Major Problems, and Minor

The left claims that majoritarianism is the only source of political legitimacy while also saying that the majority of Americans are a problem.

Dear Reader (it turns out you were my infrastructure all along),

This is peculiar.

I think it’s fair to say that large swaths of the center-left these days are somewhere between mildly and extremely obsessed with what might be called “democratic supremacy.” I don’t mean this as a matter of comparative politics. Few are going around saying, “Democratic societies are better than non-democratic societies.” I’m sure many believe that though, and frankly I’d be happier if more of them said it (more on this in a moment). 

What I mean is that, in domestic politics, they’re placing all of their chips on majoritarian arguments. Here are some examples, held with varying degrees of passion as you move leftward from the center:

  • The Electoral College has to go because it’s anti-majoritarian—the presidential candidate with the most votes, not the most states, should win.

  • The Senate is “undemocratic” because California gets the same number of senators as Wyoming (they rarely use Rhode Island or Vermont in their indictments, which should tell you something about where their heads are). 

  • The legislative filibuster must go because the will of 50+1 senators should not face any “anti-democratic” impediments.

  • And the Supreme Court must be packed—“enlarged” is their preferred term—with four new liberal justices to open the floodgates for more majoritarian policies, or something.

Here’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explaining her thinking at a press conference unveiling a court-packing plan: “The idea that nine people, that a nine-person court, can overturn laws that … hundreds and thousands of legislators, advocacy and policymakers drew consensus on … we have to … just ask ourselves, I think as a country, how much does that current structure benefit us? And I don’t think it does.”

Never mind that many of the left’s most prized political baubles—Roe v. Wade, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Miranda v. Arizona—were all imposed by nine justices, or a mere majority of them. “What have you done for me lately” is the rule of the day.

Also put aside the fact that adding four extra justices would not “structurally” do anything significant to change the undemocratic nature of the Supreme Court. I mean, nine justices comprise roughly 0.000002719 percent of the U.S. while 13 justices would represent 0.000003927 percent of the country.

Call me crazy, but that doesn’t strike me as a huge structural change on the terms Ocasio-Cortez lays out. If you take her argument seriously, 13 justices overturning laws is as undemocratic as nine justices doing the same. Of course, that’s not her real argument. The real aim is to appoint four extra justices who can be relied on to greenlight stuff she wants that would “benefit us.” That, by the way, is the very definition of court-packing going back nearly a century.

Oh, one more point on this. Her claim that because “hundreds and thousands of legislators, advocacy and policymakers drew consensus on” this or that is weak sauce, too. First of all, she doesn’t say a “majority” of legislators reached a consensus (and who gives a rat’s ass about “advocacy and policymakers” in this context?). But let’s assume that’s what she means. So what? The primary job of the Supreme Court is to protect constitutionally enshrined liberties. And that function is inherently—and gloriously!—anti-majoritarian.

If supermajorities of the legislative branch vote to override your individual right to free speech or freedom of religion or whatever, the Supreme Court can say, “No dice.” That’s wildly anti-majoritarian, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If forced to choose between the “liberal” or the “democracy” in “liberal democracy,” I’ll go for “liberal” every time. I’m glad I don’t have to choose, of course, because democracy is an important mechanism for sustaining liberalism over time. But a liberal society can be just with remarkably little democracy. A democratic society is almost definitionally unjust without any liberalism.

Okay so, again, majoritarianism is the left’s bag these days.

Anti-majority minoritarianism.

The left’s other big argument is that one of the most profound problems with the United States today is, to put it bluntly, white people. Most don’t put it that bluntly. They use terms like “white supremacy” and “white privilege” instead. But at the policy level, they really do mean white people. The push for diversity requires giving preferences to non-whites in things like hiring, contracting, and college admissions in virtually every institution, public and private.

Note: All things being equal, I have no major problem with “inclusiveness” as a factor in many such decisions. But if you take this stuff seriously, never mind literally, this regime—both legal and cultural—isn’t just aimed at “white supremacists” or beneficiaries of “white privilege,” but run-of-the-mill white people (at least when decision-making is zero sum). 

If a poor white kid with superior grades, test scores, and extracurriculars is rejected from, say, Princeton while an economically privileged non-white kid with objectively worse qualifications is accepted, you can claim it’s all for the greater good (and you may be right, that’s not my argument for now). But you can’t tell that poor white kid he had it coming. That is, unless, you subscribe to various notions of intergenerational or collective guilt.

