NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
July 26, 2014 4:00 AM
For the Left, Cool Is King
Conservatives need to get over their insecurities about not being cool in the eyes of liberals.
By Jonah Goldberg
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 the many new anti-Semitic and just plain bat-guano crazy people who’ve wandered into my life in recent days),
Last night I said on Twitter:
Forgetting may not be the right word. Though if this was the Soviet Union, teams of fat-fingered bureaucrats would be airbrushing his likeness from all official records.
In case you’re not up to speed, let’s recap. It’s really a wonderful, feel-good story for the whole family. In the Halbig decision this week, the court ruled that according to a plain reading of the law, only state exchanges are eligible for premium subsidies under Obamacare. As a political and policy matter, this would be the equivalent of throwing a very large mackerel on a house of cards. It wouldn’t necessarily destroy Obamacare, but that would be the way to bet.
Anyway, the liberal response to the decision was really quite fun. They shrieked about how this was a mere “typo” or “drafting error” (which is just not true) and tried to make it seem like suggesting otherwise was dishonest madness of the sort reserved for the likes of Dr. Evil’s father and his claims to have invented the question mark. But what I really liked was the panic over “judicial activism.” E.J. Dionne — who has no problem with liberal judicial activism that simply invents new rights out of thin air — called this decision “anti-democratic sabotage.” This is funhouse logic. As NR put it in an editorial, “It’s an odd world in which judges are accused of usurping the role of Congress for ruling that the executive branch must follow the text of a law Congress wrote.” Seriously, who knows what will happen if the courts start adhering to the law as written? That’s like saying the IRS should be politically neutral. Madness!
Moreover, liberals insisted that nobody in their right mind ever believed Congress intended to withhold subsidies on the federal exchange in order to encourage states to create state exchanges.
A couple days ago E.J. Dionne said on the Dianne Rehm Show that “There is absolutely not a shred of evidence, not a bit, that this was intended as any sort of incentive.” He goes on to say that this rationale was “invented out of whole cloth.”
And on MSNBC Jonathan Gruber told Chris Matthews, “Chris, it is unambiguous this is a typo. Literally every single person involved in the crafting of this law has said that it`s a typo, that they had no intention of excluding the federal states. And why would they?”
No, really: “It’s just simply a typo, and it’s really criminal that this has even made it as far as it has.”
If this were a Godzilla movie, it would be around this moment that the government scientist said “A giant reptile from the bottom of the ocean? Please. There’s no such th . . .” at which point a giant scaly foot squishes him.
Because here’s Gruber giving a presentation in 2012:
Gruber: In the law, it says if the states don’t provide them, the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop, I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges, and that they’ll do it. But you know, once again, the politics can get ugly around this.
Now Michael Cannon — a heroic opponent of Obamacare and one of the architects of the Halbig suit – has some kind words for Gruber. And maybe Gruber has an explanation. That wasn’t me! That was my terrorist twin brother Hans! And Cannon is certainly right that this alone doesn’t prove congressional intent, though a quick Nexis search shows that Gruber was called “the architect” of Obamacare hundreds of times in the mainstream media and no one disputes that he and Zeke Emanuel were intellectual guiding lights of Obamacare. He even wrote a graphic novel on the subject.
In the world of health-care wonk debates, the emergence of this video reminds me a lot of this classic scene with Samuel L. Jackson.
As I’ve said before, “You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the unraveling of Obamacare.”
Update: Since I wrote the above mere minutes ago and since I have no desire to rewrite it lest I diminish the mediocrity of the prose, I’ll just announce that Gruber has an explanation. It was a “speak-o” — you know, like a typo but with speech.
Who among us can’t sympathize with that? I’m often paid thousands of dollars to give highly technical presentations based upon my internationally renowned expertise on nuclear power. But then, out of nowhere, I will give a long and detailed explanation about how Trieste belongs to the Italians and basset hounds, not nuclear fission, are the real source of nuclear power. I think everyone can just say “never mind” and go back to saying conservatives are crazy.
