Thinking about liberty...
Photo: Patrick Smith (Getty Images)

There’s no reason to know who Ben Hobbs is. He’s one of the anonymous ideology droids that fill Washington D.C.’s less-interesting condominiums, pad out its cocktail parties, and ensure that its steakhouse banquettes never get cold. When Republicans are in power, he will work in government; when they are not, he will bounce to some think tank or fellowship and alter nothing but his commute. His ideas will not change except as dictated by the prevailing trends in reactionary thought; he may not at this time believe in the wisdom of the Liberty Enhancement Acts Of 2027, which will mandate that America’s poor be pureed into a thick slurry that will be fed to bankers’ pets because it promotes a glossier coat. But when the Acts are proposed he will write a white paper explaining why it is not just prudent, but humane policy. This is his job and he’ll have it for as long as he wants it.

I only learned who Ben Hobbs was while reading an article in The Washington Post about the rampant incompetence and patronage in Dr. Ben Carson’s department of Housing and Urban Development. Hobbs made what amounted to a cameo, as the author of “a proposal in April to triple the minimum rent paid by families receiving federal housing assistance and to make it easier for local housing authorities to impose more-stringent work requirements for those receiving government benefits.” That proposal failed not because it was too punitive or otherwise politically unpalatable, but because Hobbs, then a special policy adviser at the agency, couldn’t build a constituency for it; Hobbs, like many of the agency’s new hires, has no experience in housing or urban development and also, as the Post put it, “no experience as a policymaker.” Hobbs did, the Post notes, spend “three months as a graduate fellow in ‘welfare studies’ at the conservative Heritage Foundation in 2016 and five months as a poverty consultant at the libertarian Charles Koch Institute in 2013.”

Lord willing, I will never think about Ben Hobbs again. But before I flushed him from my consciousness to make room for whichever servile dweeb will take his place, I did what I always do when one of the glistening creatures from the capital’s great bad idea bogs heaves itself, belching and vile, into my line of sight. I found him on Twitter and looked up his thoughts on the Washington Nationals.

Hobbs, who is from Ohio, is an Indians fan and has the innocuous old tweets to prove it. But as a member of D.C.’s permanent class of reactionary squids, it would’ve been weird if he hadn’t tweeted about the Nationals at least a little bit. Which, as it happens, he has:

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For the men who make respectable livings in the nation’s capital advancing the self-serving interests of powerful reactionaries, caring about Washington’s underachieving baseball team is as much a shared article of faith as disdain for the Clean Air Act. For the most prominent of these, your George Wills and Charles Krauthammers, there is something theatrical and ambiently inauthentic about that fandom. “I make no claim that elegance and grace on any field will ward off the apocalypse,” the late Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Post in 2011. “But if it comes in summer, I’ll be waiting for it at Nats Park, Section 128, hard by the Dippin’ Dots.”

The stagey and shallow and inauthentic nature of elite D.C. Nats fandom owes a lot to how stagey and shallow and inauthentic powerful D.C. people tend to seem. Power corrupts and intoxicates and all that, but it also makes people weird.

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By all accounts, Krauthammer really did love the Nationals, and it may be that Will’s “large, convivial party at his house” on Nats’ opening day really is a rare moment of bipartisan comity in the nation’s capital. It’s just difficult to believe people whose job is to pretend to believe things they don’t believe when they tell you how much they care about something that’s so convenient as both as a Civic Ritual Of Belonging and as a patriotic signifier. If Krauthammer had spent less time acting Deeply Troubled by various things he didn’t give a shit about, it would be easier to credit him for being authentically rhapsodic about Brad Wilkerson.

The Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a born and bred member of the D.C. elite, has introduced a new breed of Reactionary Nats Weirdos. None of them are squickier or creepier than Kavanaugh himself, but they all share a public fixation on this particular bumbling organization. Their Nats fandom is, in some but not all cases, not just the only humanizing but the only humanesque trait that they display in public. But when that normal, stupid, human fandom is viewed in the context of public lives otherwise devoted to stringent and shameless public partisanship—when moaning about the damn Nats is their only break from serving our increasingly untenable political status quo in general and advocating for this thumbheaded goon of a nominee in particular—it mostly highlights how warped and strange all that power and privilege has made them.

