Part 1—The lassitude of the liberal: Just what keeps us pseudo-liberals from building a serious politics?
Consider the latest column by Gail Collins, one of the laziest pseudo-liberals currently found on the planet.
Last Saturday, Charles Blow stirred himself to type 103 words for his own New York Times column. “Enjoy,” he directed his underserved readers as he concluded his thoughts. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/30/12.)
Collins’ piece sat on the same page—and her work may have been even lazier. As she often does, the lazy, pseudo-liberal star started with an apology:
COLLINS (4/28/12): A Very Pricey PineappleCollins frequently does this. On this day, she wanted to discuss “the topic of privatization of public education.” But she was sure that her readers were too flighty to consider so deadly a topic without some trickeration on the part of the “journalist.”
Let’s talk about talking pineapples.
Actually (spoiler alert!) I’m going to use the pineapple as a sneaky way to introduce the topic of privatization of public education. I was driven to this. Do you know how difficult it is to get anybody to read about “privatization of education?” It’s hell. A pineapple, on the other hand, is something everybody likes. It’s a symbol of hospitality. Its juice is said to remove warts. And you really cannot beat the talking-fruit angle.
Can you imagine Paul Krugman starting a column this way? Yesterday’s highly worthwhile piece might have looked something like this:
KRUGMAN REWRITTEN (4/30/12): A Very Hot Movie StarHaving aroused our interest this way, Krugman would then inch forward, offering tiny dollops of thought about unemployment in Spain.
Let’s talk about Penelope Cruz, a movie star from Spain who gets plenty of work.
Actually (spoiler alert!) I’m going to use Cruz as a sneaky way to introduce the topic of the unemployment rate among younger workers in Spain. I was driven to this. Do you know how difficult it is to get anybody to read about the unemployment rate in Spain? It’s hell. Cruz, on the other hand, is someone everybody enjoys looking at, especially men. Sometimes she even plays smoky sex scenes. You really cannot beat this angle.
Collins frequently starts her columns this way, killing time and insulting her readers’ intelligence before she has to start voicing any actual thoughts. Indeed, Collins can kill a lot of time before addressing that task. On Saturday, she dallied for 328 words before she penned the highlighted sentence, in which we “finally” got the word:
COLLINS: Now—finally—we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center...Collins’ full column ran 824 words. Skillfully, she burned 40 percent of her space before announcing her “central point.” And when she finally reached her alleged point, she had very little to offer. In several major ways, her comments made no sense at all.
That’s a matter we’ll start to discuss in tomorrow’s post.
Can we talk? Collins showed no sign of knowing much about any educational topic this day. She wandered about the countryside, offering conventional, single-sentence complaints about a wide range of familiar topics. Some of her haiku concerned the public schools of Texas, a state about which she is—God help us!—apparently writing a book.
Extra-credit reading assignment:
Can you find anything Collins said about Texas schools that couldn’t have come from a single source—from this high-profile cover story in last September’s Texas Observer? Does it sound to you, as it does to us, that Collins may have cadged the heart of her column from this piece, which wasn’t exceptionally sharp to begin with?
On the same day Blow typed his 103 words (102 not counting "Enjoy"), Collins killed time in her usual fashion. Watching her pretend to discuss the public schools, we thought of Marshall McLuhan’s famous complaint in Annie Hall: “You know nothing of my work...How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!”
We’re often amazed by the fact that Collins gets to write a column at all. But glancing through Saturday’s comment thread, a second unfortunate fact emerges.
Collins strikes us as a consummate fraud—a lazy, know-nothing pseudo-liberal. But let's return to our opening question: Why can’t we liberals build a serious, winning, progressive politics?
The scribe is a fraud—but omigod! It’s clear that we “liberals” can’t tell!
Tomorrow: Concerning that “central point”