Here's the thing: If people want responsible commentary, they can pick up the Wall Street Journal. Blog readers love a good flame war, fought by Arkansas knife-fight rules: If you're going to cut a man, eviscerate him.
Run the black flag up the mast and yell, "No quarter!" Pile on the invective and ad hominem. This is not the Oxford Debate Society, it's the freaking blogosphere. Excuse me if I go all "meta" here, but there is method to the madness. When I was a young man, I read Edgar Allen Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" and was struck by how conscious Poe was of attempting to achieve an effect in the reader. Long years of attempting to emulate that idea in writing has created a habit, so that I am seldom even conscious of applying this method.
Blogwhoring and logic
Bashing Greenwald is almost a guaranteed Instalanche and so when I spotted Greenwald's latest Salon column as "featured post" at Memeorandum (Rule 3), my blogwhoring instinct saw an opportunity. Whatever Greenwald's argument was, it was going to be subjected to vicious ridicule. Greenwald was in one of those inter-tribal conflicts with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, a pro-Istrael liberal/moderate who accused Greenwald of giving legitimacy to anti-Semtism by publishing in The American Conservative. Oh, boy. "Let's you and him fight."
Having published in The American Conservative twice (a 2004 news-analysis about the failure of No Child Left Behind and a 2005 Super Bowl-themed book review of a Joe Namath biography), I certainly do not consider this evidence of anti-Semitism. (And any left-wing Knesset members who bring this up during the debate over whether I should become the first Gentile prime minister of Israel will be rebuked by those who will attest that I have never violated Genesis 12:3.)
That the editorial line of TAC is consistently critical of the U.S.-Israel alliance is admitted. But to say that everyone ever published by TAC is a Jew-hater -- an "Unpatriotic Conservative" -- is to attribute motive, to position oneself as an expert psychologist administering a Rorschach inkblot test:
"And what do you see here? What does it look like to you?"This is not merely unfair, but invalid as logic. The snipe-hunt for bigotry is a bad habit that liberalism has made respectable, so that there are some who endeavor to dismiss anything I write as "neo-Confederate" -- tribalism is not the exclusive province of MOTs -- by way of avoiding engagement with whatever facts or argument or literary method I may bring to bear on an issue. The fact that I may be prejudiced against know-it-all Yankee meddlers does not mean that Example X (the latest example of Yankee meddling I denounce) is good policy.
"I see Jews! Crafty, cunning, dishonest Jews conspiring against me!"
"Ah! You should write for Scott McConnell."
'A Jet all the way'
So the question of motive in TAC's anti-Israel line is neither here nor there in determining the validity of any particular argument they make in advancing that line, nor does it justify a guilt-by-association smear against Greenwald. On the other hand, this isn't a Forensic Club conference, it's the blogosphere, and when you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way. (Imagine the homophobic reader: "Gee, what's with all those show tunes references?")
If Greenwald is accused of abetting anti-Semitism, this opens him up to the accusation of being that sad stereotype, the self-hating Jew. Greenwald is much more fairly accused of being vain and humorless -- monomaniacally obsessed with being taken seriously -- and so if one were to distill this charge of collaborationist self-abnegation to its poisonous essence, to resort to the most vicious satire possible . . .
There is an art to this, you see. Having lighted upon this theme as the angle of attack, everything else followed logically from there. The original 636-word post was written in the course of about an hour, and when Greenwald responded in a dismissive update, I doubled down with the 157-word update that earned the Malkin Award nomination from Sully. But even before Sully took notice, I'd added a 119-word second update to make reference to my original incendiary reference to Sherman and the Gaza war.
Take a look through the comments from Greenwald's admirers (or Sully's readers) and you will notice a theme: Greenwald is a more intelligent and erudite writer, an all-around better human being than me, because he agrees with them.
"Tribalism," indeed! And if the Left wants to go with the Jet-all-the-way philosophy, who am I to object? But they ought not be allowed to believe that their ideological affiliation constitutes a superiority of intelligence, knowledge or morality, and I will not let them do so.
Loyalty and duty
When I left Rome, Georgia, in 1997 to join the staff of The Washington Times as an assistant national editor, I left behind many good people. I had prayed to get my new job, and was deeply conscious of being on a mission. Why are the good people out there in "flyover country" so ill-understood and misrepresented among the elite in the power axis of Washington, New York and Hollywood? Because they have no advocate, no tribune, no voice capable of engaging the elite in terms that the elite cannot safely ignore.
There are other such tribunes: Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Mark Steyn, G. Gordon Liddy, Ann Coulter -- though they differ somewhat in philosophy and method, all of these conservative voices share a common concern for the common people, the Ordinary Americans who deserve better than to be sneered at and misled by the elite.
