Progressives attack Joe Biden for having followed customs and mores of that foreign country that is the past.
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 (And victims of wind-noise cancer everywhere),
I’m sitting about a block north of the Trump Hotel on Central Park West smoking a cigar on Thursday afternoon trying to write this “news”letter. If seven-day units of time were people, this one would be wearing a Millard Fillmore mask, slathering itself with salmon viscera and running through the nearby polar-bear enclosure at the Central Park Zoo shouting “Trieste belongs to the Italians!” — which is my way of saying it’s been a crazy week.
I wrote my column today on Joe Biden and the effort to un-person him over the fact he has a long history of acting around human beings like a small child at a toy store; Oh, let me see! I just want to touch it! Can I hold that? Oooooo soft!
Now I want to be clear — not in the Scientologist sense, but in the expository sense. I dislike the entire suite of Biden mannerisms and affectations. I do not think he’s a bad person, nor do I think he’s an idiot despite the many nakedly ridiculous things he’s said over the years. Here’s how I put it almost 14 years ago (typos corrected):
He says interesting things, from time to time. I think he makes a fair point here and there. He was correct, for example, that Congress needed to have a real debate over the war. I think he has some obvious verbal intelligence. But, again, what’s fascinating — and what might be distracting some folks from seeing his underlying-yet-occasional smarts — is that he lets his ego and vanity get in the way. The man loves his voice so much, you’d expect him to be following it around in a grey Buick, in defiance of a restraining order, as it walks home from school. He seems to think his teeth are some kind of hypnotic punctuation marks which can momentarily disorient the listener and absolve him from any of Western civilization’s usual imperatives to stop talking. Listening to him speechify is like playing an intellectual game of whack-a-mole where every now and then the fuzzy head of a good point pops up from the tundra but before you can pin it down, he starts talking about how he went to the store and saw a squirrel on the way and it was brown which brings to mind Brown v. Board of Ed which most people don’t understand because [TEETH FLASH] he taught Brown in his law-school course and [TEETH FLASH] Mr. Chairman I’m going to get right to it and besides these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. . . .
I don’t like the way Joe talks (and talks and talks, occasionally using words borrowed without attribution) and I don’t like the way he touches people either. He is a space invader, as in personal space, and I generally cannot stand close encounters with space invaders. People who touch me on the arm to emphasize a point drive me crazy, and if it weren’t for the rule of law and all that, I would have stabbed a few in the forearm with a ballpoint pen on more than one occasion, including on national television.
Biden’s behavior toward women offends me, but not because of Me Too but for old-fashioned, fusty, fuddy conservative reasons. Men, especially powerful men, should not take liberties touching anybody, but especially women. I once had to take an online sensitivity course for an employer (don’t get any ideas; everyone else there did too). When the instructor explained that you shouldn’t just start giving women back rubs without their permission and that you shouldn’t keep asking subordinates out for a date after they’ve repeatedly said “No,” I thought to myself “Self, this is a great example of how we have to repackage good manners in the guise of ‘diversity training.’”
So yeah, Biden’s behavior is bad. And, I think Emily Yoffe makes a very good case that he’s getting what he deserves. As she writes, “Joe Biden is now living in the world of accusation he helped to create.” Biden reminds me of that line from The Dark Knight: “You’ll either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” If he had checked out or simply retired from public life in 2016, he would be remembered as a hero by many of the very people now trying to weaponize his legacy against him.
So I will not cry for Joe if he’s undone by all this. But it still doesn’t feel right to me.
The Most Acceptable Bigotries
It’s funny. Progressives are quick to defend the customs and mores of non-Western peoples. They celebrate women who wear the hijab. They defend non-traditional cultures at home and traditional cultures abroad. This doesn’t bother me, really. Indeed, in some cases I often find it admirable and wish more conservatives would do likewise. But what does bother me is how this tolerance tends to be selective. For many progressives, when the practices are usefully at odds with mainstream traditional culture, diversity is wonderful. But when the practices are consistent with or — shudder — reinforcing of traditional culture, progressives are often appalled.
