Thursday, August 30, 2007

Joe Lieberman And His Enemies

Decoding McEnroe

Any piece of writing by Colin McEnroe, the Hartford Courant’s Voltaire, has to be decoded. This is because McEnroe writes in a sort of Joycian stream of conscious mode; his columns are usually studded with arcane references and barely suppressed prejudices not unusual to his station in the world.

McEnroe is the sole host, now that his companion Bruce has departed, on his own radio talk program, the Colin McEnroe Show, a blogger, the author of an entertaining biography; and he also does house calls. McEnroe graduated from Yale, in the course of which – I am guessing here – he developed affection for coffee house banter and a disaffection for the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, not infrequently impaled in his remarks and columns.

McEnroe used to be the religious writer for the Courant at a time when it was thought chic to employ religious writers, but he is not friendly to organized religion, preferring the quasi-religious vagaries of Buddhism, and the disorganized anarchy of the Unitarian Church and the Democrat Party, about which Will Rogers once famously said, “I am not a member of an organized political party; I am a Democrat.”

To go off point for a moment, Rogers also said the best thing about our dysfunctional court system: “Is our court procedure broken down, lame, or limping? Something sure is cuckoo. It looks like after a person’s guilt in this country is established, why, then the battle as to whether he should be punished is the real test of the court. It seems if he is lucky enough to get convicted, or confesses, why he has a great chance of going free,” not a sentiment, one supposes, McEnroe would cozy up to.

It is possible to make such assumptions about McEnroe because he has over the years warmly embraced the usual liberal –- now “progressive”— program, but McEnroe is not a programmatic progressive. Rogers’ sentiment immediately places him to the right of most progressives in Connecticut, and therefore beyond the range of McEnroe’s affections. More than other writers in the state, McEnroe is driven by political affections. For instance, he seems genuinely to like Chris Healy, the new conservative Chairman of the Republican Party, though it would be difficult to name another politician in the state whose ideas are more offensive to progressives. McEnroe likes Healy, I suspect, because the state GOP chairman has about him the touch of the poet, as does McEnroe’s close friend Bill Curry. This means that McEnroe is not an undeviating ideologue -- a good thing.

The trouble with affections unrooted in hard principles is that they are likely to lead you into dark alleys and dangerous byways, as Jonathan Edwards, the poet who made Puritanism sing, reminds us in his treatise on “Religious Affections.” In place of firm principles – much too confining for poets and madmen – McEnroe has solicitous friends like Curry, who gently tap him on the shoulder whenever he seems to be rushing madly towards the abyss.

Sometimes he listens to his friends. Other times he is led by the nose by his muse, the same muse that got Aristophanes in trouble. Once, after the Greek comic dramatist had skewered yet another politician in a play, he was asked by an aggrieved victim whether he took anything seriously, to which he replied, “Of course, I take comedy seriously.” But here again there is a problem, felt most keenly by Mark Twain when he wrote in a serious mode about serious subjects. Expecting a laugh line, his audience greeted Twain’s most stinging satire with a deflating response: Is he kidding? In Twain’s case, the answer was “No.”

In McEnroe’s case, when he is in the toils of a serious subject, the answer is: Sometimes.

Lately, McEnroe has been keeping intellectual company with ruffian bloggers intent on bloodying Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman has become an object of critical asperity to the new-left for a number of reasons. Defeated in a Connecticut primary by proto-socialist Ned Lamont – a Greenwich millionaire tapped by ex-senator and governor Lowell Weicker, among others, to run against Weicker’s bete-noir -- Lieberman exploited a loophole in Connecticut’s primary regulations and handily defeated Lamont in a general election.

To say that the new-left was disappointed simply scratches the surface of a mile-high boil. Left-wing bloggers especially invested a good amount of time, energy and money pumping up the Lamont campaign. Democrats in Connecticut were split in the general election between Lieberman and Lamont, who had won the nomination of his party following a bitter primary. But Republicans turned out in force during the general campaign and backed Lieberman, then running as an “Independent Democrat.” Dashed, the anti-Liebermanites decided to seek vengeance by keeping up their pelting after the election.

When, chastising aggressive bloggers with incivility, Lanny Davis, author of “Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America,” stepped into this mare’s nest, McEnroe answered for the anti-Lieberman mob. Davis was attempting to show that Lieberman, discounting his votes on the Iraq war, was by any measure a liberal Democrat.

“So Lanny,” McEnroe wrote on his blog, “here is something you failed to grasp: You can bring out all the liberal ratings numbers you want. Some of us just don't like Joe Lieberman as a person. He's vain, ambitious, preening, hypocritical, vindictive. He gives us the creeps. OK.”

Note the “us.”

McEnroe, apparently, has crossed a Rubicon of his own making and barred his own return to civility. It is difficult to distinguish such intense dislike from hatred, and hatred is an impassible bar to civility. As soon as I have said “I dislike you,” from that moment, I do not have to dispute with you. If you label an argument or an opponent successfully, you do not have to dispute with it -- or him.

Whether McEnroe, forced to the brink by his new friends in bloglalaland, will be rescued by his old friends is a question awaiting resolution. McEnroe seems committed to his course, but some commitments are serious, others comic.
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