But here’s the thing: This stuff runs counter to—or at least is hard to square with—the sort of raw majoritarianism that’s all the rage these days.

Here are the latest numbers from the Census Bureau: Seventy-six percent of Americans identify as white—or “white alone.” That number drops to 60.1 percent if you don’t count Hispanics or Latinos who call themselves white. The share of people who call themselves Hispanic or Latino alone is 18.5 percent. Meanwhile, 13.4 percent identify as black or African American, and 5.9 percent identify as solely Asian. A mere 2.8 percent identified as being mixed race, defined as two or more races. (The actual number is surely higher.)

For context, Princeton recently announced that 68 percent of U.S. citizens or permanent residents admitted to its freshman class “self-identified as people of color, including biracial and multiracial students.”

What should we make of that?

We’re constantly being told several things at once—by the same people. We’re told that majoritarianism is the only source of political legitimacy and that the majority of Americans—whether it’s 60.1 percent or 76 percent—are a problem because their alleged privileges are antithetical to all we hold dear. Which is it? Moreover, we’re also told that the government and non-government institutions have every right, nay, every obligation, to structure policies that benefit people by their racial identity, even though those intended beneficiaries are—wait for it—a minority of Americans.

And then there’s this: Many of these policies are not necessarily supported by a majority of Americans. Polling on affirmative action, diversity hiring, and quotas is complicated and can move with current events. Still, we can generalize. Most Americans favor inclusiveness, but they start turning on policies that count race and ethnicity to the exclusion of other factors or seem to cut against merit. And, sometimes, Americans are just adamantly opposed. 

For instance, a Pew poll in 2019 found that 73 percent of Americans oppose using race or ethnicity as a factor at all in college admissions. If you add in respondents who said it should merely be a minor factor, the number goes up to a whopping 92 percent, leaving just 7 percent of Americans thinking it should be a “major factor.” Oh, and opposition cuts across racial and ethnic lines. Sixty-two percent of blacks and 65 percent of Hispanics said race should be a non-factor. It’s just one poll, but these findings are fairly typical over time. Indeed, a majority of Californians—you know, the people living in the supposed poster-child victim of our anti-majoritarian constitutional system—recently rejected a referendum to overturn a ban on using race in admissions.

So the avowed majoritarians aren’t necessarily anything like a majority, at least on one slice of the policies that are central to their cultural argument.

Now, as readers know, I hate identity politics and I am generally disgusted by alt-rightish arguments about the “oppressed white majority.” But this is some amazing cognitive dissonance. If you truly believe people should organize politically around their racial identity, the last thing you would want given numbers like these is to argue for unconstrained majoritarianism.

Of course, the people who argue for organizing around racial identity don’t think in these terms. They think it’s fine for non-white groups to press for advantages based on race. But when white people do it, well, that’s racism. And, let’s be clear, they (often) have a case.

But do you see my point? If you establish a principle, or in this case several principles, you shouldn’t be shocked if other people pick them up and use them. Telling people that majorities should have no impediment to implementing their political desires while also telling people that it’s right and noble to organize for the betterment of your racial identity seems like a fraught gamble.

One last irony. The right has its own issues on this stuff. As I noted in the Wednesday G-File, the nationalist-populists are under the mistaken impression that they, too, are the avatars of majoritarianism. But they’re not. What makes their position even weirder is they don’t even have the luxury of being in power right now. Nonetheless, they’re arguing for structural changes that would empower the state in myriad ways. Wanting to, say, repeal Section 230 and place the government in charge of regulating speech is a great idea—if you’re of an authoritarian bent and if you’re in power. It’s slightly weirder if you’re not in power and you think the Biden administration and Elizabeth Warren pose existential threats to all you hold dear.

All of this populist piffle is the product of elites thinking that they’ve got an open warrant to do what they want because “the people” are on their side. Some people are. But not enough, thank God.

America, the good, again.

A few weeks ago, I took Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to task for his unwillingness or inability to defend America against insults delivered by the Chinese. The Chinese delegation trotted out the usual broadside against America and American racism. Blinken responded by saying, in effect, “Hey, we never said we were perfect, but we talk about our shortcomings openly.”

