EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including Sean Hannity, who doesn’t think this “news”letter is a safe space),
“The Flight 93 Election.” That’s the title of a pseudonymous essay in The Claremont Review of Books that’s gotten a lot of attention of late. Rush Limbaugh apparently loved it. A great many others thought it was unlovable (See: Here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
I’m with them. Except in one regard: I like the title. Oh, I hate the way the writer uses the idea. Indeed, while I kind of like the writing style, and I’ve found the man I believe to be the actual author decent enough, I find the whole pose of it fairly offensive. The author adopts the pen name Publius Decius Mus, after a Roman nobleman who sacrificed his life for the Republic by charging into the thick of battle. But the author isn’t even willing to risk harm to his own name to launch his often baseless attacks. Rather, from the bespoke comforts of the private sector, he accuses conservative opponents of Trump of selling out, without any evidence beyond a mist-producing frenzy of logic chopping.
While Publius is obviously using Flight 93 metaphorically — America is not actually a giant plane — he uses the metaphor with an appalling amount of literalism. Hillary Clinton poses an existential threat. Here’s the opening:
2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.
Again, he is not literally saying we will all die if Hillary Clinton wins. But he is saying that it will be the end of America. This is grotesquely irresponsible, particularly as the anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. This is the logic that inspires Latin-quoting mad men.
It’s also not true. Truth would exonerate him. But it isn’t true — and even if it were, he can’t possibly know that it is. I am the first to concede that if Hillary Clinton wins it will likely be terrible for the country. But America is larger than one election for one office in one branch in one of our many layers of government. Indeed, if it’s true that America is one election away from death, then America is already dead. Because the whole idea of this country is that most of life exists outside of the scope of government. Yes, this idea is battered and bloodied. But I fail to see how rejecting the idea — as Publius does — is the best way to save it.
We’re Going the Wrong Way
So what do I like about the title? Well, used differently, it’s illuminating. It’s reminiscent of Hugh Hewitt’s brief clarity on the threat of Donald Trump to the Republican party. As he put it last June, “The plane is headed towards the mountain” and the GOP needed to do whatever it took to gain control and prevent the debacle of nominating Donald Trump. Inexplicably, Hugh quickly abandoned that argument and decided to strap himself in, perusing the SkyMall catalog for Trump ties as the plane careened toward the mountain peaks.
I’m going to be on my hands and knees with a bucket and sponge trying to get the stain out of the carpeting.
In my preferred metaphor, we are on a plane heading for a bad place, though not to our deaths. We are heading to a place from which it will require years of work just to get back to where we are now, never mind a preferred destination. I remember giving speeches during Obama’s first term, amidst the fights over the stimulus and Obamacare. The set title for my talks was “Cheer Up, for the Worst Is Yet to Come.” I was right of course. But I remember saying, often, that I may end up spending the rest of my professional life fighting just to undo the messes this president has created. That may well still be true. And if either of these two hot messes hit the fan in November — and one almost surely will — I’m going to be on my hands and knees with a bucket and sponge trying to get the stain out of the carpeting.
And that’s the thing. The plane is off course because the pilot is MIA, off guest-editing Wired magazine or some such, while the other two members of the flight crew are fighting over the throttle. One, Hillary Clinton, wants to take us to a bad place and she knows how to get there. The other, Donald Trump, wants to take us someplace that doesn’t even exist. The best argument for Donald Trump is that if the destination existed, it might be a great place to go. I hear the martinis in King’s Landing are fantastic. Meanwhile, the only argument for Clinton is that at least she knows how to fly.
Hillary All the Way Down
For a couple years now (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), I’ve been mocking the idea that all Hillary Clinton needs to do is show the world “the real Hillary” and everything will be fine.
It’s a hilarious argument on a bunch of levels. The part I like most is that this line invariably comes from people with a vested interest in signaling to the world that (A) they personally know the real Hillary and (B) they really like the real Hillary. In other words, it’s a subtle humble brag, an exercise in throne-licking and a way of posing as a tough-minded analyst.
Hillary laughs like a malfunctioning animatronic pirate at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
I’m entirely confident that many offer this guidance sincerely, just as many of Trump’s most public sycophants honestly believe that their dear friend “Mr. Trump” is an awesome guy. The fact that he lends them suites at the Mar-a-Lago is merely proof of his generosity. I mean, has anybody done more to disprove the old adage “no man is a hero to his valet” than Chris Christie?
The more significant problem with this “Real Hillary” mantra — as well as all as the Hillary 5.0 garbage — is that it runs into the nasty Aesopian reality that the Hillary we see is the real Hillary. I used to write a lot about Mitt Romney’s “authentic inauthenticity” problem. He seems fake — but that’s really him. Hillary Clinton has a similar problem (just as Al Gore did). Again, she laughs like a malfunctioning animatronic pirate at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. She’s probably a good lawyer — even if the moral and ethical spirit of law was exorcized from her a long time ago.
