Wednesday, January 12, 2005

COCKEYED OPTIMISTS. Roger L. Simon takes comfort that the withering attacks made on him by James Wolcott are signs of "pessimism," which is apparently a bad thing:
It is not therefore surprising that James drips his practiced vitriol on those of us who choose to take an optimistic view of the situation in Iraq. I say choose because I readily acknowledge I am deeply uncertain and worried about the results of this enterprise. Of course, Wolcott, I am sure, in his honest moments is unsure as well from his side. No one knows where this will end. Of course, in the greater sense it will never end anyway, but suppose five years from now--hardly a long time as these things go--Iraq is a semi-functioning democracy and the Middle East turning toward peace. What will Wolcott say then? What will I? Again who knows, but I imagine Wolcott will be grinding his teeth if Bush winds up on Mt. Rushmore. I will just be chuckling to myself at the amazing accidents of history, wondering what their contemporaries thought of the previous denizens of the mountain during their lifetimes.
So, though he says that neither he nor Wolcott can know what turn history may take, Simon can easily imagine and portray Wolcott's refutation by history, not to mention the resultant grinding of Wolcott's teeth and Simon's own Olympian laughter. The reverse situation is not portrayed, nor, I guess, imaginable to him. I suppose you could call this optimism, especially if you are unusually polite.

Immediately after the curtain, Simon's claque praises the great man's classiness and sneers at Wolcott's sneering. "Perhaps the biggest change the blogosphere will make is that 'professional pessimism' will be seen, accurately, as wrong. Factually wrong," says "Liberty Dad." "Good. That makes me smile." (I especially like the poster who accuses Wolcott of "provincialism at its most naked," then declares that "the U.S., and the U.S. alone mind you," can end World War IV.) There's lots of talk about carping, impotence, and the like. No policy discussion here; it's essentially a T-group for boosters over sneerers. Why are you people always tearing down?

I hear frequently from this lot how resolutely they stand against the idea that "the personal is the political." Yet so much of what passes for argument in these forums -- and Simon's is a shining example -- conforms exactly to that hoary notion. The whole obsession with the Main Stream Media appears based on the idea that professional journalists are some sort of rival fraternity whom the scrappy bloggers must take down to avenge the honor of Theta Alpha Indeed for some ancient offense, like Watergate. It's not about whether they're wrong -- though they will take that gift, when offered -- it's about scoring a victory over a hated opponent. Wolcott gets that treatment, too, in the comments. One guy, applauded by the Ole Perfesser, alternately refers to Wolcott as "an established figure in the white hot center of the mainstream media" and "an adorable rottweiler puppy attack[ing] the legs of various leading lights of the blogosphere" -- a formulation that portrays the object of ridicule simultaneously as all-powerful (justifying indignation) and ineffectual (justifying contempt), and typical of the genre.

If the whole thing really came down to whether one were pessimistic or optimistic, I would happily choose the path of Mencken over that of Pangloss. But it doesn't come down to that. Optimism has its uses, but as we have seen, it has its abuses too. Don't just carp about my carping. Tell me why I'm wrong.

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