Thursday, March 27, 2008

PICADOR. At the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger condemns "the blog-driven media Scream" (aided and abetted by "YouTube, the galaxy-sized video archive") that has caused nervous campaigns to fire operatives whose partisan gibes attract too much unfavorable attention. He worries this has made our political discourse "artificially civil."

Whom is Henninger shitting? In just the past few weeks we've had imputations of racism both for and against Jeremiah Wright's most famous parishoner, and endless variations on "bitch" aimed at Hillary Clinton. Even the relatively invisible John McCain has been accused of senility by Brit Hume. These people are not officially connected with any campaign staffs, but neither was James Callender. If there's a problem with the current election season, civility, artificial or otherwise, ain't it.

The main change would seem to be, in Henninger's reading, that some highly-placed people have lost their jobs over gaffes Henninger thinks would have earned a mere "trip to the woodshed" in the Arcadian past. But why would the defenestration of Geraldine Ferraro and Sam Power trouble him?

Henninger has previously decried the pernicious effects of YouTube, though in that case he was mainly concerned that the viral video vendor was making Republicans George Allen, Conrad Burns, and Rick Santorum look bad. Now he affects some sympathy for Democratic campaigners who are also caught in the great maw of citizen journalism. Knowing Henninger's history, we may be forgiven for wondering if this is a tactical ploy.

Henninger works for the Journal's editorial department, which practices a slightly different kind of advocacy than that practiced by bloggers and video guerrillas. True, they sometimes go in for small-bore character assassination; indeed, they might be considered the forefathers of the method now favored by top political bloggers. But in the main they prefer big-picture essays -- ponderous examinations of (to use Henninger's own contributions as examples) the death of diversity, the impossibility of empathy, the necessity of religious myths, etc. Their approach is not so often specific as miasmic; while they sometimes endorse candidates and policies, they are much more comfortable promoting a world-view that makes their opponents look morally confused, devoid of "guardrails," and philosophically unfit to run the country.

In short, they are culture warriors -- or, more properly, culture picadors, who weaken their prey with many cuts so that the matador of any given electoral season may more safely apply the coup de grace. Theirs is an unglamorous but vital role; they may not get glory, but they make glory possible. And they face limited danger in the arena. Among our pundit class there has always been one thing bigger than politics, and that's job security.

From their perspective, then, there may be something unnerving about the example of other supporting players who have lately taken a sword between the shoulder-blades. Henninger may have noticed that in our new media age, even some journalists have been known to take a fall. The threat remains distant, but why take chances? If Paris was worth a Mass, surely a Journal column is worth the odd profession of interest in civility, however far-fetched.

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