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September 18, 2006

The First Refuge Of The Scoundrel

I've been a little loathe to enter the furor over Ann Althouse's repulsive smear of Jessica, if only because Althouse's point was so self-evidently cruel and unfair that it seemed unworthy of further publicity. But PZ Myers' post reminds me that there's a larger issue at stake. For those blissfully unaware, Jessica's summary of the hubbub is here, but the tale is simple enough: Jessica's extraordinary work on Feministing -- and, more generally, as a young feminist trying to fashion a relevant and resonant feminist message for her generation -- got her invited to the recent blogger lunch with Bill Clinton. During the group picture that closed out the meal, she, like everyone else, did a three-quarter turn. The problem? Jessica was wearing her breasts at the time, and their outline was vaguely visible beneath her sweater. Ann Althouse was scandalized.

Sorry -- you can't see it, but I just burst out laughing. Of course Althouse wasn't scandalized: She knows what breasts are, she knows that they've the nasty habit of changing a chest's side profile, she knows there was nothing revealing or untoward about Jessica's outfit. Here's the picture, see for yourself. Althouse was trying to discredit Jessica. She dislikes her ideology, dislikes her brand of feminism, dislikes the political leader she was meeting with, and she went for the kneecap. Classy.

As PZ argues, Althouse was trying an old trick: Subtly insinuating that Jessica's looks, and not her talent, dedication, or intelligence, are the issue. See, Jessica is young and attractive, has the misfortune to look like she's young and attractive, and we all know that young, attractive people (particularly young, attractive women) are morons. The temerity that she'd prove otherwise while continuing to look young and attractive. Whore.

There's a reason why, when I was on C-SPAN the first time, I refused to reveal my age. There's a reason why, when Lee Siegel was offended by my comments to him, he attacked my supposed ambition, youth, and family. And there's a reason Althouse went after Jessica's looks. This is supposed to be a realm where ideas rule, where argument matters, where the playing ground is level. It's supposed to be a place where academics debate laymen, professional professional journalists mix it up with political junkies, and all ages, genders, and races participate without baggage. That's what it's supposed to be. But that can only last so long.

Eventually, inevitably, people like Althouse or Siegel get scared, or beat, or defensive, and they fall back on what's easiest: Trying to discredit, rather than debate. It's the first refuge of the scoundrel, and that's what Althouse proved herself. She's not only brought dishonor on her own reputation, she took what should've been a proud day for bloggers and the blogosphere and irreparably marred it for those involved, Jessica in particular. She sank low, hit hard, and smeared cruelly. That's not what this medium is supposed to be about. Althouse should be ashamed.

September 18, 2006 | Permalink


Excellent post. I feel that I'm personally blind to a lot of these dynamics.

On the C-SPAN age issue, I thought that revealing your age wouldn't necessarily have been a losing move. There's sort of a "Boy Wonder" thing that can work in your favor in these cases, plus whatever support you get from avuncular older folks on your side who like to see the younger generation doing right. I'm guessing that this would more or less offset the problems you discuss, but maybe that's too optimistic.

It's a lot harder in Jessica's case, since there isn't really a corresponding "Boob Wonder" persona widely accepted in our culture where you're the smart and capable woman with breasts. In fact, things get taken the other way, and that's what Althouse was trying to exploit.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 17, 2006 9:59:01 PM

There is and there isn't. For those on my side, there can be a pleasant effect. For those not, they feel they can safely discount my opinion, or explain how, while I'm very smart for my age, in a couple years I'll...

Fact of it is, there are 84-year-olds who hold my positions. There are 84-year-olds on the opposite side. I want my arguments judged by their strength and potency, not dismissed, discounted, or colored by the life expertiences, or lack thereof, imputed or insinuated when folks have to chew over my age. Whether people would react well or poorly, I want my ideas to have the force they should our shouldn't -- not be overshadowed by whether I'm a boy wonder or an immature sprout.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 17, 2006 10:04:08 PM

I disagree, and have no reason to believe that Jessica was or is particularly important to Althouse, say over a dozen other feminist bloggers I could name, or, for instance, the other women in the picture and meeting, so that Ann Althouse would single her out for attack. Certainly Merritt is more powerful. Nor do I see a general agenda for Althouse in attacking feminist bloggers, or discrediting liberal women by using their looks.

