Fact, Opinion and Annoyance


My Brother or My Enemy?
April 20, 2013, 8:52 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A stream of consciousness from Jonah Goldberg received via e-mail.  I thought there were a lot of interesting things here, but can’t find a direct link on-line.  No copyright infringement intended.

The Goldberg File
By Jonah Goldberg

April 19, 2013

Dear Reader (unless Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a subscriber to the G-File, in which case I’d like you to put on this shirt and go out on your balcony and light a cigarette right . . . now),

I’m in Colorado Springs, sheltering in place, as it were. I slept a little late, waking a bit before 6:00 a.m. to discover that the news day was already way ahead of me (I dropped to my knees and shook my fist at the ghost of Sanford Fleming, the father of global time zones).

This is actually a longstanding tradition here at NR. I tend to be out of town when there’s big news. I was in Pendleton, Ore., on 9/11. I was in Mexico when they caught Saddam. I was in France when they got bin Laden. I was in Chicago when they announced they were cancelling Firefly.

There’s really no way I can write to the developments in Boston today, given that they’re so fluid and I can’t have the TV on while I write this “news”letter (“It distracts from the online porn?” — The Couch). But, there are a few things worth saying, like “Kreplach!” Try it. It’s fun.

There are also a few things worth saying about how this story is being filtered through the partisan lens. I’m not sure I will be the one to say them, but they’re out there somewhere.

While you’re looking, here are some of my own thoughts.

First of all, whoever made the video that provoked these men needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

More seriously, my pretty obvious point (“Do you make any other kind?” — The Couch) is that we now live in a climate where there’s a ghoulish appetite to transform every act of terror and murder into a useful plot point in a political narrative. This is a bipartisan phenomenon, and while I think you could make the case that the Left is worse (in fact, I will in just a minute), it’s silly to deny that we don’t do the same thing.

Moreover, given where we are as a country, it is unavoidable. This sort of thing is too seductive. The Left desperately wants every terrorist attack to be conducted by Rush Limbaugh’s biggest fan, so it’s impossible not to cheer when the Left is disappointed. And given the outrageous double standards that the Left — and the elite “responsible” media — use to demonize the Right, the urge to throw it back their face is irresistible.

My Brother or My Enemy?

Now, I personally think the two things are not morally or substantively equivalent. Hoping that a terrorist is an American citizen just strikes me as different from hoping a terrorist is a sworn foreign enemy.

Call me crazy, but I just prefer my mass murderers not to be members of our own American family, as it were. Being attacked by traitors is more hurtful and destructive to the body politic than being attacked by a foreign enemy. Would you rather find out that your brother was betrayed and murdered by his best friend or by a criminal? There’s a huge difference between learning that some woman is sleeping around and finding out that woman is your wife.

Now of course, some domestic Muslim terrorists have also been American citizens or legal residents or illegal residents (terms that increasingly have no meaningful distinctions, apparently). But contrary to popular mythology on the left, there has been remarkably little anti-Muslim backlash in this country (American Jews are still victims of hate crimes far more frequently than American Muslims). And to the extent American Muslims are involved, we understand that it is because they are in allegiance with a foreign threat.

The Fascist Menace

The Left likes to claim that conservatives want these terrorist incidents to turn out to be al-Qaeda attacks in order to justify an often-bigoted “war on terror” narrative, which in turn fuels the military-industrial complex, imperialism, and meat-eating, or something like that. And at the margins there is some of that on the right. Some folks are eager, for one reason or another, to see the Muslim world as a monolithic threat, more powerful and sophisticated than it is.

But here’s the thing. Al-Qaeda exists. The Muslim Brotherhood exists. Islamist terrorism exists. We know this because these people keep trying to kill us — often successfully. Moreover, they clarify things by admitting it. They say things like, “Hey, you guys! We the Islamist terrorists are trying to kill you! We will remind you about this every 15 minutes until you are dead, converts, or slaves.”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. These are not literary interpretations or academic exaggerations of the sort that cause people to think that football is a crypto-fascist metaphor of nuclear war. I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie Barcelona:

Fred: Maybe you can clarify something for me. Since I’ve been, you know, waiting for the fleet to show up, I’ve read a lot, and . . .

Ted: Really?