Kavanaugh’s love of sports was presented as proof that he is, above all things, normal—“a regular guy who loves his Washington Nationals and a good beer in a local pub,” as the National Review put it. As with every other ostensibly humanizing detail provided on his behalf, though, Kavanaugh’s Nationals fandom feels off. The White House’s official story on the tens of thousands of dollars of debt that Kavanaugh ran up before it was wiped out entirely in 2017 was that it was the result of his “buying Washington Nationals season tickets and tickets for playoff games for himself and a ‘handful’ of friends.” It’s a testament to how poorly Kavanaugh’s time in the public eye has gone that no one really talks about how bizarre that is anymore.

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One critic of the reporting on Kavanaugh’s Nats-related debt was Ed Whelan, now most famous for having authored a floridly batshit series of tweets in which he accused—with the assistance of the conservative PR firm that did the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads, and a Zillow floorplan he found online—one of Kavanaugh’s high school classmates of committing the sexual assault that Kavanaugh has been accused of committing. Whelan’s case was quickly and rightly dismissed as spurious desperate bullshit; Whelan deleted the thread and apologized to the man he identified as the would-be rapist, if not to Ford.

Whelan is a devoted Nationals fan, and while he quite reasonably deletes old tweets, ghostly replies reveal him as the type of fan who second-guesses the third base coach and bitches about Dusty Baker. He has spent much of this latest lost season sniffily quote-tweeting the official team account.

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Whelan’s social media presence has of late been devoted almost exclusively to Kavanaugh and his nomination, which made his periodic Nats-related interjections stand out all the more. When Whelan permitted himself a brief moment of self-satisfied microphone dropping in the brief afterglow of his since-disgraced Time For Some Rape Theory thread, he did it like this:

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Mark Judge, a high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s and the author of books with names like A Tremor Of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, And Rock n’ Roll and If It Ain’t Got That Swing: The Rebirth Of Adult Culture, was the other person in the room on the night Ford alleges Kavanaugh attempted to assault her. Judge is another stupendously weird elite D.C. type—a man who is both tragic and weirdly righteous in his horniness, a dude who made and then took down dozens of skeevy videos of teenage girls, and a Reactionary Nats Weirdo in good standing. Judge’s most significant contribution to the field is a 2012 story for The Daily Caller, which ran with the headline “Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero.”

In the story, Judge uses a moment in which Harper took an extra base on Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward as the guiding metaphor for a supremely daft case for conservative vitality and coolness. “The left, like Jason Heyward dozing in the outfield, sees nothing wrong with the way things have worked, or even not worked, for the past 40 years,” Judge writes; in brashly taking an extra base on a lollygagging black outfielder, Harper reminds Judge of nothing so much as movement conservatism. “In a strange way,” Judge writes, strangely, “conservatives are not only like Bryce Harper, but have become like the do-it-yourself punk rockers of the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Conservatives, Judge argues, have fearlessly stuck it to a lazy and criminally self-satisfied ruling class, beating them with nothing more than the intensity and single-mindedness of their want.

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In a world that worked better than this one—one in which powerful people had less to spend on slavishly loyal mediocrities and actually feared being called to account for any of the many horrors that their vanity makes and their selfishness reliably excuses—Reactionary Nats Weirdos would still exist. They would be less prominent and much less well paid, but they’d probably behave in the same ways and believe the same things. They would still serve themselves and power more or less in equal measure; they would still believe that their continued prominence is theirs by right and infinitely more important than any stranger’s suffering. In that more just world, they would probably still cheer for the Washington Nationals, but no one would notice. They would have just followed their small and unremarkable hearts, or anyway followed their noses, to the reward they deserved. No one would know who they were, or care. They would be unable to hurt anyone but those unlucky enough to know them. They’d be faces in the crowd.