From Jonah Goldberg:
“Nice flag!” the woman shouted, sarcastically adding: “F—- you!”
The woman was seated on the patio of a restaurant overlooking Main Street in this famously liberal capital of this famously liberal state when a truck sporting the Confederate emblem passed by.
I could understand the sentiment (particularly given the fact that her lunch partner was an African-American man). When the woman saw my daughter and her friend, she apologized for her profanity.
And while I could have done without the f-bomb around two 12-year-old girls, my real objection was something different. The young woman’s outburst was exactly the reaction the buffoon in the truck was hoping for. After all, Vermont is the heart of union territory (and the first state to ban slavery in 1777). Even without the recent controversies, there’s no reason to fly a Confederate flag in downtown Montpelier except to offend.
But is that really the intent when the descendant of a Confederate soldier puts a flag on his ancestor’s tombstone once a year? According to many on the left, it is. “If we don’t eradicate the Confederate flag,” writes “social theorist” Frank Smecker, “we can only expect more of such racist, depraved acts (like Dylann Roof’s) in our future.”
I’m no big fan of the Confederate flag, but do serious people believe that if Roof didn’t have access to the banner, he would have pursued a life of peace?
It’s this lack of nuance and distinction I find so troubling — and hypocritical.
Claude Berube, director of the Naval Academy Museum, recently compared the rush to dig up Confederate graves and tear down statues in the U.S. to Islamic iconoclasm. The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas on the grounds that they violate Islamic law. The terrorist group Islamic State is ransacking historic monuments for both God and mammon.
The comparison has its obvious limits, but it does highlight a remarkable double standard. Islamic terror has been on the rise for decades, yet over that time the left’s calls for nuance, tolerance and understanding have only grown louder. Virtually no one condones or makes apologies for ISIL’s barbarity (one can’t say the same about Hamas or Hezbollah), but there has been a Herculean effort to put Islamic extremism in “context.”
President Obama insists that ISIL isn’t even Islamic and that the West should not get on its “high horse” about today’s Muslim atrocities given that Christians committed atrocities eight centuries ago. When Islamist radicals were thwarted in their effort to behead Pamela Geller for organizing a “draw Mohammed” contest, many in the news media were quick to argue that she was asking for it. When an obscure pastor wanted to burn the Quran, the U.S. government went into a panicked tailspin, begging him not to offend or radicalize peaceful Muslims. When jihadists attacked a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s greatest rhetorical fury was aimed at an obscure filmmaker who made an offensive video about Islam.
Shortly after the shooting in Charleston, S.C., the New America think tank chummed the waters with a tendentious study insinuating that Roof and his ilk represented the real terror threat. “Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11,” proclaimed a New York Times headline. Forty-eight Americans, including the nine killed in Charleston, have been killed by non-Islamist “terrorists,” compared with a mere 26 by avowed jihadists.
The study is a methodological mess, starting with the fact that it starts the clock immediately after 9/11, ignoring the 3,000 killed on that day. It counts dubious attacks as right-wing terror and ignores the fact that the U.S. has foiled and deterred numerous Islamist terror plots in the past decade. If you catch a bunch of rattlesnakes in your backyard before they bite and kill someone in your family, is that proof there is no threat from snakes?
It would be an improvement if the left could stick to either of its double standards. Personally, I think fellow Americans — even ones who wear Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts — deserve some of the nuance and understanding so many reserve for Islam extremism. But if you’re going to take your zero tolerance for symbols of 19th century slavery so seriously, maybe you should show the same myopic zealotry with regard to the forces who are enslaving people right now.
From Jonah Goldberg:
In the wake of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fairly disastrous press conference at the United Nations on Tuesday, there’s only one conclusion shared by all parties: This was not how it was supposed to go.
This was supposed to be the month Clinton led with her chief selling point: her gender. She had put together a whole “I Am Woman, Hear Me Bore” speaking tour in which women’s issues — particularly the women’s issues that poll well among women who care a lot about women’s issues — would be the main subject.
The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation unveiled a big foofaraw over Hillary’s “No Ceilings” campaign. What a wonderfully convenient theme for Mrs. Clinton’s massive and mysterious foundation, given that smashing the “highest glass ceiling” — i.e., the presidency — is the central rationale of her planned presidential bid. It was just a coincidence that the tax-exempt foundation with her name on it happened to be rolling out a big light show on that very subject during the rollout of her presidential campaign.
It was all carefully scripted, because everything Hillary Clinton does is carefully scripted. Normally, that’s a figurative expression. But with Clinton, when things are carefully scripted, they are literally carefully scripted.
On Monday, Hillary had a “No Ceilings” event at the Clinton Foundation. After her opening remarks, the Associated Press reported, she declined to take any questions. “When she sat down to lead more informal conversations with invited speakers, participants appeared to be reading from teleprompters.”
