You just never know.
As with everyone else here in the Virtual Newsroom, 2009 has been a busy and productive year.
Liberalism is the gift that keeps on giving, the Obama Administration a veritable cornucopia of liberal fruits and nuts. Janet Napolitano's assurance that "the system worked" is only the latest fruit of the nutty idea that the real problem in the world was George W. Bush. "There's always some son of a bitch who doesn't get the word," John F. Kennedy once remarked at a particularly dicey moment of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Clearly would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian of al-Qaeda descent, did not get the word that with Bush replaced by the soothing assurances of The One there was just no further need to blow up Americans.
But don't worry, perhaps Secretary Napolitano can run health care.
On the other hand, it is always good to know that at least one member of the Dowd family of Washington, D.C. has gotten the word. More to the point, Kevin Dowd, conservative brother of the New York Times' liberal columnist Maureen Dowd, not only gets it, he is not shy about making his point.
Sister Maureen seems annually aware the Times actually needs readers if it is to overcome its apparent urge to commit the journalistic equivalent of what the Japanese call sepuku. That would be hara kari (or hari kari, if you prefer), a ritual suicide which involves ripping oneself open with a dagger as defeat, disgrace, or death looms, something the Times repeatedly toys with when its news columns print liberalism instead of facts. The sharp blade of ideology, gleaming as it has ripped through the paper's credibility, has sent readers fleeing to the Virtual Newsroom, where the likes of Kevin Dowd flourish as they reveal the facts behind a Van Jones or So We Might See or Kevin Jennings or ObamaCare or whatever, all of which is generally classified by readers as news the Times sees fit not to print. One can only spill so much credibility, the life-blood of journalism, before life as a newspaper fades and the world moves on, in this case perhaps from the NYT to the WSJ.
The Kevin Dowd column as a year-end stand-in for sister Mo comes to mind as we look back over 2009 and see what it is that stirred the most reaction from stories in this corner of the Virtual Newsroom.
Without doubt there were but two.
First was the "The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Maureen Dowd."
It is not surprising that readers are not fond of liberalism, but the intensity and volume of reaction to this one column about Kevin's sister Mo was a standout. The response was stunning in its fury with the liberal point-of-view, Ms. Dowd -- or as we called her here "White Mo" (for her insistence on following the liberal obsession of judging others by skin color) -- is seen to represent. It was clear that fairly or unfairly she has evolved in her career into a symbol of the haughty liberal elitism and double standards the Times itself has employed as it has relentlessly driven its readers away. Readers were downright gleeful in feeling White Mo had been delivered a comeuppance, with several going out of their way to say they had e-mailed the column directly to her. One self-identified (and anonymous!) Georgetown neighbor reported in that his or her small children, unaware of White Mo's profession or politics, zing her as "the crazy lady." Hmmm. I don't think brother Kevin would approve of that, in spite of familial political differences, and in truth I don't either. Yet it is perhaps a measure of the aura that liberalism casts even to the babes in Georgetown's midst.
Next in line would be the response to the series of stories (here, here, and here) on the So We Might See coalition of seven major religious faiths, a group organized by my own United Church of Christ. There was something of a firestorm over this one, as would be expected at the revelation of collusion between a distinctly unholy trinity that involved churches, the FCC and George Soros's money in what certainly appeared as a blatant effort to intimidate or shut down dissent as expressed by various talk radio and TV hosts. In particular, the effort to intimidate Rush Limbaugh with a petition to the FCC citing him for "hate speech" as well as support for efforts to remove CNN's Lou Dobbs and Fox's Glenn Beck from the air for the same reason ignited a fury with members of the denominations involved, notably Catholics, Methodists, and the Disciples of Christ.
All three faiths changed or halted their participation in the "Hate Speech Hurts" campaign, with the Catholic Bishops specifically refusing to go along with any perceived effort to personally target Limbaugh, Beck, Dobbs and Fox News star Bill O'Reilly.
In this instance, Lou Dobbs extended an invitation for me to appear on his CNN show (as well as his popular radio show) -- which turned out to be his last CNN show. Mr. Dobbs has had an extraordinary almost 30-year career at CNN, and it certainly appeared that the CNN managers of the moment had shamefully allowed themselves to be intimidated by anti-free speech groups like So We Might See. Dobbs was nothing if not the gracious host that evening and has said he is considering his options for the future. The libel of bigotry against Dobbs, married to a Mexican wife, was indeed the libel of a good and decent man. We wish him all the best.