It was about Clinton, and Jessica was collateral damage. It was also typical right-wing tactics of stirring up as much mu as possible, in the hopes that some of it sticks to Clinton. The lefty blogosphere was essentially defensive, allowed Althouse to set the agenda, and I suspect Clinton was just a little more damaged. Counter-productive.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 17, 2006 10:10:05 PM

That's an admirable thing to want, Ezra! Socrates would be proud.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 17, 2006 10:20:45 PM

You're ducking the real issue. It's a bit ironic for a self-described feminist to cheerfully hang out with a man infamous for exploiting women. It's much like the constant criticism of black/gay republicans by the left. I've read you a long time, and I've never seen you criticize that, even when a high profile lefty put an african american politician in blackface...

Posted by: American Hawk | Sep 17, 2006 10:27:24 PM

I'm 56. I remember the first time I saw you on C-Span. I was really suprised. The name "Ezra Klein" conjured up a sort of gray eminence in my mind, not a someone the same age as my youngest kid, or maybe even younger. I'm a huge fan. I think you're one of the most intelligent and credible political writers around right now, but I do think every so often that your parents must be very proud. Of course, luckily for you, you don't have breasts or it might be a whole different story.

Posted by: zenyenta | Sep 17, 2006 10:40:16 PM

It's not so much that it was about Clinton or about Jessica, it was about getting two birds with one stone. Althouse saw an opportunity to belittle a woman who dares disagree with her and a chance to raise the specter of Bill Clinton among the wingnuts, whose obsession of all things Bill continues unabated.

Part of the scandal for the wingers is that feminists are supposed to be unattractive. Since most of their ideology is based upon a couple of myths, it's really unsettling when they are faced with irrefutable proof that they are full of shit.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 17, 2006 10:40:32 PM

Except for Althouse had no idea who Jessica was when she wrote the post and neither did her commentators...

Posted by: Polybius | Sep 17, 2006 10:47:36 PM

This is all Clinton's fault.

Posted by: apantomimehorse | Sep 17, 2006 10:55:49 PM

Damnit!!! No one knows if Althouse binds her breasts for all appearances. Breasts are of critical importance to Althouse, so does she or does she not bind or knowingly hide her breasts for appearances to keep from looking like what she hates?

Posted by: Silver Owl | Sep 17, 2006 10:59:17 PM

Good post. The weird thing about Althouse is that she says she voted for Clinton twice (in a past life, I guess) and circulated a lawyers against impeachment petition. But then, after he was charged by the House, she circulated a petition saying he should resign. Something happened in there, God knows what. Ever since she's had a pathological hatred of Clinton, and stops at nothing trying -- she thinks -- to discredit him. So that's a big part of it. But there's also this:

It really must be sweeps week in Right Blogistan. I wouldn't mention it again, but she's starting all over again. The hits seemed to start slowing down today, so wouldn't you know, this afternoon, after days of sound and fury signifying very little, Ann Althouse went back back to blogging about boobs, throwing in necrophilia for good measure (separate posts, thank God). Still claiming to be more sinned against than sinning. But basically just driving traffic to her blog. Her cynical opportunism is as breathtaking as her misogyny.

See her Site meter and what she has to say about it and blogging: "What would we do without Site Meter?" -- Ann Althouse, 9/02/06. Watch the numbers pile up.

Posted by: Madison Guy | Sep 17, 2006 11:17:07 PM

it's a bit ironic for a self-described feminist to cheerfully hang out with a man infamous for exploiting women.

of course, that's a premise that only the right-wing buys into, and thereon hangs althouse's house of cards, which falls at the first break of daylight, if i may mix my metaphors more thoroughly than a margarita.

unless you count abusing hillary's vows as exploitation (and, as a side note, none of us know what understanding bill and hill have about his extra-cirricular activities), bill isn't particularly known for "exploting women." at least not monica, who wasn't feeling particularly exploited. and paula jones wasn't feeling very exploited until the right encouraged her to file her law suit.

note to the hardly-ever-right wing: having sex with someone you're attracted to is not the same as being exploited.

but the whole idea of having sex, especially with someone you're attracted to, is the very antithesis of most of the premises of the hardly-ever-right wing, which ezra kinda touched on.

