Love Actually isn’t in love with anyone except itself: it’s like watching a practiced lounge lizard go through his repertoire. That’s why Bill Nighy’s wrinkly old rocker steals the picture: although he’s just about the only member of the dramatis personae not actively looking for love, in a forest of over-mannered love scenes Nighy lurches through the movie with a cheerful indifference that makes his the only really honest character.
What I mainly remember as the years go by is the power imbalance: Almost every one of the alleged romances on which the film lingers is between a powerful man and his underling – Rickman and his sexpot secretary, Hugh Grant and the lowliest staffer, Colin Firth and his housekeeper. Even at the time, Curtis’s view seemed a weirdly narrow view of human relations. With the benefit of hindsight, I checked to see whether Love Actually was one of Harvey Weinstein’s masterpieces, but he was apparently busy with more obvious chick-flick Oscar bait that Christmas. In the Me-Too era we now know that beloved network anchormen have under-desk buttons to lock you in their offices, that PBS hosts think 25-year old interns at meetings enjoy seeing penises three times their age, that fashionable Manhattan restaurants have rape rooms, and that, when you clear out the sex fiends from NPR, there isn’t a lot left on the schedule.
In the old days, successful men did marry their secretaries and housemaids, but not so much now, at least in America, when power-lawyers and political consultants contract intermarriage like medieval ducal houses. So I thought I’d round things out with a Christmas picture about sex and power in the workplace from an era with very different cultural mores (although certain aspects of the scene remain entirely unchanged over six decades: “everybody knew”). It was made by the ultimate Hollywood cynic Billy Wilder, but he’s a piker compared to Richard Curtis. I’m not the biggest Billy Wilder fan, nor the biggest Jack Lemmon fan, nor Shirley MacLaine fan. But all three did some of their best work here. By the way, I am a huge Fred MacMurray fan and he is terrific in this.
The Apartment is a sad but true urban Christmas fable: there’s no snow, just flu all month long; the office-party booze makes everyone mean and sour; the only sighting of le Père Noel is an aggressive off-duty department-store Santa chugging it down at a midtown bar; and the Christmas Eve climax is an attempted suicide. But that’s what I love about The Apartment: its Wilderian cynicism is redeemed by one of the sweetest Christmas Day scenes in any movie. In his review of Rodgers & Hart’s amoral Pal Joey, Brooks Atkinson wrote: “How can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” Well, The Apartment pulls it off, wonderfully.
This [via a commenter], from Breitbart London and dated 9/11/18, pretty much sums up where the West is at since 9/11: ‘Austria has rejected the asylum claim of an Afghan national who claims to be fleeing persecution for being homosexual after not being able to find any gay pornography on his mobile phone.’ It sounds like the Babylon Bee, but isn’t.
Just so. When historians are poring through the rubble of our civilization, that one sentence will pretty much cover the entirety of the situation in 2018. In fact, denying asylum claims on the grounds of insufficient gay porn on applicants’ telephones may be the best shot Trump has at getting any meaningful immigration policy past the average District Court judge. Although maybe he should add trans porn, too.
Incidentally, for a Pushtun goatherd or whatever he is, the Afghan guy isn’t the least bit stupid: He’s smart enough to know that claiming to be LGBTQWERTY gets you into the express check-in, so why not give gay taqiyyah (tagayyah?) a whirl?
‘We took him in as if he were a son,’ the girl’s father said, according to the Bild tabloid newspaper. He has lost his only daughter. She was stabbed and killed by her former boyfriend, an unaccompanied refugee from Afghanistan.
And there is also a decadence to our stupidity. When Maria Ladenburger was raped and murdered by another fake “child migrant” from Afghanistan, her father, a senior official at the European Commission, asked for donations to be made in her memory to a “refugee charity“.
