Saturday, July 5, 2014

How do you plead? Special, your honor.

Jonah Goldberg has a new butch gravatar at the National Review Online, with a better-trimmed beard and a ferociously flinty don't-tread-on-me expression behind his new glasses. No more Mr. Nice Doughy. Am I seeing things, or is he slightly cross-eyed?

Anyway, he's pretty ticked off at us Americans:
A new Pew survey found that 44 percent of Americans don’t often feel pride in being an American, and only 28 percent said that America is the greatest country in the world. Respondents who “often feel proud to be American” were overwhelmingly conservative (from 72 percent to 81 percent, depending on the kind of conservative). A majority (60 percent) of “solid liberals” said they don’t often feel proud to be an American.
Fuck yeah. What a bunch of losers, that 72% of the American population, failing to assert at every opportunity that they're better than everybody else, which is, as you know, the way you prove you're better than everybody else. (Note, by the way, that the survey he's talking about, to which he doesn't give a link, came out just over a year ago.)

I personally find the concept of feeling proud to be an American a little weird. It's not like I did anything special. Maybe for the helpmeet, who had to pass a test, but she didn't find it all that difficult. The wave of emotion you get from, say, a good performance of "Stars and Stripes Forever", I mean the part that goes beyond the emotion of the music itself, is gratitude, and solidarity, and hopefulness. I wouldn't call it pride. There's something innocently prideful in the sense of being implicated in something worthy when we help out the tsunami-stricken Sumatrans or choose the best candidate or honor the Constitution by using it to promote the general welfare and so on, but I can't say I think we do that stuff by definition, or "often". Does Jonah? And if he does how come he's such a grouch? If we're the greatest country in the world why wouldn't that 72% be right? And why wouldn't he think we have the greatest government in the world, too, alongside the best food, in his high hopes for a reformed Domino's pizza, and TV, as seen in his monumental essay on Breaking Bad:
great novels are, by nature, conservative. I don’t mean that Tolstoy would oppose Obamacare or that Steinbeck was a supply-sider. That’s not the kind of conservatism I have in mind.* Long before one gets into the partisan or ideological precepts and dogmas, there is at the irreducible core of conservatism the idea that human nature is what it is.** Nation-states, technologies, cultures, even religions come and go, but what remains is humanity. Breaking Bad is one of the great novels*** of our age....****
*He was thinking of the kind of conservatism that isn't conservatism.
**Whereas liberals believe human nature is what it isn't.
***Presumably, following the way the paragraph has been working so far, because it isn't a novel? Or because it isn't conservative either? Like Steinbeck?
****The piece also contains this remarkable piece of retroactionary criticism, which I can't resist quoting:
as TV matured, it also arguably got worse: The sitcoms of the 1960s and 1970s were on the whole not as good as those that would come in the 1980s and 1990s.
Jeez, where was I? Ah yes, Jonah arguing about how even though we are ineluctably the greatest country in the world, we have such a second-rate bunch of liberals, like John Lewis:
Georgia representative John Lewis recently said that “if the Civil Rights Act was before the Congress today, it would not pass, it would probably never make it to the floor for a vote.”

Lewis is right. If it came before the Congress today, it wouldn’t pass. You know why? Because we passed it 50 years ago.... If, somehow, we had Jim Crow today, the American people — and Congress — would vote to abolish it in a landslide.
Apparently because Jim Crow was one of those liberal Big Government programs, foisted on innocent lunch-counter operators and bus drivers everywhere:
one of Jim Crow's greatest evils was its intrusion on the property rights of whites. Jim Crow wasn't merely some "Southern tradition" undone by heroic good government. Jim Crow laws were imposed by government. And they banned white businessmen from serving blacks (Plessy vs. Ferguson, which enshrined "separate but equal" in the Constitution for another six decades, was largely about how blacks could be treated on railroads). (Goldberg at Townhall, May 2010)
And it intruded on their First Amendment rights too, which is why you never heard any of those white Southern businessmen complaining about Big Government stopping them from serving black people. They were obviously afraid of the jackbooted liberal fascist censorship.

Though my great-aunt Lucille, a white Californian by birth who ended up in Mississippi during the period, is said to have gotten in trouble with the other country club ladies for notoriously and flagrantly paying her black maid something like a living wage. On the other hand she never actually got busted and imprisoned for it, but I suppose Jonah must know of some cases where this happened. It would be nice of him to report them, so we could develop our understanding of how the civil rights movement for which John Lewis almost died wasn't just about sandwiches and public schools but important conservative stuff like a man being able to do what he wants with his own damn restaurant without government interference, or having to become the governor himself.

