Wednesday, January 02, 2008

McIlheran: Fighting the War of The Big Bad Words

It’s been about three years now since the Journal Sentinel elevated copy editor Patrick McIlheran to a newly-created Wing-Nut Columnist chair. Apparently, the powers-that-be at the J-S felt Wisconsin was just not getting enough of the GOP-driven right-wing echo-chamber message through its radio station and decided to give Paddy Mac a show of his own on the op-ed page.

Since then, there being no lefty alternative in the paper, McIlheran has been free and unchallenged to spread the gospel of Rove and consort with the usual suspects to produce the written version of wing-nut radio, waving the J-S imprimatur and circulation numbers (such as they are) like a bludgeon to smite all uppity challengers to right-wing orthodoxy. It gives the right-wing another pillar to bounce off of – Sykes cites to McIlheran, McIlheran to McBride, McBride to McIlheran, etc. – as the nut-right seeks false legitimacy through the sheer repetition of its message in various forums. McIlheran's most recent campaign was fighting for the right of doctors to deny rape victims a reasonable way to avoid the most unwanted of pregnancies. Woman-as-incubator apparently plays well with the base. Brave stuff, this.

As the wilting right increasingly turns its lonely eyes to Paddy Mac for inspiration (and such far-flung publications like the right-wing New York Sun reprints his disjointed prose), Our Local Columnist seems to be feeling his oats. To start the new year – certainly an important one in nut-right Message-Land, what with all these elections and such happening – McIlheran in his latest column has set out to define the terms used by various entities with whom he has issues – which is to say, everyone except for his close cadre of wing-nut talkers and bloggers. Language is power, as McIlheran knows, and if he can reduce the power of descriptive words through nose-in-the-air ridicule, it leaves a void that only he can fill. Or so he thinks.

In the typically disjointed, unreadable column, McIlheran explores the use of innocent words by supposedly guilty people. "International: More sophisticated than you, you hick," he quips, and you can almost see the back-slapping, side-splitting hilarity with which this is greeted at the right-wing blogger holiday parties (including this one, interestingly, featuring Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman). This marks the first time the word "international" has ever been controversial at all, much less identified as a Trojan horse for nefarious lefty-ism, but, hey, impugning the use of simple English words has to start somewhere. Not for them the intellectual complexity of understanding other countries – after all, they can barely get their brains around what’s happening in this one. He even throws in a "French is liberal" joke – how 2003 is that?

McIlheran also has issues with the idea of "smart" anything. Smart cars, smart growth, smart budgeting – enough! Give him Dumb any day over this thinking so much brain hurt. "Sustainable" is for suckers; "speaking-out" for the pretend-victim. Concepts like "modern" and "progress"? Only for the deluded or the city planner, apparently. Progressives want to "party like it’s 1899," he says, obviously upset with the end of the Spanish-American war.

Throughout, McIlheran flogs the shop-worn canard of lefties and the MSM as brie-and-cheese elitists, talking down to You and I with their Big Fancy Words. I always thought this talking-point was funny coming from the cloistered privileged on the right, many of whom wouldn’t step out of their limousines to touch dirty pavement if their life depended on it. I’m a cheddar-and-Triscuit man myself, but does it really make any difference whether the right hangs in gated communities in Mequon, drinking single-malt scotch and eating steak tartare, and we hang out in union halls drinking beer and eating ham-and-cheese? Well, yeah, but not like they think.

With entries like this from McIlheran, this may prove to be a very long year in the War of Ideas. "I don’t mind a parasite," says Bogart to Peter Lorre in Casablanca. "I object to a cut-rate one." I suppose it’s too much to ask for the Journal Sentinel – which runs the syndicated column by the deplorable Jonah Goldberg – to do any better in the "marketplace of ideas" department. Perhaps it’s time for another shy young man or woman on the copy desk to seek an audience with someone on the upper floors to deliver a nervous leftist perspective so missing in the Only Newspaper in Town. Turn-about is fair play, and, besides, they couldn’t do any worse.


Anonymous said...

Wow Mike, a little jealous of McIlheran are we??

Did you ever think for a moment that a conservative columnist is what readers were demanding from the JS?

If you're so much better than he is, then why not get a job as a writer for the JS as a liberal writer so you can join the ranks of Kane, Nichols, Stephenson, etc?

Sven said...

C'mon, Mike. Haven't you heard? Wingnut ebonics is the shiznit. yo.

guess said...

still reading - still think your great!

Paine from the Left said...

Why waste time reading Mcllheran? He's simplistic, nast and like the Platte River a mile wide an inch deep.

ΕΡΜΕΣ said...

I like to think McIlheran cries a little bit on the inside when he thinks about how shallow and trite his columns are.

Keep up the good work, Mike.