I hear echoes of poor Maria Ladenburger’s case in the reactions to other recent killings: we are tiptoeing very close to conscious child sacrifice in the cause of “diversity”. As I reminded Louise Arbour and Simon Schama in the Munk Debate, with regard to their own societies, the differences between Quebec francophones and Ontario anglophones or between Irish Catholics and Protestants are, in the scheme of things, peripheral and footling. Yet they have caused profound intractable divisions that echo down the centuries. But relax, the differences between, say, secular Swedes and Afghan Muslims are gonna be a breeze …because “diversity is our strength”.
Mark Steyn likes Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.
I’ve given up trying to discern ideological themes in Trump’s firings and hirings: as far as I can tell, it’s mostly about people he likes to hang out with. In the case of John Bolton, I first met the new National Security Advisor a decade and a half or so back, in a roomful of European prime ministers and foreign ministers. He delivered a line that stunned the joint:
International law does not trump the US Constitution.
I was standing next to the Finnish Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, who had a genuinely puzzled looked on his face and eventually inquired of me: “He is making a joke, no?”
As Harvey Weinstein’s career circles the drain, Mark Steyn amuses us with a celebratory trashing of Weinstein’s cinematic masterpiece: “Good Will Hunting” (1997).
[I]n Good Will Hunting, the eponymous Will, a genius, demonstrates said genius by memorizing a book simply by turning the pages and regurgitating a lot of information at extremely fast speed. This is a very Hollywood idea of genius: there isn’t a studio exec in town who wouldn’t love a kid in the outer office who could read an entire novel over lunch and then pitch it in eight seconds. …
The writers of Good Will Hunting are, in fact, actors â€” Matt Damon, who back in 1998 was best known for The Rainmaker, and Ben Affleck, who’d turned in a very dreary performance in the boy-meets-lesbian romance Chasing Amy. That said, they had their own peculiar genius: The script is said to have started out as an action thriller about a race against time to avert mass destruction. Then, at Rob Reiner’s suggestion, the boys converted it into an all-talk-and-no-action touchy-feely cockle-warmer about male bonding. The final version trembles on the brink of a dysfunction-of- the-week TV movie but never quite dives in, thanks mainly to Gus Van Sant’s direction and two oral-sex jokes.
Will, played by Matt, is now a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, loitering with his mop and pail by the blackboard and anonymously solving the most complicated mathematical theorems, like:
Î£ = (y-Â¿) x zzz*/7 (@Â§Ã§) [$$$$]
(I quote from memory)
Actually, that one isn’t too difficult, as it represents the precise formula for late Nineties Weinstein Oscar bait, where zzz = upscale Brit source material, Â¿ = Gwyneth Paltrow’s breasts and Â§ =the differential between a film directed by Quentin Tarantino and a film with a cameo by Quentin Tarantino. The line represents the line that sensitive artistic executives know not to cross, and the a=actress and Â¶=Harvey’s head peeking out from the bathroom door.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Good Will Hunting’s trump card is Mr Damon, who struts through the film with the cockiness of a good-looking serial killer. He’s not very plausible as a genius, but then he’s not very plausible as a janitor either, so it all evens out. What he has is a breezy intensity and the same kind of bantam rooster quality as the young Cagney, albeit gussied up and airbrushed, as was the Nineties’ wont. With the exception of his three minutes singing “Scottie Doesn’t Know” in Eurotrip, this remains his greatest screen performance.
As for Will himself, he’s merely the umpteenth variation on Forrest Gump â€” this time an asshole savant: for all his facility with physics and history, he’d rather drink beer, beat guys to a bloody pulp and say ‘f**k’ a lot. The film is unusually strong in these scenes. It doesn’t sentimentalize the lads as poets in the raw, held back only by the iniquities of class: Chuckie (Affleck) and Will’s other pals from Southie â€” South Boston â€” are shown as amiable yobs, perfectly content within their shrunken horizons. The loathing that the college maintenance staff feel for the professors is also well done, and there’s a sharp scene where Will and a Harvard boy spar over Minnie Driver:
“You just paid $150,000 for an education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the library.”
“True, but at the end of it I’ll have a degree and you’ll be serving my kids fries in the drive-thru on the way to our ski vacation.”
