It must be nice to be a liberal columnist for the New York Times. There are apparently so few editorial demands. For years readers have been treated to a series of never-ending rants from the likes of Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, and others — rants that read more like the stereotypical “angry blogger in his mom’s basement” than the thoughts of leading public intellectuals. Today’s Times features a classic example: former food critic and current columnist Frank Bruni unloads on . . . Bristol Palin. It begins:
Say what you will about Bristol Palin, she’s a quick study. It didn’t take her long to master the ways of her elders on the censorious right and decide that personal circumstance and past error needn’t prevent someone from claiming righteous leadership. Uncle Rush must be proud.
Clever writing, that. And the intro is his launching pad into several paragraphs of precious New York Times space devoted to a negative recounting of the facts of Bristol’s life. He winds up the anti-Bristol diatribe like this:
I hesitated before picking on Bristol because she’s an easy target. It’s like shooting moose from a helicopter flying low over the tundra.
But she so perfectly distills the double standards and audacity of so many of our country’s self-appointed moralists and supposed traditionalists: hypocrites whose own histories, along with any sense of shame, tumble out the window as soon as there’s a microphone to be seized or check to be cashed.
What caused the sushi expert to attack? He was offended that Bristol criticized Obama for admittedly taking his cues from his daughters’ alleged moral sensibility about gay parents. On her blog, Bristol made the point that fathers should provide moral leadership for children, and she also pointed out the double standard applied to conservative women who are often closely questioned about the role their husbands will play in office.
Readers will note, however, that missing from Bruni’s post is anything faintly resembling an actual argument against the critique by “easy target” Bristol. By merely crying “hypocrite” and ridiculing her life story, he apparently feels that his work is done. But as I know Jonah has pointed out many times, simply calling someone a hypocrite is a dodge, a cheap and often crowd-pleasing rhetorical trick that by design avoids substance. And it’s a favorite tactic of the Left, perversely rendering those with no (or minimal) moral standards inherently more credible than those who have tried and failed to live according to a higher ideal.
Yet let’s be clear. Even if Bristol were a nun working to ease the suffering of Bangladeshi orphans, the Left would find another method of slander. They’d wail about repressed prudes, cry out that she should “judge not,” and then conjure up dystopian visions like a Handmaid’s Tale.
Bruni’s in good company. J-Woww also called Bristol a “hypocrite,” and the world of celebrity gossip sites almost had an aneurysm over Bristol’s post. (I should know. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife edits the Patheos Family Channel – where Bristol blogs — and she was at the virtual ground zero of an explosion of hate, culminating in death wishes for Bristol and her family). But lost in all of the name-calling and viciousness was, again, any semblance of argument.
Why? There’s a simple reason: Bristol’s right. Fathers should lead their children, presidents shouldn’t take their policy cues from teenagers, and there has been a double standard applied to conservative women. But rather than deal with substance, just call her a hypocrite and be done with it. Your commenters will like it, your editors will like it, and a once-great newspaper will take another small step towards intellectual irrelevance.