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This Week In Op-Eds: Self-Loathing Coastal Elitists Edition

Our traditional, if recently inaugurated practice, has been to hand out diamonds and coals to the best and worst newspaper opinion pieces of the week, and the week of April 13 had no shortage of candidates for either nod.

On the bad ideas front, Charles Krauthammer didn't disappoint, making the case that multilateral non-proliferation policy ought to be abandoned because, he says, it has failed in North Korea and Iran — a case that might be more compelling if (a) there actually were an outcome in either case, (b) people like Krauthammer hadn't spent seven years slandering advocates of multilateralism while defending an administration determined to ensure the failure of negotiations by absenting the US from them, and (c) Krauthammer weren't literally arguing that building a near-perfect missile defense shield ("say, 90 percent" successful, because 100 percent is just pie-in-the-sky, right?) is a hard-nosed, realistic alternative to diplomacy.

Michael O'Hanlon resumed his role as the Washington Post's go-to-guy for arguments for staying in Iraq recycled from late 2004 and unconvincing even then. O'Hanlon and co-author Ann Gildroy point to six unsolved problems which demand that the US continue the occupation at least until 2010, without providing any reason to believe that an extra year of occupation will resolve any of them, or even make progress toward their resolution. Nor do they give any signs of recognition that in the absence of a logical or causal relation between a continued occupation and improved conditions in Iraq, merely listing bad things in Iraq doesn't make a case for staying there.

There were good op-eds too, like Philip Stephens on Silvio Berlusconi, Steve Chapman on the presidential candidates' misguided energy policies, and David Boaz on the quiet, troubling paternalism of the Senate Finance Committee; and rather say anymore about them, I'll advise you to go ahead and read them yourself.

That's because this week was not like all other weeks in editorializing, because this was the week a presidential candidate was discovered to be a non-lapel pin-wearing, non-flag-saluting unrepentant ex-member of the Nation of Islam chapter of the Weather Underground. And even worse, he is a graduate of not one but two Ivy League Schools. Worst of all, he held a fundraiser in San Francisco. And what incalculable arrogance must he have, to think such a traitorous background would not and ought not be the central focus of the election. Fortunately, a crack squad of red-blooded professional journalists, one of whom once almost calloused a finger under the awesome strain of twice-weekly typing, rose up in a chorus stretching from the rust-sodden abandoned factories of Central Park West from 59th St. to 81st, to the polluted crumbling efficiency housing of Murray Hill (where an honest man could earn a living for his family in the rubber and chemical plants until outsourcing came), to the rustic prairie settlements of Woodley Park in Washington whence gunsmiths' workshops line the way to the lambskin prayer tents of Foggy Bottom and the coal mines of Georgetown.

Long lives shaped by the hard and painful experience of toiling sunup to sundown in sweat and soot and muck and stale sour air choking down near lung-fulls of water in the boiling humid misery of July and scavenging for sources of warmth — chemical fires, manure heaps, abandoned mineshafts — to fend off the frostbitten terror of January, with a brief reprieve coming once a week on Sunday, the Lord's day, had taught these paladins of plebianism what matters to real Americans like themselves. They could not, as patriots, allow an elitist snob from Hawaii (where is that anyway? France?), who's only gotten where he is by having the great good fortune of being the half-black son of a poor white single mother, to talk down to the salt of the earth folk who've made this land the greatest and freest in the world. No, it was up to them, the town criers of Mainstreet USA, to name and extol the values of the ordinary man, which consist, exclusively and universally, in hunting, Jesus, monolingualism, fingernail dirt, vaginal intercourse in the dark, and cheese from a can. Nor did our heroes have any need of even a single empirical datum, wretched in its loneliness, to support their claims: Any alleged members of the working class who reports beliefs and concerns that don't jibe with say, David Brooks' intuitions about their beliefs and concerns, are most likely crypto-elitists who fooled the survey-takers, and if not, are clearly suffering from false consciousness.

Either that, or a bunch of rich elitists afflicted by guilt about their own prosperity and treacly nostalgia for a past that never was, have constructed and dwell in internally consistent Don Quixote fantasy worlds in which they are the champions of a working class that exists only in their heads — hence the lack of need ever to consult with the working class that actually exists. Or: Very, very lazy people with column space to fill republished twenty year old pieces with the names changed and a few updated references thrown in.

Here, then, are the week's top five most fatuous editorial responses to the word "bitter." Contenders are judged on a half point graded scale from 0-10, in three categories: freedom from contamination by evidence; obliviousness to the irony of writing about middle Americans as if they're animals in a zoo; and resemblance of style, content, and standards of honesty to a College Republicans flier. Highest cumulative score wins.

Honorable Mentions: Jonah Goldberg, LA Times, April 15, who observes that Barack Obama's character, like everything else in the world, is best explained by tv shows Goldberg watched as a kid. Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, April 17, argues promisingly that the election will turn on "moral values," but misses out on the top five by citing statistics (albeit ones irrelevant to the case he's trying to make). Ex-Mark Penn partner Douglas Schoen, Washington Post, April 16, thinks Hillary Clinton finally has the opening she needs to start running a negative campaign; right idea, wrong kind of reality-free cocoon for this contest.

5. David Broder, Washington Post, April 17. Saddling up and riding into Pennsyltucky, notepad in hand, to observe the strange folkways of the aboriginals is a standard move for Broder. The Jane Goodall of 15th St. NW reports back that some people in Pennsylvania are planning to vote for Barack Obama, whereas others are not. The judges commend Broder for confusing anecdotes with data, but are unable to award many points considering that his competition didn't even bother assembling uninformative evidence. But he should take heart in having blazed the trails for younger generations of scribes to depress our national standards of discourse. The judges were disappointed that Broder engaged in no obvious partisan hackery, especially with the treasure-trove of quotes from ordinary people from which he could easily have spun several weeks' worth of factually unsupported bullshit.

