David Rieff Overheats

by Ramesh Ponnuru

David Rieff writes: “Despite the irate denials on conservative websites (as usual, National Review Online, with the honorable exception of Heather Mac Donald, made this case with particularly breathtaking dishonesty), there is really no doubt that the apocalyptic rhetoric that is the common currency of the Becks, Palins, Limbaughs, and worse has the potential to make unstable people murderous.” Examples adduced of dishonesty: zero. (If I wanted to nitpick–and why not?–I’d also note that he offers no examples of anyone’s denying that apocalyptic rhetoric has “the potential to make unstable people murderous,” which is nearly an unfalsifiable statement.)

Rieff continues, “[Rich Lowry] may choose to pretend that Americans have always used martial language in politics, and that ‘no one ever [sic] before has ever thought it constitutes incitement.’ But this is quite simply a lie: Ask the Secret Service, which takes such threatening speech extremely seriously.” The typo was unfortunate, but it’s rather a larger error to treat an unsigned editorial as though it were one of Rich’s columns. Anyway: 1) Rieff offers no evidence at all that the editorial’s claim is untrue, let alone that NR knew it to be false and uttered it anyway. 2) I am pretty sure that if either Rieff or I asked anyone at the Secret Service whether they took martial language of the type mentioned in the editorial “extremely seriously,” the answer would be no, possibly preceded by a chuckle. 3) Even if Rieff’s claim were true it would have no bearing on the editorial’s historical claim.

Rieff concludes that conservatives have either lost their minds or their honor. I conclude that people preaching about civility should demonstrate a modicum of it.

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