well-being is unclear. On the one hand, regulation boosts wages; on the other, it increases the probability that you will have no wages at all. From the standpoint of a happiness researcher, however, this is a no-brainer. A small increase in wages has but a small and ephemeral effect on happiness. A small increase in unemployment, by contrast, has a massive and — unlike most other factors — durable effect on happiness. Supposedly “humane” regulations to boost workers’ incomes have a dire cost in terms of human happiness.

This should be such an obvious point, but it’s not. It’s self-evident, to me at least, that America would be better off if millions of people had low-wage jobs if the alternative is for millions of Americans to have no jobs at all. And I don’t just mean that the jobless poor would be happier. America would be better. Employment is a cultural issue almost as much as it is an economic one. Three quick examples:

Across America, lemonade stands run by little kids are being shut down because the kids didn’t get the necessary permits. In Georgia some little girls had their stand shut down after making $5 because they needed a $400 permit. The economic stakes here are beyond negligible. The state will never collect that $400 bucks, and the economy will survive the lost economic activity from the shuttered stand. But culturally, the lessons learned and not learned are really significant. Running a lemonade stand is simply a great thing for a kid to do. Creating a society where even pretend entrepreneurialism is crushed will have consequences. In Detroit, a city which should be throwing flower petals at the feet of entrepreneurs, it took a food-truck owner 60 trips to City Hall to get the permits he needed. That’s horrifying but oddly not surprising.

Work, and respect for work, creates a culture. Disrespect for work creates a culture too.

The other night, my wife watched some special on Dateline about transgender people. One young man (I think) was working as a cross-dressing prostitute in order to save up the money to buy a sex change in Mexico. I’m paraphrasing, but the reporter asked “him,” “Why do this? You don’t have to be a prostitute, you could work at McDonald’s.”

Apparently the kid’s response involved a look of disgust at the suggestion that “he” demean himself by working at a fast-food joint. After all, fellating random dudes has honor. Working for a regular paycheck is shabby.

‘There’s No Such Thing As Someone Else’s Child?’

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Dear Reader (and those of you who, according to the McConnell plan, will read this “news”letter only after three-fifths of it has been approved by the president),

I was listening to the “This American Life” podcast the other day and heard a story. I will summarize.

A man is returning from vacation with his wife and kids and some neighbors’ kids. They went camping in Texas. Towards the end of the long drive home in the family van, a Texas highway patrol car comes right up on the van, following like an “angry hornet,” lights and siren blazing, forcing the driver to pull over. The man can tell from watching Cops that these guys are serious. From behind their car doors, the police yell through their loudspeaker, to turn off the engine “using your left hand!” When the flustered driver uses his right hand, the cops shout louder. They make the driver get out of the car and get down on his knees on the gravelly shoulder of the Texas interstate. Some of the kids are already crying. The driver is terrified, confused, freaking out. One of the cops approaches with his rifle pointed at the man’s head. The other cop, his gun drawn, is talking to the wife.

Finally, after an eternity, the cop who’d been talking to the wife comes over and says to the driver, “Sir, do you know what your daughter wrote on the car?”

It was actually the neighbor’s kid, not his own daughter. But to make a long – but very entertaining – story short, what was written in the dust on the back of the van was: “Help. Please God. Call 911. I’ve been kidnapped.”

“Well, son, for about fifteen minutes there, you were the most wanted man in Texas,” one of the lawmen informed him.

The driver was so furious that, when the cops told him it was a crime to write that on the car, the driver told them, “Take her in.”

But it turns out that the neighbor’s daughter didn’t write the whole thing. It was a group effort. And that’s why I’m taking up your time with this story in the first place.

Apparently what happened is that the mother had written, “Help. Please God,” several hours earlier because she so dreaded getting back in the car with all of the kids for even more driving. Then one of the other kids filled in after, “I’ve been kidnapped.” And then the neighbor’s daughter wrote, “Call 911.”

It seems to me that this is a great little allegory for understanding how really, really, really stupid things happen in life, particularly in Washington. Person A has a harmless idea. Person B doesn’t completely understand A’s idea, but builds on it anyway. By the time you get to person Z, you’re selling hundreds of automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartels.

On both the left and the right there’s a tendency to assume the other side — particularly when it is running the government – is both really evil and really competent. Most of the time it’s closer to the opposite – again, particularly when we’re talking about the government. What appear to be conspiracies from the outside are in fact a series of dumb, innocuous, or even somewhat okay ideas that build on each other into colossally idiotic foul-ups, thanks to imperfect information and mission creep. If there’s a human being out there who hasn’t had some experience with this sort of thing I can only assume it’s because you were raised in a refrigerator box and without human contact. And if there’s a reader out there who doesn’t think this capacity for screw-ups is an important part of the human condition, well, you’re free to read this but you’re not a conservative.

This is not – or at least not entirely – a road-to-Hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions point. The initial idea that gets the ball rolling can be cynical or crass. Rather, it’s to note that the more humans you have in the decision tree, the more you multiply the human factor, and that can lead to some pretty inhuman results.

 

Seize the Children

“As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child . . . For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate.”

That’s Hillary Clinton in her 1996 address to the United Methodist General Conference. I’ve always considered it to be one of the most terrifying and damning things ever uttered by a contemporary politician. Why? Because my child is mine. If you — never mind somebody from the government – start acting like you have as much responsibility and dominion over my daughter as I do, well, there’s a good chance for bloodshed.

I’m not trying to talk tough or anything. But if there’s a place in life where decent people should be willing to resort to violence, it must be when it comes to their authority over their own children.

Now, to be fair, that principle is not absolute. Some people deserve to have their children taken away by the state. Or, rather, some children deserve to be rescued from their really crappy, drug-addled, and abusive parents. But it is Hillary Clinton who is offering an absolute principle when she says, “There isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child.”

Of course there is. And if you disagree with me, please tell me where I can send the bill for my daughter’s braces.

Clinton and those in her camp no doubt see that there’s a line to be drawn somewhere, but she makes it clear from her writing and speeches that her line would be drawn far, far too close to my family for my own comfort. In other words: I don’t trust these people.

That’s why I took notice of the news that some public-health types want to start confiscating extremely obese kids from their parents for the kids’ own good. Now, the kids they talk about in their op-ed are really obese, and you can make the case that some kind of intervention is warranted. One of the authors came to the realization that the state should take fat kids away when he encountered a 90-pound three-year-old.

But again, here’s the problem: I don’t trust these people. Once you establish the idea that the state can take away kids from loving parents because the state thinks they’re not good parents, you really are off to the races. Or as Mark Steyn put it in the Corner in 2009, in response to an actual case in the UK where the kids were taken away because the government feared that they “might” become obese.

The broader point is: What happens when the state grows more comfortable with kid-confiscation? After all, if you can remove children over “fears” they might “become obese” at some point in the future, why can’t you also remove them from other homes in case they “become smokers” or “become homophobes” or “become gun-owners” or almost anything of which the state disapproves?

Oh, and then there’s the whole lesson from the Texas family. Once you write on the van of the state: “Save the Obese Kids,” is there any reason to believe that the next person to come by won’t cross out “obese” and add his or her own preferred adjectives? It’s a terrible metaphor, but I’m trying to make all of these random items relate to one another and the point is real.

 

It’s Not That Crazy

So I know what you’re thinking. Our major public-school systems are so good, so Johnny-on-the-spot with teaching the Three Rs, not to mention art and science, that they should really branch out. Take on new responsibilities. Stretch their wings.

That’s why we were all so delighted to hear the news that California has finally decided to require the teaching of “gay history” in its social studies courses.

Look, I’m fairly squishy on the gay stuff compared to some of my friends on the right (and pretty hardnosed compared to others!), but it’s at least worth throwing up a they-told-you-so on this one. The argument from the right for years has been that acceptance of homosexuality will lead to celebration. Personally, I’m okay with the acceptance part, they’re here, they’re queer, and, well, that’s about it. But when you start requiring that schools teach about gay heroes of history, you’ve moved into celebration territory altogether.

If you don’t see that, let me ask you a question: Do you think California textbooks will talk about any gay villains? Going by the news reports, the move is intended to teach kids that gays have made vital contributions to society and whatnot. I’m sure they have. But how is that not celebration? Somehow I doubt we’ll be hearing a lot about how gays in San Francisco kept the bathhouses open too long.

Anyway, all of this follows on the news that Maryland now requires all its schools to teach “environmental literacy” as a core requirement.

Again, I know what you’re saying: It’s about time!

I know that when I watched season four of The Wire and they did that in-depth look at inner-city Baltimore schools, the one thing that kept popping into my head was, “If only they taught these kids about global warming!”

Then of course there’s the news that the Omaha public school system spent $130,000 on diversity manuals for every teacher, administrator, and staff member. The textbooks explain that American government and institutions create advantages that “channel wealth and power to white people,” that color-blindness will not end racism, and that educators should “take action for social justice.” And so on.

But to get back to the previous point, aside from the astounding lack of seriousness given all of the fiscal and educational challenges we face in this country, this whole approach just makes me a little nervous given that there are people out there who really do believe there’s no such thing as someone else’s child.

 

Various & Sundry

America Needs Pataki’s Leadership (Like It Needs Tits on a Bull). The man is still thinking about running. I haven’t changed my mind about all of that.

I have a new column up today on an old theme of mine: Republicans suck at reading their lines.

In last week’s G-File, I discussed that guy in Texas who got executed. E. J. Dionne objected to his execution. I objected to his objection here. (By the way, you could do me a big favor if you went by the Enterprise Blog more often, and in particular if you read me over there more often. I get a cookie every time I bring an additional ten page views to the place.)

Correction! In last week’s G-File, I described Buckley – Cosmo the Wonderdog’s running buddy – as lacking in “mental toughness.” Some in my family thought I was being too hard on Buckley and suggested that it sounded like I was saying he’s dumb. Nothing could be further from the truth! While Buckley isn’t as a sharp as a border collie – and what dog is? I wouldn’t be surprised if a border collie won this year’s Westinghouse Science Fair prize – he’s a sharp fellow. I just meant that he’s a lover not a fighter. I always tell people when I’m walking both of them, “Stay clear of the white dog, he’s a cranky old fellow these days. But the black dog? He’s America’s friendliest dog, you could poke him with a sharp stick and he’ll still love you. But don’t because then Cosmo will kill you.” (“Isn’t that racist?” – The Couch)

Bad nerds, bad. Last week nobody got the “Images of Ikonn” reference (at least not without looking it up). This was the spell that Dr. Strange used on Galactus – it conjures images of all the people someone has killed (that’s why the guy who banned DDT is so scared of it).

Cool news. Liberal Fascism made Townhall’s 25 Books Every Conservative Must Read list. I’m like number 22, but I’ll take it!

Okay, back to the new book. Not sure if there will be a G-File next week. Of course, you lazy bastards could always keep sending me interesting news, tidbits, ephemera, and ideas to help me write these things.

‘Debate Among Yourselves’

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Dear Reader (and everyone else who’s to blame for our economic problems according to the White House),

Well, as the intestinal parasite said to the guy who gave gas station sushi one more try, “I’m back!”

The book is not done. But it is out of my hands for a few days, maybe even weeks, as the editors try to figure out what they’ve gotten themselves into (for the record, I’m pretty happy with it, and I think G-File fans will, for the most part, love it).

So in the meantime, I’m back to plaguing your inbox. Hopefully, this “news”letter will result in slightly less bowel-stewing. But you never know.

 

Debate Among Yourselves

By the time you read this, you’ll probably be so full of debate commentary you won’t want another bite, so let me keep it wafer-thin.

I thought it was really extremely entertaining, for a primary debate. Normally that would mean it was going to be slightly more entertaining than a rerun of Joanie Loves Chachi. But I don’t think it even needs to be graded on a curve. It was legitimately entertaining.

