Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Blog wars (Atrios v. York)

David Horowitz has remarked that, when he was on the Left, conservatism appeared to him as an imposing monolith. But once he joined the Right, he quickly discovered an incredible range of opinions ... to put it politely. To put it less politely, conservatives sometimes resemble a pack of cannibals and, considering the constant backstabbing and infighting, it is amazing that the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy has accomplished so much.

One can witness the intense factionalism of the Right every day over at The Corner, National Review Online's blog, where K-Lo rides herd over such conflicting personalities as The Derb and JPod. What could bring together such diverse characters? A mutual loathing of the Left.

And who is more Left than our good friend Duncan "Atrios" Black? A few days ago, Atrios opined on what he sees as the nuclear jingoism of the Right vis-a-vis Iran:

Look, I just don't get this stuff. I don't want Iran to have nukes. I don't think that's a good thing for the world. I certainly didn't want Pakistan or India to have nukes. But is a nuclear Iran really a threat to us? Certainly an Iran-with-nukes could blow the hell out of a city or two, but an Iran that did such a thing would pretty much cease to exist. It isn't mutually assured destruction, it's you f*** with us a little bit and YOU NO LONGER LIVE B*****S!

First of all, let me point out: Assimilation works. Even though "Atrios" is a left-wing Limey immigrant, he has already learned to speak of the United States in first-person plural pronouns. He also seems to exhibit a characteristically American understanding of the Reaganeque "peace through superior firepower" strategy. He sounds almost like an Alabama good ol' boy. Who says the melting pot doesn't work anymore?

Secondly, it's a fair point: Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons and haven't yet annihilated each other or anyone else. Heck, even France has the bomb, which is really scary. So let us admit that Atrios has presented a reasonable challenge to those who say that the mere possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran is a casus belli. Given the deterrent factor to which Atrios refers in his customary sarcastic manner, the question is, "Why is it so urgent to prevent the mullahs in Tehran from developing nuclear weapons?" I'm sure there are plenty of good answers to that question, but it's not an illegitimate question, per se.

But Corner-ite Byron York, taking notice of Atrios' framing of the question, responded with this post:

WHO CARES ABOUT A CITY OR TWO? [Byron York]
Nuanced foreign policy analysis from the popular left-wing blogger
Atrios, who doubles as a key player at David Brock's Media Matters for America watchdog site ...

Now, Byron is a genius and, as Atrios noted, has some of the best hair in punditry. But it is unfair to interpret Atrios' post as expressing an indifference to the annihilation of "a city or two" by a nuclear-armed Iran. And Atrios understandably cried foul:

I of course never even implied the notion "who cares about a city or two?" The point is that the deterrence that kept a few thousand ICBMs coming our way from the Soviet Union should also work with smaller state nuclear powers, with the added benefit that "mutually assured destruction" simply becomes "assured destruction" - theirs, not ours. ...

I'm quite against nuclear proliferation in all of its forms and it would've been nice if we had been taking it more seriously. But thinking that Iran shouldn't have nukes is not the same as imagining that Iran with nukes is the "greatest threat to the Republic" that we face. I just have no idea how that computes.

Meanwhile, back at the Corner, Mr. York then returned fire with this retort:

Now, one initial reaction to Atrios's "city or two" remark is to conclude that neither he, nor anyone who agrees with him, should be taken seriously. But that, as they say, would be wrong. His website is quite popular on the left, he is a key figure in the watchdog organization Media Matters for America, and he is an increasingly influential voice among "netroots" activists. On the night of the State of the Union address, for example, he took part in a discussion in Washington sponsored by the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank founded by former White House chief of staff John Podesta, which was broadcast on the Air America radio network. That is not to suggest that all the Center's supporters, or all the network's listeners, agree with him, but it does suggest that they view him as an important voice in their constituency.

Methinks Mr. York is hiding a keen sense of irony beneath his uber-pundit hair.

Yes, it is terribly unfair that, in his quest for a short-term rhetorical advantage, Mr. York would seize upon a few sentences that Atrios fired off on the spur of the moment, and interpret those sentences in the worst possible way: Suggesting that Atrios is utterly indifferent to the nuclear incineration of millions.

This is quite unfair indeed. (Almost as bad as saying that Derb doesn't care about drowned Egyptian ferry victims.) But then Mr. York doubles the injustice, employing what Laird Wilcox has described as the "links and ties" method to suggest that the disreputable sentiments he detects in Atrios' words are shared by Duncan Black's comrades at Media Matters, the Center for American Progress, and Air America.

Well, I can't say that I blame Atrios for feeling ill-treated by Mr. York. If anyone had ever treated me that way ... Oh, that's right: Atrios did!

Politics ain't beanbag. It's a full-contact sport played by consenting adults. But I think Mr. York, with his finely honed sense of irony, has demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that there are some modes of political discourse which ought to inspire skeptical scrutiny.

Did I say "skeptical scrutiny"? How dare anyone be so cynical as to scrutinize my motives in trying to get into the middle of a blog war between two of the most popular sites on the Web! How dare anyone even think that I would do such a thing merely to sell copies of DONKEY CONS! Yes, it's true that this blog exists to promote sales of the book -- an exciting and carefully documented account of Democratic Party scandals that you can pre-order right now at Amazon -- but there is no need to impugn me as having violated the Blogosphere Code of Ethics. I am merely trying to put an end to what a great president once lamented as "the politics of personal destruction," the kind of dirty, low-blow partisanship ... that you'll find on every page of DONKEY CONS!

Blessed are the peacemakers, etc.

-- McCAIN