Posted by: skippy | Sep 17, 2006 11:18:14 PM

Your post is good,but the whole idea of responding to such utter nonsense is way beyond my tolerance for stupidity and vapidity, even as purveyed by a rather vicious bunch of right-wing toadies.

Posted by: della Rovere | Sep 17, 2006 11:22:12 PM

American Hawk said, ..."even when a high profile lefty put an african american politician in blackface..."

Joe Lieberman is an African-American? Huh.

"It's a bit ironic for a self-described feminist to cheerfully hang out with a man infamous for exploiting women."

Clinton's affairs exploit women? I mean, he's an asshole for breaking his wedding vows and all that. But how do affairs exploit the mistresses? Do any and all sexual acts exploit women?

Unless this is a sudden concern for Hillary Clinton, who, one can argue, might have been exploited by her husband. This empathy for Hillary is very touching, AH.

D'oh! Skippy made the same point. Well, at least I know my way of thinking isn't unique to my damaged brain. :D

Posted by: Jonathan Russell | Sep 17, 2006 11:24:25 PM

Well, here's an odd coincidence: the "last refuge of a scoundrel" remark, referring to patriotism, is Dr. Johnson's. And September 18 being his birthday, I'm kinda wondering if Ezra is a closet Johnsonian? He's not on the member list of the Yahoo! Johnsonian group... Maybe this was just a silent shout-out to me and all the work I've done on that Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. Yeah, that's the ticket...

Posted by: Frank | Sep 17, 2006 11:41:05 PM

Republican sex is, by definition, exploitation.

Democrats, on the other hand, have good old American sex, where both partners usually actually like each other and enjoy each other's company.

This is a true fact.

Posted by: Nancy Richardson | Sep 17, 2006 11:42:55 PM

I think Althouse has aging (and professional jealousy) issues. When she was stupid enough to reveal that on her blog, and was called on it, she covered it up with "Look! Over there! Monica!"

Posted by: Sharoney | Sep 17, 2006 11:46:42 PM

The real key to this is that Althouse despises men. Thus her viscerial hatred of Clinton, and by association anyone who associates with him especially other women.

Her groupies are a very slow bunch. She leaves lots of clues around.

Posted by: Eli Rabett | Sep 17, 2006 11:47:33 PM

There's no need to psychoanalyze Althouse. She is dull, her opinions are trite and her blog defines banality. If she weren't a law professor benefitting from generous Knoxville Blog Welfare, she'd be as prominent a figure in political blogging as several million people with MySpace pages.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 18, 2006 12:02:19 AM

Oh, and Madison Guy is on the money: Althouse is trolling.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 18, 2006 12:04:17 AM

According to Atrios you are an old man - for shame - also for the record I'm a year behind you and hope to wear it as well as you.
Your age is always what you make it.

Posted by: Richard | Sep 18, 2006 12:06:45 AM

You think these people -- Althouse, Reynolds, Dr Helen -- are capable of feeling shame?

Posted by: paul | Sep 18, 2006 12:09:01 AM

I'm not psychoanalyzing Althouse. I'm practically quoting from things she has written. She says that men are very much inferior to women. You have to go look for the stuff, but it is there.

Posted by: Eli Rabett | Sep 18, 2006 12:17:19 AM

Okay -

A lot of us think AA's opinions are for shit. That of course is always a matter for argument, among friends or otherwise. But now we know that she's personally an asshole. What a surprise! You hit the nail on the head: her post is at lazy, invidious, and just flat out lame. Fuck her.
As for Jessica: she's a chick who knows how to use a computer -- why doesn't she have a pocket protector glued to those breasts.

Posted by: abc | Sep 18, 2006 12:21:20 AM

This episode confirms that Althouse is officially nuts, however, I find delight in wondering what she thought of the infamous Commander Codpiece.

Posted by: Maggie | Sep 18, 2006 12:21:37 AM

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