Category Archive 'Jonah Goldberg'

01 Oct 2018

Unhinged Left Going After Kavanaugh

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Jonah Goldberg tries to figure out why Brett Kavanaugh has caused the Left to pull out all the stops.

I want to be open-minded. So I will concede that the allegation is not theoretically impossible, given the depths of depravity that humans in every generation and every civilization and at all strata of class and privilege are capable of.

But it would be highly unlikely, to say the least. I say this having some insight, however imperfect, into the social milieu from which Kavanaugh hails. I didn’t grow up in Washington, but I did technically go to a prep school.

(My school was not as prestigious as Georgetown Prep. There was always a raging debate about my alma mater: Was it the best school on the B-List or the worst school of the A-list? But it was a prep school.)

I knew kids at various schools like Kavanaugh’s. They could be, to borrow a term from social science, dicks. I’m not saying he was. But even if he was, that doesn’t mean he was a rapist. Though, to listen to various liberals, you’d think stereotypes about sex, race, and class are always true so long as you’re talking about white preppy Christians.

Still, I will confess I have my own biases. I never took high school too seriously, so I had a certain amount of resentment towards those who did. The kids who constantly worried about their permanent record; the kids who did everything they could to please teachers or gussy-up their college applications; the kids who seemingly without much effort checked boxes as both jocks and academic grinds; the kids who were always worried about getting in trouble for fear of having to go to a state school: These were kids that I didn’t gravitate towards precisely because I couldn’t be one of them. But I will grant them this: They seemed really unlikely to organize rape gangs if for no other reason than that such things look really bad on your application to Yale.

Again, I don’t mean to be unfair to Brett Kavanaugh. I have no doubt that a regular churchgoing kid had other reasons not to do the logistical heavy-lifting of drugging and raping teenage girls on a regular basis. I’m just assuming the worst while still employing Occam’s Razor. And I just have a hard time believing that the Rapey McRapeFace who Avenatti and his fans describe is the real Brett Kavanaugh.

RTWT

30 Apr 2018

The Tribal Fallacy

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Jonah Goldberg, in connection with his new book, Suicide of the West, did a recent podcast with EconTalk host Russ Roberts.

Russ Roberts: And just to expand on the Hayek point, in The Fatal Conceit, he says: This micro-cosmos and macro-cosmos, we have two –we have to have two ways of thinking about the world. In our small families or our bands or our tribes or our communities, we have a more socialist–what you and I would call a Socialist–enterprise. We don’t sell stuff to our kids: typically, we share. It’s top down, not bottom up. In the family, the parents tend to run things. And, that’s very appropriate in a small group that’s held together by bonds of love, for genetics–whatever keeps it together. And, he says, we have to have a different mindset when we go out to the extended order–when we are traders and commercial actors. And he said, we have a tendency to try to take the beautiful and poetic ethos of the family and extend it into the larger order. And he says that leads to tyranny.

Jonah Goldberg: Right.

Russ Roberts: In a way, that’s–that’s what I want to–you might–it’s one of the things you are worried about in your book. Which is that the tribalism that we are hardwired for seems to be spreading beyond the immediate family.

Jonah Goldberg: That’s right. I think it’s worth pointing out: It is disastrous going both ways.

Russ Roberts: Hayek makes that point, yeah.