I wrote: “Here’s the thing: If I call you a racist thug and your response is, ‘Well, I never claimed to be perfect, but at least I’m honest about my shortcomings and I’m dealing with them,’ I would not read that as a forceful denial.”

That was bad, but at least one could conjure some reasons why Blinken felt it unwise to tell the full truth, which, in my book, would go something like this:

“Screw you. We’re a free country, bound to a constitution that protects freedom of conscience, speech, religion, and movement. We’re among the least racist countries in the world. And while we have struggled with racism in the past, we’ve chalked up one victory after another for generations. Meanwhile, your country is ruled by an imperialist, authoritarian aristocracy in the form of the Chinese Communist Party that practices ethnic apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and ethnic genocide. We had a two-term black president. Get back to me when a Tibetan or Uighur is freely elected president.”  

Yes, I understand this would be undiplomatic and, given the masochistic tendencies of the Democratic base, impolitic (which is a very sad comment on them). But it would A) be the truth, and B) be much better than what our new ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has been saying

Speaking to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Thomas-Greenfield basically picked up where the Chinese left off. She believes it is important to “acknowledge, on the international stage, that I have personally experienced one of America’s greatest imperfections. I have seen for myself how the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles.” Which is why last month, she told the U.N. General Assembly, “[S]lavery is the original sin of America. It’s weaved white supremacy and black inferiority into our founding documents and principles.”

(Presumably she doesn’t include democratic majoritarianism as one of those white supremacist principles.)

There’s some nuance in her full remarks, but the upshot is that we have to come clean about not just our past but our current systemic racism and bigotry before we can speak truth at the U.N. Human Rights Council. I think the picture she paints of America is shamefully distorted and exaggerated. But even if you think it’s dead-on accurate, this is insane. Sure, I guess if we wanted to harangue, say, Canada about its human rights record, we’d have to tread carefully and offer many concessions about our own. But why our emissary to the U.N. should be literally repeating whataboutist arguments that are also being used by the planet’s worst human rights abusers and our geopolitical adversaries is a mystery to me.

This isn’t complicated. We’re a good country, and it shouldn’t be hard for our U.N. ambassador—or secretary of state—to say so with confidence and without apology. As I said, a little democratic supremacy would be nice to hear from progressives in power.

But this is the kind of thing you get when a small clique acts like a claque to the doctrines of critical race theory on the mistaken assumption that they are speaking for a majority of Americans, rather than a majority of the people they know.

Various & Sundry

Canine update: All is good with the beasts, though Pippa still rolls in foulness too much. Her reasoning seems to be that she doesn’t like how she smells when she gets a bath and therefore she should perfume up in something awful (or offal). It’s a vicious cycle. Meanwhile, Zoë has taken to deploying her patented “aroo”—as heard in the opening of the Remnant—to harangue us when we are not fulfilling her expectations. It’s nice when she does it as a “Where were you? Don’t ever leave again!” when we come home. And it’s fine in the evening when she wants to go for her regular perambulation and then have dinner. (Her food is always waiting for her when she gets back, so now the Pavlovian urgency to go out is reinforced; evening walk = dinner.) But she’s started doing it in the morning. I wake up well before Fair Jessica or the kid. But Zoë feels it is imperative to “arroo” at Jessica regardless, to notify her that the unit is on the march. Oh, and I’ve learned from Twitter that our neighborhood bruiser cat, Chester, now has an Amen Chorus. And, finally, Gracie is still the best cat.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

Last weekend’s Ruminant

Florida Man accidentally governs

The week’s first Remnant with militant wonk Andy Smarick

The members-only midweek “news”letter

The first Dispatch Podcast of the week

The week’s second Remnant, a half-baked episode with Rep. Mike Gallagher that left me half-dead

A feelings-based foreign policy

And now, the weird stuff

When the Egyptians have to move mummies around, they make it kind of a big deal

Louis Armstrong like you’ve never heard him (profanity warning)

“That’s the most unharried-Krishna I’ve ever heard.”

The first Capitol rioter to plead guilty is the guitarist of a kinda-famous heavy metal band

The Newest Deal

Biden has overshot LBJ’s legacy and gone straight for FDR instead.

Dear Reader (including those of you ill-prepared for the lizard invasion),

Let me give a pithy summation of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency: LBJ came in like a roaring lion, and went out like the kind of mangy lion who could get his ass kicked by a surly lamb. Between the political capital he inherited from JFK’s assassination and his own formidable political skill, he racked up an impressive string of transformative accomplishments from the Great Society to the Civil Rights Act. He left office a beaten man, opting not to run again. His party was torn apart by internal fights, his political capital drained like a hacked ATM by Vietnam and racial unrest. 

