An E-mail Exchange Between a Mark Levin Listener and Me

August 18, 2010

Here’s my first email:

X,

I couldn’t help but notice that you called me an idiot on Mark Levin’s Facebook page, even though you said in the very same post that you’ve never heard of me or read anything that I’ve written.

That doesn’t seem very fair!

Should you ever run across something I’ve written that you find idiotic, I hope you’ll feel free to criticize it as honestly and forcefully as you’re able, but I’d appreciate it if you’d at least do me the courtesy of reading what I’ve written prior to insulting me.

Best,

Conor

And the woman’s response:

Conor,

I apologize for the offense. My point, in my post to Mark Levin, was that the people who “like” his Facebook page do so to read HIS opinions, not yours. I suppose I could have just stated it thus.

I have followed Mark Levin’s links to your articles previously, so I am somewhat familiar with what you do. Obviously I disagree with the conclusions you draw, but I can see that you are articulate and not an “idiot” in the traditional sense… :)

However, if you would allow me to point out one thing, it would be this: If you believe you have a valid point of view, you do it a disservice by personally attacking someone with a differing viewpoint. With your skills as a writer, you would do your cause a better service by focusing on the issues instead. I would wager that most of your regular readers subscribe to your point of view, which is why they read what you write. You probably don’t have to convince them of your opinion of Mark Levin. Likewise, most of Mark Levin’s readership subscribes to point of view similar to his. I believe that it is beneath the dignity of any real philosopher (whatever his philosophy may be) to attack another. The fact that you are, to some extent, making a name for yourself simply by criticizing Mark Levin’s every word seems like a poor use of your skills. Likewise, Mark’s taking the time to respond to your every criticism with childish vitriol is a poor use of his- especially since he has such a large following, not to mention a best-selling book.

And frankly, sir, I am a bit surprised that you’d be troubled by such an insignificant remark as the one I posted on Mark Levin’s page. I would have imagined that your line of work necessitated a thick skin. I’m a little shocked that you have the time to read, much less respond, to such trifles. That, too, seems beneath your dignity. Nevertheless, thank you for taking the time to correct my manners. :) I apologize again for the offense. I will remove the post.

X

My followup:

X,

Your thoughtful response is very much appreciated. And you’re right about needing to have thick skin in this business, but I am in opinion journalism largely because I believe that argument and conversations with other people lead to better ideas, better understanding. Now that I’ve written you, I’ve been afforded a chance to understand your perspective in a way I never could if I merely read your initial Facebook post, and I hope I can explain myself to you as well.

You write that I do a disservice to my work by attacking people with a different viewpoint. I look at things a bit differently. Mark Levin and I disagree about certain matters — some of them concern style and others concern substance, and I think we ought to be able to debate those differences of opinion like intelligent adults, rather than sending insults back and forth. I am not perfect. In the thousands of words I write each day, I doubtless lose my cool on occasion, or handle a conversation in a way less conducive to productive discourse than I’d like when looking at it in hindsight.

But I certainly try my utmost to make this about ideas rather than personalities, even when I disagree with Mr. Levin. You’ll never find a post where I call him juvenile names, or insult him personally, or disparage whole bodies of his work with which I’m unfamiliar. My complaints about him are basically threefold: 1) I think he often treats callers to his show disrespectfully — the first time I criticized Mr. Levin, it was after hearing him tell a female caller, “I don’t know why your husband doesn’t put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.” 2) Though there is much to agree with in his book Liberty and Tyranny — and I’ve complimented aspects of it — it is misleading to act as if liberals want to increase the size of the state as an end in itself, and if the right is going to oppose them, it’s important that people understand their actual motivations for wanting bigger government, rather than a straw man. 3) In the dispute between Mr. Levin and Jim Manzi, I think the latter was treated unfairly.

I appreciate that you may disagree with me regarding one or all of these things. But they all seem like perfectly fair matters for public disagreement. I appreciate that from your perspective, it seems as though a large portion of my work is criticizing Mr. Levin, but contrary to what he would have his readers believe, I regularly write for a bunch of different outlets, and if you peruse my Forbes column, or my Atlantic posts, or my Daily Beast column, or my Newsweek pieces, you’d see that not only do I spend the vast majority of my time on matters other than the talk radio host, I also write a lot of stuff with which his listeners would agree.

