Dear Mr. Goldberg

Allow me to express my heartfelt congratulations on your two successful books.  Since I am an illustrator, and it falls within my professional interests, I must profess admiration for the covers of both your books.  The smiley face with the Hitler mustache is iconic and jarring.  Furthermore, the cover’s simple design intertwines nicely with the books academic leanings, but the smiley prevents it from appearing humorless.

The Roman Genn cover is equally provocative and conjures the aesthetic of opinion journalism.  R. Genn is a master of his craft and a fearless caricaturist (I noticed when I went to his site that he’s annoyed some soviet/anarchist hackers, which would be easy for anybody, but for R. Genn it must have been as effortless and natural as breathing).  At any rate, I have nothing but respect for the artistic decisions of Doubleday, RandomHouse, and Penguin.  Indeed, as everyone knows, art directors are second only to the angels.

I notice a few things.  One, Liberal Fascism is academic but softened with irreverence,  whereas the Tyranny of Cliches is irreverence hardened with academics.  Your latest book has as many pop-culture references as the sermon of a nondenominational evangelical youth pastor.  It becomes clear that your nerdy love of C-PAC and your nerdy love of Comic-con are both branches on the same tree.

I can’t imagine this would happen, but if your buddies at the American Enterprise Institute encourage you to write a somber conservative think-tanky book, or if you feel goaded into it by the pompous condescension of the world’s Joe Kleins, I think you ought to resist.  For your third book I think you need to go full nerd.  Don’t do something like this:

Let’s face it, there are a gazillion of these books, and they are read by a very narrow demographic.  Instead, do something like this:

AND… let me do the cover.  The title is a little slapdash, and I assume that you could get Vince Vaughn to give you another quote.  BUT, here’s the deal: Nothing makes a book jump off the shelves of the bookstore like a cover with flaming hands.  I know you know this.  My proposal is simple.  Resist the somber, serious third book.  Continue your blend of serious and silly and go full nerd.  Also … let me do the cover.  Email me when you’re ready.

Sincerely,

Zach Franzen

Rutherford B. Hayes

This bearded president wanted to guard against the dishonorable drunken behavior on display at other Washington gatherings, so President Hayes and his wife kept an alcohol-free White House.  He spent the money normally used for alcohol on other entertainments for his guests, but this did not prevent his Secretary of State from teasing that at the White House “water flowed like wine.”

Latest Weekly Standard

This was a spot illustration I did last week for the Weekly Standard.  I got the call Monday at 4:45 and delivered the final file Tuesday at 2:30.  These jobs are nice because the deadlines are too tight to second guess much.

The illustration is of McGovern.  Not Terry McGovern who voiced Duck Tale’s Launchpad McQuack, but former Democratic Senator George McGovern who convincingly lost the presidential race against Richard Nixon in 1972.  Mr. McGovern is still alive and has had a long and interesting life, but to me his most instructive biographical note came in 1988, when he bought the Stratford Inn, a bed and breakfast.  McGovern was a bomber pilot, history professor, author, congressman, senator, and the democratic nominee for president.  Yet all these failed to qualify him for the real world challenges of running an inn.  After only two-and-a-half years and the loss of much of his own money, the Stratford Inn went bankrupt.  Despite the real benefits of theoretical knowledge, there is no replacement for knowledge gained from first-hand experience.  McGovern suggests as much in a 1993 article for Inc. Magazine and a 1992 editorial for the Wall Street Journal.

It is strange to hear this embodiment of modern American liberalism and former litigator protest against frivolous law suits, an overly complicated tax code, and the crippling overregulation of businesses.

You can read these articles here: “What I Know Now: Nibbled to Death” and “A Politician’s Dream Is a Businessman’s Nightmare.”

Tragic Clinton

In college a teacher once remarked that Shakespeare’s Richard II is tragic not because he evidences great vanity, ambition, and moral collapse.  Shakespeare’s tragic touches come through the flashes of Richard’s promise.

Take this speech for instance, where Richard rises to the stature of a man:

Tell Bolingbroke–for yond methinks he stands–

That every stride he makes upon my land

Is dangerous treason: he is come to open

The purple testament of bleeding war;

But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,

Ten thousand bloody crowns of mother’s sons

Shall ill become the flower of England’s face,

Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace

To scarlet indignation and bedew

Her pastures’ grass with faithful English blood.

Richard doesn’t draw from his well of strength until his rule is beyond hope, but when he does the reader wonders, ‘what a man he might have been.’

