Gein Wein vs. Chuck Kraut
November 12, 2008 Leave a comment
Gene Weingarten is nominally the Washington Post’s humor writer, but he also has other sidelines going, like the article about a classical violinist playing in a subway station that won him a Pulitzer Prize last year, and the weekly chats he conducts on the Post’s website, which often delve into topics such as “how many squares of toilet paper do you use” and the appeal of visible panty lines.
However, Weingarten recently utilized his chat to air his grievances regarding Washington’s finest wheelchair-bound conservative, and fellow Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer, and a recent column containing a pretty extreme claim. After writing to Krauthammer without getting a response, he took his gripes public.
Dear Charles Krauthammer:
As a fellow pundit, I understand the temptation to make extreme, unsupportable pronouncements for the sake of drama or in the heat of political passion. I, for example, have written on more than one occasion that the current vice president of the United States is Lucifer the Dastard, Harvester of Souls. I confess today in the light of reason that I cannot prove this, however likely it might be.
Moreover, I sympathize with the impulse to overstate the virtues a person at his or her funeral. On the tongue of the compassionate eulogist, even a juiceless reprobate attains a little virtue and personality.
So, in short, I do understand what you did and why you did it. It still doesn’t make it any more defensible. You must be spanked for it. I shall do so now.
In your last column you declared John McCain “the most worthy presidential candidate ever to be denied the prize.”
Had you confined the field of candidates to only those, say, in your lifetime, you would merely have been mistaken. But “ever” transforms error into folly. It dishonors your venerable column, with which I never agree but which almost always admire.
“Worthy” is a word that allows for broad interpretation. The dictionary says: “Estimable,” “honorable,” and “deserving.” In the context at hand, I’ll add, “fit to serve.”
It is not necessary to denigrate John McCain in order to establish the enormity of your overstatement. For the purpose of this argument I will stipulate that McCain qualifies as “worthy.” This requires me to ignore the ghastliness of his vice presidential selection, which I consider reckless, irresponsible, opportunistic, deeply cynical, misogynistic, lascivious, contemptuous of the public’s intelligence, and, most to the point, unpatriotic. It was a raised middle finger to the rest of the nation.
However, your problem here is not in praising McCain, who is in most other ways praiseworthy. Your problem, as I have said, is your unjustifiable use of the superlative. John McCain is a former war hero and an able United States senator who was reprimanded only once for ethics violations, and who will mostly be remembered, if he is remembered at all, for that ludicrous vice presidential choice, and for some bill about the intricacies of campaign finance reform (creating a law that you hate and would like to see repealed.)
Below is a list of guys you have declared him more worthy than.
Good! This will hurt a little.
1. Henry Clay. Founder of the Whig party, one of the earliest supporters of freeing slaves, visionary leader, champion of a strong and indivisible union, a giant figure in American history, unsullied by scandal, admired even by his enemies. In 1957 a U.S. Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Clay one of the five greatest senators in American history. Among Clay’s most vocal admirers was Abraham Lincoln.
2. Daniel Webster. Hey, Charles, guess what? Webster is also on that list of five! He was also a little more articulate than McCain, and forever immortalized as a great lawyer and orator in the play “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” A speech he gave in 1830, on the issue of nullification, is generally regarded as the greatest speech ever given in Congress, immortalized in more than one painting. (Andrew Wyeth never painted “McCain delivers the McCain-Feingold Act.”) Oh, yeah, Webster was one of the biographies in “Profiles in Courage.” JFK called his defense of the 1850 compromise, despite the risk to his presidential ambitions and the denunciations he faced from the north, one of the “greatest acts of courageous principle” in the history of the Senate.
3. Samuel J. Tilden, from whom the presidency was corruptly stolen in 1876 but whose patriotism remained so stalwart that he instructed his allies to accept the decision in the interest of national harmony, and to avoid a constitutional crisis. His tombstone reads: “I Still Trust in The People”. He was a great fighter against political corruption.
4. Alfred E. Smith, one of the most dedicated political reformers in the 20th century, destroyer of the sweatshop. “Smith is the best of all of these on your list,” says a friend of mine who is a presidential historian and has researched the life of Smith.
Worthier than McCain: You don’t see presidential contenders doing hilarious standup at the Johnny Mac Dinner!
5. Charles Evans Hughes. Lessee, before his unsuccessful campaign against Woodrow Wilson, Hughes served as a justice of the Supreme Court. After his loss, he returned to the court as its chief justice. So he was a pretty worthy guy. He boldly led the resistance to FDR’s craven political attempt to pack the Supreme Court. He was a conservative, but a highly principled one: He extended the definition of slavery to include peonage, which were horrendous conditions of servitude,. And he wrote the visionary opinion declaring that prior restraint of the press was unconstitutional. If you can define worthiness in part by who thinks you are worthy, Hughes’s closest colleagues on the court were Lewis Brandeis, Harlan Fiske Stone and Benjamin Cardozo.
I do think it curious, Charles, that you didn’t consider as more worthy Barry Goldwater, the patron saint, and conscience, of the neoconservative movement. And you’ll note I didn’t even try to make the case for Al Gore or Adlai Stevenson, though I personally find them “worthier” than McCain. We’d never agree on them, anyway. And I didn’t need them to make my case. Did I?
No response yet from Krauthammer! But we think the case was pretty effectively made…