But after I’ve slept on it, I’m not sure that the relentless you-said-X-then-you-said-Y question format wasn’t overdone. I was trying to think through why that kind of question is so popular, and it seems to me that it’s not just the journalist’s natural desire for a “gotcha.” It’s also that, if you ask open questions, you get canned answers. Now, I don’t think canned answers are all bad. The debates are supposed to help voters understand the candidates’ positions. Is it so terrible that they be allowed to state them on their own terms? It’s not like the candidates don’t have their disagreements with each other, so you could still get some actual debating in the mix. But I think the questioners naturally dislike the idea that they don’t add value, so they try too hard to make each question matter.

Still, it was a much better debate than the usual fare and, as Ramesh notes here, and as I hammered on Twitter, it put the lie to the claim that Fox and the GOP work hand-in-hand.

As for winners and losers and all that stuff, I think there are two ways to score these kinds of things, “objectively” — i.e. on the merits, which can be awfully subjective — and politically.

(Okay, there I go again, betraying my Western rationalist logocentrism. There are actually an infinite number of ways to score such debates. Who used the most vowels? Pawlenty. Who most resembled a pagan trickster deity? Ron Paul. Which candidate seemed most likely to eat Grape Nuts at every meal? Mitt Romney. Who looked like the Merovingian from the Matrix movies? Jon Huntsman. Which candidate appeared most likely to survive a dystopian future where you had to stay one step ahead from cannibals? And so on.)

So, on the merits, I think Newt Gingrich was the best and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — Rick Santorum was a runner-up. They had a command of the issues as they saw them, and they made their arguments well for the most part. I think you could say the same of Ron Paul, save for a few cranky-old-man moments.

It really helps to know what you believe and why you believe it. I listen to Michele Bachmann and sometimes, while I’m sure she knows what she believes, I’m not always sure she knows why she believes it. I listen to Mitt Romney and to a lesser extent Tim Pawlenty, and I hear men who know what they’re supposed to believe and why, but I’m not sure they actually believe it.

Politically, the scoring is very different. Romney and Bachmann won, Pawlenty lost. Romney needed to get out of the debate undamaged, which he did successfully enough. Pawlenty needed to beat Bachmann and he failed. Bachmann needed to keep sucking up oxygen and appealing to her base in Iowa. She succeeded.

Of course, the clearest sign that objective scoring and political scoring are very different is the fact that most of the pros I know think Rick Perry won, and he wasn’t on the stage.

 

Categorical versus Ideological

Let’s circle back to the issue of knowing what you believe. I was embarrassed for the GOP last night. When they were asked if they’d take a deal where they’d get ten dollars in real cuts for every one dollar in increased tax revenues, each candidate raised his — or her — hand like some trained chimp asked if he wants a bowl of Cheerios. On the merits, that’s nuts. When I tweeted something to that effect last night, I got a lot of grief from people saying, “No, they were right. The Dems would never offer real cuts. Blah blah blah.”

Of course the Dems wouldn’t agree to such a thing. That’s why it’s an absurd question. So why give an absurd answer?

Honestly, without smuggling new facts into the hypothetical (“Pelosi would cheat!” “Reid would sneak in cowboy poet funding!”), you wouldn’t take that deal? Really? For every $50 billion in closed loopholes we’d get $500 billion in real cuts?

If you think Republicans shouldn’t budge on taxes hikes, that’s fine. I agree with you. But why come across as if you don’t care what the circumstances are? The correct position is not that tax increases are never necessary under any circumstances, but that they are unnecessary now.

Not even the most ardent supply-sider believes that raising taxes is never, ever warranted. Remember, it’s the Laffer curve. If taxes are zero, you need to raise taxes to get any revenues at all.

I understand that the candidates were forced into a choice of a yes-or-no with a raised hand, but the point remains the same.

Having nearly finished a book that is in part a rousing defense of ideology, I’d like to throw out an important distinction. There’s a difference between ideological thinking and categorical thinking. Conservative ideology is mostly a checklist of presumptions and principled biases. Conservatives are strongly against stealing, but given a horrendous enough hypothetical (your kids are starving, you need the antidote to save your poisoned wife, etc.), the conservative will concede that there are times when the presumption against stealing gives way to higher concerns.

The important thing to remember is that just because you’ve made an exception to the rule doesn’t mean the rule is invalidated. Stealing still belongs in the category of behaviors that are wrong, bad, evil. It’s just that, given the right circumstances, it can become the lesser evil. Liberals see this as hypocrisy. And maybe it is. But hypocrisy is not the worst thing in the world. The liberal relativist would prefer we simply get rid of inconvenient categories like good and evil, and judge everything by its consequences. The conservative believes it is better to maintain the authority of the principle but be reasonable, or humane, about its application. In other words, conservative ideology is an arrangement of competing categories or principles.

Categorical thinking recognizes no such competition. It reduces every question to an iron cage of easy universalities. You find categorical thinkers everywhere. People who want to make some small issue of principle into a matter of world-shattering importance. Not every moment calls for Thomas More. Sometimes the river Kwai can do without a new bridge, even if that reflects poorly on the British can-do spirit.

Conservatives aren’t categorically against change, for instance. We simply believe that change is not a good in and of itself and therefore it can be just as important to oppose change as to champion it. ”When it is not necessary to change,” Lord Falkland famously said, “it is necessary not to change.” 

Similarly, when it is not necessary to raise taxes, it is necessary not to raise taxes.

The problem with the way the Republicans deal with such things is they think they’re sounding resolute when in reality they sound unreasonable to a lot of people for no good reason. If a ten-to-one spending-cut-to-tax-increase ratio is unacceptable, how about 100 to one? A thousand to one?

Better to say, “Look, of course I would consider a deal like that, but keep two things in mind: 1) It will never happen because of the Democrats’ addiction to spending, and 2) the question seems intended to pry open the door on raising taxes, which is not the answer to our woes, but part of the problem.”

 

Life’s a Riot

Today’s column is on the riots in England. I think it’s a fascinating topic, which might be why I begin the column by saying, “Riots are fascinating things.” One of the most interesting things about them is how people react to them. There are few topics that can separate people ideologically as efficiently. If I ask you what you think about, say, communism, your answer will tell me a lot about what you think (and what you know). And if you begin your answer with something along the lines of “It’s complicated,” odds are you’re a liberal or some other species of leftist. This is not to say that communism isn’t a complicated subject in terms of its history, its varied manifestations, and all that. But when you start out with the “it’s complicated” business, more often than not you’re about to front load some apologies for something that deserves no apologies.

The same goes for riots. If you begin a sentence saying that nothing excuses wanton mob violence and theft, but refuse to come to a full-stop with a period or, better yet, an exclamation point, you know that there’s a “but” coming that will invalidate all of the platitudes that came before it. When someone says, “There’s no excuse for violence, but . . . ,” that “but” is a Pandora’s box of leftist banshees that have left human wreckage in their wake for millennia.

Ultimately, the Left’s weakness for riots stems, I believe, from two things: statist paternalism and power-worship. It’s an amazingly reactionary sentiment when you think about it. The lower classes are savages who need the benign power of the state to keep them from acting on their savage instincts. When the state doesn’t nurture and civilize them, the urban masses revert to their animal natures. The Left doesn’t condone the violence, of course, they just say the violence is to be expected when conservatives cut social spending. Or as I put it in my column, “In other words, the cuts don’t justify the violence, but the threat of violence justifies avoiding cuts.” On a cynical level, when the lower classes rise up and wreak havoc, the self-appointed spokesmen for society’s “victims” see an opportunity to press their advantage. They hold up the mob like a Medusa’s Head, to petrify the bourgeoisie into making ever more concessions.  

As for power worship, there’s always been something about the power of crowds that seduces the leftist mind (see Liberal Fascism). There’s also something about the “authenticity” of street thugs that’s intoxicating to liberals and way too many young people generally, particularly if there’s a racial component thrown in. (If the Black Panthers were white, everyone would instantly recognize them as indistinguishable from neo-Nazis.) How else to explain how so many middle class and even upper class criminals got caught up in this authentic expression of lumpenproletarian rage?  

Anyway, it all brought to mind this poem from Hilaire Belloc:    

We sit by and  watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in  the long stretches of peace we are not  afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence,  his comic inversion of our old certitudes  and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we  laugh. But as we laugh, we are watched  by large and awful faces from beyond:  and on these faces there is no smile.

 

Various & Sundry  

I just recorded a session of Bloggingheads with Robert Wright (it’s not up yet). You can tell I had just written the Goldberg File because I repeat many of the same points.

Please come on down, up, or sideways to the Steamboat Institute’s big conference next week. I’m speaking. Would love to see you and have a drink, though I will be solo-parenting my daughter so I can’t over-promise on the drinking front.

Speaking of my daughter, I leave Monday for a big semi-cross-country adventure with her. The two of us are going to drive out to Colorado and then zig-zag our way back, trying to hit as many amusement parks, water parks, and state fairs as possible. Any suggestions for the trip, please let me know. She’s a very adventurous lass (and recently picked up a taste for whitewater rafting!). I’ll report how it’s going in the Corner and/or on Twitter.

Oh, and speaking of conferences, if you’re in the NYC area, Commentary’s putting on a humdinger. Here’s the info. And here’s your homework.

What Doesn’t Benda Breaks

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Dear Reader (and the dead men of Dunharrow and the Images of Ikonn – bonus nerd points if you got both references without googling),

I told myself I wouldn’t even write this G-File this week because I’m in the bunker trying to get close to finishing this book. My womenfolk are out of town and I’m ensconced in Goldberg HQ with two dogs and two cats, a naked Indian looking for Jim Morrison, the ghost of Christmas past, and someone who looks eerily similar to that blond actor who isn’t Jude Law from A Beautiful Mind.

Oh, and yesterday, Snuffleupagus walked right into the middle of my living room, dropped a steaming loaf of what appeared to be a mixture of felt, hay and peanut shells and then kept walking away.

“What’s that you say?”

Yes, that’s right, my secret friend, I said two dogs and two cats. The first dog is of course Cosmo the Wonderdog, Scourge of Squirrels, Bane of Toy Breeds, Champion of the Five Realms of Pork Products, Rembrandt of the Urine Post-it Note, Vizier of Postal Employee Discipline . . . okay, okay, I won’t read his full title.

And then there is Buckley, Cousin of Cosmo, Noble Beast of Up-the-Block. Buckley is a fine and sweet dog. He has been Cosmo’s trusted companion for lo these last seven years, ever since my sister-in-law acquired him from a shelter. He is a big, athletic fellow who could easily vanquish Cosmo in a fight if he so desired. But he’s a lover not a fighter and lacks the mental toughness to impose his will on anyone. Cosmo bullies him a bit – precisely because he can.

And there’s the cat thing, but we should move on.

 

Sovereignty?

As I understand it, the Mexican government is very mad at us for three things. We act as if cheddar cheese were a staple of Mexican cuisine. We flooded their country with guns as part of an experiment that apparently no one followed through on. And we executed a reprehensible Mexican national for raping and murdering a teenage girl. Apparently we have a treaty that allowed him to consult with his embassy. Woops.

As for this gun business, I have sympathy for Mexico’s anger. Every day, Fast and Furious is shaping up to be one of the most idiotic and infuriating government foul-ups in recent memory – and that is some stiff competition. And the stupidity had bloody consequences. So yeah, the Mexicans have every right to be ticked off. As for the execution of a guy who raped and murdered a teenage girl? Meh. If I was calling the shots in Mexico, I’d tell those guys with the whistles to pipe down and I’ll pour my own shots. I’d also just let this one slide. It’s just a bad look to get haughty on principle about a guy who raped and murdered a teenage girl (mutilating her body with bites and a stick before bashing her head in with a rock). As for the cheddar thing, well, how do you say “cheddah makes it beddah” in Spanish?