(Two decades on, a 150-grand degree is no obstacle to a rewarding career at the drive-thru window.)
The forces of higher education are represented by Stellen Skarsgard as an MIT professor looking for his ticket to the top. It would have been interesting to see the film explore his character’s relationship with Will: both are men who, in opposite ways, are frustrated by the size of their brains. Instead, Skarsgard is there essentially to introduce Will to a shrink pal of his. The shrink is played by Robin Williams. Even worse, it’s Robin Williams in that beard he keeps in the drawer and only brings out for serious roles.
The beard is working overtime here: Williams’ character is a Vietnam vet, child-abuse survivor, recent widower and community college loser, due to the fact that his career stalled while his late wife spent 18 of their 20 years together on her death bed. In Deconstructing Harry, the Woody Allen film released around the same time, Williams had a small role as an actor who goes out of focus – literally: whenever the camera tries to film him, he’s all fuzzy and blurred. On the evidence of Good Will Hunting, it was something of a recurring problem for Williams: his eyes are permanently fuzzy and blurry, as if he’s on the brink of tears. Apparently, Mister Blurry’s participation was Harvey Weinstein’s sole demand before he would agree to make the film. That’s a shame, because he’s at odds with an otherwise strong cast. Self-pity is a difficult quality to sell: There’s a neediness in Williams’ performance here, which is what ties his serious roles to the manic comedy. All performers have that to one degree or another, but the trick of acting is to conceal it.
Mark Steyn is pretty much as fed up with James Comey as the rest of us.
Readers have demanded to know what I think of the James Comey hearing. In the words of Daffy Duck, shoot me now.
Okay, the slightly longer answer is: I don’t think about it. And there isn’t enough money in the world to pay me to think about it. But, if you insist, I will make a couple of points:
1) The FBI should not be in the counter-intelligence business. There are, as Democrats never tire of pointing out, “17 intelligence agencies”, which is, by my count, 15 too many. We should at least get it down to 16, by eliminating what’s meant to be a domestic policing agency.
2) As I’ve pointed out in recent weeks, someone seems to be holding the US Constitution upside down: We have courtrooms presuming to be legislatures, and the legislature pretending to be a courtroom. Both perversions are part of the systemic dysfunction that obstructs proper representative government. The allegedly Republican Congress should investigate less, and try legislating some of the President’s agenda.
3) On October 19th last year I called Comey “a 6′ 8″ gummi worm”. That was very much on display on Thursday, as the straight arrow writhed and agonized over what he might have done had he been a “stronger man”. He is far too psychologically weird and insecure ever to have got close to being FBI Director (far weirder than Hoover, even if you believe every single story about the guy), and the fact that he did ought to be deeply unnerving to Americans.
4) As everyone more sentient than an earthworm should know by now, “the Russia investigation” is Deep State dinner-theatre. I wrote a while back that, in today’s Hollywood, what Hitchcock used to call “the MacGuffin” – the pretext that sets the caper afoot, the secret papers, the microfilm – has degenerated into a MacNuffin: there’s no longer even a pretense that these stories are about anything. The “Russia investigation” is the ne plus ultra of MacNuffins, so smoothly transferred from Los Angeles to Washington that one vaguely suspects some studio vice-prez who bundled for Hillary came up with the idea as a reality-show pilot that accidentally bust out of the laboratory.
How do we know there’s no there there? Well, consider Marco Rubio’s question to Comey:
Rubio marveled at how many leaks have occurred during the Trump-Russia investigation, saying “we’ve learned more from the newspapers sometimes than we do from our open hearings.”
“Do you ever wonder why, of all the things in this investigation, the only thing that’s never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the fact that Democrats and Republicans and the leadership of Congress knew that and have known that for weeks?” he asked.
It seems Comey doesn’t ever “wonder” about it, being too busy – like everybody else – leaking stuff himself. The leaks, as have often been pointed out, are the only actual crimes here.