For more than a decade, I worked loyally at The Washington Times, an opportunity for which I am eternally grateful. But I was merely a cog in the wheel, a "man under authority" (Matthew 8:9) and was not permitted to speak my mind or write whatever I felt like writing. Even when I was vilely smeared, as a "man under authority" I was not at liberty to respond. Anyone who knows me will tell you that the rarest sentence in the English language is, "Gee, Stacy, why don't you tell us what you really think?" But loyalty forbade me to speak, and so I stifled my resentment and soldiered on.
Then came that day in January 2008 when it was announced that a Washington Post staffer would become the new editor of The Washington Times. As one colleague said to me, "If I'd wanted to work for a Postie, I'd have applied at the Post." It's not personal -- people whom I respect spoke well of John Solomon -- but there seemed to be a matter of principle involved. It was as if God said, "Go."
A year (and a million hits) later, I am doing OK as a freelancer, and also earning some money as a video editor, and so the earnest question I was often asked when I tendered my resigination -- "What will you do?" -- seems to be answering itself. But there was something else one of my friends said when I left The Washington Times that ought not be ignored.
"Oh my God -- think of Stacy without anybody to keep him in line!" A loose cannon, rolling around the deck, firing randomly. It's a heckuva thing, isn't it?
Arguments and enemies
Concern trolls wringing their hands over the vituperative tone of blogospheric combat are completely missing the medium's delightful potential as entertainment. "Oh, look, McCain and Sully and Greenwald in a cage match -- I'll pop the popcorn!"
Last month, I picked a fight with Slate's Ron Rosenbaum over Billy Joel. Opinionated by nature, I'm always looking for a good argument. When I worked at The Washington Times, I used to get in arguments with my friend Victor Morton (who has a master's degree from Notre Dame and knows all my rhetorical bad habits). Sometimes these arguments became so hotly contested that the copy desk chief would have to tell us to keep it down, and I'd get so infuriated I'd shout something foolish and walk out. Thank goodness Victor, a pious Catholic who once considered entering the priesthood, never mistook me for an enemy. An idiot, perhaps, but not an enemy.
Friends can disagree -- and disagree vehemently -- and still remain friends. Some of my conservative blogger friends can't stand Ann Coulter, and others insist that no decent human being should ever link Andrew Sullivan.
Well, as disgusting as Sully's Trig Trutherism may be (and I believe I've diagnosed it as a symptom of incipient dementia) he will never admit the error of his ways if he's cast out among the moonbats, with no hope of ever being received back into the fold of decent human beings. Furthermore, Sullivan's past services to the cause of reasoned discourse -- he especially deserves credit for allowing a free-wheeling debate over Murray and Herrnstein -- ought not be forgotten merely because he is now reduced by misfortune to trafficking in moonbattery. And I would be remiss if I did not point out the signficance of Sully having been victimized by Michelangelo Signorile. Signorile does not attack the unimportant.
That people have been threatened and smeared and "outed" because they dared enter the fray as political polemicists is an affront to decency. People saying wretched things about Jeff Goldstein's son, or people publishing Michelle Malkin's home address -- this is a species of nihilism that deserves the utmost scorn. God knows I have a hot temper, and God knows I've been through a few Arkansas-knife-fight arguments over the years, but there is a bright line between invective and violence. If I can be in the same room with David Brooks and resist the urge to beat him into a coma, then liberals ought to be able to resist the malevolent impulse to incite the mob against Malkin.
And when I begin a sentence with the hypothetical supposition that Israelis might some day choose me as their first Gentile prime minister, then the rest of that sentence should be considered in the appropriate context:
- If the publishers of Salon were to hire me as their Middle East correspondent . . .
- If Salma Hayek ever gets bored with her billionaire husband and wants some hillbilly lovin' . . .
- If Ferrari is looking for someone to test-drive their SUV prototype . . .
- If 2% of my blog readers would hit the tip jar with $20 . . .
- If a frog had wings . . .
The polemicist has real opinions and real loyalties, but he should have few real enemies. Cicero's orations against Catiline are a worthy model of emulation, but we must remember that Cicero and Catiline weren't merely writers quibbling over policy. Cicero was a Senator, and Catiline was conspiring to overthrow the Republic (a plot eventually accomplished by the Second Triumvirate, after they'd assassinated Cicero), and Cicero's denunciation of Catiline was an act of state. If Glenn Greenwald and I were both senators . . .
Well, that's another hypothetical, you see. Just like the chance that you might actually hit the tip jar.
UPDATE: Thanks to Kathy Shaidle on the copy desk for the correction. Also, Mike at Cold Fury says in Rain Man fashion, "Sideboobs. Definitely the sideboobs."