Political Animal


December 18, 2012 10:27 PM The worst in Newtown punditry: a round-up

By Kathleen Geier

It is a truth universally acknowledged: in American public life, wherever there is unimaginable tragedy and horror, farce and buffoonery are sure to follow. The clownishness is rarely inherent in the event itself, but in the frequently ridiculous media reactions to it. A case in point is the Newtown massacre. It hasn’t even been a week, and yet already it’s inspired some of the most awful punditizing I have ever seen in my life.

Let’s review some of the lowlights. Megan McArdle’s contribution to the field is already legendary. As you may recall, McArdle is the libertarian super-genius who thinks training little kids to gang-rush crazed gunmen, kamikaze-style, would be a far saner and more effective policy to stop gun violence than some latte-sipping liberal conspiracy like stricter gun laws. The idiocy of this suggestion is so perfect it’s downright inspiring. A zillion points for Gryffindor!

I’m afraid that, compared to McMegan, the rest of the conservatarian pundits all look like a bunch of pikers and rank amateurs. But that’s not to say they don’t have their charms. Glenn Reynolds, for example, is the hands-down winner in the Oh, the Irony! division. Hurriedly thumbing through his Bartlett’s for a heartwarming gun nut quotation to suit the occasion, he tried this one on for size:

“After a shooting spree,” author William Burroughs once said, “they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.” Burroughs continued: “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”

You know, William — or as he is better known, William S. — Burroughs? The Beat generation writer dude infamous for shooting and killing his wife when what he called their “William Tell act” (spoiler alert: there had never been such an act) went terribly wrong? Oopsy! The next authority Reynolds invokes in his piece is John Lott. Yes, that John Lott. Suffice it to say you have outdone yourself here, Mr. Reynolds, sir!

Moving on to pompous gasbag division of the pundit class, we have Pope Ross of Douthat. On Sunday, he addressed the faithful, noting … oh, I don’t know … that innocents were killed, I think. Or something. Thanks for the news flash, Ross! Honestly, I marvel that Douthat has somehow connived to get the New York freaking Times to keep him on salary for writing bloviations such as the following, from the Newtown column, about Christmas:

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

If you can explain to me what he means by “the myrhh that prepares bodies for the grave,” and why that it is supposed to be good writing, I will award you with a free subscription to this blog. Promise!

Next up: in the pure-unadulterated-bats@#$-cray-cray category, I gotta give this one to none other than the once-and-future birther queen, Ms. Orly Taitz. Remember this 2009/10-era lunatic? Well, she’s baaaaccck. I realize that she’s not actually a pundit, but her theories about Newtown are so awesomely cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs that I just have to share. Taitz is alleging that the true mastermind behind the massacre is none other than … dum dum DUM … Barack Obama! Psych! She says that Obama is “trying to show that some person can appear out of the blue and slaughter people” so he take away everyone’s guns and “gain an absolute power.” She insinuates that Adam Lanza was drugged or hypnotized “to fulfill a political mission.” Well-played, madam — extremely well-played! This is old-school paranoid Bircher-style wingnuttery at its finest. I strongly recommend her website for hours upon hours amazing information and entertainment.

Finally, we come to this, well, I guess you could call it extraordinary piece titled “Guns and the Decline of the Young Man.” The author, a Princeton English professor named Christy Wampole, seems to be arguing that young white dudes are shooting up kindergartens because … feminism! And that the answer to this terrible problem is for women to stop “delight[ing] in their [men’s] losses” (those feminist meanies!) and to take up “a more deferential attitude” toward men. That’ll do the trick — I’m sure of it! I don’t have the patience to elucidate the five thousand and one things that are wrong and offensive about this article, and anyhow, Echidne of the Snakes and Melissa McEwan got there first and said it better than I could.

I will, however, note two things. First, Wampole cites no empirical evidence whatsoever to back up her claims. And I mean zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. It’s completely anecdotal. Is that how they’re teaching students to argue at Princeton these days?

