The guy should resign. So simple it pains me to say it. Here, let's go a step further: the idiots who hired Domenech should resign.
[Update while writing this long thing: Um, he resigned. Two days ago. I guess that's what I get for not reading news blogs over the weekend! Damn, but I'm not going to let this post go to waste. If nothing else, let us memorialize this guy for trying his best.]
[Note, note, note: This is a lot of time to spend on an undistinguished right wing columnist. But in fairness, the Domenech debacle (as Michelle Malkin rightly called it) underscores the intellectual bankruptcy of a certain segment of the commentariat, and the reactions to his resignation in the right wing blogosphere - 'The lefties were out to get him! It's not fair!' - are among the most childish, embarrssing things I've ever seen written about politics. Between the Domenech affair and 'Rathergate' you've got a nice textbook demonstration of masturbatory self-regard and hypocrisy. This post is, I hope, something more considered and generous. It's almost churlish to say 'it's more than he deserves,' but it is - in magnitude only. In generosity, I figure it's what a young kid is entitled to. Heh. Indeed!]
OK, that aside, here's some of the guy's writing, selected from the pieces he links to on his website. On Terry Schiavo:
What you think about the death of Terri Schiavo depends a lot on your personal experience. You may think her passing was a tragic commentary on our society. You may think her death was just the end of a sad and shameful process. You may still feel lingering anger toward whomever you blame -- a husband with questionable motives, a legal precedent that devalues life or the oft-mentioned tidal wave of judicial activism.
There are certainly easy targets for this frustration: first among them is her husband Michael Schiavo, who may indeed have loved Terri, but showed a different attitude through his actions -- becoming engaged to another woman, with whom he now has two children -- in the years since Terri’s accident. There is a judge marked for his stubbornness over seven years of rebuttals to Terri’s parents. There is the normal chorus of groups who work daily in favor of the devaluation of life -- the activists, the lawyers and even the churches who long ago forgot that ours is a faith that honors each life as a unique creation, made in the image of God.
Many good people in the Christian, pro-life and conservative community spoke out loudly in Terri’s favor. They tried to find a legal solution that would prevent Mr. Schiavo’s opinion from standing. They tried to use political avenues to achieve a just result for Terri’s parents. They invested all of their effort into trying to find a solution that would not result in death.
The writing in this column isn't bad at all. It's merely shallow and wrong - in its invocation of 'judicial activism' and tawdry rhetoric of a 'culture of death,' in its casual dismissal of Michael Schiavo and ignorant embrace of a 'marriage is more important than life' philosophy (how old is this kid again?) - but people have a right to be wrong. Moreover, the article doesn't directly reference the flat-out lies that characterized so many 'pro-life' positions in the Schiavo fracas (such as Brill Frist's unethical, unprofessional, despicable attempts to turn the debate by leaning on his M.D. in service of his political aspirations). When Domenech talks about the 'slow, painful dehydration of one woman' he's indulging in a fantasy, of course - the ennobling power of Christian suffering embodied by, we should mention, a vegetable. But his heart is in the right place here, I think. He really believes that she was alive and kicking in there, that she has an immortal soul, that we'll be judged by God for how this daughter of Christ was treated after large parts of her brain had turned to cerebrospinal fluid.
It's no surprise that this kid turns to a metaphysical explanation for his reaction to the case - his religious beliefs require him to deny the mere physical explanation in favour of unfalsifiable claims about the Almighty and so forth. But let's leave that aside - we're just taking a tour through his writing, is all, and this isn't the time to rehash the Terry Schiavo case (though I do hope some non-zealot is writing a book about that cultural flashpoint).
More Ben Domenech, this time writing about The West Wing:
Bartlet, by any measure, is Hollywood's version of a liberal Gipper, and Sheen plays him to the hilt. He's an undiluted liberal Democrat from the Northeast, with a Founding Father in his bloodline and a passion for economics. He's emphatically pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control, a champion of gays in the military, and a vociferous fan of campaign finance reform-though there's no word yet on how he actually got elected with such left-of-center views. The creation of Aaron Sorkin (who wrote the movie The American President, another piece of Oval Office fluff starring Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas), Bartlet is Clinton without the skirt-chasing flaws, a man with a common touch, a huge heart, and an aura of adult responsibility. He is a president designed to satisfy any liberal's wildest dreams, the antidote to the juvenile activity that the left has had to endure (and support) for the past eight years. He's too good to be true; you can't help but admire the guy.