Fred: And one of the things that keeps popping up is about “subtext.” Plays, novels, songs — they all have a “subtext,” which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that’s right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what’s above the subtext?

Ted: The text.

Fred: Okay, that’s right, but they never talk about that.

Islamic terrorism is not some subtext, discernible with the sort of magic decoder ring that they give out in English departments. It’s the text, found in weekly, if not daily, headlines. So sure, sometimes people on the right might exaggerate the threat from Islamist terrorism, but it is a wholly understandable exaggeration. You can only exaggerate the truth, you cannot exaggerate a lie. An exaggerated lie is simply an even bigger lie.

Get Whitey

Which brings me to this week’s most popular buffoon, David Sirota. Everyone is making fun of this fairly obscure left-wing gadfly for writing a ridiculous piece titled, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Now, saying ridiculous things is what Sirota does for a living, so I think people are overreacting a little (in fairness, literally tens of people think Sirota is a genius). I’m sure as we speak, he’s trying to figure out how to find solace in the fact that the culprits technically were two Caucasian males.

Sirota’s core complaint is that because of “white privilege” white non-Muslim terrorists are described as “lone wolves” while Muslim terrorists are cast as part of something larger and more sinister. In his own words:

Likewise, in the context of terrorist attacks, such privilege means white non-Islamic terrorists are typically portrayed not as representative of whole groups or ideologies, but as “lone wolf” threats to be dealt with as isolated law enforcement matters. Meanwhile, non-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.

It’s difficult to improve upon the stupidity of this. In case he’s reading this I will type slowly so he can keep up. The reason why most Muslim or developing-world terrorists are treated as representative of something larger is that, wait for it, they are representative of something larger. And to the extent white non-Muslim terrorists are usually cast as lone wolves, the reason is: That is what they are.

And, as far as I can tell, those white guys that are part of larger conspiracies, ideologies, and religions are pretty much always associated with them. In fact, there’s far more evidence that lone wolves who don’t have such associations are routinely cast by the media — and certainly by people like Sirota — as if they do. Jared Loughner was a deranged isolated individual. That didn’t stop the Left from immediately associating him with the tea parties, Sarah Palin, etc. (By the way, have they found Sarah Palin’s Facebook map of Chechnya yet?) Timothy McVeigh is still treated as a leader of the militia movement, even though he didn’t belong to any militia movement. And President Clinton was perfectly happy to associate mainstream conservatives with McVeigh.

This is an old and truly disgusting game for Democrats. FDR played it relentlessly. Going so far as to claim — in a State of the Union message! — that anyone who wanted to restore the “normalcy” — i.e. peace, prosperity, and liberty — of the 1920s under Republicans was in fact seeking to install the very fascism we were fighting abroad. Lyndon Johnson and the mainstream media did everything but declare Barry Goldwater a Nazi on national television. Oh wait, they pretty much did that too.

Here We Go Again

In many ways this is a replay of the smug anti-American asininity of the Left during the Cold War. The idea that the Soviet Union was a threat was often treated as a paranoid delusion, while the “real” threat from the domestic American right was a grave danger. Hitler was dead. Germany and Japan were U.S. allies. But Communism, which was killing and enslaving hundreds of millions before our eyes, just wasn’t something to get worked up about — at least not compared with the super-scary John Birch Society.

It’s important to realize that this remains a venerable American cottage industry. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Morris Dees, for example, has gotten rich off exaggerating the threats of the Klan (See this excellent Weekly Standard cover story for more on that). When Liberal Fascism came out, some of the most vituperative attacks came from people deeply, deeply invested in perpetuating the idea that a right-wing fascist takeover is around the corner. They greeted my book the way Luddites would react to the publication of Why the Mechanization of the Textile Industry is a Good Thing.

Obama the Populist

My syndicated column is on Obama’s ongoing delusion that he can bring change to Washington with a massive groundswell of public opinion. It is, I think, the defining delusion of his presidency. There’s a lot of theorizing about why Obama seems to have a thumbless grasp on how Washington works and why he makes so little effort to utilize the traditional mechanics of D.C. politics. Some think he’s lazy, others think he’s arrogant, others think he’s simply convinced the Republicans are too crazy to deal with. Or it could be that he just doesn’t know how, having scant experience of accomplishing or managing anything of significance. There’s also the theory that he’s so ideological, he doesn’t want to compromise if it means giving up left-wing principles or ambitions. I think all of these things rise or fall in plausibility depending on the specific issue at hand.

