Leon Wieseltier’s latest piece is worth reading in full for his take on Syria and Iran (too much talk of Auschwitz on the latter, he says. Maybe. In terms of the existential threat, it is true Israel still holds the ultimate nuclear trump card if it concludes that Iran’s ambitions are unstoppable by traditional military means).
But Wieseltier’s piece is also an immensely satisfying read because it doubles as an obliterating take-down of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s latest book, which sounds about as unreadable as her nightly news show is unwatchable. TNR has called out Maddow for her unseriousness in the past, most recently in its list of DC’s most overrated thinkers, but Wieseltier really follows through in this piece:
Written in the same perky self-adoring voice that makes her show so excruciating, it offers some correct observations about certain lamentable trends in the American military— its reliance on contractors, its exploitation of reservists, its surfeit of nuclear weapons; but its righteous aim is to make the use of force itself seem absurd. (Maddow is an absurdity artist, who thinks that all you have to do to refute something is to make fun of it.) What offends her is “the artificial primacy of defense among our national priorities.” …
Maddow adverts to the Founders a lot, proving again that originalism is just the search for a convenient past, a political sport played with key words. …
Trashing force may win you a lot of friends, but it is stupid. There is nothing “artificial” about the primacy of defense because there is nothing artificial about threats and conflicts and atrocities. The American political system’s “disinclination” to war must not be promoted into a disinclination to history. We are not the country we were in the eighteenth century, as every liberal insists about every other dimension of American policy. Anyway, this is what President Jefferson said in 1806: “Our duty is, therefore, to act upon things as they are, and to make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be.”
Maddow has apparently written a book that relies on the premise that the Founders were anti-war, mainly by taking Thomas Jefferson quotes entirely out of context. That’s not exactly out of character for her. Notice how on her nightly news show she only responds to the parts of her opponents’ arguments that can be twisted into unrecognizable strawmen and set-ups for easy punchlines.
Which is why I can’t imagine she’ll respond to Wieseltier’s criticism. Maddow really is one of those people who believe any argument can be won with enough ironic eyebrow raises. Responding would mean she’d actually have to take the critique seriously, and that just wouldn’t be cute or endearingly quirky.