Posts Tagged ‘Jonah Goldberg’

On Racial Profiling

May 7, 2010

After Jonah Goldberg wrote in favor of racial profiling in Arizona, and Roger Clegg disagreed, National Review’s Andy McCarthy, a former prosecutor, jumped into the fray:

…you can’t be an Islamist terrorist without being a Muslim, you can’t be the head of the Gambino Family without being Italian, and you can’t be a Mexican illegal alien without being a Mexican. It would be nonsensical not to take into account, for investigative purposes, the racial, ethnic, or religious characteristics of criminal activity if they are inherent in that criminal activity.

This argument is incredibly flawed. Yes, if you define the objectionable activity as “illegal immigration by Mexicans,” then by definition, only Mexicans are going to be guilty of it, but it would be completely unjustifiable and discriminatory to define the crime that way, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, if the “criminal activity” is illegal immigration, then folks other than Mexicans will be among the lawbreakers — indeed, in addition to the many El Salvadorans and Guatemalans and Hondurans you’ll find the occasional Irish, Koreans, Russians, Egyptians, and others who’ve overstayed visas or snuck into the country.

Similarly, it is certainly true that the Gambino crime family is a legitimate target for police and prosecutors, but I am betting that at some point non-Italians were involved in their criminal activity, and besides, organized crime is a type of criminal activity that encompasses folks with lots of different ethnic backgrounds. Count me among the Americans who want law enforcement to stop illegal immigration from any country, organized crime perpetrated by any ethnicity, and terrorism of any kind, not just the Islamist variety. It just floors me that a former prosecutor would offer up these ethnicities as “inherent” in the relevant criminal activities.

And it gets worse:

When I was a young prosecutor in the eighties, this was a lot less controversial than it has become in our irrationally sensitive times. A lot of crime is ethnic. The Westies were Irish, the tongs were Chinese, the Latin Kings were Hispanics, the YACs were Yugoslavs, Albanians and Croatian, and so on. When we were investigating Colombian cocaine cartels, the fact that someone was Colombian was part of the probable cause (and if he was from Cali, even more so).

He goes on:

No one got pinched solely on the basis of his race or ethnicity. The important thing was conduct, not status. But if I had arrested a guy named Clegg or Goldberg and charged him with being the head of the Gambino Family, the defendant would have made his ethnicity a key part of his defense; it can’t be that an race/ethnicity/religion factor is only relevant if it cuts against guilt.

Interesting bit of reasoning — it would be absurd to arrest a non-Italian for being head of the Gambino crime family, therefore the fact of being Italian would lead a reasonably intelligent person to believe that an accused Italian is the head of the Gambino crime family. Or something. It’s hard to tell exactly what Mr. McCarthy means by saying that ethnicity is “part of” probable cause.

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It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Publishing Industry

December 8, 2009

When I heard that Jonah Goldberg inked a $1 million book deal, I naturally wanted to read the column that apparently inspired it. Having done so, I see that Mr. Goldberg is primed to write a jeremiad against “the tyranny of cliches” such as “better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished,” “unless you’ve walked in a man’s shoes… you have no right to judge,” and “when one person loses his freedom we’re all a little less free.”

I share a distaste for cliches, and I can’t fault Mr. Goldberg for taking a million dollar advance to tilt against them. Unlike most of the nonsense that passes as “a conservative book” these days, it is difficult to see what harm it could cause. It isn’t as if his wrongheaded premise make him complicit in bringing Sarah Palin closer to the presidency!

But the premise of the article is surely wrongheaded, so it’s only natural to wonder if the book is going to share its flaws. How does it go astray? By asserting, as though it requires no proof, that cliches are some sort of deciding factor in America’s debates — so much so that we’re under their tyranny!

Let me give you the example that made me want to write this column in the first place. Because I’m skeptical about slippery-slope arguments, because I’ve argued that America is largely immune to becoming a totalitarian state, and because I don’t particularly care if Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, or Richard Reid ever get a lawyer, a lot of people keep telling me that when one person loses his freedom we’re all a little less free.