I bring this up because, in the months prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration, I’d often ask guests on my podcast if they thought a Biden presidency would be more like the first two years of the LBJ administration or the last two years.

Right now, it looks like the first two years at a minimum. Heck, Biden seems to think that sets the bar too low. A bunch of historians told him he could be the next FDR, and he’s going for it.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been writing for years that the Democratic Party is addicted to New Dealism. Harry Truman wanted his own New Deal—the Fair Deal. Kennedy wanted his “New Frontier” (Not the cool one, though). LBJ—the only New Dealer other than FDR himself to be president—got his New Deal in the form of the Great Society. Clinton wanted one in his New Covenant and Obama tried with his New Foundation. Indeed, whenever there is a crisis, real or imagined, the call goes forth for yet another New Deal. Jimmy Carter didn’t call for a new New Deal, but he did believe the energy crisis was the moral equivalent of war, which is sort of the same thing. In the wake of 9/11, Chuck Schumer argued in the Washington Post, “the ‘new’ New Deal is upon us. The president can either lead the charge or be run over by it.” And of course, climate change requires a Green New Deal.

Now, as someone who thinks we didn’t need the first New Deal—or at least a lot of it—it shouldn’t surprise you that I certainly don’t think we need a second one, never mind a third one, if you count the Great Society, or a fourth one if you include the second New Deal.

That actually raises an important point. In a sense there wasn’t even a first New Deal. Imagine you’re some kind of alien watching the growth of government—not just in terms of spending, but in terms of scope and intrusion—on some fancy TV with the sound off. You’d see a big spike around the Civil War and then it’d trend down until Teddy Roosevelt, when it would suddenly start to tick up. Then there’d be a huge spike with Woodrow Wilson before another welcome downward slope. It would pick up again under Hoover. That’s right, Hoover. As Rexford Tugwell, one of the most prominent Brain Trust New Dealers, once remarked: “When it was all over, I once made a list of New Deal ventures begun during Hoover’s years as Secretary of Commerce and then as president. ... The New Deal owed much to what he had begun.”

Of course, FDR oversaw an even bigger spike, and we look at that and call it “The” New Deal. But that stuff was a grab bag. By FDR’s own account, his New Deal was about “experimentation”—doing whatever seemed like a good idea in the moment. Some stuff was good, some arguably good, some bad, and the rest arguably bad. But it wasn’t some coherent program with a serious public policy theory stitching it all together.

“To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan,” wrote Raymond Moley, FDR’s right-hand man during much of his presidency, “was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.” When Alvin Hansen, an influential economic adviser to the president, was asked—in 1940—whether “the basic principle of the New Deal” was “economically sound,” he responded, “I really do not know what the basic principle of the New Deal is.”

Now, that doesn’t mean the New Deal didn’t have a philosophy behind it. There’s a difference between philosophy and policy, after all. For instance, Henry Morgenthau Jr. told the story of how FDR set the price of gold:

I believe it was on Friday that we raised the price 21 cents, and the President said, “It is a lucky number because it is three times seven.” If anybody ever knew how we really set the gold price through a combination of lucky numbers, etc., I think that they really would be frightened. 

There’s nothing—at least, nothing serious—policy-wise in that explanation. But there is a philosophy, or at least an attitude: The guys running the show have every right to do what they want, and shouldn’t be bound by things like conventions or rules.

For philosophy nerds, I believe that the New Deal was one of the 20th century banshees unleashed when the philosophical Pragmatists lifted the lid off of Pandora’s Box. William James, the father of the “Moral Equivalent of War,” and John Dewey, arguably the most important philosopher of what might be called “New Dealism,” championed the idea (in America) that the society was a clay that could be molded to the will of experts. Or as Dewey put it, borrowing from James, put it: We “live in a wide open universe, a universe without bounds in time or space, without final limits of origin or destiny, a universe with the lid off.”

Philosophically, the New Deal drew on—or at least reflected—Dewey’s and Woodrow Wilson’s contempt for the outdated vision of the Founders. The Founders “lacked,” Dewey wrote in Liberalism and Social Action, “historic sense and interest.” The Burkean and Madisonian vision of government simply serving to protect liberties and enforce fair, neutral rules was inadequate next to what could be accomplished with a sufficient application of will by experts given the power to provide meaning to every individual. 

