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Daily Howler: Krauthammer shrieks and screeches and wails--and disproves a famous old bromide
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ARISTOTLE NEVER MET CHARLES! Krauthammer shrieks and screeches and wails—and disproves a famous old bromide: // link // print // previous // next //

Aristotle never met Charles: Man [sic] is the rational animal!

This basic concept lies at the heart of western self-understanding. (It’s often tracked to a musing by Aristotle.) This concept is deeply lodged in western culture’s most basic pictures of the world.

In our view, this concept tends to keep us from seeing the way our species actually fits into the larger chain of being. On the upside, it’s one of the ways we get to shower ourselves with self-praise. (Not to brag. But did you know that we were made in God’s image?)

Are we really a rational animal? Charles Krauthammer’s column today argues against this notion.

The Post’s op-ed page has been awful this week. Krauthammer smears the icing all over the cake. In the future (if there is one), embarrassed scholars may avert their gaze from columns like this, much as we are sometimes embarrassed by the ludicrous thinking and conduct of our own near-term ancestors.

Charles, who writes like a madman today, is discussing Copenhagen. But then, the Post op-ed page has really clowned when it comes to this topic this week.

On Wednesday, the Post published a column in which Sarah Palin said that Obama should “stay home from Copenhagen and send a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices.” Palin never quite explained what those “fraudulent practices” are. Nor did she ever quite explain how Obama will be “a party to” such practices by his attendance at Copenhagen.

The Post played the fool when it published that column. This morning, Charles seems determined to top it. He reasons like a madman throughout. It’s stunning to think that our leading political newspaper is willing to “reason” this way.

This morning, Charles is shrieking and dreaming about (headline) “The new socialism.” You see, in Charles’ view, Copenhagen is the successor to a recent attempt at kleptocracy by a group of Third World nations! Below, we show you his opening paragraphs. It’s hard to know why the word “insane” shouldn’t be used at this time:

KRAUTHAMMER (12/11/09): In the 1970s and early '80s, having seized control of the U.N. apparatus (by power of numbers), Third World countries decided to cash in. OPEC was pulling off the greatest wealth transfer from rich to poor in history. Why not them? So in grand U.N. declarations and conferences, they began calling for a "New International Economic Order." The NIEO's essential demand was simple: to transfer fantastic chunks of wealth from the industrialized West to the Third World.

The idea of essentially taxing hardworking citizens of the democracies to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early '80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques.

Did Third World countries try to grab “fantastic chunks of wealth from the West” in the 1970s? It’s possible. But it takes a phenomenal flight of excitement to see Copenhagen as “another NIEO shakedown,” a claim Krauthammer makes no real attempt to explain. “Politically it's an idea of genius,” he says as he continues directly, “engaging at once every left-wing erogenous zone.” But how exactly did “the left wing” come to control the planet? In a few short paragraphs, we have moved from a (failed) attempt by some Third World nations to “another shakedown,” likely successful, this time by “the left wing.”

Is Copenhagen being run from Kinshasa? Charles doesn’t quite explain.

Do such leaps require elucidation? Not in the Washington Post! Soon, we’re being told that this is all very like a religion. Charles is on the home front now, complaining that the EPA shouldn’t get control over carbon:

KRAUTHAMMER: This naked assertion of vast executive power in the name of the environment is the perfect fulfillment of the prediction of Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus that environmentalism is becoming the new socialism, i.e., the totemic ideal in the name of which government seizes the commanding heights of the economy and society.

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

We’ve now moved from some Third World nations to “the left-wing” to “the left” to “cultural elites.” Might we ask a few questions:

Let’s suppose that some group called “the left” devised some project like the one Charles describes. Who exactly are these people? When exactly did these people—these “cultural elites”—conduct that “memorial service for socialism?” Who was present at that service? In what way are those same people behind this new diabolical drive?

There may be problems with cap-and-trade. There may be problems with letting the EPA, not the Congress, decide how to regulate CO2. There may be problems with climate science, although Charles never makes that claim. But Krauthammer shrieks in loud, loony ways from the start of this piece to its finish. We start with Third World nations car-jacking the west. We end up with a bunch of unnamed elites who think the EPA should regulate carbon.

