Monday, April 02, 2007

TOO CHILDISH-FOOLISH FOR THIS WORLD. The Ole Perfesser plays The Ole Foolosopher, striking what I suppose passes among conservative propagandists for a contemplative attitude. As we have come to expect from such people, the tone is wounded, and the approach entirely self-justifying.

First, after noting that yet another of his stories has turned out to be full of shit, the Perfesser prints a note from some guy telling him how great it is that the Perfesser stooped to correct the item. Then he muses:
Well, a polite email always counts for something, especially in the blogosphere these days. As I note in the FAQs, I don't promise never to link to things that turn out not to be wrong (no blogger could do that) only that I'll try to correct the error if I find out about it. Rein's email is certainly nicer than some I received about the Ware story, though I think I got about as many from Dartmouth alumni complaining -- correctly -- that I shouldn't have called it Dartmouth University in my New York Post column. Well, nobody's perfect.
So not only is the Perfesser a real sport to print the sort of retraction he is constantly demanding of newspaper editors; he's also not responsible for all those other, interesting-if-true tales that he just leaves lying out there -- like dirty hippies beating up a soldier -- for, though they advance an alternative version of reality that exactly conforms with the Perfesser's own, they are innocent mistakes, like getting a name wrong. And those impolite bloggers (not anti-civility, just on the other side) who think otherwise can be dismissed with a hearty "heh."

Incivility bothers the Perfesser a great deal. After hailing James Taranto's Matthew Dowd damage control, the Perfesser presses his knuckles to his brow and ponders:
I've never felt that degree of attraction to, or affection for, Bush -- you never saw the kind of praise for him here that you once saw for him elsewhere. Mostly, I've just felt vaguely sorry for him, and hoped he'd manage to do a decent job under difficult circumstances. On the other hand, I haven't had the same over-the-top response to disappointment with him, either. But I try to keep the political and the personal separate, something that seems increasingly old-fashioned these days.
"I try to keep the political and the personal separate" -- brother, is that rich! Because the whole schtick of these rightwing blog kingpins is about reducing politics to lifestyle choices and personal tics.

There is, for example, Jim Lileks, who has reinvented himself as a 21st Century Babbitt. (In today's episode, he hollers about the damned artists and hoteliers who have ruined his beautiful Roger Smith Hotel, as if the many midtown lodges that draw customers with arty touches were responding to orders from the Third International rather than the demands of the market.) Column after column, Lileks presents conservativism as something that arises less from argument and assessment than from a longing for the Goode Olde Days, when men were men and matchbooks were matchbooks and nobody talked with a filthy mouth, proving that, if Lawrence Welk were plying his trade today, he'd spend most of the show talking about the life-affirming philosophy represented by Champagne Music and the Beatles' spiritual debt to Josef Stalin.

There is Ann Althouse, now in the final, gruesome throes of dementia, for whom all issues are literally all about Ann Althouse, and the most convincing side of any debate is the one that sends her the most mash notes.

And there is the Perfesser. As we sometimes demonstrate here with the Ole Grey Perfesser Test, he is a fairly doctrinaire conservative, with just a little socially-liberal trim added to differentiate him from the currently overstocked pool of Bill O'Reilly impersonators. The Perfesser tumbled early to right-wing market realities: for example, that while Rush Limbaugh's politics was a factor, it was his self-presentation as a callous, self-satisfied douchebag that reminded suburban burghers enough of themselves that they made him a god. But the crafty Perfesser has aimed slightly higher: between newsy bits, he rattles on about high-end coffee-makers and hand dryers and cars, portraying himself very convincingly as exactly the sort of shopaholic dink he wants to draw to his site. They're a demographic bonanza, after all -- moneyed, acquisitive, and fundamentally insecure.

This persona requires another innovation on the Limbaugh formula: while Rush's white dreamers of disenfranchisement relate well to authority, the Perfesser's target auditors are a little more urbane and feckless. So while rightwing politics must stay in the mix -- one cannot dispense entirely with authority, nor with the narrative of liberal betrayal, lest the audience drift away -- it must be a cooler version of rightwing politics, less beefy-faced and sweaty, more accomodating to people who, in the depths of their soullessness, really just don't give a shit about anything except their own personal comfort and primacy.

In answer to that need, the Perfesser and his peers embed their rightwing talking points in a creamy, formless mess that we might call I Can't Believe It's Not Politics. Its apotheosis is -- was, I guess I should say; who takes this shit seriously anymore? -- the "Anti-Idiotarian" concept, which held that old ideas of "Left" and "Right" had lost all relevance, and the real litmus was now whether you agreed with the Perfesser's right-wing ideas, or were an idiot. This is politics with no fuss, no muss -- that feeling of resentment the Perfesser's hehs and indeed have stirred in you are all the sign you need that you're in the right church.

When the heavy lifting involved in reasoning and comparing has been done away with, the politics goes down smooth, so long as the host maintains an entertaining line of patter. And so their readers increasingly perceive politics as something that has to do with Ann and Glenn and Jim and their affection for them. Any other relevance of politics to their lives would be a drag to think about.

Well, they have a right to make a living too, I guess. But let us not pretend that they aren't making the political personal, nor that this is an improvement.

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