Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Besmirching Tierney

TNR: It Ain?t Cool to be Tierney

Tibor R. Machan

Noam Scheiber of The New Republic made a desperate effort in the
magazine's March 20, 2006, issue to deliver a fatal blow against one of
the very few visible libertarian columnists in the country, The New York
Times' John Tierney. As with most such folks, they have their own more or
less characteristic style of writing, and Tierney is a relatively low-key,
mild-mannered chap who has over the last several months, ever since he has
stepped in to try to fill the shoes of William Safier, produced a stream
of difficult to answer critiques of the modern American welfare state. And
he has done this from a principled, unbending libertarian political
economic position, not in some haphazard, catch as catch can fashion.

For this Tierney, of course, needs to pay, and Scheiber tried to deliver
the payment in a mean-minded little screed that's titled "The Times'
boring libertarianism. Second Tierney." It is the sort of condescending,
snooty and supercilious missive the aim of which appears not to show
Tierney's position mistaken, his criticisms wrongheaded, or even his
writing flawed. No, the aim seems to be to achieve something that is more
potent?to marginalized Tierney and his libertarian outlook.

Perhaps the only complaint Scheiber issues that has even the smattering
of plausibility about it is Tierney's constancy, the fact that the columns
all emanate from a principled, integrated general political economic
viewpoint. This charge has some sting in our time only because it is oh so
fashionable to be pragmatic, uncommitted, flexible?let's call it what it
is, wobbly?these days. That such a haphazard way to offer criticisms of
contemporary institutions and politics, in particular, is cool has to do
with some very important developments in recent intellectual history,
among them the onslaught of the earlier pragmatic philosophy of Charles
Peirce, William James, and John Dewey and more recently the radical
pragmatism of Richard Rorty and the post-modernism of the
deconstructionists. All of these have helped to produce an age of unreason
and disintegration in the discussion of important issues of our time. All
have discouraged respect for coherent, integrated and principled thinking.

So, if one can convince readers of The New Republic and of The New York
Times that someone about to break out of obscurity suffers from lack of
coolness this way, well one has done the demolition job without having to
do much work on the substance of what he or she has written. Dismissing
someone as an ideologue will do nearly the same damage, since that, too,
isn't cool, unless the ideology is that of the editors of The New
Republic, as well as The New York Times, namely, a relentless, blindly
faithful embrace of the potency of the coercive welfare state.

Scheiber, accordingly, doesn't even have to contend with the plain fact
that two other regular columnists at The Times are really, really
boring?Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert. Both of these blokes produce columns
galore venting their hatred for George W. Bush and anything the man
touches. They do hardly anything more in their columns than call for more
government intervention in our society, never mind the massive accumulated
evidence that such intervention has been the main culprit in producing the
problems in the country and abroad. They never fail to repeat that the
Bush tax cuts serve the rich. It is such a boring mantra that every time I
begin reading one of their columns I find myself saying, "Blah, blah,
blah." There is simply nothing new there.

But, no, it is Tierney's refreshing skepticism about statist policies
that Noam Scheiber targets for belittlement. And this of course is not
difficult to appreciate?Tierney's sober, sometimes bemused commentaries
are nothing if not the paradigm of reasonableness. And that does in fact
have the potential of gaining support from otherwise mainstream readers to
a now nearly forgotten viewpoint that used to mark the essence of
Americanism, limited government, free markets, and a foreign policy of
Washingtonian non-entanglement.

So how do we silence such a dangerous person? Never mind taking him on,
on points. No, deliver a nasty bit of smear against him?declare him not
too cool. Will it work? I hope not.

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