Shutdown Showdown

by Jonah Goldberg
One of the most important ‘democratic norms’ is the idea that the political opposition is the opposition — not an existential enemy.

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 (Particularly the geniuses at Tide who have come out with so many new and exciting flavors of laundry pods. I hear they even help wash clothes),

The other day on the Twitters, Danielle Sepulveres asked:

I proceeded to list a lot of mine, but they were still only a small fraction of the ones I use in everyday conversation. It’s a funny topic for me because in high school one of the longest-running jokes among me and my reprobate friends was how odd we must seem to people who weren’t saturated in ’70s and ’80s pop culture. We’d speak in a kind of Blade Runner patois of TV- and movie-quote fragments. To an eavesdropping outsider, it must’ve sounded like a bizarre word cloud.

Mar wompa . . . underwear that’s fun to wear . . . now who’s being naïve . . . If we were in Italy, you’d get the top bunk . . . they took the bar! The whole f***ing bar . . . You mean a spoon, Homie? . . . she always says, don’t play ball in the house . . . Where? Here Diagonally! Pretty sneaky sis.

And so on. I bring this up in part because I’m just easing into this “news”letter (and I think I’m going to kick it old school and do this blog-style), and in part because ever since I learned that Donald Trump insisted that Stormy Daniels watch Shark Week with him, I’ve been saying, “Live every week like it’s shark week.”

Admittedly, that’s a line from 30 Rock, which came out long after I graduated high school, but I still say it all the time. Now, I’ll never think of it the same way again. Apparently, Donald Trump hates sharks and won’t give money to any charities that help them. He told Ms. Daniels that he wants all the sharks to die, which is a little dark — but also oddly fitting, given that it was a dark-and-Stormy kind of night.

Shutdown Agonistes

I’m writing this as Washington prepares for a government shutdown, and the great game of Who Will Get the Blame is afoot. For those who closely study such things, maybe you need to reevaluate your career choices this will be a fascinating natural experiment.

Brit Hume is right that, historically, the public always blames Republicans for government shutdowns, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’ll happen again. What makes this time interesting, however, is that the pieces on the board have never been arranged this way: The GOP controls all three branches of government, and it’s the Democrats who are flirting with Ted Cruzism. Chuck Schumer is insisting that his preferred policy — legalizing the “Dreamers” — be included in a government-funding deal. Democrats are right when they insist that the polls are on their side on the issue. But polls were kinda on Ted Cruz’s side as well, at least when it came to the unpopularity of Obamacare. It was the shutting-down of the government over the Obamacare that they didn’t support. Maybe the public will make the same distinction here.

That said, there are also other variables at work. As Brother Geraghty notes, because the GOP controls the executive branch, there will probably be less “shutdown theater.” Or at least that’s what the administration is signaling right now.

Killing the Women and Children First

It has always infuriated me the way Democrats tried to make shutdowns as painful as possible. It was a shoot-the-hostages strategy, in which they took the handful of things that average Americans like, use, or depend on from the federal government and closed them down first in order to goose public anger. Someone once said it was like shutdowns turned the federal government into a strange insect that has all its vital and vulnerable organs outside its exoskeleton.

Still, I don’t know that this aversion to shutdown theater will last. After all, if the #SchumerShutdown messaging actually gains traction, it could be very tempting to run up the score, as it were. After all, President Trump once thought letting Obamacare come apart at the seams would be good politics.

Which brings us to the shark-hater. As I tried to explain on Special Report last night, I think that on the merits the Democrats will be to blame for a shutdown. But if you’re the sort of normal American who gets a lot of his news from the mainstream media or in drips and drabs from Facebook, I’m not sure the wonky details will overpower the general impression that the president likes chaos and creates it. Trump’s zig-zagging and theatrics over the last couple weeks — the FISA tweets, bill of love, s***hole, “I’ll sign anything you bring me,” the CHIP tweets — have been a gift to Democrats eager to claim a shutdown is all par for the course in a Trump presidency. And the fact that the GOP controls the whole government will make it easier to claim that a “normal” president would be able to avoid a shutdown.

That’s certainly how the polling looks right now.

Now, don’t get me wrong: The Democrats are making such asses of themselves that Stormy Daniels might be tempted to hit them with a copy of Forbes. Diane Feinstein’s position is that a shutdown will kill people — but she might vote for it anyway. Since so much of conservative media these days is basically consumed by hypocrisy-scolding of liberals, I’m sure there are places you can go to find reams of quotes from Democrats about how evil and cruel shutdowns are, how they kill people, and how Ted Cruz was a monster for doing pretty much what Chuck Schumer wants to do now.

