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For purely academic reasons, I’ve never understood the argument that we should ignore Rush Limbaugh because he’s simply an entertainer who says outrageous things that millions of people are merely entertained by.  I didn’t read the complete works of Silas Weir Mitchell because they were good—they are almost uniformly awful—I read them because they were popular.  I was interested not in the content of his thought—it is almost uniformly mediocre—but in why his contemporaries found it so wildly appealing.  If you want to learn which ideas and ideologies literate Americans in 1900 found comforting, you do not consult Henry James: you turn to the inartistic novels that parroted their prejudices back to them in a language they already understood.  So when people say that we should dismiss Limbaugh on the grounds that he only says outrageous things to sell his product, I’m never quite sure why they’re more concerned with Limbaugh’s motivations than the fact that millions of Americans are buying what he’s selling.

Ignoring whatever millions of Americans are buying distorts your understanding of the American political scene whether it be 2009 or 1909.  If you work on popular culture in 1909, you are limited to tracking the flight of a given idea—but if you track a given idea in 2009, your work can actually change its trajectory.  You might not know exactly where exactly that idea will land yet, but you can do the political calculus required to figure out where it came from and where it’s likely to strike.   If it feels like you’re tilting window fans at cannon balls from half a continent away, remember what they say about rare Chinese butterflies flapping their wings: they are less likely to be minuten-pinned by mad lepidopterists—which is beside the point.  The point, as one prominent Beatles apologist recently argued, is that cultural studies can be an important fan so long as we aim it at the right cannonball.

In this case, the important issue is not that Limbaugh is a racist who makes racist statements, but that those statements resonate with his audience so powerfully. Consider, for example, that he feels no compulsion to qualify his sarcastic call for segregated busing:

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(Before I get started, I want to acknowledge that I know Ann Althouse is an attention fiend, and as such revels in any that comes her way. Furthermore, I know that giving her the attention she craves will only embolden her to spout even more outrageous nonsense in the future. However, the white-hotness of her intellectual dishonesty here compels me to consider it a vacuity of historical import. Future scholars will read this post and realize that this was the moment crypto-conservatives discovered the fact that no matter how shallow their waters were, Zeno and his paradox prevented them from ever being emptied altogether.)

It may not be breaking new that the President copped a glance at a young Mayara Rodrigues Tavare last week:


But I want to call your attention to Ann Althouse’s “close-reading” of the photograph:

Obama’s arms hang free, emphasizing the tilt, and either gravity or will causes the left arm to hang inches away from the torso. See how much lower the right hand is than the left? His neck is craned out and around so that the line of sight is directly at the ass. His mouth is open as if to say: That’s what I want.

When presented with video evidence to the contrary, she curtly replied:

I have seen the video, and I stand by my analysis of the still photograph.

She watched video evidence that refutes her analysis and stands by it anyway. But I believe she can be forgiven for insisting, essentially, that photograph is what it is, because she knows nothing about photography. A competent photographer would know, for example, what forced perspective is, and that the effect sometimes occurs accidentally, such that a child innocently swatting an insect might appear to be brutalizing a baby (Exhibit 1). This occurs is because both subjects are within the depth of field:

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It only took six months, but the mainstream media finally accomplished what no conservative media outlet ever could have: it sent a reporter into the Columbia library. In October 2008, Andrew McCarthy complained that it was impossible to learn anything about Obama’s heady days of Ayers-inspired radicalism at Columbia:

As [Ayers] so delicately told the Times, America makes him “want to puke” . . . Such statements should make Obama unelectable.

Time and again, conservatives have proven that Obama is Ayers is Alinsky is Annenberg is Hitler—all they were lacking was the actual proof. No more. Thanks to the Times, they now have the evidence they were always pretty sure existed. How did the Times get their hands on these hot documents? What did it do that McCarthy—a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York—could not?

It asked politely.

Question: May I use Columbia’s libraries if I am not a student, professor, or staff member at another academic institution?

Answer: If your public library does not have the specific title or material you need for your research, obtain a referral card from your public library. This card will give you a one-day pass to Columbia University Libraries.

