Archive for July, 2009

The Inquisitor Becomes the Heretic, Part II

July 14, 2009

In a prior post, I explained what happened when Ace, a hard right blogger, dared to suggest Sarah Palin hurt her future political prospects by resigning — to make a long story short, he got into a battle with commenters on his site about whether it ought to be verboten for conservatives to voice doubts about their own side. Ace summed up the attitude among some of his readers as follows:

Either you agree with us and you are a Good Conservative, or you don’t and you are a Bad Liberal or Bad Squish. When the Conservatively Correct opinion gets set, you cannot simply be in error. No, when you disagree with the Conservatively Correct opinion, you’re obviously *bad*, not just wrong, and also, of course, not really a conservative.

Being called a heretic upset Ace enough that he swore at one point that he’d take a week off from blogging. As it turns out, he pulled back from that statement after reflection.

I’m glad he did.

Since the 2008 presidential race, I’ve watched the right — especially the conservative movement — hunt for heretics. On sites like Ace of Spades HQ, moderate Republicans like Colin Powell, alternative conservatives like Rod Dreher, and intellectually honest commentators like George Will are often called out as elitist traitors. How refreshing to see Ace spend a couple days pointing out all the flaws to this approach. “I don’t have a lot of patience for Heretic Hunters and Witch-Finders,” he wrote here. “Nor do I have patience for those who offer populists popular opinions they don’t believe, just because they know they can get some traffic for them.”

In a subsequent post likening some Sarah Palin supporters to cultists, he writes, “If you really hit a point at which your ‘message discipline’ becomes powerfully uniform, you actually start to drive a lot of people away, because people naturally recoil from such creepy displays of group-think.”

The most interesting followup post, however, is easily this one:

I’ve been a real dick lately and I want to apologize for being thin-skinned, whiny, and also for insulting people. I insulted because I felt insulted, but that was largely because I was being thin-skinned.

What got under my skin is this: We conservatives have certain ways of thinking, certain techniques of dismissing or insulting those we don’t consider worthy of debate. One of the main ways we do this — and by “we,” I mean me too; I do this a lot — is to brand a disagreement as occurring between the “elites” (out of touch, condescending, snobbish, and possessed of that very bad mixture of overestimation of brainpower and wisdom and actual underutilization of the same) between what is called variously the “grassroots” or “real people” or just “non-liberals.” I don’t know what the other side (us) is called, really; but I know what the wrong side is called. Elite, RINO, liberal, etc.

Correction: Elitist, I really mean, though frequently this term gets conflated with “elite” as in “media elites” or “political elites.” The meanings often blur together, and I have so blurred them here.

The thing is, this really is a pretty powerful and stinging put-down — especially if, like me, you are accustomed to tossing that put-down out there yourself. I’ve come to internalize very bad associations with such words. “Elite” is everything I don’t want to be.

It also pretty clearly tracks with “insider, ally” and “outsider, enemy.” We don’t often say “Hey, that guy is an elite! What a great guy!”

And so I react badly when people either call me that, or imply that, or, sometimes, when I’m being overly sensitive, I merely think they’re implying that.

And being off cigarettes, mostly, is not helping.

So I am sorry to everyone I insulted. I can only offer the mitigation (not justification; mitigation) that at various points that “elitist” sort of insult was being directed my way, that I was being lumped in with David Frum and so on. And it really stings.

What remains unclear is whether Ace now recognizes the irredeemable flaws in commentary by heretic hunting. You’d think so, given that he’s clearly articulated the pitfalls of that approach, and experienced them himself. Will he continue objecting when he himself isn’t a target? Will he shut down future debate by labeling others elitists rather than engaging their arguments?

Metablog will be watching!

The Inquisitor Becomes the Heretic, Part I

July 13, 2009

Those unfamiliar with the right-wing blogosphere should understand that its writers and readership regard “elitist” as one of the worst insults one can levy. Favorite targets are “liberal media elites,” “inside-the-beltway elites,” and “effete conservative elites like Peggy Noonan, Ross Douthat and David Frum who sell out the movement so they get invited to Georgetown cocktail parties.”

Ace of Spades HQ is second-to-none in its disdain for elites and elitists. So it was fascinating when that label, so often used by lead blogger Ace as a cudgel, was turned against him by his own readership.

The dust-up began when Ace broke a cardinal rule of hard right blogs: thou shalt not criticize Sarah Palin. When she announced that she’d resign her post as Alaska governor, he wrote, “It’s over. You can’t resign from a governorship and then run for higher office. Barring some strong reason, like needing treatment for cancer.”

Many commenters agreed, but dissent started to bubble up. “Ace is doing his best Peggy Noonan imitation when he says it’s over,” one reader wrote. “Ace, take a sip o valu-rite and think this over,” another advised.

A subsequent post by another blogger at Ace of Spades HQ stirred the pot.

