Worst Piece on the Paul Ryan Pick–So Far!

This New Republic take wins the prize for stupidest piece — so far! — on Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan the GOP nominee for vice president. That much was obvious from the title, but I had to read the whole absurdist article, just to make sure a weekend editor hadn’t wildly misrepresented Noam Scheiber’s cockamamie point.

(Sure, there are more insults than usual in the above. But really, one can only read so many so much of his invective-laced prose — “lunacy”; “fatwa”; “political salvation through ideological extremism”; etc. — without sniping.)

Scheiber says that there are “two ways” to read Romney’s VP pick. The first is, How does it affect the race? But that perfectly sensible mode of evaluation holds no interest for him.

So what’s behind door number two?

“The rationale for the Ryan pick,” writes Scheiber, “strikes me as pretty clear.” Nominating the Wisconsin congressman “is the way Romney and his aides escape blame for their now-likely defeat — blame which would have vicious and unrelenting — and pin it in on conservatives instead.”

Oh balderdash! Romney is a smart guy but he’s just not that calculating a figure. He’s been laying the groundwork for this campaign for the last six years and he’s going all in.

Romney has picked a candidate who has proven both dogged and articulate and, sure, conservative, to help flip the electoral college from blue to red. It might work or it might not, but picking Paul Ryan wasn’t about damage control or ideological spinning.

This article, however…

Four More Gore!

1. Sometimes you learn new things. Christopher Buckley, in his obit of Gore Vidal, offers one likely reason why father William F. Buckley didn’t throw a punch at Vidal in their immortal exchange. He sets the scene:

If you look closely at the footage of the 1968 TV contretemps between WFB and Vidal, you’ll see WFB trying to rise out of his chair at the moment of maximum heat. If you look very closely, you’ll see him physically straining, but something holding him back.

This leaves readers wondering, What exactly was that “something” that held WFB back? Answer:

A few days before, [WFB] was sailing in Long Island Sound when a Coast Guard cutter zoomed past his sailboat, knocking him to the deck, breaking his collarbone. During the Chicago debates, he was wearing a clavicle brace. It’s possible that the brace prevented the moment from being truly iconic.

[Read more...]

Thank God for Paul Fussell and Other Blogposts

I’m seriously contemplating making a regular thing out of the New Republic‘s suspicious silence on Paul Fussell. Granted, events can and do catch editors flatfooted and unprepared. But at this point I fear something worse must be at work.

Fussell died Wednesday. Slate took its time and published a decent essay of Fussell’s literary impact on Friday. There, Fussell admirer Stephen Metcalf wrote that Fussell “was at his best, was most himself, when writing about organized killing,” but judged his influence to be portable to peacetime settings as well. It was a good essay leading up to Memorial Day. I led with it on Real Clear Books this weekend (along with this stinging dissent about Fussell’s book Class). So, eventually, did Arts & Letters Daily.

But from the New Republic, still, crickets.

Thank God for the Atom Bomb

TNR‘s The Book page reposted this “classic” piece by George Kennan on Americans and Russians rather than repost the very famous essay that became the basis for Fussell’s Thank God for the Atom Bomb and other Essays. The front page called out a review by scholar and failed Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff on a book of hand-wringing about free markets with the headline “The Skyboxification of American Life.” TNR’s aggregator The Reader, which at this point specializes in warmed over Arts & Letters Daily links, can’t even bring itself to reheat the Slate link.

Again, as I have said, this is extra odd, because the New Republic published one of Fussell’s most important essays. Now, in the wake of his death, it is proceeding as if that essay never existed at a time when its republication would get actual traffic. Why wouldn’t it want those hits? A few friends have speculated to me that TNR is staffed with a bunch of younger staffers who don’t remember such things, but that can’t be it. Grand culture editor Leon Wieseltier has weathered several regime changes at the magazine, including a recent handover in ownership. The Fussell essay appeared two years before his appointment in 1983 but he must remember it.

So why ignore it? Embarrassment? It’s possible. In the famous essay, Fussell set himself up as the sworn enemy of moral reasoning that is too abstract, too removed from what, these days, we would call the “boots on the ground.”

Fussell responded to liberal moral hand-wringing about Hiroshima on one of its many anniversaries by saying, OK, let’s see what the troops who would have invaded Japan have to say on the subject. He consulted the writings of the grunts and found in them a plausible argument for why one might say “Thank God for the atom bomb.” They argued Japanese society had been driven collectively so war mad that the distinctions we normally make between soldiers and civilians no longer made sense.

Soldiers in the Pacific theater (Fussell got his “ass shot off” in Europe) viewed the entire island chain as one long meat grinder that would kill at least American soldiers who were already pretty chewed up on the eve an armed invasion that didn’t have to happen because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You don’t have to agree with their point of view but it might be worth considering at greater length. You can find that here on this day of memorial, but not on the website of the New Republic.

Hey New Republic, Get Your Act Together

The great critic and historian Paul Fussell died yesterday. Real Clear Books linked to three Fussell-related items today and our competition, Arts & Letters Daily, linked to an obituary. What has the New Republic done? Certainly nothing that I can find. Nothing so far on the front page. TNR‘s books page, which often republishes old essays, is silent. How about its new literary aggregation page? Crickets.

This is extra odd because TNR published what is probably Fussell’s most famous essay, in 1981, about the morality of going nuclear on Japan. Originally published with the humdrum title “Hiroshima: A Soldier’s View,” it served as the hook for Fussell’s famous collection Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays. I went to TNR‘s website to try to reread the original essay and especially the awesome back-and-forth between Fussell and his critics. Couldn’t find it. I finally found a copy and am going through it now. This round goes, deservedly, to Google.


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