So the president has appointed ex-Time Magazine journalist and current VP spokesman Jay Carney as the new press secretary. I'm hearing that people really like his taste in music. And he is nice looking.
But this article by Rick Perlstein is worth remembering before we all get too excited. On the the new blog Swampland back in 2007, Carney wrote a typical Villager piece of conventional wisdom of the time about how Bush would focus on the things people really cared about, Iraq not being one them. Perlstein chronicled the reaction:
[T]he commenters unraveled the entire foundation of Carney's argument. He had said that, because "Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them … Bush won't spend much time tonight talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror." But, as writers identifying themselves as "jjcomet," "dmbeaster," and "Newton Minnow" pointed out, the issue of greatest concern to the nation "is far and away the war in Iraq, at 48% the only issue in double digits." Another made a similar point, shall we say, more qualitatively: "The Iraq War is a DISTRACTION?? Are you serious? Am I wrong or did he compare the Lewinski scandal to Iraq??? What is the matter with you!?!?"
At which Carney snapped back so churlishly ("the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land") that, for a moment, it was hard even to remember--why was it, again, that we were supposed to defer to the authority of newsweeklies (and the mainstream press) in the first place? Carney was rude and wrong. The barbaric yawpers of the netroots were rude and right.
Perhaps he's changed. But this is a seasoned product of the Village. I would doubt that he is any more enamored of the barbaric yawpers of today than he was then.
Be sure to click over to Perlstein's whole essay because it's not only a good reminder of the Villager essential mindset, but it's a good reminder of the value of the dirty hippies in the first place:
All in all, a rough day for Jay Carney. It inaugurated a rough week for those who still wish to uphold a model of cultural authority in which the fact that someone is a professional with a famous name-- credentialed by other professionals with famous names--can serve as a reasonable proxy for trustworthiness. It marked one more step in the arrival of our new, more uncomfortable media world--one in which, to judge a piece of writing, we must gauge not the status of the writer, but his or her words themselves, unattached to the author's worldly rank.
That's all right by me. In his brilliant 1990 study The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America, literary scholar Michael Warner argues that this is precisely why so many founding fathers insisted that public debates be carried out by pseudonym. "Publius," he points out--the pen name under which the newspaper arguments for ratifying the Constitution collected as the "Federalist Papers" were published--"speaks in the utmost generality of print, denying in his very existence the mediating of particular persons." In other words, it wasn't supposed to matter that the author was the distinguished gentleman Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, or James Madison. You were just supposed to judge according to the words on the page.
That's changing rapidly these days as the blogosphere becomes more and more professionalized and "credentialed." But it was an interesting moment. And the barbaric yawpers still exist --- ironically they are especially active at Swampland, where the commentariat is one of the most engaged with the writers of anyplace on the internet.