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.
And now, the weird stuff