Jonah Goldberg: Right. Right. It’s disastrous to treat the larger society like a family or tribe. But it’s also disastrous–getting your g’mindschaft[?] and your Gesellschaft is always a problem. And treating your family like a contractual society destroys the family. And, both are really, really bad. And I agree that it’s not just that we are Socialist. I mean, the way I always put it is: We are literally Communist, in the sense that in my family it is: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. You have a sick kid, you don’t do any kind of calculus about what their contribution to the family is. You just do whatever they need. And, yeah. So, part of my argument is that–you know, the Roman philosopher Horus has this line where he says, ‘You can chase nature without–you can chase nature out with a pitchfork, but it always comes running back in.’ And, so, part of my argument is that human nature is always with us. Right? We are born with it. That is the preloaded software of the human condition, and you can’t erase that hard-drive. All you can do is channel and harness human nature towards productive ends as best you can. And when you don’t do that, human nature will assert itself. And I think of this in terms of corruption: That, just as if you don’t maintain their upkeep–a car, a boat, or a house–the Second Law of Thermodynamics or entropy or just rust will–you know, rust never sleeps. Eventually, nature reclaims everything. And that’s true of civilizations, too. And if we don’t civilize people to understand this distinction between the micro- and the macro-cosm, what inevitably happens is that the logic of the microcosm, the desire to live tribally which we’re all born with, starts to infect politics. And if you are not on guard for it, it can swamp politics. And this is why I would argue that virtually every form of authoritarianism, totalitarianism–whether you want to call it right-wing or left-wing–doesn’t really matter to me any more. They are all reactionary. Because they are all trying to restore that tribal sense of social solidarity–whether, you know, it’s a monarchy or treating the leader of the country as the father of the country or the Fuehrer or whatever you want to call it. Or whether you are just saying that the entire society is just one family. Whether it’s nationalism, or socialism, or populism–all of these things are basically the reassertion of human nature, which says: I don’t like your artificial constraints on my human desires and my desire for my group to be victorious. And that is the fundamental form of human corruption.

RTWT

24 Oct 2016

More Mouse Droppings

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Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. — Horace.

Publius Decius Mus” (Mousey as far as I’m concerned) is back.

Jonah Goldberg, in the course of discussing the disconnection from reality of Trumpkins’ narratives, took the time to casually boot Mousey around the block.

Consider the anonymous writer Decius (whose identity is known to anyone who cares to know it and hidden from the masses of people who couldn’t give a rat’s ass. But I will honor this ridiculous conceit.) Decius’s most famous piece of work — and it was a piece of work — was his Flight 93 Election essay in which he argued that this election poses an existential threat to America’s survival. Either we charge the cockpit and vote for Trump, or the figurative terrorists of the Clinton cabal kill us all. Either you muster the courage to fight the terrorists, or you’re with the terrorists. Moreover, if you don’t agree with his Manichean prescription, it’s probably because you’re acting to protect your status as a member of the “Davos class” or some other phylum of pocket-lining, rent-seeking remoras. I think that argument is grotesque on the merits, and unworthy of the author.

As I explained in a previous G-File, it’s also remarkably cowardly. He invokes the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93. Decius’s pseudonym harkens back to a Roman martyr who bravely gave his life to save the Republic. And yet, he’s unwilling to risk putting his own name on the literary bombs he throws for fear of losing his own Davos-class-worthy lifestyle.

In a more recent essay, Decius attacks my AEI colleague James Pethokoukis for writing a piece titled “A Conservative Case against Trump’s Apocalyptic View of America.” It’s worth noting that Decius had to misrepresent Pethokoukis argument from the outset. The title of Pethokoukis’s piece begins “A Conservative Case” — meaning that it is one argument among many other possible arguments. Decius changes it into the conservative case, suggesting that James is trying to assert that his is the only way conservatives should see the issues. That’s not Pethokoukis’s style, but it is the style of the man who says if you disagree with him about Trump, you’re a sell-out in favor of destroying America. Pethokoukis’s sin, according to Decius, is to even suggest that apocalyptic despair about America might be an overreaction to the current plight of our country. He goes on to write, with no sense of irony:

    I don’t know James Pethokoukis. But I know lots of “conservatives” just like him: eager, even giddy, to throw anyone ostensibly on their side to the Leftist wolves.

    I’m tired of being shot in the back my “friends.” It’s high time to turn around and let them shoot me in the face, in frank acknowledgement that I am their enemy.

I don’t think Decius is my enemy. But he clearly thinks anyone not in lockstep with his worldview is his. Still, I do have one suggestion. If you want your supposed enemies to shoot you in the face, stop hiding behind a pseudonym.