I don't care for The West Wing precisely because it strikes me as an uninvolving piece of overwrought liberal-wish-fulfillment pabulum. But Domenech's problem is slightly different, as you can see. He's (a) fixated on Clinton as an unrighteous bugbear, (b) slave to a caricature of the 'left' in the U.S. that's only loosely coupled to Democratic reality, and (c) ...actually you should just read this bit.
In one episode, Sorkin had the head White House staffers agonize over new polling data which showed the American people believe that "the era of big government is past" on the eve of Bartlet's State of the Union address. The President, after much contemplation, decides to take the "principled" position-he disagrees with the poll.
There's nothing that quite rallies your grassroots support like the clarion call of "big government forever."
[A] new character named Ainsley Hayes (played by Emily Proctor), a young conservative who was hired as a White House counsel after mopping the floor with the Deputy Communications Director (Rob Lowe) on a political TV show, might bring a slightly less skewed viewpoint to the show-but don't expect much.
Domenech apparently thinks that, in 2000, a conservative opinion was 'less skewed' than a liberal one by default. But he's not interested in asking why, nor for that matter is he capable of it (he's not actually capable of evaluating The West Wing as drama, either, but we'll leave that aside entirely). 'Why' amounts to nothing more than: 'because we're right.' I keep forgetting he's got God on his side. As for his response to the 'big government' poll - give me a break. Only pie-in-the-sky fools and paid consultants could utter banalities like 'the era of big government is over,' even in 2000. Domenech wants that to be true as an article of faith, but you can't help but be amused at the spectacle of a pundit tut-tutting a reflective, discursive piece of entertainment by negatively comparing it to an article of Republican faith. Should a show like The West Wing have inhabited a different fantasy world in which the Republican leadership was committed to smart fiscal policy and pragmatic economics rather than reflexive capitalist boosterism and magical 'Lower taxes!' incantations? Maybe. But it would have reflected even less on reality than Bartlet's fighting liberal stance.
(The scare quotes around 'principled' are merely childish, in this case. It's apparent from Domenech's writing that he can't conceive of liberal principles, even to attack them fairly. That's not the same thing as pointing out the hypocrisy of, say, 'small government' conservatives rejoicing over hundred-billion-dollar defense spending increases and displays of hegemonic military might, but again, that's a distinction generally lost on movement conservatives, for concrete social/historical reasons.)
OK - his writing about art is polemical and high-handed, but most political hacks writing about art are that way. And a moral/ethical framework for artistic evaluation isn't stupid, just incomplete. Leave it all aside.
Here's Ben Domenech writing on the eve of George W. Bush's inaugural:
[Bush] knows that the best way of silencing the nattering nabobs spewing talk of "illegitimacy" is to display his proven ability to lead. Bush is a good man for this job; in Texas, his boldness and folksy charm combined to create an aura of bipartisan unity around his administration.
It's hard to read this and not laugh, or spit up blood and bile. The 'nattering nabobs' were (as we now know) right in their belief that the first Bush presidency was by most reasonable standards 'illegitimate'; the thuggery and intimidation tactics of the GOP machine in Florida, and illegal disqualification of many, many legal votes, have been forgotten by a national press eager to go back to sleep, but history will not forget. You can read that travesty as a synecdoche for Bush's entire presidency, but let's stick to mid-length blog posts, shall we? Domenech comes out with a bizarre qualification for Bush, namely the 'aura of bipartisan unity' his gubernatorial administration supposedly exuded. I'm not up on my 90's Texas press, but according to most observers there's nothing about Bush that demonstrates a 'proven ability to lead,' and in 2001 there was even less to go off of: several failed businesses and an old coke habit.
Domenech desperately wanted to believe, like so many people, that Bush was a 'uniter, not a divider.' Those people were fools - they were obviously fools from the start, though in a rare fit of graciousness the press has decided not to point out that fact, or else has simply forgotten (more likely). But read the column in retrospect and you see something much more disturbing than mere foolishness:
This inaugural speech will give Bush a chance to seize the momentum rightly due a newly elected president. [My emphasis. -w.] It also will give him the opportunity to speak to the minds and hearts of the American people, to reach out to a disconsolate and disinterested electorate, to unite this country in purpose and in truth.
