THE PLANK NOVEMBER 9, 2009
I don't wish to join Isaac in piling on Matthew Continetti's love letter to Sarah Palin in the Weekly Standard. Wait. Let me re-phrase that. I do wish to join Isaac in piling on Matthew Continetti's love letter to Sarah Palin in the Weekly Standard. I know I shouldn't but I can't resist. Here's a passage that gives you an inkling of the method Continetti used to compile his argument:
Whenever the arbiters of educated opinion witness the emergence of a populist leader, they spew insults. Sarah Palin has been called--among many, many other things--a "bantamweight cheerleader" (Maureen Dowd), an "airhead" (Charles Wohlforth), an "idiot" (Victoria Coren), a "character too dumb even for daytime TV" (Matt Taibbi), a "puffed-up dimwit with primitive religious beliefs" (Taibbi again), and a "white trash trophy wife wearing glasses so she looks intellectual" (Catherine Deveny).
Okay, let's take a look at these "arbiters of educated opinion." Just how representative of elite opinion are they? Maureen Dowd, to be sure, is an influential columnist who writes for a prestigious forum. But Dowd traffics in put-downs. She has called President Obama "America's pretty boy." Hillary Clinton is "Mommie Dearest." Al Gore, she wrote, is "so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating." In other words, Dowd is a satirist and provocateur. Matt Taibbi, a political writer for Rolling Stone, is sort of a far-left version of Dowd, but without the literary subtlety. He writes extreme polemics that grab attention by going over the top. Naturally Continetti sites him twice.
Rounding out the list are three writers I have never heard of. I am not saying this to dismiss their abilities or their career achievement -- I point this out only to note that I write about American politics for a living and have a reasonably good familiarity with any writers who have attained any influence in my field. Charles Wohlforth turns out to be a travel writer based in Alaska. Victoria Coren is a British poker columnist. Catherine Deveny, according to Wikipedia, is:
a comedy writer, stand-comedian, and a regular and sometimes controversial opinion columnist in "The Age" newspaper since 2001. She has performed on all Australian TV networks, in all Australian premier comedy venues and on radio.
Apparently Continetti is operating off of the idiosyncratic theory that, when educated Americans need to form an opinion on the issues of the day, they turn to obscure, controversial Australian comedians.
It is odd that Continetti does not provide an affiliation for any of these elite arbiters. It's standard journalistic practice to identify names you introduce in an article. Some people are so famous that they do not need identification, but Coninetti labels such well-known figures as "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi." Does he assume that all his readers can identity the likes of Wohlforthand Coren, and thus need no identification? Or did he figure that identifying his targets would make it clear that he cherry-picked a handful of marginal figures that he is trying to pass off as the arbiters of educated opinion?