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If Bret Stephens Columns Were A Food, They Would Be Spoiled Milk Poured Over Wonder Bread


This is — I swear — how Pulitzer Prize Winner Bret Stephens started his most recent column:

Michael Kelly, the legendary journalist who died covering the invasion of Iraq in 2003, once wrote that the “animating impulse” of modern liberalism was to “marginalize itself and then enjoy its own company. And to make itself as unattractive to as many as possible.”

“If it were a person,” he added, “it would pierce its tongue.”

Yes, to begin a column about how liberals are out of touch, he’s quoting a reactionary hack from the 90s terrified by young people’s unexceptionable fashion choices, and seems smarmily convinced this will make liberals look bad. I look forward to to his next column, “I was appalled to see a woman who dyed her hair purple during the brief sojourn from my livery service to the front door of the office today. This is why Democrats might lose a Senate election in a state Trump carried by 25 points.”

He’s so proud of this self-owning line he keeps using it to introduce various comically obvious pundit’s fallacies, like this:

It pierced its tongue last week when New York’s Representative Jerrold Nadler pledged to use a Democratic House majority to open an investigation into Kavanaugh’s alleged perjury and the “whitewash” investigation by the F.B.I. A party that can’t change its mind and won’t change the subject meets the classic definition of a fanatic.

Omitted: any evidence for the massively implausible claim that any persuadable voter has changed their mind because of this. Definitely omitted: the demonstrable fact that Kavanaugh is in fact unprecedentedly unpopular. (The idea that it’s impossible for a political party to win while promising investigations into their political opponents is additionally hilarious for reasons that presumably don’t need elaboration.)

Anyway, the whole column is based on a premise — DEMS ARE BLOWING IT!!!!!! — that is based on nothing. Democrats remain overwhelming favorites to take the House, and there’s any doubt only because of the headwinds created by various anti-democratic features of the American political system — Dems lead the generic ballot polling by 8 1/2 points. It is true that the Democrats remain major underdogs to take the Senate, but given the exceptionally unfavorable map this is again not evidence for any of Stephens’s claims, which are pure projection.

I’m reminded of this from Holbo’s classic David Frum essay:

This is supposed to sound sober and sensible. If cultural conditions are functions of economics, you can’t change the culture without altering the economics. So conservatives must keep up the titanic, colossal, epic, probably cosmically doomed and tragic economic struggle to keep government small … so people will not dress funny or wear their hair in hairy ways? Sort of wimpy, as ragnaroks go. Notable disproportion here between means and the wished-for end. Even if you are the sort of person who feels deeply offended by funny, ethnic clothes (we’re off the deep end) – even if you think it is anything like your business to dictate fashion sense to everyone around you (we’re so off the deep end) – how could you possibly think it was so important as all that? And yet immediately we are off and running about after the bourgeois virtues, all dying out: thrift, diligence, prudence, sobriety, fidelity, and orderliness. I won’t bother to quote. Why can I not exhibit all these virtues beneath and/or behind a beard, kente cloth and/or keffiyeh? Frum seems to find it too obvious to bear arguing that the trick is impossible. (Yet he can’t actually think that.) Does Frum seriously believe there are no shrewd, sober businessmen in those parts of the world where businessmen wear beards and keffiyehs and kente cloths? (Obviously he doesn’t. That’s crazy.) So what does he think? I think he just has a powerful feeling that: things ought to be a certain way. And if they are that way, everything will be all right.

Bearded Guy: I like my beard.

Frum: You should shave it.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because it should have been the case that you were too afraid to grow it.

BG: But I wasn’t.

Frum: But you should have been.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because you are wrecking the culture.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because the culture will decay and then the economy will fall apart and we’ll all be poor.

BG: Because of my beard?

Frum: Just think about it. Our economy depends on a healthy culture.

BG: But you don’t even care about the economy. You said you don’t.

Frum: I wish you hadn’t mentioned that.

BG: But I did.

Frum: Look, if you shave the beard, everything will be … better.

BG: You’re a moonbat.

Frum: It’s all related to … foreign policy and wheelchair access in public school, in ways that … would take a long time to explain.

BG: Get away from me!

Frum: Look. Just shave your beard!

Seinfeld had his Soup Nazi. Frum is sort of a Suit Nazi. (OK, that’s too mean.) A kente cloth-free zone. An advocate of radical (what shall we call it?) sartorauthoritarianism. Society and culture conservatively dictate everyone’s dress code down to a whisker.

And why?

Because otherwise you wouldn’t be (wait for it) FREE!

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