[...]"Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how the walls of Jerusalem lieth in waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall together, that we may be no more a reproach." Nehemiah 2:17
These are the words that President-elect Bush can use. This is the example he should look to. What better call is there to national unity than this? Our nation is strong, rich, and powerful, but our heart has turned away. Bush has the opportunity to ignore the past calm traditions of the inaugural speech, and deliver a clarion call backed with the force of will and solemn commitment. He has the chance to issue a charge of unity, a command to rebuild and strengthen our institutions of law and society: our schools, our churches, our defenses, our courts, and our communities.
If you're up on your evangelic rhetorical coding, the combination of these passages and Domenech's eagerness for Bush's 'slate of nominees' should ring a bell. The talk of national unity emphasizes strength, force, power, and...'past calm traditions,' institutions of law, churches, courts (and communities dead last of course). This is Christian social-reformation talk through and through, and nothing more. Domenech isn't a relaxed Bible-reading observer; this is militant language couched in aww-shucks Biblical terms. His disingenuous talk of the momentum 'due a newly elected president' is ludicrous on face, but more importantly it points up the same self-abnegating authoritarian impulses that characterize the political leanings of so many movement conservatives. (Of course self-abnegation is nothing new to Christians, and more power to 'em I say if they want to cede power to everyone else, but movement conservatives definitely do not. The lust for power that you then want to give up to the Messiah of the moment is dangerous and frankly crazy. But in that formulation you have the grounds for a round critique of a lot of different people, perhaps.)
You could note also the use of a 'foreign enemy' example from the Bible to justify this iron-willed one-man rule, but let's move on.
You only a need a single sentence from this National Review Online editorial to gauge its featherweight intellection:
Ryan and Sundquist should serve as a warning to other Republican governors: Trying to raise taxes can end your career.
Well, yes. But that fact should serve as a warning to Republican voters: you're on thin ice ideologically speaking if means and ends are so laughably uncoupled and unprincipled. Still, let's give Domenech a fair shake: maybe Ramesh Cake'n'Eat Ponnuru wrote that sentence. It wouldn't be his worst.
The early signs point to a simple solution: with such a low voter turnout and general apathy towards partisanship, a sizable number of voters will be making their decision based on personality -- whether they like the guy they pull the lever for -- than on substantive issues. Bush comes across as a lot nicer, the type of guy you could really sit down and shoot the breeze with, so, that's why he won. At least, that will be the spin.
Of course if his readers had been attentive this columnn would've been embarrassing when his inauguration prediction came out, a column in which he cited that 'folksy charm' as a major positive aspect of Bush's ascendancy. So what does he mean by 'that will be the spin'? He means the country's thirsting for strong Christian leadership, of course. He's wrong but it's not unreasonable for a pundit to project his private fantasies onto the electorate (we don't want to shut down every opinion page in the U.S., do we? So we deal).
Here's some typical college-Republican blather from Domenech, re: the acceptance by Henry Kissinger of the position of Chancellor at Domenech's alma mater, William and Mary:
The anti-Kissinger forces are alive and well, though, mostly because the entire demonstration was an outgrowth of a previously existing group — one of the environmentalist organizations on campus headed up by a current candidate for Student Body President, one Peter Maybarduk. Before Kissinger even arrived, the group grabbed up press and campus attention by inviting journalist Christopher Hitchens to campus — he of the recent Harper's magazine hatchet job that labeled Kissinger a "war criminal" and claimed the Nobel Peace Prize winner deliberately undermined peace talks in Vietnam. They’ve organized marches and 60's-style "teach-ins" with sympathetic faculty and initiated an enormous influx of literature and glossy bulletins.
Maybarduk is an apotheosis of the new breed of student rebel, one that is increasingly common on the American college campus. They went through basic training over the past two years at the anti-globalism protests in Seattle, California and Washington, D.C., and tried out their newest strategies at the national party conventions last summer. It’s roughly the same group of ardent, committed leftists that blanketed campuses with Nader-Laduke signs last November (they’re still hung in windows at W&M, like badges of honor or confederate flags). They’ve got the tactics of protest down pat — "positively guaranteed to turn any quiet southern school into the latest Berkeley, in twelve steps or less" — and have learned to use the press and publicity to their greatest advantage. Maybarduk himself got more than a little play during the World Trade Organization protests in D.C., where he was arrested for chucking a Dasani bottle at a police officer.