At least John Walsh put a little effort into his explanation.
In Vampire News
If you took great offense of the recent episode of HBO’s True Blood in which two vampires crashed a Ted Cruz fundraiser — at the Bush Library no less — and said some bad words about Republicans, I have some advice: Lighten up.
The other week I wrote about how the standard conservative critique of the popular culture is just a bit too tightly wound. This minor kerfuffle strikes me as a good illustration of my point. For those who don’t watch the show — i.e. somewhat more than 300 million out of America’s 314 million residents — True Blood is about a world in which vampires finally “come out of the coffin” thanks largely to the invention of a synthetic blood substitute “True Blood.”
Most of the series takes place in the Louisiana town of Bon Temps, a town infested not only with improbably important vampires and mystical deities, but a small army of nasty southern caricatures living alongside sexually liberated Bohemians that would make Brooklyn hipsters blush. The utterly ridiculous plot lines aren’t important for the purposes of this discussion — or pretty much for any other purpose. But suffice it to say pretty much every episode involves lots of sex — often including the homosexual variety — drugs, profanity, tedious and logically inconsistent speeches about the evils of bigotry, and a hodgepodge of mossy clichés about, again, sex, politics, culture, history, and religion wrapped in the candy coating of pretty naked people. Gilligan’s Island was vastly more plausible than True Blood (even accounting for the fact the Howell’s had an extensive wardrobe for a three-hour tour, yet the people who lived on the boat had only one set of clothes apiece).
For instance, in the offending Ted Cruz episode, the people who shot up the Bush library weren’t the vampires, but Yakuza gangsters with submachine guns (last seen beheading a post-coital yoga swami). My biggest complaint is that none of the vampires have decamped for New York to slaughter the cast of Girls (“I can’t die! I just landed an internship at the Utne Reader!”).
I find the show moderately (probably not the right word) entertaining, but then again I have a soft spot for the vampire genre, not to mention gratuitous sex and violence. That’s just me. I’m not proud of it. But I certainly don’t take the show too seriously, and anyone who does probably isn’t worth taking seriously.
Gays Are What Now?
And that goes far more for its fans than its foes. The show was intended from the outset to provide running commentary on gay issues. It was never subtle about this. The opening credit sequence shows a sign like you might see outside a small town church or fire station that reads “God Hates Fangs.”
Now the problem with analogizing homosexuals to vampires is really quite simple: It’s a terribly bigoted analogy! Whenever the show dives into extended comparisons of vampires and gays — which is often — I always wonder if the writers realize what they’re saying. If you made the show from an even remotely right-of-center perspective, it would be boycotted by LBGT groups immediately.
According to True Blood’s own storyline, vampires have been evil, bigoted, cruel, and murderous for millennia. They have their own secret, manipulative agenda. They control events from dark corners. They quite literally have the power to brainwash people. Not surprisingly, the comparison to vampires is a classic staple of anti-Semitism. Indeed, some argue that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one extended anti-Semitic caricature (a rich, manipulative, blood-sucking rootless cosmopolitan from Eastern Europe with a “hooked” nose at a time of high Jewish immigration? Pure coincidence!). A fan of the show might say, “Only some vampires are evil, bigoted, cruel and murderous. There are nice vampires too.”
Okay, well. First the whole original storyline is about how Bill Compton is different than other vampires because he’s noble and decent, suggesting the other vamps aren’t. Second, try to make that kind of “it’s not all gays” or “it’s not all blacks” or (outside of the Middle East, U.N. or, increasingly, MSNBC) “it’s not all Jews” argument without sounding bigoted. Hey, I can’t be anti-vampire, some of my best friends are vampires! And, third, let me explain something else: Shut up.