Second, there was actually a very good opinion piece in yesterday’s Times, by Adam Lankford, a professor of criminal justice who has studied what drives suicidal mass killers. In other words: as opposed to the Princeton literature professor, someone who knows what he’s talking about, and can back up his argument with research and facts.

Lankford says that one of the things suicidal mass killers have in common is “a deep sense of victimization and belief that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has bullied, oppressed or persecuted him.” Given this fact, it would seem that Wampole’s advice, that women actively cater to this belief, and reinforce men’s self-pity, aggrieved feelings, and sense of entitlement, would be the very worst thing they could do for them. It would only strengthen their belief that they are victims and therefore, according to Lankford, make them more, and not less, likely to commit violence. The competition is stiff, but the terrible practical advice and ugly gender ideology in Wampole’s piece easily place it among the very worst of the Newtown punditry I have come across so far.

I should note, though, that this is a preliminary investigation and by no means exhaustive. I mean, has Camille Paglia or Dick Morris weighed in yet? I think not! And until they do, and perhaps some others as well, the “Worst in Newtown Punditry” bake-off is far from over. Far from over!

Feel free to leave your own “worst Newtown punditry” nominations in the comments.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • Ted Lehmann on December 19, 2012 6:02 AM:

    Although your quotations themselves are worthy of the mockery you grant them, at least two of them strike a note that is worthy of recognition. First, although I believe they're dead wrong, there's a sizable group of people who really believe the government is a thing to be feared, and the more powerful it gets, the more necessary weapons are to defend against it. I know this is wingnutery, but that's really what they believe.

    Perhaps more relevant is the fact that young men are rapidly falling into an abyss from which it will not be easy to recover. They are dropping out of school and receding from the professions in unprecedented numbers while not developing a healthy outlet for that danged testosterone. I remember, many years ago, an article (and books, too) decrying the problem that arises when teachers try to get boys to "behave" in school by tamping down their boyishness. That is, they were being encouraged to act more like girls as students. At present the high unemployment and lack of motivation among young men is a dangerous trend. I can't (and won't) say this has anything to do with feminism, but it is a matter of concern.

  • c u n d gulag on December 19, 2012 7:17 AM:

    Back in those days, myrrh was used in the preservation and embalming of bodies.

    As for why he uses it?
    Well, how else does a shallow and vapid writer and thinker prove that he's smarter than the reader, than to come up with some allusion that few will understand, and those that do, then feel really smart!
    Dennis Miller built his entire stand-up career on this premise.

    Do I win?
    I'd love a subscription!

  • c u n d gulag on December 19, 2012 7:37 AM:

    I do beg to differ on one thing, Kathleen - neither Paglia nor Morris will top Megan McArdle.

    No one ever will!
    No one ever can!
    Or, at least not for a long, long time.

    She has set the stupid and callous bar so high, that humans will have to exceed the speed of light to top it.

    Higgs Boson gives us hope, but the time to be able to act on, and harness, that hope is far, far in the future - if ever.

    When humans cease to exist, probably by self-destruction via one means or another, I hope that when aliens finally arrive to assess what happened, what they find are the works of Shakespeare, and McArdle's epic Newtown post.

    They will see the extremes of human possiblities and thought, encompassed in one species by two writers, and realize, that any society that published the both of them, could never have survived for long.

    That that level of those extremes, surely meant that anything in between was not able to endure and survive the pull of dualities that strong, and of such polar opposites - at least, not for long.

    I hope that by disagreeing with you, this doesn't cost me my free subsription! ;-)

  • Ron Byers on December 19, 2012 8:08 AM:

    My problem with all the punditry is that it is all fact free, at least as far as the killer is concerned. I would like to know more about him and his relationship with his mother before I reach any conclusions.

    What do we know about that family anyway?