And that is my final objection.

When I disagree with Mr. Levin, I describe him accurately, as a talk radio host and bestselling author of Liberty and Tyranny. He describes me to his audience in the most misleading terms: sometimes as a liberal, other times as a Nixonian, always with insults, etc. Occasionally I correspond with fans of his, and it shocks them to learn that I wrote a piece for Newsweek defending Rand Paul, or that I’ve written in defense of a Tea Party rally that was disparaged in a New York Times column.

So now you know my side of the story. And I thank you for taking the time to correspond.

Have a great day.

Conor

And her reply:

Conor,

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the full scope of your work, even though, now that I’ve looked some of it up, I realize I’ve read it before. Your writing leaves me a little confused as to where you stand politically, honestly… probably because politics have become such a polarizing subject, especially in the media, that moderation comes as a shock. :) I read the Newsweek article you referred to. For years I read Newsweek fairly regularly, although not as much recently. I would have to say that your article was by far the most thoughtful and fair political article I’ve read in a long time in that magazine.

I do notice that you take the time, in a few different pieces that I’ve read, to defend yourself against what others say about you. (In your piece about the Times article, for example, you defended yourself against the accusation that you were “oblivious.”) I don’t know if this is due to your personal sensitivity or because you think that addressing such criticisms directly is important in maintaining your credibility as a journalist. I don’t personally think it achieves the latter, but I’m not a journalist; perhaps I’m wrong. What I do know is that Mark Levin has lost my respect by repeatedly posting personal attacks against his detractors. It’s tiresome, unnecessary, and- in his case- ridiculously childish. (“Friedersdork”? Seriously?? HOW old is he?!?)

I still think that it is a little odd that you took the time to respond to my thoughtless remark and subsequent reply… Probably the kind of thing that prompts Mark Levin to accuse you of being a “stalker”. It’s not a bad habit, I suppose, for someone in your position to take the time to connect with random people among the masses; probably a GOOD habit, in fact. Just unusual these days. But your reply gave me the opportunity to better understand the potential impact of words, and to form a more “fair and balanced” viewpoint. Mind you, I’m just a mom raising my family in the “boonies” of northern Michigan, so I’m not sure it was the best investment of your time… :) But thanks anyway.

Before I could write back, she pinged me again:

Conor,

I hope you don’t mind my writing back to you once again- I’m kind of laughing at myself for doing it- but I wanted to share with you that I have been blocked from Mark Levin’s Facebook page. Yesterday, after his last “Friedersdork” post, I had the audacity to ask if he was in the third grade. For this I received a rabid response from many of his fans and got myself blocked from posting on his page. Needless to say, I am heartbroken. ;)

I don’t know why I decided to send him an e-mail after that, but I did. Just wanted to share. I’ve shortened it a bit so as not to take up TOO much of your time. I hope the sarcasm in all but the first paragraph is evident… :)

Before you read it (if you have the time to do so), I’d like to thank you once again for taking the time to set me straight! I deserved it, and the manner in which you did it was consummately dignified and respectful. I admire your character.

—-

Mr. Levin,


I read your book Liberty and Tyranny and was so impressed with your insights and wisdom, your brilliant articulation of the virtues of Conservatism, and your skill for disemboweling the tenets of liberalism, that I joined your Facebook page. There I found myself disappointed by the fact that you took so much time addressing the criticisms that others levied against you, often by namecalling, rather than sharing more of the kind of wisdom evident in your book. I left you a couple of comments to that effect, the most recent of which seems to have gotten me blocked from your page.

In reading the replies of other members to my comment, it is clear to me now that I am not entirely familiar with what you do… I had no idea that your strategy for winning hearts and minds to Conservatism was through cheap shots at your opponents. It seemed at odds with the impression I had of you, which was that of a brilliant philosopher.

