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Politics & Policy

Molly Roberts Tries, and Fails, to Rationalize the Anger of the Mob

In the Washington Post, Molly Roberts writes about my piece on David Hogg. Her argument is a mess. She begins:

When National Review editor Charles C.W. Cooke tried to slice through one of those knots in an essay on Tuesday, it did not go well.

And why did it “not go well”? Because:

Cooke’s piece, titled “David Hogg Is Fair Game for Critics,” made an already angry Internet angrier still.

“The Internet is angry” is, of course, not much of a criticism of anything. The Internet is wired for anger, and Twitter all but mandates it. The important question is whether that anger was justified, or whether it was fluff.

Per Roberts:

Cooke was cruel, he was heartless, he was attacking a child who was speaking up only because he and his classmates had been attacked already.

“Cruel.” “Heartless.” “Attacking.” These are quite the charges. What, I wonder, is Roberts’s evidence for them? In the next sentence, she provides it (note the use of “argues” rather than “attacks” when she’s quoting me directly):

What Cooke really argues is this: Many liberals say the Parkland children are the perfect people to explain how to prevent an experience they themselves have had — but that, though they’re adult enough to helm a mass movement, they’re still too childlike for critics to come after them. Cooke says liberals can’t have it both ways.

He has a point. The Parkland survivors should be taken seriously, and sincerely, by those who agree with them and those who disagree alike. Liberals shouldn’t call these children essential to an important debate at one moment and too delicate to engage with the other side at another, just as conservatives shouldn’t say the survivors are too innocent to participate and at the same time criticize them as conniving leftists exploiting their friends’ deaths for fame or political gain.

Wait, what? As evidence that I was “cruel,” “heartless,” and “attacking,” Roberts is . . . restating the hypothesis of my piece, and then confirming I have “a point.” The primary thesis of my piece was — and I’ll let Roberts describe it — that: “Liberals shouldn’t call these children essential to an important debate at one moment and too delicate to engage with the other side at another.” The secondary thesis of my piece — again, here’s Roberts with the précis — was that “just as conservatives shouldn’t say the survivors are too innocent to participate and at the same time criticize them as conniving leftists exploiting their friends’ deaths for fame or political gain.” This is why I criticized “adults, not Hogg,” for playing the game that Roberts concedes “Liberals” are, in fact, playing, and then submitted that:

It is condescending to ignore somebody arguing about politics, not to take them on. Far from being “mean,” those contending with Hogg’s pronouncements are accepting that he has an opinion, and that it is worth countering — that is, they are doing exactly what Hogg’s boosters have asked: treating him as the leader of a movement.

If Roberts agrees with what I wrote — as she seems to — I have no choice but to conclude that she is cruel, heartless, and prone to attacking children.

Taking another run, Roberts then pretends that I failed to “spare the time to articulate . . . the difference between bashing Hogg’s arguments and bashing Hogg himself”:

No one likes ad hominem attacks, at least in principle. But in this case, those attacks are even less constructive, and even more callous, than usual. That’s because they’re being leveled at a child, and because that child just saw 17 gunned down at his school. And because of the way the debate over Hogg began: with a far-right conspiracy campaign to cast him as a “crisis actor.”

This is flatly false. The very first paragraph of my piece reads as such:

David Hogg, the telegenic 17-year-old who survived the shooting in Parkland, is not a crisis actor, an FBI plant, or the secret brainchild of a Soros-backed CNN plot. He’s a political advocate engaged in a political debate, and he should be treated as such.

I can’t imagine how I could have drawn a clearer distinction between the “crisis actor” conspiracy theories and legitimate criticisms of his political advocacy. Can Roberts?

It seems not, for she then writes:

It’s one thing to say Hogg gets it wrong on guns, or that threatening boycotts of everything and anything isn’t the surest route to legislative change. It’s another to cry out that Hogg is a liar or an idiot who doesn’t deserve a spot on our television screens.

It is indeed. And that’s why I not only didn’t write, imply, or hint that “Hogg is a liar or an idiot who doesn’t deserve a spot on our television screens,” but in fact suggested precisely the opposite, first proposing that “those contending with Hogg’s pronouncements are accepting that he has an opinion, and that it is worth countering,” and then making it clear that:

David Hogg is an American, and he should speak as often and as loudly as he wishes. Moreover, if CNN believes that its present monomania will serve it well in the long run, it should continue to give him a platform. But there must be no inoculation for either party, nor must those who agree with the gun-control agenda attempt to shield its purveyors from rebuttal. Hogg did not choose to be involved in a school shooting; that, sadly, was beyond his control. But he has now chosen to play pundit on a topic of import to millions.

Roberts finishes with another nervous “to be sure,” followed by the erection of a straw man. “While Cooke may be correct that it’s inconsistent to inoculate a movement’s leader from criticism on the merits,” she writes, “shielding a child from spite and slander is another matter.” Given that I made the first case, and in no way endorsed or implied the second, I’ll take her conclusion as a concurrence.

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