You wouldn’t believe how many famous people have offered or repeated this observation. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Eli Wiesel, Captain Jean Luc Picard, as well as countless politicians have said something to the effect of “we are only as free as the least free among us.”

Yes, people are so bowled over by the cliche about only being as free of the least free among us that Gandhi and Martin Luther King had merely to utter it, never fleshing out the sentiment with any sophistication, and as a result the Indians and black Americans respectively were free from injustice, so powerful, even tyrannical, was the faulty reasoning.

The column goes on:

It sounds nice, of course. Unfortunately, it’s also a crock, factually, logically, and morally.

First, facts and logic: Remember how we all agreed at the beginning of this column that there’s undoubtedly an innocent person in prison right now? Well, he’s not free. Are you only as free as him?

There are undoubtedly innocent men in prison?! And we’re not all obsessed with identifying them? In fact, almost none of us are? Why it’s almost as if literally no one in America behaves as if they believe that we’re only as free as the least among us… which is sorta what Mr. Goldberg is arguing, weirdly, because his larger point is supposed to be that cliches — specifically, the “only as free” cliche that inspired his column — are so tyrannically powerful.

It is going to be quite a trick to earn a seven figure advance by extending this argument in a way that doesn’t cause every halfway conscious reader to realize that they can hardly think of a single instance when someone offered a cliche as their main argument, and it won the day. Wait a moment, hasn’t every English teacher I’ve ever studied under in fact commanded that I strike cliches from my writing? And wasn’t the most shameless purveyor of cliches in recent American politics, Sarah Palin, just defeated in her bid for the vice-presidency, despite such marvelous cliches as “America must not waive the white flag of surrender ” and “You can’t blink”?

I’ll leave you with a parting sample of the column that an actual American publishing company is paying a million dollars to get at book length:

The same moral logic powers clichés like “first they came for the Jews” or “we’re only as free as the least free among us.” It is not an appeal to conscience but an appeal to the self-interest of those who fear they might be next.

Indeed, the adage “first they came for the Jews” is often used as part of an argument for the state to never “come” for anybody. I can’t tell you how many fools write me to say that the government cracking down on terrorists is akin to the government cracking down on Jews (or blacks, or gays, etc). In effect, not only does this logic hold that the government is so inept and immoral that it will be forced to “come” for other people once it’s through with the terrorists, it also implies that Jews and terrorists are somehow similar. After all, if cracking down on the Jews first is indistinguishable from cracking down on terrorists, what’s the difference between Jews and terrorists?

Admittedly, this book might actually be worth $1 million dollars if Mr. Goldberg is compelled to persuade the partisan book buying audience that we should in fact judge some books by their cover.

Against Glenn Beck

September 28, 2009

Surveying the blogosphere, you’d think that the most important question about Glenn Beck is whether he helps or hurts the conservative movement. How upsetting. This three part Salon profile is easily the richest portrait we have of Mr. Beck’s career. It shows him to be a pompous opportunist perfectly willing to transgress against truth, morality and good taste in his quest for ratings. One scene details a rivalry he had during his days as a Top 40 disc jockey. The host at the competing station, an old friend and colleague named Bruce Kelly, suffered a personal tragedy. Mr. Beck responded by calling his wife on the air, and asking if she’d in fact had a miscarriage. When she replied yes, Mr. Beck joked that his rival couldn’t do anything right — not even have a baby.

Perhaps Mr. Beck is no longer as depraved — his biography includes a recovery from drug addiction and conversion to the Mormon religion. In any case, he remains demonstrably willing to engage in the most farcical sensationalism imaginable for the sake of ratings. This is a man who pretended to pour gasoline over a guest’s body as he brandished a book of matches beside him, who regularly employs the affectation of tears, who deliberately cultivates the mannerisms of an unstable loon, and who most recently pretended to throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water. All this on a show that prominent conservatives are defending!

