I feel a little pathetic mocking Robert Novak, who is a case study in what you get when you cross a know-nothing with a know-it-all. This lucky guy been an A-League talking head for more than three decades, despite failing to have a significant political insight since the 1970s. So knocking him when he says stupid things feels a bit like the intellectual equivalent of what Pedro Martinez did to Don Zimmer.
But it's precisely the insipid nature of Novak's writing that makes him a representative sort of right-wing idiot. Consider his latest effort: an article on his recent "week in Paris," when he learned that the French in general, and President Chirac in particular, still aren't too thrilled about American foreign policy, especially in Iraq, and that they don't much feel like apologizing for their opinions.
Mon dieu, will they never learn?!
Simply as a rhetorical exercise, Novak's piece is a showcase of the fuzzy-minded logic of the Right in the the United States today, or at any rate, a lower-middle-brow rendition of that sort of thinking.
- The shoddy attitude toward evidence. For example, Novak cites unnamed sources ("one French intellectual [said] to me...") and loves the passive voice ("I had been warned..."). Remember, this is the guy who outed a spy citing unnamed "senior White House officials," and then wrapped himself in the First Amendment to avoid naming his source.
- The breezy comfort with logical contradiction in one's own arguments. For example, Novak argues that Chirac, in continuing to castigate Bush's policies "has misread French opinion" -- but then a few sentences later, Novak tells us that the French are overwhelmingly anti-Bush (he cites, without attribution, that 80% of the French preferred Kerry).
- The dumb-ass national arrogance, embodied by the unstated assumption that whatever the majority of Americans believe cannot be legitimately questioned. For example, Novak implies that given Bush's reelection, it's shocking that the French have failed to reconsider their critique of American foreign policy -- as if the fact that 60 million Americans cast their ballots for Bush somehow invalidates sentiments shared by billions of other people.
- A "gotcha" approach to evidence in argument. For example, to "prove" that the French case against the war in Iraq is silly, Novak cites an unnamed "writer here" whose daughter attended a French army briefing in which the war in Iraq "was described [note the passive voice] as a plot by American capitalists to cheat Iraqis out of their oil in a lecture that would have done justice to a conspiracy-minded Internet blogger." In other words, Novak is telling us... what some writer told him... that his daughter told him... that some low-level army schmuck told her... and this proves what exactly? (And, now that we're on the topic, who exactly in that chain of hearsay described this as a lecture worthy of blogger?)
- No actual attempt to understand opposing argument. Reading this article you can find no discernable evidence that there might be any substance to critical French opinions about the United States, except the implication that perhaps the French might actually want to return to the murderous international strife that characterized much of especially the first half of the last century.
- The rampant use of nonsequitors to drive an argument forward. Novak closes his case by suggesting that it is the problems with the French economy (better by most measures than the U.S.'s, it's worth noting) that somehow not only is the source of French "resentment," but also apparently refutes the French critique of American foreign policy. What?
As I say, it's been a loooooong time since Novak had an interesting political thought. Indeed, it's the fact that he's recycling idees fixes that makes his writing so helpfully symptomatic of what is wrong with the way Right-wingers think.