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Color Me Puzzled

July 27, 2010

Friedersdorf flags Mark Levin’s strange criticism of Ross Douthat’s Monday column dealing with climate change.  What’s weird is that Levin doesn’t disparage the column so much as he disparages Douthat’s very existence as a writer:

This is your typical pretender. He’s not a thinker. He’s not a scholar. He’s not accomplished. What, exactly, does he know about climate in specific or science generally? What has he studied on these subjects? He doesn’t tell us. He neither presents evidence to justify what he says nor says anything interesting let alone compelling. Douthat is illustrative of a desperate climber trying to claw his way to the top. And he is encouraged on his journey by other obscure light-weights who clap like trained seals for they share in his delusion. But he damns himself with his regular ramblings in the New York Times — he, a failed author to boot. Thoughts?

I’m not sure I can count on one hand how many levels on which this is weird.  Levin writes about Douthat’s column as though it were some kind of treatise on how climate change’s existence has been perverted by the American Right.  There are, in fact, exactly three sentences in the 1000-word column that rebuke conservatives for effectively shrugging off climate change.  The rest of the piece basically justifies conservative skepticism in terms of its approach to global warming and tacitly rejoices the death of Harry Reid’s climate bill.  It’s not about whether or not climate change indeed real, and whether or not it’s interesting is obviously a matter of personal preference.

So what does Levin find so objectionable about it?  I guess it’s because he’s exceedingly opposed to Douthat’s being given a position at a “dishonorable, liberal media outlet” from which he apparently “influence[s] the conservative movement”.  Presumably, he disapproves of that position not belonging to somebody more aligned with mainstream conservative ideology (yes, this happens frequently).  And this leads him to… attack Douthat as a “pretender”, a “desperate climber”, a “light-weight”, and a “failed author”.  All because Douthat wrote a column that opposes cap-and-trade.

Of course, there could be some left-over some resentment from that little dust-up Levin had with Jim Manzi a few months ago, exacerbated by Douthat’s identifying Manzi as “the American right’s most persuasive critic of climate-change legislation”, but I don’t particularly care about the personal issues.  Unfortunately, those may be the only issues that matter here.  Frum noted this about Levin a coupla weeks ago:

Whatever you may think of his radio persona, Mark Levin is not a stupid person, and he is not a cynical person. He can’t laugh his way to the bank. He wants more than the money. He wants to be regarded as the author not just of a commercially successful book, but of an intellectually important book. Unfortunately for Levin, people like Conor have disproportionate sway over the accolades Levin covets. A Sean Hannity would not understand. A Glenn Beck would not care. But Levin does understand, and does care.

Can it really be that simple?  Is Levin’s contempt of Douthat really based in his failure to recognize Levin as a leading conservative intellectual and his complementing the loathsome Jim Manzi for his criticisms of climate-change legislation?  Or is it simply the “he’s not a real conservative and it’s a travesty that he’s one of the alleged Right-wing voices at The New York Times” thing?  I honestly cannot answer that question, but I just find it extremely weird that Levin would react so vigorously to a column that, again, expressed disdain for cap-and-trade on the basis of its merits as policy.

I don’t know how intellectually persuasive Levin wants to be — all the evidence suggests that he has considerable ambition to that end — but if there ever a way not to convince somebody who’s not already a loyal fan of yours that you’re right about something, it’s to deride a pundit with whom you disagree for what you perceive him to not have accomplished and to mock him for not selling as many books as you do.   That’s going to make anybody who has any respect for said pundit — which, in Douthat’s case, is a significant contingent of conservatives, independents, and liberals — immediately dismiss what you have to say.  And that’s fine if you want your fans to believe that somebody is disreputable, but if you want to convince Douthat or another other audience of that fact, then that’s not really the way to go about doing it.

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