Ross Douthat's Fear of Opining.

Today's Ross Douthat offering has already prompted a thoughtful response from Adam, but I wanted to note the conservative NYT writer's inability to assess competing arguments. First, from his opening statement:

While the assembled Ivy Leaguers accused [Pat Buchanan] of homophobia and racism and anti-Semitism, he accused Harvard — and by extension, the entire American elite — of discriminating against white Christians.

The key fact that Douthat never returns to is that Buchanan is homophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic. Those despicable Ivy Leaguers are right! There is also plenty of evidence that Buchanan is wrong -- starting with the fact that a plurality of Ivy Leaguers are white Christians. So Douthat has to draw a narrower case -- that America's elite colleges discriminate against not just white Christians but working-class, rural white Christians. Oh, and the presumption is that they must be his kind of Christian -- you can't be liberal and Christian, or "elite" and a Christian. As Adam notes, what discrimination exists comes down to a question of class, not culture.

Douthat's second strange equivocation is the concern he is trolling -- that the lack of interaction between poor white Christians and liberals creates a dangerous paranoia between groups in this country. (As a side note, I'd love to know how much time Douthat spends with white, rural, working-class Christians himself.) He observes that conservative-leaning white voters think Obama is a "foreign-born Marxist," among other conspiracies, while liberals perceive an increase in "crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs."

Once again, the conspiracy theories of the conservatives have no basis in reality. Meanwhile, the idea that liberals see right-wing conspiracies "everywhere they look" reveals that Douthat has as little knowledge of liberals as he does of rural, working-class whites. Liberals do fret that the Tea Party and like-minded right-wing groups are providing an outlet for racist and violent sentiments, but that's only because the Tea Parties do provide an outlet for racist sentiments -- and McVeigh-types have already attacked federal buildings and been arrested for plotting similar escapades.

This is the worst kind of opinion column, a sort of tease -- Douthat airs competing claims but declines to weigh in on either side, instead offering a mealymouthed support for a kind of soft affirmative action for, well, he doesn't quite say white Christians, which is where he began his column, but for those whom he believes are culturally affiliated with white Christians.

It's awfully similar to Douthat's commentary on gay marriage -- it's clear that he opposes it, but realizing that his reasoning is indefensible, refuses to argue the issue. Reading today's column, you get the sense that Douthat agrees with Buchanan's white grievance, but he doesn't have the courage to come right out and say so.

-- Tim Fernholz

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