Our Language Cops Are
a Bunch of Barney Fifes

Andrew Sullivan:

I’ve touched slightly on the term ‘Israel-Firster’ – a shorthand that has an ugly neo-Nazi provenance, which is why I don’t use it…

As Justin Raimondo pointed out Monday, that etymology is false: the term was first used no later than 1953 by Alfred M. Lilienthal, a Jewish American. Not that that fact will change anything. I expect no correction from Sullivan, and I couldn’t care less about his source, Spencer Ackerman, whose views on intellectual honesty you can read for yourself.

But let’s assume that, for once, they weren’t bullshitting and the term was coined by an asshole. And? Does a sorry origin taint a word or phrase for all eternity, even if the term — as Sullivan effectively admits in the aforementioned post — is accurate and useful in certain cases?

Just for kicks, I searched Sullivan’s blog and Tablet magazine, where Ackerman acted out his latest “plate-glass window” fantasy, for “highbrow,” “middlebrow,” and “lowbrow.” It won’t surprise you to learn that the searches turned up plenty of hits. It may surprise you to learn where those words come from:

Highbrow/lowbrow

“Highbrow,” first used in the 1880s to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority, and “lowbrow,” first used shortly after 1900 to mean someone or something neither “highly intellectual” or “aesthetically refined,” were derived from the phrenological terms “highbrowed” and “lowbrowed,” which were prominently featured in the nineteenth-century practice of determining racial types and intelligence by measuring cranial shapes and capacities. A familiar illustration of the period depicted the distinctions between the lowbrowed ape and the increasingly higher brows of the “Human Idiot,” the “Bushman,” the “Uncultivated,” the “Improved,” the “Civilized,” the “Enlightened,” and, finally, the “Caucasian,” with the highest brow of all.

– Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (1988)

The original Attackerman

Ugly, huh? You can find similar histories for several other commonly used terms (though “rule of thumb,” contrary to a popular myth, isn’t one of them). Will Sullivan and Tablet‘s writers ban the -brows? I doubt it, and really, why should they? If they found those adjectives useful before and had no intention of endorsing phrenology or “scientific racism,” then there’s no reason for us to presume evil motives now.

None of which is to say that some words aren’t overused or shouldn’t be used more carefully. But if “Israel-firster” is one of those terms, then “anti-Semite” is a thousand times more so. You have your work cut out for you, deputies.

A Dark Day for Democrats

Sarah Palin will not run for president in 2012. Though Andrew Sullivan can be expected to persist in his quest to deploy U.N. inspectors to Palin’s uterus, the nation’s less-cracked Obamatons will have to build a new uber-bogeyman to juxtapose with the Lightworker.

Thoughtful liberal is too heartbroken to castigate Republican misogynists today.
Thoughtful liberal is too heartbroken to castigate Republican misogynists today.
It’s not fair. Why, Andrew just blogged his little heart out about evil Sarah a few hours ago! And what did he have to say about the man who just executed a U.S. citizen without even the pretense of due process?

Obama has ended torture and pursued a real war, not an ideological spectacle. He has destroyed almost all of al Qaeda of 9/11 (if Zawahiri is taken out, no one is left), obliterated its ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, found and killed bin Laden, in a daring raid pushed relentlessly by the president alone, capturing alongside a trove of intelligence, procured as a consequence of courage and tenacity rather than cowardice and torture. …

Back in 2001, I wondered if Bush would be the president to win this war, while hoping he would. I wondered if his errors might lead to a successor who learned from them. That hope has now been fulfilled – more swiftly and decisively than I once dared to dream about.

Why Are People Grudgeful?

Timothy P. Carney weighs in on the “Cato purge”:

[Brink] Lindsey will be portrayed as a martyr, excommunicated for his heresies from the Right’s dogma. In this role, he joins neoconservative writer David Frum, who was driven from the American Enterprise Institute after praising Obamacare.

Lindsey and Frum followed parallel paths. In 2002 and 2003, Lindsey – contra most libertarians – prominently beat the drums for invading Iraq. Meanwhile, Frum played the conservatives’ Robespierre, trying to purge from the Right those who opposed the invasion, whom he slurred as “unpatriotic conservatives.”

Lindsey, when he admitted in 2006 that invading Iraq was a mistake, still billed himself as “extremely controversial” and open-minded in the face of dogma. Frum, today, basks in the Left’s praise as an independent thinker. But Lindsey and Frum, in backing Bush’s invasion then and supporting Obama now, were the opposite of dissidents: They consistently supported those in power who were fighting for more power.

This pattern doesn’t make Lindsey or Frum sycophants, but it undermines their claim to be dissidents.

Amen.

The reason I keep banging on about Iraq War supporters – including the “born-again doves” – is simple: The road out of militarism and empire runs through the ruins of the Washington establishment that got us here.

First, there must be some penalty for supporting wars of aggression, even in a non-governmental role. I don’t mean a legal penalty, obviously, but shaming, shunning, boycotting, and the like. But everywhere you look, the very people who sold the Iraq War have not only not paid for their bloodthirsty idiocy, they’ve often been promoted. Second, as long as even “reformed” warmongers hold positions of influence, there’s always the danger of relapse. Clearly, the personality defects that contribute to the endorsement of monstrosities don’t go away quickly, if ever. For example, here’s one ex-Bushbot-turned-Obamaton sticking it to the White House’s critics:

Personally, I’m not satisfied with the job they [Obama & co.] are doing (unemployment is horrible, they’ve spent too much time negotiating with Republicans, the drone wars, the civil liberties issues, Lloyd Blankfein is still a free man, etc.), and think there have been some real failings and some real let-downs. But I will belly crawl over broken glass while someone pours lemon juice and rubbing alcohol on me to vote for the Democrats in November.