This is what the lid-less, unconstrained universe had to offer planners. Indeed, even the idea of individual rights was a bygone relic. “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology,” Dewey explained. Rights can only be properly secured through “social control of economic forces in the interest of the great mass of individuals.” For Dewey, humans were “nothing in themselves”; the General Will was everything.

If you take the New Deal in its totality from FDR’s first hundred days through his radical “Second Bill of Rights” State of the Union Address, the underlying vision behind it was that the government in Washington should manage the economy (and really, society itself) from above with big businesses, trade associations, labor unions, state governments, even the Catholic Church, as junior partners in the endeavor. This is the real definition of “corporatism”—not government by big business, but government defined by the “enlightened” collusion of the major stakeholders run by the existing elites. It was the idea that markets were dumb—markets caused the Depression, after all—and experts were not just smart, but smarter than the market. And when I say “the market,” I mean that in the broadest sense, as in the people making personal and group decisions about how to run not just their businesses but their lives. 

The New Deal itself was a continuation of Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism” which yoked all the major institutions—governmental and otherwise—to a single cause. Wilson’s attempt to ditch the Founders’ vision of limited government and divided powers didn’t survive his presidency. But progressives didn’t let the dream die. They insisted that the “social benefits of war”—John Dewey’s phrase—on the domestic front were too wonderful to abandon. “We planned in war,” was their mantra during their brief and all-too-partial exile from power in the 1920s. And when FDR campaigned in 1932, he vowed to revive Wilson’s wartime methods to fight the Great Depression.

Statist adhocracy.

Now, I understand that—if you’re still with me at all—this might feel a little disorienting. Was the New Deal a serious philosophical enterprise, or was it pure adhocracy? The answer is: It was both.

The philosophical aim of the New Deal was to replace mere government by erecting a State. It was to supplant what Wilson decried as the “dumb clockworks” organization of government with a Darwinian vision of all parts of the body politic working together. The State, or in Wilson’s case, the president, would be the brain.

The policy that came with this was far less sophisticated: More. More money. More power. More control. More.

(By the way, I should say that many of the new “NatCons”—national conservatives, or post-liberal whatevers—seem to share a similar view. They just have a different vision for what money, power, and control should be used for. But that’s an argument for another day.)

If you were that alien watching the growth of government, you’d see the line go up and down here or there. But if you zoomed out then you’d never see it retreat completely to pre-spike levels. It’s a step ladder, a series of plateaus, and then the ascent resumes. In the moment it can be hard to see, what with our incredibly stupid arguments about how a cut in the rate of growth is an actual cut. But again, if you step back, you can see how far down this road we’ve come. “[T]he United States in the 1920s,” writes William Leuchtenburg, “had almost no institutional structure to which Europeans would accord the term ‘the State.’ Beyond the post office, most people had very little interaction with or dependence on ‘the government in Washington.’” That seems like another world, because it is.

Joe Biden’s trillion-here, trillion-there approach is as ad hoc as FDR’s in many ways. You look at some of the outlays in his proposals—a hundred billion for this, a hundred billion for that—and it becomes clear that the important thing is just to spend a hundred billion, or $2.4 trillion; what the money actually goes to is an afterthought.

Similarly, his conception of “infrastructure” is very New Deal-y. “So many people said, ‘Oh, the $400 billion that are being proposed for the home care workers or the home care sector, that’s not really infrastructure,’” White House economist Cecelia Rouse argues. “Well, I beg to differ. I can’t go to work, if I don’t have someone who’s taking care of my parents or my children.”

I can’t go to work without pants either, that doesn’t mean the government should launch a pants-buying program.

I have problems with a lot of the people on both sides of the aisle who throw around the term “socialism” without knowing what socialism is—and isn’t. But at some point, if everything is “infrastructure”—which Biden basically defines as anything that makes your life easier—than we’re going to stumble into precisely that. It may still be “democratic,” but the range of stuff you’ll be allowed to vote for will be quite Deweyan. That was Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s hope. In 1947, he wrote in Partisan Review, “There seems no inherent obstacle to the gradual advance of socialism in the United States through a series of New Deals.” All it would take is the empowerment of the “politician-manager-intellectual type—the New Dealer,” to make it happen.