But as many of us know, there are many different kinds of lawyers. There are dazzling courtroom attorneys who spin tales of June bugs and turtles on fence posts. When these kinds of lawyers go into politics, we get Bill Clinton, Dale Bumpers, and Haley Barbour. Hillary Clinton is a different kind of lawyer. Her utility belt is crammed with paper clips, Post-it notes, and a bottomless jug of Wite-Out. She was the kid who reminded the teacher that there was supposed to be a quiz. Where Bill Clinton demonizes his enemies on a debate stage, Hillary takes out hers by finding some small print in their mortgage statement. She’s not Elliott Ness, she’s the accountant.
Sexism, Real and Imagined
What I find so hilarious right now is the effort to claim that anyone who points out these sorts of things is being sexist. Peter Beinart even sees a “wave of misogyny” behind criticism of Clinton.
It is absolutely true that we treat female candidates differently than male ones. Sometimes it’s unfair. At least until Donald Trump, it was a truism that women are at a real disadvantage when it comes to their hair. If a man, or at least a male politician, spends much more than ten minutes on his coif, he’s wasting his time (or convincing himself that no one can spot the comb over or wig). A woman — not just Hillary, but any woman in the public eye — needs to worry about that stuff far more, and dedicate far more precious time to it. That time matters.
(I always think it’s funny when I’m in the makeup room at Fox. I’m a galumpy unmade bed of a man, and I get about seven minutes to put window treatments on the condemned building. Meanwhile, these naturally beautiful women require between 40 and 90 minutes for lily-gilding.)
Men can wear the same suit every single day and almost no one will notice. Women have to come up with new stuff all of the time. Why Hillary Clinton chooses to dress like the First Minister of Rigel 7 in an episode of Star Trek is a separate mystery, but the basic point holds true.
Why Hillary Clinton chooses to dress like the First Minister of Rigel 7 in an episode of Star Trek is a separate mystery.
But the idea that Hillary Clinton is being brutalized by sexist double standards is ridiculous, particularly in a cycle where the size of her opponent’s hands — wink wink — has been a major topic of conversation. There may be some sexist undercurrents when critics say Hillary should smile more or that she is shrill. But they are erased by the factual tsunami that she is actually quite shrill. Think of it this way. I certainly get why gays bristle at the word “effeminate,” especially when it’s used as a generic insult about all gays. But am I really guilty of anti-gay bigotry if I point out that Richard Simmons is pretty damn effeminate?
Not only is it not sexist to dislike Hillary Clinton, it is sexist to claim that disliking Hillary Clinton is sexist. I do not see Hillary Clinton as a stand-in for all women, nor do I associate the things I dislike about Clinton with women in general. If I did, I’d still be a bachelor or looking for Richard Simmons’s phone number.
And anyway, male politicians have always been vulnerable to insults to their manhood — just ask the first president Bush who was derided on magazine covers as a “wimp.” When he ran for president, it was said his trouble with women stemmed from the fact that he reminded women of their first husband. This was all grotesquely unfair to Bush of course. The guy signed up to fight for his country when he was 17. Moreover, I would guess a significant number of first husbands were cut loose — or left their wives — because they were cads, bullies, or bad fathers. George H. W. Bush is, in fact, a consummate gentleman and family man.
Moreover, Hillary Clinton is running explicitly as the First Woman President, Breaker of Glass Ceilings, and Grandma-in-Chief. She’s doing that in large part because she needs to borrow excitement she can’t muster herself. She’s like an unseasoned plate of steamed root vegetables, but the chef is determined to dress it up by describing the meal in French and delivering it under a giant brass dome. Voila! The spectacle is all the more ridiculous when you hear the wait staff and busboys shouting about how great the “real steamed cauliflower” is or how what the chefs need to do is come up with “Cauliflower 6.0.”
There’s really only so much you can do with cauliflower.
Hillary’s E-mail Problem — and Ours
A related dynamic has emerged with Hillary Clinton’s e-mail troubles. The Washington Post’s editors are very mad at Matt Lauer for spending so much time on the issue. And I have to say they have a good point as far as it goes — but it doesn’t go as far as they think. I agree that there’s an asymmetry between Trump coverage and Clinton coverage, but that asymmetry stems from the fact they are so unbelievably asymmetrical. I agree with David French (and, it seems the Wall Street Journal some days) that both candidates are unfit for the presidency. But they are not unfit in the same ways. A saw is a poor tool for hammering a nail and so is a cantaloupe, but the explanations for their unfitness require very different arguments.
Hillary Clinton has spent her life in government. Along with her husband, they’ve schemed, connived, trimmed, and slimed their way to dynastic power and that dynastic power has bred a sense of entitlement the likes of which you’d expect to find in third world kleptocracies. As a result of spending a career climbing up the greasy poll, Clinton knows what she’s talking about and understands the requirements and responsibilities of the job she seeks. That doesn’t mean she’s right about what she wants to do with government power, but it does mean she’s judged by the rules she grew up under. On this Rush Limbaugh is right. Trump is largely immune to criticisms about the normal rules — at least among his fans — because they never applied to him and, often, he doesn’t even know what they are.