Lady Gaga, in her recent classless performance, affirmed that Bill Clinton will always be known as the president who lacked a moral compass.  This Rhodes Scholar, this graduate of Yale, and former governor used all his powers not to underscore America’s virtues, but to persuade the nation that sex is as meaningless as junk mail.  Lady Gaga might be richer for this cultural shift, but I think the country is poorer.  Clinton displayed his political skill most as he lied, evaded, and mobilized power to control the narrative of his character flaws.  Like the audiences who witnessed the potential of Richard II, many who witnessed the masterful duck and weave of Bill Clinton thought, “What a man he might have been.”

 

 

Jimmy Carter

I hurt my back saturday and now I’m hobbling around.  I’m about to go to the chiropractor, and it’s raining.  All in all I feel pretty crummy so I decided to post this picture of Jimmy Carter.  He began with an approval rating higher than Obama and he left office with an approval rating somewhere in the low thirties.

 

Jimmy Carter reminds me of a kid on my street who was always hurting himself.  This kid’s name was also Jimmy.  I remember he bought a bike at a garage sale and we made fun of it.  He assured us that it was a little rusty on the outside, but at its core, it was a fine bike.  To prove his point he set out to pop a wheelie in it.  “Watch this!” he said.  We all looked his way and he jerked back on the handle bars to lift the front tire.  He jerked his handle bars right off the post and crashed spectacularly.  We howled with laughter.  Jimmy hurt himself so frequently and in such dramatic fashions that we all grew to like him.  Sympathy can grow even in the rocky soil of a child’s heart.  Still, we never would have trusted Jimmy to buy us a bike, or run a country for that matter.

 

 

 

“Few enterprises are so hopeless as a contest against fashion.” Samuel Johnson

You may have heard of the recent ad that Levi’s pulled from British markets.  The ad features models without any impulse control worshipping themselves.  In order to add a feeling of depth, they have what sounds like a Native American man reading a silly poem in restrained unemotional tones.  They also threw in a meditative soundtrack–the sort of sustained slow building piano music that can make images of a guy crushing a beer can against his forehead seem as melancholic and profound as a child praying in a field.  The ad was pulled because it included images of 20 somethings in Levi’s provoking riot police.  This is probably the sort of thing Neil Postman had nightmares about.  There is no context to the riot, merely romantic images of generic protest.  The cool shots of drifting smoke and riot police serve to to ennoble riots in such a way that privileged kids across the civilized world mentally pull up their college checklist-of-things-to-do and add “riot.”

So here’s what I gather.  Levi’s feels embarrassed when they show a young man provoking police and underscore it with narration that says, “You’re marvelous.”  Self-worship seems a bad thing for Levi’s to encourage in rioters.  But if it’s bad for Levi’s why isn’t it bad for militant secularists?

 

The Atheist Society of Britain took out a bunch of bus advertisements that said, “There’s probably no god so stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  This seems at least as offensive as the Levi’s ad.  It’s not unfashionable to say this in Britain, but the philosophical bankruptcy of “worship yourself” grants little authority to oppose violent rioters who worship themselves by stealing alcohol and tennis shoes.

Stephen Fry, who is funny and smart and a bit of a celebrity in Britain is guilty of saying things that are fashionable but that lack intellectual rigor.  For instance he said that man has justifiably progressed from a belief in Genesis to a belief in himself.  He goes on to conclude that the true offense of Genesis (to Fry) was that Adam expressed shame at his broken humanity after he disobeyed God.  According to Fry: “Our impulses, our appetites, our drives, our desires, are not things to apologize for.”  Maybe he should write copy for Levi’s.  Fry does irrationally conclude, “Our actions sometimes we do apologize for and we excoriate ourselves rightly.”  But this is mere assertion.  How can someone who professes to be wearing the latest intellectual fashion conclude that our impulses are sacred because they’re human and also suggest that our actions are less sacred but every bit as human.  The tragedy is that Fry and other Atheists in Britain are promoting an intellectual fashion which is non-intellectual.  They also simultaneously label those who disagree as non-intellectual.  Because they are boating in the currents of popular fashion, nobody notices the engine isn’t working.

Stephen Fry once remarked to a round of applause on his program QI that people believed in God because they were “foolish and ignorant and scared.”  He maintained that people should hold whatever religious beliefs they wanted except for beliefs that touched on other people.  He said, “When it gets to telling people how to behave [that] is where we draw the line.”  But when did the proposition “‘Thou shalt not’ say ‘Thou shalt not'” become anything but a contradiction?  He might have just as easily said, “We draw the line at drawing lines.”  That’s the great thing about fashion (I speak as a fool); you can be fashionably intellectual without being intellectually intellectual.  It’s a shortcut that we in the States know something about (See: Jon Stewart).

