ONE thing that can be said for Douthat, or at least for his otherwise inexplicable position at the Times: his ill-informed, un-reflective, graspingly obvious attempts to excuse nothing so much as a congenital late-20th century wingnuttery and an early 19th century backwoods religious mania make him the perfect spokesman for Young Republicans. Or Old ones.
IN 2004, the Democrats were furious at what they considered the fraud to end all frauds: the selling of George W. Bush as a decisive military leader and all-American tough guy. So they nominated John Kerry for the presidency, hoping that having a real combat veteran as their standard-bearer — a bemedaled war hero, no less, who began his convention speech by announcing that he was “reporting for duty” — would finally expose Bush as the tinhorn chicken hawk that liberals believed him to be.
The jury's attention is directed to Exhibits A through E: "furious", "they considered to be", "fraud to end all frauds", "tinhorn chicken hawk", and "believed him to be". The Aging Young Republican huffs intensifiers like a sullen teenager huffs paint.
This is, Ladies and Gentlemen--and thank you for your service, by the way; you're the cornerstone of our legal system--this is Ross Douthat--New York Times columnist Ross Douthat--merely setting up a specious comparison to Newt Gingrich. But he can't resist overselling it by a factor of six gazillion.
So, one: John Kerry ran partly on his war record. There's an event unprecedented in American political history. Two: if Democrats were truly looking for a symbolic nominee to point out Bush's alleged chicken hawkery, then what happened to Wes Clark? Three:
And look, while we're at it, what is so difficult about the chicken hawk concept for the American Right, aside from the requirement of a hard look in the mirror? Bush wasn't a chicken hawk. He was a plutocrat who, like Dan Quayle, avoided combat by securing a coveted National Guard position. Which, into the bargain, he seems to've avoided fulfilling, with no consequence to himself. I'm no Democrat, and I'm too old and experienced to be spurred to "fury", but the risible "War Leader" and "Commander Codpiece" crap was but a fraction of Bush hagiography from the Right, which also included "Jesus speaks through him" and "He's misunderestimated." And, as always, any spite this might have awakened in me would have been reserved for the people who fell for it; Republicans I already expect to act like Daddy worshippers, provided Daddy is one of theirs.
Okay, three: yes, indeed, Kerry played up his war record, and Democrats hated Bush. Kerry also had solid liberal credentials. This is the stuff of pungent political metaphor?
The conventional wisdom holds that Mitt Romney is the John Kerry figure (a Northeastern flip-flopper with good hair)
Left off the "Republicans alleged" routine here, huh Ross? And whose conventional wisdom? Kerry's "flip-flopping" amounted to having voted for the Iraq War Resolution then later announcing he opposed the war. In fairness, that should have been the case with anyone who was foolish enough to have voted for the Iraq War Resolution, and then realized the execution was in the hands of George W. Bush. My own senior, and I do mean senior, Senator, Dick Lugar, actually announced he was against the war, then voted for the Resolution, then later, when it turned to shit, reminded everyone that he'd told them so. He's known as a keen observer of international politics.
But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.
Who said Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance, or that his undeniable oratorical skills are "unprecedented"? And where are they currently receiving treatment?
This fantasy ran wild four years ago. Obama is “probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” the presidential historian Michael Beschloss announced shortly after the November election. The then-candidate’s Philadelphia address on race and Jeremiah Wright was “as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate,” a group of progressive luminaries declared in The Nation. Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” is quite possibly “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician,” Time Magazine’s Joe Klein declared. “He is not the Word made flesh,” Ezra Klein wrote of Obama’s rhetoric in The American Prospect, “but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.”
Okay, so some of 'em are still roaming free; so there's a jibber-jabberer with a Harvard MBA who's not gay, but would tap it. What's that got to do with, you should pardon the expression, your point? Why are we 300 words into an 800 word piece already?
It’s easy to see why this kind of myth-making would infuriate Obama’s opponents. And so ever since the 2008 election, the right has embraced a sweeping counternarrative, in which the president’s eloquence is a myth and his brilliance a pure invention. Take away his campaign razzle-dazzle and his media cheering section, this argument goes, and what remains is a droning pedant, out of his depth and tongue-tied without a teleprompter.
Three-hundred sixty-three words.
Look, Ross, we're going to introduce a little avoidance therapy here, okay? Try to remain calm. The reason it's "easy to see" why the Obama mythos infuriated the American Right is that the goddam American Right is permanently infuriated to begin with, okay? The American Right was infuriated that John Kerry had the audacity to win military honors. You'd imagine that the nation's premier Kennedy historian would at least have a passing familiarity with "Nixon's the One". Or have recognized the George W. Bush canonization for what it was. I leave off Reagan; forcing you to acknowledge that three-decade orgy of unreality is going to take a lot more treatment.
This is where Gingrich comes in.
Just as Kerry’s candidacy represented an attempt to effectively out-patriot George W. Bush (“You have a war president? We have a war hero!”)
Thanks for the reminder, Ross. When that hammering stopped for a full sentence I forgot all about it.
the former speaker has skillfully played to the Republican desire for a candidate who can finally outsmart and out-orate Obama.
His promise to challenge the president to a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates, in particular, has been deliberately framed as a kind of professor versus professor showdown, in which the president’s weaknesses will finally be exposed.
“How does a Columbia-Harvard graduate, who was the editor of the law review ... supposedly the best orator in the Democratic Party,” Gingrich asked recently, “how does he look himself in the mirror and say he’s afraid to debate a West Georgia College professor?” It’s a line that evokes a kind of conservative revenge fantasy, in which the liberal elitists who sneered at George W. Bush’s malapropisms and Sarah Palin’s “you betchas” receive their richly deserved comeuppance at the hands of Newton Gingrich, Ph.D.
But a fantasy is all it is.
Okay, this sounds like progress, Ross, but you just wrote a five-hundred thirty-seven word praeteritio.
The American Spectator’s Quin Hillyer calls it “the fallacy of the master debater”
Goes right along with the Myth of the Non-Partisan Teabagger. (Say, maybe this could be Rick Santorum's big opening.)
the belief that elections turn on dramatic rhetorical confrontations, in which the smarter and better-spoken candidate exposes his rival as a tongue-tied boob.
Okay, it's obvious we're not going to get any further today. Some teat-moistener at the American Spectator is now going to lecture the nation--or that one ten-millionth of one percent which reads the American Spectator--on the public's shockingly less-than-total absorption on the fine points of Presidential debating? You're fucking Republicans! The last Republican to win a debate was Silent Cal.
Y'all don't want Gingrich. We get it. And you don't want to admit to yourselves that he, and the rest of that daisful of Jebus-mazed encephalics are the Republican party. We get it. And you think you can kid the rest of us about it.
That we don't get. If this He's the Anti-Obama shit was real, how th' hell did it take the massive self-immolation of four front-runners--any of whom should have embarrassed you to the extent that you started writing your column under an assumed name--before you lit on the only guy still standing who isn't a Mormon?
Y'know, it's too late for George Eff Will, of course, and too late for Brooks. But Ross, you're thirty years old. You still have a chance to go through half your life without using shit for brains.