In defense of snark

I have to disagree with many of the recent responses to Freddie’s attack on Robert Stacy McCain, namely his use of snark and less than kind words on the subject of Palin-worship, the recent rise in faux-populism, etc. that is ransacking the Republican Party and poisoning modern movement conservatism from within.  Since when are conservatives populists, first of all?  And since when has Palin been anything more than a better-seen-and-not-heard mascot for this faux-populism that elitists such as McCain and Kristol and their lot have used to push their less-than-populist policies?  One could hardly call democracy promotion a populist cause, and yet Palin and her puppeteers spin it as such.   That such “East-Coast Elites” should rally behind this woman signifies either ideological blindness at an unprecedented level, or a rather disingenuous, sardonic approach to politics that deserves little more the snark and derision from its critics.

After all, as Daniel Larison pointed out recently, McCain and the other elitists within the GOP who pushed Palin and still do are “doing more to undermine Middle American interests with [their] shameless Palin-worship than any of [her critics] ever will.” In a sense, Freddie’s “snark” is little more than constructive criticism for the pro-Palin crowd.  Perhaps the base of the Repulbican Party has been reeled in by this Middle America charade, and as such perhaps they aren’t witnessing it with much objectivity, or in much of a position to see with clear eyes what is actually happening to conservative causes.  Someone on the outside, a liberal say, like Freddie, is looking in on the whole sad scene and actually hoping that it stays its course because, quite frankly, this course is one of implosion for the Republican Party.  Rallying behind politicians who exhibit such monumentally abysmal qualifications, such disdain for intellect and experience, and such a general lack of even the most basic understanding of what it even means to be conservative (short of railing against liberals and liberalism) will spell the end for the modern GOP, and perhaps that’s a good thing.  And yet, despite all this, Freddie has the good sportsmanship to warn the opposition of their own foolhardy ways.

So I say snark away, Freddie.  Call it like you see it.  Either it will fall on deaf ears and the GOP will run its course of inexplicable self-destruction, to later re-emerge from the ashes of its own folly, or it will catch on and a better, smarter conservative movement will be born.  I highly doubt any of the Palin crowd will listen, choosing instead to write off any critique of her capabilities and intelligence as an attack on Middle America.  The blind will lead the blind, and the politics of faux-populism (a political strategy only slightly less dangerous and foolish than actual populism) will lead the Republican brand into one defeat after another.  It took such folly to lead the Conservative Party in Britain to the point they’re at now, poised at last to re-introduce themselves to the British political scene, a better, smarter political force than before.

Sure, sometimes beating someone over the head with a blunt object is an unproductive way of getting your point across.  Then again, sometimes nothing will get that point across, so what does it matter?  Perhaps someday when realization finally dawns, McCain and the other Palin-pushers will remember those slings and arrows.  They may not ever admit they were wrong, but they won’t forget that once upon a time someone called them out on all of it, for whatever that’s worth…

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15 thoughts on “In defense of snark

  1. I agree with Max. If you want to get your point across, sometimes you need drama. If being snarky is the worst that someone says because they don’t like what you write, I don’t have a problem with it.
    I did a little social experiment with a friend of mine with an outrageous tag line on another blog. Although, the title had little to do with the article, it brought people in by the dozens. Why? Drama. As long as Freddie gets his thought out there, more power to him.

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  2. That such “East-Coast Elites” should rally behind this woman signifies either ideological blindness at an unprecedented level, or a rather disingenuous, sardonic approach to politics that deserves little more the snark and derision from its critics.

    That is probably being a little too generous. A sophomoric rant that absurdly claims that 1) a rejection of Sarah Palin is a rejection of “the people” and 2) that I hate the “hicks in the sticks” because they are better than I am is worthy of nothing more than mockery and derision, to the extent it is even worth time wasting the three brain cells I have left contemplating this tripe.

    There is no point in using logic and reason to create a counterargument to a claim that lacks both. It’s lose-lose no matter what happens. Given a few recent experiences in this area, my patience for this sort of discourse is gone.

    This is not to say I worry about the pugilistic aspects because I don’t. I like brawlers. They lead with their chin and end up on their backs shortly thereafter. :)

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  3. Actually, the point about “East Coast Elites” is pretty important, and too often gets lost in the whole “dislike of Sarah Palin is elitist snobbery” debate. By which I mean that the opinion leaders most responsible for purveying this attitude are typically very well connected, operating either inside the Beltway or from New York, etc. In other words, their actual understanding of what “middle America” thinks is almost entirely superficial. IOW, those who most loudly scream “elitists!” are rarely salt of the earth themselves.

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  4. Exactly right, both of you. It’s little more than a political tactic to create an “us and them” mentality and rally said Middle America against Dems and anti-Palin conservatives. Ironically, few of the policies set forth by the RS McCain’s of the world and the Bill Kristols et al are populist in nature. I don’t have a problem with that, as I’m pretty sure populism has gotten us into more trouble than good. It’s the farce that bothers me, the sneaky under-handed way they use people and don’t just come out and say what they mean.