I dwell on Decius here not just because I am appalled by the way he’s been writing in bad faith, but also because it illustrates my larger point. As an actual argument, Decius makes some fine points about the current state of America — many of which I agree with in whole or in part. But in its totality it isn’t really an argument at all. It’s a cri de coeur, a venting of feelings. The passion, no doubt sincerely felt, has taken reason hostage. The correct response to so much of this venting isn’t to rebut his points case by case, but to simply say, “Lighten up, Francis.

Mousey didn’t like it and has penned another of his hyper-pretentious, long-winded essays in reply. I find trying to dissect substantive arguments out of his writings is much like trying to pick up mercury from a tabletop with a pair of chopsticks. There is all that verbiage and all that self-congratulatory triumphant posing, but underneath it there is nothing but the same Alt-Right party-line delusional worldview:

This election is apocalyptic. Conservatives owe Trump support, because this is the Apocalypse, man, and you’re on the Alt-Right Trump side or you’re for Hillary.

The Alt-Right has History’s endorsement in its pocket, because, you see, Conservatism is a) simply a part of a diabolical elite, Davos-based, conspiracy to rule the country for its own benefit, and because b) Conservatism (despite its joint tenure with Progressivism in running things and the accruing benefit of drinking all that Haut Brion around the fire in Davos) has done nothing but lose.

And, finally, when this election is over, and he doesn’t say it, but he means “after Trump loses,” conservatives better fall in line with Trump’s issues, i.e. Nativism, Protectionism, Isolationism, or there will be a split.

Well, Mousey, I’d reply, there already is a split. You and your friends went whoring off supporting an unqualified, unconservative, populist mountebank without a shred of principles, rejecting every qualified, conservative, and electable candidate in the process. If the GOP had nominated any legitimate, respectable conservative, he’d be coming up on beating Hillary in a landslide. You and Trump lost this election. Not Jonah Goldberg, James Pethokoukis, or me.

The Conservative Movement rose after WWII, in defiance of fashion, the received view of history, and the status quo, to dominate the Republican Party; to elect Ronald Reagan president; to defeat the Soviet Union, liberate Central Europe, and win the Cold War; and to establish a sufficiently powerful intellectual opposition to Collectivist Statism that in the 1990s the Left’s candidates in Britain and America both acknowledged openly that “the era of Big Government is over.”

So what has Conservatism done for you lately? says the Alt-Right.

Political reality and political possibility, alas! move slowly and at a ponderous pace, sometimes moved in one direction or the other by Fortune, beyond the immediate control of any collection or alliance of us mortals.

George W. Bush screwed up and allowed the Left to turn public opinion against his military efforts, then Fate handed the Progressive Left both an economic crash weeks before the election and a well-spoken radical candidate with extraordinary symbolic appeal. Meanwhile the Left’s long march through the Culture and the Institutions went on, arriving recently at points frequently downright comedic.

I and the other conservatives I know generally thought that GWB really ought to have done a better job, but he actually was not consulting on a daily basis with most of us. We were supremely unlucky in 2008 and still unlucky in 2012, but frankly I think this year Fate was really getting outrageously out-of-hand.

No one contends that the detailed principles of the post-WWII Conservative Movement are written in stone, but if anyone is going to try to revise Conservatism’s policy preferences and positions, it is going to take better arguments and a better grasp of history than any of either the low-information, big-mouth shitbirds or the pretentious windbags with imaginary togas currently operating on the Alt-Right have so far ever shown.

It is regrettable that the Left dominates the universities, the media, and the Arts. Tell you what, after Trump loses, and the Conservative Movement splits permanently, why don’t you and Pat Buchanan and Mike Cernovich and Vox Day all go take the Culture and the Institutions back? It will give you something to do besides complain about how all the #NeverTrumpers stabbed you in the back.

07 Oct 2016

Looking Rationally at Trump

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Jonah Goldberg explains his perspective, which is pretty much exactly what all the rest of us Movement Conservative NeverTrumpers think.

