The ‘Reasonabilists’ of Berkeley

by Jonah Goldberg
If you think free speech is assault but assault is free speech, you’re a moron of world-historical proportions.

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 (especially any in Australia. Just FYI some of us still think you guys are great),

Longtime readers of this “news”letter might think about taking a speed-reading course. But that’s not important right now.

Some longtime readers — and a few quicker ones — might recall that one of my favorite episodes of Parks and Recreation involved a cult that worshipped an alien-beast-god known as Zorp the Surveyor, a reptilian Cthulhu rip-off. The harmless-seeming cultists, who look like the grandparents at an Osmond-family reunion, occasionally gather in a local park to greet the fiery destruction that Zorp has been prophesied to deliver. Anyway, the details, much like the House Progressive Caucus these days, really aren’t very important. The relevant bit is that when the Zorp-worshippers first formed — and briefly took over the town — they decided to call themselves “The Reasonabilists.” They figured no one would want to seem unreasonable by criticizing them.

(I know, I know: I should find another way of illustrating this point, but Rich Lowry has cut my budget for pop-culture references. I’m just lucky I don’t have to get everything at the Pop Culture Dollar Store remainder bin. Then it’d be “Lucy, you have some ’splaining to do!” and “Matlock!” references every day. Though, I should say as an aside, you can find some great stuff in there. Like that Johnny Quest episode with “Norway’s Greatest Acrobatic Dwarf!”)

Anyway, where was I? Oh right: the Reasonabilists. I bring them up because I have been in a twitchy, quick-tempered, fugue state of dyspepsia and crankery for the last couple days (“Days?” — The Couch) about the riot at Berkeley.

I don’t mean the violence or the fact that this couldn’t have gone better for Milo, a click-baiting huckster and alt-right apologist. I don’t even mean the fact that the authorities only arrested one person. Though that does vex me considerably. If you think free speech is assault but assault is free speech, you’re a moron of world-historical proportions. And if you think rioting is some charming rite of passage, you deserve to have your campus destroyed.

Anyway, what really gets my goat are coyotes. Which is why I have to keep buying new goats.

But what really ticks me off isn’t the rioting and violence. Well, I mean yeah, of course that stuff pisses me off. But we’re used to that sort of asininity from the Jacobin hordes. What has my left eyelid involuntarily flicking and my tongue clicking like psychopath when the thorazine wears off are the constant references to the “irony” of these riots at the “birthplace” of the “free-speech movement.” I can’t watch the news with glassware in my hand for fear of reflexively crushing it.

I hate to give any credence to this “triggering” nonsense, but every time I hear it, it sets me off like I’m Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone has just said my hair looks stupid.

Even on Fox News people say it, and I’m all like “Fffft! Thiffft! [twitch] Wha-what . . . did you say?”

Do you want to know where the birthplace of the free-speech movement was? Well nobody knows for sure, but I have some guesses. It might have been ancient Athens. Or it might have been Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Or maybe it was London where, in 1689, the English Bill of Rights established a constitutional right to free speech for Parliament. Or maybe it was Philadelphia in 1776 or 1789.

I can make arguments for all of these places as birthplaces for the free-speech movement. You know where I can’t make that argument? Mother-[expletive deleted]ing Berkeley in 1964.

Oh sure, if you want to say that the Free Speech Movement™ was launched there, that’s fine in the same way it’s fine to say Reasonableness started in 1970s Pawnee, Ind. But the Free Speech Movement™ only had slightly more to do with free speech than Zorp-worship has to do with reasonableness.

I’m not going to wade deep into the weeds on all this, but if you want to you can read, say, Nathan Glazer’s 1965 Commentary essay “What Happened at Berkeley.”

“Those of us who watched the Free Speech Movement (FSM) daily set up its loud-speakers on the steps of the administration building to denounce the president, the chancellor, the newspapers, the Regents, the faculty, and the structure and organization of society in general and universities in particular, could only admire the public-relations skill exhibited in the choice of a name for the student movement,” Glazer wrote.

The students at Berkeley already had the right to free speech. As Glazer noted, left-wing groups regularly brought in Communists and other controversial speakers to campus. In fact, when bringing in Communists no longer seemed rebellious or controversial enough, left-wing groups brought in the West Coast leader of the Nazi party. The left-wing scamps even dressed up like Nazis and handed out fliers for the meeting at all the entrances to campus.

The students at Berkeley already had the right to free speech.

Sort of like what Bill Clinton always says about blind hookers, you just have to hand it to them; those 1960s lefties were a tougher crop than the playschool communards of today’s campuses.

Anyway, the students had free-speech rights. What they weren’t allowed to do was organize and raise money for off-campus political activity on campus. Anyone who works for a 501(c) organization or knows anything about the rules regulating politicians, charities, foundations, etc. can grasp the distinction. And if you’re freaking out about Trump’s promise to “destroy” the prohibition of churches being involved in political activity, you might get it, too.