And speaking of bad looks, I do wish Mexico would stop pounding its spoon on its high chair about these outrageous assaults on “Mexican sovereignty.” Again, they should be pissed about the guns on the merits. But it is difficult to take the whining about sovereignty too seriously from a country that, as a matter of policy, encourages massive illegal emigration to our country and calls us racist and inhumane when we do anything to stop it. Indeed, Mexico’s official position is that if we adopted the same immigration policies they use to police illegal entrants from their southern border, we would be committing an outrage.

Heck, I’m considered an immigration softy around NR, but even I think sovereignty and respect should be a two way street, amigo.

 

What Doesn’t Benda Breaks

Maybe it’s the topic of Mexican hypocrisy and sovereignty that made me think about it. Or maybe it’s because I’m a conservative who believes there’s nothing new under the sun, or maybe because my next book is turning into more of a sequel to Liberal Fascism than I had imagined. Or maybe it’s because Not Jude Law keeps saying, “Why don’t you write a G-File about Julien Benda?” But I keep thinking of Julien Benda.

Who was Julien Benda? He was a French intellectual whose fame has been reduced to a tiny scrap of historical territory: the phrase “The Treason of the Clerks,” or as it’s often said in America, “The Treason of the Intellectuals.” That translation doesn’t quite capture completely what Benda was getting at. The French title of the book that spawned the phrase is La Trahison des Clercs, and the “clercs” refers not just to a small band of eggheads, but to the whole class of learned and scholarly people across society who have made the life of the mind a vocation.

Benda was a complicated guy and by no means a conservative in an easily recognizable sense, but when I was working on LF, I found the Trahison des Clercs to be a revelation. (Alas, Benda’s name appears but once in the final edit of the book.) No writer better captures the spirit of “Nietzschean pragmatism” that ensorcelled – that’s right, I used the word “ensorcelled” again – the “thinking classes” on both sides of the Atlantic.

According to Benda, until the 19th century, intellectuals were at least rhetorically loyal to universal ideals. “Humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.”

Such contradictions are no longer honored, Benda lamented. The intellectuals have forsaken their obligation to side with Socrates and instead salute those who poisoned him. Intellectuals have become slaves to particular populist passions – German nationalism, the Proletariat, what today we might call identity politics – and have turned their backs on universal truths and values.

Now, for me the really interesting discussion here is how this relates to the modern Left’s obsession with hypocrisy. It was once considered better to live up to your ideal standards inconsistently, than to consistently live down to your lack of them. The logical upshot of liberalism’s hatred of hypocrisy is that it is better for the liar to champion lying, the glutton to advocate gluttony, the adulterer to celebrate adultery, than for someone to preach the right thing if he himself occasionally does the wrong thing. Better to let your failings define you and be happy about it, than to let your ideals define you but then fall short of them, for that opens you up to the charge of hypocrisy (or inauthenticity, or denial, or whatever).

But I’ve written tons on that elsewhere. So let’s stick with nation-states. Benda notes that kings used to be governed by interests and honor, and they were the sole arbiters of both. A king, in other words, could disregard the will of the people because the will of the people has no formal place in a king’s decision-making. This contrasts with modern dictators whose sole claim to legitimacy is their status as the living embodiment of the people’s will and the interests of the Volksgemeinschaft. The modern conception of the dictator is one who is an enemy of the people. But the simple fact is that dictators tend to be very popular for most of their time in power, because dictators claim to be the servants of the people and the conduit of national honor, and go a long way in trying to prove it. In other words, the people deserve no small share of the blame for their dictators. “The modern citizen,” Benda writes, “claims to feel for himself what is demanded by the national honor, and he is ready to rise up against his leaders if they have a different conception of it.”

So if the king cared little about the people’s sense of honor, what he did care greatly about was his own. In particular he cared about the prospects for his soul. It’s easy these days to watch The Tudors on Showtime or reruns of Braveheart on TNT and think that kings didn’t care about such matters. But they did. That’s why Henry begged for forgiveness in the snows of Canossa. Some of these monarchs actually took the idea that they were God’s stewards seriously, and they relied upon the clercs to explain what that meant and illuminate the path for them.

“Formerly,” Benda writes, “leaders of States practiced realism, but did not honor it. . . . With them morality was violated but moral notions remained intact; and that is why, in spite of all their violence, they did not disturb civilization.”

Now, I do not yearn for a return to absolute monarchy and I don’t think America has turned out to fulfill Benda’s dire prophecies (he called World War II way ahead of everybody else, by the way). But there’s still something to be learned from all of this.

When I listen to foreign-policy debates these days, I hear a cacophony of competing claims. We’re told that it is outrageous to pursue anything other than our vital national interests. But if you actually propose pursuing our vital national interests in a robust way – say, à la Donald Trump seizing the oil of Iraq (and let’s throw in Libya too) – the answer from the realists is that that would be crazy because it would destroy our image around the world and be immoral. Um, okay (and I basically agree). But “image around the world” is a cheap way of saying our “reputation” or simply our “honor.” And as for the immorality of it, I thought realists didn’t think morality and foreign policy mixed.

If I say that Israel is an ally and a democracy and therefore both our honor and our ideals demand that we stand with her, I get eye-rolling from realists and a lot of verbiage about how we can’t afford to alienate all of the Arabs and Muslims, particularly the oil-rich kleptocracies (for some reason that line from Meatballs, “Look at all those steaming weenies,” kept coming into my head when I wrote that sentence). Then-candidate Obama said that it would be worth sparking genocide in Iraq to get our troops out of there, such was the power of the realist case for accepting defeat.

But when Quadaffhi starts killing his own people, Obama insists that our ideals and, in effect, our honor demand that we stop him. When Bashar Assad starts doing the same thing, our honor and ideals are apparently on a bus to Atlantic City and realism is left manning the office.

This confusion – which in different ways plagued Bush as well — seems to stem from the fact that it is now considered dishonorable to speak of national honor yet unrealistic to act on realism. We must take the high road when it comes to our vital interests and we must take the low road of realism when it comes to our national honor.

In short, things are a mess (“Starting with this G-File” — The Couch).

 

And Now, Toilets!

A reader sent me this email from the Center for Program Integrity at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

From: [name] (CMS/CPI)

Sent: Friday, July 01, 2011 5:15 PM

Subject: some important information on the restroom facilities

When 7210 Ambassador Road was being built for CPI, a lot of thought went into the technology that would be used for our daily operations – from the most simple to the most complex CPI function. In addition, it was a goal to try to make this building as energy and water efficient as possible. No minor detail escaped from the planning process.

Many of you may not know, but this requirement was also considered when selecting the restroom solution that would be installed at 7210.

Now that we’ve settled into our new location, we wanted to make you aware of how the Sloan ECOS Dual-Flush Flushometer is an innovative approach to restroom solutions. This restroom solution using solar power and sensor technology to save energy and water. The solar-powered dual-flush technology is built into the sensor and will automatically flush the proper amount of water based on the time spent in the stall. However, it can also be overridden by using the buttons illustrated below. In those instances when the automatic flush is not sufficient, please be sure to the override buttons to trigger a second flush. This will ensure it is ready for the next user. Thanks for your cooperation.

 At least Nero fiddled when Rome burned. Fiddles can have a pleasant sound.

 

Various & Sundry

I’m scheduled to be on Special Report tonight. Friday lightning round, baby!

I’ll be speaking at the National Conservative Student Conference next month. Details here.

Cool before-and-after pic of Shanghai.

Did you know that 23 percent of all goods and services produced since 1 AD were made this decade? Well: Boom.

When I’m done with the book, this will be my new career.

Rope-a-dope Obama in 2012

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Dear Reader (and those of you living in Saudi Arabia and had everything with “Goldberg” printed on it stopped at the electronic border),

For at least the last decade, one of the central ideas here at National Review – and across the redoubts of conservatism – has been “civilizational confidence.” The Left often derides this orientation as “The West Is the Best.” And while I believe the West is the best, I think that’s a silly way to think about it, simply because what the Left wants to do is make it sound like civilizational confidence is mere jingoistic, chauvinistic arrogance.

“Who are we to think that our civilization is so much better than anyone else’s?” goes the typical refrain.

The short answer: Us. Because if we don’t think well of our civilization, why have it at all? It’s sort of like how Ramesh Ponnuru says, “Of course I think my positions are the best positions. If I thought they weren’t, they wouldn’t be my positions.”

One of the most oft-repeated stories around here is that of Sir Charles Napier. Here’s Mark Steyn telling it in the Corner just a couple months ago:

The reason we’re losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted. When I’m speaking on this subject, I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

Anyway, I bring all of this up because of the interesting conversation sparked by a USA Today story I mentioned in the Corner last night. Delta Airlines has partnered with Saudi Arabian Airlines. As a result, Delta flights to Saudi Arabia will conform with Saudi law and scrub themselves of Jews, Jewish stuff, Christian Bibles, and whatever else is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.

Now it appears the original USA Today story has been yanked and replaced with a link to this USA Today blog post: “Airline to Jewish rumor: ‘Delta does not discriminate.’”

(I don’t think I’ve ever come across as particularly oversensitive to slights against the Hebrews, but isn’t this headline a bit off? I mean, it’s not a “Jewish rumor.” It’s a reaction to a USA Today story about a Delta policy. A Jewish rumor is more like “Did you hear that Rachel got a nose job over the summer?”)

But Delta does discriminate – when it is complying with Saudi policies. If, in some Phillip K. Dick alternative world, there was still a Nazi Germany out there and Aryan Air was incorporated into Delta’s Five Star Alliance, Delta would be discriminating if it complied with Aryan Air’s Judenfrei policies. The same applies here. Delta would have people believe that because it doesn’t “mean anything by it,” it’s not discriminating. Well, look: Not all discrimination is necessarily bad or unjustified (the NBA’s discrimination policies toward one-legged midgets are absolute and justified). And not all bad discrimination requires bigoted feelings up and down the decision tree. Lots of non-anti-Semites have “just followed orders.” You could look it up.

The main defense from people who say this is a non-story amounts to “This has been going on for years.” Aha. So, Saudi Arabia’s bigotry and the West’s enabling of it have a long tradition of existence! And this is a defense . . . how, exactly? Just because it sounds sophisticated to say that you’ve known about Saudi Arabia’s bigotry for a long time (who hasn’t?) doesn’t mean the bigotry is somehow more forgivable.

Delta doesn’t simply comply with Saudi Arabia’s bigotry, it has partnered with the country’s official (if no longer state-owned) airline. That was their choice and they deserve grief for it.

Theological Pluralism, Moral Conformity

For the most part, Saudi Arabia’s bigotry is theological rather than biological (though one clearly fuels the other, hence all of this stuff about Jews being apes and whatnot). For many people, this is apparently some kind of crucial distinction. Biological racism – a.k.a. the Nazi stuff – well, that’s bad. But theological racism? Hey, whatya gonna do?

Now, I don’t completely disagree. I’ve long argued that I don’t really care all that much about motives, particularly theological ones. If you make me a plate of chicken and waffles because you like me or because God tells you to, I suppose I’d prefer if it was the former but I’ll happily tolerate the latter. Why? Because this guy with the two thumbs pointing me-ward likes chicken and waffles (“I think you messed up that expression a little” — The Couch). More importantly, because actions matter more than motives. 

When I say this, people often take me for saying that motives don’t matter. They do. Motives are interesting and morally and legally relevant in many circumstances. (For instance, if Anthony Weiner though he was tweeting pictures of his junk to urologists, he’d still be in Congress.) And motives are a really useful indicator of what sorts of actions people might take.

But when motives are based on reason, you can argue with them. Imagine you tell me that you’re going to cover yourself with honey because you’ve always wanted a lick-bath from a brown bear. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain to you that that’s a bad idea because brown bears tend to be a bit “mouthy,” etc. But if you tell me that you’re covering yourself with honey and heading into the woods to sacrifice yourself to the great bear god, what am I supposed to tell you?