Note how drone wars and civil liberties fall behind “negotiating with Republicans” on this list of sins. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, could you use a lemon-squeezer, dude? I volunteer.

I could go on – there are so many targets – but instead, I’ll leave you with a thought experiment. Imagine that the invasion of Iraq had succeeded on the war supporters’ own terms, and the U.S. had crushed all armed resistance within a few months and set up some plausibly “pro-American” Potemkin democracy that didn’t need a foreign army to defend it from the citizenry (this requires a lot of imagination, I know). Let’s assume that the U.S. military had accomplished this by really taking the gloves off, as many war supporters urged in the days when the occupation began to implode. Thus, in our counterfactual, the Iraqi civilian casualty count is roughly the same as the actual count today, anti-American sentiment is inflamed throughout the Muslim world, and Iran is the unquestioned dominant regional power, all for a preventive war against a fabricated threat. Do you think that our born-again doves – much less the dead-enders who still think the war was a good idea – would have had any moral or even practical second thoughts? Or do you think they’d be doing a sack dance in the peaceniks’ faces and demanding the destruction of the next country on their list?

UPDATE: I think this sort of amends-making is a wonderful idea, but I suggest it for people who have abetted acts of mass destruction. How many prosthetic limbs could the Brinkster buy with his disposable income? Shoot, Andrew Sullivan could probably fund half a dozen orphanages across Iraq if he cut his personal expenditures back to bare subsistence levels. Let’s make this happen!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpCghKWnzC0[/youtube]

PR Advice to the Palestinians

I’ve heard a certain criticism countless times over the years, but after seeing it three times in two days on the same site, I decided to do a little research. From that vast repository of respectable opinion, The Atlantic, here are Jeffrey Goldberg, Andrew Sullivan, and Megan McArdle with the idea du jour:

Jeffrey Goldberg:
“I don’t know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters.”

Andrew Sullivan:
“The violence by the activists is pretty abhorrent. These are not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr.”

Megan McArdle:
“Very clearly, these guys were not the next incarnation of Gandhi; they were on that mission spoiling for a fight.”

Now, unlike these three worthies, I’m just a rube who majored in booze at Football Tech, so I didn’t know much about this Gandhi fella. I wondered, what exactly would Gandhi have the Palestinians and their supporters do? What would earn them a pat on the head from serious, right-thinking Americans?

Luckily, I didn’t have to look very far to find a possible answer:

As an inspiration and a symbol, Gandhi has no peer in the 20th century; as a practical politician, he was a despair to his colleagues in the Indian national movement. His insistence on non-violence grew more extreme as he aged: during the war, he recommended to the British that they should “invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions.” And in an interview given after the war, he went so far as to say that “the Jews [in Europe] should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.

The things you learn on the intertubes! Well, there you go, Palestinians (and Turks, and Jewish Americans to the left of Jeffrey Goldberg): kill yourselves. When the last one of you is gone, The Atlantic will hold a special symposium on your righteousness.

Minarets: Ban Them, or Bomb Them?

Well, the Swiss – or, more accurately, a majority of voters in democratic Switzerland – have gone and done something wrong and dumb, approving a referendum that bans the construction of minarets. Libertarian demerits are certainly in order. But one very wrong, very dumb thing the Swiss have not done is launch any wars of aggression against Muslim peoples, or  anyone else, for that matter.

Which makes it all the more cringe-worthy to read this libel on Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

Good God. Why not synagogues? Or did a neighboring country try that already?

Wow. Straight to the Nazi jab, huh? Never let it be said that Harvard doesn’t make ’em like they used to.

For the record, this is the same Andrew Sullivan who penned this epochal gem eight years ago:

[B]in Laden proves that the best form of persuasion in that part of the world is not rhetorical but military. Pummel them and they will respect you. Talk to them nicely and you’ll end up like Robert Fisk. Best of all, pummel them and then talk. The most persuasive piece of rhetoric yet unleashed in this conflict has been the daisy cutter bomb. It’s the only argument that much of this clearly depraved culture actually respects.

Expect more Swiss-bashing from some of the very people who have cheered on the most egregious abuses of Muslims. They’re extremely alert to the dangers of isolationism, you know.

UPDATE: This is too rich. Jeffrey Goldberg, Sullivan’s colleague at The Atlantic, gets in on the anti-Swiss sanctimony. Hah! If the United States or Israel were to attack Tehran tomorrow – which just might halt the construction of a minaret or two – Goldberg would leap to his keyboard to defend the decision as regrettable but justifiable. Again, I’m not a fan of bans or bombs, but the former have the distinct advantage of being reversible.

I Love the Smell of Vindication in the Morning

Lord knows, I tried to warn you: Andrew Sullivan is no peacenik. In the last 24 hours of his hysterical Iran!revolution!fascism!democracy!whiskey!sexy! typeathon, Sullivan has relapsed and rediscovered all his old drinking buddies from the Saddam!liberation!fascism!democracy!whiskey!sexy! days: Michael Ledeen, Glenn Reynolds, Michael Totten, Christopher Hitchens… What, no Laurie Mylroie yet?

Sure, sure, he also links to a Pat Buchanan piece advocating nonintervention, saying he agrees “for now,” but that’s typical of Sullivan’s fluttering, erratic style of punditry, which never pauses long enough to consider its own contradictions. But read his blog for a few hours, and you’ll get the general thrust, whether Sullivan is aware of it or not in his green delirium: something must be done!