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Erroneous Progressive Condescension

From The Scrapbook

Feb 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook has been pondering a minor detail from an item that appeared here last week. In describing the Planned Parenthood/Susan G. Komen fundraising episode, we mentioned that Greg Sargent, a Washington Post blogger, had been boasting on his Twitter feed about pressure exerted on the Komen foundation by congressional Democrats. Somebody wrote in to push back: “Senators are now censuring private organizations? This is crazy.” Sargent scoffed: “Not quite sure I see the ‘censorship’ at play here.”

Cartoon of anonymous member of the press

At which moment The Scrapbook exclaimed to itself: Bingo! Another example of Erroneous Progressive Condescension. Did you like that patronizing “not quite sure” just before the zinger? The Scrapbook could well imagine Sargent shaking his head at this example of another right-wing clod who seemed to think the Senate was “censoring” the Komen foundation over its decision to withhold funds from Planned Parenthood.

Except that’s not what was said, and the clod in this instance is Greg Sargent. The Twitter inquiry did not accuse the Senate of “censoring” anyone; it criticized Senate Democrats for “censuring” a private organization​—​a very different thing, and a perfectly defensible complaint. We’re too old to be shocked that a journalist employed by the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital would be unaware of the meaning of “censure,” a term used more than occasionally on Capitol Hill. But it is revelatory.

In fact, there is a long and undistinguished history of progressive journalists poking fun at conservatives about spelling and grammar and meaning without realizing that, in fact, they are the ones who are woefully, outrageously ignorant. Last month, for example, Larry Doyle of Time wrote a tendentious account of the GOP campaign, including this observation:

Gingrich has a point. Mitt Romney does think we’re stupid. Gingrich, on the other hand, knows we’re stupid​—​at least compared to Gingrich, whose ideas are so large only a head of his size can contain them.

The Scrapbook concedes that Doyle is entitled to his opinions, and even to make juvenile comments about the candidates’ physical appearance. But he forfeits any right to condescension with his next sentence: “And they are both towing the internal party line.” No, they’re not; they’re toeing the party line. Politicians do not “tow” party lines in the sense of heaving them over their backs and dragging them along the floor. They “toe” the line in accordance with the ancient parliamentary practice of keeping members contained within physical barriers.

Or consider the Washington Post’s ace political reporter, David A. Fahrenthold, who opined on a recent Gingrich speech:

“Obama is big food stamp,” Gingrich said, leaving grammar behind in his fervor to tie Romney to President Obama. “He’s little food stamp.”

Leaving grammar behind? You hardly needed to be in the hall to comprehend that Gingrich was characterizing Obama as Big Food Stamp and Romney as Little Food Stamp​—​a rhetorical device that ought to be familiar to any journalist employed by a newspaper that routinely refers to Big Tobacco and Big Oil and Big Pharma. 

Which raises one final, troubling point for The Scrapbook. Yes, it is annoying when left-wing journalists deploy condescension and sarcasm and abuse when they (mistakenly) accuse conservatives of errors in spelling and usage. But it is genuinely appalling that neither Time nor the Washington Post any longer seems to employ editors who know about toeing the line, or the difference between “censure” and “censor,” and whose duties used to include saving such arrogant/ignorant writers from themselves.

And Bébé Makes Four?

This week’s newspaper item that left The Scrapbook wondering when the other three horsemen will arrive comes to us via the Washington Post’s “On Parenting” blog: “When French parenting mixes with threesomes: A lesson on hiding indiscretions from the kids.”

The item concerns Pamela Druckerman, author of the new book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. It seems that just as the publicity machine for Bringing Up Bébé was heating up, a blogger at Slate unearthed an article Druckerman wrote for Marie Claire in 2010 called “How I Planned a Ménage à Trois.” 

As you can imagine, the article is pure Norman Rockwell. It seems Druckerman’s husband uncomplainingly buys diapers and doesn’t spend money on himself. The only desire this otherwise monastic gentleman has voiced is for a threesome. Druckerman decides granting this wish would be a more appropriate gift for his 40th birthday than the vintage watch she was eyeing, since this “wouldn’t technically be cheating.” Finding a third wheel isn’t easy, but “it turns out that all of my girlfriends and practically all the spouses of his friends would potentially make the cut, including the pregnant ones.” This beast with too many backs is eventually consummated and Mrs. Druckerman receives “a series of heartfelt thank-you notes” from her husband. 