It was clearly my mistake… you have over 181,000 friends to your page, and they all seem to have the same approach you do… I was accused of having voted for and supporting Obama (which I most assuredly didn’t and DON’T), I was told to “go cook dinner”, and the majority of respondents did not even correctly spell my name… Your strategy eluded me before, but suddenly it is clear! The Democrats… by the votes of the ignorant… won the presidency and the Congress. It was a whole demographic that was being missed, that Conservatism simply didn’t appeal to.

Suddenly, here you are, a Conservative making the low blows and ad hominem attacks of the Left your own. You realized that showing actual character, dignity, and maturity is completely lost on the majority of the population… Only by sinking to their level can we win their hearts and votes! And… the ignorant masses… are absolutely flocking to you!

…in my boorish way yesterday, by questioning your character and maturity on your Facebook page, I have bruised your ego. I’m sorry. I should have realized, based on the content of your page and the complete lack of criticism for you, not to mention the way you have ripped apart other journalists who have dared to breathe a word against you, that such criticism simply was not tolerated… such a great mind simply could not bear to be questioned or endure a less than favorable appraisal… that in order for your approach to work, it had to stand unquestioned and unchallenged. After all, your ministry… is not to the educated and thoughtful of America who are already likely to be Conservative, but rather, to the intellectual children and sheep that have, until now, been underserved by the Conservative movement. You saw how the Obama administration works- by attempting to silence dissent- and you realized that, in order to attain your objectives, you must work in the same way.

…I will strive to cultivate in myself these same attitudes so that I, too, may represent Conservatism to the masses effectively. Once I feel that I have become sufficiently smug, sarcastic, and petty to associate with you and your fans once again, I will join your page once more. I only pray that you might unblock me at such a time so I can contribute to the new “Levinian” dialogue of Conservatism.

Most sincerely,

X

Here’s how I responded:

X,

Thanks so much for your note. It means a lot to me. And I’m sorry to hear you were insulted by Mark Levin’s fans. That’s never fun, but if it makes you feel better, for most of them, it isn’t that they actually bear you animosity. He’s just created an environment where insults are made thoughtlessly. When you walk into a bar with sawdust and peanut shells littering the floor, you’re more likely to litter without thinking about it. So don’t take their words personally!

And I hope you’ll always feel free to write me. A thoughtful email is never a waste of time.

I hope you have a great day.

Cheers,

Conor

Her reply:

I’m not sorry. If that incident reflects the character of the people Mark Levin attracts, I’d prefer their scorn rather than their praise. The juvenile insults were getting to be a little too much for me, and I was about to leave his page regardless.

So where’s YOUR Facebook “fan” page? :)

How to Argue with Andrew Breitbart

July 22, 2010

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"I'm Sorry for Your Loss"

July 19, 2010

Thomas Friedman writes:

I find Nasr’s firing troubling. Yes, she made a mistake. Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover. It undermines their credibility. But we also gain a great deal by having an Arabic-speaking, Lebanese-Christian female journalist covering the Middle East for CNN, and if her only sin in 20 years is a 140-character message about a complex figure like Fadlallah, she deserved some slack. She should have been suspended for a month, but not fired. It’s wrong on several counts.

To begin with, what has gotten into us? One misplaced verb now and within hours you can have a digital lynch mob chasing after you — and your bosses scrambling for cover. A journalist should lose his or her job for misreporting, for misquoting, for fabricating, for plagiarizing, for systemic bias — but not for a message like this one.

What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints.

Mr. Friedman and I agree that the CNN reporter shouldn’t have been fired.

Here I merely want to point out that even the standard he suggests is absurd. “Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover,” he writes. “It undermines their credibility.” Nonsense. Expressing condolences upon a death is the most natural thing in the world, and completely uncontroversial in the vast majority of cases. Had Tom Brokaw said, “My condolences to Nancy Reagan, who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions,” would anyone have lifted an eyebrow? On several occasions, I’ve interviewed the families of people who died — one car accident, one murder victim, and the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, off the top of my head — and I expressed my condolences in every instance.

Did that undermine my credibility?

The Two Party System at Work

July 9, 2010

This is a tentative sketch subject to revision. Suggestions encouraged.

Phase One

Liberals: X is a problem, and the government should do Y1 about it.

