Monday, May 08, 2006

Party Killer

The National Review, a magazine still lauded for its prescient opposition to the civil rights movement and its eager support of McCarthyism, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. As a commemoration of sorts, one of its early contributors, Jeffrey Hart, published a book on the periodical's history and influence; in it, he tries to sweep that slightly unappealing early stuff under a shag carpet (as Jacob Heilbrunn notes in the Washington Monthly):
Attempting to defend such unsavory opinions, Hart feebly contends that, whatever McCarthy's abuses, the senator "could sometimes smoke out a real witch." (Sure, just like a thousand monkeys pounding away on typewriters might inadvertently come up with a coherent sentence.) And he argues that Brown simply created white flight. This, too, is hardly a persuasive reason to uphold racial segregation. Still, Hart seems to recognize that such positions were, even at the time, antediluvian.
Proudly holding its musty banner for such a stalwart tradition, the National Review these days hosts The Corner, where you'll find at least a dozen technologically hip primates pounding away on laptops. Alas, the Kids in The Corner apparently haven't received the anti-antediluvian memo; they're certainly busy laying the groundwork for the next 50-year diluvian retrospective.

Yet, I confess: In the same way that The Inferno makes better reading than the other two books of the Divine Comedy, The Corner's chaos draws me in, searching for that elusive cure for low blood pressure. And it's a problem: once there, I keep expecting to see a long-lost Borgia daughter materialize, and I can't tear my eyes away.

Neither can frequent visitor James Wolcott, who deconstructs the latest rage among The Corner's mature sophisticates: gay-gerbil jokes (or is it gerbil-gay jokes?). He also takes aim at the circle-the-wagons support for a new book by one of The Corner's own, Ramesh Ponnuru. This little gem has the measured, inoffensive title of The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.

Well, Andrew Sullivan has taken Ponnuru to task, saying the title, the book's flap copy, and Ponnuru's own publicity interviews bring "political rhetoric on difficult moral questions down to Coulteresque levels"; more specifically, Ponnuru's words "smear an entire political party, and equate only one party with something as fundamental as life."

Rallying to Ponnuru's defense is Cornerstone Jonah Goldberg. His witty and incisive response is proof that Goldberg took all the courses in rhetoric, logic, and communication that his college had to offer, plus an extra-credit seminar in moral calculus offered by math wizard Richard Cohen:
Instead of spending piles of time complaining about Ramesh's book title, flap copy and blurbs, maybe Andrew Sullivan could simply take a few extra minutes and actually read Ramesh's book. [. . .] While it's interesting to know what he thinks about the cover--and I'm dying to here what he thinks of ISBN number and typeface--it'd be a bit more edifying to hear him discuss the merits of quite simply the best and most important book of its kind in at least a generation.
In a stunning reversal, the Pawn takes the Queen, and it's checkmate. You win, Jonah: You certainly can't judge a book by its title.

So here's the deal, kids. I'm going to be publishing a book called The Party of Jonah "The Whale", or: The History of Racism and Fascism at the National Review. The wording might seem a mite provocative and perhaps even one-sided, but I expect everyone to ignore such irrelevant appendages as the title and the ISBN number. Jonah and all the Cornerites will surely want to read my levelheaded analysis because, trust me: it'll be "quite simply the best and most important book of its kind in at least a generation."