Before yesterday, my primary criticism of the Washington Post’s Max Boot was political in nature. As I wrote in a recent book review, I found it regrettable that Boot’s opposition to the president had not prevented him from “succumbing reactively to Trump’s cult of personality, or from making Trump the origin of every graph onto which he plots himself.” As of yesterday, my primary criticism of the Washington Post’s Max Boot is that he is a narcissistic, dishonest, calculating, manipulative writer who is prone to engaging in precisely the sort of willfully dishonorable conduct that he claims to disdain in others.
Having purposively libeled one of our Buckley Fellows after he had the temerity to argue that one does not fight racism by making lazy racial generalizations, Boot has now moved on to libeling Dan McLaughlin, one of the most thoughtful writers in America, and to making peculiar charges about National Review as a whole. As Oscar Wilde might have said: To lie about one writer may be regarded as a misfortune; to lie about two looks like carelessness.
In the second of his two pieces on this topic, Boot quotes a line from a Dan McLaughlin piece on the state of our immigration politics, and suggests that it serves as evidence of National Review’s “racist” turn:
With its long-standing opposition to immigration (both illegal immigration and current levels of legal immigration), National Review has found common ground with the far right. Like many conservative media outlets, it has flirted with the “great replacement” theory espoused by the El Paso gunman. A National Review article in January warned: “The native-born are having fewer children, leading to a fear that new entrants into American society will replace the existing culture rather than assimilate into it.” This is, sadly, a return to the roots of a magazine that defended Jim Crow in the 1950s (and even the early 1960s) and South Africa’s apartheid regime until its dissolution in 1994. Nowadays the magazine often defends Trump from (well-founded) charges of racism.
This is bizarre. The piece at hand — which you can read here — is a 2,300-word exploration of an important question: “Why is immigration such a big issue in our politics today when it was not two or three decades ago?” At no point does it, or its author, find “common ground with the far right”; at no point does it, or its author, flirt with the “great replacement” theory espoused by the El Paso gunman; at no point does it, or its author, “warn” that “new entrants into American society will replace the existing culture”; and at no point does it, or its author, share any sympathy whatsoever for Jim Crow or for apartheid South Africa. On the contrary: The piece makes precisely one mention of the “great replacement” theory, which it casts as a “hysteria” that manifests itself in “screeds”:
We see that in the tone of hysteria that creeps into immigration conversations: not just traditional fears of crime and ghettos or clashes of language or culture, but screeds about “invasion” or, worse, “white genocide.”
Worse still, the sentence that Boot quotes is not just miscast, it does not actually appear in the piece. Rather, it appears — descriptively — in the subhead. I suspect that it does not take a Sherlock Holmes to see what has happened here: Scrambling to write yet another whining tirade, Boot Googled the words “National Review” and “immigration,” found the first piece that came up, looked hastily at the subhead, determined that it could be warped into his argument’s frame, and pressed on without any more thought. And that, as they say, was that.
Those who wonder why so few writers are willing to pen long, thoughtful, descriptive pieces that grapple seriously with the opposing arguments and incorporate honest appraisals of what voters actually want need look no further than this incident for their answer, which is: because bankrupt toadies such as Max Boot use their work as launching pads for calumny. In a sensible world, the editors of the Washington Post would have looked at what Boot has tried to do over the last couple of days, and tattooed “hack” on his forehead. But we are not operating in a sensible world.
Boot’s approach over the last couple of days has not only been at odds with both honesty and honor, it has been at odds with the reputation he had developed as a serious and rigorous thinker. Such as it is, Boot’s newfound modus operandi works as follows: First, he scans entirely innocuous pieces for sentences that he can willfully misconstrue; second, he presents those misconstrued sentences as evidence of a deeper flaw with a person or outlet or institution; and, finally, he submits the conclusions he has drawn as confirmation of why he, Max Boot, convert to truth and light, is on the Right Side of History. Because Twitter is an echo chamber and the Post is one-tracked, he does this safe in the knowledge that those whom his mendacity incites to outrage will never read the primary sources he is corrupting — and that, if they do, they will never comprehend them.
And thus the feedback loop is completed. In return for being so flattered, Boot’s readers provide him with wild, conspiracy-laden confirmations that the target he has chosen is indeed perfidious — confirmations that allow him to backfill his story on the fly, to flesh out any subsequent columns he feels compelled to write on the topic, and to insist that any pushback he receives is affirmation of his original critique. By this discreditable process did Boot’s nasty little lie about John Hirschauer’s original criticism become first an “attack”; then a “white supremacist” or “alt-right” attack; then a sign of the institutional decline of a magazine he once admired; then a sign of how awful that magazine has always been; and, finally, an indictment of the entire conservative movement in America that is apparently worthy of a prime-time appearance on CNN. Would that Boot had a sober friend who, early in his spiraling, could tell him, “Max, you messed up here.” Evidently, he does not.
In and of itself, Boot’s techniques are both tiresome and reprehensible. But when coupled with the ersatz I-take-no-pleasure-in-this lamentations that have become his hallmark in the Trump era, the affectation becomes too much to bear. Boot seems to fancy himself as Mark Antony, here to bury a Caesar he once loved, when in reality he is more like Romeo Montague: a callow, selfish, monomaniacal, self-pitying featherweight, who is constitutionally unable to prevent the escalation of petty infractions. Reading Boot these days is akin to listening to a teenager talk incessantly about himself. “And then I didn’t like this. And then I discovered that. And then this person was mean to me. And then I was attacked.” Oh, do shut up, dear, before we all die from nausea. And learn to read before you come back.