Conservatives: Stop!

Voters: Yeah, X is a problem, but conservatives make good points about how Y1 isn’t the answer.

Phase Two

Liberals: X is an even bigger problem than before, and the government should do Y2 about it.

Conservatives: Opposition to Y1 was a winning issue for us five years ago. It’s probably smart to oppose Y2.

Voters: Overall we’re still with you, conservatives, but by a lesser margin, because this does sort of seem like a problem, yeah?

Phase Three

Liberals: X is an even bigger problem now. The solution Y3 is an urgent national priority.

Conservatives: The Founders would hate Y3. It’s European. In other words, socialist. Why doesn’t anyone care about how many people Mao killed?

Voters: Yeah, why doesn’t anyone care about how many people Mao killed? And Y3 is a flawed solution. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any conservative alternative for addressing X. And we’re sorta worried about X.

Phase Four

Liberals: We’re campaigning on Y3B. And you don’t even care about X.

Conservatives: We do so care about X. Look at this white paper from Heritage!

Voters: We’re divided on this issue, but the growing number of us who think it’s a problem trust the liberals more because it has never seemed like the conservative movement actually cared about addressing it, so much as opposing efforts to address it. Even when Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat proposed what seemed like very smart ideas for reform, they were basically chastised by some talk radio hosts and ignored by the whole right-of-center political establishment, which took advantage of the political landscape for short term electoral gain.

Phase Five

Liberals: We’re putting YC3 to a vote, and the American people support us enough to get it passed.

Conservatives: Rather than negotiate, we’re going to just oppose this outright. The people passing it are basically radical socialists. Anyone who compromises with them is a traitor.

Voters: Gee, we’d be more comfortable if this bill was improved by conservative insights. We’d maybe even prefer a totally different approach to reform if we’d been educated about one over a sustained period. On the other hand, maybe the liberals are right that this is necessary? We’re going to uneasily cross our fingers.

Phase Six

Liberals: Yay! We won! Also, yikes, we hope this goes over okay.

Conservatives: This is a catastrophic disaster. You’ll pay for it in November. Yay!

Voters: What contempt we have for all of you. Especially those of you currently in Congress.

Phase Seven

Liberals: I know we’re in the minority now. But Z is a real problem. The government should do something about it.

Conservatives: We’re back in power!! Did you here how excited Rush was today about this huge victory for our side? What’s that? You said something about Z? We’re going to ignore you. What could go wrong? We’ve probably got a permanent majority now anyway. Right of center nation and all that.

Voters: How about some tax cuts? And no new wars, please?

Ad Infinitum.

On Free Lemonade: A Response to Terry Savage

July 9, 2010

If you haven’t already, go read this column, which has been making the rounds.

Okay, are you back?

The only possible way to respond is by imagining the writer engaged in a conversation about his ideas. All the lines spoken by the male in this video come directly from the column.

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On 'Big Peace,' Andrew Breitbart's Newest Venture

July 5, 2010

On the Fourth of July, Andrew Breitbart launched a new Web site, Big Peace, adding another vertical to his  media empire. Its introductory post explains the timing. “It took nine months because this site has to be done right, and with Hoover Institution Research Fellow and bestselling author Peter Schweizer, we found the perfect editor,” Mr. Breitbart writes. “Because I am not a foreign policy or military expert, I needed to create a core editorial unit that represented the highest-end understanding of policy while at the same time bringing, at a time of war, a “boots-on-the-ground” perspective.”

What I find most interesting about Mr. Breitbart’s post is his invocation of journalistic standards. Here’s another key excerpt:

As the site’s resident skeptic of main stream media accountability, I have noticed that the amount of reporters and media outlets covering national security and the war has dwindled and skepticism over American military commitment has waned now that there isn’t a Bush or a Republican in charge. The war beat is getting short shrift. Big Peace was created to fill this void and to provide biased coverage.

The site is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, and pro-American but will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda. The unique mix of Schweizer, Gaffney, and Blackfive and our collective reputations will provide a check and balance.

