(For previous posts in this series, see here.)
One does not have to go very deep to understand why third tier pundits are not worth spending much time on. In making my criticisms of them, I have to confess that I do not take the time to read these people’s books, so readers will have to take that into account in weighing my comments on them. Fortunately there are people among the first-tier pundits and other commentators who freely and voluntarily take on this truly thankless task and document the bankruptcy of these people and their ideas. You couldn’t pay me enough to waste my time reading their books when there are so many worthwhile books to read. I have read enough articles written by them and about them and watched some interviews, sufficient I think to judge their caliber. It is of course theoretically possible that if I spend the hours necessary to wade through all the prolific output of these third tier pundits, I may find that they have produced works of extreme profundity and elegance that their critics have overlooked. But given the evidence from their other works, I would put the chances of that about as close to zero as you can imagine.
Take for example Jonah Goldberg. He has recently published a book arguing, if you can believe it, that fascism is an outgrowth of liberalism. In a review, Brad Reed says that early on in the book Goldberg apparently acknowledges that he could not really define fascism and he revealed a lack of awareness of its historical roots. That small problem might have stopped you or me from pursuing the idea of writing a book on the topic but Goldberg’s ignorance actually served his purposes since he could then argue, on the basis of the most tenuous links, that almost anything was fascistic. He lists things that some fascists liked (organic food, vegetarianism) which are also liked by some of the people in America he dislikes and presto! this makes those people fascists. As Jon Stewart pointed out, by that line of reasoning one could argue that mustaches are symbols of fascism since Hitler had one. See his interview on The Daily Show where Stewart quickly exposes the vacuity of his arguments.
One of the stranger aspects of contemporary American “mainstream conservatism” is the obsession with “fascism,” a political philosophy one might have supposed was safely buried under the rubble of 1945 Europe . . . The need to label everything conservatives oppose as “fascist” hardly stops with Osama bin Laden and his ilk. Goldberg sees FDR and the New Deal as “fascist,” even though FDR was far more eager to wage war against Hitler than was the contemporary American Right . . . Goldberg and his admirers also seem not to fully appreciate that what so thoroughly discredited fascism was not the domestic policies of Mussolini’s Italy, but the aggressive wars waged by the Fascist dictators, culminating in the horrific Nazi crimes of World War II . . . In other words, even though those [i.e., like Goldberg] who like invading other countries have often also liked building up the state and curtailing freedom at home, crusading around the world for “democracy” and invading foreign countries at will is now okay and definitely not “fascist”—as long as you still want to repeal the “death tax.”
Moving along the rogue’s gallery of third tier pundits, we come to Hall-of-Famer Michelle Malkin. She authored a book actually approving the internment of all Japanese-Americans (including children!) during World War II, an act that is now widely seen as one of the most shameful governmental policies in recent history and for which the government in 1988 formally apologized. She has also been arguing for racial, religious, and nationality profiling to be taken against all people of Middle Eastern origins and of the Islamic faith. She is constantly scaremongering about the threat posed by Muslims.
Her most recent book argues that liberals are more unhinged (her preferred term is ‘moonbats’) than the rest of the population.
The level of her analyses can be judged by the following clip that she herself proudly produced. This cheerleader clip has been a big hit on YouTube, but perhaps not for the reasons she hoped.
Can you believe your eyes? Are we supposed to take people like her seriously?
And of course, Ann Coulter has mastered the art of gaining attention by saying outrageous things that will get her noticed. The very titles of her books (How to talk to a liberal (if you must) and Godless: The church of liberalism) are good indications of the level at which these people pitch their discourse. I will not waste much time arguing that her work is worthless because I think that has been well established by others.
Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book that blamed American liberals, going all the way back to FDR for the events of 9/11. How did he arrive at that breathtaking conclusion? By arguing that liberals in America, with their permissive attitudes, had caused the moral decline of the US. The fear that this US-inspired decadence would pollute the Middle East so inflamed the Islamic radicals in al Qaeda that they decided to punish America by flying planes into building. In order to combat this, he argues that traditional conservative Americans should join up with traditional conservative Muslims to fight the liberals and their pursuit of moral decline. Really, that’s his argument. How is one expected to respond to such idiocy?
Incidentally, when third tier pundits like D’Souza speak of ‘moral decline’, you can be sure that they are referring to sexual sins. Genocide or racism or sexism or homophobia or the abuse of power or the neglect of the underprivileged do not seem to trouble their moral sensibilities.
Watch this interview on The Colbert Report. People like D’Souza have so self-awareness that he does not seem to realize that Stephen Colbert is having immense fun at his expense and that he is being made to look ridiculous
The silliness of D’Souza’s arguments is truly breathtaking. Alan Wolfe reviewing D’Souza’s book says: “Like his hero Joe McCarthy, he has no sense of shame. He is a childish thinker and writer tackling subjects about which he knows little to make arguments that reek of political extremism. His book is a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible.”
Wolfe’s words apply equally well to all the third-tier pundits.
Next in the series: The special media niche that the third tier pundits occupy
POST SCRIPT: In praise of bad musicianship
Have you ever listened with envy to an orchestra and thought it looked like a lot of fun but sighed with regret that you didn’t have anywhere close to the talent or skill to play alongside such accomplished musicians? Well, there are a lot of us like that out there but one enterprising group in Scotland has decided that they are going to play anyway. They have created what they call the Really Terrible Orchestra where lack of skill is no barrier to participation.
They seem to be a hit, playing to capacity audiences, and have even made a CD with original compositions. This idea may catch on.