The point is that theological motives are not easily debated. Moral actions are. Americans didn’t want to let Utah become a state for years because Mormons practiced polygamy. After a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’, the Mormons officially gave up polygamy and Americans stopped caring about Utah statehood. Hindus have a pretty wild religion from what I can tell. But Hindu morality seems pretty solid, particularly since they gave up that whole wife-burning thing. That’s one reason why I have a lot more fondness for polytheistic India than I do for monotheistic Pakistan. It’s what people do that matters.

Which brings me back to civilizational confidence. In America, we’re allegedly a bunch of bigots if we expect people to be in this country legally. That’s right. It’s a sign of America’s alleged Nazification if we expect people to fill out the correct paperwork to live here. And people buy this crap as if it’s an actual argument. But Saudi Arabia – which beheads its own citizens if they convert to Christianity or even possess a Christian bible – well, that’s just how they do things there.

Sometimes I think we have such open minds that our brains fell out.

Rope-a-Dope Obama

In my latest column, I make the following point:

Obama wants an opponent as soon as possible. He’s never had to run on a record, and he’s desperate to make the election a choice between him and someone he can demonize. The longer it is before an opponent emerges, the more the election becomes a referendum on Obama.

I probably buried the lede a bit since I don’t get around to making this point until after I’ve taken a figurative two-by-four to George Pataki. But it’s a serious point I think people should ponder more seriously. GOP muckety-mucks keep telling me that Obama is desperate for an opponent. He’s personally popular and Democrats are good at demonizing people and then running against the demonic caricature they created (See: Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney et al.).

Already David Axelrod is insisting that the 2012 election will be a choice, not a referendum. Expect the liberal punditocracy to pick up that argument with gusto in the months ahead, because if it’s a referendum on Obama, Obama is more likely to lose. If it’s a choice between Obama and that crazy, dragon-scaled, baby-pinching, coprophilic, billionaire-loving, idiot Republican [insert name of nominee later], then Obama has a good shot at winning. That’s why Ramesh and Michelle Malkin are absolutely right about the weakness of Jon Huntsman’s claim that he can beat Obama by being a moderate. If he wins the nomination, the Paul Begalas aren’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, what a reasonable guy!” This is a version of the old liberal rule that the only good conservatives are dead conservatives. In this case conservatives are decent and moderate so long as saying so hurts mainstream Republicans who just might beat Democrats on policy or at the polls.

Don’t believe me? E. J. Dionne is starting to miss George W. Bush.

Anyway, the point is that Obama can’t sell his record and the hopey-changey stuff just doesn’t play anymore. Without an opponent he’s flailing, swinging wildly and exhausting himself. Yes, if the economy takes off, he’ll lose his spaghetti-legs. But barring that, he needs a clinch to stay off the mat. John Boehner has brilliantly refused to be his useful enemy. And Mitch McConnell can’t be The Enemy because he doesn’t actually run the Senate. Paul Ryan looks like he just got back from helping your grandmother unload her groceries. That leaves the GOP presidential nominee. The longer it is before he (or she) materializes, the longer Obama has to flail.

Let’s take it all the way to the convention!

Various and Sundry

Sorry for no G-File last week. I’m trying to stick to my hebdomadal commitments but it’s hard with the book-writing and all that. And yes, Twitter has been a terrible outlet for my writer’s block. Then again, it’s better than videogames.

In exciting news, the Goldbergs are off to NYC tomorrow for Rich Lowry’s wedding.

Speaking of Delta, I’ve got you covered like a Jimmy Hat!

This is an Internet classic and still very politically incorrect: The Delta Ebonics commercial. Without endorsement.

Now that CAIR has finally had its tax-exempt status revoked, isn’t it timeMedia Matters did too? I may want to write on this in the future, so send me your thoughts.

Iain Murray has a new book out perfectly suited to the Obama Years: Stealing You Blind.

That’s it for now. Back to the grindstone.

 

A Texan on the ticket? Perry-ish the thought!

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Dear Reader (including all of you selfish bastards who’ve never once suggested a “Dear Reader” gag, requiring me to come up with this thing week after week on my own and then, if I don’t have one, you’re the first to complain, as if it’s just the easiest thing to do again and again and again),

I think I’ve figured it out. Newt’s entire staff didn’t really quit. They are going deep undercover, spreading out throughout the competing campaigns waiting for their moment. Then, when the time is right, they will be activated like sleepers in Telefon, only instead of a line from a Robert Frost poem the activation code will be something like Newt saying during a debate, “Brother, can you paradigm?” Then, suddenly, they will rise and fight for their One True Master, like the apes feigning death in Battle for the Planet of the Apes when Caesar shouted, “Now, fight like apes!” Newt shall bellow, “Now, flight like Tofflerians!” and lo and behold, the Gingroids will rise, rise, I tell you, and they will fight like they are winning the future.

Okay, maybe not. But that’s at least a happier theory than what appears to be the reality. Newt and Callista are turning into the Salahis of conservative politics (the Salahis, recall, were that garish couple who crashed the state dinner and parlayed that into a mortifying run on Real Housewives of D.C.). I feel bad saying it because I honestly believe Newt deserves better (Callista: Mmm, not as much). But it is hard to remember a better example of a brilliant leader so misreading the political climate and his place in it than Newt in these last months.

The truth, of course, is that such mistakes aren’t made in a day. They involve years of careful delusion. Still, I think it’s sad.

 

Perry-ish the Thought

Now there’s all this buzz that Rick Perry is getting in the race. I’m more skeptical than most, but I will give him a fair shot. Kevin Williamson’s cover story on the guy is a good place to start. Still, I’ve always heard that he’s a bit of lightweight (Perry, not Kevin). That could be entirely wrong, of course. But I’ve heard it from a lot of different folks.

One interesting question, I think, is, “How will Texas play?” On the one hand, Texas is doing much better than the rest of the country economically (37 percent of all the net new jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas). Also, Perry’s perfectly positioned to use Texas’s high profile on energy to go after Obama’s electric pegasi and high-speed-windmill stuff.

(Oh, by the way, I do know that there’s no such thing as pegasi, since there is only one Pegasus. A pterippus is a generic winged horse. Pterippi is the plural form. None of this is to be confused with Pteropus, a.k.a. the “flying fox,” an Indonesian “megabat” seen sleeping with Helen Thomas.)

On the other hand, there’s something about the Texas thing that I don’t think will play as well as many think. First of all, I’m sure Obama would be psyched to finally have a guy from Texas who’s actually on the ticket to run against. More seriously, I have nothing against Texas. They make many food products there I would like to put in my belly. But one of my biggest gripes about the Bush presidency was how, over time, it felt like an identity-politics thing. People got lazy, defending him – and attacking him – because he was a cultural marker. For good or ill, a lot of that stuck. And not only am I bit weary of Texas swagger, I’m weary of defending it too. You can certainly be sure that the MSM will play up the Texas stuff beyond all actual relevance. And I just find that prospect a bit exhausting. But we’ll see. This guy ain’t Bush – though that’s certainly not what Debbie Wasserman Schultz will say.

One last point, since I raised it on Twitter yesterday. I think there’s a non-trivial possibility that Rick Perry turns out to be this cycle’s Fred Thompson.

I understand that there are lots of reasons why the analogy shouldn’t hold. Perry’s a much more serious campaigner with a lot more fundraising potential. But there’s just something about this that reminds me of Thompson (who I am a fan of, by the way).

Fred came in looking so awesome on paper — and that was part of the problem. It was as if he got in the race less because he wanted to be president and more because he found the argument for why he should run so compelling. If Perry had the fire in the belly to run, he wouldn’t have waited for the current mess we see before us. I could be wrong. But I just get the sense he’s running because there’s a compelling case for him to run, which is not quite the same as a compelling desire.

 

The Ginsburg Moment of Junk Tweeting?

You kids probably don’t remember, but it was once controversial for public figures to smoke pot. Really. Yes, I know it’s still controversial for a politician to keep getting high like Andrew Sullivan at a Provincetown campfire sing-along. But if you smoked pot in the past, all is pretty much forgiven these days. Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nomination of Douglas Ginsburg is the most famous touchstone of this tale. Within two days of his nomination, he was toast – toastier than Sean Penn’s head in Fast Times. Why? Because it was revealed he’d smoked pot.

But pretty much all the anti-pot stigma was vented in that episode, and ever since, it’s become less and less of a problem if you had some “youthful experimentation.” Yes, Bill Clinton had that wonderful demonstration of his insatiable desire to placate every constituency when he said he smoked pot but didn’t inhale. But for the most part, pot smoking is no longer a truly dangerous black mark on your permanent record.

I truly fear that Anthony Weiner may end up being the Douglas Ginsburg of sexting, a victim of a taboo against a phenomenon that was poised to go mainstream. Already I’m hearing people say things like “Lots of people do it,” “It doesn’t matter,” “Who cares? Join the 21st century.”

The other morning on NPR, they had an earnest piece about how relationship counselors view sexting. Apparently married couples do this quite a lot, but there’s a debate about whether doing it with someone else is still cheating. For the record, it’s cheating in both cases.  Sext with someone other than your wife and you’re cheating on her. Sext with your wife and you’re cheating on your dignity.

Now, it may be some time before it’s widely accepted that you should be able to send pictures of your dishonorable member of Congress without public rebuke. But I am not altogether certain we aren’t heading in that general direction.

 

Even More Depressing

You may have seen this story in the Corner the other day. A “man” who was a professor at Cal State was arrested and pled guilty to molesting a 13-month-old girl.

He crossed state lines with the cooperation of the mother. She helped take pictures as he did unspeakable things. Now, as many may recall, I’m in favor of expanding the death penalty to crimes outside first-degree murder and I would put child rapists in the on-deck circle for the electric chair.

But, here’s the thing: Child molesters tend to have broken brains. I’m not trying to excuse or mitigate the crime, by any stretch of the imagination. But we simply know that most deranged perverts like this simply have bad wiring, and we don’t know how to fix it. What public policies you want to draw from this fact are worthy of debate.

What I want to know is: What on God’s earth is wrong with the mother? I’ve never heard about a compulsion to do this sort of thing. I just can’t get my head around it. Odds are she was probably a drug addict trying to make some money. But you know what’s on my list of things I would do before doing this just to raise money to feed my habit? Everything.

 

When Windmills Immanentize the Eschaton

One of the underlying themes of Liberal Fascism is that collectivism is a natural human impulse. We are hardwired to be tribal creatures. As a result, the same human compulsions keep re-expressing themselves. This explains why, in politics, we keep trying to divinize the masses, to make ourselves into “the ones we have been waiting for.” It explains why socialism will never, ever go away. All socialism is a popular manifestation of the hardwired human desire to live in a tribe, albeit misapplied to national or international politics and economics.

When you remove the power and symbolism of religion in our daily lives, religious impulses start creeping in from other directions and sources (which might explain why Jill Abramson recently explained that the New York Timessubstituted for religion in her house growing up). As Eric Voegelin puts it:”When God is invisible behind the world, the contents of the world will become new gods; when the symbols of transcendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place. Like the Christian ecclesia, the inner-worldly community has its apocalypse too.”

And the apocalypse in vogue for the last decade or so has been climate change. That’s changing, I think, as the cause has lost traction. Which is why it was interesting that Tom Friedman brought back the old standard of overpopulation and disappearing resources the other day. I think this is a sign that the new Utopia will not be a classless pure Communism, or a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, but the so-called “steady-state economy.” Start reading up now, beginning perhaps with my new column.

 

On a Happier Note: Various and Sundry

The new Steyn-Goldberg-Long podcast is out. We’re still looking for a name for this thing, by the way.

Mom, Dad, don’t touch her, she’s eeeeevil!: I honestly think Sarah Palin gets too much attention from friends and foes alike. But the dilemma for her friends is that there’s just so much high-proof asininity aimed at her that one feels compelled to rebut it. For instance, did Yahoo really have to call Sarah Palin evil? Evil? What has she done that’s evil?

The Eight Worst X-Men, Ever. As my Dad said to me, keep hope alive, punch some air holes in the box. And next time don’t name your guinea pig “hope,” it confuses things.

