Nicholas Kristof And The Comfort of Ad Hominem

Nicholas Kristof, the noted racist and sexist token neocon columnist at the New York Times, tried a thought experiment.

In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.

As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”

Well, yeah, he’s not really a neocon, but he might as well be for all the good it does him to offer wrongthink as a possibility worthy of hearing, maybe considering.  Kristof built upon his hated column with another, entitled “The Liberal Blind Spot.” It is, to a large extent, an exercise in Gertruding, a soft-pedaling of his argument in what might be viewed as an effort to not infuriate very dogmatic readers in the process of making his point.

On campuses at this point, illiberalism is led by liberals. The knee-jerk impulse to protest campus speakers from the right has grown so much that even Democrats like Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, have been targeted.

There is a tacit argument here, that “old school libs,” the ones who believed in pragmatic equality and didn’t spend their days turning over rocks in search of something to be outraged about, have become the new conservatives. Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow, as sensitive an academic as there can be, learned the hard way that there is no middle ground anymore.

If there is a bigger flaw to Kristof’s effort to skate on thin ice, it’s overbreadth.

As I see it, there are three good reasons for universities to be more welcoming not just to women or blacks, but also to conservatives.

First, stereotyping and discrimination are wrong, whether against gays or Muslims, or against conservatives or evangelicals. We shouldn’t define one as bigotry and the other as enlightenment.

The labels become problematic when writing for a dogmatic audience, because they are understood differently than intended. Everything is a code word, and mentioning evangelicals is akin to arguing for rejection of evolution and hatred of homosexuality. Even worse, the label “conservative” embodies all evils per se, so why bother to go farther, because they’re stupid and wrong about everything.

I’ve told the story of the day I got to sit in the green room before a taping of Bill Buckley’s Firing Line, when his guest was John Kenneth Galbraith. I was in the midst of brilliance beyond my wildest imagination. Not just Buckley. Not just Galbraith. Both of them. It wasn’t exactly an epiphany, as I harbored no suspicions that any voice that didn’t agree with me was inherently stupid and thus immediately dismissed. But to watch the two banter, lunge, parry, riposte, and do so with simultaneous gentility and the rapier wit of Oscar Wilde was amazing.

Do the progressives who beclowned themselves by interrupting Dean Minow to chant infantile slogans believe they are the intellectual superiors of Bill Buckley?

Kristof’s column was not particularly effective in conveying his message. Part of the problem was his wishy-washy apologies for hints of progressive heresy, watering down an unpleasant message at every opportunity. Part of the problem was his invocation of language that is inherently vilified, and so can’t be considered as anything other than an ad hominem in itself.

But an additional problem is that he can’t bring himself to tell the unacceptable reality of the old school liberal, that we (yes, I just used the word “we”) arrived at our positions after thinking it through, listening to the arguments for and against. and reaching a conclusion that didn’t require us to indulge in mindless, dogmatic hatred.  While Kristof puts it into the context of academia, it’s merely the leading edge of illiberal intolerance. Coming soon to a theater near you.

But the academy does make for a good example. Firstly, because your tuition money isn’t going toward that biology degree you thought you were paying for, but toward indoctrination into gender, racial and sexual dogma. Secondly, our children, and hence our future, are being taught that any heretical thought is intolerable.  And thirdly, because the aspirational hope for equality has been conflated with entitlement for super special treatment, such that there can never be equality as the concept is dead and buried.

The day isn’t long off when a professor, white, likely female and possibly gender fluid, will walk to the middle of a bucolic quad at an Ivy League university, strip naked, and beg self-identified marginalized students to whip her. She will do this in compensation for the evils society has wrought, historically and systemically. And should she survive the beating, she will feel fulfilled.

Yet, some will laud her as a heroine, while others castigate her as virtue signaling, or some other post-modern jargon that is all the rage among social justice warriors. She can no more win for putting her body on the line than Madeleine Albright or Dean Martha Minow. No matter what she does, what anyone does, there will be someone to bitch about its wrongfulness and inadequacy, and absolutely certain that they are right.

Was Bill Buckley stupid? Was Galbraith?  What about those of us, old school liberals, who fed this beast that now devours thought?

David Brooks wrote an apologia for student radicalism, in which he tried to rationalize the conflicting demands of meritocracy and egalitarianism reflected by the atmosphere on campus. He is full of shit. There’s no meritocracy. We killed it when we told every little darling how wonderful and brilliant they were, even though they weren’t. How did we expect them to think hard when we rewarded them for not thinking at all?

Now it’s time for us old school liberals to clean up the mess we made. No, today’s conservatives aren’t stupid. Today’s conservatives include yesterday’s liberals. We apologize for any inconvenience.

10 thoughts on “Nicholas Kristof And The Comfort of Ad Hominem

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    “Old school” liberalism and “old school” conservatism had two distinct and different political meanings, as you well know. But, intellectual rigor and intellectual honesty were at the heart of each. There is not much left of “old school” liberalism or “old school” conservatism because the likes of Galbraith and Buckley are long gone. As a historical note, Gore Vidal’s “crypto-Nazi” reference to Buckley was a harbinger of things to come on the campuses of this country.

    You have aptly described why Nicholas Kristof’s piece is not worth much attention. Despite his mechanistic fixes, you can’t remedy terminally dumb, mindlessly mean or (for college deans and other such types) woefully weak. Looking in the mirror, as brother Kristol suggests, is, after all, a self-absorbed activity by definition, that is, the equivalent of mental masturbation.

    All the best.

    Rich Kopf

    1. SHG Post author

      Passion and intellectual honesty and rigor do not go well together. Choices have to be made. They chose poorly.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        There’s my problem. I’m passionate about intellectual honesty and rigor.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    Today’s conservatives include yesterday’s liberals.

    And thus has it always been.

  3. jeremie

    thanks for taking this entire issue further. I’m a genuine flower child born of Ann Arbor MC5 activists. Sinclair even emailed condolences at my mothers passing.

    I’ve asked many of my ‘leftist’ friends to postulate WHO it was that RAISED these adorable little social justice bullies? Very few of them have the courage to admit that, by in large, it was the old lefties. Because when I ask them to consider the likelihood that it was Tea Part conservatives that instilled gender and identity politics into these kids, they know the answer.

    When you can’t find a majority of young millennials who are capable of understanding why the first amendment DOES protect hate speech, and why THEY TOO should fight to preserve that right, the die has been cast.

    Oh, and I accept your apology. I appreciate it.

  4. Mike

    The best thing to do with a David Brooks column is to tear it out of the paper, fold it into a neat square and wipe your ass with it. That’s all its good for.

  5. AR3

    “Now it’s time for us old school liberals to clean up the mess we made.”

    Not sure I can agree….. we all had a hand in this self-delusional mess. While old school liberals may have paved the way, they were not alone. The real challenge is how do we reward honest intellectual discourse. We are a society that rewards the flash “intellect”, the one that comes up with the ‘obvious’ answer faster then the balance of the room…… which all to frequently is really just suitable to barroom banter than rigorous discourse, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (with appropriate apologies to Sir William).

    First and foremost, the loudest and quickest get an automatic jaded eye. Second, when real discourse is involved, whether we agree with it or not, it should receive its due. Finally, faux bellowing masking itself as honest intelligent argument (in the traditional sense) should be shown the door, with a request to lower their voice and reinforce their argument (in the traditional sense).

    Bring me rational, logical, reasoned discourse. Those who do not, will not be given any of my all too precious time. Those who do will find a ready and willing ear, even when I disagree.

    All the best.

Comments are closed.