Kevin Williamson Doesn’t Want Women Murdered and Doesn’t Belong at The Atlantic

Argumentation without the intent to persuade is masturbation, not journalism.

Yesterday’s post, “Kevin Williamson and the Limits of Polite Discourse,” has 132 comments as of this writing. Participation in that conversation and some additional digging have deepened my resolve on two points: Williamson’s views on hanging women who have abortions have been grossly distorted and, yet, he should never have been hired by The Atlantic in the first place.

NRO’s Michael Brendan Dougherty (“Imagine A Genocide“) points to a 2015 speech Williamson gave at Hillsdale College that rather definitively gives his views on this issue (the video should automatically begin at the 26:56 mark):

As is his wont, he comes across as a condescending asshole. But he rather definitively rebuts the notion that he supports ex post facto lynching of anybody.

Dougherty—who disagrees strongly with Williamson’s position—lambastes the critics who have misrepresented it:

Now, while some might find him biting the bullet a little shocking, any literate and normal person of good faith would deduce that not every homicide is a death-penalty case, only the worst of the worst. Any such person would note that Kevin is obviously speaking in some hypothetical case where abortion is abominated sufficiently by the public that it could be criminalized and prosecuted again. And that he’s obviously talking about penalties imposed in the future, where pro-lifers believe criminalization has made abortion extremely rare.

Apparently we are not dealing with normal people, or people that are literate, or people that have good faith. And in the retelling, Kevin Williamson is said to be calling for a bloody cull of women that would make Josef Stalin blush.

Slate was a particular offender. There Osita Nwanevu described Kevin as “a man who once argued that a quarter of American women should be executed.” That was literally the entirety of the description he gave his readers. (If they were not already familiar with the controversy, what could they have thought he meant?) More recently Ruth Graham described Kevin’s rhetoric as a “breezy case for hanging nearly one-quarter of American women.” The Twitter user Popehat referred to ”his crazy-ass mass-execution ideas.” Often these descriptions of his argument were accompanied with a completely disingenuous comment that at least Williamson was being logical.

Normally, I’m pretty good at figuring out how people misled themselves, but I confess, I’m stumped on this one. They are obviously smuggling in the premise that nearly one quarter of U.S. women have had abortions. But I can’t tell if they believe that Williamson wants to impose this penalty retroactively or if they believe Williamson thinks his preferred laws criminalizing abortion would have zero effect on the abortion rate, and simply add tens of millions of adult women onto the already high body count of abortion.

I think a ten-year-old kid should be able to deduce that a society capable of criminalizing abortion would be one in which a quarter of women probably wouldn’t want or seek one. Or at least that pro-lifers believe criminal penalties would dissuade almost all women from seeking it. But now writers who make their careers based on their expertise on conservatives and pro-lifers feign this baby-like ignorance in order to inflate Williamson into a genocidaire. Apparently many readers like this. I think they look like idiots, and I feel stupid having ever read them.

Having re-tweeted at least one such argument shortly after the firing, I would offer the lame defense that many doing so had probably simply reacted to the characterizations of what Williamson had said without engaging with it. That’s rather typical on Twitter, especially, and social media in general. And, yes, as Dougherty notes, we’re especially prone to making harsh snap judgments about people on the other side of an issue. Still, he’s right: there’s no intellectually honest way to come to the conclusion that Williamson supports or ever supported the notion of hanging a quarter of American women.

Still, I don’t find defenses such as former NRO editor Jonah Goldberg‘s (“Kevin Williamson, Thought Criminal“) persuasive.

Magazines, like Churchill’s pudding, need themes.

But here is the first important distinction I’d like to make: Editors or owners should have absolute authority to control what appears in the pages of their magazines. How they exercise that authority, i.e., how much orthodoxy they want to impose or how much free-for-all they want to encourage, is a prudential question (and one I often have strong opinions about).

What editors should not have any control over is what their writers are allowed to think.

[…]

The point is that Rich Lowry, or, more relevant, Jeffrey Goldberg, would be entirely within his rights to reject any attempt by Kevin to make that argument in the pages of National Review or The Atlantic (and Kevin would be in his rights to quit over it, though I doubt he would). But there was no chance to test this because Kevin was fired for what he thinks. There were writers at the old New Republic who had unacceptably harsh views of Israel, but they weren’t fired for it. There are writers at National Review who are pro-choice, but they aren’t fired for it. They just don’t typically make that case in our pages. There are writers at every magazine out there who believe things they wouldn’t pitch to their editors. And that’s not merely normal; it’s fine.

Everyone has opinions, but opinion writers are paid to have them. As far as I can tell, most opinion writers don’t have very interesting opinions. They see their job as articulating what their audience already believes or what their editors want to hear. That’s not Kevin.

[…]

Kevin Williamson’s views on abortion put him outside the mainstream. And he was fired from The Atlantic merely for refusing to recant them.

Political scientist Jacob Levy (hat tip: James Pearce), in the course of a longish tweetstorm arguing that, because the Trump presidency constitutes a national emergency, the left ought not push away anti-Trumpers like Williamson over side issues, observed,

The answer certainly appears to be Yes. In addition to various pieces grappling with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s repeated mantra that abortion should be “rare,” there’s also, for example, Emma Green’s series interviewing abortion survivors, many of whom have deep regret over their choice.

The current theme of the magazine’s pudding may be such that even a more thoughtful articulation of Williamson’s extreme position would have been unwelcome there but I don’t see him having been fired for the “thought crime” of believing abortion is murder or even that it’s heinous enough an act to merit capital punishment but rather for having delivered that message in a particularly flippant, callous manner—and for giving his editor the idea that a long-ago tweet on the subject was a lark rather than his considered view.

