Joe Conason's Journal

Now that liberals are finally pushing back on the playground, the Bush bullies are running to tell the teacher.

Published September 30, 2003 11:15PM (EDT)

Rip van Brooks awakens to this cruel, cruel world
Elevated to the New York Times Op-Ed page from the dank, Murdochian stable of the Weekly Standard, David Brooks seems eager to cleanse himself of old habits and nasty associations, while affecting an air of wistful, evenhanded semidetachment. (Eventually, these ostentatiously hygienic columns will annoy some of his old comrades.) In today's offering, he laments the increasing meanness of presidential politics, particularly as reflected in the "hate" expressed toward George W. Bush by certain liberals.

Brooks is concerned that several left-leaning books, none of which he seems to have read, are appearing on bestseller lists. To him, a single confessional article in the New Republic suggests that everyone on the left simply despises the president for reasons that have nothing to do with dishonesty, incompetence and horrific policy. He frets that "the hatreds have left the animating ideas far behind and now romp about on their own." He detects in the haters a "threat to democracy."

His handwringing is hokum. After a decade of continuous Clinton-bashing, much of which appeared in a magazine he edited, has Brooks just now noticed the substitution of vitriol for debate? Has he just awakened, like some right-wing Rip van Winkle? Has he failed to notice the tactics used by the Bush administration, that repository of honor and integrity, against critics like Joe Wilson?

No. More likely, what troubles Brooks is that liberals are finally answering his movement's attacks on their patriotism, character, morality and honor. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that sooner or later, unrelenting viciousness would provoke an angry response.

In fact, the Brooks column is merely an example of the latest variety of neoconservative whine. Not long ago, Byron York unburdened himself of his own wounded feelings about aggresssive liberal Al Franken in National Review Online. And not long before that, York collected some flotsam and jetsam from the Internet, plus a letter to the editor in Vanity Fair, as frightening proof of liberal hatefulness. (One likely target of this guilt-mongering is the traditional, feebly "liberal" commentator -- someone like Ellen Goodman.)

Expressions of hatred toward the president are deplorable, of course, no matter how obscure. It was also deplorable when right-wing propagandists were spewing pus at the last elected president, his wife, mother, daughter, brother, friends, associates, employees, as well as his cat and dog. Nobody on the right seemed too worried about that. (Just yesterday, Times Op-Ed sage William Safire took yet another obsessive, gratuitously personal shot at Hillary Clinton. He must be frustrated that she's in the Senate rather than in prison, as he so recklessly predicted.)

Brooks even acknowledges that most of the people who worked for Bill Clinton were well-meaning patriots, a description rarely applied to any of them in the Weekly Standard, where personal abuse is editorial routine. Brooks realizes that his moaning about the quality of American politics may strike the rest of us as rather belated: "I did say some of these things during the Clinton years, when it was conservatives bashing a Democrat, but not loudly enough, which I regret because the weeds that were once on the edge of public life now threaten to choke off the whole thing."

That melodramatic warning is a happy omen. If conservatives are suddenly worried about civility, perhaps they will begin to act civilly. A truer threat to democracy was the lopsided national discourse that conservatives have so loudly and rudely dominated in recent years. That's over, and good riddance.

This hectic life, home again
On Wednesday I will return to New York, where the evening will be happily occupied signing books at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at 7:30 p.m. Then I'll heading northward to my second home state of Massachusetts for signings on Thursday and Friday in Boston, Cambridge and Shrewsbury. More details on those appearances tomorrow.
[4:30 p.m. PDT, Sept. 30, 2003]

For your regular Joe, bookmark this link. To send an e-mail, click here.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------