Assorted Musings on Kevin Williamson and the ‘Respectable’ Right (UPDATED)

Rarely do we see a story that has so much to teach, from which so little is learned, than the saga of Kevin Williamson’s firing from The Atlantic. The nonsense continues to pile up, so let’s see if we can sift out some truth.

One and Done

Lost in the uproar so far has been the fact that Williamson’s one and only Atlantic essay was crap. It was little more than a regurgitation of his longstanding contempt for Donald Trump and rank-and-file conservative voters, all wrapped in his trademark long-windedness that he tries to pass off as sophistication. The best I can say about it is that he dings libertarians for the delusion that they matter, but even that’s tainted by the delusion that they deserve to matter.

Still, it contains a couple of noteworthy nuggets:

  • His gratuitous and misleading swipe at someone who actually possesses the intellect Williamson imagines in himself, Victor Davis Hanson. I can’t add anything to Hanson’s prophetic response, but I do have to say how remarkable (and, I confess, gratifying) it is to see one of the Right’s most respected figures finally mention — in National Review, no less! — what most conservatives have spent years pretending not to notice: Williamson’s tendency to be “incoherent and cruel.”
  • “Self-professed libertarian voices such as Larry Elder have become abject Trumpists.” I don’t hear Elder enough to judge his overall take on Trump, but I can use Google — which is apparently more work than Williamson bothered to do. It took me less than 30 seconds to find this column in which Elder criticizes the “economic illiteracy” of Trump’s tariffs. Especially since it’s not the first time Williamson’s misrepresented a fellow conservative over Trump, his dishonesty makes all the odes to what a wonderful guy he is doubly grating.
  • “The Christian right was able to make its peace with Trump with relative ease, because it is moved almost exclusively by reactionary kulturkampf considerations. ‘But Hillary!’ is all that Falwell and company need to hear, and they won’t even hold out for 30 pieces of silver.” Anyone else see the irony of Williamson sneering at religious conservatives’ judgement that abortion (among other issues) was important enough to justify voting for Trump over Hillary Clinton (a call that’s since been vindicated), just before getting sacked for an abortion statement more extreme than anything they’ve ever said? Williamson understands that abortion is literally murder (and in his saner moments has written eloquently about how being born just a few months later, after Roe v. Wade, might well have killed him). Yet not only did he ignore the moral imperative this gave the 2016 election, he lacks any discernible charity for others motivated to vote Trump by a concern he claims to share.
  • One wonders if throwing in the German for “culture struggle” (or “culture war,” as we’d say) above was meant to evoke the vile smear of Trump supporters as Nazis, or to provide another bit of foreign language faux-sophistication. Knowing Kevin, probably both.

Kevin D. Trump?

I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons Williamson’s animosity toward our vulgar, impulsive, nasty, big-mouthed, thin-skinned president is so visceral is because, on some level, he recognizes some of those qualities in himself. His hanging comments are a perfect example not only of that, but of his #NeverTrump colleagues’ selective outrage.

One of the most glaring (and, so far, unspoken) ironies in all this is that Williamson’s defenders know damn well they never would have tolerated Donald Trump saying anything half as inflammatory. In fact, it’s not hypothetical — they didn’t tolerate it. Remember when Trump told Chris Matthews there “has to be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions? Conservatives uniformly (and rightly) came down on him like a ton of bricks. National Review’s editors said he “managed to damage his own campaign, the Republican party, and the pro-life cause at a single go.” NR’s David French called it an example of Trump doing “what he does best: open[ing] his mouth and insert[ing] his foot.”

Curiously, though, that doesn’t seem to be the verdict for Williamson saying — and sticking to — a more extreme version of what Trump said and recanted. Now, French meekly says “we might differ about the laws in hypothetical-future-America.” Jonah Goldberg (a senior editor who presumably had some input in the Trump denunciation) says simply that “You can agree or disagree with” Williamson’s position, but what really matters is that “He never made that argument for National Review.”

What’s the difference? That Williamson thought it through and Trump was just spouting what he assumed pro-lifers wanted to hear? True, but irrelevant — if punishing women is the wrong answer, it’s wrong no matter who gives it or why. That a presidential candidate is a bigger PR liability that a conservative opinion writer? Also true, but only a question of degree — the Left made sure to publicize it just the same, and again, it cannot be harmful for one person to say something but harmless for another to say the same thing, only harsher.

