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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

On civility

Friends, readers, fellow humans, I have looked into my heart.

The past week’s posts have made it painfully obvious to me that I do not speak kindly of David Horowitz.  The contrast between my posts on disability and my posts on Horowitz has been stark; the contrasts between my long-running series on Horowitz and my long-running series on Jamie have been downright jarring.  That’s partly because I love Jamie deeply, and Horowitz not so much; and, in turn, that’s partly because Jamie Bérubé is a thoroughly delightful human being, and Horowitz . . . er, not so much.  I have always been struck, for instance, that Horowitz has no sense of humor whatsoever, and I’m afraid I have used that against him rather mercilessly.  This has been somewhat unfair of me.  Mr. Horowitz underwent some difficult times in the past, especially near the end of his career as a New Leftist, when he joined the Symbionese Liberation Army only to find that the people of Symbionia did not, after all, greet him as a liberator.  He doesn’t need snark and mockery from people like me.  Indeed, after reading this thread of comments at Inside Higher Ed, I realized that I have occasionally used the unforgivably racist and sexist term “D. Ho.” to refer to Mr. Horowitz (and have, until now, permitted commenters on this blog to do likewise), whereas he has always spoken of me with civility and respect.

Some of you—particularly those of you who are unfamiliar with my postings on Horowitz from February through April 2005—might wonder where all this snark and mockery of mine comes from.  Well, first and foremost, as a liberal, I blame society.  But upon further reflection, I find that I have to take some personal responsibility for my actions.

I kicked off the decline in civil discourse last February, when Horowitz unveiled his comprehensive guide to the left, “Discover the Networks.” Overlooking the vast amounts of time and research that went into the creation of the site, I mocked it.  Yes, readers, it’s true.  As Horowitz pointed out at the time, I refused to “engage the intellectual argument” of the site; instead, as he put it, I callowly and opportunistically “seized on a quirk in the format, an entirely innocent feature of the site” in order to suggest that Horowitz had tried to link Bruce Springsteen and Mohammed Atta, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Roger Ebert, Susan Sarandon and Zacarias Moussaoui.  Now, it’s true that he also told Salon’s John Gorenfeld that it wasn’t a quirk of the format at all:

You just can’t separate Ebert from a terrorist like the blind sheik Rahman, Horowitz told me. Chalk it up to the limits of presenting information on a two-dimensional computer screen. “It’s a limitation of—what? Of language? The human mind?” mused Horowitz. “The two-dimensional, three-dimensional, four-dimensional universe?”

It’s probably a limitation of all of the above.  As you know, this isn’t an either/or kind of blog.

Horowitz also defended his link between Barbra Streisand and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, writing, “it should be obvious that even the otherwise innocent Barbra Streisand shares negative views of the Bush Administration and its mission of liberating Iraq with anti-American jihadists like the aforementioned [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, even though we are sure that she deplores some of his methods.” As Horowitz graciously remarks here, Streisand is otherwise innocent—except for her negative views of the Bush Administration.  So he clearly draws an important distinction between two otherwise similar figures.

Still, even though Horowitz has uttered some contradictory and confused remarks about “Discover the Networks,” this doesn’t excuse the incivility with which I spoke of his hard, hard work.  Nor does it excuse my behavior in the sorry episode that followed.

In the course of this Networks-inspired debate, “Is the Left in Bed with Terrorists,” there was an Unfortunate Event.  Horowitz’s assistant, Jamie Glazov, gave me a series of questions, to which I promptly replied; he then emailed me Horowitz’s responses, which were voluminous and omnidirectional.  Feeling somewhat as if I’d been hunting with Dick Cheney, I told Mr. Glazov that I would need a few days to find the time to compose replies to all (or even half) of Horowitz’s charges.  Mr. Glazov sent me a reminder or two in the next few days, urgently but not impatiently, and within the week I managed to find an unbroken three or four hours with which to work.

I was therefore flabbergasted when the debate was published on FrontPage.  All of my second-round replies had been dropped from the exchange, which concluded with the following:

Glazov:  Mr. Horowitz, what is your take here on Prof. Berube’s contribution to our second and last round?

Horowitz: This answer from Michael Berube is disappointing but not surprising. As I have already observed, the left has become so intellectually lazy from years of talking to itself (and “at” everyone else) that it has lost the ability to conduct an intellectual argument with its opponents.

Readers, I parried him.  And I said some unkind things, like calling Horowitz a “sorry old fraud.” I mean, here I’d gone and taken the trouble to reply in good faith to all manner of when-did-you-stop-supporting-your-Islamist- jihad-friends questions, and FrontPage not only dropped my replies but called me an example of the intellectually laziness of the left?  Good grief!  I said some bad words that day.  I may even have uttered imprecations.  For this, I am truly sorry.

FrontPage patiently explained to me that I had indeed been hunting with Dick Cheney, and that, in accordance with the Cheney Hunting Protocols, any damage I’d incurred was my own fault:

In the final round, when Prof. Berube emailed his final response, he did not put his answer at the bottom of the exchange by his name as is the procedure at Frontpage Symposium. Instead, he inserted his comments in an interlineated format which answered Horowitz’s comments point by point and he put his very last paragraph below his name. He did this without flagging his interlineated replies throughout the text or informing the moderator, Jamie Glazov, of what he did. The moderator therefore scrolled down and assumed the final paragraph was Prof. Berube’s final answer.

I was not sure what to make of this at the time, since I’d asked Mr. Glazov for a few days to reply to Horowitz’s first round of responses, and since I’d sent him an interlineated email that was nearly twice as long as the one he’d sent me.  I believe I even expressed some skepticism as to whether FrontPage would have corrected the record if I had not written about the exchange on my blog.  That was uncharitable of me. 