It’s one thing to say that “Sarah Palin can never regain credibility after resigning”, but – and please don’t take this as criticism towards my gracious bloghost Ace – a blogger who jealously guards his anonymity isn’t exactly the right person to tell me about how Sarah Palin should just suck it up and take all the unhinged criticism from cretins like Andrew Sullivan as “part of the job”.

The comments section of that post quickly gets interesting.

The only people who afre pushing this “game over BS” are the same people who were against her to begin with. Either Democraps or squishy Romneyites… If you are professing to be a “conservative” and you find yourself making the same argument the Dems are making you need to question something.

Another sample:

Palin is going to do an end run around all you media idiots and

political insiders…………..She doesn’t need you…..All she has to do is go to the people..normal people…..they will follow her.

Smell the fear.

What blew up this powder keg? Seems like it was Ace jumping into the comments section:

I am really tired of being slammed for being the guy who doesn’t just want to go along with silly fantasies and dreams because they’re pleasant… I’m sick to death of being told that my addiction to reality and aversion to fantasy is somehow cowardly or defeatist or lacking in virtue.

He posted two consecutive follow-up comments too. And then another:  “I just want to be left alone and not by insulted for not having the conservatively-correct level of F A I T H in these things. I am tired of the bullying.”

Curiously, Ace’s oversensitivity suddenly enables him to precisely diagnose flaws in movement conservatism he’s never bothered much about before.

It is childish. Someone offers a contrary opinion in good faith, their reasons for the opinion clearly and unambiguously expressed, and the childish magical thinkers start insulting him and coming up with alternative explanations — the REAL explanations — as to why this LIAR and DEFEATIST is now spreading such obvious untruths.

…People can disagree without resorting to insane nutroots bullying and tossing about the “RINO/DEFEATIST/TRAITOR” shit left and right.

“Aw, ace, maybe you need to develop a thicker skin,” a commenter fired back. “Buck up, there ya go, put on the big girl pants.” Soon after, even lower blows are dealt. “I do not think you are a RINO or a lefty stooge or traitor or any of that other stuff,” reads comment #288. “But, I do think you are too enamored of the Belt Way mode of thinking.”

Commenter #294: “Jesus, when did this place (and many like it) become friggin’ HuffPo and DU?”

Comment #310 even demands propaganda: “if Ace gets a little testy after taking some flak from his own readers, I wonder how he’d feel after being ass-raped with a hot poker 24/7 for 10 months by the national media and our cultural elites. Ace, would it kill you to at least attempt engaging in a little positive spin on Palin’s actions?”

By then, Ace has had enough. In comments #311, #312, and #313, he threatens to put himself in timeout:

Whatever. I can’t deal with you people. I’m taking the week off. Yeah: Here’s the positive spin. I’m not blogging for a week. You can fill up the threads with positive spin. Remember, if you can just drive out all opinions contrary to yours, you can change reality! So I’ll give you a week to test your theory. Only positive spin comments allowed (and no posting for me; like Palin, I’ve fucking had enough). After a week we can see if you’ve changed reality just by bullying those who disagree with you into parroting your opinion.”

He’s back soon enough:

I do not mind being called wrong. I do, however, greatly mind being called a traitor, of harboring a secret agenda I hide from you in order to advance the MSM’s interests, etc., and all the rest of this insane bullshit. Someone can be wrong HONESTLY, without the need of claiming he’s wrong dishonestly, wrong because he’s actively intending to subvert the cause (so he can of course get invited to these famous DC dinner parties, etc.).

It’s worth reading one more of Ace’s comments at length. Also interesting if you haven’t had enough!

So does Ace take the week off? Do commenters continue to pillory him? Does he continue to overreact even though the bulk of commenters aren’t attacking him at all?

Stay tuned!

All will be revealed in my next post

Blog of The Week — 07/13/09: Ace of Spades HQ

July 13, 2009

Ace of Spades HQ began in 2004. Its eponymous blogger, Ace, started the site for three reasons: he wanted to inject his views about American foreign policy into the media, he desired a vanity project, and he sought an outlet for his spite.

His blog is a success on all counts.

On an average weekday, it isn’t unusual for it to attract 80,000 visits. Fans site his sarcasm and humor as draws. Introducing Ace as the 2008 Blogger of the Year at CPAC, an annual conference attended by movement conservatives, the presenter described him as a man of colorful language who isn’t afraid to take note and take names, saying that Ace “describes himself as being hard right, with a left-leaning sense of decorum and taste, meaning he has none at all.”

In his acceptance speech, Ace objected to government by elites, wherein politicians from both parties conspire to form a consensus about proper public policy, the will of the people be damned. He cited Europe and pre-Ronald Reagan America as examples. His advocacy is based on the proposition that contra the political establishment, the direction of America is not foreordained by elites. Take illegal immigration — Ace railed against the bipartisan guest-worker legislation championed by George W. Bush, John McCain and Ted Kennedy, and claims that he assisted talk radio in defeating it.