Indeed, many of Williamson’s other defenders are actually doing more harm by suggesting he was fired merely for being pro-life — lending credence to the leftist smear that punishing women (up to and including death) really is what opposing abortion’s all about. (UPDATE: Here’s my explanation for why Williamson is wrong about punishing women, and why most pro-lifers are logically consistent on the subject.)

Say, isn’t there a word for holding a like-minded friend to one standard, and a hated opponent to another? Oh yeah…tribalism.

Not Quite a Victim

The Atlantic and Jeffrey Goldberg are absolutely the bad guys here; the left-wing filth they’re willing to both publish and tolerate from their writers proves that leftist mob outrage, not some sincere or consistently-applied editorial principle, is why they canned Williamson. That said, let’s not exaggerate Williamson’s victimhood or overlook his own contribution to his current situation.

First, as Ace wrote Friday (in a post that’s a must-read for points beyond what I’m covering here), an opinion magazine terminating a writer for his opinions is hardly a matter of censorship, and going too far down that road carries a strong risk of hypocrisy:

The Atlantic is a magazine of ideas. Obviously, ideas being its stock in trade, it has the right any business does of deciding what ideas it wishes to sell and which ideas it thinks it can sell to its customer base.

Its ideas and the writers typing up those ideas are its stock in trade and its entire brand identity.

It has a very strong interest in defining not only what its brand identity is, but what its brand identity is not […]

I asked someone at the National Review during general campaign season of 2016 (not primary season — general election season) why they were hiring nothing but NeverTrumpers. They were hiring both writers of quality, like Heather Wilhelm, and trash level writers, who I won’t name.

The quality varied but their politics did not: They were all vociferously anti-Trump. Again, during general election season, when the only alternative to Trump was Hillary Clinton […]

Fair enough.

But then: Doesn’t The Atlantic have that exact same right to choose which writers it wants to tell its audience are worth reading (and, indeed, worth paying cash money for)?

Second, Williamson is only jobless (for the moment) because he chose to leave NR — a platform that, by all appearances, rubber-stamped damn near anything he wanted to say under its masthead, without regard for its reasoning or accuracy, no matter how unprofessionally he conducted himself on Twitter or elsewhere  — for a platform where it was entirely predictable that his days would be numbered.

Why did he make such a shortsighted trade? That brings us to the last item of this rundown…

Jonah Gives Away the Game

In just a few days, the righty blogosphere has filled with gushing defenses of Williamson, including one from his NR pal Jonah Goldberg. Its reviews as the best must-read reaction yet are dead-wrong (John Nolte’s, Scott Greer’s, and Ace’s are all smarter and more important), but it does illuminate a couple of extremely important points Goldberg didn’t intend to.

First, throughout the piece Jonah showers Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation) and The Atlantic with eyebrow-raising praise. Jeffrey “courageously hired Kevin because he wants his magazine to be a public square for different points of view.” Jonah “still think[s The Atlantic] is an excellent magazine, for now.” Jeffrey is one of “many smart and thoughtful liberals.”

Does Jonah really think excellence can be compatible with people and organizations dedicated to undermining the Constitution, individual rights, limited government, and free markets? Or is he stoking liberal egos for elite respectability? Neither possibility is flattering.

And it would be beyond naiveté to honestly believe Jeffrey had such lofty motives. Since the primary Williamson has established himself as one of the nominal Right’s nastiest (and shallowest) critics of Donald Trump and Trump-sympathetic conservatives. That’s what The Atlantic really wanted: a pet conservative to regularly dump on the Right, their own Jennifer RubinBret Stephens, or Charlie Sykes.

It says a lot about Kevin Williamson that “tool of the Left” was a job opening he was happy to fill, and that he thought getting in bed with vipers would spare him their wrath.

Finally, consider the following:

His point is that abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such. You can agree or disagree with that position, on moral, practical, or legal grounds. I disagree with Kevin on all three grounds to some extent, even though I am what you might call mostly pro-life (I know, I know, but we can argue about all that another day).

And:

There are writers at National Review who are pro-choice, but they aren’t fired for it. They just don’t typically make that case in our pages.

All of a sudden, the past two years make a lot more sense.

Ever since Trump won the nomination, we’ve been inundated with lectures about how accepting Trump would corrupt conservative principles. Yet here we have one of the most prolific peddlers of those lectures admitting that “to some extent” he rejects the most foundational of those principles (the Declaration of Independence lists the right to life first), and that some other NR writers reject it outright.