That Scandal-plagued Congressman, What’s-His-Name

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Dear Reader (and those sick and twisted souls simply waiting for me to start a yfrog account),

Weiner. Weiner. Weiner.

I say that not because – Weiner – I can’t stop saying Weiner. I can. Really. Weiner. Seriously. I’m going to – Weiner – get it to-Weiner-gether any second now.

Weiner.

Okay, now I really think I’m done.

It’s just that all of Washington has Weiner on the brain these days. I’m not sure I have any more Weiner puns in me. But I hate to give in to the jabbering bandersnatches of the Left who’ve been giving me a hard time for making Weiner jokes. A couple days ago, on Twitter, I was making a lot of – at the time fresh – Weiner jokes and some folks (Glen Greenwald, some woman from Gawker, and a slew of their tweeting and e-mailing minions) decided that this was proof that I am unserious or something. Quite a few insisted that my book, Liberal Fascism, must be a joke because of my sincere hope that we could get a quote from Dick Swett or the respective chairmen of the Cox-Dicks commission about the Weiner controversy.

The upshot of course is that these people had such high opinions of me right up until the moment I started calling the congressman’s car the “Weiner Mobile” and surmising that Mrs. Weiner might be requiring her husband to embrace the individual man date for a while.

But we know that’s not the case. The simple fact is that a lot of liberals are terribly embarrassed by – let’s face it – a terribly embarrassing episode in which a rising, er, star of the Democratic party was felled by his own refulgent wretchedness. Even if you believe that he is some sort of victim here and he did not junk-tweet a college girl, we are still witnessing one of the great unforced errors in modern American political history.

It’s not quite as wonderful, or as important, as the great episode in American political life where Dan Rather climbed up the jackass tree and then hit every branch on the way down, but it’s close enough.

Weiner didn’t merely pull a boner, as it were. He didn’t merely leave pictures digitally lying around – pictures he took! – of his mini-me. He has admitted that there are a sufficient number of such pictures “out there in the world” that he couldn’t possibly be sure this isn’t one of them. Even better, he took several days to say all of this, and in a manner that only invited media scrutiny the way shouting “I think my forelock is broken” in gazelle attracts hyenas.

When sanctimonious bullies are caught – literally! – with their pants down, it seems downright un-American not to have some fun with it.

I’d leave it there, but what really sticks in my craw is that even if I am wrong, the last people in the world who have any right to suddenly claim that Weiner jokes are beyond the pale are the same tittering student-government dorks who’ve spent the last two years laughing endlessly over the phrase “tea bagger.”

To date, I’m not aware of a single instance of “tea bagging” by anyone associated with the grassroots movement to rein in government.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe I have to explain this to anybody, but the guy’s name is Weiner and he’s caught in a Weiner-related scandal!

Can these people spot the difference?

Well, if they can’t, there’s also this: For several years, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were hailed not just by the Left but by the mainstream media as two of the greatest journalistic-truth-teller heroes America has ever seen. I’m not going to work the Google machine too much, but you can take my word for it. I mean, how many Peabody Awards did those guys win? And at least they’re funny. There’s also that guy Al Franken who A) is not funny and B) is now a U.S. senator.

I know I sound defensive here. Weiner.

But I’m not. Weiner.

There’s a more serious point to be made.

It’s this: Conservatives are always wrong.

Let me count the ways:

If it’s a Republican sex scandal, the Republican almost always resigns almost immediately. Often that’s because Republicans have higher moral standards for this kind of thing. But it also has to do with the fact the media has exactly zero tolerance for Republican sexual “hypocrisy.”

Meanwhile, if you’re a Democrat and, say, your boyfriend runs a gay prostitution ring out of your apartment, well, that’s complicated. Of course, it’s not just the Franks and Weiners. Remember the “waitress sandwich”? That involves putting some poor woman between two slices of Irish stout named Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd. That was complicated, too. I really wanted to keep going with the food-themed sex scandals but I petered out there. Regardless, the point is well-established: The Right, for good reasons and cynical ones, gets held to a higher standard.

(The same holds true in international politics, apparently. When Paul Wolfowitz ran the World Bank, he maintained a mature, fully disclosed relationship with a colleague. IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn borrowed his management style from the nobility in Braveheart, believing that he had the right of Prima Nocta – and secondae nocta, tertia nocta, etc. – with anything in skirt. Guess which guy was railroaded out of a job before he tried to rape a hotel maid?)

It’s also worth noting how outrageously cynical liberals and Democrats are about all of this. I have no problem with Republicans being forced from public office when they reveal unambiguous moral skeeviness. Indeed, that’s usually my preference. But the only time you can count on liberals to be sanctimonious about sexual morality is when they are using conservative standards as a cudgel for political gain. It’s not that they actually condemn most of the behavior, they simply condemn Republicans for not living up to standards Democrats don’t even hold.

(Recall that Nancy Pelosi held onto the Mark Foley story for six months before using it against the GOP. Barack Obama helped force open Jack Ryan’s – his opponent in the Illinois Senate race – divorce records.)

No, but what really gets my goat – and, note it is Goat Trauma Awareness Month – is that when conservatives put our moral values at the forefront, we’re Comstocks, prudes, or “Christianists.” But when we have a more relaxed, secular, East Coast sense of humor about these things (Weiner!), we’re suddenly immature or crude or boorish.

 

Well, which is it? Am I Cotton Mather or am I Carrot Top?

Oh, and keep in mind that Congressman Anthony Weiner – the man alleged to have tweeted his man-business to a college girl – has made a slew of jokes about his own bait-and-tackle (well, not so much the tackle). Surely if he can be defended for making Weiner jokes, it’s open season for us all.

 

Raising Cain

Here’s what I like about Herman Cain: He admits when he doesn’t know something or hasn’t made up his mind. American politics requires that politicians have quick, easy answers for everything. Cain’s not afraid to admit that he’s unclear or not up to speed about something. That’s endearing and says a lot about the soundness of his character.

And while I agree with Charles Krauthammer that saying you don’t know enough about Afghanistan to form an opinion is problematic after we’ve been fighting there for ten years, I don’t think it’s as damning as Charles does (the other night I was on the Special Report panel and Krauthammer was getting grilled during the online show from viewers about all this; that’s why this is my head).

Look, I’ve been following the War on Terror stuff fairly closely for the last ten years, and I’m not entirely sure what I think about the situation in Afghanistan, at this point. I can certainly offer opinions, but I have no problem with a politician saying, “You know, this has gotten pretty complicated and we may need to rethink some of this.”

No, my problem with Herman Cain and his defenders is the defense he/they rely on most: He’ll gather the best experts.

I am stunned by how many sensible conservatives are not only satisfied with this, but think it’s a novel answer.

“Summon the experts!” is an ancient answer to political problems. It not only explains the formation of a million blue-ribbon panels on how to cut waste, fraud, and abuse from the Blue Ribbon Industrial Complex, but it actually illuminates much of what is wrong with the Progressive project.

Every president has experts, including Obama. And they can all claim that they’ve picked the best and brightest. You know who summoned the best experts from around the country to solve a tough problem? Mitt Romney. He came up with RomneyCare. You know who else? FDR. Does no one remember the Brain Trust? How about the Whiz Kids of the Kennedy Administration?

Of course, I think our experts are better than their experts. But one of the reasons I like our experts is that they are more likely to understand the limits of expertise.

Anyway, I’m going to be writing about this again in the near future, so if you think I’m wrong, please let me know.

 

Gay Enough?

One of my favorite jokes is: “What’s the hardest part about rollerblading?” Answer: “Telling your parents you’re gay.”

I’m not sure why that came to mind now instead of when we were still in Frank-Weiner territory. Oh, I remember now. Because I read this story about three guys who are suing over being kicked off a gay softball team for not being “gay enough.”

I really hope this catches on as a thing. Sort of like:

Office Worker 1: Hey did you hear Tom is gay?

Office Worker 2: No, really? Tom? Gay?

Office Worker 1: Well, not gay-gay. I mean, I don’t think he’s gay enough to qualify for gay softball. But he does like to sleep with other dudes.

Office Worker 2: Shweooo. So he’s only like sort of gay.

 

Various and Sundry

Here’s my column on that guy, what’s his name.

Thanks for all the encouragement about my seemingly semi-regular gig on theSpecial Report panel. I don’t know how long it will last. But I’m hoping the producers don’t sober up too soon. My next scheduled appearance is June 9. Oh, and for the record, I like being the back-up Van Dyke (it’s not a goatee!) to Steve Hayes. He’s better at this stuff than I am, and at least until my book’s done, I’m not sure I can peel off that much more time for such things. It actually takes work getting up to speed for the panel.

Speaking of which, I’m heading into cave mode. The book is due at the end of July. I’d be in fantastic shape for getting it done if only a genie would grant me three wishes (“Three? Wouldn’t one be enough?” – The Couch). Meanwhile the Fair Jessica is working on several mammoth projects this summer as well, which means that everyone is going to be stretched on the home and work fronts. I bring this up because there may be more missed G-Files (and columns) in the weeks ahead, but that doesn’t mean the G-File is dying.

In the last G-File, I offered H. G. Wells fans some links to Morlock and Eloi kittens. Unfortunately, the links were defective. So we’re trying again.

Last, I keep hearing from folks who want to be able to link to the G-File on their Facebook pages, blogs, etc. But since this is a “news”letter, they cannot. Others want access to G-File archives for no doubt nefarious reasons. And yet still others want me to do even more to raise awareness about Goat Trauma. Well, my understanding is that the technicians at NRHQ are working on all of this. Or at least my understanding is that they want me to believe they are working on all of this. If you have any suggestions on how to solve these complicated questions, I’m all ears (which is a really gross image when you think about it). Though I will probably just forward your e-mails to the appropriate NR Morlocks.

Civilizational Confidence

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Dear Reader (and those of you living in Saudi Arabia and had everything with “Goldberg” printed on it stopped at the electronic border),

For at least the last decade, one of the central ideas here at National Review – and across the redoubts of conservatism – has been “civilizational confidence.” The Left often derides this orientation as “The West Is the Best.” And while I believe the West is the best, I think that’s a silly way to think about it, simply because what the Left wants to do is make it sound like civilizational confidence is mere jingoistic, chauvinistic arrogance.

“Who are we to think that our civilization is so much better than anyone else’s?” goes the typical refrain.

The short answer: Us. Because if we don’t think well of our civilization, why have it at all? It’s sort of like how Ramesh Ponnuru says, “Of course I think my positions are the best positions. If I thought they weren’t, they wouldn’t be my positions.”

One of the most oft-repeated stories around here is that of Sir Charles Napier. Here’s Mark Steyn telling it in the Corner just a couple months ago:

The reason we’re losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted. When I’m speaking on this subject, I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

Anyway, I bring all of this up because of the interesting conversation sparked by a USA Today story I mentioned in the Corner last night. Delta Airlines has partnered with Saudi Arabian Airlines. As a result, Delta flights to Saudi Arabia will conform with Saudi law and scrub themselves of Jews, Jewish stuff, Christian Bibles, and whatever else is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.

Now it appears the original USA Today story has been yanked and replaced with a link to this USA Today blog post: “Airline to Jewish rumor: ‘Delta does not discriminate.’”

(I don’t think I’ve ever come across as particularly oversensitive to slights against the Hebrews, but isn’t this headline a bit off? I mean, it’s not a “Jewish rumor.” It’s a reaction to a USA Today story about a Delta policy. A Jewish rumor is more like “Did you hear that Rachel got a nose job over the summer?”)

But Delta does discriminate – when it is complying with Saudi policies. If, in some Phillip K. Dick alternative world, there was still a Nazi Germany out there and Aryan Air was incorporated into Delta’s Five Star Alliance, Delta would be discriminating if it complied with Aryan Air’s Judenfrei policies. The same applies here. Delta would have people believe that because it doesn’t “mean anything by it,” it’s not discriminating. Well, look: Not all discrimination is necessarily bad or unjustified (the NBA’s discrimination policies toward one-legged midgets are absolute and justified). And not all bad discrimination requires bigoted feelings up and down the decision tree. Lots of non-anti-Semites have “just followed orders.” You could look it up.

