On the part of The Corner where Kathryn Jean Lopez, Andrew McCarthy, and Jonah Goldberg stand, political discourse operates according to a stark, indefensible double-standard whereby conservative entertainers with large audiences must be handled with kid gloves, if criticism is permitted at all, whereas tough rhetoric aimed at anyone else is perfectly acceptable, and popular conservative entertainers themselves engage in the most outrageous rhetoric imaginable over a period of many years with nary a word of objection. [UPDATE: On reflection, I think it is a bit unfair to lump Mr. Goldberg’s post in with that of his colleagues — though ultimately flawed for reasons I get into below, it is the least unfair of the three by a wide margin.]
Only in this rigged universe could Jim Manzi find himself chided for being impolite to Mark Levin, the man who literally maintains a Web page that mocks the names of people who have argued with him in the past — one that includes at least two former contributers to National Review, though that affiliation didn’t do them any good when the neighborhood bully who actually calls himself “The Great One” last attacked, and no one on The Corner stood up to him. This kind of double-standard is what allows Mr. McCarthy to criticize intemperance one minute, and in his very next post on the subject to call Mr. Manzi’s post “appalling” and “pompous,” and imply that it is characterized by “illogic, nastiness and outright dishonesty” — apparently that doesn’t bother Mr. McCarthy, or upset Ms. Lopez or Mr. Goldberg enough to chide the former prosecutor for his rhetoric.
This kind of exchange causes everyone who writes for The Corner to wonder what exactly they’re “allowed” to say without certain of their colleagues scolding them, focusing on their tone while utterly ignoring the substance of what they say, and otherwise making it appear as though untouchable status at National Review is granted via some formula: it considers size of radio audience, quantity of additional books one expects to sell on being invited on their show, and potential career damage should the conservative entertainer in question turn against you in private, or else instruct the least thoughtful sycophants in his audience to wage ideological jihad against you. As I know from experience, Mr. Levin has lackey bloggers who’ll willingly launch character attacks against anyone at his slightest urging.
Mr. McCarthy, Ms. Lopez and Mr. Goldberg focused this conversation around tone precisely because there is no substantive rebuttal to what Mr. Manzi wrote. Look at this post. After criticizing Mr. Manzi for most of it, Mr. Goldberg writes, “As for that substance, I’m a bit more in Jim’s camp than Mark’s.” Recall, dear reader, the substance of Jim’s post: that the treatment of climate change in Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny was “awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times — not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.”
Mr. Manzi’s piece concludes:
Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.
Considering the substance of Mr. Manzi’s argument, how can one be “a bit more” on his side? Does Mr. Levin’s book encourage willful ignorance… but just barely? I don’t understand the code that would allow one to side with Mr. Manzi on the substance of this subject, and to refrain from criticizing the substance of Mr. Levin’s work.
In his post, Mr. Goldberg writes:
Mark Levin’s a big boy who is certainly not afraid to dish it out. And I think it is perfectly fair to point out that sometimes he dishes it out quite harshly himself, and then hits his victims over the head with the dish and the frying pan, and then dunks the victim’s head in the lobster tank. I don’t blame him for being shocked at the tone and tenor of an attack coming from such a friendly and collegial quarter. But here’s the important thing: at the end of the day he responded with substance, and that’s as it should be.
But Mr. Goldberg does not respond with substance (most hilariously when he for some reason brings Andrew Sullivan into this via a blog post Mr. Manzi wrote in 2008), nor does Ms. Lopez.
Everyone at The Corner is aware that Jim Manzi is among the most prolific opponents of the Obama Administration’s agenda on climate change. They know how vital his intellectual contributions on this subject have been. So they can’t help but appreciate the brazen mendacity of Mark Levin taking to Facebook to call Mr. Manzi “a global warming zealot.”
Having seen a colleague attacked in a way that isn’t merely intemperate, but factually wrong in the most obvious and extreme way, do they correct the record, or chide Mr. Levin for spreading an outrageous lie that misleads his audience and disparages National Review’s most knowledgeable writer on the subject of global warming?
They do not.