Frank Rich and the State of Liberal Commentary

If one had to read one columnist to appreciate the state of contemporary left-wing commentary, my nomination would be Frank Rich of the Sunday New York Times.

No well-known leftist columnist better exemplifies the worst aspects of today’s left. Virtually every piece is filled with anger, filled with ad hominem responses to arguments, filled with insults of opponents and at the same time devoid of intellectual arguments. A Frank Rich column is essentially a weekly tantrum meant to make his readers nod in agreement and reinforce their contempt for those who differ with them.

I offer this past Sunday’s column as an example.

The subject was the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the military.

Not a single serious argument of proponents of DADT was cited, nor did Rich did offer a single argument on behalf of repealing it. Instead, the article was a smear of all supporters of that policy or of retaining the male-female definition of marriage. The article contains 71 sentences. Twelve sentences contained an insult. I suspect that Times readers who love his columns — this was listed as the second most e-mailed piece in the New York Times — are generally people who read Frank Rich so as to have their hatreds reinforced, not for cogent arguments.

The article’s title is, appropriately, an insult: “Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet.”

It is commonplace for liberals and leftists to avoid refuting conservative arguments and just dismiss the conservative with one of seven epithets: “Racist,” “Bigoted,” “Sexist,” “Intolerant,” and the three phobias: “Homophobic,” Xenophobic,” “Islamaphobic.”

Such ad hominem dismissals of conservatives and their arguments testify to the shallowness of those using these terms, meaning, unfortunately, most mainstream commentators and spokesmen on the left. The fact is that epithets substitute for thought — and at the same time render it easy to write a left-wing column. It is the Frank Rich Formula: make believe the other side has no thoughtful argument, offer no argument of your own and debase your opponents.

Some examples from just this one column:

            RICH: “… there is now little political advantage to spewing homophobia.”

RICH: (CNN allowed conservative spokesmen to express) “old homophobic cliches.”

RICH: “Such arguments … are mere fig leaves to disguise the phobia that can no longer dare speak its name. … (T)he flimsy rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that lies beneath.”

RICH: “Those opposing same-sex marriage are just as eager to mask their bigotry.”

RICH: “The more bigotry pushed out of the closet for all voters to see …”

RICH: “… the deep prejudice at the root of their (Republicans’) arguments.”

Here are the usual charges of “homophobia,” “prejudice,” and “bigotry.”

But also note “spewing” because Rich almost never describes conservatives as speaking normally: In this column alone, they “spew,” Sen. Orrin Hatch “vamped” and John McCain “huffed,” “fulminated” and was “yapping.” No conservative “says,” or “claims” or “argues.” Conservatives spew, vamp, huff, fulminate and yap. Do Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Thomas Sowell or any other conservative commentators meant to be taken as seriously as the left takes Rich use such verbs to describe the speech of prominent liberals? I doubt it. The gulf in depth of thought and sophistication of expression between Frank Rich and virtually every mainstream conservative columnist is enormous.

(I did a 30-day search of the words “spew” and “spewed” on the Washington Post and New York Times websites, and every single time they were used, it was by a liberal writer talking about conservatives.)

RICH: (Conservatives who oppose repeal of DODT are) “attack dogs.”

RICH: (McCain is) “the crazy man in Washington’s attic.”

Rich also called McCain “unpatriotic” in his previous column — a particularly ugly charge given McCain’s heroic sacrifices for America.

RICH: “Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign (in 2004) exploiting fear of gay people …”

Rich provided no example. For good reason. Bush did not run “a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people” in 2004 (or any other year). What Bush called for in 2004 was a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In fact, Bush took his own party to task for not supporting civil unions for same-sex couples. It is mendacity — indeed it is a smear — to label what Bush advocated “a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people.” But to Rich and his supporters anyone — anyone — who thinks marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman is a fear-mongering bigot.

RICH: “Now that explicit anti-gay animus is an albatross, those who oppose gay civil rights are driven to invent ever loopier rationales for denying those rights, whether in the military or in marriage.”

RICH: “The arguments for preserving ‘don’t ask’ have long been blatantly groundless.”

Where is this mainstream conservative “explicit anti-gay animus?” And why are the arguments that gays in a military unit may fall in love with one another (or with a straight person) or that for the same reason — sexual tension — that we do not have men and women in the same units, showering and sleeping together, we might not deem it a good idea to have sexual tension in an all-men’s unit — why are these arguments “loopy” and “groundless”? This conservative columnist and talk show host does not find liberal arguments for admitting open gays into the military either loopy or groundless. But contrary to the left’s self-image, conservatives are far more likely to acknowledge two sides to this and so many other issues.

The truth is that it is Frank Rich who spews, fulminates, yaps and huffs. Every Sunday in the New York Times. His column is idea-free, but his readers want catharsis, not ideas.

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