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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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I like to use puns and turns of phrase for the titles of my columns. This week I went with something more straightforward for one simple reason: Mark Steyn, columnist for Hollinger, Inc. and the Chicago Sun-Times, seems like the kind of guy who would constantly Google his own name.

I've been hating Mark Steyn for a while now. He writes poorly researched, truth-challenged screeds that appear in English-language outlets all over the world -- his only U.S. paper is the Sun-Times. He made his name writing reviews of musical theater, and that is primarily how he is known in American circles. Lucky us, we get the pleasure of reading Steyn's sloppy, persnickety political prose, topped by his haggard, smug face. If you're wondering what he looks like, imagine Wallace Beery if Wallace Beery had been a complete pussy with no opposable digits with which to shave.

My first encounter with Steyn's brand of fawning power-worship was three or four years ago, and it actually started positively. Unfortunately the article is no longer in the Sun-Times archives, but it was about Israel. I found myself agreeing with Steyn for three or four paragraphs, until he transformed the very real right of Israelis to defend themselves against homicidal murderers into a Leninist excoriation of the "American Left" who, according to Steyn, wanted to team up with Islamic fundamentalists. Steyn often plays this sleight-of-hand, or rather whatever "sleight-of-hand" would be called if it involved absolutely no sleight or wit whatsoever.

Steyn's latest column dealt with the death of Arthur Miller, generally recognized as one of America's greatest playwrights and a national treasure adored by people of all stripes for his basic humanity. Steyn took the occasion to politicize Miller's death, chastising him (after he's dead, of course) for being, basically, a communist. He's most upset about The Crucible, the allegorical play about the Salem witch trials that was really about McCarthyism. Steyn's problem with the seminal play that decried the loss of decency and the birth of personal destruction in American political discourse was that the McCarthyites, unlike the elders of Salem, were right.

Quoth Steyn:

"Many people have pointed out the obvious flaw with The Crucible -- that there were no witches, whereas there were certainly communists. For one thing, they were gobbling up a lot of real estate: They seized Poland in 1945, Bulgaria in '46..."

Right, Mark. Except the Army-McCarthy hearings weren't about Russian Communists in Europe, were they? They were about imagined Communists in the Defense Department, State Department, Hollywood, Academia, the PTA, the Rotary Club, the 19th Ward Democratic Organization and the Oswego County Ornithologists Club. Were there Communists in any of those organizations? Probably. Did McCarthy and his Republican goons destroy the lives and careers of far more innocent Americans than "card-carrying" Communists? Of course. Let's look to that bastion of liberalism, the U.S. Senate, for a description of the Army-McCarthy Hearings and their result:

"Senator McCarthy frequently threatened witnesses with prosecution for contempt, but all cases were either thrown out of court or overturned on appeal. No one who appeared before McCarthy's subcommittee was imprisoned for anything related to their testimony. However, many lost their jobs for declining to answer the subcommittee's questions. Following these hearings, the Supreme Court considerably strengthened the rights of witnesses appearing before congressional committees. The Senate and the Permanent Subcommittee also revised the rules of inquiry to prevent a continuation of the abuses evident during Senator McCarthy's tenure."

Steyn greatly enjoys lifting a leg over Arthur Miller's corpse days after he's dead because Miller also dared, in his other works, to insinuate that any American ever was at some point unhappy: "[A] better name for [the] Centre for the Advancement of American Studies: the Arthur Miller Sad Hollow Center of the American Dream." This is Steyn's snarky way of attacking Miller for his most powerful and human play, Death of a Salesman, which sought to propose that maybe the American Dream of getting rich quick could sometimes lead people down a path to despair. In Steyn's America (he's Canadian, by the way), the only people who end up unhappy in their quest for wealth are the lazy, the stupid and the weak. Everybody else is always happy. So why did mean Arthur Miller have to say otherwise!? Stupid Arthur Miller! Saying many Americans end up unhappy means he hates America!

Steyn is a self-described war-monger and liar who invents things all the time due to a prodigious ability to insult people by taking something they never said or did and using it against them, or making bold assertions in order to bolster his side. For example, Steyn in 2003 was telling anybody who would listen that he was "sure" that Bin Laden was dead, and ridiculed Democrats who "teased" the Republicans for not catching him. Good call Mark. Why do I have a feeling your sure-ness of the existence of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction was in the 99-100 percent range?

He writes forcefully about the rampant America-hating of anybody who opposes getting involved in foreign wars without an exit strategy. His targets include such left-wing darlings as former Crossfire host Tucker Carlson, who for all his gazillion failings is at least willing to occasionally tip his hat to that enemy of the Right, "reality." In column after column Steyn draws parallels between some anti-administration figure and a homicidal lunatic fanatic and uses this facile analogy to prove his ultimate point: that George W. Bush is right. Because Steyn is not really a conservative, just as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are not really conservatives. At some point, Mark, words have to mean things: conservative has to mean something as an ideology. Steyn has no ideology; he simply worships the power of the group of Republicans now in power. He is a limp groupie, pliant and coquettish, who doesn't want to see a better world but rather one in which he can curl up and purr in the lap of those in power, whoever they are. In that way he is a lot like Sean Hannity, but without the prehensile tail.

This lily-livered-ness defines all of Steyn's writing. He is all style and no substance -- he can come up with a mildly amusing metaphor on occasion, but there is absolutely no meatiness or firmness to his arguments. He dons his flashy sequins to keep you from noticing what's underneath. When he writes things like "Imperialism Is the Answer" (10/14/2001), he is hoping the sheer bravado and stupidity that he wears on the outside will distract you from the fact that his arguments are completely flaccid.

In that particular gem, Steyn argues that the West failed the Middle East not because they carved it up after World War I and installed purposefully unstable puppet regimes that due to their makeup were instantly hated by their populace, but because they didn't outright colonize it as they did so many Indian and African nations. Had they done that, he argues, they could have "[Set] up courts presided over by judges in full-bottomed wigs and introduc[ed] a professional civil service and a free press..." All of which have succeeded swimmingly in former colonies in Africa and which the Indians so appreciated in that Crown Jewel. Oh, and Steyn's stunning actuarial acumen also led him to deduce that the economic costs of the September 11th terrorist attacks would end up being greater than overthrowing all of the governments of the Middle East and installing colonial protectorates.

I considered contacting Steyn to give him a chance to respond to all this, but he didn't bother to afford former Georgia Senator Max Cleland -- who lost three limbs in Vietnam -- that opportunity when he wrote that Cleland was "no hero" and that "he was a beneficiary of the medal inflation that tends to accompany unpopular wars..." This from a guy whose bread and butter comes from writing reviews of fabou, lavish musicals.

Why the Sun-Times embarrasses its already tepid editorial pages with the writings of this epicene sniveler I'll never understand -- but he's good for a laugh. And due for a shave.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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