Happy Martin Luther King Day! Or, more accurately, Racism-Is-Over-Because-We-Named-It-After-A-Black-Man Day! Here in the Great White North, our big state newspaper honored the man by publishing a column by Katherine Kersten, claiming that ethnic studies programs at a university are an
extremist boot camp.
You probably don’t know who Katherine Kersten is. When I first moved to Minnesota and started reading the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which is generally a good paper, two aching sores regularly leapt out at me. One was James Lileks, the whitest white man in America, who also seemed to be sending most of his columns from his cozy middle-class cottage in 1950 via a time machine (I could think of so many better uses of a time machine…), and the other was notorious racist conservative Katherine Kersten. Everyone knew she was a pretentious conservative of the William Buckley stamp, the Star-Tribune knew about her biases, the Star-Tribune regularly got protest letters about her, but the Star-Tribune regularly published her hateful opinions. I don’t know what was up with that, her presence seemed very Midwestern, like the paper’s dreadful great-aunt that they had to invite to every Thanksgiving, even though we knew she was going to bring her stale, tasteless hot dish that no one would eat because, as she would constantly tell us, she’d added a bit of mail-order cough syrup and chopped almonds because they were full of laetrile to keep the cancer away.
I used to write about her every once in a while. She complained about atheists, because obviously we have no sense of right or wrong. She was always complaining about the university, because we had all these diversity programs (I imagine that right now she’s fuming over Critical Race Theory, but I don’t know, because I stopped reading her). Oh boy, did she complain about the Muslims in Minnesota. Yet, despite constantly presenting herself as the voice of the oppressed white people of the country, she also complained about the universities cultivating a culture of victimhood.
Oh well. I guess it’s good to have a reminder that racism is not over, because the Star-Tribune couldn’t even be bothered to ask their in-house Archie Bunker to shut her bigoted yap for a few days, and because the Star-Tribune doesn’t seem to have a problem with keeping a racist turd like Kersten on their payroll.
To be fair to William F. Buckley, he was a good writer and speaker who had a few really bad ideas.
#1 Which is worse: both folks have the same really bad ideas
a) someone who speaks and writes eloquently and can make the bad ideas seem ‘good’?
b) someone who speaks plainly and let’s everyone see how bad the ideas are?
I had never heard of James Lileks, so I looked him up. To be honest, I enjoy things like “The Gallery of Regrettable Foods” and probably stumbled on it before but didn’t notice the author’s name. His “humorous” commentary is obvious, but I am fascinated by his vintage finds. I grew up at a time when bad food reigned (the 70s), but not quite that bad. It’s ironic that American cuisine started to get better around the time everything else went to hell with Ronald Reagan. I wonder how you explain that. (Maybe an entirely unrelated consequence of globalization.)
The priorities are interesting, such as “meltability” rather than any culinary qualities of processed cheese. I wonder if Velveeta would work in a 3D printer. I recall reading somewhere that the popularity of aspics came from people wanting to show off that they owned a refrigerator. I’m sure many dissertations have already been written about this.
Pierce R. Butler says
Never yet heard of an ethnic studies program which rousted its enrollees out of their bunks before dawn to run three miles carrying a heavy pack, in the mud, while getting yelled at by troglodytes with stripes on their sleeves.
What else have I missed?
Jim Balter says
To be fair to William F. Buckley, he was a pompous asshole whose existence made the world a far worse place.
Jim Balter says
“It’s ironic that American cuisine started to get better around the time everything else went to hell with Ronald Reagan. I wonder how you explain that. ”
Um, post hoc ergo propter hoc?
@ whywhywhy, # 2: Why, option A of course. But Buckley’s bad ideas were obvious-for instance, he wanted HIV Positive people to have that tattooed on their butts.
@ Jim Balter, # 5: I know that. I was being sardonic.
@ PaulBC, # 3: Velveeta-aka “the cheese that cannot die.”
Rich Woods says
I include the link here as an antithesis to the emissions of racist assholes and their beliefs of what a society should be like.