I’ll give the AP reporters a pass on this odd locution, since they at least conveyed the truth to the reader. But for the record, a dialogue between people on a stage in which they read from teleprompters is not an “informal conversation” — it’s a play.
The trouble for Clinton is that, despite all of her preparation, all of her coordination, the world is going off her script. And for a woman who thinks off-the-cuff speaking is switching from her prepared remarks to her prepared notecards, that’s a scary place.
That is surely why she set up her own private Internet server. Four times at the U.N., Clinton said she had created her “home-brew” e-mail system simply for “convenience.”
“I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal e-mails instead of two,” she said.
Never mind that it’s much easier to set up two e-mail systems on one device than it is to set up a whole dark server hidden from the government. And leave aside that a woman who travels with a very large entourage on non-commercial flights could probably manage two devices.
I’m sure she’s right. She set up the server for convenience — but not the convenience of sparing her the load of an additional four-ounce phone. When you want to hide what you’re doing, a private server is definitely the way to go.
Hillary has only two comfort zones: deep in a bunker or high on a pedestal. Drag her out of the former or knock her off the latter and she’s at sea.
In her very brief press conference Tuesday, she essentially admitted to the transgression she’s been accused of for the past week. She admitted to deleting thousands of e-mails. She turned over the public e-mails she deemed safe to give to the public and kept the rest, saying they were private, anointing herself to be the sole arbiter.
“I fully complied with every rule that I was governed by,” she said. And: “I have no doubt that we have done exactly what we should have done.”
This hints at the attitude that binds her and her husband: the belief that they are governed solely by what they choose to be governed by and what they do is right because they have done it.
The problem for Hillary is she can’t sell it. That’s why she prefers everything to be scripted. For example, Mrs. Clinton needed to tell the public not to ever come looking for any more e-mail from her, including the allegedly private ones she chose not to share. So she claimed they no longer exist.
“At the end, I chose not to keep my private, personal e-mails — e-mails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends.”
Clinton’s vast marketing division has been toying with rolling her out as the “Grandmother in Chief.” Well, here’s a tip: Grandmothers save that kind of stuff.
From Jonah Goldeberg:
For understandable reasons, the IRS scandal has largely focused on the political question of whether the White House deliberately targeted its opponents. To date there’s no evidence that it did. That’s good for the president, but it may not be good for the country, because if the administration didn’t target opponents, that would mean the IRS has become corrupt all on its own.
In 1939, Bruno Rizzi, a largely forgotten Communist intellectual, wrote a hugely controversial book, The Bureaucratization of the World. Rizzi argued that the Soviet Union wasn’t Communist. Rather, it represented a new kind of system, what Rizzi called “bureaucratic collectivism.” What the Soviets had done was get rid of the capitalist and aristocratic ruling classes and replace them with a new, equally self-interested ruling class: bureaucrats.
The book wasn’t widely read, but it did reach Bolshevik theoretician Leon Trotsky, who attacked it passionately. Trotsky’s response, in turn, inspired James Burnham, who used many of Rizzi’s ideas in his own 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, in which Burnham argued that something similar was happening in the West. A new class of bureaucrats, educators, technicians, regulators, social workers, and corporate directors who worked in tandem with government were reengineering society for their own benefit. The Managerial Revolution was a major influence on George Orwell’s 1984.
Now, I don’t believe we are becoming anything like 1930s Russia, never mind a real-life 1984. But this idea that bureaucrats — very broadly defined — can become their own class bent on protecting their interests at the expense of the public seems not only plausible but obviously true.
The evidence is everywhere. Every day it seems there’s another story about teachers’ unions using their stranglehold on public schools to reward themselves at the expense of children. School-choice programs and even public charter schools are under vicious attack, not because they are bad at educating children but because they’re good at it. Specifically, they are good at it because they don’t have to abide by rules aimed at protecting government workers at the expense of students.
The Veterans Affairs scandal can be boiled down to the fact that VA employees are the agency’s most important constituency. The Phoenix VA health-care system created secret waiting lists where patients languished and even died, while the administrator paid out almost $10 million in bonuses to VA employees over the last three years.
Working for the federal government simply isn’t like working for the private sector. Government employees are essentially unfireable. In the private sector, people lose their jobs for incompetence, redundancy, or obsolescence all the time. In government, these concepts are virtually meaningless. From a 2011 USA Today article: “Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.”
In 2010, the 168,000 federal workers in Washington, D.C. — who are quite well compensated — had a job-security rate of 99.74 percent. A HUD spokesman told USA Today that “his department’s low dismissal rate — providing a 99.85 percent job security rate for employees — shows a skilled and committed workforce.”
