Politics & Policy

Fight Al Franken? I Guess Not…

Conservatives lack bench strength.

Look, it’s the last Friday in August. Things are slower than Alec Baldwin without his Ritalin prescription. Washington is enjoying uncharacteristically pleasant weather. And — because of your loyalty to NR Online — we are in the midst of upgrading to a bigger, better, faster server. This will hopefully reduce the accidental maimings of our Laotian guest-workers to an acceptable minimum. But as it stands right now, a bunch of sweaty guys with tool belts and semi-exposed posteriors are bent over the pneumatic pipeworks that make NRO’s ones and zeros fly around.

So what I’d like to do is basically catch up on a few items that I’ve been preoccupied with. We’ll sit, we’ll talk — if anybody has some bundt cake we’ll have some of that. It’ll be nice. But if you want a serious column why don’t you come back Monday.


As many of you have probably heard, Al Franken, the comedian liberals take seriously, challenged my friend and paycheck provider Rich Lowry to a fist fight this week (SEE: Why I won’t fight Al Franken). The brawl would be according to Fight Club rules, which is to say, there would be no rules. Rich decided that it would be unseemly for the editor of National Review to mix it up with an “entertainer” in such a way. Others concluded it was unseemly for Rich to talk to this particular entertainer at all.

Franken was responding to Rich’s argument that the Left is on a campaign against manliness. As one might expect, Franken thought he was making a brilliant and funny point about conservative hypocrisy. Instead he was proving that many liberals still don’t get it. What they don’t understand is that when society treats all manliness as immature or sexist, it gets more immaturity and sexism. The film Fight Club made that exact point.

Manliness is rooted in human nature. If you ignore it, it will grow like a weed — in the form of professional wrestling, hip-hop culture, or my first apartment in Washington. Gentlemen are the product of regulated and refined manliness. The Lord of the Flies was about a society with unregulated manliness.

Anyway, at first, I thought I might pick up the gauntlet Rich decided to ignore. There are only a couple of problems. First, while not too long ago I think I could have opened a huge can of whup-ass on Franken, these days I’m so out of shape I have the upper body strength of a twelve-year-old girl — albeit a pretty tough one. Getting your butt kicked by Al Franken would be the equivalent of losing at tic-tac-toe to Alec Baldwin. Still, can you think of a greater incentive for getting in shape than a chance at a free shot at Franken? Nevertheless, I’ve decided it ain’t my battle.

But this whole episode has initiated a vast amount of beer talk among my friends. In short, we keep trying to figure out which conservative pundit-types could beat up which liberal pundit-types in a fight. So far, I hate to say, the conservatives don’t look as good as I would have thought.

When you think about it, most of our heavy-weight bruisers belong on the senior tour. Bill Bennett, for example, could surely mop the floor with the whole staff of Slate at once, minus managing editor Jack Schafer, who looks like he could take a punch. But for the younger crowd we don’t have that many brawlers. Tucker Carlson and Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard would certainly be good picks but, I’ll tell ya, the list for a good conservative goon squad dries up pretty quickly.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan is a big dude and Jake Tapper of Salon looks like a scrapper (Tapper the Scrapper). I know most of my readers don’t like Joe Conason, but you’d bet on him if he were in a gladiator ring up against Ramesh Ponnuru or Michael Medved. Moreover, my very informal survey reveals that shockingly few of my colleagues have ever received or delivered a serious punch (I’ve done both, but received a lot more). This speaks well of them as citizens but doesn’t improve our odds in a back alley.

Now, when you move away from the public conservatives I think we win hands down. Even among my own non-writer friends the forces of truth and light stack up pretty well against the mobs of villainy and sloth. And of course, in the general population we could rout the sausage-spined tree-huggers with little effort. On high school and college campuses, conservatives dominate the football, hockey, and lacrosse teams. Liberals dominate Model U.N. and Greenpeace. That’s why many schools like Cornell used the football teams and fraternity guys to clean out the all-talk militants in the 1960s and 1970s. Think Bluto versus the “I gave my love a cherry” black-turtleneck guy.