Use “Sweden” as placeholder for “affluent European country in general”
bcw bcw says
@1. Buckley, like Tucker Carlson, succeeded because he was wealthy. His writing was shallow and insincere.
My thoughts of MLK day are influenced by reading what was said about him when he was alive: the hatred and lies spread about him in most newspapers and the “he’s should be more patient” and “we need to investigate his communist ties” editorials.
bcw bcw says
It’s weird, most of the references to Kersten refer to her column in the past tense. This suggests today’s hate rant is a one-off selected by the paper’s editor to make a special statement on MLK day.
And you’re going to ruin that for us, aren’t you? Yup, there you go.
I’m assuming here that the paper’s high-level editors don’t actually agree with Kersten’s views, in which case she is probably the token right-wing extremist columnist. It lets editors/publishers say, yes, we have a couple of liberal columnists, but we’ve also got Kersten, who makes the liberals rage. It’s protecting the paper’s right-wing flank. Of course, some editors might agree with her, in which case that’s a much-uglier situation. At the papers I worked on, we got phone calls complaining about all of the “liberals” on the editorial/op-ed pages. These pages generally leaned to the right, not the left. That is, the right-wing columnists outnumbered “liberals” (some of whom I’d like centrists, not leftists) by as much as two to one.
Buckley was a racist scumbag who could write more elegantly than the average knuckle-dragger. He inherited enough money to buy his way into right-wing circles. While I don’t blame him directly for Trump, he helped create the un-intellectual atmosphere that produced the Trumpist faction. Cal Thomas, George Will, Rich Lowery (editor of Buckley’s magazine, which I have long called the Nazi Review), Byron York etc. are the lying right-wing propagandists who have continued Buckley’s assaults on civilized society. Basically, each generation following him has had to be more extremist and dishonest in their views than the preceding generation in order to continue riling up the conservative savages and bringing in the cash.
So Buckley was for less government (so that he could more easily keep his inherited wealth and make it larger), unless, he needed government to marginalize folks he didn’t like (tattooing HIV positive population for instance)?
And you only have issue with the tattooing part…
You do understand that Buckley was a libertarian capitalist, pro-American empire (might makes right), Christian nationalist? His world view fits in with entitled Republicans of today: “I’ve got mine, screw you” attitude. He just expressed it with more syllables to hide the inherent bigotry.
bcw bcw@13 I’m perpetually astonished to discover that George Will is still alive, so I understand how people make these assumptions.
wsierichs@15 That’s the name I was trying to think of! Cal Thomas. Another on my “He can’t possibly still be alive.” list. In his case, I was pretty sure I had seen his obituary a few years ago. I must be thinking of someone else.
Sadly, Wikipedia refers to her in the present tense, so presumably still alive, or at least undead. I also note that they question whether she is sufficiently “notable” to merit a bio.
Yet another case of the Catlick Church poisoning the mind of a young person and turning into a bitter hagfish spewing ideological bilge.
bcw bcw says
@16 the only consistent definition of “Libertarianism” is “I want government to only provide what I need right now and only control the people I disagree with.”
@whywhywhy, # 16: No, the tattooing part is the only part I mentioned. There are lots of other things I take issue with, I just didn’t want to list them all. I used to be a Libertarian, until I realized it was bullshit.
Oh well, a paper can make a mistake in hiring a columnist. The Toronto Globe and Mail had Margret Wente. She may have been only journalist to ever have her own plagiarism tracking tracking blog, that is, a blog tracking her plagiarisms.
Her wiki entry is even more amusing.
Walter Solomon says
Buckley was nothing but an empty suit with a silly, pseudo-British “Transatlantic accent” and awful ideas. He never came off as particularly bright; even Muhammad Ali, who had, at most, a 7th grade education, could keep up with Buckley’s banter. People with even better speaking skills, Like Gore Vidal and James Baldwin, made him sound like an angry hillbilly by comparison.
As someone said earlier, he was the Tucker Carlson of his day — white, bigoted and overly privileged. Vidal even wrote an essay for Esquire, IIRC, which explained how much of an insufferable prick and fuck up he was in his youth.
a good case can be made that the improvement in American cuisine can be traced in part maybe even in large part to Julia Child and the large number of immigrants and refugees from all over the world post Vietnam.