The Scrapbook knows exactly what you must be thinking at this point​—​if liberté, égalité, infidélité is a good template for marriage, surely Druckerman must have a lot to teach us about parenting, non

Confronted by the revelation of Druckerman’s unusual ideas about marriage, the Washington Post uses this as a teachable moment for other parents. But don’t worry, the Post doesn’t get all judgmental. 

“Superior smirks aside, Druckerman’s embarrassment does raise an issue that vexes many parents these days: What to do about past indiscretions once we take on the role of a parent?” asks the Post’s parenting blog. 

Needless to say, we’re not sure what the Post means by “past indiscretions.” This is not awkwardly admitting to a teenager you once smoked marijuana in college. These are married parents. Druckerman wrote about her threesome less than two years ago, and is now inviting the world to buy her child-rearing advice. 

Apparently, Druckerman sensed the disconnect and asked Marie Claire’s editors to remove her article from their online archive, but the Internet, unfortunately for her, has never included a delete key. Here’s a free bit of advice for Druckerman: Barring not committing them in the first place, the best way to avoid confronting past indiscretions is not to write about them for publication.

End of the WWI Era

The Scrapbook notes with regret the death last week of Florence Green in a nursing home in eastern England. She was two weeks shy of her 111th birthday. The particulars of Mrs. Green’s very long life are not notable in themselves. She was born Florence Patterson in London, a month after the death of Queen Victoria. During her childhood the Patterson family moved to King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where she spent the next hundred years. She married a railway worker, Walter Green, in 1920, with whom she had two daughters and a son. 

These simple annals of Florence Green’s existence would have undoubtedly passed into oblivion had it not been discovered, just a few years ago, that she had in fact served in the First World War—making her since last year the final living veteran of that conflict. Two months before the Armistice, at age 17, she enlisted in the women’s auxiliary of the Royal Air Force, where she served as a steward in the officers’ mess at two bases near her home in Norfolk. 

“It was very pleasant, and they were lovely,” she remembered. “Not a bit of bother.” Indeed, she “met dozens of pilots and would go on dates.” When they asked if she wished to take a ride in one of the aircraft, though, Miss Patterson  declined: She was afraid to fly. 

It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that Mrs. Green was the last uniformed survivor of a conflict that involved tens of millions. And of course, the carnage and destruction of the Great War affected many millions of civilians throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North America, some of whom are undoubtedly still alive. A child whose town was shelled or whose father was killed may fairly be described as a survivor of the war. 

Nevertheless, with Florence Green, the British flag will cover her coffin, an official chapter will close, and her burial will sever a last thread to “the war to end all wars” from which so many subsequent conflicts arose. Time is relentless: World War I ended 93 years ago, World War II 66 years ago; even the Vietnam war ended nearly 40 years ago. But the passage of time does not lessen our appreciation for those​—​including the flirtatious young mess steward Florence Patterson​—​who served their nation in a just cause.

Must Reading

The Scrapbook was thrilled to get its copy the other day of the provocative and important new book by Weekly Standard contributing editor Robert Kagan, The World America Made. The book has, we gather, already been read and even praised by President Obama. But don’t hold that against it. You should read it. You’ll like it, and learn from it, as we did.

In The World America Made, Kagan asks “what the world would have looked like had the United States not been the preeminent power shaping it for the past six decades,” and tries “to imagine what the world might look like if America were to decline, as so many nowadays predict.”

Kagan makes an analytical and normative case against American decline, and in defense of what he (along with The Scrapbook’s boss, in a famous 1996 Foreign Affairs article) once called America’s “benevolent hegemony.” The book is short, it’s punchy, it’s right, it’s a real contribution to the American foreign policy debate .  .  . and it’s a bargain at less than $20.00. Get one for yourself, and one for a friend.

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"Liberals have been on the defensive about taxes, overall, since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. So it’s invigorating to hear [Maryland governor Martin O’Malley] offer an unashamed argument for the need to pay more if you want quality education, mass transit, new roads .  .  . ” (“Give O’Malley credit for courage on taxes,” Robert McCartney, Washington Post, February 5).

Sentences We Didn’t Finish, II

"In the end, this is a nonsense fact. On its face, it may be technically correct .  .  . ” (“Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler, inadvertently admitting his vocation is deeply problematic, Washington Post, February 7).

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