Entry from August 25, 2011

What a joy it always is to read Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times! The guy is a paragon of bad writing. Or, as Matt Taibbi memorably put it a few years ago on the publication of The World Is Flat, Mr Friedman is “such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays.” Here’s an example from his most recent column in the Times in which he compares President Obama to Tiger Woods — “a natural who’s lost his swing”:

Obama surprised everyone by broaching the idea during the debt negotiations of a “Grand Bargain” — roughly $3 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade and $1 trillion in tax increases — as a signal to the markets that we’re getting our fiscal house in order. It was absolutely the right idea — as long as it is coupled with investments in infrastructure, education and research — but House Speaker John Boehner could not deliver his Tea Party-led G.O.P. caucus. Yet rather than flesh out his Grand Bargain in detail and take it on the road — and let every American everywhere understand and hear every day that he had a plan but the Republicans wouldn’t rise to it — Obama dropped it. Did he ever try to explain the specifics of his Grand Bargain and why it was the only way to go? No. . . Without his own Grand Bargain on the table — imprinted on the mind of every American — Obama has been left playing defense, playing to get the least-bad deal, or playing not to lose.

Leave aside the characteristically contorted metaphor where this “Grand Bargain” is hypothetically having flesh put on it and taken on the road before being held up to where the Republicans wouldn’t rise, then dropped, picked up again, put on the table and finally imprinted on the mind of every American; leave aside, too, the fact that the GB’s bizarre career meshes at no point with the overall metaphor of a golf game, picked up again here with “playing defense” etc. The first thing we notice is that a bargain requires two parties. The President cannot hold up “his” Grand Bargain as the same thing as a “plan” that the Republicans wouldn’t rise to, because without the Republicans rising to it the plan never became and never could become a bargain, grand or otherwise.

Such poor writing I take to be just one of the ill consequences of the mono-culture of the élite media which regards political views other than its own, as Mr Friedman does, as tantamount to “nuttiness.” He needn’t worry about giving offense because he can assume that everyone who reads him, if anyone still does, already agrees with him; he needn’t worry about the ridicule his writing so richly deserves because almost no one who reads him also reads anybody who is likely to notice and call attention to it. This state of affairs obtains at most mainstream media outlets and is doubtless what is producing ever greater quantities of bad writing there. In fact, Richard Cohen of the rival Washington Post has long been a pretender to Thomas Friedman’s dunce’s throne, and the political climate of today may just give him the boost he needs to supersede his rival.

I allude to the vogue on the left for “reality” as a stick with which to beat the right. “Reality,” you will understand, requires those two little scare-quote chips on its shoulders because it is not the reality of all of us — hitherto the minimal requirement for the title — but a special, proprietorial sort of reality belonging only to the bien pensant, rather like that fanciful “Grand Bargain” of President Obama’s which simply excludes one of the notional parties to it. Reality once seemed a giant, threatening presence that no one could miss, the thing that liberals used to get mugged by before they became neoconservatives. The reality of today’s lefties is still threatening, but now it is hidden away in elaborate formulae and computer programs that only highly trained scientists can understand. These scientists then tell the rest of us what reality is, and we can either blindly accept their assurances or be labeled “anti-scientific” by those who do.

Let”s leave for another time the question of how real or unreal the allegedly scientific reality of global warming really is in order to look for a moment at one of the consequences of today’s fervent belief in it by the left — for which there is no one better to turn to than Mr Cohen. His recent op ed in the Post is a characteristically dunderheaded and badly written attack on Rick Perry for having “waxed wrongly on global warming.” By the way, “waxed” means “grew” in proper English, though Mr Cohen naturally prefers the illiterate usage which supposes it to mean “expatiate” in its figurative sense. In this “waxing,” then,

Perry has given us a glimpse of what happens when his ideology collides with reality. Ideology wins, and it does so not on the up and up but by cheating a bit — in the case of global warming with the fictitious numbers and false charges. We have already seen the consequence of this kind of thinking. George W. Bush’s conviction that he was chosen to rid the world of Saddam Hussein led us into a war for stated reasons that were later contradicted by the evidence — or, more to the point, lack of evidence.

Talk about lack of evidence! What is his evidence for “George W. Bush’s conviction that he was chosen to rid the world of Saddam Hussein”? And if he had such a conviction what was the point of his “stated reasons”? Moreover, those stated reasons — i.e. Weapons of Mass Destruction — were not “contradicted” by “lack of evidence.” On the contrary, there was plenty of evidence for them, which is why not only our intelligence services but those of the whole world believed in the WMD. But “evidence” turned out to be, as evidence surprisingly often does when it is incommensurate with the magnitude of the proposition it supports, an unreliable guide to the truth — which, as it happens, is pretty much what Rick Perry was saying about Global Warming. The evidence, though considerable, is not conclusive. It certainly doesn’t constitute a “reality” lending itself to Richard Cohen’s purposes, which are to establish that those who disagree with him are delusional. Chances are, if you don’t already believe that, you won’t be persuaded by him. But he doesn’t care, because there are plenty of people who already believe it.

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