Note that Mr. Breitbart doesn’t say he is launching a site to motivate the conservative base, or that he’ll publish propaganda so long as it serves conservative ends, or that the audience should treat the content on Big Peace as entertainment more than journalism — on the contrary, he is promising that Big Peace “will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda.”

He should be held to those standards.

And if it turns out that the site doesn’t live up to them, it should be noted that he has misled his conservative audience.

Should that happen, it wouldn’t be the first time. On Big Government, another site published by Mr. Breitbart, there remains a blog post wherein ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera is shown on hidden video. Mr. Vera appears to be offering to assist James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles to smuggle underage girls across the Mexican border so that they can work in a brothel. That is the impression that the audience of Big Government is given to this day, because Andrew Breitbart is convinced that ACORN was irredeemably corrupt — in all likelihood he is is right about that — and the moral code he is practicing in this instance is “the end justifies the means.”

What indefensible means does Mr. Breitbart employ? Well it turns out that Mr. Vera, confronted with undercover filmmakers claiming to be a pimp and a prostitute engaged in sex-trafficking, pretended to be willing to help them out only so he could gather information, which he quickly turned over to police, expressing concern about the possibility of human trafficking. In all likelihood, Mr. Breitbart didn’t know this when he published the video from ACORN’s San Diego office.

But he has long since become aware of Mr. Vera’s innocence. It is documented at length in this report published by the California Attorney General’s Office. If you read the narrative beginning on page 13 of that report, and compare it to the uncorrected blog post that still appears on Mr. Breitbart’s site — despite the fact that he and Mike Flynn, Big Government’s editor, have both been notified about the significant discrepancies — you’ll see how much you can trust the journalistic integrity of Mr. Breitbart and his sites.

Their unwillingness to correct the record on this matter, whatever their reasoning, is causing an innocent person, Juan Carlos Vera, to be unjustly portrayed online in a horrific manner that does not correspond to reality.

It is also interesting to read the lofty language that Mr. Breitbart uses to describe his newest site, and to compare it to the actual content on offer.

Use Panama As a Common Noun

July 2, 2010

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Media Studies 101: Tutoring John Hawkins

July 1, 2010

Over at The Atlantic, I published a post that attempted show John Hawkins why his recent attack on David Frum makes no sense. The short summary is that Mr. Hawkins’ beliefs about the market for political opinions are at odds with reality: he thinks David Frum sold out by criticizing fellow conservatives, despite the fact that it is much more lucrative to keep to the party line.

This is true both generally and in the specific case of Mr. Frum, whose heterodoxy contributed to his lost six figure per year spot at The American Enterprise Institute, not to mention the support of the conservative media complex the next time he publishes a book.

I see now that Mr. Hawkins has a followup:

Guys like David Frum will kick conservatism down the stairs, happily collect a check from a liberal organization for doing it, and then turn around and say, “It’s outrageous that you don’t trust me! I’m on your side, but you’re just too dumb to know it!”

Let me also add that Frum’s last line there is particularly funny — “A lucre-seeking cynic would do much better to conform to conservative groupthink than to challenge it.” Really? Because it’s no surprise that an unaccomplished airhead like Meghan McCain has a column in the Daily Beast. David Brooks? He’s a very fuzzy thinker — so why does he have a gig at the New York Times? How is it that Kathleen Parker of all people is getting a new TV show on CNN? David, why do you think you have a column at CNN? Do you think Newsweek would have given you a cover story if you were going to say nice things about Rush Limbaugh?

If you were going by talent, personality, or ability to hold an audience, none of the people I’ve just mentioned, including David Frum, have the ability to claw their way up the conservative food chain like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin have. So, to use David Frum’s word again, they’re willing to prostitute themselves (If Meghan McCain happens to read this, I don’t mean that literally — like a street walker. It means you’re selling out your principles. If you get confused, ask your daddy to hire someone to explain it to you) to the liberals in the mainstream media who want “conservatives” who are willing to tell liberals what they want to hear.

It seems strange that this has to be explained to someone who considers himself to be media savvy, but here goes: the term “mainstream media” is used to refer to networks like CNN and newspapers like The New York Times partly because their editorial products are targeted at a mainstream audience: they’re not produced exclusively for liberals like The Nation, or for conservatives like Fox News. In their ideal world, they’d like to be consumed by every literate member of the American public.

