CONNOISSEURS of black humor may remember Benjamin "Virgin Ben" Shapiro, the "Conservative" intellectual who came out of nowhere and returned even more rapidly. (Yes, I know; he's one of Breitbart's brightest now. So fucking what?) Shapiro's schtick--technically, no doubt, that of his handlers--was that he was an amazing political wunderkind, wowing the Temple elders at a tender age. It apparently didn't matter that his actual output was a soulless and savor-free recapitulation of rightist talking points which a lad of sixteen had no business holding. Young Ben didn't talk about his own world; he talked about the world of his parents. He wrote a book about the insidious Invasion of the Pornographers, despite the fact that by the time he was born everyone in America had a VCR, and had it for one reason. It came as no surprise when he suddenly spouted off about the Soviet Union (which had disintegrated when he was 3), the Liberal Media, or Quemoy and Matsu. His most famous jaw-dropping idiocy of the period, of course, revolved around his colpophobia and its best-known symptom, his public insistence on saving his purity to present to his bride on their wedding night.
Now, it's entirely possible that in the global history of letters--most of it written in languages in which I lack basic competence, and all of it written in languages where I lack fluency--someone has tried to peddle a stupider idea. But I wouldn't take the bet. It is possible, just, that a young man at the peak of hormonal disruption of every fucking cell in his body nevertheless finds his religious or moral landscape sufficient to overcome the sexual urge. (To my knowledge, Shapiro never claimed this.) It's certainly possible that physical or psychological difficulties leave one on the outside looking in, as it were. However, the odds that a nominally-sentient sixteen-year-old decides, of his own volition, to forego the normal 24 hr/day cycle of hunting for pussy because of some scruple about the effects of promiscuous sexuality on the culture at large? Zero. Maybe Shapiro was making a virtue of necessity. I don't care. Considering his public persona I'd have bought a lifelong pledge of celibacy. I just don't know why anyone bought it as a political act from someone too young to get a driver's license.
Which brings us to Douthat, now humping along toward a monochrome middle age with the same teenage facial hair and the same teenage hand-me-down politics. Is there a single example of organic development in what we'll call, for lack of a thesaurus, Douthat's thought? (Concessions don't count.)
FOR a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left.
As opposed to the certainties of the self-appointed public moralist, who can point to the Book his ideas come from, making them simply righteous.
In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.
Mite touchy, are we?
And, look: "The Left", in general, favors some restrictions on gun ownership and weapon availability. The "immediate response" you were forced to suffer through so unfairly is a result of 20 6- and 7-year-olds being gunned down in a public school. By, predictably, some nut with an assault weapon. Normal people were shocked and appalled, Ross-O. Normal people want such atrocities to end. Normal people, not just political partisans, see the easy availability of weapons as the crucial link in all these episodes.
The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite.
Who's the de facto spokesman for the sort of person who uses "Acela Corridor elite" as a collective noun?
So now a billionaire "Third Way" Rockefeller Republican is King of the Leftists because he, like millions of Americans, including a lot of apolitical ones, believes that maybe stricter gun laws might allow more of our fellow citizens to reach their eighth birthday?
How fucking convenient, how remarkably fucking convenient, if one wishes to pretend the argument is taking place in 1968, when yelling "Dirty Hippie" trumped everything.
Like so many members of that class, Bloomberg combines immense talent with immense provincialism: his view of American politics is basically the famous New Yorker cover showing Manhattan’s West Side overshadowing the world, and his bedrock assumption is that the liberal paternalism with which New York is governed can and should be a model for the nation as a whole.
Ross Douthat, born in San Francisco, CA, raised in New Haven, CT; attended Hamden Hall and Harvard University. Resides in Washington, District of Columbia. Spokesman for the culture of Middle America.
From 1992 to 2000: Blackville, SC. Lynnville, TN. Moses Lake, WA. Bethel, AK. Pearl, MS. Paducah, KY. Stamps, AR. Jonesboro, AR. Edinboro, PA. Springfield, OR. Richmond, VA. Fayetteville, TN. Columbine, CO. Conyers, GA. Deming, NM. Flint, MI. Lake Worth, FL.
Middle America can use all the help it can get.
It’s an assumption that cries out to be challenged by a thoughtful center-right. If you look at the specific proposals being offered by Bloomberg and others, some just look like reruns of assault weapon regulations that had no obvious effect the last time they were tried. Others still might have an impact on gun violence, but only at a cost: the popular idea of cracking down hard on illegal handguns, for instance, would probably involve “stop and frisk” on a huge scale, and might throw more young men in prison at a time when our incarceration rates are already too high.