No wonder he and so many other #NeverTrumpers downplayed the threat Hillary posed to the country and turned up their nose at the idea America’s survival was at stake. No wonder Goldberg lazily dismissed the moral dilemma of throwing a Senate seat to pro-abortion Doug Jones rather than leaving the Roy Moore accusations for an ethics panel to decide. Because #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary were operating from different starting assumptions not about either candidate, but about the causes we supposedly share.

They were the ones taking the conservative principles at stake less seriously than those of us who supposedly “sold out” or “bent the knee” to Donald Trump. And now, on at least one issue, we have one of them inadvertently admitting it.

So in a very roundabout way, we actually owe Kevin Williamson our thanks. His antics turned out to be the catalyst for his fellow travelers to display #NeverTrump’s moral and philosophical bankruptcy with some of the clearest examples yet.

Just imagine the rant we’ll get if he ever realizes it.

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New at LifeSiteNews: The Atlantic Hypocrites Fire Kevin Williamson

Here’s my latest commentary at LifeSiteNews. Spoiler alert: Jeffrey Goldberg isn’t the only one I have words for.

Well, that was quick. After publishing just one piece at his new gig, liberal magazine The Atlantic has already fired conservative columnist Kevin Williamson.

On March 22, Williamson announced his departure from National Review, saying he viewed the new job as an opportunity to “be an apostle to the Gentiles,” taking his commentary to an audience where exposure to conservative ideas was the exception.

That might have been a nice theory, but how it fared in practice was entirely predictable. A left-wing mob immediately swarmedThe Atlantic, ostensibly outraged that a “reputable” publication would allow an extremist to supposedly darken its door (though Huffington Postwriter Noah Berlatsky let slip liberals’ real motivation with the simple declaration that “conservative ideas aren’t worth debating”).

The mob has gotten its wish. A memo to Atlantic staff has gone public, in which editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that the publication has fired Williamson. Goldberg said some of Williamson’s past “intemperate” tweets were not initially deal-breakers, but that was before the left-wing Media Matters unearthed a 2014 podcast in which Williamson doubled down on one of his most controversial remarks: that women who have abortions should be hanged (pro-life leadersdenounced Williamson’s comments at the time).

“My broader point here is, of course, that I am a – as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general – but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code,” Williamson elaborated in the podcast.

Read the rest at LifeSiteNews.

Related reading: Ace on what Williamson’s original writing said about the “respectable” Right, and Victor Davis Hanson refuting a swipe Williamson made at him in his only Atlantic piece.

Lies, Damned Lies, and NeverTrump: A Defense of Dennis Prager

Note: an abridged version of this column appears at The Federalist Papers Project.

Dennis Prager set the conservative blogosphere ablaze last week with a column asking why there are conservatives “who still snipe (or worse) at President Trump,” who “remain anti-Trump today” despite the fact that for the next three and a half years, he’s our only means of getting national conservative policies across the finish line.

Prager’s first suspected reason:

While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do […] To my amazement, no anti-Trump conservative writer sees it that way. They all thought during the election, and still think, that while it would not have been a good thing if Hillary Clinton had won, it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe either.

Exactly right, and a crucial point that NeverTrumpers, for all their self-righteousness, never seriously addressed.

Prager’s conclusion:

They can accept an imperfect reality and acknowledge that we are in a civil war, and that Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL.

I beg them: Please report for duty.

Amen! This column was a much-needed reminder of the big picture, which NeverTrumpers tend to sorely lack. And sure enough, a string of pundits jumped at the opportunity to demonstrate that they’ve done no introspection whatsoever since the election. Continue reading

The Unbearable Shallowness of #NeverTrump Arguments, Part 3: Jonah Goldberg

Once upon a time, Jonah Goldberg was one of my favorite conservative writers. Then Donald Trump happened (noticing a pattern here?). Sadly, so much sophistry leaps off the page of one of his most recent pieces — yet another #NeverTrump diatribe, naturally — that it’s inspired me to revive a series I started in response to Steve Deace and Kevin Williamson.

I find the constant resort to what I’ll call argumentum ad masculinum tedious. Every day, I hear people telling me that I need to “man up” and support Trump as if this is some kind of dick-measuring exercise.