Mark Steyn was getting ready to appear on the Bill Bennett show to discuss the recent Supreme Court decision mandating Same-Sex Marriage across the country when someone named Claudine exposed the conservative side of the argument to ridicule by violating Godwin’s Law, i.e. by making a slippery slope comparison to Nazi Germany.
You need to understand that “violating” Godwin’s Law, in sophisticated circles, is customarily taken to amount to losing the debate by forfeit. Any kind of objectionable sort of statism compared to Nazi Germany’s, or identified as representing a landmark on a similar kind of slippery slope, is automatically dismissed as a species of absurd exaggeration.
But Mark Steyn, for one, does not agree.
Claudine came on and said that’s what Germans reckoned in the 1930s: just keep your head down and the storm will pass. How’d that work out?
David Kelsey writes from the University of South Carolina to scoff at that:
In one corner, we have government recognition of marriage contracts between gays. In the other corner, we have Jews, Catholics, gays, their sympathizes [sic] and other undesirables being put in Nazi concentration camps.
One of these things is nothing like the other, unless you’re a lunatic. Maybe the reason conservatives keep “losing everything that matters” is because they really can’t tell the difference. Which causes increasing numbers of people to recognize them as lunatics.
Since you call me and Claudine “lunatics”, allow me to return the compliment and call you an historical illiterate. If “one of these things is nothing like the other”, it’s because that’s never the choice: It’s never a question of being Sweden, say, vs being the Islamic State (although, if you’re a Jew in MalmÃ¶, they’re looking a lot less obviously dissimilar than you might think).
All societies exist on a continuum. Neither Claudine nor I said a word about “concentration camps”. But you give the strong impression that that’s the only fact you know about Nazi Germany: Nazis = concentration camps, right? No wonder you think everything divides neatly into opposing “corners”. In the world as lived, there are no neatly defined corners. Things start off in the corners and work their way toward the center of the room.
Claudine and I were talking about Germany in the Thirties – before the concentration camps and the Final Solution, before millions of dead bodies piled up in the gas chambers. So you need to have an imaginative capacity. It’s not clear from your email that you do, but give it a go: Imagine being a middle-class German in 1933. No one’s talking about exterminating millions of people – I mean, that would be just “lunatic” stuff, wouldn’t it? And you belong to a people that regards itself as the most civilized on the planet – with unsurpassed achievements in literature and music and science. You might, if you were so minded, call it Teutonic Exceptionalism. And you’re “progressive”, too: you pioneered the welfare state under Bismarck, and prototype hate-speech laws under the Weimar republic. And yes, some of the beer-hall crowd are a bit rough, but German Jews are the most assimilated on the planet. The idea that such a society would commit genocide is not just “lunatic”, it’s literally unimaginable.
So don’t even bother trying to imagine that. Instead try to imagine it’s early 1933. The National Socialist German Workers Party is the largest party in parliament and thus President von Hindenburg has appointed its leader, Herr Hitler, as Chancellor – not der FÃ¼hrer, just Chancellor, the same position Frau Merkel holds today. And the National Socialist German Workers Party starts enacting its legislative programme, and so a few weeks later the Civil Service Restoration Law is introduced. Under this law, Jews would no longer be allowed to serve as civil servants, teachers or lawyers, the last two being professions in which Jews are very well represented.
But that wily old fox Hindenburg knows a thing or two. So as president he refuses to sign the bill into law unless certain exemptions are made – for those who’ve been in the civil service since August 1st 1914 (ie, the start of the Great War), and for those who served during the Great War, or had a father or son who died in action. And the practical effect of these amendments is that hardly any Jew in the public service has to lose his job.
And so in April 1933 it would be easy to say, if you were a middle-class German seeking nothing other than a quiet life, that, yes, these National Socialist chappies are a bit uncouth, but the checks and balances are still just about working. What’s the worst they can do?
Paul von Hindenburg died the following year, and his amendments were scrapped.
That’s Germany’s civil service in 1933. What of America’s civil service in 2015?