Atop the banner on Ace’s site is the motto, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting floats.” Shtick? It’s hard to say. In the circles of the Blogosphere where Ace writes, there is this weird idea that battle analogies map onto public discourse. So there is little doubt, for example, that Ace thinks he is doing the rhetorical equivalent of slitting throats. The problem is that this makes no sense at all. In piratical battle if you slit someone’s throat you kill him, and take one step closer to vanquishing the opposing ship. There is no parallel in the world of political conversation, where success is to persuade, not to vanquish.

This week, I’ll be posting each day on Ace of Spades HQ, delving deeper into its mysteries.

The Blogs I Found First

July 8, 2009

As I noted in my introductory post, this project is basically going to consist of picking a different blog each week and covering it intensely — that starts Monday. In the interim, I thought it might be useful to remark a bit on the sites that introduced me to the blogosphere:

Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a Instapundit) —  Prof. Reynolds opened my eyes to something that seems obvious now, but wasn’t at the time: the possibility of the link. In fact, I discovered many of the folks I read today via links on Instapundit, and when I began blogging myself, his style informed my own, as it has so many bloggers. As one of the folks who took up the medium at the beginning, Prof. Reynolds and a few others powerfully shaped the ethic of the blogosphere: link to what you criticize; fess up to mistakes, quickly correcting them in updates rather than pretending they never happened; solicit feedback from readers, and harness their Army of Davids power; welcome new bloggers, and generally send your readers out to worthy competitors. It didn’t have to be this way. Thanks, Glenn, for helping to make it so.

Andrew Sullivan — A singular talent and personality, Mr. Sullivan has written at length on his approach to blogging. He is the rare blogger success story who is as adept at the essay form, and capable of writing a damn good book. I’ll focus here on what I’ve learned from his blog, The Daily Dish. The foremost thing is his insight that blogging has more in common than one might at first imagine with broadcasting. Is anyone better than he is at streaming content that draws readers back throughout the day? Mr. Sullivan is also a master of the branded feature — a recurring constant that gives endless iterations on a theme. View from Your Window. The Yglesias Award. The recent series of reader e-mails on abortion (does anyone mine reader e-mail so compellingly?). Another feature is Dissent of the Day, and it exemplifies one of my favorite things about Mr. Sullivan’s approach: his willingness to air opinions different from his own, even if their authors are vituperate and critical of what he is writing. None of us is perfect, Andrew included, but this commitment tends to mitigate any mistaken positions that he takes, and is a necessary precondition for the large, diverse audience he continues to attract, especially on a blog that strives to reflect the evolving thoughts of its author, and is therefore inevitably mistaken at times. I’ve heard a lot of folks criticize The Daily Dish for one reason or another during all its years of existence, but I’ve never heard it referred to as a cocoon. That’s an impressive feat, and a credit to its author and readers alike.

Mickey Kaus — Long one of my favorites, Mr, Kaus is able to pack more substance into less space than any writer I know. He taught me how to cultivate topics to become obsessive about, returning to them again and again over time to add new twists. The practice enables longtime readers to develop an impressively nuanced understanding of given subjects–I’ve certainly learned a lot about the idea of social equality, immigration, welfare reform, The Los Angeles Times, and Arnold Schwarzenegger from the collected works of Mr. Kaus. He is also adept at cultivating in-jokes among regular Kausfiles readers, though one sometimes gets the sense that the internal editor he renders in italics on the page is only half-joking. More substantially, Mickey possesses a fearless streak that I admire, perhaps the product of a life spent as a “heretic” liberal. Never mind the conventional wisdom, or ideological cocooning, or what is deemed by some as the outward bounds of reasonable discourse — Mickey makes up his own mind, says what he believes, almost always offers nuanced, intellectually honest arguments, considers and airs dissenting views, and refuses to back down unless his mind is changed. Sometimes he is vindicated spectacularly; other times he is spectacularly wrong. Either way, he has spent the debate advocating for honestly held opinions, a mode that serves us well over the long haul.

If memory serves I discovered the estimable Megan McArdle soon thereafter.

Introducing Metablog

July 6, 2009

In a recent interview with Glenn Reynolds, the law professor who writes the popular blog Instapundit, I asked him how the blogosphere has changed since its inception. “When I first started back in 2001, the blogosphere was a relatively small place:  I actually had a pretty good handle on what was going on in general,” he said.  “Now it’s gigantic, and I often run across highly trafficked blogs I’ve never heard of before.”

The premise of Metablog is that exploring some of these sites is a worthy enterprise. Thus I’ll choose a different blog each week, read it intensely, and assimilate the experience into some larger insights about the world of blogs.

My own journalistic career is mostly focused on reading and writing within the political blogosphere. You’ll get some of that here. But I’ll venture beyond its confines too. That’s the idea, anyway, though projects like this often take on a life of their own.

I hope you’ll stay tuned, bookmark this page, and visit often.