Universal Translator

Friday, December 30, 2011

Playing With the Pundits – The Worst WaPo Column Ever?

Certain columnists just lend themselves to abuse, especially those wealthy pundits who presume to speak on behalf of “the American people.”  David Brooks wrote an entire book ten years ago (Bobos in Paradise) that attempted to fob off Brooks’s own celebration of the upper class’s conspicuous consumption as self-evidently an American virtue; eight years later he confirmed just how much his finger is on the pulse of the American public by declaiming that Americans thought that Barack Obama “just would not fit in at the Applebee’s salad bar.”  Of course, none of the Applebee’s restaurants even have salad bars something Brooks might have known but for the fact he obviously never condescends to eat in chain restaurants.

Thomas Friedman is another easily mockable pundit.  The multi-millionaire Mustache of Understanding’s penchant for extrapolating global truths about humanity’s future from random comments made by taxi cab drivers in the middle of conversations that almost certainly took place only in Friedman’s fevered imaginings is the impetus for an irregular series of postings (the “Friedman Files”) on this very blog.  And of course there’s Friedman’s infamous Charlie Rose appearance in which he argued that after 9/11 America had no choice but to attack a large Muslim country – any large Muslim country would do, apparently, except Saudi Arabia – so that our military could tell that country’s people:  Suck.  On.  This.

But someone who doesn’t get mocked enough – no matter what silly thing comes out of his pie hole – is The Washington Post’s David Ignatius.  But no matter.  Today’s column, “The Year of the Befuddled Leader,” provides more than enough mock-fodder.

Good Lord, I’ve rarely seen such a hack piece of writing – especially from somebody who commands one of the foremost plots of opinion real estate in the US.  Ignatius’s piece, which he claims to be “a year-end review,” obviously was tossed off in about 20 minutes so that he could clear his social calendar for whatever New Year celebrations he plans to attend.

Structurally, it’s just a mess.  All of thirteen paragraphs long, this “year-end review” wastes the first three paragraphs talking about all the things Ignatius does not want to discuss, and the concluding paragraph merely tells us that we can’t know what the future will bring.  (Yeah, David – I realized you were pretty clueless about half-way through this thing.)  And even though Ignatius explains that he thinks the “befuddled leader” is the appropriate unifying image of 2011, he nevertheless devotes three additional paragraphs to discussing Egypt and “radical Islam” without mentioning a leader of any kind at all.

Substantively, well . . . let’s clear up some basic terminology.  MicroSoft Word suggests the following synonyms for “befuddled”:  puzzled, perplexed, baffled, mystified, bewildered, or bemused.  That list certainly accords with my understanding of the word’s definition.  So what examples of “befuddlement” by national leaders does Ignatius provide us to support his argument that 2011 was the year of the “befuddled leader?”   Uhhhmmmm . . . none.

For example, Ignatius describes how “the Pakistani military rolled over the hapless President Asif Ali Zardari as if he were no more than a gaudy piece of cardboard.”  I can’t tell who Ignatius supposes is “befuddled” here, but certainly it can’t be the decisive Pakistani military that always has been the real leader in Pakistan – a fact that Ignatius, as the Post’s foreign affairs columnist, really should have known.

And for some reason, Ignatius asserts that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi spent 2011 “befuddled.”  About what, precisely?  Gaddafi appeared to be insane, but he never appeared to be confused; he believed passionately in his right to continue his autocratic rule over Libya right up until the moment the Libyans shot him in the head.  Mubarak believed the same, right up until the time the Egyptian military switched sides on him; hell, after the American state department leaked word that Mubarak would shortly be resigning his office, Mubarak called a press conference just to tell the world that he intended to stay right the hell where he was.  He was wrong, ultimately, but he never appeared “befuddled.”

These leaders weren’t “perplexed” about anything, they weren’t puzzled about what was going on in their countries or in the world; they were just swept from power.  The same thing is true of the embattled Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and Bashar al-Assad of Syria.  Neither ruler has done anything to reflect any sort of puzzlement or bafflement about events – to the contrary, I’m pretty sure they understand exactly what is happening to them. 

And this true as well of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Hu Jintao, whom Ignatius describes as “looking over their shoulders at technology-empowered citizens.”  Huh?  What import do these words even have, except to suggest a lazy columnist’s way of asserting in this year’s end wankfest that “technology is changing everything, maaaannn!

Shit.  Given that Ignatius apparently understands the term “befuddled” to mean “out of or in danger of losing office” I’m just surprised he didn’t lump Kim Jong-Il in with everybody else as an example of 2011’s “befuddled leaders.”  Kim Jong-Il died!  How much more befuddled can you get?  Death is the ultimate fuddlement!

But by far, the thing that set me off most about this dreck is Ignatius’s attempts to claim that European and American leaders are confused about how they should react to world events.

As for Europe, Ignatius claims that France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel “spent the year muffing their economic crisis.”  How?  Well, he doesn’t really explain that one.  On the one hand, he asserts as self-evident that “[c]oordinated fiscal policy and austerity will certainly be necessary for the euro zone’s future.”  (Psst!  David!  Austerity is a really bad idea right now!  It isn’t working!)  On the other hand, he argues that the European Central Bank needs to act as a lender of last resort – apparently so the perimeter nations in trouble can continue borrowing money they don’t have.  Jesus!  I think Sarkozy and Merkel’s austerity prescriptions are wrong, but at least they’re consistent.  If anyone appears “befuddled” about what to do to fix Europe it seems to be Ignatius – not these two leaders.

And, finally, with respect to President Obama: 

Given the uncertainties facing the world, the United States was probably lucky to have a “no drama” president who sought to avoid mistakes.  Still, there’s no disguising the fact that 2011 was a lesson in the diminished power of the United States.  One great debate for the 2012 campaign will be whether an American restoration is possible and, if so, within what limits.

Ignatius could have simply written Ph’nglui mgiw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagi fhtagn! for all the sense this paragraph makes.  (Although presumably what Ignatius did write is slightly less dangerous.)

So . . . it was a good thing we had President Obama in office – presumably because he was not “befuddled.”  But, I guess, the world was befuddled by all the uncertainties facing it.  Uhmmmm . . . okay.  Oh yeah, and also – the United States’ power has been diminished in some way.  Militarily?  Economically?  Politically?  Diminished how?  Absolutely diminished, or diminished in comparison to other nations?  Ignatius doesn’t bother to answer any of these questions or to otherwise explain what he means, he merely asserts the diminishment and hopes that our mythical lost power can be “restored within limits.”  Again, WTF?

What a great big piece of piffle.  This may be the single most useless Post column I’ve ever read, and that’s saying a lot.

Yeah . . . I’ve decided to keep an eye on this guy.  Anybody this influential and yet so friggin’ dumb that he can write for a living and not know what “befuddled” means is too dangerous to be left to his own devices.

I can’t believe people like this get paid for such scribblings.

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