In my most selfish moments, I want Donald Trump to win the election. …

Trump got to where he is for a lot of reasons, starting with a 17-candidate collective-action problem, myriad failures of both the GOP’s establishment and anti-establishment wings, and, of course, the cold, indifferent cruelty of this meaningless, empty universe where nothing matters and the living envy the dead. But giving Trump his due, he also got to where he is because he was great at punching-up. When he took on Jeb Bush, Reince Priebus, the media, Washington, etc., he was punching up. He wasn’t just the outsider coming into town to blow things up, he was Godzilla smashing all before him. In the standard Godzilla movie there’s always that scene where the hapless Japanese army tries to lure the beast toward some electric power lines. Godzilla takes the bait and bites the power lines. But the shock doesn’t kill him, it makes him stronger! That was Trump in the primaries. Mangling metaphors somewhat, people told him “You can’t chomp those power lines! Those are the third rails of American politics!” Trumpzilla cared not, bit them, and got stronger.

But here’s the problem: Everyone thinks Godzilla is cool when he’s fighting Monster Zero or swatting away fighter jets. But when they have that close up shot of Godzilla’s clawed foot coming down on a child or a screaming woman, all of a sudden, you can’t cheer the King of Monsters. So it is with Trump: He wins when he punches up. He loses when he punches down.

And that’s Trump’s Achilles’ heel: He can’t resist punching down. He can no more stop himself from “counter-punching” the little guy than my dog can agree not to chase rabbits. (“It’s just so hoppy! I must kill it!”) …

If Trump could stay on message, if he could be a disciplined candidate, I think he’d be ten points ahead by now. But realistically, this is no different from saying if he could control anything metal with his mind, he would be Magneto. …

Okay, so why in my selfish heart of hearts do I want Trump to win? Because that’s the only surefire way my opposition to Trump can be vindicated. If he loses, every time Hillary Clinton does something awful — which will be a lot — people will say, “If Trump were president this wouldn’t be happening,” or, “This is all the fault of the ‘Jonah Goldberg class,’” or, “If we had Mr. Trump’s broad-shouldered leadership, the grain harvests would be historic.” …

And that’s why I say that in my selfish moments, I want him to win. Contrary to all of this incessant blather that I want Hillary Clinton to win because it will be good for my bottom line, the truth is the best thing that could happen for me personally is for Trump to win and then prove to be the spectacularly awful president I am quite confident he would be. The I-told-you-sos would be delightful, the tears of some of his supporters, delicious. …

Candidate Trump can’t be managed. Everyone with any contacts in or around Trump world has heard the stories about how his staff tries to impose discipline on him. The jokes about Kellyanne Conway desperately trying to hide his phone from him to keep him off Twitter are funny because they’re true.

And yet, you’re telling me that when Trump wins despite rejecting all of this advice and actually takes possession of Air Force One, and when the Marine guards start saluting him as the band plays “Hail to the Chief,” I’m supposed to believe this staggering narcissist will suddenly become manageable? Seriously?

Moreover, throughout his entire career in business, he’s made a name for himself as a promise-breaker, welcher, and snake-oil salesman, willing to say whatever he needs to in order to close the deal. “Sure this car gets 200 miles to the gallon. Sign the check and you’ll see.” That is what the art of the deal really means for him. He’ll get the White House and he’ll say to the rest of us looking to cash in his political promises, “Try and collect.”

Trump is not a conservative. He has some instincts that overlap with conservatism — the importance of law and order, the value of military strength etc. — but these instincts are not derived from any serious attachment to ideas or arguments. They stem from his lizard-brain machismo and his authoritarian streak. He never talks about liberty or limited government unless someone shoves it into his teleprompter. His ideas about economics and public policy are shot-through with dirigisme. He’s learned to talk the talk about free-market solutions, but in his heart he’s still the guy who believes single-payer health care works “incredibly well.” The one adviser we know he listens to is his daughter, and she is certainly no conservative. Does anyone believe he will side with Mike Pence and against her in a fight over, say, Planned Parenthood?

