Entry from September 7, 2010

Sunday’s New York Times op ed page provided (at least) three good example of the kind of rhetorical sink that that once-respected newspaper’s opinion pages have become. First, Maureen Dowd in a piece on Tony Blair’s newly-published memoir headed “The Poodle Speaks” wrote that

It is criminally na ve, given the billions spent on intelligence, that Blair and W. muffed the postwar planning because they never perceived what Blair now acknowledges as “the true threat”: outside interference by Al Qaeda and Iran. So the reasoning of the man known in England as Phony Tony or Bliar amounts to this: They had to invade Iraq because Saddam could hypothetically hook up with Al Qaeda. But they didn’t properly prepare for the insurgency because they knew that Saddam had no link to Al Qaeda.

“They never perceived what Blair now acknowledges”? “They didn’t properly prepare. . . because they knew. . .”? Surely, they didn’t properly prepare because of what they didn’t know? And what had Saddam’s non-links to Al Qaeda have to do with the insurgency anyway? If this farrago in any way represents Mr Blair’s actual “reasoning,” I’d like to see the original passage. By all accounts he writes a lot better English than this of Miss Dowd’s and even somehow contrived to produce a publishable manuscript without the help of a ghost-writer.

But she knows that she has no need to be fair to those she thus misrepresents or to make any rational sense out of her own permanent state of moral outrage, presumably because so many of her readers share it. All she has to do is retail three vulgar insults (if you count her headline) directed at the former prime minister by his domestic political enemies and include the word “criminally” at her own discretion and in the absence of any criminal charges to characterize a lack of acuity in her targets’ foresight to match her own in hindsight. If that were criminal, we’d need another stimulus bill just to build all the new prisons we’d need. Talk about infrastructure! But this is what passes for commentary these days at The New York Times. Or this. On the same day and on the same page Frank Rich found an occasion to use the same adverb, “criminally,” and similarly without any justification but his own and his correspondent’s anger — against, well, whomever.

As one Iraq war vet e-mailed to me after hearing [Glenn] Beck’s patriotic sermons: “What does gathering in D.C. do for the troops?” He was appalled at the self-regard of those who thought their jingoistic rally would help returning troops abandoned by the military’s “criminally poor mental health care” or save any soldier who was “two seconds away from getting his leg blown off by an I.E.D.”

It shouldn’t take too much imagination to figure out what a public honoring of veterans might do for them — unless, like Frank and friend, one were oneself so lost in “self-regard” as to characterize such a rally as merely “jingoistic.” Like so much of the feverish antiwar rhetoric which has long been a feature of Mr Rich’s columns, this kind of angry dissent from what would once have been the most uncontroversial of public recognition for those who have served their country seems to be based on a bizarre belief that it is enough to discredit a war to point out that people have been hurt or killed in the course of it. That all wars routinely kill and maim those who fight them is why people like Glenn Beck and his followers believe the veterans ought to be honored in the first place, not because the honors are supposed to keep bad things from happening to them.

One’s eye doesn’t have to travel far, then, to light on a column the same day by the almost equally self-regarding Nicholas D. Kristof which begins in this fashion:

A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers — and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.

But this is just another way of saying that they are bigots! Not only are the opponents echoing those “earlier waves of intolerance” — and does not intolerance equal bigotry? — but the mere assumption that their opposition is owing to worry or fear is an attempted re-formulation of the fashionable left-wing definition of bigotry as “fear of ‘the other’.” What the interviewer was really asking was was, could there be any other reason but irrational fear for opposing the mosque? Nicholas D. Kristof couldn’t think of any. But then he didn’t need to, because on the New York Times op ed page, calling two-thirds of one’s fellow citizens bigots, in however circumlocutory fashion, has become as unremarkable as calling their elected leaders criminals. Now there would be something to worry about, if the Times were capable of worrying about its own behavior and not just everybody else’s.

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