Right now across the land town and county clerks are resigning because they cannot in conscience issue same-sex marriage licenses. In one Tennessee county, the entire clerk’s office has resigned. They are observant Christians – which is to say they hold the same view of marriage that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton claimed to until the day before yesterday. But an observant Christian can no longer work in the American civil service, or at least in those branches of it responsible for issuing marriage licenses:
County Clerk Katie Lang cited religious beliefs as her reason for refusing to file the marriage application for Dr. Jim Cato and his partner Joe Stapleton. She did, however, promise that someone in her office would accommodate the couple.
Not good enough. Dr Cato and Mr Stapleton are suing Ms Lang. What else you got?
A Kentucky clerk of court wants the state to issue marriage licenses online so he doesn’t have to…
Monday, Davis tried to meet with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to ask him to call for a special session of the state legislature so it can pass a law allowing people to purchase marriage licenses online, similar to the process of purchasing a hunting or fishing license.
That’s not good enough, either. Who the hell are you to compare a lesbian wedding to a fishing license?
So observant Christians will no longer be able to serve as town or county clerk. Are comparisons really so “lunatic”? . Are comparisons really so “lunatic”? The logic of the 1933 Civil Service Restoration Act is that the German public service will be judenrein. The logic of the 2015 Supreme Court decision is that much of the American public service will be christenrein – at least for those who take their Scripture seriously. That doesn’t strike me as a small thing – even if one thought it were likely to stop there.
I may have found the actual cannon Mark is talking about.
Mark Steyn, back in 1999, was already lamenting the wussification of American July 4th celebrations.
[W]e’re fighting not just a jurisdictional challenge but a vast cultural tide, determined to ensure that every activity should be 100 per cent guaranteed safe, even if that means it’s no longer any fun.
Take, for example, that staple of every Fourth of July parade: cute little girl scouts waving to the crowds as their float passes by. The Swift Water Girl Scout Council, which oversees all girl scout troops in the state, has ruled that at this weekend’s parades the girls will have to be seated and buckled in on their floats, to comply with New Hampshire’s recent law requiring children to wear seat belts. “I can’t say nobody would ever enforce it,” said the Police Chief of Manchester, the state’s largest city. “But they’d look awful stupid.”
The girl scouts’ director is unapologetic. “If the float stopped quickly and the children are not secured, the children could have an accident,” said Jane Behlke.Since the scouting movement began there has been not a single girl scout parade float tragedy in New Hampshire, although one year in Merrimack Mr Peanut – a giant peanut – did lose his head (something to do with a low bridge). But nowadays the nuts who’ve lost their heads are the regulators. On Independence Day, where’s the spirit of independence?
It wasn’t always like this. Once the whole point of the Fourth of July was that it should be wild and dangerous. There’s a cannon on my town common that the boys used to fill with powder, stones and sod, and then touch off. Unmounted, it bucketed around, flipping somersaults and very occasionally shattering windows.
In 1939 Sarah Holt and Minnie Linton, who ran the guest house, refused to donate any money for gunpowder. Come the big night the guys dragged the cannon down to their front door and fired at the house for hours on end. The game spinsters told the guests that the boys were just a little high-spirited.
Indeed, the only reason my town has a jailhouse is because of the Fourth of July in 1892, when some fellow drank too much cider, went nuts and started trashing the place. After which they built a two-cell jail in case it happened again. I believe it’s the only jail in New England with wooden bars.
Recently, unable to find my 1995 tax bill, I asked to see the town’s copy. The selectman said they had run out of space at the town offices, so they were storing them in the jail. “My God,” I cried, aghast. “You’ve turned the town jail into a stationery cupboard!”
And there, in a nutshell, is the story of the modern western world: not enough wild independent spirit, just more paperwork.
Mark Steyn identifies recent landmarks in the International Left’s gradual elimination of free speech.