But the one delusion that keeps him from changing course is this laughable idea that he can rally the people on public-policy issues. It’s never happened. He can get elected for reasons that have a lot to do with low-information voters, demographics, and the sorry shape of the Republican party and its nominees. But his personal popularity has never transferred to anything.

What I find hilarious is how liberals hate hearing this. I’ll spare you all the Twitter and e-mail-spat details, but I think the explanation is that his fans — in and out of the media — think Obama is incredibly persuasive. But he’s not. He’s incredibly good at saying things liberals already agree with that liberals think everyone else will find persuasive. As a result, whenever he tries to take his agenda “to the people” they assume it will work — and it never does.

The Rush to Be Wrong First

One last point on this whole media thing.

I don’t have much use for Michael Moore in a thong with glue-on cupid wings. But that’s not relevant right now. I also don’t have much interest in the riot of media-ethics thumbsuckery that tends to fill the news-void during events like the Boston Marathon shooting. It’s not that I don’t believe in or care about journalistic ethics. I’ve been plagiarizing some really insightful stuff about the subject for years (I kid, I kid).

It’s just that I find the whole profession of journalism to be so much less complex than the people who are paid to talk about its alleged complexities do.

It’s funny how that works isn’t it? All guilds need to create a gnosis of some kind, a secret knowledge they are privileged to have. Otherwise, “anybody can do it.” And, if anybody can do it, why should I pay you through the nose to do it, or to explain it to me? So many media experts make journalism into something vastly more complicated than it really is because if it wasn’t that complicated, they wouldn’t be experts (this is one of the many reasons liberal media critics deny liberal media bias — such an obvious explanation renders their overwrought guidance moot). The priests who read animal entrails to predict the future had to insist that reading the small intestine of a goat was a very complicated thing that only they could do, lest they lose their job.

I’m not saying journalism is necessarily easy. Real reporters sometimes do amazing — and amazingly hard — work. But being hard is not the same thing as being impenetrably complicated to the layman.

Anyway, during a huge frick’n story when news can be transmitted instantaneously and there’s a huge rush to break any news you can, people will get things wrong from time to time. They should try very hard not to do that. I made my share of jokes at CNN’s expense.

But their errors — shared by other outlets, including Fox News — were entirely understandable, and you don’t need to teach journalism to understand them. It would be nice, however, if there was a bit more criticism of law-enforcement personnel who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about telling journalists things that weren’t true. It’s not like CNN went out and reported that the suspect had been captured because John King’s Magic 8-Ball said so.

Various & Sundry

Remember when Michael Bloomberg told people to check the city website for updates about power outages? This is sort of like that. If you didn’t get the G-File you can ask for it by emailing Gfile@nationalreview.com and one of the interns chained to the radiator will send it to you. Of course, if you didn’t get the G-File there’s no way you’ll know this. Noodle that.

If you’re in Colorado Springs, I think there’s still room to come by my talk Saturday night. Details here.

I want to thank everyone who pre-ordered copies of The Tyranny of Clichés last week after I shamelessly begged you to. I know some of you hoped that I would stop. Your hopes mean nothing to me! It’s like eight bucks over at Amazon. That’s like quarter for every G-File you’ve read, or a dollar for every one that’s good. Did I mention that Steve Hayes wrote in The Claremont Review of Books: “The Tyranny of Clichés provides an indispensable and enduring field guide to the arguments the Left makes—and the ones it tries to avoid.”

I joked on Twitter: “Just once, I’d like to hear a neighbor say, ‘I knew that guy was no good. Had mass murderer all over him from day one.'” In response a bunch of folks pointed out that both The Onion and SNL beat me to this joke by many years.

The single greatest thing to come out of this Boston catastrophe — other than the heroism of the first-responders and all that — is the fact that the hijacked car had a “Coexist” bumper sticker on it.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: We need to make sure that illegal anteater-meat smugglers are more careful at sea. Self-slavery?

Apparently, even if I weren’t Jewish, I still wouldn’t be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia.

Crappy Parent of the Week Runner-Up.

Crappy Parent of the Week Winner.

John Belushi auditions for SNL.

Jonathan Winters (R.I.P.) roasts Ronald Reagan.

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