WHILE WE ARE ON THE SUBJECT of columns featuring Ms. Dowd and So We Might See, as the start of what will undoubtedly be a contentious election-year dawns, it is a good moment to bring up the old chestnut that is the subject of civility.
Much is made about the need for civility in American politics, with much bemoaning of its alleged absence. For something to be absent frequently presumes it was present in the first place, and as any student of American history knows, from the get-go of the American Republic to be plainspoken is a hallmark of the American political tradition.
One has but to visit the turmoil of the John Adams–Thomas Jefferson election of 1800, the furies of the John Quincy Adams–Andrew Jackson elections of 1824 and 1828, or the raging of 1860 as civil war loomed over the Lincoln-Douglas race to understand that politics summons passion from even the kindest and gentlest of Americans. Harry Truman won the nickname "Give 'em Hell Harry" in 1948 -- and the election -- because he did give 'em hell, not because he refrained from doing so.
It is amusing to look back and see the foamings this year on behalf of civility or some mystically appropriate way of conducting political dialogue. The amusement comes because readers sense that such pleas appear simultaneously phony and self-serving, if not altogether wrong. Two cases in point were the David Frum Newsweek cover story attack on Rush Limbaugh and the Mark MacKinnon Daily Beast bleat about talk radio star and bestselling author Mark Levin.
The focus of Mr. Frum's hit piece -- and make no mistake it was that -- was not some ideological musing about conservative philosophy. It was, rather, a below-the-belt personal attack on everything from Mr. Limbaugh's clothes to his one-time prescription drug problem to his lifestyle. As it were, a call for civility neatly undisguised as incivility. As Mr. Frum is smart enough to know, that would be the only way he would get his name pasted on a Newsweek cover story, Newsweek a staple of the liberal media. (And a rapidly failing staple at that.) The particularly amusing part of the Frum attack (unless you were Mr. Limbaugh) was that all of this was cloaked in the guise of an earnest plea that conservatives should stop listening to Rush because he is out to "enflame" and "provoke." Sometime following this Frum made an appearance on Bill Moyers PBS-TV show, castigating hosts Limbaugh and Levin for not showing restraint in their comments, saying that he intended to be "absolutely prepared to fight with them."
This was, as readers quickly detected, faux outrage. No one has been a more skilled practitioner of the outrageously inflammatory political remark designed to provoke than the man Frum was talking with -- that would be Bill Moyers himself.
Having built an entire career after provoking the successful demonization of Barry Goldwater during the election between Goldwater and Moyers' boss Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Moyers' rhetoric since, whether about conservatives or conservative philosophy, would scald entire kennels of dogs. And yet -- face to face, with the opportunity at hand to call out Moyers on his incivilities -- Frum went silent, focusing instead on the alleged sins of Limbaugh and Levin. Did the cat have Frum's tongue? One suspects that what was really on display was selective outrage.
As with Mark McKinnon, who similarly jumped on the anti-Levin bandwagon citing a lack of civility, the question arises as to what is civility, anyway? Civility can be a good thing. But as mentioned when McKinnon unleashed his rant, the "civility" argument seems to have fallen into the hands of people who give a pass to everything from, as noted at the time, abject racism to character assassination to outright lying -- as long as these things are said politely. There is a reason for the plainspoken tradition in American politics, beginning with the observable fact that all too often the plea for civility is in fact nothing more than the usual double standard -- free speech for me but not for thee, giving a pass to practices or beliefs that are vividly uncivil in the real world of everyday life.
Free speech, often as not in American culture, begins at home.
WHICH BRINGS US BACK to Kevin Dowd's annual turn as the conservative guest columnist in the space the Times reserves for sister Mo.
Brother Kevin, like Sister Mo, was plainspoken. He is admired in this space (not to mention agreed with) as -- while the seasonal fires still glow -- we rather like the plainspoken tendencies of Sister Mo. With whom we disagree on, well, just about everything except the merits of being Irish. It is a reminder -- as if I didn't need one from my own extended family over the Christmas holidays -- that such divisions are the rule of thumb in America and among American families, friends, neighbors and colleagues. These types of political divisions are the rule of thumb now just as they will be next year and as they were last year, a hundred years ago and a hundred years before that.
This is, in fact, genuine diversity, the real thing, not the cheap imitation based on skin color and gender.
So in the spirit of the season, here's a lifted nog to the Dowds, Kevin and Mo.
But next week? Come the New Year?
I'm with Kevin. In the Virtual Newsroom, to Mo and to O, we will have to say no.
Happy 2010. Let's rumble.
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