Having now spent a lot more time with Williamson’s thinking on this issue than it reasonably deserved, I’m of the view that his views on the issue are perfectly within the bounds of acceptable discourse and yet am more convinced than ever that he’s intellectually and temperamentally unsuited for the pages of The Atlantic.

First, having listened to his podcast discussion with Charlie Cooke, it’s rather clear that he has trouble grappling with nuance. Second, his writing and speaking on this issue is phenomenally lacking in self-awareness. It’s perfectly fine—desirable, even—for opinion writers to take positions well outside societal orthodoxies. Having staked out such a position, however, one ought to have the good sense to not insult the 99% of the population who disagree.

As I noted yesterday in response to Jack Shafer‘s backhanded defense that Williamson is “not interested in building consensus or in gentle persuasion. He reduces all the grays to their black-and-white components. He pushes boundaries and doesn’t stop until he’s gone too far,” that’s precisely the antithesis of an Atlantic writer.

Argumentation without the intent to persuade is masturbation, not journalism.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Media, Society
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Argumentation without the intent to persuade is masturbation, not journalism.

    Well said.




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  2. drj says:

    Kevin is obviously speaking in some hypothetical case where abortion is abominated sufficiently by the public that it could be criminalized and prosecuted again.

    This doesn’t make things much better.

    I’m of the view that [Kevin Williamson’s] views on the issue are perfectly within the bounds of acceptable discourse

    Considering the reasons why women tend to have abortions, this statement comes off as incredibly callous.

    In effect, you are saying that it is “perfectly within the bounds of acceptable discourse” to argue that at some point in the future a large proportion of women will have to choose between suffering significant mental and/or physical harm and running the risk of being prosecuted for murder.

    That’s pretty cruel, no?




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  3. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    In effect, you are saying that it is “perfectly within the bounds of acceptable discourse” to argue that at some point in the future a large proportion of women will have to choose between suffering significant mental and/or physical harm and running the risk of being prosecuted for murder.

    That’s pretty cruel, no?

    Sure. I think he’s wrong, as do most if not all of those I’ve cited defending him. My argument is simply that:

    1. His critics have mischaracterized what he said.
    2. His position is intellectually defensible, if extreme.
    3. His articulation of the idea lacks intellectual nuance or awareness of how sensitive the subject is.




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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Argumentation without the intent to persuade is masturbation, not journalism.

    Love it. Now I’ll go back and read the post.




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  5. MBunge says:

    We just went through an election where the media pretended Donald Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists and he went around saying so every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of the campaign. As best I can tell, virtually none of the excuse-makers for Kevin Williamson had a problem with that.

    Yet now that the same standard is being applied to someone of their own class, we are flooded with defenses for intellectual “locker room talk.”

    Mike




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  6. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge:

    We just went through an election where the media pretended Donald Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists and he went around saying so every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of the campaign. As best I can tell, virtually none of the excuse-makers for Kevin Williamson had a problem with that.

    I think everyone I quoted in fact had a problem with that. Hell, Kevin Williamson had a problem with that.




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  7. ptfe says:

    @MBunge: This comment is just confused.

    Trump actually asserted that most Mexicans are rapists or murderers. He was excoriated for it by many, but since he lacks self reflection, he attacked the questioning press instead of addressing his obvious bigotry. Other commentators defended his bigotry, or assured their readers he didn’t actually believe what he said. He was then elected president and has proven to be unbelievably incompetent at the job – thanks in part to his lack of self reflection and his bigotry.

    Williamson asserted that the penalty for abortion should be the same as for murder. He was excoriated for it by rational people, but since he lacks self reflection, he attacked those people instead of addressing his horribly simplistic opinion. The people arguing he should be hired (or, I guess, not summarily dumped) are people who think “unpopular beliefs” and “reasoned beliefs” are the same – and they’re largely the same people who defended Trump.

    So not only are you confused about the Trump issue, you’re confused about the discussion of Williamson.

    I think James’s analysis here is solid. What’s sad is that the standard for writing for The Atlantic – a major national publication – was shown
    to be rather low. Williamson’s argument is worth engaging only in that making abortion illegal implies a penalty, and while most of the anti-abortion crowd loves to say how much they love life, they aren’t willing to look at the not-even-hidden costs of unwanted pregnancies, dangerous births, and punishing women for those abortions. Williamson simply takes the extreme view and ignores all else. If he’s chosen to both discuss the topic and ignore the nuance, he really shouldn’t be pulling a paycheck for that.




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  8. Chip Daniels says:

    I agree with Joyner’s take here, and would frame it as the fact that Williamson takes such a stark binary view of the issue, a view far outside the nuanced complex view that most ordinary people take, is what makes him in fact, NOT a “deeply thoughtful” writer as some have characterized him, but essentially a dressed up troll.




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  9. Chip Daniels says:

    @ptfe:
    The artful two-step of “taking Trump seriously-but-not-literally” reminds me of that scene in Dodgeball where Ben Stiller has this giant painting of himself wrestling a bull, and says loftily, “Oh, its a metaphor. But it really did happen.”




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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge:

    We just went through an election where the media pretended Donald Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists

    It helps to remember that with trump everything is projection. He thinks all Mexicans are rapists because he *is* one, or at the very least, the pvssy grabber in chief wants to be one.




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  11. Moosebreath says:

    “But I can’t tell if they believe that Williamson wants to impose this penalty retroactively or if they believe Williamson thinks his preferred laws criminalizing abortion would have zero effect on the abortion rate, and simply add tens of millions of adult women onto the already high body count of abortion.”

    Statements like this are why I cannot take NRO seriously on any topic under the sun. Conservatives are supposed to be the part of the body politic who point out that changing human nature is difficult, that we should learn from the lessons of history, and recognize that there are hidden costs to governmental actions.