These days, pretty much every story is really the same story:
In Galway, at the National University of Ireland, a speaker who attempts to argue against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) programme against Israel is shouted down with cries of â€˜Fucking Zionist, fucking pricksâ€¦ Get the fuck off our campus.â€™
In California, Mozillaâ€™s chief executive is forced to resign because he once made a political donation in support of the pre-revisionist definition of marriage.
At Westminster, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee declares that the BBC should seek â€˜special clearanceâ€™ before it interviews climate sceptics, such as fringe wacko extremists like former Chancellor Nigel Lawson.
In Massachusetts, Brandeis University withdraws its offer of an honorary degree to a black feminist atheist human rights campaigner from Somalia.
In London, a multitude of liberal journalists and artists responsible for everything from Monty Python to Downton Abbey sign an open letter in favour of the first state restraints on the British press in three and a quarter centuries.
And in Canberra the government is planning to repeal Section 18C â€” whoa, donâ€™t worry, not all of it, just three or four adjectives; or maybe only two, or whatever itâ€™s down to by now, after what Gay Alcorn in the Age described as the ongoing debate about â€˜where to strike the balance between free speech in a democracy and protection against racial abuse in a multicultural societyâ€™.
I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian â€˜human rightsâ€™ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but itâ€™s a question of how you â€˜strike the balanceâ€™, where you â€˜draw the lineâ€™â€¦ which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff thatâ€™s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isnâ€™t free at all. So screw that.
But I donâ€™t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in â€˜striking the balanceâ€™; theyâ€™ve drawn the line and theyâ€™re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: â€˜â€œShut up,â€ he explained.â€™
For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country â€” together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges â€” or one megaâ€“Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”
Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.
For the last half-century, Obama has simply had to be. Just being Obama was enough to waft him onwards and upwards: He was the Harvard Law Review president who never published a word, the community organizer who never organized a thing, the state legislator who voted present. And then one day came the day when it wasn’t enough simply to be. For the first time in his life, he had to do. And it turns out he can’t. He’s not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. And Healthcare.gov is about what you’d expect if you nationalized a sixth of the economy and gave it to the Assistant Deputy Commissar of the Department of Paperwork and the Under-Regulator-General of the Bureau of Compliance.
Politics, the late Christopher Hitchens used to say, is show business for ugly people. But it’s also ugly business for show people. Thatcherism is a political philosophy; Obamaism is a vibe, a groove, a pose, an aesthetic. When his speechwriters are cooking, he’ll get them to work up a little riff about how it’s not about Big Government vs. Small Government, it’s about “smarter” government. A few months ago, he even gave it a hashtag! #SmarterGov. How cool is that? “Smart” refers less to the product than to the guys pitching it. “He’s probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” said the historian Michael Beschloss the day after Obama’s election. In an embarrassing effusion even by his own standards, another smart guy, the New York Times’ house conservative David Brooks, noted the incoming administration’s narrow range of almae matres and cooed: “If a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvardâ€“Yale game anytime over the next four years, we’re screwed.” Obama and his courtiers were the smartest guys in town, so naturally their government would be smarter than all previous governments. A few weeks before Obamacare’s launch, one of the smart set, Dan Pfeiffer, promised it would be “a consumer experience unmatched by anything in government, but also in the private sector.” And he was right, kind of.
The young Barack Obama, preparing for the presidency.
Mark Steyn looks on in admiration as Barack Obama legislates via press conference pronouncement, then proceeds to analyse the great man’s “So-let-it-be-written-so-let-it-be-done” style of presidential leadership.
On Thursday, [Barack Obama] passed a new law at a press conference. George III never did that. But, having ordered Americaâ€™s insurance companies to comply with Obamacare, the president announced that he is now ordering them not to comply with Obamacare. The legislative branch (as itâ€™s still quaintly known) passed a law purporting to grandfather your existing health plan. The regulatory bureaucracy then interpreted the law so as to un-grandfather your health plan. So His Most Excellent Majesty has commanded that your health plan be de-un-grandfathered. That seems likely to work. The insurance industry had three years to prepare for the introduction of Obamacare. Now the King has given them six weeks to de-introduce Obamacare.