What initially set off the protests was the administration’s decision to enforce the rule at a park on the edge of the campus, where hippies and political activists hung out, I imagine, in thick clouds of pot smoke and righteous indignation.

Anyway, you can say it was a bad policy, but the issue from the outset was never really about free speech. It was initially about the use of campus resources and, very quickly, the will-to-power of a bunch of radicals who thought that any restraints on their political agenda were inherently illegitimate. It was also a classically romantic revolt against “the system.” Mario Savio, the huckster-philosopher at the forefront of the FSM™ famously proclaimed:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. . . . And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

“Romanticism,” Baudelaire explained, “is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling.”

Feelings are what drove the Free Speech Movement™. The FSMers felt that their feelings mattered more than anyone else’s facts. They felt that any restrictions or rules that hindered their desire to express their feelings were unfair. It was the dawn of a romantic revolt in the academy where debate was dethroned and the tantrum put on an altar. It soon spread to other campuses, like Cornell where the administration literally caved to gun-wielding goons because they were too afraid to champion their own principles in the face of authentic feelings.

The easily triggered idiot-babies of today’s campus Left who squeal, “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain” or who insist that offensive speech is no different from a punch in the face are the direct descendants of the Free Speech Movement™ because it was Berkeley where the Feelings Supremacy Movement began and where it is clearly thriving today.

Vengeance Is Mine Sayeth the Democrats?

Anyway, enough with all that. I have a lot more to say about romanticism and whatnot, but we’ll save that for the book.

On a different note, I was listening to MSNBC’s Morning Joe on my drive back from the NPR studios when I heard Eugene Robinson say something interesting — Wait, wow, that might be the squishiest sentence I’ve ever written. I feel like I may have just invited a right-wing intervention.

Lowry: “Jonah, this is a safe space. It’s just that we’re worried about you.”

Williamson: “Screw that noise. <slap!> Snap out of it Goldberg!”

Anyway, Robinson was talking about how the Democrats have to fight the Gorsuch nomination hammer-and-tongs even though they know that they’ll lose. He writes in his column today:

Senate Democrats should use any and all means, including the filibuster, to block confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. They will almost surely fail. But sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war.

This is purely about politics. Republicans hold the presidency, majorities in the House and Senate, 33 governorships and control of the legislatures in 32 states. If the Democratic Party is going to become relevant again outside of its coastal redoubts, it has to start winning some elections — and turning the other cheek on this court fight is not the way to begin.

Now, as a matter of political analysis, I think this is defensible. I’m not sure it’s right. But that’s beside the point. What I think is funny is that Robinson — and the whole Morning Joe crowd — is arguing for futile, partisan rage and obstruction as a necessary good. It’s funny because for the last eight years Robinson and liberals like him have been complaining about the GOP’s alleged obstructionism for obstructionism’s sake almost as if it was unpatriotic. “My fear is that stasis has become a structural feature of our politics. Nothing lasts forever, but this depressing state of affairs could be with us for quite a while — and could get worse,” Robinson wrote in 2013. That same year he celebrated Harry Reid’s decision to invoke the “nuclear option.”

Way to nuke ’em, Harry.

It was time — actually, long past time — for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to invoke the “nuclear option” and ask his colleagues to change the Senate’s rules. This isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about making what has been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” function the way the Framers of the Constitution intended.

Recently, it has barely functioned, as Republicans abused the old rules to prevent the chamber from performing its enumerated duties. There was a time when the minority party in the Senate would have been embarrassed to use such tactics in pursuit of ends that are purely political, but we seem to live in an era without shame.

The key sentence there is: “This isn’t about partisan politics.” Of course it was, and of course it is now. Robinson’s a nice guy, but he has an annoying history of “concern trolling” in which he pretends that he really wants what’s best for the GOP, which — surprise — almost invariably involves bending to the Democratic agenda.

I really can’t blame the Left for being a little unhinged right now. They thought History was on their side. They’re terrified of Trump. They’re in the minority. Blah blah blah. I get it.

But for eight years, a lot of liberals behaved a lot like the Reasonablists, claiming they were objectively concerned with gridlock and GOP obstruction — not on partisan grounds but on some high-minded principle. They even claimed their agenda wasn’t ideological, just “pragmatic” and data-driven. Suddenly, when confronted with a president with whom they profoundly disagree, they’re advocating almost the identical approach to the one they condemned as irrational and dangerous: Obstruct! Resist! Remember, they not only condemned Republicans for this approach, but insisted it was racist. I particularly like this passage from Robinson’s column:

Trump’s pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has the résumé required of a Supreme Court justice. But so did Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s last nominee, to whom Senate Republicans would not even extend the courtesy of a hearing, let alone a vote. . . . That, too, was purely about politics.