Why might David Frum be a better fit for outlets like that seeking a conservative voice when compared to Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and Mark Levin? Perhaps its because the trio that Mr. Hawkins wants embraced by CNN and the NY Times are abhorred by large segments of the existing MSM audience, and that the American populace as a whole, exposed to their more extreme rhetoric, would be shocked, offended, and dismayed that a trusted national media brand would host them.

Perhaps folks in the mainstream media didn’t look upon it kindly when Ann Coulter said her only problem with terrorist Tim McVeigh is that he didn’t go to The New York Times. Perhaps CNN considered Mark Levin and decided to go with David Frum and Bill Bennett instead because neither one of them is likely to take a call from a female audience member, as Mr. Levin once did, and suggest to her that she is so unpleasant that her husband should “put a gun to his temple.”

Does Mr. Hawkins really not understand this?

Holding Up a Mirror

June 30, 2010

Once again, Mark Levin has taken to his Facebook page to attack me.

Moron alert

http://theamericanscene.com/archive/?author=Conor+Friedersdorf & click on the 3rd article’A few final thoughts’

This guy is like chewed bubble gum sticking to the bottom of your sneaker. His references to “Manzi” are now an obsession. I guess he never read this http://www.heartland.org/full/27646/NROs_Manzi_Mischaracterizes_Global_Warming_Debate.html Or doesn’t know how to respond to it. Or doesn’t care. As I said, moron.

Nixonian “moderates” like Friedersdorf not only share Nixon’s contempt for conservatives, but their character is such that they cannot be honest with themselves or those they seek to influence for they lack integrity — intellectual and otherwise. A pathetic and petulant little boy.

Intimidated by the idea of productive debate in a neutral form, the talk radio host is quick to use social media to score cheap rhetorical points. The most surprising part, if you’re uninitiated into his world, is the sycophantic reaction of his Facebook followers. Think that’s an exaggeration? Below are the comments immediately following the screed excerpted above:

Lest I be accused of failing to include the most powerful critiques of his audience:

So there you go.

On Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Bernstein, and Trig Palin

June 28, 2010

Over at The Daily Dish, my colleague Andrew Sullivan airs criticism from Jonathan Bernstein about his coverage of Sarah Palin, specifically on the subject of her infant son, Trig Palin. Here’s a long excerpt from Mr. Bernstein:

I have to admit that I don’t understand the energy and space that Sullivan has devoted to her family, and especially to her youngest son. I can’t claim that I’ve read every word of Sullivan on Trig, but I’ve read quite a bit, and frankly I have no idea why I should care what the truth is about the situation. I get that Sullivan thinks there’s a high probability that what we’ve been told isn’t the truth. But surely pols have the right to dress up their private business in the nicest possible clothing for public consumption, as long as it doesn’t have any implications for how they would govern, or for anything else. And as far as I can see, it doesn’t. As far as I can see, none of the rumors or possible explanations for behavior Sullivan has identified as odd would really tell me anything important about Palin.

I think I have to be a little less vague about this. Sullivan believes that Palin’s birth story for her youngest son is implausible. I think he has a good case for that, for what it’s worth. As I’ve read over the last two years, I’ve seen three possible explanations. The first is the wild one, that the baby isn’t really hers; she’s covering for someone else’s inconvenient pregnancy and has adopted that child. The second is that she was an irresponsible mother, and took terrible risks given the dangerous nature of the pregnancy. The third is that she made the whole thing up, or most of it: she invented a heroic birth story, and then wound up being stuck with it when she suddenly had a massively larger audience.

So. Let’s say one of these is true. Why should I care?

I’m tempted to say that Sullivan owes it to us to explain what he thinks is at stake in the story of Palin and Trig, but I think that’s not quite right. I’ll leave it at this: as a regular reader, I would like to know what he thinks is at stake here. And I might even believe that he owes it to Palin and her family to explain why the stakes are high enough to outweigh their privacy. At least for me, it has to be more than just her habit of straying from the truth; we have more than enough examples of that. Now, granted, Palin herself has led with her family often enough that I can’t say I feel particularly sorry for her on this score, but — and again, just in my opinion — that’s not a reason to invade her family’s privacy.