â€œI wonder if he has the legal authority to do this,â€ mused former Vermont governor Howard Dean. But heâ€™s obviously some kind of right-wing wacko. Later that day, anxious to help him out, Congress offered to â€œpassâ€ a â€œlawâ€ allowing people to keep their health plans. The same president who had unilaterally commanded that people be allowed to keep their health plans indignantly threatened to veto any such law to that effect: It only counts if he does it â€” geddit? As his court eunuchs at the Associated Press obligingly put it: â€œObama Will Allow Old Plans.â€ Itâ€™s Barryâ€™s world; we just live in it.
The reason for the benign Sovereignâ€™s exercise of the Royal Prerogative is that millions of his subjects â€” or â€œfolks,â€ as he prefers to call us, no fewer than 27 times during his press conference â€” have had their lives upended by Obamacare. Your traditional hard-core statist, surveying the mountain of human wreckage he has wrought, usually says, â€œWell, you canâ€™t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.â€ But Obama is the first to order that his omelet be unscrambled and the eggs put back in their original shells. Is this even doable? No. Thatâ€™s the point. When it doesnâ€™t work, heâ€™ll be able to give another press conference blaming the insurance companies, or the state commissioners, or George W. Bush . . .
The most telling line, the one that encapsulates the gulf between the boundless fantasies of the faculty-lounge utopian and the messiness of reality, was this: â€œWhat weâ€™re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.â€ Gee, thanks for sharing, genius. Maybe you should have thought of that before you governmentalized one-sixth of the economy. …
[A]s historian Michael Beschloss pronounced the day after his election, heâ€™s â€œprobably the smartest guy ever to become president.â€ Naturally, Obama shares this assessment. As he assured us five years ago, â€œI know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors.â€ Well, apart from his signature health-care policy. Thatâ€™s a mystery to him. â€œI was not informed directly that the website would not be working,â€ he told us. The buck stops with something called â€œthe executive branch,â€ which is apparently nothing to do with him. As evidence that he was entirely out of the loop, he offered this:
Had I been I informed, I wouldnâ€™t be going out saying, â€œBoy, this is going to be great.â€ You know, Iâ€™m accused of a lot of things, but I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m stupid enough to go around saying, â€œThis is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity,â€ a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasnâ€™t going to work.
Ooooo-kay. So, if I follow correctly, the smartest president ever is not smart enough to ensure that his website works; heâ€™s not smart enough to inquire of others as to whether his website works; heâ€™s not smart enough to check that his website works before he goes out and tells people what a great website experience theyâ€™re in for. But he is smart enough to know that heâ€™s not stupid enough to go around bragging about how well it works if heâ€™d already been informed that it doesnâ€™t work. So heâ€™s smart enough to know that if heâ€™d known what he didnâ€™t know heâ€™d know enough not to let it be known that he knew nothing. The countryâ€™s in the very best of hands.
Michael Beschloss is right: This is what it means to be smart in a neo-monarchical America. Obama spake, and it shall be so. And, if it turns out not to be so, why pick on him? He talks a good Royal Proclamation; why get hung up on details?
Until October 1, Obama had never done anything â€” not run a gas station, or a doughnut stand â€” other than let himself be wafted onward and upward to the next do-nothing gig. Even in his first term, he didnâ€™t really do: Starting with the 2009 trillion-dollar stimulus, he ran a money-no-object government that was all money and no objects; he spent and spent, and left no trace. Some things he massively expanded (food stamps, Social Security disability) and other things he massively diminished (effective foreign policy), but all were, so to speak, preexisting conditions. Obamacare is the first thing Obama has actually done, and, if youâ€™re the person itâ€™s being done to, itâ€™s not pretty.
The president promised to â€œfundamentally transformâ€ America. Certainly, other men have succeeded in transforming settled, free societies: Pierre Trudeau did in Canada four decades ago, and so, in post-war Britain, did the less charismatic Clement Attlee. And, if you subscribe to their particular philosophy, their transformations were effected very efficiently. But Obama is an incompetent, so â€œfundamentally transformedâ€ is a euphemism for â€œwrecked beyond repair.â€ As a socialist, he makes a good socialite.