We’re on our way.

The Deplorification of the GOP

I once met a guy who was way too into the Kennedys.

This guy’s dad would write letters to then-Sen. Ted Kennedy and frame the responses, hanging them prominently amid pictures of the Kennedy family. The replies were utterly banal: “Thank you for your letter. We are working hard to blah blah.” But you couldn’t tell him that they were form letters, written by staffers and signed by an autopen. He really believed he had a special relationship with the Kennedys.

I think about this every now and then because, for some people, certain politicians are special beings—sanctified leaders judged by different standards. Their feces don’t offend our olfactory senses. Not only do I think this is gross (and I don’t just mean that sentence), I think everything about it is unhealthy. It’s bad for democracy. It’s bad for governing. It’s bad for the worshippers and it’s bad for the worshipped. There are few shorter routes to self-destruction than actually believing your own idolaters. “Memento Caesar; es mortalis,” and all that.

(By the way, in the Wednesday G-File, I wrote about the dangers of historical ignorance and the benefits of knowing what came before you. I should have included this fantastic line from Fahrenheit 451: “The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’”).

Adulation doesn’t just breed arrogance in politicians, it fosters contempt for the adulators. If you take literally Donald Trump’s claim that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and “his people” would still love him, he’s saying that they are barely even people; they’re political golems, fanatics who have lost the faculty for moral reasoning. If your affection for a mere politician is so unbreakable that your faith can survive watching him commit wanton murder, then I’m sorry to say that you really are deplorable. Now, I don’t actually believe what Trump said is literally true. I can even manage, if I try hard, to credit him with awareness and say he doesn’t believe it, either. Take him seriously, not literally, and all that sophistry.

But I do have a question: Am I supposed to take the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) literally or just seriously?

By now you’ve probably heard about their latest gimmick to bilk donors: 

I find this almost awe-inspiring. I feel like Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now marveling at the sheer Nietzschean will of the Viet Cong to chop off the inoculated arms of children. “And I thought, my God... the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.”

Let’s be clear what the NRCC is saying and who they are saying it to. These are people who are already giving money to the National Republican Congressional Committee. But making a one-time donation isn’t enough. You must agree to give money in perpetuity. You must indenture yourself indefinitely to the cause. And if you don’t, they will tell Donald Trump you’ve joined the enemy camp. It’s one thing for an individual politician, whose narcissism makes conventional politicians seem humble, to believe he is some sort of God-King. That’s not this. This is the institutionalization of reverence as the sole litmus test for whether you’re good or bad.  

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that (most) of the political hacks running the NRCC believe this nonsense. But it’s very clear that this is what they think of their donors. Or at least the small ones. You know, “the forgotten men.”

The NRCC thinks there are people who actually believe someone is going to march into Trump’s office at Mar-a-Lago and tell him, “Bud Gretnik in Albany has defected to the forces of darkness, because he only made a one-time contribution to the NRCC.”

This is corruption. And not the sort of conventional corruption we associate with bribes or whatever Matt Gaetz’s wingman Joel Greenberg was up to. This is moral and intellectual corruption. And if it actually works, that’s even worse.

Various & Sundry

A note on last Friday’s G-File. In my broadside against Matt Gaetz, I recounted how I saw him with a woman who looked like, well, one of the women he's allegedly been Venmoing. Last weekend, the passage became a source of controversy on Twitter because I was accused—wrongly—of disparaging one of Gaetz’s staffers. Not only was that not my intent, I am confident that the women I had in mind were not staffers. I had been told more than once, and by more than one person, that Gaetz routinely brought dates—or “dates”—to Fox’s DC studio for his appearances. The way he behaved with these women did not suggest to me that they were in fact staffers. And if they were, well, that’s interesting. But it’s not what I meant to convey. Any assumption otherwise is projection or distortion. 

All that said, I could have probably been clearer. I can also understand why some readers were offended by the line, even if they didn’t make that erroneous inference. Sometimes I just go on a tear in the G-File. But I have zero tolerance for the bad faith nonsense hurled at me in response to that specific “news”letter, particularly by apologists for Donald Trump and his behavior. I can take to heart sincere criticism about judging women unfairly by how they dress. But pseudo-feminist posturing from apologists for, say, the Access Hollywood tape or the credible allegations of sexual assault against Trump just leaves me cold.