So, again, if the Democrats vote to shut down the government, they’ll deserve the blame. The problem is that deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

To Hell with You People, Again

Since we’re on the subject of hypocrisy, I’d like to focus on something else.

Seven years ago, I penned a little rant in the Corner that went crazy viral about how liberal journalists and Democratic politicians exempted themselves from their own Olympian sanctimony about violent rhetoric. In the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, Democrats were sure, despite a complete lack of evidence, that a deranged madman was motivated by right-wing rhetoric to murder people. It was simply a lie, but it didn’t matter. It was a “wake up” call to improve the “tone” of American politics.

Donald Trump gets a lot of — deserved — criticism for his language and tone. But the double standard for Democrats is really amazing, particularly given how they were at the forefront of claiming that “extreme rhetoric” kills and that “words hurt.” Nancy Pelosi, who called tea-party Republicans “traitors” who wanted to “end life as we know it,” has been on a roll of late, claiming that the GOP tax bill would lead to Armageddon, doing to America what President Trump wants to do to the sharks.

Remember, it was less than a year ago that a Bernie Sanders–supporting lefty shot up the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice because he actually believed the sort of crap that regularly comes out of Pelosi’s mouth. And a guy was recently arrested for threating to murder FCC commissioner Ajit Pai’s whole family over net neutrality.

It was less than a year ago that a Bernie Sanders–supporting lefty shot up the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice.

I keep writing jeremiads about how much I despise it when conservatives argue that liberal hypocrisy is a warrant to be as bad as they are. But, my God, the hypocrisy of liberals who routinely say things that, if taken remotely literally (or even just seriously!), could invite violence by crazy people — at least according to the standards they want to establish for conservatives — is infuriating. And the eye-rolling from supposedly objective journalists when you point out this double standard is maddening.

Norms for Thee, Not for Me

But forget violence. There’s an enormous amount of talk about the erosion of democratic norms these days, and I subscribe to much of it. (Heck, I have a book coming out called “The Suicide of the West.”) But what is more dangerous to democratic norms: a president who all but his most besotted worshippers recognize as an irresponsible loudmouth or the quiet-spoken alleged institutionalists who routinely claim that virtually anything Republicans want to do will lay waste to humanity, kill poor people, usher in a paranoid feminist’s dystopia, or “rape and pillage” American citizens? If your answer is that Donald Trump is still more of a threat, fine. I wouldn’t expect otherwise from liberals. But maybe you should at least contemplate that this relentless wolf-crying is one of the reasons you got Donald Trump in the first place.

When conservatives say, “They said X about Reagan, too” they often want to insinuate that therefore Trump is no different than Reagan. That claim strikes me as nonsense. But it’s nonetheless true — they did say the same terrible things about Reagan (and the Bushes and McCain and Romney and Nixon and Goldwater).

Heck, they even said it about the sainted Calvin Coolidge. FDR proclaimed in his 1944 State of the Union Address that if Republicans succeeded in returning to the “normalcy” of the 1920s — you know, when the economy boomed and the Republicans dismantled Wilson’s propaganda ministries, ended war socialism, and released political prisoners from jail — then it would be “certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.”

One of the most important “democratic norms” revolves around the idea that the political opposition is just that: the opposition — not an existential enemy. Conservatives have violated this norm a great deal of late. All that “Flight 93 election” garbage left me cold. But the idea that conservatives are solely and singularly to blame for eroding trust and polarizing our politics is hot, greasy garbage.

You can’t claim, in sober, reasonable tones, that Republicans are pulling a No. 6, like Harvey Korman’s marauders in Blazing Saddles, out “a-ridin’ into town, a-whompin’ and a-whumpin’ every livin’ thing that moves within an inch of its life,” and then be shocked by the coarsening of the political culture or your loss of credibility.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: If you follow me on Twitter — and why wouldn’t you? — you probably already know that Thursday was the fourth anniversary of our adoption of Zoë. You can find a string of puppy pictures in honor of the #Dingoversary here. It is also, therefore, pretty much the fourth anniversary of the Canine Update feature. So here is a recap for those who don’t know the history.