The bullshit that "assault weapons bans failed" has been dealt with a hundred times over in the ten days since Sandy Hook; you can wish it away in your own mind, but not in public debate. As for the strain on our overcrowded prison system, it's full of drug offenders, many of 'em non-violent, and some guilty of next-to-nothing. Fact is that thanks to your party we've needed plenty of capacity, and can free up space as necessary. But, may I say, spirited attempt on the anti-racism routine, Ross. I didn't know you had it in you.
But instead of a kind of skepticism and sifting from conservatives, after a week of liberal self-righteousness the spotlight passed instead to ... Wayne LaPierre. And no Stephen Colbert parody of conservatism could match the National Rifle Association spokesman’s performance on Friday morning.
For cryin' out loud, you knew it was broken when you bought it.
It wasn’t so much that LaPierre’s performance made no concession whatsoever on gun restrictions or gun safety — that was to be expected.
It was expected from Wayne LaPierre. It isn't from every responsible gun owner.
It was that he launched into a rambling diatribe against an absurdly wide array of targets, blaming everything from media sensationalism to “gun-free schools” signs to ’90s-vintage nihilism like “Natural Born Killers” for the Newtown tragedy.
I gotta tell ya, Ross, how much I've enjoyed the "Wayne LaPierre is so old he thinks Natural Born Killers is in theaters" schtick every time I've heard it. As if Wayne LaPierre's actual political position isn't sixty years out of date.
Then he proposed, as an alternative to the liberal heavy-handedness of gun control, something equally heavy-handed — a cop in every school, to be paid for by that right-wing old reliable, cuts to foreign aid.
I'd just like to mention, once again, that this thing took the geniuses at the NRA a fucking week to come up with. And evidently no one told them a) most of that foreign aid goes to the We Need Israel to Start Armageddon Fund, and b) most of that comes in the form of weapons. If you think people should be armed to the teeth before they head over to the mall, you sure must believe Israel needs to fucking bristle with hardware.
Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.
Puts me in mind of Thurber's bit in My Life and Hard Times where, after a semester of trying and failing to see anything through a microscope he finally produced a sketch of his own eyeball.
That's not the country, Ross-boy; that's the fucking interior of your own skull. It's certainly not a mirror held up to the public discussion of the last ten days, where Liberal Leftist Centrists Oblivious to the Evidence are opposed by Slightly Skewed Self-Defense Groups. That's not how sensible people in that Middle America you imagine you speak for think of things. Most people, most reasonably sane people, are so repulsed by Newtown that they don't want to hear any more excuses. That may not be a fully nuanced view, or a completely practical one, but it is the sane reaction. Your side sure didn't have a problem with simplistic, emotional arguments drowning everything out after 9/11, did it?
The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.
Says the guy who co-wrote that book in 2008 about how the Republican party had to adapt, then climbed on board the Teabag Express the moment it gained momentum.
Speaking of sweeping: that's what the Times Op-Ed pages could use. Criticizing the "extremist excesses" of a portion of your party is bullshit. FOX News is your party. Further, you don't gain the status of Reasonableness, let alone Free Thinker, by offering the occasional half-assed swipe at it when things go bad. These people are Holy Middle America when they're turning out to vote your way, and crazed yahoos when you lose in spite of 'em. You're supposed to be the religious man, Douthat; how 'bout your standards gaining a little consistency? Meanwhile, Leftist Liberal Centrist Provincial Elites are everywhere, and at all times, barely able to cloak their inherent Evil. Or else they're simple-minded dupes. Is this the great swath of middle ground we're supposed to crowd around on?The establishment view is interventionist, corporatist and culturally liberal. It thinks that issues like health care and climate change and immigration are best worked out through comprehensive bills drawn up by enlightened officials working hand in glove with business interests. It regards sexual liberty as sacrosanct, and other liberties — from the freedoms of churches to the rights of gun owners — as negotiable at best. It thinks that the elite should pay slightly higher taxes, and everyone else should give up guns, SUVs and Big Gulps and live more like, well, Manhattanites. It allows the president an entirely free hand overseas, and takes the Bush-Obama continuities in foreign policy for granted.The right-wing view is embittered, paranoid and confused. It opposes anything the establishment supports but doesn’t know what it wants to do instead. (Defund government or protect Medicare? Break up the banks or deregulate them? Send more troops to Libya or don’t get involved? Protect our liberties or put our schools on lockdown?)Sometimes the right’s “just say no” approach holds the establishment at bay — as on climate change and immigration, to date. But sometimes, as the House Republicans are demonstrating in the budget showdown, it makes the eventual defeat that much more sweeping.
Because if it is, you might want to work on that "sexual liberty" routine some.