  • dr2chase on December 19, 2012 8:32 AM:

    Gotta love gun wisdom from Burroughs. Perhaps we could get some medical advice from Doctor Benway, too?


    If you've got to be clueless, there's worse ways to do it than quoting Burroughs.

  • Stetson Kennedy on December 19, 2012 9:13 AM:

    Dennis Miller built his entire stand-up career on this premise.

    I have a small quibble on this point. Dennis Miller actually built his career as a standup comedian by being a smart chronoler of social and political mores; you know, back when he was a liberal! Since his "conversion", he's simply mailing it in, because you know he really doesn't believe what he's saying.

  • CRA on December 19, 2012 9:25 AM:

    Mr. Douthat, Myrhh doesn't prepare the bodies for grave -- people do.

  • rk21 on December 19, 2012 9:30 AM:

    You know Muslims and Arabs are demonized for their attitudes and callousness about violence. At least they have a cause, however twisted it may be. What cause does McAardle have that she sits at a cushy job advocating five yr olds (sorry "teens") be taught suicide tactics for the greater good. Golda Meir once said about the Palestinians "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us". Well maybe we can say this about Americans, the massacres will stop when Americans love their children more than their guns.

  • Mimikatz on December 19, 2012 9:37 AM:

    The fact is that our society does not do a good job at all of integrating young men into society. Much of this is economic, the consequence of so many manufacturing and other traditionally men's jobs having been shipped overseas. Recent statistics show women are now a majority of the workforce, have a majority of managerial positions, are the majority of college and now grad school graduates. And there are many voices telling men that if their life has gone bad, take it out on someone weaker. It's not feminism that is to blame but barely restrained capitalism and the fact that on average most girls find it easier to learn in our schools as they are constituted, and are more people-oriented and flexible, so better equipped for the (mostly service) jobs that are available.

    The military does provide a place, but with wars like the ones we have now, too many come back severely damaged. No easy answers here. For a time in my youth I really thought things were getting better, but most of the last 30 years as a society we have gotten worse. Even as we have expanded political equality we really have regressed on economic equality.

  • PTate in MN on December 19, 2012 10:31 AM:

    In the "Why do bad things happen to good people?" stupid theology subdivision, I'd nominate Mike Huckabee: "We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

    It doesn't have a chance of winning, I realize, since a Christian fundie spews a variation of this whenever innocents die in a massacre or natural disaster, but it should be in the contest.

    What does Huckabee even mean? That the Christian god of love--the father almighty, the creator, the maker of heaven and earth--will allow innocent children to be murdered in an elementary school because those children are not praying to him during classtime? Or does Huckabee think that if someone like Adam Lanza had been taught to properly fear this vindictive, petty, punitive god, he would have not thought about acts of violence against his mother, innocent children and self? Or is Huckabee proposing that God is some kind of spiritual Iron-Dome rocket shield who could stop Lanza dead at the door? Whatever. This is a narrow old-timey theology, like superstitiously buying a talisman to protect you against the evil eye

  • Chris Rhetts on December 19, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Kathleen, I'll let you troll the swamp for this disgusting crap. I don't have the stomach for it. However, for a refreshingly honest, heartfelt and worthwhile post, I nominate Roger Ebert:


  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on December 19, 2012 10:58 AM:

    I often have my issues with Douthat but you're pretty unfairly ripping a paragraph out of context. The point of the column is pretty clear: God doesn't always act in ways that make sense to us, even to us Christians. If you'd included the previous paragraph for context, the part you excerpted made sense:

    That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn't just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

    The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable -- the shadow of violence, agony and death.

  • Rathskeller on December 19, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Douthat was using "myrrh" in that manner is an example of synecdoche. It's weak writing because myrrh is no longer associated with funereal rites, so he's basically trying to hit a high cultural note in those who will remember that. But it's not gibberish, he had a rhetorical aim.

    Do I get a free subscription with that defense of what he wrote?