What I love about The Daily Dish is that Andrew excerpts posts like this from critics (and that folks like Professor Bernstein, who gets a lot of exposure from Dish links, knows that forcefully disagreeing on a subject like this isn’t in the least seen as a betrayal that jeopardizes future links). If everyone on the right who mocks him on this issue aired dissent as openly, a lot of folks would be forced to grapple with audiences surprised at how powerful are the arguments against their least persuasive posts. And the Web would be a better place.

On the merits, I agree with Professor Bernstein here, even after reading Mr. Sullivan’s rebuttal, though you should go read the whole thing for yourself, because I am just going to excerpt a bit that relates to a narrow point I want to make. I should note, before I begin, that I assume Trig Palin is Sarah Palin’s son, and that I don’t think we should go down the road of demanding hard evidence on these sorts of questions (even if it meant never finding out the truth in an individual case) — it sets a precedent that would mire future elections in ever more absurd accusations and counter-accusations, all of them focusing attention on the personal history of candidates rather than their professional qualifications and policy positions, a road we’ve gone too far down already, and that benefits the least qualified seekers of office (and that is unnecessary in the case of a candidate like Sarah Palin, who wouldn’t even make it past summary judgment in a trial to gauge her qualifications for the presidency).

Here’s one part of Andrew’s post that I want to address:

It may be a loony conspiracy theory, like the 9/11 Truthers and the Obama birthers. But we have all seen mounds of evidence that prove the Truthers are out of their minds and we have seen the birth certificate that refutes the Birthers. What have we seen to back up the maternity of Trig? Nada. Not a single page from what must be a mountain of medical records, no birth certificate, nothing but a single page doctor’s note confirming the birth in passing, issued four hours before polls opened, by a doctor who once spoke freely with the local press but clammed up completely as soon as Palin hit the national stage. Yes, we have three photographs of her looking slightly pregnant (though much less so than in her previous pregnancies) toward the end of her term, but we also have photographs, like the one above, from the same period revealing almost nothing at all. The story she has told about her pregnancy, moreover, has not passed any sniff test by some of the leading obstetricians and pediatricians in the country’s leading teaching hospitals.

One explanation for the disparity in evidence: the persistence of questions about Trig helps Sarah Palin. All along, she has savvily used the notion that the media is treating her unfairly to enhance her popularity. An amoral political strategist would advise her to keep hard evidence of Trig’s maternity hidden at all costs in the hope that critics would continue questioning it — if Professor Bernstein and I, both of us huge Sarah Palin critics, doubt the merits of this line of inquiry, imagine how the average American reacts to it, and how the Sarah Palin base reacts. For better or worse, we live in a country where the politics of umbrage are very effective, and Ms. Palin is expert at them. Indeed I fear that speculation about Trig’s maternity increases the chance that she’ll win the 2012 GOP nomination. If a savvy political analyst can be found who disagrees with that assessment, I’d be surprised.

Later in his post, Andrew writes, “if Palin has lied about this, it’s the most staggering, appalling deception in the history of American politics.” I think that on reflection he’d reconsider. How staggering a lie is must relate to consequences. Consider Dick Cheney and the Iraq War, or the treatment of detainees at black sites around the world, just to name two political lies that resulted in loss of life and incalculable damage to our country. Compared to these issues, which The Daily Dish has covered so well, the saga of Sarah Palin and her son are of little consequence. I appreciate wariness about Sarah Palin as 2012 approaches, and since he conducts even inquiries to which I object with a commitment to regularly airing dissent, I can respect Andrew even when his obsessions and mine part — the Dish is a success in large part due to his obsessions and passions, and as his many longtime readers know, no one agrees with him on everything. As the Obama Administration continues to ignore Bush-era lawbreaking, assemble an assassinations list, and normalize other excesses of the War on Terrorism, however, I’d love to convince Andrew that whatever energy he spends on the Trig story is more profitably invested elsewhere.


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