Dear Reader (Including those of you who are Ancient Romans, in which case you would actually be “Dear Listeners” ),
So I started writing a very ambitious G-File about how the talk of a new progressive era is overblown. But it became too weighty and complicated to finish today. I figured I’d save it and move to some lighter fare.
I’ll do that in a moment, but first I’d like to make one small point: I keep hearing about how the “Reagan era is over.” In fact, I hear it virtually every time I tune into MSNBC. Doyle McManus, writing in the Los Angeles Times—where I am a columnist—dubs President Biden the “anti-Reagan.” John Harris at Politico makes essentially the same argument. In fairness, this is a bipartisan observation; here’s former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker saying pretty much the same thing.
The linchpin of this argument—which obviously has merit given Biden’s fairly radical plans to inflate the government and national debt—is that Reagan said “government is the problem,” and Biden thinks, to put it bluntly, that government is the solution. To what? Well, pretty much everything.
Again, there’s truth to the argument, but it rests on a lot of sloppy assumptions and stolen bases. First, a lot of people forget the full quote: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” That’s a very different assertion. There’s this myth that government was cut to the bone under Reagan. Yet the government was bigger on Reagan’s last day of office than his first. He promised to abolish the Department of Education, but by the end of his presidency, its budget doubled. But that’s a topic for another time.
Second, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, very few conservatives and Republicans disagreed that the government has a role in this present crisis. That’s why the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Senate agreed to spend trillions on economic and public health efforts to mitigate the crisis. I’ve argued in this space countless times that pandemics, like wars, are supposed to be tackled by the government. The objection to Biden’s program is that he wants to spend trillions of dollars on policies that have nothing to do with the present crisis.
But that’s all grist for another day. The thing I find fascinating is that there is only one topic that obsesses the liberals celebrating the “Biden era” of big government as the solution to all that ails us is. That topic—wait for it—is policing. To be sure, left-wingers don’t all support efforts to “defund the police,” but it is very rare to hear any of them push back against those who do. As I noted on Wednesday, they tend to let the “defund the police” crowd claim that police forces are modern incarnations of slave patrols without any skepticism.
But here’s the thing: There is no more central institution to government qua government than policing. Police are part of this thing called “law enforcement.” And law enforcement is pretty much the essence of government. Governments make laws. Laws are meaningless if they are not enforced.
The first states probably began as a form of “stationary banditry,” as Mancur Olson argued. But even then, inherent to the idea of government was the enforcement of rules. That’s what police do. You can change their name, you can take away their guns, you can do all sorts of things—good, bad, wise, or dumb—in an effort to reform policing. But if you want to make sure laws are enforced, someone’s gotta do the enforcing.
George Washington probably never said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” But whoever really did say it had a point. Let’s say Congress passes a nice, progressive law like a wealth tax on billionaires and Elon Musk refuses to pay. Eventually, after all the paper gets pushed and lawyers get paid, the police are going to knock on his door (assuming he doesn’t hyper-tube to some place without extradition) and either say “Pay up,” or “Come with us.” I guess you could rely on citizen arrests or posses instead of a traditional police force. But in a modern, diverse, and very large society, that sounds like a recipe for headaches.
Now, I’m not arguing that, because you have to have police—and you do—their behavior can’t be regulated. I don’t know anybody of any ideological stripe who doesn’t agree that cops should follow some fairly strict rules. Anarchists of the left and right might stupidly think we don’t need cops at all, but even they agree that if we’re going to have cops, they should be constrained by laws and regulations. The only argument is what those laws and regulations should look like.
And that’s the amusing irony. All of these people who mock the idea that “Government is the problem,” and giddily celebrate that the “Government is the problem” era is over, are simultaneously saying that the most central and concrete manifestation of government in America (and everywhere else) is a problem. They alternate between arguing that one set of government officials have too much power over the lives of Americans and arguing that another set of government officials should be given vastly more power. Of course, there’s a difference between federal bureaucrats and local cops, but power can corrupt bureaucrats too. And when it does, the bureaucrats aren’t the ones who knock on your door.
Let’s stipulate that liberals are right when they say police abuse is the most pressing national crisis right now. Another way of saying that might be: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Bonfire of the dumbasses.
There’s a great scene in HBO’s The Wire in which Stringer Bell, played by Idris Elba, convenes a meeting of “The New Day Co-op,” a consortium of drug dealers. Bell wants to professionalize the drug trade and do away with all the messy gangster stuff. To that end, he invites a bunch of drug kingpins to form a cartel. That way they’ll be able to buy drugs of better quality and in greater quantity from New York, without all the gun play and price cutting. (This is a great nod to Adam Smith’s observation that “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”)
Anyway, as part of Stringer Bell’s Six Sigma reorganization of drug dealing, he runs the meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order. And at the end, Bell sees one of his soldiers writing furiously on a legal pad.
You can watch the scene here, but be warned: The language is not work-safe. In fact, it’s not even “news”letter safe, so I’ll tweak it a bit:
Bell: “[Maternalfornicator], what is that?”
Gang member: “Robert’s Rules says we gotta have minutes for the meeting, right? These the minutes.”
Bell: “[Taboo word that rhymes with “jigger”], is you taking notes on a criminal [fornicating] conspiracy? What the [fudge] is you thinking, man?”