Read the whole thing.

04 Jul 2016

Never Trump

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Jonah Goldberg explains why he is not moved by arguments urging him to fall into line and start supporting Donald Trump.

I can’t stand Kasich. But he meets my own minimal requirements for support. Trump, simply, doesn’t. He falls short of the mark like John Candy in the long jump. I’m not going to rehash all of my reasons for this conviction, but suffice it to say I think he’s unpatriotically unprepared and unqualified for the job. Politically, conservatism at its core is about the importance of ideas and the importance of character. With the exception of his longstanding support for protectionism and the unalloyed importance of “strength,” Trump cares not a whit for policy or philosophy. His attachment to principles is, for the most part, a nearest-weapon-to-hand approach. As a matter of character he’s crude, boorish, dishonest, proudly promiscuous, and has launched countless businesses based on the idea that it’s morally acceptable to take advantage of people. He dodged the actual Vietnam War but claimed that avoiding the clap in the 1970s was his own personal Vietnam.

Kozak and many others either disagree with me on these points or they simply don’t care. If it’s the former, we have some substantial disagreements about what I think are obvious facts. If it’s the latter, then I take our disagreement as a badge of honor. If Roger Simon wants to describe that as “moral narcissism,” so be it. But, there’s a practical point here too. I plan on being in this line of work for a while longer. In the future, I want to be able to continue to say character and ideas matter without someone shouting, “Oh yeah, then why did you support Donald Trump?” …

By waiving the standards we use to judge liberal politicians in order to defend an allegedly conservative one, we are waiving those standards for all time. I’m not talking about some allowances at the margins, politics should be flexible — strange bedfellows and all that. But there’s a difference between being flexible and willingly snapping your own spine to bend over for a politician who, almost certainly, has contempt for the standards you once held near and dear.

Read the whole thing.

31 Oct 2014

Obama’s “Speeches Are Like Whale Sounds, But With Less Substance”

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Jonah Goldberg delivered an excellent rant all about the national epidemic of Obama fatigue today via the Goldberg File email. (Since it can’t be linked right now, I quoted the whole Obama part.)

Obama fatigue is setting in. Indeed, I’ve gone from Obama fatigue through full-on Obama Epstein-Barr to end-stage Obama narcolepsy. I hear him talking, or hear some MSNBC-type rhapsodizing about how misunderstood he is, and I start dozing off like a truck driver who took the drowsy-formula Nyquil by mistake. “Gotta stay awake! This is my job!” But then 20 seconds later, Jonathan Alter starts telling me how misunderstood the president is, and suddenly orange traffic cones are bouncing off my truck’s grill as I somnolently drift into a highway work zone. You could fill a cereal bowl with broken glass and barbed-wire shards drenched in hot sauce right below my face. All it would take for me to use it as a pillow is a 30-second loop of Obama saying “Let me be clear.” His speeches are like whale sounds, but with less substance. I’d say they’re all white noise, but I don’t want to get called a racist.

This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, as I said during that less-than-exquisite truck-driving simile, this is my job – or at least one of them (I don’t need to follow Obama’s doings for my side gig as chinchilla rancher). I can’t just tune out the president of the United States for the next two years like a normal, happy, well-adjusted American might. I can’t help but feel like Donald Sutherland in Animal House complaining to his bored literature students:

Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring, too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible.

[Bell rings, students rise to leave]

But that doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I’m waiting for reports from some of you . . . Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!

Hey, substitute “Obama” for “Milton” and that holds up pretty well.

This Should Be More Fun

Second, my Obama-narcolepsy is interfering with my Obama-schadenfreude. I for one find it nothing less than hilarious to watch liberal eggheads (both real and imagined), never mind Obama himself, spin elaborate theories for why Obama is not just unpopular but pretty much a failed president.

