alien & sedition.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
  Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

So I was reading Michael Kinsley's review of Christopher Hitchens's new book on religion, and this passage jumped out at me:
The big strategic challenge for a career like this is to remain interesting, and the easiest tactic for doing that is surprise. If they expect you to say X, you say minus X.

Consistency is foolish, as the man said. (Didn’t he?) Under the unwritten and somewhat eccentric rules of American public discourse, a statement that contradicts everything you have ever said before is considered for that reason to be especially sincere, courageous and dependable. At The New Republic in the 1980s, when I was the editor, we used to joke about changing our name to "Even the Liberal New Republic," because that was how we were referred to whenever we took a conservative position on something, which was often. Then came the day when we took a liberal position on something and we were referred to as "Even the Conservative New Republic."
Ezra Klein noticed it, too:
It's remarkable that prominent journalists will simply admit that an easy way to attract a reputation for intellectual independence is to engage in an endless series of ideological repositionings, and this does not appear to give them pause. All due acclaim to Kinsley for writing it, but this is actually a problem, not just an endearing quirk in a noble profession.
Interesting that it was Kinsley who made this admission, since he has been one of the biggest enablers of this dirty journalistic habit. It's one of the major reasons why the New Republic under his guidance was so deeply irritating (the magazine is still struggling to escape from the pattern), and why Slate is so often annoying in exactly the same way. It's no coincidence, for instance, that Slate is the online home of Mickey Kaus, who has made a career of praticing this pseudo-contrarian schtick in one of its most obnoxious forms. The fact that writers like William Saletan and Hitchens himself have taken up residency at Slate is further evidence.

Progressive activists and bloggers, of course, are enraged -- justifiably so -- when we see the same practices employed by politicians and political operatives, which is why "centrists" like Joe Lieberman and the DLC crowd frustrate us so much. It isn't that they're centrists, it's that they're "look-at-me" knee-jerk contrarians who are perfectly happy to make their political fortunes by attacking their own obstensible allies -- a tactic they're able to employ since the pundits moderating the national debate are the very same ones who tend to think that such dime-store heresy is so interesting and commendable.

The whole thing goes a long way toward informing the gap in perception between liberals and conservatives over the so-called "liberal media." Conservatives see a mainstream media largely made up of individuals who are personally liberal -- though most often in superficial, lifestyle-y ways. Be that as it may, those same pundits, as Kinsley admits, have elevated knee-jerk contrarianism to a defining virtue of political reporting; and since they tend to be liberal-ish themselves, they consider it most "courageous" and "interesting!" to attack liberal leaders, activists, and ideas. Of course, other factors are at work here -- timidity, laziness, elitism, and financial imperatives -- but one can't help but think that if mainstream reporters and pundits found it most courageous to, say, doggedly seek the truth, or to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, those other obstacles might be overcome.

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Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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