    Instead, they are entirely whitewashing our history of when abortion was criminalized. Hint — it did not remove abortions entirely, but it drove them underground and made them far less safe. It’s almost as if they want Kermit Gosnell to be the norm, not the revolting exception.




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  12. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    2. His position is intellectually defensible, if extreme.
    3. His articulation of the idea lacks intellectual nuance or awareness of how sensitive the subject is

    Please explain #2. I would agree it is intellectually consistent (as opposed to most of the anti-abortion crowd who scream about baby-killers and murder) but I’m still not following how advocating for killing women who have abortions is defensible.

    Would you think that a White Supremacist advocating for re-instituting chattel slavery was intellectually defensible? It might be intellectually consistent with their views but that doesn’t make it morally or socially acceptable.

    Also, are you suggesting, with #3, that the only problem with advocating for killing women who have abortions is the fact that it is insensitive and will upset people?




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  13. de stijl says:

    .@James Joyner:

    His critics have mischaracterized what he said.

    I’m not sure you’ve made that case

    —.

    I used to make this argument while discussing abortion (which I’ve stopped doing because my words will not / cannot change anyone’s mind because the topic is so fraught):

    “The host has every right to decide as to how to deal with the parasite.”

    That is intentionally provocative. Perhaps too much so: it equates a fetus with a parasite. It is coldly declarative. But the intent it is to underscore the point that a third party has very limited input into how a pregnant woman should act. The reason I employed that line is that it is shocking. Intentionally so.

    I saw it (“The host has every right to decide as to how to deal with the parasite.”) as the counter-argument to the intentionally provocative statement that abortion is murder.

    But I’m also never going to be considered for the role of opinion writer for The Atlantic. If that were to inconceivably happen, I would preemptively offer up my intentionally provocative history, because that is what decent, professional people do – point out potential issues that have bearing on the gig being bandied about – you don’t blindside a potential employer because it sucks for both them and you because land mines have a tendency to explode if you poke them and you end up with the Williamson-type PR disaster:

    “We hired this awesome, insightful opinion writer! Yay us!”

    followed by

    “Regretfully, we are parting ways with writer X because she/ he expressed toxic statements in the past that we do not wish to be associated with our fine, storied publication… PR blah blah blah.”

    That situation harms both parties.

    Smash cut back to

    His critics have mischaracterized what he said.

    His critics characterized what he said said correctly (and mainly, prudently). He said what he said because, on some level, he believes it and he used declarative and clear words. Which is fine.

    Williamson has not been cheaply decontextualized by his critics.

    He said what he said and he meant what he said.




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  14. de stijl says:

    Not even addressing this Kevin Williamson direct quote:

    East St. Louis, Ill. — ‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?”

    This prose gem got lost in the abortion kerfuffle.

    Wow!

    He characterized some random black kid from East St. Louis as a 3/5 something and a “primate.”

    He put the conjectural words “white devil” into arms akimbo mom’s mouth.

    That is not a dog whistle. That is a bull horn.

    That is assuming that this scenario actually happened, and not that Williamson imagined it wrote it into his piece for flavor.




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  15. Mister Bluster says:

    We just went through an election where the media pretended Donald Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists and he went around saying so every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of the campaign.

    No one said that. Stop lying.




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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @de stijl: I have spent more than a little time in E St Louis over the years (from the late ’70s up to ’02-3) and in all that time I never had anything even close to a racially charged incident. Not saying this didn’t happen, but I am saying that I rather suspect he left out a few details, details that he may or may not even know are relevant.

    I have a list of people I would never go into STL with, much less any of the blacker neighborhoods. It’s not because they are blatantly racist or even that they are unconsciously racist, it’s because they are stupid, stupidly white, stupidly moneyed, and it goes to the bone. They aren’t bad people but I ain’t dying for their dumb cracker asses.




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  17. James Pearce says:

    yet am more convinced than ever that he’s intellectually and temperamentally unsuited for the pages of The Atlantic.

    You may be right about that, but that’s what they said when Benny Goodman first played at Carnegie Hall too.

    Point being that tastes change, aesthetics get updated, and really all that’s needed for Williamson to be deemed “suitable” for the pages of the Atlantic is for the editor or editors to say he is.




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  18. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    He characterized some random black kid from East St. Louis as a 3/5 something and a “primate.”

    That wasn’t some “random” black kid. It was one particular and specific kid that was, apparently, screaming racially charged obscenities at him.

    The kids’s behavior, and Mom’s reaction, led Williamson to believe son may have learned the terminology from Mom.

    raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge

    I know exactly what gesture he’s describing. And I’ve seen it from people (ie, primates) of all races, making it indeed the “universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.”

    a three-fifths-scale

    I recognize this as a reference to size, not the “three-fifths compromise.”

    And I don’t mean to defend the guy, but there are actual Nazis walking around these days. So we don’t need to go looking for bogeymen in every shadow.




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  19. michael reynolds says:

    The argument in defense of Williamson is identical to the argument made for decades of Republican dog whistle racism: It isn’t racism, if you make your racist point politely.

    No. Sorry. If I politely and with nuance and with shades of gray make an argument for euthanizing everyone over the age of 60, it’s still a horrifying idea. The problem with the Wannsee Conference was not a lack of politesse.




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  20. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    I recognize this as a reference to size, not the “three-fifths compromise.”

    Please, James. I know you are not remotely this naive. Williamson knows exactly what “three-fifths” means in the context of America. His choice of that particular fraction to describe a black male is anything but coincidence.




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  21. The reaction on the right to what happened to Williamson led me to a question.

    If it was wrong for The Atlantic to fire Kevin Williamson, was it also wrong for National Review to fire John Derbyshire?

    For those who may not recall, Derbyshire was dismissed as a NR contributor after a racist rant of his in another publication became public.




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  22. SKI says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yup. Very much the correct framing.