For the record, this designation – “failed president” – may be premature by objective and historical standards (though I don’t think it is), but his presidency is already in the books as a failure by the standards Obama set for himself. If you promise to turn water into wine and then just run out of water without providing any wine, there’s really no way to plausibly shout “Success!”

He wanted to transform America, not just via policy, but by restoring faith in government itself. He’s had some success on the former but has been a catastrophic failure on the latter, which means the policy successes aren’t nearly as secure as the Left thinks they are.

Speaking of catastrophic failure, rather than risk triggering your own Obama fatigue, watch this metaphorical recap of Obama’s attempts to transform America, as re-enacted by cats trying to jump.

It’s Not Him, It’s You

Explanations for Obama’s failures vary in their honesty and persuasiveness, of course. Mary Landrieu represents the more hackish end of the spectrum. Borrowing a line from the New York Times editorial board, Landrieu blamed it all on southern racism and sexism. In fairness, she was speaking specifically about Louisianans – you know, her constituents. But she helpfully managed to throw all of the South under the bus as well. Hey, if you’re going to go down in a blaze of glory, why be stingy with the kerosene?

Of course, the problem with this theory is that Obama is unpopular across America and in at least 43 states. Even the most generous definition of “southern racist” won’t get you that far in explaining his unpopularity in Wisconsin or Michigan. Moreover, for his numbers to be so bad, it means lots of people who voted for him once or even twice must now disapprove of him. Did all of these independents and moderate Republicans wake up one morning and decide to cut some eyeholes in their pillowcases and become Klansmen?

Other explanations are similar in their desire to place blame elsewhere. The fault lies not in Obama, but in ourselves. Let’s come back to this in a moment because I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. “Gosh, isn’t it about time Jonah quoted East German Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht?”

In Die Lösung Brecht famously quipped that if the people lose faith in the government it would be better if the government dissolved the people and elected another.

For progressives it’s always five minutes to Brecht-O-Clock. What I mean is this desire to fix the people, not the government always seems to be lurking behind liberalism. It was there when Woodrow Wilson said the first job of an educator is to make your children as unlike you as possible. It was there when Obama explained in 2008 that Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania primary supporters weren’t ready to vote for him because they were too busy clinging to their sky god and boom sticks. It’s the central theme of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? It was whispering in John Podesta’s ear when he said the American political system “sucks.” It is at the heart of the Voxy “explanatory journalism” craze, which holds that if you call proselytizing “explaining” it will help the rubes come to their senses. It runs riot in the mainstream media and their sovereign contempt for these stupid, stupid, Americans and their parochial “unscientific” concerns about an organ-liquefying disease (even as the MSM caters to those concerns for the ratings they deliver). It runs like an underground river through the White House’s national-security policies, as they constantly downplay the dangers Islamic terrorism (“ Let’s just call it ‘work place violence’!”) for fear of rousing the fearsome beast of public opinion on the side of the war on terror. It’s why the White House doesn’t want Congress to get involved in a deal with Iran, because Congress might actually listen to the people. It’s why the New York Times laments the “bumpkinification of the midterms.”

Obama Creates a Boulder Too Heavy for Him to Lift

Anyway, back to Obama-failure explanations. Some are more structural or formal. The Constitution holds us back. The presidency is too big for any one man. We can’t have great presidents anymore. Even president Obama has come around to this point of view. Here’s Jeff Shesol in The New Yorker:

Despite the grand hopes and hype of the 2008 campaign, this tempering of ambitions, this recognition — and acceptance — of the constraints on Presidential power has been a leitmotif of the Obama Presidency. In an interview with David Remnick published earlier this year, Obama talked about “that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing. Not ‘probably,’ ” he added. “It’s definitely a good thing.” Over the years, Obama and his advisors have issued a long string of statements to this effect: on foreign policy, “ leading from behind” (2011); on the limits of executive authority, “there’s no shortcut to democracy” (2013); on civil rights, we must sometimes take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf” (2014).