To Charles, it’s all the same!

Palin’s column shouldn’t have been published. Today, Charles seems to be trying to shriek even louder. But then, this has become a standard part of the way our public discourse works. To wit:

In modern journalistic culture, certain tribes All Agree To Say The Exact Same Things. Once that group agreement is reached, the only way the individual can distinguish himself is by shrieking and screeching the loudest—by overstating the common claim in the most ridiculous manner. One classic example:

In the fall of 1999, the lunatics decided they’d spotted a problem. You see, Candidate Gore was wearing suits which had three-button jackets! One of the lunatics, Chris Matthews, ranted about this for a whole month. But sure enough:

Arianna topped him! She went on Geraldo’s cable show and sewed a fourth button onto Gore’s suits! She thus got to shriek and screech a bit louder than everyone in the asylum:

HUFFINGTON (11/9/99): What is fascinating is that the way he's now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him. And there was this marvelous story in one of the New Hampshire papers saying, “Nobody here—nobody here in Hanover, New Hampshire, wears tan suits with blue shirts.” You know, it's just—and buttons, all four buttons! You know, it's not just—it's just not the way most American males dress.

Madly inventing a four-button jacket, one of the inmates got to shriek a bit louder than all the rest.

We’ve been insane for several decades now. This morning, Krauthammer skrieks and writhes and wails like history’s greatest madmen.

We thought of Aristotle’s claim. He never met Charles, we decided.

On the other hand, up jumps Gerson: On the other hand, Michael Gerson writes the following, right below Charles, on the same op-ed page this morning. Gerson, a former Bush speech-writer, offers this off-the-reservation assessment of warming science:

GERSON (12/11/09): [T]he hacked climate e-mails reveal a scandal, not a hoax. Even if every question raised in these e-mails were conceded, the cumulative case for global climate disruption would be strong. The evidence is found not only in East Anglian computers but also in changing crop zones, declining species, melting ice sheets and glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. No other scientific theory explains these changes as well as global warming related to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Over millennia, the climate shifts in natural cycles. But we seem to be increasing the pace of change so rapidly that plants, animals and humans may not be able to adequately adjust.

The claim of recent global cooling is deceptive. It is true that 2008 was cooler than 1998. But 1998 was the hottest year recorded since the advent of reliable records in the 1800s, while 2008 was the ninth-hottest. Despite yearly variations, the overall trend goes in one direction. All 10 of the hottest years on record have come since 1997.

We’re not climate scientists ourselves; we make our own assessments as non-experts. But as a conservative, Gerson is way off the reservation here. He doesn’t sew that fourth button on. In fact, he doesn’t count buttons at all.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’re not sure if those purloined e-mails do add up to a “scandal.” But Gerson is way off the reservation with this overall judgment.

Special report: What’s the matter with us?

PART 3—DISMAL SWAMP: We’ll be honest. We found it too depressing to spend four days on Rachel Maddow’s recent sneering and clowning. That said:

Last Friday, Maddow conducted a discussion, with the hapless David Shuster, of her past use of “tea-bagger” jokes as a way of spraying The Other Tribe with brainless sexual insults. This discussion was one of the dumbest—presumably, one of the most disingenuous— we’ve ever seen on cable. If you can’t see this from reading the transcript (just click here), there’s probably no way we could explain it. At any rate, doing so would simply be too depressing.

(Full disclosure: We once did a two-man comedy show with John Waters, right here in Baltimore! How could that possibly be relevant, you ask? Readers, that’s how dumb this discussion got! With no disrespect to Waters.)

We’ll simply skip the pseudo-discussion of race from Monday evening’s program. It wasn’t as foolish as Friday’s night clown-show. But even we occasionally hit a point at which we must stop.

Maddow sometimes does excellent work. But cable has been full of culture-war clowns over the course of the past dozen years. Until now, the top clowns all played this game from the right. We doubt that progressive interests will ever be served by Maddow’s culture-war clowning from the left—clowning in which, we’re sad to say, she seems to possess True Belief.