Buckley is one person I sure as hell do not miss being around. there were some interesting program guests from time to time besides Vidal and Baldwin Ed sanders and Allen Ginsberg are also notable in fact the thing was there were very few places you would be likely to hear his guests speak to such a wide audience that easily
I was never a fan of William F. Buckley, but for a long time (e.g. when he hosted Firing Line on PBS) I accepted uncritically that he was a “conservative intellectual.” Now I really wonder. I never paid attention to more than snippets of his TV posturing (parodied so well by Joe Flaherty on SCTV). I think the longest article piece of writing of his I ever read was his announcement that he was going to practice a harpsichord piece well enough to perfect publicly (in the 80s I guess)… which is fine. I found nothing objectionable there. We should all have a hobby.
What I expect from an “intellectual” though is a body of analytical thought. Did Buckley produce anything of the sort? Regardless or whether or not I agree with him (and of course I don’t) as far as I know, he specialized in making unsupported assertions with an air of authority. It is correct to call him an author and public figure. It seems incorrect to call him a public intellectual.
“ Or, more accurately, Racism-Is-Over-Because-We-Named-It-After-A-Black-Man Day!”
Except in some states it is officially Robert E. Lee day:
wsierichs @15: “Buckley’s magazine, which I have long called the Nazi Review”
Calling it that would be for short. For long, go with the National Socialist Review.
PaulBC@25: “What I expect from an ‘intellectual’ though is a body of analytical thought.”
I’m not sure what I expect from an intellectual. However, a few years ago I had occasion to look at the Wikipedia article on intellectual (as a noun). It begins—as it began then, to the best of my memory—with the following couple of very tendentious sentences.
I quote them, not merely to mock and disparage them, but to ask you (and others here) what party line on “intellectuals” is being promoted there? It has to be from somewhere. It’s certainly not from standard usage, as reflected (for instance) in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the noun intellectual (Third Edition version, 2010; updated online as of 2021):
(which is fairly snotty but not steeped in explicit, programmatic ideology like Wikipedia’s paragraph) or the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of the noun intellectual as, simply, “an intellectual person”, where its definition of the adjective intellectual is “Given to exercise of the intellect; inclined toward abstract thinking about aesthetic or philosophical subjects.” I would prefer AHD to be a little broader, either by expanding the text after “abstract thinking” to include science and mathematics (etc.), or by just stopping after “abstract thinking”. But for Wikipedia to just blatantly insert “the intellectual participates in politics” (etc.) is … distressing. It almost sounds like it might cover Buckley!
If anyone here recognizes the school of thought that Wikipedia’s paragraph is parroting, please let me know.
leerudolph@28 I agree that the Wikipedia description is oddly detailed and not the commonly understood definition. You could probably go back into the edit history. Also, googling on some of the phrases mind uncover exactly where it was cribbed from if it’s not just one author’s opinion.
The most general notion of an intellectual as someone who is “given to the exercise of the intellect” is fine, though what many people may mean is “someone who sounds smart.” The latter is closer to where Buckley fits.
Thanks to YouTube I was able to watch a few of the old Joe Flaherty skits. Aside from the mannerisms (eye movements) that he captures, Flaherty makes heavy use of Latin as a bullying tactic. I think that’s perceptive, though Buckley’s schtick is not limited to Latin. Buckley picked up all the trappings of a certain kind of “educated person”: the mid-Atlantic accent, the interest in Bach, the use of Latin phrases, etc. You need to be pretty smart and work hard to pull this off, but it doesn’t make you an intellectual. It makes you a performer. I haven’t read “God and Man at Yale” and maybe Buckley presented some original (bad) ideas in that work. Founding National Review isn’t particularly intellectual either. It’s the work of a movement organizer. So basically, Buckley is an ideologue with a “cultured” facade that he used as a weapon. He certainly doesn’t deserve the respect he had even from some liberals.