Part 1—Our Tribe’s Own Moral Scold: We aren’t huge fans of Nicholas Kristof’s twice-weekly New York Times columns.
In our view, Kristof is becoming a relentless moral scold—the type of scold who convinces people to stay away from liberals and progressives. His January 25 column constitutes a good (or bad) example of this censorious drive.
Kristof wrote about a high school friend who had just died at age 54. As is increasingly his wont, he turned this into an occasion to denigrate all The Others. He delivered a scolding to the many Americans whose moral judgments are less fine than his own.
Headline included, this is the way hiss column began. By his third paragraph, Kristof was scolding “lots of Americans” for what he imagined them thinking:
KRISTOF (1/25/15): Where's the Empathy?No one does it quite as well as Our Own Dimmesdale—Our Own Upper-Class Moral Scold!
YAMHILL, Ore.—The funeral for my high school buddy Kevin Green is Saturday, near this town where we both grew up.
The doctors say he died at age 54 of multiple organ failure, but in a deeper sense he died of inequality and a lack of good jobs.
Lots of Americans would have seen Kevin—obese with a huge gray beard, surviving on disability and food stamps—as a moocher. They would have been harshly judgmental: Why don’t you look after your health? Why did you father two kids outside of marriage?
That acerbic condescension reflects one of this country’s fundamental problems: an empathy gap. It reflects the delusion on the part of many affluent Americans that those like Kevin are lazy or living cushy lives.
Can we talk? No “Americans” had said a word about Kristof’s friend, the late Kevin Green, who recently died at age 54.
But as the moral scolds typically do, Kristof hears voices in his head. They're never as fine as the voice Kristof hears emerging from his own lips and mouth.
Breaking news—Nicholas Kristof doesn’t hear America singing! Like the most censorious scold, he hears “many Americans” being “harshly judgmental.”
He hears them giving voice to “acerbic condescension,” which stems from their “empathy gap.” No one had said a word about Kristof’s friend. But this is what Dimmesdale heard.
No one had said a word about Green, so Kristof took it upon himself to denigrate Green for them! In the process, he wrote a deeply peculiar column about his late friend, and even about his late friends’ children—a column which may be deeply embarrassing to Kevin Green’s survivors.
Who died and made Nicholas Kristof the king of Dana Carvey’s “church ladies?” We have no idea. But let’s note a few basic points:
According to Kristof’s account, his friend had led a difficult adult life.
He seems to have died in a state of poverty or near-poverty, though Kristof gives only a partial account. His children had problems with the law. His driver’s license had been revoked. He had been in a state of bad health.
Kristof says his friend was a good person. We know of no reason to doubt that. But also, let’s try to understand another set of facts, which we glean from Kristof’s peculiar column:
Despite their condescension and their empathy gap, the American people had been providing Kristof’s friend with Social Security disability payments; with food assistance through SNAP (which Kristof insists on calling “food stamps”); and, presumably, with health care financed by Medicaid.
For his part, Kristof’s friend had failed to pay child support, leading to the revocation of his driver’s license. He had gotten arrested for (apparently minor) drug offenses.
As noted above, his friend’s twin boys, for whom his friend didn’t pay that support, “had trouble in school and with the law, jailed for drug and other offenses.”
Does this mean that Kristof’s late friend wasn’t a good person? We rarely make judgments of that type, and we wouldn’t do so in this case. But once again, let’s be clear—no “Americans” had said a word about any of these problems.
Despite this silence, Kristof decided to lecture the nation about how immoral “many Americans” are, after writing a column which may be deeply embarrassing to those who survive his friend.
At the end of his column, Kristof was still upset by the lack of empathy he was imagining. As he closed his sermon, Our own Dimmesdale was stewing about how uncaring The Others are:
KRISTOF: So, Kevin Green, R.I.P. You were a good man—hardworking and always on the lookout for someone to help—yet you were overturned by riptides of inequality. Those who would judge you don’t have a clue. They could use a dose of your own empathy.No one had judged Kevin Green, nor do we judge him today. As the week proceeds, we will ask questions about Kristof himself—more specifically, about Kristof’s judgment, based on this rather strange column and a fair number of others.
In our view, Kristof is turning into one of the worst examples of a familiar type, the condemnatory moral scold. As a columnist, it seems to us that Kristof is becoming a bit of a basket case.
That said, Kristof is almost completely in line with every part of the current Pseudo-Liberal Project, and that is nowhere more true than when it comes to matters of race.
Good God! Kristof just finished a five-part series of columns about racial issues which bore this headline: “When White People Don’t Get It.”
At no point in the course of those columns did it seem to occur to Kristof that there might be something about some racial issue that he himself may not “get.” It wasn't clear that a person could disagree with him in some way without thereby earning the put-down lodged in those column titles.
In Kristof’s ringing formulation, many Americans just “don’t get it.” Absurd condescension much?
Let’s be clear. We have no doubt that Kristof’s values and intentions are good in all these matters. More specifically, we have no doubt that his values and intentions are good when it comes to matters of race.
That’s why the recent treatment of Kristof reveals so much about the drift of modern pseudo-liberalism.
You see, after that five-part series of columns in which Kristof gave voice to every conceivable aspect of pseudo-liberal thinking on race, Kristof issued a tweet on a racial topic which wasn’t perfect in every respect! In response to that failure, Joan Walsh of the new Salon offered one of the strangest of all pseudo-liberal comments.
All week long, we’ll be thinking about Kristof’s recent series of scolding columns. We’ll also think about his post-tweet crucifixion by gangs of pseudo-progressives.
No one tries harder than Kristof to swear allegiance to every aspect of New Progressive Thought. For that reason, his crucifixion helps us see the ways we pseudo-progressives practice and study to fail.
Should Nicholas Kristof’s imperfect tweet consign him to the “enemy camp?” Commissar Walsh says she respects this act of deportation!
Tomorrow: Our Tribe's Own Enemies List!