Still, I think Britain might have more to fear from fashion than Americans, because while Americans are unembarrassable (to steal a phrase from Martin Amis), British people have a strong fear of embarrassment.  Few things are worse to the easily embarrassed than to seem unfashionable.  But if we stopped assuming the value of fashion, we might be able to stop its corroding effects.

Perhaps we would be wise to import a caution from a former era.  The May edition of The New England Magazine May, 1833 suggests

“… [F]ashion, which so absolutely controls the human family, should be itself controled by reason, morality, and good taste.  But the case is far otherwise, as daily observation and fatal experience evidence.  Fashion is much more the growth of our animal nature, than of our moral or intellectual.”

I guess what I might be getting at is this: One who is more able to resist fashion in clothes is probably more able to resist the impulse to smash a window and steal designer jeans.  One who is more able to resist fashion in thought … might equally be able to resist the impulse to smash a window and steal designer jeans.

The fashion of Levi’s or of Fry both seem equally in bad taste this season.

Chester Arthur

I know.  I know.  Chester Arthur is a political superstar perhaps the most famous president apart from Lincoln.  But here is a drawing with which to refresh your memory.

He served one term.  He was sworn into office after Garfield was shot by an aspiring office seeker.  Arthur signed the Edmund’s law into effect which outlawed polygamy.  He thought that polygamy was morally detrimental to the family.  I guess that means that he thought the family was possible to define (these were the days before Dreamworks and the Disney Channel clearly taught us that family has no genetic definition, but is rather made up from misfits that one meets on a road trip).  Arthur was also a civil rights advocate, and popularizer of Yellowstone National Park among other things.

Mamet

Famed Playwright, Filmmaker, Author, etc. David Mamet is making some waves with his latest book.  The story, “playwright turns conservative” much like the story “man bites dog” begs for public expression.

Apparently in 2004 Mamet discovered that he reviled conservatives but didn’t know any.  His Rabbi suggested that civility according to the Judeo-Christian ethos challenges us to understand our adversary before we disagree with them.  Not only that, but one ought to be able to state their position in a way in which they will agree.  Mamet took up the challenge and began reading conservative books, but not before he tried to sway his Rabbi, Mordecai Finley who was of all things, a Republican.  Andrew Ferguson writes:

He began sending Finley books, potboilers of contemporary liberalism like What’s the Matter with Kansas?
“They were highly polemical, angry books,” Finley said. “They were very big on sympathy and compassion but really they weren’t”—he looked for the word—“they simply weren’t logically coherent. And Dave is very logical in his thinking. Dave thought What’s the Matter with Kansas? had the answer for why people could even think to vote for a Republican—it’s because they’re duped by capitalist fat cats. I tried to tell him that people really weren’t that stupid. They just have other interests, other values. They’re values voters.
“That’s one thing he began to see: The left flattens people, reduces people to financial interests. Dave’s an artist. He knew people are deeper than that.”
Before long, when Finley didn’t budge, the books from Mamet stopped arriving, and Finley asked if he could send Mamet some books too. One of the first was A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution. In it Sowell expands on the difference between the “constrained vision” of human nature—close to the tragic view that infuses Mamet’s greatest plays—and the “unconstrained vision” of man’s endless improvement that suffused Mamet’s politics and the politics of his profession and social class.
“He came back to me stunned. He said, ‘This is incredible!’ He said, ‘Who thinks like this? Who are these people?’ I said, ‘Republicans think like this.’ He said, ‘Amazing.’ ”

[Wish a few more Republicans in Washington thought that way].

Mamet is now fairly outspoken about two tenants in particular.  The complexity of society and the benefits of competition.

Thomas Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions (referenced above) maintains that the conflicts between liberals and conservatives really boil down to disagreements on a few core issues.

If you’re still reading this, I’ll summarize some of the topics over which liberals and conservatives share little common ground.

1.  Human Nature

2.  The Nature of Knowledge

3.  Visions of Equality (opportunity or outcome)

4.  Visions of Justice (results oriented or process oriented)

One’s answers these to these questions pretty much indicates one’s feelings about Traditional Marriage, Credentialism, Religion, the Welfare State and a host of other issues.

Though MTV and Sesame Street often make it seem that it is more important to have views than to have reasons, with the slightest analysis we might agree that the reverse is true.  I think Mr. Mamet would also agree.