Despite a high signal-to-noise ratio in MSM coverage, there actually is information to be extracted from the FBI scandal. It just takes someone with a sharper eye than mine, and a way better acquaintance with the machinery of federal government than I have, to pick out these traces of signal—signal about our society, our culture, and our direction.
Someone like Tucker Carlson, for example. Here was Carlson on his show this Monday, passing comment on Jim Comey’s just-published memoir.
What have we learned about Jim Comey from his book and the interviews he’s done about the book?
Well, maybe the most shocking fact of all is how banal he is.
Comey ran the most powerful law-enforcement agency in America. He was a central player in the last presidential election and in its aftermath ever since. You’d think you’d be impressed when he speaks, even if you don’t agree with him.
But no. Jim Comey is as conventional as they come—we know that now. His interviews sound like Chelsea Clinton doing a Q&A with Us Weekly.
Comey says his literary hero is—brace yourself—Atticus Finch, because apparently he couldn’t think of anything more clichéd than that, and you couldn’t either.
He says he wishes Trump would read the New York Times op-ed page. He recommended Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In to his staff at the FBI—seriously—and he says he’d like to have Sandberg to a dinner party … and so on … and on.
This is America’s top G-man, or was? He sounds like every other sensitive guilt-ridden middle-aged suburban liberal … [Audio here, 15m16s]
That’s really penetrating. What should we make of the fact that our nation’s top cop is a mediocrity, with only the shallowest grasp of what’s going on in our society and culture?
You can make a case that it doesn’t matter. We don’t hire cops for their breadth of literary interest. It might be fun to have Dr. Johnson or Oscar Wilde in the FBI Director’s chair, but from the point of view of efficient law enforcement it would likely be sub-optimal. In Oscar Wilde‘s case, definitely sub-optimal …
Still I’d expect better than a gentry liberal from Central Casting, whose awareness of cultural and social matters ceased developing when he left his last high school English class.
To put it in the ever-useful language of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, gentry liberalism is an Outer Party thing. What Tucker Carlson called “sensitive guilt-ridden middle-aged suburban liberal” types are quintessentially Outer Party. They are the obedient, unquestioning enforcers of ideological orthodoxy: schoolteachers, college lecturers, local TV newsreaders, the Human Resources staff at big corporations, and so on.
Director of the FBI is Inner Party, though. For Inner Party I want people super-smart and canny—clued in and up-to-date with social and cultural issues. In Nineteen Eighty-Four terms, I want O’Brien s, not Ampleforth s. Even when the bastards aren’t on my side, I’d like to think they have more on the ball than my kids’ Social Studies teacher.
I don’t mean to sound snobbish, and I’m sure Tucker Carlson didn’t either. Teaching Social Studies is honest and useful work. Some of my friends and neighbors—lots of my neighbors—are gentry liberals; I wish long life and happiness to all of them.
For Inner Party jobs, though—senior unelected positions in the federal apparatus—I want the very best. Without trying hard I can think of half a dozen people smarter and more capable than Comey. Nationwide, there must be thousands.
Isn’t there some better way we could make these appointments? Or are we stuck for ever with the rule so pithily expressed by the late Nikita Khrushchev: “Gold sinks but crap floats”?