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This shebeen largely has stayed out of the tiresome troll-war concerning the unruly reception that some speakers have received on various college campuses. I wish folks could be more civil and welcoming, because I am a gentle fellow with a fairly well-known taste for temperate rhetoric, but I also wish that there weren’t so many people making nice bank on insulting people and then driving nails into their own palms when the people they deliberately have offended talk back to them.
Professional martyrdom of this kind is not impressive when it comes with book deals. And with genuine Nazis assaulting people with automobiles on the campus of Mr. Jefferson’s university—and, I would add, with other weapons elsewhere—I choose not to accept as a national crisis the fact that some 20-year-olds throw the word “fascist” around too loosely. But, then again, I am not an “opinion editor” at The New York Times the way that Bari Weiss is.
Tout les ‘Toobz are buzzing over Ms. Weiss’ latest effort in this regard. I’m not going to spend a lot of time relitigating what happened to professional troll Christina Hoff Sommers at the law school at Lewis and Clark University. (It is of historical note that L&C’s previous appearance in our national politics was as the alma mater of Monica Lewinsky.) Or the self-evident fact that, as uncomfortable and inartful as it is, heckling is free speech, too. I do not intend to dwell on the fact that Ms. Hoff Sommers does regular gigs with the unspeakable Milo Yiannopoulos, which prima facie defines her as a traveling political carny act. And I am not going to squander pixels on the fact that people were mean to Ms. Weiss on the electric Twitter machine, or that an opinion editor at The New York Times apparently needs someone to keep her from falling for Intertoobz trickeration.
Rather, I’d like to concentrate on what appears to be a throwaway paragraph toward the end of the piece, at the point where Weiss is arguing that loosely tossing around the word “fascist” on a woodsy campus in Oregon will work to blind us to the genuine peril presented by Bashar al-Assad. There’s a bit of filler that’s worth a look.
For a case study in how this numbing of the political senses works, look no further than Mitt Romney and John McCain. They were roundly denounced as right-wing extremists. Then Donald Trump came along and the words meant to warn us against him had already been rendered hollow.
This is all bollocks. By and large, both Romney and McCain were denounced not as extremists themselves, but for the unprincipled gymnastics they were required to do in order to appeal to a conservative Republican base that has been extremist for at least two decades. Romney ran away from health-care reform, his only significant political achievement as governor of Massachusetts, the only elective office he’s ever held.
In 2000, McCain gave a great speech calling out the religious extremists in his party as “agents of intolerance.” By 2008, he was giving speeches at Liberty University and, by 2010, he was running away—“Complete the dang fence!”—from his relatively moderate stance on immigration reform.
The fact that these fandangos were necessary gives the lie to Weiss’ contention that it was easy invective against Romney and McCain that hollowed out the country’s ability to judge the threat presented by Donald Trump. As is obvious to anyone who’s been alive since 1980, the ground had been prepared for the advent of a Trumpish figure since 1980, and it wasn’t prepared by liberals. What the hell, everybody’s got to do something for a living, I guess.