Score: 3.5, 10.0, 0.5, 14.0 cumulative.

4. David Brooks, New York Times, April 18. "[V]oters want a president who basically shares their values and life experiences. Fairly or not, they look at symbols like Michael Dukakis in a tank, John Kerry’s windsurfing or John Edwards’s haircut as clues about shared values," and there is of course no causal relationship between median voter impressions about candidates and obsessive coverage of haircuts, sandwich filling preferences, and scurrilous rumors about disloyalty to America. A Philadelphia Daily News poll showed 54.5% of viewers of the ABC news debate rated the moderators' performances "terrible," and another 26.9% "disappointing," but that must be wrong because David Brooks has access to the Platonic form of the voter, and the Platonic form of the voter congratulates George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson for asking questions that matter to him, like whether Barack Obama believes in the flag. The judges give Brooks high marks for a sweeping generalization on voters at once pristine in its lack of evidentiary support and downright adorable in its self-unaware, zoological understanding of Americans. Bonus points for ripping on the Trinity United Church of Christ in a paragraph ostensibly about the trendy academic limousine liberal environs of Obama's home in Hyde Park, which is — let me try to make a local comparison — a bit like mentioning a black church in Tremont in an essay on Riverdale. (Given Brooks' Chicago background, it's hard to imagine this was an honest mistake.) Subsequently assaying a bit of survey data denies him a perfect score, though Brooks, did, encouragingly, base his analysis on an elementary inductive fallacy.† But the judges must subtract points for earnestness, as well as a depth of insight that, though shallow, still outstrips his competition.

Score: 8.5, 7.0, 2.0, 17.5 cumulative.

3. George Will, Washington Post, April 15, 2008. Who better to deliver a self-righteous sermon on liberals' condescension toward ordinary people than a bowtied Anglophilic fop? And what more reliable, and completely cliche-free predictor of the upcoming election could there be than Michael Barone's reflections on the Eisenhower-Stevenson contests? Here are two hypotheses about why Stevenson lost: (1) He was an out of touch elitist egghead. (2) He was running against the most popular man in the world. Here are two hypotheses about what year it is: (1) 1956. (2) 2008. Will could scarcely have impressed the judges more, and only the extraordinary strength of the field denied him better than a bronze medal.

Score: 8.0, 9.0, 5.5, 22.5 cumulative.

2. Maureen Dowd, New York Times, April 16, 2008. The sun will rise, the tides will come in, the seasons will change, objects at rest will stay at rest, objects in motion will stay in motion, gravity will pull masses towards the center of the earth, and Maureen Dowd's next NYT column will be a vacuous display of pop-psychology and vain self-flattery masquerading as conventional wisdom masquerading as political analysis. David Hume warns us that there is no rational basis for our confidence that these observed past regularities in nature will persist into the unobserved future, but we live our lives assuming that they will, and so far, they have. That Dowd's presence among the Times' staff columnists is so perplexing to intellectuals just goes to show how out of touch they are with real Americans — real Americans like Dowd, who will never forget the small-town values she was raised on in Washington, DC, no matter how long she lives in Manhattan. (Each locale far, far away from San Francisco, which Dowd aptly describes as "elitism's epicenter.") To say that Dowd wins perfect marks for presenting zero evidence and for obliviousness is plodding redundancy. No Maureen Dowd column is ever ultimately about anything other than the inner states of Maureen Dowd, a cozy land of imagination whose borders she gives no evidence of having ever traversed.

Score: 10.0, 10.0, 5.5, 25.5 cumulative

1. Bill Kristol, New York Times, April 14, 2008. It's probably fitting that a man whose other job is "editing" a magazine that scarcely ever fails to set a new weekly standard for tactical Leninism would "write" a column whose only point and purpose is explicit red-baiting.†† But what makes Kristol's latest offering transcend the boundaries of your run-of-the-mill slanderous hit job and move into the realm of surrealist performance art is that he (1) brags about teaching The Marx-Engels Reader at Penn in a piece (2) bashing elitism and (3) getting misty-eyed about "small-town, working class voters" while (4) somehow managing to confuse with meaning of "bourgeois" with "proletarian" before (5) climaxing with the disclaimer that the same sentiment that Obama expressed, coming out of the mouth of a war hero (are there any running this year?) would not constitute Marxism but simply "an unattractive but in a sense understandable hauteur" — precisely the sort of phrase precisely that small-town working-class bourgeois voters look for in their leaders.

Score: 10.0, 7.5, 9.5, 27.0 cumulative


Meanwhile on planet earth, Obama's horrendous month, in which "the mask slipped" and he was exposed as a racist com-symp who looks down his nose at most Americans, produced a twenty point improvement in his popular standing. This is an unacceptable finding, for which there is only one solution: dissolving the American people and electing a new one.

†Brooks cites a single survey (from Pew, by the description, though he offers no citation) showing Obama currently losing support among Democrats in a hypothetical matchup with John McCain. One free opportunity to anonymously flame the Jewcy editor of your choice to the reader who can identify Brooks' fallacy.

††Why the scare quotes? I'll lay, let's say, 3:2 odds that the author of Kristol's Times columns is a young hack (or a team of them) at the Weekly Standard or some ideologically friendly institute or rag. But even if it's a losing bet for me, it's not a winning bet for Kristol. If I'm wrong, and this is how he actually writes and thinks, that hardly constitutes vindication.

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