All McCarthy had to do to stop a man he considered a monster from winning the White House was return to his old stomping grounds and ask a librarian for a day-pass to Columbia. All any conservative who wanted to stop a man they believed would destroy America had to do was to obtain a referral card from a public library. Instead, these intrepid citizen-journalists prattled on endlessly about the research other people declined to do; and now that someone did it, they are incorporating their lazy reliance on the mainstream media into another iteration of their tired jeremiad against it: “If only you had told me what I couldn’t have been bothered to discover myself last year,” they cry, “Obama might not be in Russia today sowing the seeds of our inevitable destruction.”

If you believed that a trip into the city and an afternoon in an archive would spare America four years of tyranny, would you do it? Would you fly into the city, rent a room, borrow a library card, request a day-pass under false pretenses, and spend an afternoon in an archive if you believed that doing so might save the world from nuclear destruction? Or would you whine because no one will silver-platter you a smoking gun?

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You know who should be allowed to blog?

Presidents of things.

Presidents of things who graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law.

Presidents of things who graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law and then clerked for a Supreme Court Justice.

Presidents of things who graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law and then clerked for a Supreme Court Justices before working in the White House.

You know who shouldn’t be allowed to blog?

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Laughing at the “Young Con Anthem” because neither “Serious C” nor “Stiltz” have skillz is all well and good, but there’s more to their awfulness than the sort of schadenfreude you get watching the first two weeks of American Idol. For the uninitiated:

This breed of rap is all about establishing and maintaining identity, which you do by asserting your authenticity and questioning that of other rappers—either by attacking it whole cloth (coastal feuds) or its legitimacy (street credibility). The Young Cons talk up their own game like some white Wu-Tang. Ideally, these assertions of identity should be such that when they “manufacture poems to microphones, bones fracture.” (Let that play while you work and your dull life will turn into a Jim Jarmusch film.) What makes the Young Cons so tellingly awful is that they sat down to forge a statement of identity, produced something entirely incoherent, then looked upon their words and declared themselves ready for battle. Their awkward juxtapositions and clumsier delivery foreground conservative schizophrenia:

Bail out a business, but can’t protect an infant.

My conservative view is, drill baby drill,
You can say you hate me, but I’m praying for you still.

The Bible says, we’re a people under God,
AIG was hooked up by Chris Dodd.
A classy gift ain’t an Ipod.

Then there’s the lyric people have held up to the most mockery:

Three things taught me conservative love:
Jesus, Ronald Reagan, plus Atlas Shrugged.
Saving our nation from inflation devastation,
On my hands and my knees praying for salvation.

They’re not talking about coalitional politics here—the necessity of compromising with constiuency X despite their outlandish positions on Y in order to get disappointed by someone new—they’re claiming as their authentic identity the ideological incoherence of political coalitions. They haven’t put the cart before the horse so much as glued the horse to its side and demanded it be pulled down the mountain; then later, as they sift through the gore and gristle that had been their horse and cart, they turn to us and say, “We meant to do that.”

One last thing: is Scott Johnson “almost certain that this is the first time the word ‘inherently’ has made its appearance in hip-hop” because he can’t understand a word black people say or because he’s never even tried to?


John Ziegler, you’ll remember, considers tragic suicide the perfect occasion for self-promotion, so his recent antics should come as no surprise. Here’s what happened:

He announced that he would demonstrate the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Journalism. On the day of the event, he was treated like a demonstrator.

That should be all you need to know, but Ziegler is a savvy self-promoter. At some point after he’d made his intentions to demonstrate clear enough to USC that they hired extra security and set up a barricade, he decided that he would not be demonstrating the event after all: he would be reporting on it. Here he is informing a very polite USC employee of that decision (3:48):

USC Employee: You indicated that you were here to demonstrate.

Ziegler: Actually no, I called off the demonstration. I’m just here to find out what’s going on.

USC Employee: But, so you’re not the media in a sense—

Ziegler: I’ve got a microphone and a camera and website. [quick edit] So now you’re acknowledging that because of my political position on this, that has something to do with the access to this event.

Some on the right believe that because Ziegler claimed to be a journalist while holding an implement of the trade, irony’s the order of the day:

The Annenberg School of Journalism . . . teaching journalists how to stonewall and intimidate . . . journalists.

Let me fix that for Mr. Morrissey:

Employees of the Davidson Conference Center and USC Department of Public Safety . . . teaching uncooperative demonstrators what happens to uncooperative demonstrators . . . when they refuse to comply when ordered to leave the premises.

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