I’m sure there are others who resort to that, but in the piece Goldberg is referring to, Ace isn’t talking about “dick-measuring.” He’s simply saying people need to be intellectually honest to warrant respect. To maintain that withholding support for electing Trump somehow doesn’t benefit Hillary is intellectually dishonest, for the reasons I’ll explain below.

I don’t feel obligated to support Hillary […] Ace is locked into this binary argument that one must be for one candidate if one is against the other.

Conservatives of all people should appreciate that what one “feels” about one’s actions does not change the effect of those actions. Whatever you intend, the fact remains you’re ultimately choosing not to encourage people to cast the only vote that can do anything to keep Hillary out of the White House.

If during the Iran-Iraq War, I criticized Iraq, there is no objective reason why that should require the conclusion that I supported Iran.

Because we’re not talking about “criticizing” the candidates. Heck, those of us voting for Trump still complain about him all the time. It’s completely possible to state upfront Trump’s many faults, continue to constructively critique him, and still keep them in the broader context that they pale in comparison to the suffering you know Hillary Clinton would inflict on millions of Americans.

Frankly, Jonah, to pretend it’s a question of simply criticizing Trump reeks of goalpost-moving.

Again, in 1960, National Review refused to endorse Kennedy or Nixon because neither measured up.

A precedent that would only be applicable here if the issues at stake in 2016 were the same as the ones at stake in 1960 (hardly), if Trump was equivalent to Nixon (debatable), and most importantly if Hillary wasn’t light years worse than JFK (come on). So try again.

What if the race this year was between Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders, or to better illustrate the point, between Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger. Am I really obligated to figure out which is the lesser of two evils, or am I actually obligated to say they’re both evil? Would Ace argue that it’s outrageous and cowardly for me to criticize them both, just because he’s concluded that Lecter is preferable to Krueger? “C’mon some of us are trying to win an election here! Stop bashing Dr. Lecter. Sure he eats people, but he’s so much better than Krueger. Just look at the Krueger Foundation!”

I’m sorry Jonah, but you have to know how disingenuous this paragraph is. If Trump and Hillary really were equally likely to be as equally bad as Krueger and Lecter (which they aren’t), you wouldn’t need to resort to such an outlandish analogy in the first place. You could make the point with comparisons to the actual candidates, not horror-movie substitutes. And again, nobody (except the most die-hard Trumpkins, not people like Ace or Bill Bennett) suggested you can’t criticize both; that’s a straw man.

I go back and forth over the question of whether Hillary or Trump would be worse for America — and/or conservatism.

Yeah, it’s a real stumper how to figure out whether Trump embarrassing Republicans with his antics and possibly reneging some of his conservative campaign promises might be worse for the country than Hillary working every day to kill babies, endanger American lives, systematically dismantle the rule of law, erase even more personal, economic, and religious freedoms, disenfranchise future conservative generations through judicial and bureaucratic appointments, ramp up IRS discrimination against conservatives, and amnesty enough future Democrat voters to prevent conservatives from ever again restoring the Constitution, limited government, the right to life, free-market economics, etc.

I fall back to the safe harbor of saying what I believe about both of them and the issues at play, for the simple reason that this seems like the right thing to do and because I want to be consistent about what I believe in — no matter who is president.

How are “saying what I believe about both of them and the issues at play” and “being consistent about what I believe in” incompatible with coming to a conclusion about which vote is the right one to cast?

The Unbearable Shallowness of #NeverTrump Arguments, Part 2: Kevin Williamson

We continue our tour of #NeverTrump’s dangerous shallowness with National Review’s Kevin Williamson, whose work on the subject is particularly insufferable thanks to his wrapping profoundly stupid arguments in arrogant contempt for all who disagree.

Cruz and the rest should not be bullied into accepting the nonsense that refusing to go in for Trump is a vote for Mrs. Clinton. It isn’t. Declining to support Trump is an act of integrity and good taste. It isn’t anything Cruz or Bush has done that makes Trump unsupportable — that is Trump’s doing, and no one else’s.

I don’t know what’s lamer: the suggestion that “Trump’s doing” somehow negates NeverTrumpers’ free will in choosing not to vote for him, or the two-word denial that not voting Trump amounts to supporting Clinton. Presidential elections only have two viable candidates. The only way to make one lose is to get the other more votes. Of course deliberately withholding votes from the alternative to Hillary benefits Hillary. This is not complicated.