Lester Maddox. Via AtlantaTimeMachine.
And then he's back to what he really wanted to do, abusing MSNBC:
Contrary to what you hear daily on MSNBC, Republicans don’t want to force Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Tim Scott, or any other African American to the back of the bus.
I don't watch MSNBC that much, but I'm positive if they were saying it daily I would have heard it by now.

And Hillary Clinton:
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, Hillary Clinton insisted we are following in the footsteps of anti-democratic Middle Eastern theocracies. According to Clinton, the majority on the court were like Iranian mullahs, behaving “in ways that are disadvantageous to women but which prop up them because of their religion, their sect, their tribe, whatever.” The shocking, inarticulate stupidity of this analysis is outdone only by the stunning ease with which Clinton offered it.
It's the sentence, not the analysis, that's inarticulate, meaning of course that it wasn't offered with ease at all, stunning or otherwise, but it didn't in any case say what Goldberg said it did:
“It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are very unstable, anti-democratic and frankly, prone to extremism, where women, and women’s bodies, are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people — men — to get them to behave in ways that are disadvantageous to women but which prop up — ah, them — because of their religion, their sect, tribe, whatever,” Clinton said. She said America was still far from that, but she said the court’s decision raises “serious questions.” (Aspen Daily News, with some retranscription from the video)
Since she evidently does not think the US is very unstable, anti-democratic, or prone to extremism yet.
Tim Howard: Not exceptional enough for Jonah.
And MSNBC again:
MSNBC host Chris Hayes celebrated soccer’s growing popularity in the U.S. because it strikes a blow against “anti-soccer trolls” who believe in American exceptionalism. “Part of embracing a truly worldwide competition,” Hayes cheered, “is accepting the fact the U.S. cannot simply assert its dominance. Turns out we have to play just like everybody else.”
If you truly love America, you'll only follow the sports where we always win. And stop heedlessly accepting facts. Because facts are for unexceptional people.
“I believe in American exceptionalism,” Obama explained, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” By this standard, American exceptionalism isn’t exceptional, it’s a vague and meaningless form of national self-esteem, rather than a complex concept describing the uniqueness of the American founding and American character.
I object: it's both exceptional and a vague and meaningless form of national self-esteem.

As we learned not so long ago, the concept of "American exceptionalism" originated in fact with Comrade Stalin, as snark: his characterization of Americans' silly belief that they alone among all the nations could escape from the inevitable collapse of capitalism and concomitant proletarian revolution. And he was right, in a kind of ass-backward way, in that as it turned out the proletarian revolution didn't really happen anywhere. So America wasn't exceptional after all.

But it's more than that, as well. Wikipedia defines "exceptionalism" as
the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is "exceptional" (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.
Do Goldberg and his fellow exceptionalists mean that owing to the uniqueness of its founding and of its national character the United States does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles? That we can be as abnormal, irregular, and unprincipled as we like? Or what? What does this "complex concept" entail?

Wikipedia goes on to say,
In ideologically-driven debates, a group may assert exceptionalism, with or without the term, in order to exaggerate the appearance of difference, perhaps to create an atmosphere permissive of a wider latitude of action, and to avoid recognition of similarities that would reduce perceived justifications. If unwarranted, this represents an example of special pleading, a form of spurious argumentation that ignores relevant bases for meaningful comparison.
This is to me what it's all about; I can't think of a different way of interpreting it. And if Obama says he's an exceptionalist now it doesn't make any difference, I still think it's both stupid and vicious.

The doctrine of the exceptionalist is vague, but it's not meaningless. It's saying that your normal language and normal understanding don't apply to me, because I'm so special. So I can invade any country I like, for instance, and you just have to accept that I've got good reasons; or I can refuse to provide the citizenry with access to health care, or fail to set up an adequate gun safety regime, or leave the banks virtually unregulated, unlike all the other countries in the world, because that's just how I roll. We had a gentleman's revolution! And a Constitution! You can't compare us to some cruddy place like France or Brazil or Finland! I gotta be me!

And why would I want to believe in that? All of us refusing to say America is "the greatest country in the world", though, Jonah, the 72%, vulgar, lustful, and compassionate—we are America, pal, and you're really not. America is precisely what you don't like!

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