The detail about the Dasani bottle is mordant and hilarious, and it's good that Domenech passes it along without comment. But Domenech has much to be embarrassed about here as well: not least that he reduces Christopher Hitchens to the author of a 'hatchet job' on Henry Kissinger - a wanted war criminal who can't travel for fear of being apprehended by international law enforcement. Part of me is sympathetic to the pathetic hubris of using Kissinger's 'graciousness' to swipe at Hitchens - but that's an ignorant bit of writing there, willfully so, and if you can't blame Domenech for not knowing better, you can wish he did.
But there's something much, much worse than amateurish name-calling in the above-quoted passage: see that quote in the middle there? The one about 'positively guaranteed...'? Unattributed, it's positioned to look like a direct quote from Maybarduk's protest literature. But its content is obviously a spoof. If (as I suspect) Domenech made up the quote and implied it's Maybarduk's with those scare quotes, that false implied attribution is is a piece of slipshod writerly dishonesty unbecoming of a professional anything. And it's characteristic of all Domenech's depictions of his ideological nemeses. Here's the deeply trashy ending to that column:
Despite the fact that these latest protests have a healthy group of 60’s-era Nixonian bogeymen as their targets, it’s doubtful the "Kissinger Kills" buttons will be around for much longer. Most of the students who raised signs and yelled into megaphones on Charter Day were theater majors, not international-relations buffs. Most hadn’t even heard of Kissinger, Chile, or Pinochet prior to Maybarduk's fliers and Hitchens's soliloquy. Maybarduk may have learned some tactics in Los Angeles last summer, but he missed the biggest lesson of them all: that protest for the sake of protest is nothing more than self-flagellation, demonstration without heart, falling prey to the cheap lure of chic radicalism. The students who rose on Charter Day have vocally likened themselves to 60s radicals — but like it or not, when they go home to Fairfax for Spring Break, they’ll still be driving SUVs.
The point about Lipstick Liberals in the last sentence is unrelated and has been made countless times all over the place (I bet you five bucks Domenech wrote it while getting a lift home from mom in their SUV). But Domenech is being nothing more than a stupid hack here: from the veiled gay-baiting elitism in his 'theater majors' remark (how would he know?) to the gross but standard missing of the protesters' point in the middle (part of the function of a protest, you idiot, is to make sure that submerged issues come to the forefront of discussion and stay there, so that they can't simply be ignored by those who'd rather remain complacent and self-satisfied), there's nothing fresh in here. It's easy to style oneself a contrarian for being culturally retrograde, but clinging to fantasy in the face of fact is unbefitting of someone who took 'Augustine' as his pen name at RedState.org. No one who'd apologise for the Clinton-era Republican Congress is in a position to make fun of 'chic radicalism', when that was the Gingrich Congress's raison d'etre and modus operandi, and is a favoured self-justification for BushCo., or was until their neocon foreign policy aspirations were shown to be outgrowths of a Trotskyite political calculus...
Let's wind this down. Here's Domenech, in his guise as 'Augustine', commenting at RedState.org on Dan Froomkin (his WaPo colleague):
I've just gotta say it: Dan Froomkin is without question a lying weasel-faced Democrat shill. No surprise he trafficks in lefty websites.
I just have this specific and deep-rooted dislike for everything Dan Froomkin says and does. He's one of the dozen or so people in the world that I just detest - along with Noam Chomsky, Eric Alterman, Louis Farrakhan, Barbra Streisand, Kate Michelman, Mitch Albom, Michael Irvin, David Duke, Peter Singer, and Rick Reilly.
This is the guy the Post hired to represent the 'Red States'. Seriously: how many different causes of embarrassment can you find in that notion? Heck, you can start with the very notion of a 'Red State' if you want.
Domenech's hiring reflects a deep, pathetic problem with the Washington Post itself. We should be annoyed at the things he writes, but the bigger danger is that major media outlets take him seriously. Couldn't possibly have anything to do with his family's major political connections. No chance. Those couldn't be the only thing distinguishing him from thousands of other conservative writers all over the country who pound the same laughable talking points and, um, don't commit plagiarism...