The main defense from people who say this is a non-story amounts to “This has been going on for years.” Aha. So, Saudi Arabia’s bigotry and the West’s enabling of it have a long tradition of existence! And this is a defense . . . how, exactly? Just because it sounds sophisticated to say that you’ve known about Saudi Arabia’s bigotry for a long time (who hasn’t?) doesn’t mean the bigotry is somehow more forgivable.

Delta doesn’t simply comply with Saudi Arabia’s bigotry, it has partnered with the country’s official (if no longer state-owned) airline. That was their choice and they deserve grief for it.

 

Theological Pluralism, Moral Conformity

For the most part, Saudi Arabia’s bigotry is theological rather than biological (though one clearly fuels the other, hence all of this stuff about Jews being apes and whatnot). For many people, this is apparently some kind of crucial distinction. Biological racism – a.k.a. the Nazi stuff – well, that’s bad. But theological racism? Hey, what ya gonna do?

Now, I don’t completely disagree. I’ve long argued that I don’t really care all that much about motives, particularly theological ones. If you make me a plate of chicken and waffles because you like me or because God tells you to, I suppose I’d prefer if it was the former but I’ll happily tolerate the latter. Why? Because this guy with the two thumbs pointing me-ward likes chicken and waffles (“I think you messed up that expression a little” – The Couch). More importantly, because actions matter more than motives. 

When I say this, people often take me for saying that motives don’t matter. They do. Motives are interesting and morally and legally relevant in many circumstances. (For instance, if Anthony Weiner though he was tweeting pictures of his junk to urologists, he’d still be in Congress.) And motives are a really useful indicator of what sorts of actions people might take.

But when motives are based on reason, you can argue with them. Imagine you tell me that you’re going to cover yourself with honey because you’ve always wanted a lick-bath from a brown bear. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain to you that that’s a bad idea because brown bears tend to be a bit “mouthy,” etc. But if you tell me that you’re covering yourself with honey and heading into the woods to sacrifice yourself to the great bear god, what am I supposed to tell you?

The point is that theological motives are not easily debated. Moral actions are. Americans didn’t want to let Utah become a state for years because Mormons practiced polygamy. After a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’, the Mormons officially gave up polygamy and Americans stopped caring about Utah statehood. Hindus have a pretty wild religion from what I can tell. But Hindu morality seems pretty solid, particularly since they gave up that whole wife-burning thing. That’s one reason why I have a lot more fondness for polytheistic India than I do for monotheistic Pakistan. It’s what people do that matters.

Which brings me back to civilizational confidence. In America, we’re allegedly a bunch of bigots if we expect people to be in this country legally. That’s right. It’s a sign of America’s alleged Nazification if we expect people to fill out the correct paperwork to live here. And people buy this crap as if it’s an actual argument. But Saudi Arabia — which beheads its own citizens if they convert to Christianity or even possess a Christian bible — well, that’s just how they do things there.

Sometimes I think we have such open minds that our brains fell out.

 

Rope-a-Dope Obama

In my latest column, I make the following point:

Obama wants an opponent as soon as possible. He’s never had to run on a record, and he’s desperate to make the election a choice between him and someone he can demonize. The longer it is before an opponent emerges, the more the election becomes a referendum on Obama.

I probably buried the lede a bit since I don’t get around to making this point until after I’ve taken a figurative two-by-four to George Pataki. But it’s a serious point I think people should ponder more seriously. GOP muckety-mucks keep telling me that Obama is desperate for an opponent. He’s personally popular and Democrats are good at demonizing people and then running against the demonic caricature they created (See: Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney et al.).

Already David Axelrod is insisting that the 2012 election will be a choice, not a referendum. Expect the liberal punditocracy to pick up that argument with gusto in the months ahead, because if it’s a referendum on Obama, Obama is more likely to lose. If it’s a choice between Obama and that crazy, dragon-scaled, baby-pinching, coprophilic, billionaire-loving, idiot Republican [insert name of nominee later], then Obama has a good shot at winning. That’s why Ramesh and Michelle Malkin are absolutely right about the weakness of Jon Huntsman’s claim that he can beat Obama by being a moderate. If he wins the nomination, the Paul Begalas aren’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, what a reasonable guy!” This is a version of the old liberal rule that the only good conservatives are dead conservatives. In this case conservatives are decent and moderate so long as saying so hurts mainstream Republicans who just might beat Democrats on policy or at the polls.

Don’t believe me? E. J. Dionne is starting to miss George W. Bush.

Anyway, the point is that Obama can’t sell his record and the hopey-changey stuff just doesn’t play anymore. Without an opponent he’s flailing, swinging wildly and exhausting himself. Yes, if the economy takes off, he’ll lose his spaghetti-legs. But barring that, he needs a clinch to stay off the mat. John Boehner has brilliantly refused to be his useful enemy. And Mitch McConnell can’t be The Enemy because he doesn’t actually run the Senate. Paul Ryan looks like he just got back from helping your grandmother unload her groceries. That leaves the GOP presidential nominee. The longer it is before he (or she) materializes, the longer Obama has to flail.

Let’s take it all the way to the convention!

 

Various and Sundry

Sorry for no G-File last week. I’m trying to stick to my hebdomadal commitments but it’s hard with the book-writing and all that. And yes, Twitter has been a terrible outlet for my writer’s block. Then again, it’s better than videogames.

In exciting news, the Goldbergs are off to NYC tomorrow for Rich Lowry’s wedding.

Speaking of Delta, I’ve got you covered like a Jimmy Hat!

This is an Internet classic and still very politically incorrect: The Delta Ebonics commercial. Without endorsement.

Now that CAIR has finally had its tax-exempt status revoked, isn’t it time Media Matters did too? I may want to write on this in the future, so send me your thoughts.

Iain Murray has a new book out perfectly suited to the Obama Years: Stealing You Blind.

That’s it for now. Back to the grindstone.

Love Child: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

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Dear Reader (and any of my “love children” out there),

 

What’s Love Got to Do (Got to Do) with It??

Actually, I don’t like the phrase “love child.” I think it’s hypocritical. We’re not supposed to use “bastard” anymore because it’s unfair and judgmental (See Nancy French’s item in the Corner on the rise and fall of the “B-word”). And I think that’s right and good. It’s not the kid’s fault his mom had too many fuzzy navels at the office Christmas party and Bob from accounting was looking so rakish in his corduroy jacket and flannel shirt.

When you think about it, pro-lifers in particular should oppose the term “bastard,” if for no other reason than they’re trying to coax women into keeping their babies. Telling women that the kid will have the mark of Cain on him or her forever isn’t great marketing.

But the term “love child” goes too far in the other direction, and, as I said, it’s hypocritical. As I understand it, the “love” in this usage has to do with the congress of the parents and not the love the parents may – or may not! – have for the child (if it has to do with the Congress in Washington then I am hopelessly confused). Well, if “bastard” is too harsh on the child, then “love” is too generous for the parents. Did Arnold Schwarzenegger really love his housekeeper? If DSK had gotten the Sofitel maid pregnant, would it be right to call the maid’s child a “love child”?

What we need is a term that isn’t cruel to the child but still shames the parents, at least a bit. “Fringe benefit to excessive Cinco De Mayo party” is too specific. “The only good thing to come with a bottle of tequila,” is closer but still not quite right.

Anyway, you think about it.

 

Did Obama Mean to Do That?

So I watched Obama’s big speech yesterday, in part because I knew I would be talking about it on the Special Report panel. (I’m sufficiently busy these days trying to get this [expletive deleted] book done that I have to be somewhat selective in my overall news intake. Watching a speech by Obama rather than just following the coverage and reading the transcript is a big investment of time that could be used for writing. The fact that it was on and I couldn’t find the remote helped too.)

Anyway, up until he got to Israel, I thought it was pretty good. Like a lot of people, I joked on Twitter how I thought the original Bush version was better. But except for his very odd insinuation that he had anything to do with the Arab Spring or the claim that his administration has been on the side of democracy from the get-go, I thought it showed real growth.

By the way, he should be very, very careful about taking credit for the Arab Spring. I mean, talk about taking credit for a love child that may end up being a real bastard.

For the record, the first two years of his administration had little to nothing to do with democracy promotion. His policy was “liberal realism,” where he tried to engage with tyrants out of a childish and dangerous “if Bush was for it, I’m against” petulance. See Josh Muravchik in the Corner. During the most important Middle East moment in years – the failed Iranian revolution of 2009 – he buried his head in the sand until it was too late.

But as folks on both sides of the aisle should always remember, it’s better to have the president hypocritically join your side than consistently oppose it. Which brings us to . . .

 

1967 and All That

The main event of the speech was the section on Israel. Frankly, when I watched the speech, I didn’t think it was that bad. In fact, I thought – and still think – that this was the most pro-Israel speech Obama has ever given (or ever dreamed he’d give). Now, that may be faint praise à la “the prettiest Helen Thomas has ever looked” or “the most loyal cat on earth” or “the funniest Carrot Top routine I’ve ever seen” (“or the most pointless G-File ever?” – the Couch). But it’s something. Frankly, I simply missed what has caused all of the controversy. The only thing I will say in my defense is that a lot of folks who are more invested in the Israel issue than I am — Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation), various colleagues at AEI (no relation), and several of my go-to Israel guys – more or less seemed to have missed it at first too. After all, that Israel should return to the 1967 borders (i.e. the 1949 armistice lines) with mutually agreed upon swaps of land is not a new view. What’s new is the idea that Obama thinks that the negotiations should start there, rather than end there. It’s actually a big difference.

Basically, in 1997 and, more important, in 2004, the U.S. government assured the Israelis that if they made tangible concessions – leaving Hebron and Gaza – then the United States would commit to ensuring that Israel had “defensible borders” at the end of the “peace process.” “Defensible borders” is the term of art because it recognizes the fact that Israel cannot defend the borders as they were in 1967, when it was only about eight miles wide in the middle. (After recently visiting Israel and touring the relevant topography, I have something of a new appreciation for how serious the concern for defensible borders really is.) By insisting that the negotiations start with 1967 borders as the baseline, pro-Israel critics say, Obama put Israel in a very bad spot.

Remember these assurances weren’t made simply by the Clinton and Bush administration, but by the U.S. government. Since Israel can’t negotiate with the hapless Palestinians, it made a deal with the Americans. Critics insist the Obama administration has reneged on that deal. It’s true that Hillary Clinton has refused on more than one occasion to say that the White House considers itself bound by the 2004 assurances. (For a detailed tick-tock, see this December 2009 Rick Richman piece.)

It’s kind of amazing how the New York Times crowd desperately wants this to be big news and so does the conservative talk radio crowd. One side says, “Yay! Obama is throwing Israel under the bus!” The other side says, “How dare Obama throw Israel under the bus!?”

I’m still not so sure either side is really grasping the key dynamic here. The Obama administration’s position certainly isn’t news, even by the critics’ standard, since even they concede this has been Obama’s stance since 2009. And his talk of swaps echoes what Bush and Clinton before had proposed or discussed. If this were really the existential attack on Israel some are making it out to be, I’d at least expect folks like Jeffrey Goldberg to be madder and folks like, er, the Palestinians to be happier.

That said, I think I am persuaded that what Obama is proposing is bad news for Israel. I hate to admit it, but after Charles Krauthammer (we chatted after the show and he good-naturedly accused me of going soft on Israel) and Elliott Abrams, the person who’s made the most persuasive case is . . . Alan Dershowitz. I have never been a fan of Dershowitz. I believe on more than one occasion I have written that if he took Viagra he’d get taller. But he can be very good on Israel.