  • Celui on December 19, 2012 11:11 AM:

    Kathleen: you have wisely debunked so much of this post-tragic nonsense. How any thinking person can consider diminishing the value of these lives lost in order to make political gain is to once again refuse to see the abyss right in front of us. Don't make the teachers 'heroic union members'; don't turn these children into God's angels. See this for what it is: the work of one person, an act of hatred and self-loathing enacted on the defenseless. And, a response? Arming teachers?? How absurd. Making schools into armed fortresses resembling prisons?? So much for education. Let's start with saying this: refuse to 'patronize' the societal elements which foment these acts and their tragedies, refuse to give ear to the bloviators who fill the media with hate and vitriol, refuse to become part of the 'righteous investigators' who will seek to use these tragedies for political capital. Stop choosing up sides. We're all in this together. Lay down our wall-building tendencies and learn to bridge the divides. Re-integrate our communities rather than re-segregating them economically. If any reader finds that these politically-pervasive responses are inappropriate, write the editor, cancel a subscription or two, and make your voice known. And, one more thing: where is God in all this? He's there: at the end of our arms. God's work is in our hands. Let this work be honorable and lasting.

  • Mike Clinch on December 19, 2012 11:37 AM:

    c u n d gulag and Rathskeller both described myrrh as a preparation use in preparing bodies for funerals in the Middle East, but the real reason that Douthat invokes it is to invoke the gifts of the Magi, gold, frankincense and myrrh,as citedin the gospel of Luke. When the Magi did not return to Jerusalem, King Herod ordered all male children under two years old in Bethlehem killed.

    Douthat's "point" seems to be that a little evil is always present with good, and that it's part of the bargain for the greater good, i. e. the killing of an unknown number of innocent children in payment for the ministry of Christ and the salvation of the world, or at least the Christians. The modern analogy is that the deaths of innocent children in Connecticutt are the price that we pay for our freedoms.

    I'll take the opposite tack. The murder of the innocents of Bethlehem prove how evil Herod was. The deaths of children in a school proves how evil our worship of the gun culture is.

  • Barbara on December 19, 2012 1:01 PM:

    Re: Douthat

    I haven't seen this commented on, but it seems somehow, if ironically, fitting that a few weeks ago Douthat was in high dudgeon about our moral failure to protect as yet unborn generations (by not procreating enough to create more of them no less). This week, with all his hand wringing about innocents, he says nothing at all about our moral duty to protect our living children from the real and manifest harm that blights their lives.

    The obsession with the unborn is creepy enough, the escalation of their interets over those of the living is simply infuriating.

  • Kelp on December 19, 2012 1:12 PM:

    Christy Wampole is in French & Italian, not English. (Perhaps that's why she uses a word, "valiance," that is archaic for English but current in French, "vaillance.") Having just finished the semester's grading, I have little patience for linguistic flourishes that mask unsound reasoning.

  • Karen on December 19, 2012 1:45 PM:

    This is the worst I've found. Granted, he's a lunatic fundamentalist, so it may be cheating.

  • TomParmenter on December 19, 2012 3:55 PM:

    I know it's late, but this woman in the National Review sees McCardle and raises her by infinity. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/335996/newtown-answers-nro-symposium

    Bunch of women can't do nothing: There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees.

  • TomParmenter on December 19, 2012 3:58 PM:

  • bucky on December 20, 2012 11:58 AM:

    Though he was discussing the Oregon mall shooting, Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute had a doozy in the 12/12 Christian Science Monitor:
    "As far as a social shift, I think people are getting more intelligent and appropriate in their reactions to shooters," says Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Golden, Colo. "Police training has changed in significant ways since the Columbine [High School] shooting [in 1999], where they no longer wait for the SWAT team to arrive but go in immediately with...the army they have. There's also an awareness [among police and the public] that if you're trying to stop a gangster from robbing a liquor store, you may have a [heck] of a fight on your hands, but that these publicity-seeking guys with mental illness, they basically crumble at first opposition."