Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Thank-You Dr. Cole 

Our visiting lyric genius, MJS, has been inspired by Juan Cole to anthem-heights; it's an effort too fine to be left to the vagary of Halo-scanned comments.


Show us how to bury the devil
So deep he can't get out
Paint a sign and we will follow
What you whisper we will shout

The knave bows to the power
The grinning skull behind the mask
Beyond the lightning and the thunder
And the questions never asked

They got the TV, the Radio
They got the highs, they got the low
They got the river, they got the stream
They're coming after our dreams
A pretty good scheme
A pretty good scheme
A pretty good scheme
They're coming after our dreams

Show us how the coward cringes
Show us the ways the game is played
How they made poison from the honey
Here in the land of the brave

Take us to the mountain
We will spy the land below
The clarity and structure
Borne on the wind that flows

They got the TV, the Radio
They got the highs, they got the low
They got the river, they got the stream
They're coming after our dreams
A pretty good scheme
A pretty good scheme
A pretty good scheme
They're coming after our dreams.

And if I may piggyback on Xan's graceful shoulders, there was another passage in Professor Cole's post yesterday on the strange phenomenon of Goldberg-fils which makes a crucial point about the source of what is pernicious in so much of rightwing opinion.
Goldberg is now saying that he did not challenge my knowledge of the Middle East, but my judgment. I take it he is saying that his judgment is superior to mine. But how would you tell whose judgment is superior? Of course, all this talk of "judgment" is code for "political agreement." Progressives think that other progressives have good judgment, conservatives think that other conservatives have good judgment. This is a tautology in reality. Goldberg believes that I am wrong because I disagree with him about X, and anyone who disagrees with him is wrong, and ipso facto lacks good judgment.

An argument that judgment matters but knowledge does not is profoundly anti-intellectual. It implies that we do not need ever to learn anything in order make mature decisions. We can just proceed off some simple ideological template and apply it to everything. This sort of thinking is part of what is wrong with this country. We wouldn't call a man in to fix our plumbing who knew nothing about plumbing, but we call pundits to address millions of people on subjects about which they know nothing of substance.

But I did not say that Goldberg's judgment is always faulty. I said he doesn't at the moment know what he is talking about when it comes to Iraq and the Middle East, and there is no reason anyone should pay attention to what he thinks about those subjects, as a result. If judgment means anything, it has to be grounded in at least a minimum amount of knowledge. Part of the implication of my assertion is that Goldberg could actually improve his knowledge of the Middle East and consequently could improve his judgment about it (although increased knowledge would only help judgment if it were used honestly and analytically). I don't think he is intrinsically ignorant, I think he is being willfully ignorant. He'd be welcome to get a sabbatical and come study with me for a year some time.
Cole's observation here ties together so much we already know about the American right - the two decades plus attack on universities, the crucial institutions for validating intellectual knowledge, but having shown themselves insufficiently welcoming to explicitly rightwing propaganda, continue to be attacked for being too ideological; the establishment of a separate corporate-sponsored infrastructure by which ideologically approved "intellectuals" can be given accreditation and then media access, the constant association of expertise with elitism, the constant re-writing of recent history to fit a rightwing perspective, often in contravention of the most obvious facts, and finally the insistent charges of liberal/left bad faith in the form of nasty personal attacks pretending to be humor, and God save us, wit, and a willed ignorance of all other inconvenient facts and opinions that might get in the way of what one wants to believe.

What Jonah Goldberg tried to do to Professor Cole he does all the time to whomever he pleases. He's especially good when the person he's attacking is dead. Here's a sample of Goldberg's analytic prowress. His subject, the conscious choice not to be "American" by mainstream American journalists. That the pundits he talks about have said some fairly silly things doesn't make Goldberg any less silly, but what I'd like you to look at is this little throwaway paragraph:

And then there's the simple fact that elite journalists find patriotism itself unfashionable. One telling example: When the writer I.F. Stone died, Peter Jennings dubbed him a "journalist's journalist." The Los Angeles Times said he was "the conscience of investigative journalism."

Well, I.F. Stone was also a life-long Communist propagandist who apologized for Stalin's murders, praised North Vietnam, Castro and Mao while fraudulently accusing the United States of, among other crimes, using chemical weapons in Korea.

Now, I don't think our leading journalists share Stone's views. But there is a vestigial attitude, reflected in the fact that Stone is such a role model, which seems to hold that America is more likely to be wrong than right. When journalists' goal is complete neutrality, that's more than enough to tip the scales against America.

I.F. Stone was NEVER a Communist propagandist, he NEVER apologized for Stalin's murders, he was, in fact, an anti-Stalinist, although he was also deeply suspicious of the value of the cold war, he didn't praise North Vietnam, he told the truth about why they probably couldn't be defeated by American intervention, a truth that we were to find out later was exactly what the CIA was saying in the Pentagon Papers, and he didn't fraudulently accuse the US of anything in Korea, he wrote a book which has proved over the years to be wrong. On the other hand, I'll give Jonah that one if we can agree that every time anyone at The Corner is caught saying or writing anything that proves to be factually inaccurate we can sue the magazine for fraud. To get the taste of vomit out of your mouth, I suggest you take a look at Wikipedia's notated summary of Stone's career here.

When not attacking the dead, one of Jonah's favorite tropes is to attack straw. In this thumb-sucker of a column, he rightly and roundly jousts with lame arguments on behalf of rejecting SS privitization based on a sentimental reverence for the memory of FDR's legacy, an argument I've never heard, but which he claims he hears all around him. As with his attack on Stone, there is not a single link to a single fact or example of same. Joshua Holland at The Gadflyer did a proper evisceration of the column at the time, but what is most depressing to consider is the fact that the column didn't just go up at the National Review of Townhall, it was syndicated to the likes of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Some commentators have wondered about the energy expended by a distinguished Professor to take on a critique by a source that is more recognizable as a nudge than as a journalist, a specialist in inaccuracy who mistakes breezy insults for analytic rigor, a pundit who practices ignorance by design. I'm sure it wasn't any actual fun for Dr. Cole. I'm glad he did take it on. I'm glad he stood up and said, very publicly, you're not going to get away with lying about me. I wish more of those who have public voices would do the same thing.

Jonah's last response to Dr. Cole is beyond contemptible; by turns incoherent, insulting, mendacious, and above all, terminally clueless as to the persona that Dr. Cole has established through his blog and his public appearances; Jonah seems to believe that he can convince the world that Juan Cole is who Jonah wants to believe he is, but Goldberg's characterizations of the good professor, (Manichean and messianic, for instance, and who believes Jonah came up with those two on his own, nor did Cole claim he was being personally silenced by Jonah, rather clearly he hasn't been), are laughable to any regular reader of "Informed Comment," as Jonah might have noticed, if he'd bothered to read so much as a single day's worth of the professor's output.

The one virtue I'll concede to Jonah Goldberg is that he has found the perfect vehicle to express the deep nature of his commitment and concern for the Iraqi people:

Anyway, I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn't want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now). This way neither of us can hide behind clever word play or CV reading. If there's another reasonable wager Cole wants to offer which would measure our judgment, I'm all ears. Money where your mouth is, doc.

I cannot hope to add anything to that chilling moment of self-revelation.

UPDATE: It turns out I didn't need to add anything. Dr. Cole responds to that paragraph here.

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