Any halfway sensible person should be able to see that giving a man like that a national platform is the height of cynical, irresponsible broadcasting — the cable “news” equivalent of those Fox reality tv shows that pander to the worst impulses of the American public, and that conservatives know enough to denounce, despite their high ratings, for the corrosive effect they have on national culture. Mr. Beck is so awful “because he theatrically combines and conflates performances of ultimate sincerity with performances of ultimate sarcasm,” James Poulos writes. It is indisputable, anyway, that Mr. Beck employs misleading hyperbole, farcical sensationalism, and paranoid rhetoric on a nightly basis (afterward proving himself unable to offer even a semi-coherent defense of his own provocations).

Yet Jonah Goldberg defends him because “he’s fundamentally a libertarian populist. He’s not clamoring for the government to do more, he’s clamoring for the government to do less.” Ah, well. If he happens to hold or advance some of the same political tenets as you do, who cares if he lies or debases the culture or makes a mockery of public discourse?

David Horowitz is even more explicit.

Glenn Beck is daily providing a school for millions of Americans in the nature and agendas and networks of the left – something that your fine books do not do, and Mark Levin’s fine books do not do, and Pete Wehner’s volumes of blogs and speeches and position papers – all admirable in my estimation, also do not do. How are conservatives going to meet the challenge of the left if they don’t understand what it is, how it operates and what it intends? And who else is giving courses in this subject at the moment?

Now I have to confess my own vested interest in this. Because the fact is that I have been attempting to do this from a much smaller platform than Beck’s for many years. Five years ago I put an encyclopedia of the left on the web called Discover the Networks. It details the chief groups, individuals and funders of the left and maps their agendas and networks. Since I put it up five years ago, 20 million people have visited the site, many of whom have written articles and even books from its information. So far as I can tell, this site has never been mentioned by you or Wehner or Mark Levin or National Review or the Weekly Standard or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. But it has been read by and profoundly influenced the producers and anchors at Fox News. Among these no one has used it so systematically and relentlessly and to such great effect as Glenn Beck…

Intellectuals like us have a role to play, but if you want to influence masses and affect real politics, you need someone who has the talent to command a mass audience and the dedication to put the information on the radar. Beck has done that with the most important intelligence of all: knowledge of the enemy.

So that’s why I’m defending Glenn Beck the broadcaster. I’ve devoted twenty frustrating years to revealing who the left is and what they do, while conservatives have continued to pretend that leftists are simply confused liberals. No they’re not. They’re malicious, and calculating and devious, and smart. And Glenn Beck is helping Republicans and those conservatives who will listen to understand that.

On reading Mr. Beck’s defenders, I can’t help but think that their judgment and integrity are being corroded by politics. The ideological battle between conservatives and liberals has become for them the most important struggle in American life — in order to win it, they are willing to defend and count as allies anyone in their insular world who advances the appropriate side in what they regard as a two-sided battle for the country’s soul. The most honest among them are explicit in arguing that their ends justify whatever rhetorical means it takes to achieve them. Even worse, they are using this total political warfare as a litmus test — temperament and political philosophy are insufficient to be a conservative in their minds, because they’ve redefined the term such that it demands loyalty to a political coalition and even the particular tactics it employs.

That the tactics are ill-conceived are grounds on which they’ll engage debate (even if they don’t see they’re on the wrong side of it), but if the tactics are merely abhorrent they’ll apparently abide them. These conservatives are neither evil nor tyrannical, but they are adopting less extreme, less harmful versions of the same approach to politics that characterized French and Communists revolutionaries. It is therefore no surprise that Comrade Beck is now being turned on by Comrade Limbaugh and Comrade Levin (the one among the trio who actually believes most of what he says), men who were content to hold their heavy fire through all manner of madness, but can’t abide the heretical Glenn Beck statement that the United States would be in worse shape under a President McCain than it is under President Obama. Even assuming that Mr. Beck is wrong, it is absurd to count that as the most objectionable aspect of his farcical stardom!

Can conservatives please agree that American society is best served if its citizens object to bad behavior even when it is committed by someone on their own side in a political battle? Can those liberals who are still defending ACORN please agree to the same proposition? Can we all agree that, a few outliers aside, people on the other side are well-intentioned, and not evil? The American republic is robust, and has survived acrimony far beyond anything we’re experiencing today, but surviving and flourishing aren’t the same things. Apologias for obviously bad behavior exact a cost. Let’s stop them.