Yes, this is a very dumb topic but I warned you it would be, and besides it’s a lot more addictive than it seems. For example, who would win in a fight: Bill O’Reilly or Geraldo? Discuss among yourselves.


Now this isn’t an official corrections column, but I gotta say I’ve been fairly annoyed by a lot of feedback lately. Some of it comes from new visitors to NRO who don’t get how things work around here. Some of it comes from people who read my syndicated column (call your local papers) and don’t know me from Adam. And some of it comes from a minority of posters and chatterers over at Lucianne.com (mom’s news forum and the only one I read religiously).

The essence of the criticism — emerging from my forceful predictions that Al Gore is toast — is that I am a Republican spinner and “not objective.” I’ve gotten a couple dozen emails from people who think I am merely a shill for the Republican party and George W. Bush. Now, I know some Spinners, I have argued with Spinners, and I am no Spinner. The similarity between me and the members of the scrotal torque brigade, like Lanny Davis for example, is that we both require oxygen to breathe.

Seriously, spinning is what paid spokespeople do. Technically I cannot be a spinner because to date I’ve received no checks from the Bush campaign, though I’m constantly on the lookout. More generally, I am not a spinner because I am offering my own honest opinion. My columns may be fraught with wishful thinking, delusions, and stupidity, but they are the product of my wishful thinking, my delusions, and my stupidity alone. Few longtime readers of this column can say it lacks for honesty (many can say it lacks for self-discipline and sobriety, and they tell me that often). Besides, I have been quite critical of Governor Bush in the past, and will be again, I am sure. Indeed, whenever I am critical of Dubya a whole different set of mouth-breathers says that I am a left-wing zealot and traitor.

Damned on both sides, I’m also damned in the middle by people who think I should be more objective.

I am not a reporter. I am — despite years of trying to avoid it — a journalist, specifically a columnist. My schtick is to provide my perspective, not to be some neutral arbiter between two sides. Lately, people have been coming out of the woodwork saying that I “violated my trust” with readers because I offered my own opinions. Here’s a little more honesty: I think that’s just plain dumb.


Thanks largely to the political conventions, August will be hands down the best month NRO has ever had. I want to thank all of you people for making that possible. We have huge plans for the fall and we hope all of our readers, new and old, will stick around.

That said, I know many loyalists are still upset about the pop-up ads for subscriptions to NR Ondeadtree. I’m sorry to tell you that the pop-ups are here to stay. Right now, these pop-ups generate large numbers of subscriptions and these subscriptions are what keep the suits excited about the site. And I should say that anyone who likes NRO should subscribe to the dead-tree version. There’s very little overlap between the two “publications” in terms of content, but there’s great overlap in terms of tasty conservative goodness. In fact, I’ve written the lead story in the current issue and the only place you’ll find it is in the magazine.

Besides, as fans of the free market, you must understand that we need to make money and that there’s nothing wrong with that. If someone has a better idea — or a really, really huge check — that would make it possible to get rid of the pop-ups, let me know. In the meantime, filthy lucre and pop-ups (great name for a band, or maybe a crime-fighting team) have to be part of the formula for NRO’s continued success.

The good news is that we have come up with a slogan for NRO. It is “Standing Athwart History 24/7.” This is, of course, a reference to the original line from National Review’s charter where Mr. Buckley declared that the role for conservatives generally and National Review in particular is to sometimes “stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” Consider the motto a bridge to the 20th century.

Unfortunately we cannot single out a single winner for our slogan contest because about eight thousand of you suggested some variant on it (See Slogan Mania.) But the good news is that this will be the official motto for all of the coffee cups, T-shirts and mouse pads you are going to buy from us (you will buy NRO knick-knacks…these aren’t the droids you’re looking for…. you are getting sleepy…).

Have a good weekend and remember to check out NRO Weekend which will have all sorts of great new stuff and recaps of the best of the week.


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