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.


Anonymous said...

One has to wonder if Colin is copying the "infant terrible" of the DailyKos.

It has to bug him (Colin) that someone of obviously less educational breeding as the "infant terrible" is considerably more important and read.

mccommas said...

Oh that old rag?? I fired the Hartford Courant AGES ago. The New Media has taken its place.

The only time I use it is in school when I have to do research and I get to do that for nothing at the library through "iconn".

The only use I have for them is following legislation. They seldom print roll call votes however. The Norwich Bulletin and Willimantic Chronicle are derelict in their duty to even cover what our local representatives are up to. It was news to me for example that my State Senator was sponsoring the bill that would give illegal aliens an in-state discount for college. It was “Consent of the Governed"'s Judy Aron that informed me about that.

I used to read Michelle Jacklin. She was a fun read. Sometimes I catch a Kevin Rennie's column online sometimes. He’s good. I find Laurence Cohen hysterically funny.

And now that I have them in mind, I will probably be catching up on their columns all day.

But Colin McEnroe? I have heard of him of course. I just looked him up on-liine and reviewing his choice of topics I could not find one that looked remotely interesting. One started “Its raining in New York City”.

My response is “So?”

This isn’t New York City.


Do you ever write for the Hartford Courant? As I refuse to buy it anymore, I would never see it. I see you in the Norwich Bulletin from time to time and frankly you are a breath of clean, fresh air.

Keep them coming. I am a fan.

Don Pesci said...

Not the Courant, but the New London Day, the Waterbury Republican American, the Torrington Register Citizen, the Journal Inquirer and a few other Connecticut papers -- sometimes the Providence Journal -- have all printed the column. As a rule of thumb, if the blog is more than 600 words, it has been sent out to numerous newspapers as a column. Thanks for your comment. I pick you up occassionally at CLP, very good.

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