It reminds me of when 28 Weeks Later came out and everyone went gaga about how it was an extended anti-war metaphor of the Iraq invasion and the “green zone.” Few dwelled on the fact that in that metaphor the enemy — the zombies — must be shown no mercy and ruthlessly exterminated. They just thought it was cool that a zombie movie was making such an obvious reference to the war, or something.
Cool Is King
And that I think is the source of the real problem here. By any objective or commonsense measure, the uptight Republicans slaughtered at the Ted Cruz fundraiser are happier and more productive members of society than virtually every other character in the show. From the sympathetic white-trash werewolves to the corrupt human rabble-rousers, from the vampire aristocrats to the endless string of slatternly young women and men who come and go with regularity, the show focuses on creatures who are, variously, decent-but-doomed, evil, stupid, or morally, spiritually, or intellectually lost.
The one thing these people have going for them? They are cool — at least by the glandular, knee-jerk liberal, fashion-forward, standards of the show’s producers and its niche pay-cable audience. In other words, to the extent the show is politically appealing, it is an irrational hot mess (much like the goo vampires turn into when struck with a wooden stake). It’s like it was written for Bill Maher’s studio audience, a group that doesn’t care about real facts or arguments — they just want to hear how they’re awesome and the people they hate aren’t.
To them, rich Republican men in bolo ties and rich Republican women in prim pantsuits aren’t cool. And you know what? That’s fine. Indeed, in real life, those Republicans would look at most of the motley characters inhabiting True Blood and see a gaggle of losers. And for the most part, they’d be right.
Conservatives need to get over their insecurities about not being cool in the eyes of liberals (and American adults generally could stand to worry about this sort of thing a lot less than they do). Once you start looking for it, it’s amazing how much liberal commentary — particularly about sex and religion — boils down to a kind of sneering self-satisfaction that liberals are hip and conservatives are squares (just think about how much “analysis” of Obama has been rooted in the assumption he’s cool).
This has long been a bugaboo of mine. I wrote about the phenomenon in 1996 for the Wall Street Journal (reprinted here):
It’s hardly surprising that conservatives want to shed the liberal stereotype that we’re nerds. But in Washington, where public policy is a varsity sport, the nerd gene doesn’t discriminate along ideological lines.
I mean, who really thinks Michael Kinsley showed the other kids how to smoke cigarettes out in back of school? Does anyone look at Ira Magaziner and say, “Now, that guy gets picked first for softball”? And yet for some reason the New York Times gets away with calling Washington conservatives the “C-Span and galoshes” crowd.
No better recent example of the vogueing of liberalness can be found than the ascension of Michael Lind, a former assistant to William F. Buckley, Heritage Foundation policy gnome, and executive editor of The National Interest. Mr. Lind deserted the Right and subsequently became a darling of the Left for sinking his teeth into the conservative hands that fed him.
Rolling Stone christened him “what’s hot” after his conversion. Mr. Lind scorned Washington in the pages of The New Yorker as full of “Dweeby White Guys.” True enough. But this from the kind of guy who irons his argyle socks while listening to B-sides of Alfred North Whitehead books-on-tape? So what does The New Yorker call him? “A Recovering Dweeby White Guy.”
Recovering! They don’t offer this prognosis because he’s canceled his subscription to National Journal in favor of Spin, or because he turned from Brian Lamb to Beavis and Butthead. They say he’s recovering from Dweeby-White-Guyhood simply because he switched his politics.
Moreover, the simple fact is that the popular culture has lots of archetypes that are essentially conservative and cool. Very few male action stars fit the model of how Salon thinks men should behave, what with all the gunplay, mansplaining, and refusal to get the required signatures on the necessary sexual-consent forms. The men of Lone Survivor are certainly cool. Even better, they are cool and have a code of honor. The same goes for the female protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty.
The point is that cool isn’t monolithic in a diverse and rich culture. For some, Southern Gothic sybaritic crapulence is cool; for others, self-sacrifice and patriotism are cool. And for lots of us, both have their places.