Apologia for David Weigel’s Apologia

Cognitive DissonanceEarlier today, I wrote what I thought was an unexceptional article about a David Weigel column. The only thing that worried me was that the last time I had written about Weigel, he retweeted my article announcement. The thing about this is that when I’m ragging on a public figure, I don’t mean anything personal. So I make a point of not including their twitter handles in the tweet. But somehow, they always find out. This time, I figured surely he wouldn’t do so. After all, the article isn’t even really about him. But I was wrong. I don’t know quite know how to take it. It is either that he is a far better man than I am and really wants an open conversation; or he thinks I’m such an idiot that retweeting me makes that fact sell-evident.

Whenever this kind of thing happens, of course, the small trickle of Frankly Curious “readers” becomes a deluge. I put the scare quotes there because I wonder how many of these people click, see that the website is not decorated with animated gifs from Evil Dead and leave. But I got a really cryptic tweet from Abenomix. This is not unusual. I generally think I was not meant for the last two centuries, I’m certainly not meant for Twitter. So a lot of stuff just goes by me. But his profile read, “Math dork…” Well, that was all I needed to read so I asked for clarification. For the record, the original tweet was, “Why? Access. Acela=Hollywood for ugly people, & in showbiz sometimes gotta pretend the turd is a blossom, for work, nbd.”

After a two-part tweet, what he meant was crystal clear. He was saying that since Weigel has to report on the conservative movement, he can’t come right out and say that they are a bunch of bigots. He needs to see them in the best possible light. And Abenomix added that this probably isn’t something that Weigel is doing intentionally. That makes sense. It’s easy enough for me to imagine followers of Chris McDaniel to be drooling racists who could have been extras in Deliverance. “Squeal like a pig!” But Weigel actually deals with these people and I’m sure they don’t come off as any more racist than anyone else.

It makes me think of the film Flock of Dodos where much time is spent interviewing proponents of Intelligent Design. They are stone cold wrong and in their way, disingenuous. But they’re nice people. They are like my Christian conservative aunt, who has some of the most vile opinions in the world. But on a personal level, she is nice as could be. And let’s face it, I know where the Mississippi Republicans are coming from. When the Republicans did more or less the same thing to Ned Lamont in 2006, I was mad as hell. Not that this doesn’t excuse what is often explicit racism coming from the Mississippi Republicans, but I understand the anger and it is certain that politics is more racially polarized there than it was in Connecticut.

There is, of course, the other issue: the JournoList scandal. That was how Weigel got fired from The Washington Post (A good career move!) because he had made private disparaging comments about the right wing fringe, which of course, is just the right wing. Weigel is what I call a bleeding heart libertarian—the kind of libertarian I was when I was young. Libertarians of this ilk tend to think that they aren’t conservatives and so tend to disdain Republicans. (Note: Weigel is a registered Republican and even when I was a libertarian, I hated the Republicans and always thought it was better to have a Democrat in office.) So I can see that Weigel would be extra sensitive to the feelings of the conservatives that he covers.

Just the same, apologia is apologia. I never said that Weigel was a racist—in fact I explicitly said that I thought he wasn’t. But I think the facts are very clear in this case. Most of the support for the Republican Party is based on racism and misogyny. When given the chance, state Republicans have made it harder for minority groups to vote. They aren’t interested in courting the black vote, for example; they are interested in stopping the black vote. If David Weigel feels that he has to report this behavior in such a way as to make it seem reasonable, that’s his choice. He has to work with these people. But in terms of the country, it isn’t healthy to pretend that fringe groups aren’t fringe. And I will continue to make note of it when I see it. Because I care a lot more about the country than I do Weigel’s career. I suspect he doesn’t see the same danger as I do. Cognitive dissonance. Regardless, he is right to be concerned about his own career.

0 thoughts on “Apologia for David Weigel’s Apologia

  1. Gets back to the old difference between personal bigotry and institutionalized racism. LBJ was a bigot; he also was one of our least racist Presidents in policy.

    I think that at this point if the GOP had a Black congressman call for the return of slavery, the right-wing media would claim it can’t be racist.

  2. @JMF – I’ve written about Weigel’s tendency to do this twice now. I think the reason it annoys me so much is that here is America, we are so willing to avoid unpleasant aspects of our society. If someone doesn’t use the n-word or wants to tell you about the "negro," then they aren’t racists. In my opinion, we are all racists. It is something I actively fight in my life. When I hear someone say that they aren’t racist, I assume they’ve got it really bad.

    I like to tell the story of Tim Wise and his gut reaction to seeing that the plane he was on had two black pilots. Tim Wise! You can’t stop these kinds of primal fears of The Other. But you can acknowledge them and fight them with your higher brain functions. Weigel’s apologias just allow the racism to sit there under the surface and fester.

    Your suggestion is hyperbolic, as I’m sure you intended. But the truth is that these voter ID laws are intended to bring back Jim Crow, and they get justified in more than just the right-wing media.

  3. I suspect our lizard brains have fear/stereotyping of The Other just programmed in the hardware. But it is possible to change the software. Not for everything new and strange; we don’t live long enough to learn how to make everything familiar. (Which is good.)

    One does have to make a conscious effort to be aware of racism and our tendency to demonize The Other. And I don’t blame anyone who fails to do this at, say, age 13. You do hit an age where failing to make that effort indicates a disturbing inability to get beyond pre-installed thought processes. Of course, depending on one’s upbringing and experience, some of us have had more encouragement to adjust our hard-wiring and some have had less.

    For fun: I think when referring to the hyperbole someone used and saying "it was" the proper form is still "hyperbole," as in "your suggestion was hyperbole." "Hyperbolic" has something to do with graphs or a Star Trek device.

    I may be wrong. When I was a kid, we started learning grammar rules in eighth grade. We took a standardized test to see what rules we needed to learn. We were shown multiple-choice examples of sentences, and tested on whether we could identify the correct sentence.

    As an avid reader (it was preferable to engaging with life), I tested perfect on identifying the correct sentences. So, I didn’t have to take grammar, and still to this day have no idea what the rules of English grammar are. I just go by what "looks" right. I think I’m accurate about "hyperbolic" though! (Just silliness, I know you’re better at grammar than I am!)

  4. @JMF – On the racism issue, I agree. Now let’s get to the important stuff: grammar.

    The word "hyperbolic" has been used as an adjective since the 15th century! The word "hyperbole" is just the noun. Fowler doesn’t deal with the word at all in this way, so that does say something of how it was used about a century ago: generally just my mathematicians. But Gowers’ 1965 update of it is quite clear, although he doesn’t mention the adjective.

    What I have learned about language is that most of my teachers were stupid and ignorant. I am so tired of having to explain to people that it is perfectly all right to start a sentence with a conjunction. But your intuitive approach is actually the best. Grammar does not define the language. It is just a way of trying to make some sense of why language makes sense to us.

    Consider: "If I were Superman, I would not wear the silly outfit." Why "were" and not "was"? There is no reason. It’s just how we do it. It is no more clear. We don’t need "were" to make clear that it is a hypothetical, but that’s why it is "were" and not "was."

    I love grammar in the same way I love ontology: neither make any sense but it’s fun to try!

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