But on he staggers, with a wave of his scepter, delaying this, staying that, exempting the other, according to his regal whim and internal polling. The omniscient beneficent Sovereign will now graciously â€œallowâ€ us â€œfolksâ€ to keep all those junk plans from bad-apple insurers. Yet even the wisest King cannot reign forever, and what will happen decades down the road were someone less benign â€” perhaps even (shudder) a Republican â€” to ascend the throne and wield these mighty powers?
Hey, relax: If you like your constitution, you can keep your constitution. Period. And your existing amendments. Well, most of them â€” except for the junk ones . . .
This weekâ€™s â€œshutdownâ€ of government, for example, suffers (at least for those of us curious to see it reduced to Somali levels) from the awkward fact that the overwhelming majority of the government is not shut down at all. Indeed, much of it cannot be shut down. Which is the real problem facing America. â€œMandatory spendingâ€ (Social Security, Medicare, et al.) is authorized in perpetuity â€” or, at any rate, until total societal collapse. If you throw in the interest payments on the debt, that means two-thirds of the federal budget is beyond the control of Congressâ€™s so-called federal budget process. Thatâ€™s why youâ€™re reading government â€œshutdownâ€ stories about the PandaCam at the Washington Zoo and the First Ladyâ€™s ghost-Tweeters being furloughed.
Nevertheless, just because itâ€™s a phony crisis doesnâ€™t mean it canâ€™t be made even phonier. The perfect symbol of the shutdown-simulacrum so far has been the World War II Memorial. This is an open-air facility on the National Mall â€” thatâ€™s to say, an area of grass with a monument at the center. By comparison with, say, the IRS, the National Parks Service is not usually one of the more controversial government agencies. But, come â€œshutdown,â€ theyâ€™re reborn as the shock troops of the punitive bureaucracy. Thus, they decided to close down an unfenced open-air site â€” which oddly enough requires more personnel to shut than it would to keep it open.
So the Parks Service dispatched their own vast army to the World War II Memorial to ring it with barricades and yellow â€œPolice Line â€” Do Not Crossâ€ tape strung out like the worldâ€™s longest â€œWe Support Our Troopsâ€ ribbon. For good measure, they issued a warning that anybody crossing the yellow line would be liable to arrest â€” or presumably, in extreme circumstances, the same multi-bullet ventilation that that mentally ill woman from Connecticut wound up getting from the coppers. In a heartening sign that the American spirit is not entirely dead, at least among a small percentage of nonagenarians, a visiting party of veterans pushed through the barricades and went to honor their fallen comrades, mordantly noting for reporters that, after all, when theyâ€™d shown up on the beach at Normandy it too had not been officially open.
Steyn went on to observe: “One would not be altogether surprised to find the feds stringing yellow police tape along the Rio Grande, the 49th parallel, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, if only to keep Americans in rather than anybody else out.”
Just before the weekend, the National Park Service informed charter boat captains in Florida that the Florida Bay was “closed” due to the shutdown. Until government funding is restored, the fishing boats are prohibited from taking anglers into 1,100 square-miles of open ocean. Fishing is also prohibited at Biscayne National Park during the shutdown.
The Park Service will also have rangers on duty to police the ban… of access to an ocean. The government will probably use more personnel and spend more resources to attempt to close the ocean, than it would in its normal course of business.
This is governing by temper-tantrum. It is on par with the government’s ham-fisted attempts to close the DC WWII Memorial, an open-air public monument that is normally accessible 24 hours a day. By accessible I mean, you walk up to it. When you have finished reflecting, you then walk away from it.
At least that Memorial is an actual structure, with some kind of perimeter that can be fenced off. Florida Bay is the ocean. How, pray tell, do you “close” 1,100 square miles of ocean? Why would one even need to do so?