I’m not counseling eye-for-an-eye revenge. I’m advising Democrats to consider what course of action is most likely to improve their chances of making gains in 2018, at both the state and national levels.

I have no doubt that there’s some fine, nuanced distinction to be made between counseling “eye-for-an-eye revenge” and counseling that Democrats simply pander to the demands of base voters who hunger for eye-for-an-eye politics. I can even imagine that an electron microscope could find the very fine line between nakedly arguing that Democrats must pursue the futile politics of obstructionism and gridlock while condemning Republicans for doing the same thing.

But it gets worse than that. The Tea Parties, liberals slanderously insisted, were not only racist but dangerous and fascistic. Now, the same liberals desperately want their own tea party? Um okay, good luck squaring that circle. But while the Tea Parties talked about the Constitution and picked up the trash after their own rallies, the embryonic left-wing Tea Party movement cavalierly uses violence and violent rhetoric. It even talks about military coups and fantasizes about blowing up the White House.

By all means, opinion journalists such as Eugene Robinson are allowed to be partisans. But it would be nice if more of them admitted that is what they are.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Not too much to report. The Dingo continues to be exceptionally difficult these days. She’s been a lot like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, though the analogy kind of falls apart when you consider that our house really isn’t like a Nazi POW camp and Steve McQueen wanted to do more than just lie down on the grass outside the camp and wait for distaff dogs, rambunctious rabbits, savory squirrels, or fascinating foxes to go by.

We wouldn’t care much if she could be a good girl. We used to let the late, great Cosmo the Wonderdog sleep unsupervised on the landing outside our front door for hours on end. He liked to survey all that went by and occasionally saunter down to the street to demand affection from a human or to see the papers of a passing dog (this is a euphemism for butt-sniffing, of course). But Cosmo was one of the greatest and most responsible dogs that ever lived. The Dingo can’t be trusted not to get in fights, dig up lawns, or kill various critters. She’s not hostile to humans at all (though, for some reason, she does think little girls are fascinating and likes to get in her puppy-play stance and bark at them “Frolic with me!”) but she just can’t be trusted to be left unsupervised.

As for Pippa, she still only has two basic modes: ball-chasing fanatic and comatose pile of boneless spaniel. If any Hollywood producers need a spaniel that can seem dead on camera, Pippa might be your girl. Wait for her to fall asleep and you can carry her around like a furry Ziploc bag full of Jell-O.

Feline Query: So, the Fair Jessica and my daughter just got back from the vet with my wife’s cat and the good cat. Apparently, the good cat, Gracie, is too fat. On the one hand, this kind of bothers me. Gracie can leap straight up to a counter that is three or four times her body length away. If I could, from a standing start, jump up to a first- or second-floor window, you wouldn’t be all like, “Man, you need to get in shape.” On the other hand, there’s no denying that Gracetofur (as we call her) is looking increasingly Rubenesque. Does anyone have any guidance for a good way to help a cat lose a few pounds? Specifically, in a two-cat household?

Here’s some of the stuff I did this week:

Is Trump taking the Bannon way?

My thoughts on Neil Gorsuch.

My thoughts on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination fight.

My Groundhog Day essay, now twelve years old.

My Groundhog Day essay, now twelve years old.

My Groundhog Day essay, now twelve years old.

I went on Fox News to tell UC-Berkeley that it should be ashamed of itself.

I went on NPR to talk about the torrent of leaks coming from the Trump White House.

Oh and since I’m self-promoting, here’s a flattering write-up of my speech down in Florida this week. (Note: the part about me being “hot” was not an aesthetic judgment but a polite way of saying that I was sweating like Bill Clinton in a confessional.)

And, since I’m recycling old pieces. I had a very cool compliment this week. Several people at my cigar shop told me that the reason they go there is because of this piece I wrote several years ago. I don’t know why they waited so long to tell me. But I’m glad they did.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

How do bees survive the winter?

The woman who walked from New York to Alaska

How hard is asteroid mining?

Corgi models propeller hat

Dogs prefer reggae, soft rock

The secret history of the first cat in space

Why didn’t the thief-catching net catch on?

Tech-savvy writer scams a tech-support scammer

John Hurt: An (incomplete) retrospective

Words in other languages with no single English equivalent

The nuclear bunkers designed for luxury living

Nature is scary: Lion edition

Puppy reunited with long-lost toy

Why frogs’ tongues are so sticky

Feral bunnies are taking over Las Vegas

Nation’s bacon reserve hits 50-year low

Why children ask “why?”

Every day in Groundhog Day

How hard is it to fake insanity?

Maybe the ghosts haunting these abandoned psychiatric hospitals can help you

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg