Dining on Sacred Cow
As anyone forced to listen to me will confirm, I am practically made of opinions. But when debate rages on these pages and at the dinner table over affirmative action, gun control, abortion, and the like, I retreat to the sidelines and keep mum. The same goes for most arguments framed in terms of a Democratic side and a Republican side to the issue: I’ll calmly diagnose each tribe’s pathology, explain that third-trimester dilation and extraction is probably not a good idea, and hustle the conversation in some more salacious direction.
For many in the punditocracy and its feeder circles on university campuses, these debates mean everything. If it is noble to work on a Senate campaign, it is yet nobler to fight for a “struggle of our generation,” like marriage equality, national debt awareness, or wage increases for campus library workers. If it’s in front of our eyes and morally unambiguous, it simply must be world-historical.
In “The Righteous Mind,” a magisterial 2012 work on the moral psychology of political ideology, New York University’s Jon Haidt dishes out some unwelcome news to his predominantly liberal readership: By the numbers, liberals don’t seem to get much about the conservative mind. The political reality at Harvard more than occasionally bears this out. However, in his attempt to push back against the prejudices of an overwhelmingly liberal field, Haidt all too often glosses over the pathologies and blind spots of the right.
In March 2010, a poll conducted by Harris revealed that 67 percent of Republicans surveyed thought President Obama a socialist, despite very ample evidence to the contrary. In light of this, the president has kept remarkably mum about his law school alma mater over the course of the last few years, lest he be tarred and feathered for association with the much-maligned “Kremlin on the Charles.”
I am not, and have never been, a “joiner.” While the instinct to lose oneself in the crowd and take part in mass spectacles is naturally human, it seems to have largely skipped me: Whether it’s a genetic defect or a design feature of my cultural Anglo-Americanism, I feel as though I’m not doing my job if I can be easily reduced to a type.
This spring break, I brushed up against the limits of my category-phobia and confessed, rather happily, to being a J Streeter. After months of correspondence and flirtation with J Street U, the university arm of “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” I attended a national summit in Washington, D.C. and was instantly sold.
Tabloid, middle-aged, and each the same as the next, network crime shows are exactly the kind of thing one wouldn’t want to bring up in young, polite company. An occasional exception is Dick Wolf’s long-running Law & Order: SVU, which comes explicitly labeled as a show about “sexually-based offenses” and the “elite squad” that investigates them—but when it comes down to it, the model of the ready-made one-hour murder plot quickly runs up against diminishing marginal returns.
Fourteen seasons in, fatal patterns come into relief. Suspects under interrogation before minute 30 are never guilty; if the victim is a child, Detective Stabler will probably throttle someone against a wall. Though eminently watchable, SVU is at its core like all TV crime simulations: contrived, artless, grasping for straws.
In the wake of last September’s assault on the American consulate in Benghazi, the right-wing punditocracy stirred with rage, convinced that the tragic murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues was proof of an Obama administration unfit for the task of safeguarding American lives in the Middle East. Building on the fringe narrative of Obama As Malevolent Outsider, Glenn Beck speculated aloud, “This is impeachable; the president might go to prison for this one.”
Although nothing of a cheerleader for Obama administration foreign policy, I could not help but writhe with contempt over Beck’s newest outburst of on-air mania. Righteously incensed over the Benghazi boondoggle, the NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war, and the escalation of drone activity in South-Central Asia, partisan Republicans appear to have forgotten that 10 years ago, their own president sinned against America’s security on a far, far higher order.