Obviously, economic self-interest isn’t the only motivation. Bureaucrats no doubt sincerely believe that government is a wonderful thing and that it should be empowered to do ever more wonderful things. No doubt that is why the EPA has taken it upon itself to rewrite American energy policy without so much as a “by your leave” to Congress.
The Democratic party today is, quite simply, the party of government and the natural home of the managerial class. It is no accident, as the Marxists say, that the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the IRS, gave 94 percent of its political donations during the 2012 election cycle to Democratic candidates openly at war with the Tea Party — the same group singled out by Lois Lerner. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the VA, gave 97 percent of its donations to Democrats at the national level and 100 percent to Democrats at the state level.
We constantly hear how the evil Koch brothers are motivated by a toxic mix of ideology and economic self-interest. Is it so impossible to imagine that a class of workers might be seduced by the same sorts of impulses? It’s true that the already super-rich Kochs would benefit from a freer country. It’s also true that the managerial class would benefit from the bureaucratization of America.
As Jonah Goldberg explains, the distinction between public and private is vitally important:
I hold no brief for Donald Sterling. My storehouse of sympathy runs bare long before I get to billionaire bigots and loudmouths. But it’s worth pondering the fact that Sterling’s loudmouthery was in a private conversation (unlike, say, Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark which was made to a black reporter he just assumed he could speak freely to without being exposed). Mel Gibson’s damning remarks were made during a drunken rant. The Reverend Billy Graham, pretty much a moral hero and a great champion of religious tolerance in public life, said some awful things about Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon. Anthony Weiner, neither a hero nor a champion of much other than his own interests, never said anything bigoted, but he sent lewd pictures of himself to young women who were not his wife. Tiger Woods . . . well, you remember all that.
I’m reminded of a wonderful op-ed the (wonderful) late Leonard Garment wrote in 1999 as then-new transcripts of Richard Nixon’s taped conversations were being released. Garment recounted how Nixon appointed numerous Jews in his administration and then concluded:
Thus we must face the Nixon Paradox. His anti-Semitic outbursts in the private conversations found virtually no correspondence in his speech or actions outside those explosions.
At this point in our politics we should find this juxtaposition less implausible than we once might have. President Clinton was impeached, partly for reasons having to do with the administration of justice, but largely because of his private actions. Yet the country, with unmistakable clarity, declared that his private failings were not to determine our judgment of his public character.
Those who consider this verdict reasonable should consider how much more forcefully its logic applies to the private conversations of public persons. The best expression I have found of this logic comes from Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist whose country under Communism learned some lessons about the consequences of trampling the distinction between public and private.
”In private,” Mr. Kundera wrote in an essay, ”a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language . . . makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public.”
Mr. Kundera argues that this difference is not a mere curiosity but a fundamental fact: ”That we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual. Yet curiously this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged . . . ”
Mr. Kundera worries about this obliviousness, as we should, because an understanding of the distinction between public and private speech is indispensable to a decent politics — one built upon respect for individual privacy, a fundamental ingredient of freedom. What is on the Nixon tapes is undeniably ugly. It is for us to decide, however, what effect this private talk should have on our evaluation of Nixon’s public life.
It says something about Sterling that you cannot offer the same defense of him. There is far more congruity between the public and private Sterlings than the public and private Nixons. Similarly, it’s interesting and even significant to note that Lyndon Johnson said some terrible things about blacks, but they hardly have any weight on the scales when put alongside his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.
One last point. A common expression goes something like “character is what you do when no one is watching,” though I always preferred “character is what you do when only God is watching.” Neither aphorism is entirely fitting since all of these instances involved at least one other person. But it’s worth noting and pondering the fact that in an era of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, recording devices, big data trawling, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter etc. the realm of what is truly private is shrinking by the hour and will likely continue to shrink in one way or another for the rest of our lives. Character may remain what we do when we think no one is watching — or listening or taking notes — but the likelihood no one is watching is increasingly remote. What that means for decent politics is anyone’s guess.
In America, we constantly, almost obsessively, wrestle with the “legacy of slavery.” That speaks well of us. But what does it say that so few care that the Soviet Union was built — literally — on the legacy of slavery? The founding fathers of the Russian Revolution — Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky — started “small,” merely throwing hundreds of thousands of people into kontslagerya (concentration camps).
By the time Western intellectuals and youthful folksingers like Pete Seeger were lavishing praise on the Soviet Union as the greatest experiment in the world, Joseph Stalin was corralling millions of his own people into slavery. Not metaphorical slavery, but real slavery complete with systematized torture, rape, and starvation. Watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you’d have no idea that from the Moscow metro system to, literally, the roads to Sochi, the Soviet Union — the supposed epitome of modernity and “scientific socialism” — was built on a mountain of broken lives and unremembered corpses.