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  23. Kit says:

    @James Joyner: I’m of the view that his views on the issue are perfectly within the bounds of acceptable discourse

    Damn, James! Can you share any similar issues you consider as falling within the bounds of acceptable discourse? You know, reasonable changes to the law that would drastically alter the behaviour of one citizen in six, with the threat of violent public execution hanging (ahem) over those who might find the law itself insufficient enticement to change? In the event that you have several, feel free to limit yourself to those changes where your past actions would have been grounds for execution.




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  24. Kit says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I enjoyed reading Derbyshire, back in the day: on anything not related to politics. When that rant appeared, it really felt like he might have been on medication. Given that I’ve never seen him write anything again (not that I looked), perhaps he was simply ill.




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  25. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    His choice of that particular fraction to describe a black male is anything but coincidence.

    Naive? If I were naive, I’d hear the term “three-fifths,” ignore the context about scale completely, and jump straight to the dogwhistle stuff.

    3/5s isn’t just a reference to American history. It’s also a mathematical quantity that means “just over half.”

    Isn’t this just another episode of “Anything that can be misconstrued will be misconstrued?”




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  26. de stijl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    …in all that time I never had anything even close to a racially charged incident. Not saying this didn’t happen…

    We can’t know for certain, but I’m calling bullsh!t. And I’m declaring “shenanigans!”

    Who would ever say “white devil”?

    I can tell you who, a guy who internalized blaxploitation ’70s movies as if they were a true representation of life and decided to recreate the scene with words forty -some years later.

    This was an imagined scenario with imaginary antagonists spouting hilariously dated epithets.

    The purpose of the paragraph was “to set the scene” for Williamson’s follow-on “thoughts” on race in America. So he imagined and then wrote this false narrative.

    The antagonist is black, male, loud, rude, intrusive, belligerent, and a line stepper (perhaps habitually so). He’s putatively 14. He slyly gauges his crew’s response to his Coffee Brown era banter.

    Arms-akimbo boy then uses a gorilla chest gesture as a dominance and defiance gesture -Williamson actually used the word “primate” and then likened him to something that was a “three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg“.

    You do not just happen on that eerily particular three-fifths fraction by chance. That is purposeful.

    That is evil.

    But, hey, it’s okay because imaginary Magical Negress character called “Moms” shows up and papers over the conflict with a meaningful look – kids, man! What a burden! Williamson goes narratively awry with putting the implied “white devil” in her mouth.

    Bullsh!t, bullsh!t, bullsh!t.

    This did not happen.

    No three-fifths-scale conveniently 4′ 11″ tall mini-Snoop Dogg displaying primate dominance gestures while his Moms looked on disapprovingly but bemused and at the exact same time giving you, the narrator, a freighted and meaningful glance.

    That paragraph reeks of falsity and malice and rank racism.

    FFS, dude co-hosts a talk-show / cooking show with Martha Stewart.

    Snoop is a cuddly mensch (except for that reggae phase which was just so unspeakably horrible). Williamson conceives of a Snoop character as the ultimate ghetto predator. He writes lyrics, and damned good ones too; he creates characters and a narrative. Yeah, he probably smokes more weed than is mainstream respectable, but that’s his own damn choice.

    If you use Snoop Dogg as an avatar of male predatory ghetto-ness, you are an idiot.




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  27. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    3/5s isn’t just a reference to American history. It’s also a mathematical quantity that means “just over half.”

    Be honest. Look back at everything you’ve ever written or said or thought. When have you ever used the words “three-fifths” to describe anything but the slavery compromise?

    You are being willfully obtuse here.

    Actually, it doesn’t mean “just over half”, it means exactly 60%.




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  28. michael reynolds says:

    That paragraph reeks of falsity and malice and rank racism.

    Yep. I did some newspaper feature writing way back in my restaurant reviewing days. Feature work almost always rested on interviews. And my goodness do interview people flatly refuse to serve up neatly-packaged quotes or anecdotes. The scales fell from my eyes and I realized, Oh, if I’m going to be good at this I’m going to have to ‘sweeten’ interviews.* In fact there was no way for me to write a lot of feature pieces unless I was prepared to clean up quotes, conflate anecdotes, basically do with real people what I do with fictional characters.

    You are correct, that is a sweetened anecdote. He’s dumped a bunch of sugar into that coffee and then added two jiggers of dog whistle racism.

    *I stopped doing feature work. In my restaurant reviews I was hell unleashed because it was opinion. I was not personally comfortable in a space between reporting and opinion. It made me squirm.




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  29. SKI says:

    @James Pearce:

    I recognize this as a reference to size, not the “three-fifths compromise.”

    Just stop. This is as credible as using a swastika today and claiming that everyone should only see it as a reference to an ancient Euroasia.

    A professional writer using words understands the context that his audience has towards his phrases and words. There is literally no chance that Williamson used three-fifths without intending, at a minimum, a call to the 3/5th compromise.




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  30. michael reynolds says:

    @SKI:

    This is as credible as using a swastika today and claiming that everyone should only see it as a reference to an ancient Euroasia.

    God dammit, @SKI, I was just searching for the perfectly apt analogy, and there you go. I suck at metaphor.




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  31. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If it was wrong for The Atlantic to fire Kevin Williamson, was it also wrong for National Review to fire John Derbyshire?

    From a comment left on one of those threads under my old Nom De Guerre:

    I do think sometimes Republican politicians do dog-whistle some of this stuff, but I also think that racism has gone underground in this country to a large extent. It’s still there, but whispered.

    Now that was naive.

    Since Derbyshire’s firing, racism has spread like cancer. (He’s currently working for VDare.com now.) What if, in our desire to create no refuge for the racists, we ended up creating an entire nature preserve where they can flourish untouched by the evolutionary pressures of modern life?