And as a result, things have spiralled downward ever since.  Horowitz has taken to calling me an “intellectually challenged leftist,” though I am sure he did not mean to sleight people with intellectual challenges in so doing.  (That piece mentions me only in passing; it is primarily devoted to a searching, respectful critique of Tim Wise as someone with “a big mouth with a bigger nose” who, despite his place in Discover the Networks, is “too insignificant to justify the allocation of substantial resources to track down everything they have written or said.”) And I, for my part, have continued to treat Horowitz with nothing but snark and mockery.

So, in a spirit of contrition, I stopped by David’s blog yesterday to learn how to address one’s political adversaries with civility and respect. Here’s what I found:

Berube has now posted another attack on me without a addressing a single substantive issue between us. Typical. Just more rehashing of lies about me already told and already refuted, including the Isserman canard. Yes, I did not recognize the stylistic pecularity of Berube’s links, which are merely bold not underlined. Big deal.

In one case, Berube reiterates his slander calling my reference to the showing of Farentheit 9/11 a lie because I couldn’t confirm it (and therefore stopped referring to it). Can Berube confirm that it wasn’t shown? Of course not. Can any of the critics of Bush prove there were no WMDs? Of course not. This makes every critic of Bush a liar by the Berube’s abysmal standard.

Elsewhere, Berube claims he “hyperlinked to facts” in defending his libels. He did not hyperlink to facts. He hyperlinked to an attack on me on a leftwing site InsideHigherEd, whose editor is sometimes more responsible than he was in this particular case. I hyperlinked to the facts. Readers who go to Two Disputed Cases in Colorado will see what hyperlinking to the facts means But readers don’t have to work that hard. They can just read the paragraph I wrote above and note that Berube doesn’t begin to deal with it. The text of Exam is printed in my new book and confirms the truth of what I said. Berube is a liar and a brazen one at that. He can count on his fans not to look into the facts and on the core belief of progressives that if you repeat a slander enough times it becomes a fact, at least for other progressives.

The Isserman canard I answered at http://www.hnn.us. I am weary of dealing with leftwing slanders like these because I know that I am talking to a wall. The Colorado exam is a perfect example. No honest person examing the facts could write and then repeat what Berube has. This is by way of explanation as to why I am not going to look for the specific link on HNN. I’m sure that anyone who cares to will be able to find it.

Berube began this exchange (which has now degenerated to the point where I am going to take a shower) by attacking a book he hasn’t read, then instead of admitting his fault repeating slanders he hasn’t bothered to examine (I’m giving him an enormous benefit of the doubt in this) and then when they have been refued repeating them again along with rehashed others. All this, it should be remembered, is to avoid engaging an intellectual argument about the state of our universities which he knows he can’t defend.

One small point: I kinda sorta did engage an intellectual argument about the state of our universities about three weeks ago, in a 5000-word post that nearly broke the Internets.  I even addressed some of Mr. Horowitz’s arguments in that piece.  But I don’t expect him to read such things.  He’s a very busy man—indeed, right now he’s a very busy man who needs to take a shower.

To his credit, Mr. Horowitz addresses one of my objections about my appearance in his new book, The Professors.  It appears that I have once again seized on a mere quirk in the format—or, rather, a “stylistic conceit”:

Michael quibbles with a bullet-point heading, a stylistic conceit of the book, which claims that Berube believes in teaching literature so as to bring about “economic transformations.” Michael protests that the sentence from which this phrase comes is lifted out of context. This is what the sentence says: “The important question for cultural critics, is also an old question—how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations.” This appears to me like a classical Marxist notion. Michael doesn’t actually argue otherwise. In other words, despite the context Michael supplies, the statement stands.

You heard it here from the Respectful One himself, folks: the statement stands.  It’s official: David Horowitz thinks “correlate” means “bring about.”

Oops!  Sorry about that.  I lapsed back into mockery for a moment.

O, the incivility!

My more polite and respectful responses to Mr. Horowitz can be found in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education

I am puzzled, however, by Mr. Horowitz’s offhand reference to WMD.  While I apologize for slandering Mr. Horowitz by suggesting that he made claims that he couldn’t substantiate (he did, but that is certainly my fault), I do not understand the analogy at work here.  By the Berube’s abysmal standard, critics of Bush are liars, because they cannot prove the negative with regard to WMD.  And because I cannot prove the negative with regard to the showing of Fahrenheit 9/11, I have therefore called myself a li. . . no, wait, I’m confused.  Let me look at it again.

In one case, Berube reiterates his slander calling my reference to the showing of Farentheit 9/11 a lie because I couldn’t confirm it (and therefore stopped referring to it). Can Berube confirm that it wasn’t shown? Of course not. Can any of the critics of Bush prove there were no WMDs? Of course not. This makes every critic of Bush a liar by the Berube’s abysmal standard.

OK, I think I’ve got it now.  “Berube” is to “the nonshowing of Fahrenheit 9/11” as “Bush’s critics” are to “the nonexistence of WMD.” So Bush’s critics, in claiming that there are no WMD, are liars, because I said that Horowitz retracted his claim that a Penn State biology professor had shown Fahrenheit 9/11 to his class. . . .

Golly, that doesn’t sound right.  Maybe Horowitz is to the nonshowing of Fahrenheit 9/11 as Bush’s critics are to the nonexistence of WMD.  In other words, there may still be WMD in Iraq, and someone may have shown Fahrenheit 9/11.  And, uh, anyone who says otherwise is a liar by my abysmal standard. 

No, that’s preposterous.  I think the simplest explanation is the best: if I cannot confirm that Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn’t shown, then there were WMD in Iraq.  Readers are hereby invited to speculate—respectfully, mind you—on whether those WMD weigh the same as a duck.

Posted by Michael on 02/14 at 08:56 AM
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