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  5. E.D. you write, “…I’m pretty sure populism has gotten us into more trouble than good.”

    I think a pretty good case can be made for populism and it’s morphing into the progressive movement of the early 20th century. Both the populist movement after The Civil War and the progressive movement were largely anti big business. I’m going to use broad strokes here but I see the Muckrakers, the rise of labor unions, creation of the National Park system, early food and drug regulation as very positive results.

    Early 21st century populism as defined by Kristol, Buchanan, Plain, Warren and others is very much a work in progress. I see no reason to be hopeful that a movement head by the above will come to any good. Their populism bears no resemblance to the populism I praise above. In fact it appears to offer the exact opposit set of goals. Anti labor, anti regulation, etc. Demographics seem to argue against their ascendancy, but events might put them in power. The crystal ball I have is good only good for breaking the glass of that vending machine.

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  6. Ah, I think there is the makings of a debate over the merits of populism in this site’s future. Suffice to say, my view is that populism in this nation was born with Andrew Jackson. It lead directly to the advent of an extremely powerful Presidency, and has been the cause of basically our country’s warlike nature ever since. More on that, though…

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  7. E.D. I’m going to limit my comment at this time. Perhaps more latter.

    1. If we want to go to the early 19th century why not point to Jefferson? I can see a case for him being the grand daddy of populism, the yeoman farmer and all that stuff. And don’t forget the Louisiana Purchase. An act that has no recognizable Constitutional backing. That speaks to a pretty strong President.

    2. I’m not seeing any necessary connection to your strong presidency and populism. In fact is it not possible that a weak president might be more amenable to populist pressure. Just wondering, I have never thought about such a possibility. Looking forward to your thinking on this. I’m agnostic on this point (just need to keep the religion thread going.)

    3. Perhaps this a continuation of #2. Neither Jefferson nor Jackson, or whoever was first, assured that the institution of the presidency would have a strong occupant. I need only mention James Buchanan to make my point. Strong Presidents seem more to hing on the man. The times will not necessarily transform a weak man, Buchanan again, into a strong leader. God know America needed a strong President in the years before the Civil War, but we had Buchanan. A man incapable of reconciling slave and free states, he could not even bring his own party together.

    Back to you Mr. Kain

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  8. Snark should not be treated as intrinsically good or bad, but a writerly tool like many others (such as humor, or patient explanation, or parable) can be done better or worse, and done for good or for ill. Far and away one of its chief values is, it seems to me, to do exactly what Freddie felt called upon to do in his earlier post: to engage with someone while at the same time signaling that their discourse failed to cross the minimal threshold of intellectual decency that would merit its received a respectful reply.

    A really great version of this sort of thing can be seen with how Michael Berube decided some time ago to treat David Horowitz in a fundamentally non-serious way. At some point, to engage with someone like that seriously only gives unwarranted status to their own basically dishonest writings.

    There’s an excellent meditation on that particular case here, btw:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2007/06/11/why-we-shouldn’t-play-nice-with-david-horowitz-a-response-to-what’s-liberal-about-the-liberal-arts/

    Now, if that is something that snark can be good for, one really does have to be careful with it. It should not be used to avoid argument when real argument is called for. But Freddie was right here: McCain’s “interpretation” of Schwenkler’s post was so spectacularly off the mark, that there is no way to take it as a serious set of claims whose arguments can be addressed. It can only be pointed at with ridicule.

    (This is not the only way to use snark, btw; I think that there are friendly-ish uses, of the sort that one sees when folks like Yglesias and McArdle take little pot-shots at each other. But those are only possible in the context of the longstanding, basically serious & respectful conversation that such bloggers have had with each other.)

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  9. Interesting point Bob. I think that by strong executive I was referring more to the expanded boundaries of Presidential power, not the strength of the man in office. As exhibited by our last President, even a very weak man can make great strides in expanding the role of the executive office.

    James, very good points on snark. Indeed, it is merely a rhetorical device and as with all rhetorical devices, it serves its purpose. When in Rome….

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  10. I see the strong executive argument you offer as a distinction without a difference.

    Now would you call Jefferson a strong executive or just a president that may have created a single expansion of presidential prerogatives?

    The office has obviously been strengthened over time. But is this growth the result of some political philosophy or the accumulation of power steps here and there? Both of course. And let’s not ignore congressional abdication of their constitutional powers. And the Supreme Court has both strengthened and weakened the office, weakended only in the sense of rejucting specific claims.

    A recent example of a philosophical call expansion of presidential power is the Dick Cheney David Addington authored call for a strong executive in the congressional minority report they authored in 1987 regarding the Iran-contra affair. There Cheney/Addington wrote in favor of “monarchical” powers for the president going back to British kings. I am sure DOJ authored several memos clearing the way for the recent Bush to spy on Americans, hold detainees without legal service’s etc. The list is long and no doubt well know to you.

    But this is somewhat off topic with regard to strong executive and populism.

    With regard to A. Jackson I must admit great ignorance. The only things I recall about his administration are his removal policy for Native Americans, being PC here, and his fight against the National Bank. So I will not attempt to comment on any relationship you see between him and populism.

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