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  32. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’ll agree. I’m left still wondering why Joyner is expending any effort trying to 1) defend this asshole or 2) split hairs trying to tease his garbage into acceptability.

    I suppose it may be the “everybody should get a chance to speak” shtick of academia thing operating here.

    I have no problem – zero – saying that 1) The Atlantic was monumentally stupid for giving this clown a voice, 2) that opprobrium is the appropriate response to anything this guy has to say and 3) Joyner’s staking out the wrong plot of Earth with this argument. It was bad enough with the first posting. Adding a second defense just makes it worse. Even if he wins, he loses.




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  33. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @ptfe:

    Trump actually asserted that most Mexicans are rapists or murderers.

    Trump did not say that all Mexicans are rapists or murderers. He said that all Mexicans that emigrate to the US are criminals, rapists or murderers, excepting a few that are fine people. He does not have a problem with White Mexicans that stays in Mexico.




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  34. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    3/5s isn’t just a reference to American history. It’s also a mathematical quantity that means “just over half.”

    Yes, but only one of those makes sense in the context of Williamson’s paragraph.

    Spoiler alert: he wasn’t doing math.




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  35. gVOR08 says:

    Agree. Enough bytes have been wasted on Williamson. However this has raised larger questions:
    – Do “mainstream” publications have an obligation to represent all viewpoints?
    – Or are they just making desperate marketing decisions in an age where their business model is failing?
    – If so, are they clever or stupid marketing decisions?
    – Are some viewpoints beyond the pale of polite discussion?
    – Is Republican now synonymous with Trumpist?
    – Is there any relevant “conservatism” in the US outside Trumpism?
    – Is there any intellectual content to Trumpism?
    – Are the cleaned up conservatives, Will, Stephens, Douthat, etc., providing anything of value?
    – Are there any Trumpist writers worth reading, even for “know your enemy”?
    – Are there any honest writers on the right, or is it now grifters all the way down?
    – Is the Enlightenment, the very concept of objective reality, under attack?
    – Do “mainstream” publications have an obligation to defend objective reality?
    – If “mainstream” publications wish to “expand our bubbles”, should they be hiring full throat wingnuts rather than cleaned up conservatives?




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  36. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    Snoop is a cuddly mensch (except for that reggae phase which was just so unspeakably horrible).

    Snoop may be a cuddly mensch now, but he used to genuinely scare people, mothers and feminists most especially. Much of his gangster-ness was clearly a pose, but hell, people didn’t know that back then.

    @SKI:

    There is literally no chance that Williamson used three-fifths without intending, at a minimum, a call to the 3/5th compromise.

    Yeah, there is.

    Williamson is a conservative who lacks the sensitivity that would warn him off using the term “3/5ths.” Your training, on the other hand, is so thorough that the only context possible for “3/5ths” is in reference to some bullshit that didn’t even survive the Civil War.

    I suppose it’s a good thing Williamson didn’t use the term “N scale.” You might have thought he used the N word.




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  37. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    Spoiler alert: he wasn’t doing math.

    He wasn’t?

    This was the quote:

    Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high

    He literally called this kid a “a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg” immediately followed by a reference to his height.

    If that’s dog whistling, doesn’t that make you the dog?




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  38. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: But that’s a completely separate issue. Yes, Williamson seems not to understand that, if his policies were implemented, we would in fact hang women for making desperate choices. That’s a valid rejoinder. To claim that he wants to lynch women, however, is simply disingenuous; his aim is clearly to lynch no women but abort no babies.

    @SKI: I think most positions can be advanced morally. I think chattel slavery is a settled issue, so I’m not sure what interesting arguments would be advanced for reviving it.

    @de stijl: I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue. Williamson demonstrably did not argue, as several critics charged, that we should round up every woman who has had an abortion and hang them.

    @de stijl: That he’s said some weirdly racist things further discredits him, I’d agree.

    @michael reynolds: I think Williamson’s proposal vis-a-vis abortion is repugnant but intellectually defensible. That he delivered it in the way he did makes it even less interesting.

    @Kit: I think pretty much any topic is within the bounds for honest discussion. Certainly abortion, which is opposed by a huge number of Americans, is among those topics.

    @HarvardLaw92: I don’t see how one could read a post saying Williamson is a “condescending asshole” who is “intellectually and temperamentally unsuited for the pages of The Atlantic” because he engages in “masturbation, not journalism” can be construed as a “defense of Williamson.” I’m defending honest debate. Secondarily, I’m using this case as a jumping off point for a broader discussion of where we draw the bounds of acceptable discourse as noted by @gVOR08.




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  39. R. Dave says:

    @SKI: Please explain #2 [i.e., that Williamson’s position is intellectually defensible]. I would agree it is intellectually consistent (as opposed to most of the anti-abortion crowd who scream about baby-killers and murder) but I’m still not following how advocating for killing women who have abortions is defensible.

    Would you think that a White Supremacist advocating for re-instituting chattel slavery was intellectually defensible? It might be intellectually consistent with their views but that doesn’t make it morally or socially acceptable.

    I saw you made a similar point in the other thread, SKI, and even though it was/is directed at James Joyner, it made me ponder why I see Williamson’s position on abortion as within the bounds of acceptable discourse but not the white supremacist’s position on slavery. What I’ve come up with is that the distinction, for me, rests on the acceptability of the underlying foundations for those policy positions. In the white supremacist’s case, the foundational idea is that black people are inferior to white people and/or otherwise not entitled to human rights. That foundational idea is repugnant and outside the bounds of acceptable discourse, so the policy proposal based on it – reinstatement of chattel slavery – is likewise out of bounds. In Williamson’s case, however, the foundational idea is that fetuses are human beings entitled to the moral and legal protections afforded to any person. I disagree with that, at least in the early stages of pregnancy, but I don’t consider it repugnant or unworthy of discussion, so the policy proposal based on it – prohibition of abortion and legal sanction like any other unlawful killing – strikes me as similarly within the bounds of acceptable discourse.