After a respectful period of mourning for Cosmo the Wonderdog, the Goldbergs decided that we wanted to get a new dog, ideally a puppy because my daughter had never had one. While we knew we could never replace the Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived, my wife in particular wanted to get a manageable dog. Cosmo could sit on the front steps of our house for hours and we knew he wouldn’t get in trouble: When we lived in Adams Morgan, we could walk him without a leash on a busy street and knew that he would wait at the intersection for permission to cross. To that end, The Fair Jessica wanted to get a German shepherd, or at least shepherd-mix, because, like their original human masters, they’re good at following orders. That’s what the adoption website said Zoë was — a German shepherd. They were wrong. She’s a Carolina dog, found abandoned near Spartanburg, S.C., in winter (hence her original name “Shiver” — her brother was “Sickle”). Carolina dogs, a.k.a. the American Dingo, are different from normal dogs. You can read all about them here and here.

Anyway, she was very subdued when we got her, and we figured she was just scared. It turned out she had Parvo and nearly died. Readers wanted to hear about how she was doing in intensive care, so I started the Zoë Updates (which later became the Canine Update when we adopted sweet, silly Pippa). It was not an auspicious start. It later became clear — from the snout holes and poop-burying in the backyard — that Zoë was different. And the rest was history. She would jump out of car windows. She could catch chipmunks, squirrels, mice, groundhogs, and rabbits. In the early days, if we tried to get the smaller creatures out of her mouth, Zoë would simply raise her head and gulp them down whole. She’d also get into scraps with other dogs, including the Interloper, Pippa. They are now partners. Needless to say, she’s not the dog we wanted. But she’s the dog we love. And I’m grateful — if a bit stunned — that so many of you still like to hear about her adventures, including her crossing of the Bosporus.

I’m grateful — if a bit stunned — that so many of you still like to hear about her adventures.

Anyway, she went to the vet this morning because we think she might be a little sick. Her nose is pretty runny, and — going back to her Parvo days — she’s defensively more hostile to other dogs when she doesn’t feel well. Lately, she’s been acting like she has a chip on her shoulder. The vet couldn’t find anything, but we’re keeping an eye on her. Oh, and Pippa is still having a grand time. So much so that even Gracie, the good cat, is trying to figure out what the big deal about tennis balls is (please, no fat-shaming).

The latest Remnant podcast is with Kristen Soltis Anderson. We discuss polling, politics, and these damn kids today. We’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback for the episodes with Charles Murray and Michael Rubin, too. Which reminds me: One of the reasons I try not to do too much punditry on the podcast is that I don’t want to. Another reason is that there are already so many great podcasts based on the news of the day or week. (For all the crap I give them, The Editors and the Commentary podcast are must-listens for that kind of stuff.) I wanted to do stuff that is more conversational but that also has a longer shelf-life, a bit like my favorite podcast, Econtalk, but with more erotica and weirdness. So if you’re inclined to listen and haven’t yet, there’s no reason not to go back and listen to the episodes with Matt Continetti on conservative intellectual history, Arthur Brooks on the sources of happiness, or with Andrew Ferguson on, well, lots of stuff. Or almost any of the others. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it more G-Filey. But the feedback has been great. If you can subscribe, or even just give it a try, I’d be grateful. And even if you’re not inclined to show me kindness, remember that The Remnant’s success annoys John Podhoretz and the guys from The Weekly Substandard. And I’ll take subscriptions out of spite any day.

Oh, and because I forgot to mention it on this week’s episode, if you’re in or around Palm Beach, Fla., on February 6, National Review Institute is hosting the first of what will be a series of events around the country on the legacy of William F. Buckley, to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. You can find all the details here. It promises to be a great event.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

About that Trump meeting

Is diversity really our strength?

Conservatives should condemn Trump’s alleged porn-star hookup.

The latest Remnant, with pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson

Why aren’t conservatives condemning Trump’s alleged porn-star affair?

My latest appearance on Fox News’s Special Report

Does the California model really work?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

French bulldog convinces Labrador to come inside

The secret paths to Ireland’s forbidden Catholic Mass

1968, in photos

What dogs see when they watch TV

Firefighter catches child thrown from blazing building

How soon will you get frostbite?

You lie more when speaking a second language

The pasta that only three women can make

The end of the world and porn-viewing habits

A pug train

Most dog owners would rather hang out with their pet than people

Fixing Mt. Everest’s poop problem

Charting the extent of San Francisco’s poop problem

Dutch vegan denied Swiss passport for being “annoying”

The history of the first viral video

An approaching storm, fog in the forest, ice in the Hudson, and more in The Atlantic’s photos of the week

Can you beat this ancient Roman board game?

2017’s best drone photography

The latest FBI cyber agent

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg