Although not a "writer" per se, perhaps my favorite living writer not named Thomas Frank is recording engineer Steve Albini. He writes very little these days, but when he was younger and had a more active pen (not a metaphor for his penis – an actual pen) he authored some of the most classic rants about the music industry you would ever hope to read. He has heavily influenced my writing style, probably more than anyone realizes.
Among the classics is a 1994 rejoinder to Chicago music critic Bill Wyman entitled "Three Pandering Sluts and their Music-Press Stooge." Mr. Wyman had written a feature about three successful "indie" musical groups – Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair. Aside from the copious swearing and Albini's uncanny ability to be a complete dick in writing, my favorite portion is his conclusion: "Clip your year-end column and put it away for ten years. See if you don't feel like an idiot when you reread it."
Sure enough, fourteen years later Wyman's effusive praise does seem ridiculous. SP went into a nosedive and even their "good" albums sound incredibly dated now. Urge Overkill disappeared 15 minutes after this was written. Liz Phair attempted to turn herself into a teeny-bopper, the results of which were so embarrassing that she should have been imprisoned. Wyman, in short, bought marketing hype and spoke glowingly about what turned out to be flavors-of-the-minute. Now that those artists' fad has passed, the author's laudatory words are silly in hindsight.
Lesson learned: if you're going to write something down for posterity and general consumption, put a little thought into it with an eye toward avoiding future embarrassment. Before something is drowned in praise, be fully informed and make sure it has some staying power.
Right-wing columnists, of course, are unable to feel shame or humility and their employers never hold them accountable for their past inaccuracies. It's simply not worth it for them to fret about how their words will look weeks, months, or years later. The only thing that matters is stoking the prejudices of their base and getting through the day's talking points. Nonetheless, you have to wonder if some of the pundit class regrets their words about Sarah Palin during and immediately after the GOP convention. Without knowing anything about her, they dove headlong into hyperbolic ass-kissing mode. I wonder if re-reading that stuff makes them feel like idiots yet.
Bill Kristol, who privately lobbied McCain to pick Palin, gave us the classic shitburger "A Star is Born?" on September 1. At least he covered his ass by noting:
If Palin turns out not be up to the challenge for which McCain has selected her, McCain will pay a heavy price. His judgment about the most important choice he’s had to make this year will have been proved wanting.
Bullseye, Billy! But caveats and restraint were soon off the table as Kristol followed up a week later with "A Heartbeat Away." Here he lets us know that:
McCain didn’t just pick a politician who could appeal to Wal-Mart Moms. He picked a Wal-Mart Mom…A Wasilla Wal-Mart Mom a heartbeat away? I suspect most voters will say, No problem. And some — perhaps a decisive number — will say, It’s about time.
Kristol was actually shy compared to some of the others. Ron Dreher said "Why does the Angry Left hate Sarah Palin? Because of the potentially transformative power of her example" in his handjob piece, although he certainly changed his mind in a hurry! Ann Coulter chimed in with the characteristically-intelligent "The Best Man Turned Out to Be a Woman." Cal Thomas humiliates himself in "Steel Magnolia," laden with gems like:
McCain's selection may be risky, my bet is that the pretty, pro-life, gun-toting, hockey mom is going to pleasantly surprise a lot of people with her toughness and common sense view of life and the world.
Monica Charen tells us, in "Game Changer," that:
McCain must also have sensed that a young, attractive woman from a western state would inject a dose of energy and enthusiasm into the race. On this, McCain may not have even guessed at how right he was (though one senses that Cindy McCain knew). Sarah Palin is political dynamite. She has transformed Republicans from flaccid to fired-up overnight. Just by being pro-life, small town, patriotic, and religious, she set the teeth of the media types on edge. By being all of that AND smart and articulate, and a budget hawk, she sent conservatives over the moon.
The return trip from the moon didn't take long. Ross Mackenzie blows his colleagues away, though, unhinging his jaw like a snake to swallow a few extra inches of wang for the right-wing base:
So how about a single word to describe John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running-mate? Sensational. If he becomes the next president, he may well look back and see this decision — this long Statue-of-Liberty pass downfield — as winning the game for him before Labor Day. What’s so terrific about Gov. Palin? How much time do you have?
We all know, for example, that writing an email or phoning someone while angry is a bad idea. Emotional, knee-jerk reactions never look good in hindsight. The world of right-wing media operates by different rules, but only to a point. Some well-known righties have done rapid 180s on Palin; others will defend her to the bitter end. All of them, however, have left a trail of words that we outside of the 30% Club will be only too happy to revisit.