In 2008, the Republican party nominated for the office of vice-president a person who is now pretty universally agreed to be unfit for the presidency. (Even Taranto agrees with that.) Concededly: it’s not the first time in the history of the republic that this has happened. But here’s the difference between Palin and, say, Spiro Agnew or Henry Wallace. The Palin nomination elicited a huge outpouring of argument from Republicans and conservatives denying that competence mattered at all in a potential president.
Admittedly, much of this defense was insincere. But unfortunately – not all. Palin we could quietly consign to the attic of Republican embarrassments. The apparatus of excuse and justification that surrounded and protected Palin until the day before yesterday – that still chugs away over at the Wall Street Journal – that apparatus remains an overwhelming impediment to any hope of a more responsible conservatism of the future.
This just reminds me of something I’ve been noticing for a while: Ross Douthat really just sucks now. This is what it’s come to:
If you were a casual consumer of political news in 2009, you would assume that Palin’s famous “death panels” remark received outsize media attention only after it became a rallying cry for the right-wing masses. But in reality, it received outsized media attention in part because a liberal Web site seized on it and ran with it as an example of the scary awfulness of Sarah Palin. And that pattern keeps repeating itself. It’s why there’s more Palin coverage in publications like TPM, MSNBC and Vanity Fair (not to mention, of course, a certain Palin-obsessed Atlantic blogger) than in many conservative outlets: Not because they’re the only places willing to tell the truth about her, but because they’ve built an audience that believes the worst about her, and enjoys wallowing in the fear and loathing she inspires.)
As Frum observes, correctly, conservatives ran with the “death panels” line from the beginning and haven’t stopped since. Douthat would either have to be completely uninformed or dishonest to run with this, and I’ll let you consider which interpretation is right. That begs the question: whatever happened to Ross Douthat? I remember that as late as 2008, Ross Douthat was one of my favorite bloggers on the web. Easily top-five, maybe top-two. I disagreed with the guy a lot, but he really seemed like a sincere guy who wanted to have a debate with people who disagreed with him, acted in good faith, and he often brought up good, incisive points on whatever subject he was discussing. I mean, any Republican who confesses to disliking Grover Norquist is at least worthy of paying attention to, I say. I was actually really happy when Douthat replaced Bill Kristol over at the Times op-ed page, but it’s turned out to have been a much smoother transition than I would ever have considered possible. Frankly, I stopped regularly reading Douthat once he wrote the Texas vs. California article, one of the most intellectually dishonest op-ed pieces I’ve ever read, and one that also just happened to start an insufferable meme. At least now it’s been shown to be an utterly fraudulent argument since Texas is now in much, much worse shape than California, fiscally speaking. But that doesn’t excuse the error in the first place. And it’s gone on like this–witness the Park 51 backlash apologism:
By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.
The emphasis is mine, but the other pieces of evidence are pretty weaselly too. For someone like Rauf to call Hamas a terrorist group would be to ruin his credibility outside the U.S., especially in Palestine, where most people know Hamas as the outfit that gives them health care and other charitable assistance. Terror is their main business, to be sure, but saying that sort of thing makes it difficult to have a dialogue (which might not be what conservatives want anyway). And I think it’s pretty gross to hold someone responsible for what someone says shortly after a traumatic event (since it was shortly after the attacks, after all). Maybe he doesn’t understand all this, I don’t know. But there’s a definite trend here. Anyway, moving on, there’s his disingenuousness on the Simpson-Bowles commission:
Last week’s media coverage sometimes made it sound as if Bowles and Simpson were taking the same amount of fire from left and right. But the reaction from Republican lawmakers and the conservative intelligentsia was muted, respectful and often favorable; the right-wing griping mostly came from single-issue activists and know-nothing television entertainers.
Which seems innocuous, until you read what Jon Chait had to say: “First, if you follow his links, Douthat is casting National Review as a key organ of the Republican Party and Grover Norquist and Sean Hannity as isolated voices. I think the reverse is much closer to the truth.” Douthat is either a naif or a dishonest person to say this. Once again, I let you decide. There’s plenty more, too. There are some rather disturbing implications in his very recent column longing for the days when women were forced to have kids to put up for adoption, as Amanda Marcotte explains:
I’m particularly annoyed at how anti-choicers, including Douthat, latch on to two of the women in the program’s feelings of sadness at having to choose abortion when they love babies. It’s mostly because antis are trying to deprive these women of their basic rights as citizens while pretending to be concerned, but their faux concern is exposed by the fact that they lie and misrepresent what was said.
There are also class-based concerns–about poor and working-class women effectively becoming baby factories to wealthier people–that are completely ignored here. But what bothers me about the pro-life movement (though not with many individual pro-lifers) is that they frankly don’t give a shit about the women who would be in grave danger were abortion to be recriminalized. They don’t–largely–care about what happens to the kids after they’re born. They don’t stand against other things that kill people, like, say, war and lack of health care. Institutionally, pro-life philosophy amounts to little more than fetus fetishism. I don’t have a problem with people believing that life begins at conception, and I can admire idealism even if I don’t share it, but with all this other stuff factored in I’m not really sure “pro-life” is the correct designator for many (if not most) abortion opponents. Once again, there are lots of pro-life people who aren’t like this. But it’s a trend, and it might be something that an ethically-oriented Catholic might be ideally positioned to address in, say, an op-ed in the nation’s most-read paper. I guess we’ll have to wait a little longer.
To be fair, Douthat’s still capable of an occasional insight here and there. But I just can’t take it any more. Douthat simply no longer resembles the blogger whose work I loved at The Atlantic, and the only conclusion is that fame and the reality of becoming a player on the right have ruined him. I guess that leaves open his old place as a sensible, moderate-profile conservative open to argument. I don’t think Frum is necessarily there yet, but I’m going to have to keep closer tabs on the Frum Forum from now on. Stranger things have happened than that, you know.
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