For example, it was revealed a while ago that Mike Pence has some onerous rules for how he behaves around women, and progressives were horrified. But Pence’s practices would be celebrated or at least defended were he a devout Muslim. Just last week Beto O’Rourke found it necessary to apologize for thanking his wife for taking the lead on raising their kids. What was he supposed to do? Denounce her for meekly accepting the traditional gender roles of the patriarchy?
This is a good example of having such an open mind your brain falls out. It also calls to mind Robert Frost’s observation that a liberal is someone who is so broadminded they won’t take their own side in an argument.
But the glib and fashionable double standard against traditionalists and orthodox Christians isn’t what I have in mind. It’s the far more widespread and fashionable bigotry against the past.
If a visitor from Sudan comes to your house for dinner, it’s simply good manners to make allowances for the cultural differences. If you go to a foreign country, it’s understood by most decent people that you should be making the lion’s share of adjustments to how people do things. The quintessential ugly American refuses to bend to — or even respect — the norms of foreign cultures, norms that can sometimes be ugly, nasty, or backward by a lot of Western standards.
The arguments in favor of deferring to foreign cultures ranges from Emily Post bromides about etiquette to swirling torrents of words about colonial this, patriarchal that, and imperial the other thing. Fine.
But now imagine that someone comes from the past, which is a kind of foreign land as well. For some people, particularly those wielding the “nightstick of wokeness,” as Peggy Noonan calls it, carrying any old values or assumptions into the present day is a form of heresy or, really, contamination. Beto thanks his wife, and the thronging wokesters shout the equivalent of “2319!” and bust out the cultural hazmat equipment.
Again, Biden’s habits are unappealing to me, and I understand why people accuse him of being insensitive to other peoples’ comfort with his antics. But there’s a remarkable amount of insensitivity going the other way as well.
Forget Biden for a moment. I’ve never understood why we immediately assume that young people are more open-minded, forward-thinking, or moral than older people. Sure, sometimes they are. But sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re just open-minded about the things they believe and closed-minded about everything else. And there are few things they are more closed-minded about than the past. I don’t just mean the iconoclastic goons tearing down statues on college campuses, I mean many generally decent and intelligent young people who seem to take it as a given that moral progress has advanced in lockstep linearity with technological progress. Today, people — at least the right people — are simply better people than those from earlier generations.
I think there’s a lot of mythmaking about how Biden simply represents a bygone style of politics that was common for men of his generation. I don’t recall Sam Nunn or Bill Bradley Eskimo-kissing anybody. And his case is by no means the best illustration of my point. But there’s just something about the smug self-confidence of the most socially awkward generation in American history, many of whom struggle to talk on the phone, never mind go on a date, asserting with moral righteousness that their customs and norms are so obviously superior. If Biden were a visitor from another country, we’d hear how charming his customs are. But because he allegedly comes from the past, it’s fine to give a full airing to your bigotry against those kinds of people.
Various & Sundry
So now I’m at the Acela waiting area at Penn Station taking in the effulgent stench of this fetid hate crime against architecture which manages the unlikely feat of looking worse than it smells, something only Harry Reid and certain neighborhoods of Gary, Ind., have accomplished. Just to give you a sense of the kind of week I’ve had: On Tuesday I had my appeal for my IRS audit; Wednesday, I had my colonoscopy. Rarely have I ever moved from the figurative to the literal in such a short period of time. I will spare you the details of throwing away all of those Paul Krugman columns during my Dark Night of the Bowl in preparation for the procedure. This is a family “news”letter after all. But then Thursday I came to New York for business reasons, and I’ll be back here all next week. At some point I’ll be able to brief you all about everything, but for now it’s time for the . . .
Canine Update: So I’m a little worried about Pippa’s workout regimen. She’s been limping a few times over the last couple weeks, and I think her age is starting to compete with her joi de vivre. Meanwhile, Zoë has been a pill. The other night, the Fair Jessica left a tray with some chicken bones on it unattended, and Zoë took one and was less than willing to give it back. A few nights before that, Pippa was snuggling in my lap while Zoë was resting in Jessica’s. Zoë got jealous and complained, even though she was getting attention too. In a funk, she took a log of firewood off the pile and very ostentatiously made a scene about chewing on it with subdued rage. Meanwhile, out in the world, the girls are just loving the spring.
ICYMI . . .
And now, the weird stuff.