And “act of integrity and good taste”? To give Hillary Clinton the opportunity to effectively end the Constitution and the conservative movement via a one-two punch of establishing a 6-3 leftist Supreme Court (at best) and amnestying enough future Democrat voters to ensure we never win another national election in our lifetimes? Another 9/11? Fifty million more abortions? More persecution of Christian employers and conservative activists? More liberties and checks on government power erased? More disenfranchisement of the states and the people? Possibly sacrificing our opportunity to ever fix any of the crises facing America?

Meh, says Kevin to all of that. Hating Trump is more important to me than the suffering of millions of Americans.

Kevin did, however, elaborate on “it isn’t” in an earlier article, and good Lord is it worse than you’re expecting: Continue reading

New at American Clarion: Disappointment in Paul Ryan Provides Clue to America’s Current Mess

Wilfred McClay of the University of Oklahoma best summarized the root cause of conservatives’ unpleasant choice for president this fall: “when a political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising essential topics, the electorate will soon turn to ‘unrespectable’ ones” like Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, the punditry remains slow to recognize this, and nothing symbolizes its cognitive dissonance more than the reactions to House Speaker Paul Ryan supporting Trump despite Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The past few weeks have been filled with fears and lamentations over the threat to Ryan’s standing as, Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes puts it, “the intellectual leader of the conservative movement in the GOP.”

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg sums up the sentiment in writing that it’s “more difficult for me to write than it should be” that Ryan’s “a disappointment”:

[P]hilosophically and temperamentally, I’ve long felt that Ryan is my kind of politician, and that judgment didn’t change after getting to know him (which is rare, given how most politicians are all too human). His vision for government’s role and the kind of party the GOP should be has always resonated with me, even if I didn’t agree with him on every policy or vote.

It should tell you all you need to know about the sorry state of the Right that disappointment in Ryan took this long for so many.

Read the rest at American Clarion.

Why is Truth Obvious to Conservative Readers but Not Conservative Pundits?

It’s really remarkable, in a depressing sort of way, how many of the comments on articles at leading conservative websites are consistently more insightful than the articles themselves. Today’s example comes from Dan McLaughlin’s recent National Review piece on how #NeverTrump needn’t have been inevitable — not because the people who knew better had numerous opportunities to prevent Trump’s rise, mind you, but because Trump could have been someone he’s not.

Thank God commenter Patrick could see the obvious:

Flip it around: NeverTrump needn’t have been inevitable if mainstream Republicanism, including other major presidential candidates, had recognized the same important issues that Trump and Santorum realized and championed them in a more mainstream way than Trump is capable of doing.

In retrospect (except that retrospect was actually spect to millions of us a year ago) NeverTrump could have been avoided and Trump could have been stopped just by, as Ann Coulter forcefully prescribed last summer, “Taking his issues away from him and beating him with them.” But 14 Trump rivals ignored or mostly protested his policies. Cruz followed along timidly in his wake, doing nothing to make Trump voters prefer his half measures to Trump’s full ones. Santorum himself had always been leading the way on working class conservatism, but he was damaged goods having been caricatured as a religious obsessive with no other interests, and few Republcians were even aware of what he stood for.

As for Ryan, McConnell, the RW pundits, think tanks and donors, they were Trump’s best allies in assuring voters that they wouldn’t dream of adopting any of Trump’s policies. They went on record as giving him a monopoly on populist conservatism. And the voters believed them.

In putting the onus on Trump, you’re assuming this 70 year-old dog is capable of learning new tricks. That’s not realistic. He’s been an erratic, bombastic blowhard and gadfly his entire life. The solution never was for Donald Trump to become someone he’s not. It was for someone who’s not Donald Trump to start standing up for ordinary Americans instead of Wall Street and other special interests. That didn’t happen, so Trump won by default, the two sweetest words in the English language.

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that comment is the single best thing I’ve read on the Internet in a month.

Sadly, instead of starting the Right’s long-overdue housecleaning to make sure we never wind up in a mess like this again, so many of the people whose shortsightedness forced us into this ugly choice are instead devoting all their energy to increasingly-implausible fantasies about convention revolts and third candidates that will correct none of our root problems and instead give Hillary the opportunity she needs to make us all irrelevant by turning the Supreme Court solidly against our freedoms and amnestying enough new Democrat voters to keep control for generations.

Sigh.