Gail Collins and Ross Douthat, "The Conversation: Are Liberals More Corrupt?" August 5
I WAS staring at Slate the other morning, trying to decide if I was going to open Saletan's fifth-or-sixth Double-Reverse attack on professional Life Defenders for the possibility that they are hiding their opposition to Contraception (gasp!) for political purposes (no!), thus hoodwinking millions of their followers into not paying attention to the clear national consensus on the issue which, coincidentally, just happens to be represented by the extended doodling on the subject by one William Saletan in Slate. (The answer was No, but at some point in the resultant reverie it occurred to me that Saletan's abortion routine is actually a sort of alchemical distillation of Slate's own self, a special Counter-Anti-Contrarianism of the modern "journalist's" defense that he must be doing something right since his hate mail comes from both sides of an issue. Saletan, I suddenly realized, had simply reversed that process and paced off the distance until he thought he found the spot; unsurprisingly, the calculations led him to a point equidistant between his own ears.)
Anyway, at this point my gaze relaxed involuntarily, probably in preparation for a swoon; but instead it seemed as if I were taking in all of Slate at a glace, the peripheral vision of the Mind's Eye, and a sense of inner peace gently enfolded me in etherial tendrils of Love (it probably was all those alembic fumes), and a Voice that seemed to me to come from Everywhere At Once said, "Who th' Fuck reads this stuff?"
And like any messenger of God, peyote eater, or laudanum hobbyist, I get left trying to translate--and issue instructions--to a world which hasn't shared my vision, and isn't suffering from the resulting screaming headache. I don't think The Great Ridgepole meant that we ought not to read Slate, just that the Atman, the Cosmic Mover, Non-Entity, The Big Whatever, can't figure out who is supposed to need a daily dose of Why We Should Applaud Mark Sanford, or Are Organic Foods Really Greener? or Reinventing the Orphanage any more than I can when my senses are intact. It's as though William Randolph Hearst set out, not to sell newspapers by whatever sensationalized bullshit was handy, but to see how many borderline psychotics he could tip over the edge at 5¢ per.
Speaking of which, I've been trying to ignore that Douthat piece all week, until his filling-in for Brooks in the sadly under-appreciated blank space wasted by The Conversation drove me, not just over the edge, but to question, all the way down, the fundamental wisdom of my parent's decision to teach me to read. Just for starters, I admit I always imagined a Conversation as taking place between two or more persons who shared a common tongue, or a translator, and involving a certain amount of give-and-take, statement-and-response, or something. I have no personal definition of Conversation which covers Gail Collins introducing Ross Douthat so he can basically try to take back some major idiocy he'd perpetrated two days previous in, we remind you, the single fucking 800-word piece he is paid an exorbitant sum to produce once a week. After reading it once and scrolling up and down for forty-five seconds I finally hit "Print" just to make sure someone hadn't inadvertently left off the link to the rest of the pages. But no, there you are; Collins mutters some banalities, and explains Brooks' absence to the two or three people who must have been disappointed, before happening to bring up Douthat's most prominent howler in--have I mentioned this?--the single fucking 800-word piece he is paid an exorbitant sum to produce once a week. Which he then proceeds to take back by not taking back, to explain by not explaining, and to point out, in his own defense, that the whole thing looked different if you stood on your head while reading it.
And we'll get to that in a moment, but first let's sample the microwavable frozen Chicken Nuggets of that Monday piece:
We know because he said so, in the first of many famous speeches, that Barack Obama doesn’t see Red America or Blue America — he only sees the United States of America. But as the president contemplates his faltering poll numbers and his stalling health-care push, he might want to consider a more colorful perspective.
The red-blue contrast is often overdrawn. But it’s a sensible way to understand Obama’s summer struggles. On health care, energy, taxes and spending, he’s pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths.
Yes, it's the Boy That Red State/Blue State Thing Is Overdone, But Let Me Tell You Why It Proves Red States Are Superior routine, much favored by those who want to appear thoughtful without, you know, actually putting any thought into what they're about to say.
Reader--I hope you haven't clicked either of those links; I'd blame myself if you had--this is not even the part that he had to backpeddle yesterday. We are driven to ask, again, whether the Times hired Douthat because they thought everyone else was Even Worse?
Look, I'm not the President's #1 fanboy, but as much as I'm sure those faltering poll numbers look like the closest thing you're going to get to a Come To Jesus moment for the next four years, could you bother to show the tiniest glimpse of understanding the cyclical End of Honeymoon cycle? Personally I'd like to see you, or any of your ilk, admit that part of the President's enormous popularity was a result of his personal comparison to Your Man, and the comparison of the generalized half-truth about Democrats caring about real people and real problems to your Principled Plutocracy, and viewed through the lens of what levels of Praise you were shouting about those at the time, but I realize it's too much to ask.
But, Ross, really, the "overdrawn" Red State/Blue State thing nonetheless provides us a workable framework for dispensing utter bullshit about Texas vs. California? State government spending didn't wreck the economy, Ross. Unfettered rapine, the result of Republican party "principles" wrecked the economy. The systematic elimination of responsible regulation in pursuit of large campaign donations wrecked the economy. It didn't land more gently (to the extent it did) on the Gentlemanly Agricultural South because their statehouses underfund education and stiff-arm social services. If Texas is a paragon of government operation there are forty-seven states in the Union whose school children are overachieving.
Meanwhile, Ross, and I know it's unfair to expect you to know anything that happened before you were born, seeing how much trouble you have with what's right under your nose an' all, but California, which, unlike Texas, has a two-party system, has been in the economic doldrums for a decade, and its state budget problems, or "disaster", are the direct result of faux-populist Ur-Teabagging in the 1970s and a state constitution which actually requires the Israeli National Union Party to sign off on any agreement. You can look this shit up.
Okay, trays up and seat belts buckled, please. We're gonna hit some turbulence:
And, inevitably, the tendency toward political corruption. The Republicans have their mistresses, but the Democrats are dealing with a more serious array of scandals: the Blagojevich-Burris embarrassment in Illinois, Senator Christopher Dodd’s dubious mortgage dealings in Connecticut, the expansive graft case in New Jersey, and a slew of corruption investigations featuring Democratic congressmen.
Y'know, Ross, despite the evidence of that beard (and the absence of a real copy of your birth certificate) I'm reasonably convinced you're three months from thirty, not barely thirteen. So there is no explanation for Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, Enron, Haliburton, the US Department of the Interior, and the accounting ledgers for Iraq from 2003-2005 having just slipped your mind, or being subsumed under "marital follies", or falling into the colossal hole everything pre-Reagan excepting FDR's Socialism and Jimmy Carter's Malaise has. None. And those are just the highlights, and that's just the response to your claims of financial malfeasance, and we limited ourselves to DC. Just outlining the major political scandals of the last eight years would take almost as long as trying to untangle that tapdance you did yesterday trying to get out of it. Though, admittedly, at least with the former we might hope to learn something useful.