The scene came to mind when I heard about Joel Greenberg’s letter to Roger Stone. Greenberg, is, to use The Daily Beast’s phrase, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’ “wingman.” He’s also, if news accounts are even 5 percent accurate, an incredibly shady dude. To save time, here’s the first paragraph of his Wikipedia page.
Joel Greenberg is an American politician and former tax collector of Seminole County, Florida. In 2020, Greenberg was arrested and charged with federal offenses. He has been indicted on 33 criminal counts, including theft, stalking, sex trafficking, cryptocurrency fraud, and Small Business Administration loan fraud. Greenberg was formerly a friend, associate, and ally of Republican congressman Matt Gaetz; after being arrested in 2020, Greenberg began to cooperate with federal investigators probing Gaetz.
Anyway, as you’ve probably heard, Greenberg reached out to his friend, pardoned felon Roger Stone, who was last in the news for claiming that North Korean boats delivered fraudulent ballots via Maine as part of the effort to steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump.
Now, I bring that up for two reasons. One: I think it’s hilarious. As lies go, it’s like a “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” game. North Korea is on the Pacific Ocean. These ballot boats would have to either go over the Arctic Circle and all the way down the Canadian coast, or around the Horn of Africa, or through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast, to reach… Maine. A state very far from any place where Trump would need stolen ballots. They were then presumably transferred to trucks at the ready and deployed in key districts in the South and Midwest. And all of this went undetected—except, of course, by Stone.
The second reason I bring it up is that I think it’s a useful shorthand for understanding the soundness of Roger Stone’s character and trustworthiness. And that’s important, because Greenberg fired his lawyers and opted to rely on Stone to get a pardon from Trump. Stone’s fee for delivering “justice” (I defecate you negatory, that’s his word) was $250,000, which Greenberg agreed to pay in bitcoin, the preferred currency of all the finest and most upstanding citizens.
But first, Stone needed a letter from Greenberg detailing his crimes—whoops, sorry. He needed a letter laying out his burning need for justice. And here’s the fantastic part: Greenberg wrote it. In multiple drafts. Including an early draft in his own handwriting. Moreover, while they used encrypted communications to discuss all this, Greenberg made sure to take screenshots of the relevant bits, which sort of defeats the purpose of encryption.
There are many wonderful things about the letter, beyond the fact that he wrote it and gave it to Stone, who is not a lawyer (or even a college graduate), and therefore there’s no privilege to the communication. Greenberg admits that he was the middleman for Matt Gaetz, procuring women, including a minor, for sex with both of them (“and others”).
But Greenberg is too canny to use Gaetz’s name—gotta protect his identity!—so here’s how he describes him:
On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself.
Elsewhere, he refers to Gaetz as MG.
Now, the FBI has screwed up a lot in recent years. But I am pretty sure that even their sniffer dogs could figure out that “the congressman from the 1st district of Florida” with the initials “MG” doesn’t refer to, say, Mel Gibson.
But my favorite bit is how Greenberg blames the 17-year-old for lying about her age:
Greenberg continued in the handwritten draft that he “confronted” the then-17-year-old and explained to her “how serious of a situation this was, how many people she put in danger.”
“She apologized and recognized that by lying about her age, she endangered many people,” he continued.
And then my favorite line:
“There was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday.”
Clearly, this man is in need of justice.
Various & Sundry
Podcast updates: Before we get to the quadruped goodness, I should mention that it’s been a pretty interesting podcasting week for The Dispatch. Sarah and Steve got to talk to an obscure, minor Texas politician by the name of George W. Bush, which was pretty wild. Additionally, this week saw some punditry from a reliable force for good and long-time guest, A. B. Stoddard, which was followed by a delightful interview with the New York Times’ Robert Draper, who I definitely need to have back on for more veteran journalism stories.
Oh, and this weekend’s Ruminant will be an atypical one; I figured I should let the band of misfits who help me do the podcast out of their enclosed habitat to keep Amnesty International off my back. So I podcasted with fresh-faced Dispatch-er Ryan, our intern Guy (a fan favorite for his accent and his willingness to take abuse from across the Atlantic), and my research assistant Nick. It’s sort of a drive-time radio ensemble, or something. Let me know what you think. I can always put them back in the box.
Animal update: All is mostly well in canine world. Zoë is fully recovered from her dental nightmare and her breath is now squarely back within normal pooch parameters. Pippa’s rather severe gastrointestinal woes have cleared up, and she’s a happy, silly girl once again.
I say “mostly well” only because Zoë is enraged by our neighbor’s cat, Chester. As you may recall, Chester has taken to loitering on our doorstep waiting for treats from the Fair Jessica. Yesterday, I brought Chester’s presence to Zoë’s attention. Many people who’ve watched the video have asked whetherif Zoë was scared of, or angry at, Chester. My own reading of Zoë’s emotions is more nuanced. I’m a close student of the dingo, and I’m fairly confident that she wasn’t really angry with Chester (though I’d hardly say she was pleased with him). Rather, she was angry with me for allowing Chester within the outer perimeter of our domicile. She’s saying, in effect, “Are you frick’n kidding me? You should go out there and clear that thing out of here, or you should let me out so I can do it. But this détente crap is bullsh**t. The front porch isn’t Finland!”
As for Gracie, she is stillstruggling with her new treat dispenser, but I think she’ll master it soon. Other than that, she’s still living the good life. Oh, and for Remnant listeners who want to see A. B. Stoddard’s new puppy—and why wouldn’t you?—behold Chief in all his doggie splendor.
And now, the weird stuff