Also, on a much different note: Some of my longtime readers may know that there are few pundits out there who've dedicated more time to worrying about the volcanic menace beneath our feet. Watch this (which was partially inspired by my dire warnings). Forewarned is forearmed. 

Canine update: The girls are all doing fine. Zoë in particular is very excited that it’s warm enough to leave the upstairs window open. She spends a lot of her time monitoring the goings on the block like Heimdal guarding the Bifrost. Sometimes passersby are a bit flummoxed when they hear loud barking and then fearsome “aroos”—her barbaric yawp—from above. But that’s the price you pay for canine vigilance. Pippa is easing into middle age well enough. She doesn’t chase tennis balls like she used to, but she insists on carrying one on every walk, just in case the mood strikes. When home, she’s even more of a lapdog.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

Last weekend’s Ruminant

Against David French-ism

The week’s first Remnant, with a guest of near-mythical, positively cryptid-like status from the program’s early days, Rep. Denver Riggleman

Crazy rhetoric around Georgia’s elections has existed for over two years

The week’s first Dispatch Podcast: Is it infrastructure week yet?

The members-only midweek “news”letter, where the past is a foreign country

The week’s second Remnant, with Rep. Dan Crenshaw

Once more, on Georgia

And now, the weird stuff

Ta-Nehisi Coates is making Red Skull into Jordan Peterson?

Reason magazine’s eccentric founder

Noah’s Ark, but on the moon

German mystics hanging out in a cave outside of Philadelphia

Where’d the cheese go?

Photos from Steve Jobs’ abandoned mansion

WaterGaetz

Matt Gaetz has always been a sleaze. He was unfit to hold political office even before the new allegations against him.

Dear Reader (including those of you who—like me—don’t understand why Culver’s wasn’t serious about their new Curdburger),

If you’ve been paying very close attention to my oeuvre, you might have gleaned that I think Rep. Matt Gaetz represents almost everything wrong with the GOP and our politics generally. One clue might have been when I wrote last February, “The GOP should ditch the symbol of the elephant for a meme of the gasoline fight from Zoolander, with Matt Gaetz getting jiggy to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.’”

There was never anything personal about it. I’ve never had a conversation with him. I did see him at Fox’s D.C. studio a few times, occasionally accompanied by a young woman in a very short, tight dress who—not to traffic in superficial stereotypes—looked like her purse probably contained a fresh pack of condoms, a portable credit card reader, and a recently refilled prescription of tetracycline.

But Gaetz’s “romantic” life was never the source of my animosity. I put romantic in scare quotes because, if reports are true, his lifestyle doesn’t strike me as particularly romantic. Negotiating bulk discounts on sex, assigning point values to different conquests (with alleged bonus points for virgins), and hammering out the details for orgies doesn’t quite fit my understanding of “romantic.” I mean, Pretty Woman is a decent romantic movie, even though it centers on a prostitute. But I don’t recall Richard Gere sharing nude pictures of Julia Roberts with Ralph Bellamy and Jason Alexander.

Until this week, my objections to Gaetz were quite politically high-minded rather than comstockish or prudish. (I will say that even though I am only about a dozen years older than the guy, he does arouse—so to speak—my inner cranky old man and a desire to use grumbletonian language that is out of step with the times. Even if he’s not a confirmed philopornist, he’s certainly a crapulent cacafuego and coxcomb who, when not busying himself with organizing seraglios of slatternly driggle-draggles, serves as one of America’s foremost rhetorical bescumbers.)

Readers of this “news”letter should be familiar with my view of what ails American politics. We have politicians who think their job is to be pundits and social media trolls. That’s literally why they run for office—not to get things done, but to become famous for complaining about what is being done. They don’t know how to legislate or govern, and they think being concerned with such things is the hallmark of suckers and losers. Donald Trump was, in many ways, the apotheosis of this mindset. He became president out of a quest for more media attention. Recall how, a year ago this week, Trump bragged—during a national pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy and racking up a body count of staggering proportions—that his COVID press conferences got better ratings than The Bachelor.

But to his credit, I suppose, Trump didn’t understand the difference between publicity whoring and governing. Gaetz, by his own admission, understands the difference. He just thinks publicity whoring shouldn’t be a bug in our system, but a feature. It’s the difference between thinking animal testing is a necessary evil for the advancement of science and thinking the point of being a scientist is to torment bunnies and monkeys. Gaetz thinks getting a dose of the clap is a tolerable risk to advance in his sex bracket. But in his professional capacity, he thinks it’s his job to be a herpetic cold sore on the body politic. He’s probably done more good faith negotiating with prostitutes about knocking down the price of a three-way than he has ever committed to getting legislation passed.