Thus the fixation on Clinton’s e-mail set up, her slush fund of a foundation, and the rest is entirely understandable — and entirely her own fault. I love hearing pundits insist that she should just come out and give a press conference explaining what she did and apologize. I do think she would be smart to apologize (though she shares with Trump a congenital aversion to such things), but the reason she hasn’t explained herself is obvious: She’s guilty! If she had a good explanation she would have offered it a long time ago. (Note: I said “good” not truthful.) All she needs is to offer up something believable. She can’t — and so she doesn’t.
On L’Affaire Hannity
Some of you may have heard that Sean Hannity and I got into a dustup on Twitter. Apparently he reads this “news”letter, too. You can read about it here or here . . . or you can read Ramesh Ponnuru’s incisive summary of the underlying beef. There’s no point in revisiting all of that again. But I would like to make one point. I don’t think Sean gives a rat’s ass about convincing me of anything. First, if he was really interested in debating the merits of his man-crush on Donald Trump he would employ better arguments rather than field stripping his talk-show transcripts of bumper-sticker exhortations. Second, he might actually invite me on his radio show or TV show to hash it out. My guess is that if such invitation did come, it would be more like a military court martial: “Up Next: Laura Ingraham, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and a liberal, pinko, Hillary-loving fake conservative will discuss why he wants to destroy America!”
Sean’s goal is to use me as an example, a Medusa’s head, to petrify other conservatives.
And this gets to my point. Sean’s goal is to use me as an example, a Medusa’s head, to petrify other conservatives who might wander too far away from the herd or to convince those undecided independents and soft Republicans that they, too, will be held “personally responsible” if they don’t join the herd. Of course, it’s also a bit of reaffirming cheerleading for the faithful who need to believe that anyone outside the mob is a traitor worthy of getting the pointy end of the pitchfork.
I have no idea if he came up with this locker-room bullying shtick on his own, or if it’s the product of some poll-driven strategy from the Trump campaign. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if I’m wrong about his tactical thinking. The upshot is the same: Sean sees himself as a volunteer in the Trump Army, a drill sergeant and drum major in the cause. And to his credit, he’s largely honest about this. He says he does what he does, include lob more softballs than a pitching-machine at a women’s college batting cage, because he wants his friend to win. He admits he’s not a journalist and is not bound by the rules of journalism, even conservative opinion journalism. He even admits to advising Trump behind the scenes. In effect, he’s only a few ticks shy of being a Corey Lewandowski with much better hair. And that’s fine. That’s the role and career he has chosen. It’s why he sees no problem lending his infomercial to Putin’s pitchman Julian Assange. Let’s just not pretend there’s anything else going on.
Various & Sundry
My column today is on the grotesque explosion in Putinphilia overtaking the Right. It’s only gotten worse since I filed. Mike Pence is singing Putin’s praises as a strong leader (tell me about the heroic wheat harvests, governor). Trump happily went on Russia Today to bad mouth the American media and American foreign policy. (Trump now blames what he said on a miscommunication between him and RT stooge Larry King — demonstrating once again that he’s hired the very best people to run his communications shop.) This morning, I heard a sound bite of Donald Trump Jr. explaining that the one thing we know is that Putin is doing “what’s best for Russia.” This is spectacularly disgusting. So now conservatives believe that strongmen who brutalize their own people and undermine American interests and allies around the world are to be admired for their leadership. I cannot wait to hear the Trumpistas explain how punctual the trains are in Russia. Four years ago, Mitt Romney rightly said that Russia was our chief geopolitical foe. Obama countered that the 1980s called and wants its foreign policy back. Well, now it seems the 1930s are on the line and Trump is eager to take the call.
Earlier, I spoke about cleaning up messes. Well, the best-case scenario is that the mess these fools are making can even be cleaned up at all.
My USAT column this week continued my personal vendetta against the mind-poison that is “the smoking gun.”
My first column of the week, was on Phyllis Schlafly and the bogus claim that conservatives never conserve anything.
I will be on Outnumbered on Monday.
I will be on Howie Kurtz’s show this Sunday at 5:00 to talk about certain controversies I have been involved in.
Oh, and this is exciting: On October 5, I will be a special guest on Turner Classic Movies to talk about movies and politics. More about that to come.
This week, I recorded a Q&A podcast with the great Jay Nordlinger.
In other podcast news, John Podhoretz, Rob Long, and yours truly have decided to cave to popular demand and step up the pace of Glop podcasts. We will try to release a new one every two weeks now.
Canine Update: I don’t have much this week. The beasts are doing fine. The spaniel has found a fun new pastime. The dingo is dingoing right along. The other day, when Kirsten, our occasional dogwalker, took her out with the pack, she kept giving the dogs special peanut-butter treats. Alas, Zoë doesn’t like them, but she’d be damned if her running buddies would get them. So while the labs and spaniels munched theirs, she ran off into the woods and buried hers. Oh, and the good cat doesn’t like bowties.