 

Less Evil More Stupid – Or Partisan

Now I could be completely wrong on this, but I don’t think Obama thought he was giving an anti-Israel speech (See John Podhoretz on this.). I think he thought he was placating Israel and pandering to pro-Israel Jews in the U.S. I think he thought he was kicking the can down the road because he knows that nothing will be done on the Israel-Palestine issue until at least 2013 (and more likely 2023). I think he saw his AIPAC speech coming up and heard the complaints from Jewish donors and choked, figuring he could deliver a “bold” speech that called for “bold” action but was dead on arrival the second it left his mouth. He’s flip-flopping on nearly every other important issue he can in order to get reelected; I sincerely doubt he cares more about either Middle East peace or shafting Israel than he does about getting reelected. I think he thinks this a prudent retreat.

And – bam! – it blew up in his face. It’s a bit like Newt Gingrich’s Meet the Press fiasco. Newt was trying to reinvent himself as kinder and gentler than the Newt we all grew up with. It was like he was calmly picking flower petals as he walked through a beautiful field, walking hand in hand with David Gregory. La dee dah, I’m for the individual mandate. Zippity-doo-dah, Paul Ryan’s budget is too radical. Hoh hum aren’t I huggable? Tee hee haven’t I grownnnnzzzzzipp pow splat. He walked right into the tail rotor of a metaphorical helicopter! Cue Tony Montana voice: “Look at you now!”

Anyway, my only point is that I think Obama is simply way out of his depth on a lot of these issues. It’s entirely possible he believes all of the nonsense in his speech about being responsible for the Arab Spring and standing up for our values. But the pro- or anti- view that this was all part of an elaborate Middle East chess game by some [insert your adjective] genius strikes me as entirely implausible.

 

In Other News

I’m on Special Report again on Monday. Judging from the feedback from last night’s performance, my haircut was a welcome development. I’m trying to figure out what exciting new grooming improvements I can come up with by Monday to keep the excitement going.

Here is my column on DSK and the gratuitous self-congratulation of a lot of Americans.

Un-American for Thee, but Not for Me!

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Dear Reader (and those of you porn-seekers who accidentally opened this “news”letter thinking it was the Morning Jolt),

I knew yesterday wasn’t going to be productive when Cosmo woke me up at 5:15 in the morning for no other discernible reason than he wanted to go downstairs and was afraid to do so in the dark. He’s no coward, he’s just getting eccentric in his old age, so I indulged him.

But first, in the spirit of Obama stimulus math, I did or saved 500 push-ups, as I do every morning (you wouldn’t believe how many push-ups I’ve saved), and went downstairs to work. After pecking at the keyboard for a bit – less than fruitfully, like a Chinatown tic-tac-toe chicken – I turned on the TV to discover that Bikini Frankenstein was on. It looked like a fascinating film, and judging from the IMDB page it is. Not only does Mary Shelley get a co-writer credit, but the plot keywords are, again according to IMDB, “Lesbianism,” “Sex,” “Female Nudity,” “Lesbian Sex,” and “Beautiful Woman.”

Note the total absence of “Existentialism,” “Extraordinary Rendition,” “Income Inequality,” and “Islamaphobia.”

No wonder it was ignored by the academy.

 

Un-American for Thee, but Not for Me!

Anyway, productivity wasn’t improved when I got sucked into watching the Senate inquisition of the oil-company CEOs.

The most dramatic aspect of the hearings was probably the assault on the CEO of ConocoPhillips, James Mulva (insert your own Seinfeld joke here). The company issued a press release headlined “ConocoPhillips Highlights Solid Results and Raises Concerns Over Un-American Tax Proposals at Annual Meeting of Shareholders.”

In response, Sens. Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer acted as if Mulva had personally turned them into the House Un-American Activities Committee (which was created by liberals to go after German sympathizers, by the way). The press-release headline was probably ill-advised, though given how ConocoPhillips meant it, I have no problem with the gist of what they were trying to say. Singling out certain industries for what amounts to punitive taxation, simply to pander to populist paranoia, should be considered at leastnon-American. Still, as a matter of public relations, it was dumb for the company to give these guys so much rope.

But what drove me crazy was the unbridled, sanctimonious, indignant asininity from Schumer and Menendez. Here is Menendez going on a tear about how ConocoPhillips called him, personally, “un-American,” even though nothing of the sort happened. I wish Mulva had asked Menendez whether he had condemned Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer for calling town-hall protests of Obamacare “un-American.” Or whether Schumer was going to condemn People for the American Way. Or whether anyone minded when Howard Dean flatly declared that John Ashcroft was “no patriot.”

Frankly, I wish we could use the term un-American more in our politics (which is different than saying I wish we could use it promiscuously). The French refer to things being un-French 500 times a day. And I don’t just mean things like “Oh, monsieur, the cheese must be served warm and runny and taste like – how you say? – ‘the anus of a dead badger’? To eat it any other way would not be French.” The same goes for the British, the Germans (oops not a great example), and countless others.

I think that probably points to one of the reasons the term “un-American” is so radioactive here. In a country where national identity is largely synonymous with ethnic identity and history, it’s very easy to figure out what is or isn’t “un.” But in a country where national identity is creedal, it’s problematic to suggest that someone or something – other than bland platitudes about tolerance – is un-American. That speaks well of America but, in my opinion, it’s also precisely why we should be able to talk about Americanness more openly.

A second reason it’s so taboo is that liberals think the McCarthy period was so heinous, so terrible, that even liberals born decades later or completely untouched by McCarthyism still see themselves as victims of it. Of course, they always seem to forget that a great many of those “persecuted” under McCarthyism were in fact very unpatriotic people who hated this country, spied for our enemies, and then lied about it. Instead, McCarthyism has become a 60-year excuse for liberals to claim they’re persecuted.

I still laugh whenever I put ice cream between my toes and let Cosmo lick it off. But that’s not important right now. I also laugh whenever I think about the man-on-the-street interviews the New York Times did when the GOP took back Congress in 1994. Some yutz who was three years old when McCarthy was a senator said something like, “I’m worried, but I made it through the McCarthy era, so I can make it through this.”

What a trooper!

Ultimately, I think many liberals implicitly understand that they are vulnerable to the charge that they don’t like America “as is” all that much (which is why they’re often so thin-skinned about any suggestion they’re unpatriotic). Why this should be so controversial baffles me, given that the whole point of progressivism is to change America. If you don’t want to spend (and borrow!) lots of money to change your house because you like the way it is, and your wife wants to borrow-and-spend huge amounts of money to change it, a reasonable person might assume you love your house more than your wife does. What am I missing?

 

What Is Patriotism?

I think I might get this padding past the suits. A few months ago, I addressed the issue of patriotism for my monthly column in the magazine. Here it is, slightly abridged:

If I said, “There’s really nothing special about my wife,” you might think not only that I’m a cad, but that I don’t particularly like my wife. If my wife said, “My daughter’s fine, but she’s really no better than any other kid,” you might think she’s lacking in the maternal-love department.

Now before I continue, let me say clearly and on the record that these are hypotheticals. My wife is very special. Indeed, this is an understatement of equal magnitude to “Breathing is popular” or “Jeffrey Dahmer would make a poor high-school guidance counselor.” And though we might eschew a bumper sticker saying so, we both think our kid is better than your kid. But I don’t want to clutter this space with too much romantic or paternal treacle.

This illustrates a truth about how love works. At some basic level, if you love something, you must find it preferable to something else, perhaps everything else. Your reasons can be subjective, or indeed impossible to identify. I put it to you that men who marry women solely because they meet a checklist (Blond hair: Check! Green Bay Packers fan: Check!) aren’t really in love. They may grow to love their spouse, but that happens only when they come to appreciate what makes her different from a mere manifestation of categorical bullet points.

I bring this up because I continue to be amazed by the bizarre obsession liberal intellectuals have with “American exceptionalism.” Deeply offended by Marco Rubio’s claim that America is the greatest country on earth, my friend Peter Beinart recently proclaimed in the Daily Beast that American exceptionalism is a “lunatic notion.” Michael Kinsley, meanwhile, was so flabbergasted by the stupidity of voters who opposed Obama that he saw fit to pen an essay for Politico titled “U.S. Is Not Greatest Country Ever.”

Now, never mind that America meets at least most of the objective criteria on my checklist for greatest country ever. Never mind that the U.S. should do pretty well on any sincere liberal’s rundown, too. Also, put aside the fact that the idea of America’s exceptional nature is a rich and deep subject of political literature going back to not only Tocqueville, but the Federalist, Edmund Burke, and even Marx and Engels.

What I find fascinating is the emotional and psychological animus against the contention that America is special. Few subjects elicit more rage and condescension than the simple, lovely idea that America is uniquely . . . American, and lovably so. Indeed, whenever conservatives talk about American exceptionalism, liberals react as if we were speaking German in the 1930s.

But these same liberals fulminate with bile whenever it is hinted or suggested that liberals are somehow lacking in patriotism. Well, if, in admittedly simplistic terms, patriotism means love of country, what else are we supposed to think when liberals pooh-pooh any suggestion that America is special? When Barack Obama says that America is no more exceptional than any other country, how is that different from me saying my wife is no more special than any other woman? Yes, such statements can be defended from the vantage points of abstraction, relativism, or some arbitrary criterion. But how can they be defended in the light of love? Indeed, Obama sometimes sounds like a managerial expert who accidentally ended up running America, when he would have been perfectly happy with an assignment elsewhere.

I am not saying that all liberals do not love America. What I am saying is that they are hopelessly confused about how to think about, and, therefore, express, their love of it. My advice: Start with baby steps. Find one nice new thing to say about America every day. It might be hard at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.

 

Mitt’s Muddle

And then, when the hearings were over, I got swept up in the raw sexual excitement of Mitt Romney’s health-care speech in Michigan.

Look, I feel sorry for Romney. I think he’s an eminently decent, smart, and dedicated public servant. But as the editors ably note, his defense of Romneycare just won’t fly.

I’ve gotten some grief from folks for beating up on his federalism defense: As I’ve been a champion of federalism for years, I should celebrate Romney’s claim that he was doing what was right for Massachusetts.

There are a lot of problems with this argument. But let me just focus on a couple. First, there’s nothing inherent to federalism that bars me from criticizing state-based policies if I think they’re bad. I think Vermont has every right to ban smoking, Walmart, kitty litter, and R-rated movies. But that doesn’t mean I must say they made the right call. Second, Romney’s explanation of what Romneycare did is almost interchangeable with an accurate explanation of what Obamacare does. If you believe that Obamacare’s biggest fault isn’t its tax hikes or raiding Medicare, but its transformation of the individual’s relationship with the state, then hiding behind federalism isn’t a very good defense, particularly when you’re less than honest about the similarities between your state plan and the national-level one you swear must be repealed.

 

Various and Sundry

My column today is on the Obama administration’s effort to exploit bin Laden’s death for his “big things” agenda. I’m weary of discussing liberalism as an extended application of William James’s notion of “the moral equivalent of war,” but every time I stop Obama does something else that proves me right.

Real-estate savings on the ice planet Hoth.

Back to pecking at the keyboard . . .

Coming to You from Paris, France…

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Dear Reader (and those of you who are too busy examining the layers in the PDF version of the G-File),

I’m writing this en route to Paris – I’m one of the speakers on the NR French riverboat cruise. My wife is sitting next to me, so I’m going to have to keep this PG-13 or lower. Also, because I’m flying (or rather I’m strapped into a device that is flying), I do not have access to the Interweb, so links to items that demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am absolutely 100 percent right about everything will have to wait until next week. Still, I will add a [LINK] everyplace I feel like you’d appreciate the unequivocal proof that I am absolutely, metaphysically, ontologically, and in all other respects completely and totally correct, as everyone from Larry Storch to Barack Obama has admitted many, many times.

