TNR On The Spit
Ezra's feisty new "fem-blogger," Kathy G., has some choice words for The New Republic:
As a journalistic institution, TNR plays a unique role in the development of policy and politics. Its circulation has always been low (and in recent years has declined drastically), but many of the people who read it are very powerful: media elites, D.C. lobbyists and activists, and policymakers in the White House and the Senate, and on Capitol Hill. If TNR supports a particular policy or idea, that carries serious weight, especially when what it supports is conservative. It enables the right to say, “Even the liberal New Republic endorses X,” and that has tremendous credibility and resonance. It doesn’t matter if 19 out of 20 articles in a given issue are liberal; the one wingnutty one out of the 20 will, by virtue of its setting, be all the more influential.
To explain it a little more fully: I remember an example I had in a game theory class, where a leader is deciding to go to war or not. The leader has two advisers, one known to be a hawk and the other known to be a dove. The basic insight was that the leader would tend to listen more seriously to a dove urging war or a hawk urging peace, because the advice each was giving would be against type, and thus had extra credibility. That’s why politicians like Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman are so deeply damaging to Democrats, because when they say anti-war Democrats are unpatriotic, uninformed people will think there’s something to it. Whereas when Bush and Cheney say such things it’s par for the course.
The same principle applies to the New Republic: when a venerable liberal institution like TNR strongly endorses a breathtaking range of illiberal positions, and starts smearing liberals who disagree with them as extremist and unpatriotic in the bargain, the damage it does to the liberal cause is profound.
I still read certain TNR writers and I link to articles I find interesting. But as with the Foreign Policy clerisy, I don't think there's any doubt that there's an editorial disdain toward anyone who doesn't live within the very narrow confines of acceptable Village opinion. They may live in the "liberal" part of town but they have the same style and habits of mind as their conservative neighbors. And their reflexive need to disassociate themselves from "those people" who live on the other side of the tracks has made them useful pawns for the right wing. Until now...
Today, TNR is under siege from the nasty wingnuts at The Weekly Standard and they don't like it much. In fact, they are stunned. It seems that no matter how much they try to be precise, moderate and accommodating they just can't buy themselves immunity from right wing smears and character assassination. (This comes as no surprise to most of us.) I feel for them, I really do.
But after being called some very undignified names and treated as a mortal threat to democracy by TNR, I can't help but feel it would be a moral hazard to step in and defend them against the right wing this time. They evidently needed to be personally schooled on what happens if you get on the wrong side of Billy Kristol before they could understand the full scope of neocon thuggishness and recognize that the veneer of intellectual sophistication and urbane wit they value so highly actually covers a cutthroat malevolence born of Richard Nixon and Leo Strauss. We blogofascists are cuddly little kittens compared to those highbrow goons and our hearts really are in the right place.
It's a mighty clarifying lesson to find out who your friends and enemies really are.