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  40. Kit says:

    @James Joyner: I think pretty much any topic is within the bounds for honest discussion.

    Really? Slavery? Pedophilia? Fascism? Homosexuality as an abomination? Women as inherently subservient to men? I could go on, but perhaps I’ll limit myself to a single question: what percentage of a presidential debate should be limited to discussing these questions?




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  41. James Joyner says:

    @Kit:

    Slavery?

    I think this one is basically settled morally and legally. I suppose I’d listen to an argument, say, that indentured servitude would be a more useful punishment than imprisonment for certain offenses that primarily injure a single party rather than society.

    Pedophilia?

    There are reasonable debates as to age cutoffs, Romeo and Juliet laws, what constitutes “child porn” in an era when teens are sexting, and the like. The general notion is pretty well settled.

    Fascism?

    We’re having that one daily.

    Homosexuality as an abomination?

    Clearly, a huge chunk of society believes that. We’ve made that chunk smaller by debating it.

    Women as inherently subservient to men?

    We’ve been having that debate for generations with the positive effect of making women less subservient.

    what percentage of a presidential debate should be limited to discussing these questions?

    I would much prefer this to the drivel that passes for “debates” now.




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  42. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m defending honest debate. Secondarily, I’m using this case as a jumping off point for a broader discussion of where we draw the bounds of acceptable discourse

    You’re defending what you see as the limits of honest debate defined within the academic context of civility to ideas. Not to be condescending about it, but the underlying intent of this series of posts – what you actually wanted to accomplish – was exceedingly transparent from the outset. I think 15 steps ahead for a living, no offense intended.

    You’ve been getting (very thinly) coded messages from me in response for a good while now that amount to “your definition of the limits of acceptable discourse is quite a bit broader than mine is. Maybe you should rethink it. Alternatively, as I have no interest in participating in what would amount to a philosophy class, perhaps it’s time to gracefully say goodbye if your intent is to turn this place into one …”.

    Regardless, at a minimum, my concept of acceptable discourse doesn’t involve giving reprehensible people or their reprehensible ideas one second of consideration in the name of fairness. Mine involves destroying them. You don’t have a discussion with Nazis about the finer points of genocide. You don’t have a discussion about the finer points of whether women should be hanged for getting an abortion. More to the point, you do not acknowledge such ideas, or the people who promulgate them, as being deserving of any consideration in the first place. When someone argues that Nazis deserve to be heard along with everybody else, that someone shouldn’t be surprised if they get lumped in with Nazis by default.

    For some topics, there is no middle ground and there is no neutral zone. You chose to use one of them as your test case here. How’d that one go for ya?

    It’s your board, so you should certainly do as you please with it, but don’t be surprised if the response isn’t holding hands and singing around a campfire.




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  43. Kit says:

    @James Joyner:

    You really think that any of these issues is off the table when you are ready to countenance public execution for the actions of one sixth of the population? I think you are sadly delusional about the nature of power. I’d also go so far as to say that your concern for the potential tyranny of the majority over the minority runs an inch deep.

    Again, I’d like you to give me a single issue that you are ready and eager to debate where your past actions would merit death under some proposed change in the law.




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  44. James Pearce says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Regardless, at a minimum, my concept of acceptable discourse doesn’t involve giving reprehensible people or their reprehensible ideas one second of consideration in the name of fairness. Mine involves destroying them.

    Who gets to determine what ideas are too reprehensible to discuss?




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  45. Kit says:

    @James Joyner: I would much prefer this [discussing the boundaries of slavery, the abomination of homosexuality, the subservience of women, etc. during a presidential debate] to the drivel that passes for “debates” now.

    In a country where elections are decided by razor-thin majorities, you’d feel better if these basic principles were in play? I shake my head in wonder at how the term conservative made a volte face in what seems like a blink of an eye.




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  46. Eric Florack says:

    Liberals, obviously.




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  47. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: So you’re saying that even though he could have chosen any fraction or another comparison of size, it was only by pure innocent coincidence he chose the single fraction most inextricably tied to America’s history of black slavery.

    That doesn’t just strain credulity, it burns credulity to the ground and pisses on its ashes.

    If that’s dog whistling, doesn’t that make you the dog?

    No, it makes me someone who recognizes racism rather than making ludicrous excuses for it.




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  48. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Will “coincidences” never cease? …

    😀




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  49. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    Who gets to determine what ideas are too reprehensible to discuss?

    Unfortunately, not you. You haven’t accumulated enough any cool kid points. Keep trying though. One day you may level up.




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  50. teve tory says:
  51. teve tory says:

    @Mikey: When the subject is black people, Pearce goes half-klansman. Every time.




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  52. Kit says:

    @James Pearce: Who gets to determine what ideas are too reprehensible to discuss?

    James, I remember when you first popped up on this site, with your rather outre avatar. Despite appearances, you quickly established yourself as one of the regulars worth reading. But for some time now, your posts are mostly limited to making a single point, over and over. You mostly prefer to do this succinctly and sourly, to a general cascade of down votes. Now and then, you spend a bit of time to shade in some detail, to more positive results. What happened?

    And now this. I’m tempted to reply to all your future posts with some variation of this, even if it’s only to question who gets to say that the sky is blue.




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  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m defending honest debate. Secondarily, I’m using this case as a jumping off point for a broader discussion of where we draw the bounds of acceptable discourse

    While we’re on the subject, I’ll posit a supposition: I think that maybe the deeper underlying purpose is possibly aligned towards “this place is entirely too skewed towards one political / social / economic / etc belief structure. Maybe I can make it more well-rounded …”

    If so, best of luck (and I mean that sincerely). I’d love nothing more than to have 10 (or 50 …) more HAL 10000’s around here, except perhaps if those 10/50/however many HAL 10000’s were also able to replace the peanut gallery (and the one lone contrarian shouting at clouds …) that passes for the conservative position on this forum.