 

The Friendly Skies

Again, the Fair You-Know-Who is sitting right next to me, so I’m going to say this as delicately as I can: The flight attendants on this flight are abnormally non-unattractive. Open Skies, the name of the airline I’m on, is a subsidiary of British Airways, but the staff seems to be all French, and I do mean all French.* It’s an “all business class” airline. Apparently Jack Fowler, NR’s publisher, got a deal on the tickets. (Jack is a fan of a good deal. Rumor has it he was once nearly driven mad when he was told that there was a Domino’s Pizza coupon in the corner of the Guggenheim Museum.) And so far, it’s fantastic. But not because the sky-waitresses are so easy on the eyes. (I swear! Please, darling, go back to your book.) I mean, it’s well known that attractive French waitresses are helpless before my charms once you get them above 35,000 feet. But I am completely impervious to their wiles.

But it is fascinating how so many other countries still hire flight attendants for their looks while in the United States we hire them for their . . . um, errr, their lofty status as carbon-based life forms? Their ability to lie through their teeth about the incredible dangers of playing “Angry Birds” on your iPhone during taxiing and takeoff? Lord knows a cute, doe-eyed twentysomething girl could never be trained to do all that.

Oh, sure, there was Hooters Air, and some folks still have their fingers crossed for a Fox Business Airways. But basically that’s just not how we do things in America anymore.

Why? Because of everything from feminism to unions to the triumph of something that I guess we’ll have to call the meritocracy. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s fair that anyone should lose their job because they’re not young and pretty, or not be hired at all because they’re not female. But we still accept those facts of life in a few areas: modeling, acting, and to only a slightly lesser degree news broadcasting. More to the point, the tide of fairness and feminism brought with it some very valuable things, but it’s worth at least noting that the same tide washed away some of life’s smaller charms.

And yes, I know that this was probably one of the weakest examples I could have cited in this regard.

* Oh, I almost forgot about that asterisk up there. “And I do mean all French” is one of those phrases that sounds dirty but isn’t. Like (as mentioned in the last G-File) “goat painting” or “leading from behind.”

 

Speaking of Unionization

Around the time the TSA agent was asking me to turn my head and cough, a thought occurred to me. No, that thought was not “In better lighting with maybe a nice bottle of merlot, this would be a lot more enjoyable.”

Throughout all of these government union fights, one of the staple arguments you always hear goes something like this: “These noble public servants do the important work of this or that, and it is only fair and just that they be properly compensated.”

Now, I do not think this argument is always or wholly without merit. Many people become cops or firemen or teachers because they consider it a calling, and what they do is in fact noble.

But is it really true that that the deputy assistant manager for food services in the D.C. public-school system took her job out of a noble sense of public duty? Would the guy who clears the roadkill from the shoulder of I-95 happily do it for free?

My point isn’t to denigrate the work. I’m one of those people who find nobility in honest work. Nor am I saying that we should underpay people who do valuable and necessary jobs. My only point is that defenders of government workers tend to make it sound like the workers who take these jobs do so for lofty reasons and their self-sacrifice should be rewarded, when the reality is often – not always, but often – much closer to the reverse. They take the job because of the generous compensation and job security and invoke the nobility of their vocations to cynically protect their gigs.

 

The Issue of the Hour

Frankly, I’m perfectly happy Obama released his birth certificate. I always thought that the only thing worse than the birthers being wrong would be the birthers being right.

Igniting a whacky constitutional crisis because Barack Obama spent a few weeks or months in Kenya as an infant seemed like madness to me. Throwing out the first black president in the middle of his presidency would be absurdly difficult, painful, and counterproductive in every way, dredging up a level of biliousness this country has rarely if ever seen. And at the end of the process, even if a “birther Congress” could have successfully impeached and removed the guy for being ineligible, we would have . . . President Joe Biden.

(By the way, I’ve long pondered what a Biden presidency would look like. I think the Lloyd Bridges character in Airplane! gives us a good sense of what Biden’s presidential leadership style would be.)

Personally, I don’t think we need the natural-born-citizen clause. Voters can decide if someone born outside the United States deserves the job. I would never rally behind Arnold Schwarzenegger for president, but my opposition to the guy has nothing to do with the fact he’s an immigrant. One of the things I like best about him is that he’s an immigrant.

 

What Took Him So Long?

I got a lot of grief from the usual types for asking why Obama dragged this out as long as he did. I still think it’s a perfectly legitimate question.

It seems to me that if there was no “there” there this whole time, the responsible thing would have been for a junior deputy assistant press secretary to release the thing over two years ago.

Think about it. Liberal surrogates in and out of the press and the administration have been saying for two years that the birthers are discrediting the Republican party. They’re racist. They’re nuts. They’re trying to tear down the president and the country with their paranoia. And yet Obama could have put the whole thing to rest with five minutes of paper shuffling. The White House only asked Hawaii for the birth certificate last week. And this was after we’d been told incessantly that Hawaii couldn’t find or couldn’t release the long-form birth certificate.

(Never mind that we never heard anything like the same level of outrage and dismay over the “truther” conspiracy theories, which A) were more widely held on the left than birtherism has been on the right and B) were far, far more repugnant. One theory held that a politician was hiding something on his birth certificate for political reasons. The other theory held that the United States government from the president down systematically planned and carried out the worst terrorist attack in American history and then successfully covered it up with the help of nearly all of our elite institutions.)

It seems to me the strategists around Obama liked it this way. They thought they could exploit the birthers the way Clinton exploited the militias. Keeping the story in the news by letting the birthers drive themselves nuts helped them. The press helped, too. Did you ever notice how whenever a Republican denounced the birthers or dismissed the issue, the press would often cast it as a tactical move to win moderates, not an act of conviction?

During the week of news coverage that Obama says was dominated by the birther issue, you were something like 35 times more likely to hear about the subject on CNN or MSNBC. Do you think those outlets framed the issue in a light favorable to the birthers or to the president? (Even now, the only media types really eager to prop up the birthers as a serious force are MSNBC hosts and their freelance producers at Media Matters & Co., who want to use the topic for guilt by association.)

Trump changed the equation. As odd as it is to me personally, Trump is a mainstream figure and his birtherism wasn’t discrediting the GOP because he’s not identified as a “real” Republican. And given the awful economy and the general pessimism out there, the birther thing had more salience culturally (which is unfortunate).

But also, Obama has been cultivating his image as the “grown-up.” The White House has been trying to position Obama as the adult in the room, above the squabbling parties. Releasing the birth certificate now and having the president denounce “silliness” and “distractions” was a great way to get that message out there.

Or at least it seemed that way. My hunch is that Americans are starting to figure who Obama really is – and the answer, as always, has nothing to do with his birth certificate.

 

That’s It

Okay, I’m at the hotel now. They have wi-fi, I have no sleep. So I’m stopping here. I do have a new column out today. It’s on . . . porn! And I don’t even mention the Morning Jolt, whose transition to a full-time, 24-hour porn newsletter has been so gradual, I hardly even noticed.

The Fierce Urgency of Now

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Dear Reader (and those of you experiencing parenthetical-joke phantom pain),

The other day I wrote this short piece on Israel’s Independence Day over at the Enterprise Blog. In it I covered a theme familiar to longtime G-File readers (by which I do not refer to slow readers who take a long time reading the G-File but rather people who might remember ten-year-old columns).That theme? The tendency to assume that the future will unfold as a straight-line projection of today.

Specifically, I noted that Israel’s existence is a blip on the radar, historically speaking, and the idea that it will be around forever is actually a pretty debatable assumption based upon a granite-like faith that tomorrow will look a lot like today.

But what got me revisiting the topic was actually a conversation I had with an AEI colleague about libertarians and family policy (those of you who bet that my getting out of the basement and into an office would make me less dorky, well, you’re going to have to pay up).

I don’t follow libertarian family policy (never mind conservative family policy, liberal family policy, or even Shining Path Maoist family policy) too closely, though I know some very smart people who’re involved in it. Anyway, the conversation turned to the claim made by many libertarians, as well as folks like Al Gore (wolfsbane to libertarians), that modern society has changed so much that it is only right and rational that family structure change, too.

Here’s my problem with this sort of thinking, which I don’t think is unreasonable on its face. Some institutions endure because they are, well, enduring.

The whole point of certain institutions is that they are insurance policies against the unknown future (picture G. Gordon Liddy talking about gold, only replace it with “the family”). The phrase “you can always count on family” may not be literally true, but it is more true than “you can always count on your old college roommate.” When times are great, the demands of family (or religion, or good manners, or thriftiness, or a thousand other institutions, customs, and habits of the heart that we can throw under the bulwark of “tradition”) might often seem like too much unnecessary baggage to carry around. But when things hit the fan, family is there in a way that other people aren’t. Not because those other people are bad, but because your family is your family.

But it’s important to keep in mind that the family – or the Bill of Rights, or good manners, whatever – isn’t a catastrophic insurance policy. The value of these institutions is best understood during a time of crisis, but the influence of these institutions is constant, even in times of calm luxury. The fact that these institutions exist forecloses certain options and avenues for reformers who yearn for a blanker social slate.

The family, like marriage, is an institution that predates our Constitution and the very concept of democracy, never mind modernity. That is not to say that it hasn’t evolved and changed or that conservatives should never, ever contemplate further changes and greater evolution. It is simply to say that we should do so carefully, reservedly, humbly, in full knowledge that tomorrow may look as little like today as yesterday did.

 

Keep It Simple, Keep It Loaded

A simple way of grasping this is to think of guns. There are lots of good arguments about gun rights. But it amazes me how often these debates boil down to whether you can imagine that tomorrow will look a lot different than today. So many liberals dismiss the “right to revolution” arguments on the grounds that they can’t imagine its ever being necessary. Nor can they imagine a military invasion or a collapse of the social order sufficiently chaotic to justify the laws of self-preservation.

And don’t even get me started on zombies.

I hope these unimaginative liberals are right. But I can tell you this: When the zombies rise, I won’t be racing to the homes of friends who happened to be lifetime members of Handgun Control Inc. I will be heading North to Alaska, where I have family and they have guns, lots and lots of guns. And, more to the point, while the prevalence of guns in our society will do little to nothing to prevent the zombie menace from ever arising, those guns go a long way toward circumscribing the menu of available policy options for the state. In other words, the existence of gun rights makes the “need” for gun rights seem less apparent.

 

Quote of the Day

I would be remiss if I didn’t make this the quote of the day:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

– G.K. Chesterton, The Thing

No, no. Different Thing.

Oh, so anyway, I got started on all of this stuff about the fallacy of assuming tomorrow will look like today and I forgot why I brought it up in the first place: I need a word for it. Presentism isn’t right, because that’s the historiographical faux pas of imposing today’s biases on the past. Futurism doesn’t work because that’s either a pre-fascist artistic movement of early-20th-century Italy or another word for futurology, the “science” of selling unfalsifiable predictions to idiots.

Any suggestions? I’d prefer not to have a neologism, but if that’s what’s required, so be it.

 

Cosmo Update

We are still debating surgery on his Achilles’ heel injury. But I actually have a story that fits with the theme of this “news”letter. This morning, my wife found two dogs on the front lawn. They weren’t from around here. One was big and labby, the other a smallish pit bull mix. My wife read their tags and saw that they live a few blocks away. She invited them into the house and called the owner, who explained that his brand new InvisiFence sucks – and that he’d be right over to pick up his dogs.

Meanwhile, Cosmo was infuriated by this complete breach of protocol. “What the hell is this?” he kept asking. “The whole system is breaking down!”

Then the pit-bullish feller started to eat out of Cosmo’s food bowl. Cosmotographer just lost it. They had a fight, and Coz held his own. Anyway, the Fair Jessica broke it all up and everything worked out fine. But for Cosmo, this was proof that his years of front-porch vigilance were entirely justified. No unwelcome dog had breached the perimeter in nearly a decade and then, all of a sudden, like that bright morning in Red Dawn when the Soviets dropped from the sky, Everything Changed. Worse, he discovered that his own mother is a security liability.

Again, you never know how different tomorrow will be from today.

 

Keep Your Eyes Peeled!

A preview of my big lead essay in Commentary is allegedly going to go up on their website early in the next couple days. I expect it will cause quite a fuss.