From his book, Firebrand:

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan once knocked me for going on TV too much, without considering that maybe his own failures as a leader stemmed from spending too much time in think tanks instead of in the green rooms where guests wait to appear on TV, and are thereby connected to the dinnertime of real Americans,” he writes. “I take his recent elevation to the board of News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, to be his very silent apology. It’s impossible to get canceled if you’re on every channel. Why raise money to advertise on the news channels when I can make the news? And if you aren’t making news, you aren’t governing.

Put aside the incandescent jackassery of thinking Paul Ryan’s appointment to the board of News Corp was a “very silent apology”—very silent indeed! And forget the otherworldly notion that being on TV a lot prevents you from being “canceled” (or what it says about him that he thinks this is a justification for spending all your time on TV giving hot takes—literally the title of his podcast, by the way).

By this standard, Gaetz could go on Fox & Friends and, rather than deny allegations that he paid a 17-year-old for sex, he could admit it and then make a forceful case for repealing laws against such things. Heck, he might even believe it (he was, after all, the lone vote against a sex trafficking bill). But why stop there? It would make even bigger news if he endorsed keeping catamites chained up in his basement, or celebrated climacophilia or coprophilia. The more news you make, the more governing you’re doing.

Since the guy is a Playmobil-shaped pinata who can be bashed from almost any angle and yield some reward, I could go on. I just want to make one last point. Imagine for a moment he wasn’t a sleazy cad. Assume he is innocent of the charge of sex trafficking. Conservatives and Republicans were still wrong to embrace and encourage this dude. In a sense, his alleged gross behavior lets a lot of people off the hook in the same way the January 6 siege of the Capitol let certain Trumpers off the hook. After January 6, some Trumpists got to argue, in effect, that Trump had been fine until this happened. But Trump wasn’t fine on January 5, 2021, or in 2015. (Sadly, many of the people who took this position—like Lindsey Graham—reversed course once they realized it wasn’t in their political interest after all.)

Likewise, Gaetz was a boorish clown and demagogue who left a retromingent trail of bad cologne in greenrooms around town long before these revelations. But responsible people didn’t care because he was good TV. And, thanks to his unrepentant sycophancy, he had the favor of Donald Trump. Pretending he shouldn’t be on TV—never mind in Congress—anymore because of his louche extracurricular activities perpetuates the idea that his approach to politics was fine before these allegations surfaced. Indeed, we can be sure that if he survives the incoming frenzy, this human cold sore on the body politic will reappear on TV soon enough. But don’t worry, they’ll cover it with lots of makeup.

Various & Sundry

I’m going to cut this “news”letter short because I have to get a standalone piece for The Dispatch done. I understand that, in this day and age, saying the pleonastic display above is being “cut short” might strike some as odd. But I need to explain why David French and Sonny Bunch are wrong about Superman. Stay tuned.

Canine update: The dogs have been ecstatic that the whole family is home, even if you might not be able to tell from this subdued welcoming committee footage. Gracie, too, enjoys having the full complement of servants back. They have fallen back into their usual cycle of entitlement. Indeed, the attitude has spread beyond the borders of our domicile. Chester the Cat increasingly believes that Chez Goldberg is a colonial outpost of his larger empire. Meanwhile, we’re trying to stick to keeping the girls on a diet. One trick is to make the treats very small, so they think they’re still getting their quota.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

Last weekend’s Ruminant

Real bipartisanship has never been tried

The week’s first Remnant, with my Doppelstimmer Chris Stirewalt

The midweek “news”letter, for members only

GLoP talks Snyder Cut

The week’s second Remnant, with first-time guest Shadi Hamid

I do not like stimulus packages on a train, I do not like them on a plane

And now, the weird stuff

The studio musician you don’t know who probably played on most of your favorite records

Decadent Society, eat your heart out!

The only acceptable way to celebrate April Fools’ in 2021 is to browse the website for the Museum of Hoaxes

Surrealism

That time Ghost Adventures had on a hilariously uncooperative rabbi who refused to talk about “dybbuk boxes”

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