Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Around the cornu
Juan Cole’s astonishing serial demolition of Jonah Goldberg is one of the most lopsided, embarrassing exchanges I have ever seen in any medium. I mean, the most corrupt state gaming commission in the entire sport of boxing would be appalled. What is there to say about a leading right-wing pundit who’s too stupid even to pretend to have read a book about Iraq, and too stupid to know when to crawl back into his Corner, sniff the smelling salts, and have his trainer toss in the towel? And remember, this isn’t any old Clownhall wannabe we’re talking about-- this is the editor-at-large-or-extra-large of the joint founded by William F. Buckley Jr., who, for all his many faults, actually read books and could even decline cornu in his younger days.
The rumor is that Jonah is changing the name of his blog from “The Goldberg File” to “Totally Uninformed Comment” as a permanent rebuke to Professor Cole’s out-of-touch liberal-elite insistence that people who declaim about Iraq in American mass media should know something about the subject at hand. “The thing he challenged or alleged was simply my unworthy stature to have an opinion,” writes Jonah. “Let me spell it out again: I think Cole is the sort of bullying professor most of us have encountered in one way or another.” No doubt this is quite true, if “most of us” means “wealthy, pampered, entitled right-wing know-nothings who behave in class as if our opinion is as good as anyone else’s because, you know, because everyone has a right to their opinion and shouldn’t be ‘bullied’ by professors with expertise.” And I’m pretty sure Jonah is the sort of student most of us have encountered in one way or another, too.
Meanwhile, over at David Corn’s place, I find that Mark Crispin Miller seems to have passed along to his friends some very strange Internet material alleging that Corn is a mole or a space alien of some kind, and David is justifiably pissed. Well, you know how it is, David-- you say a few smart, pointed things about some neo-Stalinists here and some 9/11 conspiracy theorists there, and before you know it, you’re being denounced for your “excessive skepticism.” Look on the bright side: you weren’t accused of deviationism. Besides, you have to admit that the charges have some merit: the American hard left was doing just fine until you criticized it, and now they’re in all kinds of trouble, and it’s pretty much your fault. The only problem, as I see it, is figuring out whether the folks claiming that you’re a mole are themselves moles. Personally, this sort of thing keeps me up at night, which is why I prefer to distance myself from those who distance themselves from those whose distance themselves from those who claim that those who claim that independent lefties like you and me are moles are moles.
And speaking of the Monty Python wing of the left, this humble blog has nothing useful to say on the subject of Ward Churchill. The smartest, most thoughtful post on the subject by far is Timothy Burke’s; Digby and Kevin Drum have also weighed in with élan and eloquence. Having never heard of Churchill until last week (!), I don’t think I bear any responsibility for the man’s writings on September 11. All I can say is that there really is no question that academic freedom was devised precisely to cover people like this: they may be horse’s asses, sure, but the capacious blanket of academic freedom covers even the largest horse’s ass when he speaks on matters in his field, and no one disputes that Churchill had staked out this terrain well in advance of September 11. But don’t take it from me; take it from a distinguished intellectual who abandoned the left in the course of his illustrious career.
The qualified teacher, whose qualifications may be inferred from his acquisition of tenure, has the right honestly to reach, and hold, and proclaim any conclusion in the field of his competence. In other words, academic freedom carries with it the right to heresy as well as the right to restate and defend the traditional views. This takes in considerable ground. If a teacher in honest pursuit of an inquiry or argument comes to a conclusion that appears fascist or communist or racist or what-not in the eyes of others, once he has been certified as professionally competent in the eyes of his peers, then those who believe in academic freedom must defend his right to be wrong--if they consider him wrong--whatever their orthodoxy may be. (36)
That’s Sidney Hook, from his 1970 book Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy. There’s much to admire in this passage– not least the fact that so few right-wingers would second it today. But what’s truly remarkable about it is that Hook used this rationale, at the time, to defend a young, impolitic Marxist named Eugene Genovese, who had recently made public his support of the Viet Cong– and, as Hook notes, had become immediately infamous for doing so: because New Jersey’s Democratic governor rightly refused to fire Genovese from Rutgers on the grounds of aiding and abetting the enemy, the Republican gubernatorial candidate “focused his entire campaign on the issue of Genovese’s right to teach” (42). Perhaps there’s a lesson here for the good people of Colorado. Yes, I’m sure there is.
So I’m not going to get involved in the Monty Python Left’s latest parsings of Churchill’s self-defense, namely (as Churchill now writes), that he meant the “’little Eichmanns’ characterization” to apply “only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as ‘technicians.’ Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by.” In other words, the dead working class and the dead kids were all right by us; it’s only the dead who were actively aiding and abetting the project of American Empire who deserve our condemnation. I’ve read a number of these parsings in the past week, and they tend to run something like this: What about the cheesemakers? Are they exempt, along with the janitors and firemen? No, the cheesemakers were far from innocent– as were the WTC dairy producers in general. They may have been “very little Eichmanns” as opposed to “little Eichmanns,” but they were nonetheless comparable on some scale to the technicians of the Holocaust. What about the accounting department on the 82nd floor of the south tower? Were they guilty? Yes, guilty as sin. The 82nd floor was an especially imperialist floor, even if the photocopy room could more accurately be described as “quasi-crypto-imperialist” rather than nakedly “neo-imperialist.” But what about the Holocaust analogy? Were these people really the moral equals of Eichmann? No, Professor Churchill did not say they were “like Eichmann.” Please do not take his words out of context. He said they were “little Eichmanns,” which is quite another matter, as it implies a difference of scale. Please see the cheesemakers, above.
All this Churchill-justifying nonsense merely confirms the Faux News view of the left, and threatens to make Ward Churchill into precisely the left icon he never was. I have another idea. Let’s defend Churchill’s academic freedom to say morally obnoxious things, dismiss his actual claims about the WTC dead as being too shallow for serious discussion, and then ask the American right what it thinks of National Review editor Rich Lowry’s proposal for how the United States should respond to September 11:
You can’t turn on the TV without hearing some expert say that our enemies in the current conflict are elusive, that finding targets to punish and bomb and raze will be difficult or impossible. Nonsense.
We know the states that harbor our enemies. If only Osama bin Laden and his 50 closest advisers and followers die in the next couple of weeks, President Bush will have failed in a great military and moral challenge of his presidency.
The American response should be closer to something along these lines: identifying the one or two nations most closely associated with our enemies, giving them 24-hours notice to evacuate their capitals (in keeping with our desire to wage war as morally as possible), then systematically destroying every significant piece of military, financial, and political infrastructure in those cities.
Yes, you read that right– this plan is in keeping with our desire to wage war as morally as possible. And you gotta love that “nonsense” about our enemies being elusive.
OK, folks, over to you. Posting will be light (once or twice a week) through the end of the month– I’ve got a book to finish, and I’m just this far from done.