    Methinks, though, it’s an idea destined for failure – 1) because there unfortunately just aren’t enough HAL 10000’s to go around and 2) because people, across societies and across history, have (across every categorization imaginable) stubbornly evinced a determination to self-segregate and resisted efforts to the contrary. Perhaps it’s human nature, who can say, but I think it will probably be a little more difficult to accomplish than simply upending the pool with an unpopular subject test case.

    But if this turns into a libertarian bar, I’m out of here 😀




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  54. michael reynolds says:

    @R. Dave:
    I agree as to the underlying issue. I’ve always admitted that pro-lifers have a case. In the abstract. But this issue goes from abstract to real world very fast. And in the real world the question becomes much simpler: who decides the fate of a fetus inside a woman? The choices are: 1) government, 2) the woman. That’s really it. Power over a woman’s body either goes to her or to the government.

    Or to put it another way, can the government compel a woman to give birth once she is pregnant? And that moves quickly into gross violations of privacy. I mean, how do you know if a woman is pregnant or not? The idea that enforcement could be limited just to the procedure itself is nonsense. These would be state laws, made in places like Mississippi and Arkansas, and if abortion remained legal one state over, wouldn’t the pro-lifers push for legislation to stop their citizens from driving 50 miles to commit murder? Would it be so wrong to monitor sales of pregnancy tests if it saves a baby’s life?

    Then there is the imposition of a lifetime of obligation, because you’re not just telling a woman she has to give birth, but also that she will have a child to feed and raise. And let’s not forget the women mutilated or killed in back alley abortions. And the number of pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Or the number of pregnancies that occur in children too young to have the capacity for consent, and for whom childbirth can be fatal. Or the fact that even in the US, women do still die in childbirth.

    The pro-life POV has an argument to make right up until the abstract meets the real. Once that happens the pro-choice side of the argument is clearly more rational. Once you work through the likely downstream effects of both POVs, the moral math changes dramatically, because it’s not, ‘save a baby’ it’s also subordinate women and deprive them of control over their own bodies.

    Now add to that a discussion of whether, in a pro-life world, it’d be reasonable to hang mothers who’d had an abortion. At that point an idea plausible in the abstract, and utterly impractical and misogynistic in the real world, morphs into the macabre.




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  55. James Pearce says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Liberals, obviously.

    Nah. Liberals would be more skeptical of that particular tyrant.

    @Mikey:

    No, it makes me someone who recognizes racism rather than making ludicrous excuses for it.

    I’m not making ludicrous excuses for racism. I just don’t think Williamson is clever enough to craft a sentence that describes the appearance of this kid, in very vivid language, while also dog-whistling his unforgivable racism. You’re giving him too much credit, seeing monsters in the shadows.
    @HarvardLaw92:

    You haven’t accumulated enough any cool kid points.

    You think I give a shit about “cool kid points?”

    @teve tory:

    Pearce goes half-klansman

    No offense, but if that’s what you think, you wouldn’t know a klansman if they were burning a cross on your front yard.

    @Kit:

    What happened?

    I’m still worth reading, Kit, and engaging. If I make a point over and over it’s because YOU get it…and the people I’m arguing with don’t.

    And that’s 5:00PM. My succinct and sour ass is going home.




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  56. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And it doesn’t stop there. Once we have accepted the premise that the state has a segue into violating a woman’s privacy in the interest of the fetus she is carrying, what stops these people from instituting laws using the police and regulatory powers of the state to impose consequences for decisions made by the mother which cause some degree of harm to the fetus short of termination? What stops them from instituting laws regulating behavior with regard to pregnant women to prevent such harm?

    If a woman drinks alcohol while pregnant, is she culpable for child abuse? If she goes surfing, crashes her board and that decision instigates a miscarriage, is she culpable for manslaughter? Can the state regulate her behavior in ways intended to prevent harm to the fetus that fall short of termination?

    If not, why not?. Because that state of affairs is the logical endpoint of the pro-life argument. To be logically and substantively consistent, a pro-lifer has no choice but to accept that such laws are permissible under what they cite – preservation of fetal life – as the justifying factor for their actions.




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  57. MarkedMan says:

    @James Pearce:

    Isn’t this just another episode of “Anything that can be misconstrued will be misconstrued?”

    No




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  58. Modulo Myself says:

    Pro-life people need to believe that abortion happens because women hate the idea of children. It’s an appalling conception of life that comes straight from the lizard brain of racists and scum. You can make a case–based on strict Christian theology–that fearing the love and pain of bringing a child into the world when you aren’t ready for this child is a sin. But so is everything. We are all sinners, according to Christianity.

    That’s why ‘expanding the discourse’ doesn’t work with Williamson and his ilk. They simply don’t care. In their world, women have abortions because they’re selfish whores, no different than a Nazi following orders. They’re misogynistic trash, and nothing more.




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  59. Franklin says:

    @MBunge:

    the media pretended Donald Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists

    Oh, you’re right, it wasn’t all Mexicans, it was Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

    If only “some” are good people, it sure sounds like he thinks most Mexican immigrants are bad.




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  60. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “his aim is clearly to lynch no women but abort no babies.”

    Somehow, the necessity of explaining to a self-described conservative why a person who has good intentions which are laughably unrealistic is someone who should not be viewed as having much to contribute to public discourse is not something I ever expected to have to do. Do you really think that is a good way for either of us to spend our time?