Shesol is right, but it’s worth noting Obama’s learning curve has been steep. And he’s still climbing it. By my calculations, Barack Obama should be adequately qualified for his current job around 2072. But Shesol, like so many others, let’s Obama off the hook by blaming the system, not the man.

When Obama came into office, he thought it would be different. First, he got almost everything he wanted. These were the salad days when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid served as de facto co-presidents. Then, as it dawned on him that he couldn’t just give a speech to fix a problem, he started complaining about his relative powerlessness. Over the years, the president has let slip countless times that he wishes he had the sort of power not afforded to presidents in a democratic republic. He riffed that he was envious of the power wielded by Frank Underwood in House of Cards (“This guy’s getting a lot of stuff done,” Obama said. “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient”). He whined that the president of China has it so much easier. Yes, because the president of China can give a speech and things will change. You know why? Because he’s a dictator.

Get the Popcorn

Anyway, as the German sadist said after he signed up for his Amazon Prime delivery of special nipple clamps, “Back to schadenfreude.”

I should be enjoying all of this more. The wheels are coming off the very same bus that Barack Obama has been throwing people under for years. And, as Maimonides noted so long ago, it is very hard to throw someone under a bus if the bus has no wheels.

Watching Obama go around insisting that he’s fine with the way his fellow Democrats are distancing themselves from him all the while backhandedly nationalizing the election has been hilarious.

Even more amusing: watching all of these Democrats insist they don’t support Obama when they were perfectly happy to be part of the president’s entourage when he was popular. Now they’re all clearing out like the disco-partiers at Navin Johnson’s house after news of the Opti-Grab class-action lawsuit breaks .

And Shesol’s point about Obama’s learning curve notwithstanding, the president still seems incapable of rhetorically conceding that he’s a political albatross. A couple of weeks after declaring in a big speech that “every single one of my policies are on the ballot” he went on Al Sharpton’s radio show. “The bottom line is, though,” he said of vulnerable Dems, “these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress,” he told the tracksuit-wrapped-carbuncle. “These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me, and I tell them, I said, ‘You know what? You do what you need to do to win. I will be responsible for making sure our voters turn out.’”

And then he started naming specific Democrats by name, starting with Michelle Nunn.

Sometime last year, Obama said that he dreamed of going full Bullworth so he could drop truth bombs on everybody. If you never saw Bullworth, good for you. But just so you know, it was a movie starring Warren Beatty. And, like all Beatty movies of the last 20 years, he spent most of the time under special lights that only illuminated his eyes, to minimize the staggering scope of his enormous forehead and clarify for audiences that he is not in fact Ned Beatty’s skinny kid brother. But that’s not important right now. What you need to know is that Beatty played a senator who had a kind of nervous breakdown and decided to keep it real and say what he really thought.

Substantively, Obama’s been doing that already. By saying this election is about his agenda, he’s in effect the most honest politician in America, at least on this issue. Essentially, he is saying the senators distancing themselves from him are opportunistic liars – and he’s right. Still, it would be more fun to see Obama go Bullworth on style, if for nothing else to see the New York Times headline: “Obama on Vulnerable Dem Candidates: ‘They All My Bitches.’”

29 Apr 2011

Goldberg on the Birth Certificate

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Jonah Goldberg, in his emailed newsletter which just arrived, shares pretty much my own perspective on Obama’s birth certificate.

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.) …

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.

The theory that he was born in Kenyan would have disqualified him from office on the basis of an alleged clause in a pre-1970 Naturalization Law, which apparently excluded from citizenship the child of an under-aged female American citizen by a non-American father who gave birth outside the US.

Jus sanguinis and the 14th Amendment would probably have caused such a clause to fail in a court test anyway, and Jonah Goldberg is perfectly correct in arguing that we want to remove Obama electorally, and not by a technicality in order to promote Joe Biden.

But it still makes no sense for Obama to have refused to release that long-form birth certificate.


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