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  61. Jim Brown 32 says:

    People, people….. you’re overthinking this way too much. When I was a kid, there was always that other kid on the bus you’d say anything too because you know they’d freak out and entertain everyone for the rest of the bus ride with some sort of emotional outburst–tears, anger, whatever. The key was to always find that trigger point for that particular day to set them off.

    That what these guys do…they don’t take their own bu11$h1t seriously. Yet we have academics hand ringing and pearl clutching about the value of considering every idea. Fine, that’s what academics are supposed to do…push the limits. What academics don’t get…is that anything engineered by humans (machines, electronics, mental models, etc) must resonate with the frailties of human reasoning and irrationality. Human factors can make the best engineered widget, idea, model, etc–into abject failures (See BetaMax). To round out the analogy…Williams’ (or whoever this goon is) ideas will meet the real-world of non-academics–and create a response. The fact that academics don’t like the response doesn’t invalidate our reactions. If anything…its a datapoint for academics to consider in evaluating ideas…instead of what they normally do: Evaluate ideas by what other academics think about them.

    You want to know the dark side of what academia can do? You do realize that the concept of black inferiority originated in 17th century “enlightenment” academia right? A concept that provided moral cover for 4 centuries of exploitation of people based solely on skin pigmentation. Is that an extreme idea still intellectually defensible?

    @James Pearce:
    White splaining is 20th century man–join us in the 21st. I guarantee you no black person would give this turd a pass because of his historical audience. “Three fifths” was deliberately chosen because of its connection to the mathematical description of the ratio of humanity to be assigned to a black man for every full measure of humanity assigned to a white man by Congress. Did I cover all the bases?




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  62. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    You think I give a shit about “cool kid points?”

    You were whining about downvotes earlier, so yea, I think you do …




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  63. Kit says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I agree, but I’d put another spin on the issue. When the abstract meets the real, a pro-life philosophy would turn serious. If you care about babies, you’d ensure that the mother had good health care before and after birth. You would happily spend the pittance to see that milk got pumped into all babies. You’d support maternity leave and quality education, including sex education. Birth control would be readily available. Protecting the environment would be a priority. You would value life over choice, and see that firearms were strictly regulated. You would not tolerate seeing the police kill innocents. You would recoil in horror at senseless wars, including feel-good killing from afar by bomb and by drone. If the Abortion Wars were a boxing match, you’d be happy to win on points instead of only caring for a brutal KO. In a word, you’d reject the culture of death promoted by the Right, and start voting Democrat. That’s what you would do when the abstract met the real.




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  64. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m not making ludicrous excuses for racism. I just don’t think Williamson is clever enough to craft a sentence that describes the appearance of this kid, in very vivid language, while also dog-whistling his unforgivable racism.

    Have you read anything else the guy has written? “He’s not clever enough” doesn’t fly, because if nothing else he’s a clever polemicist. He could have chosen any one of a dozen descriptors for a black kid’s size relative to Snoop Dogg, but he chose the one specifically used to describe the amount of personhood accorded black slaves in America. That was no coincidence or accident.

    Also, what @Jim Brown 32 said.




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  65. ptfe says:

    @Kit: Gotta admit, this comment thread evolved into something 1000 times more interesting than any Williamson & ilk anti-abortion discussion probably should.

    I’m also wary of the creep of “reasoned discourse” that doesn’t actually contain reason. A half-presented argument made in bad faith can be made to sound reasonable, but all too often the intent is to obfuscate or simply elide the reasons why that argument is trash. Abortion has fallen into that category: anti-abortion zealots insist they want this one particular thing, but they simultaneously refuse to talk about the consequences and implications of it. If you ask a PP protester about particulars – how do you know a woman is pregnant? what responsibility does the state have for pre-birth and post-birth well-being of the mother and fetus in a society where abortion is illegal? are there behavioral consequences for pregnant women? who pays to support a pregnant woman who can’t work? who pays for the child of a woman without those resources? do we have an obligation to offer psychological services to women whose pregnancies go south but who are forced to carry to term? is every sperm sacred? etc – you’ll get a mash of worn stereotypes about women and the poor, lazy arguments about life at conception, icky feelings, religious quotes, and “I never had that problem” anecdotes, almost none of which will be based in reality.

    What’s sad is that “serious” right-wing columnists these days are about as functional as these protesters. There’s no reason to engage their arguments when the purpose is to shock progressives while winking and nudging at their teammates. Williamson thinks he’s provocative and interesting. He’s really just yelling “Delta Tau Chi rules!” and streaking campus.




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  66. Mikey says:

    Here’s an interesting “meta” take on why Williamson and other notable columnists of the American right can find it difficult to transition to “mainstream” publications.

    https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/983002767076753408.html




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  67. gVOR08 says:

    @Mikey: Very good link. No idea who Elizabeth Bruening is, but better analyst than Williamson. Maybe The Atlantic should hire her.




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  68. gVOR08 says:

    Dr. Krugman rang in on the Williamson kerfuffle today, or really that economics has the same problem.

    As others have pointed out, the real problem here is that media organizations are looking for unicorns: serious, honest, conservative intellectuals with real influence. Forty or fifty years ago, such people did exist. But now they don’t.

    There are serious conservative economists who Krugman respects, but they have no sway in the Republican Party. The people who matter are clowns like Kudlow. This is not mirrored on the left.

    And I think that’s true across the board. The left has genuine public intellectuals with actual ideas and at least some real influence; the right does not. News organizations don’t seem to have figured out how to deal with this reality, except by pretending that it doesn’t exist. And that’s why we keep having these Williamson-like debacles.




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  69. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Or take it further–any woman who gets pregnant knowing that she has difficulty carrying to term and who has a miscarriage should be considered guilty of negligent homicide because of not carrying out the Duty of Care.

    (Welp, that disposes of Mom. Two stillbirths and one miscarriage before I managed to live. )




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