Commentary

Five Worst Op-Eds of 2011

An emergency root canal on Christmas Eve eve left me half a tank low on holiday cheer. Luckily, “bah humbug” is the right attitude to bring to my final column for 2011, which, like 2010’s, will be a suitably surly look at the Five Worst Op-eds of the Year:

5. Thomas Friedman, “Are We Going to Roll Up Our Sleeves or Limp On?,” the New York Times (Sept. 20)

If you think about it, we can do both. But thinking through the images your words create is too pedestrian for the Maestro of Mixed Metaphors.

Here, Friedman argues that we need fiscal austerity and President Obama’s $447 billion “jobs program,” and closes the column by landing the rare double mixed metaphor with a triple axle and a twist of lemon.

If partisanship rules congressional budget fights, Friedman warns, “the rest of us will just sit here … hunkering down for a bad century.” OK, no more limping — but what do we do with our sleeves?

You know, Friedman’s standard fee is $75,000 a speech. It almost makes you want to go join a drum circle in McPherson Square.

4. Peter Beinart, “Why Anthony Weiner Shouldn’t Quit,” The Daily Beast (June 12)

If you sniggered at Weiner’s crotch-pic follies, you’re a heartless jerk, says Beinart. “We live in a kick-them-while-they’re down culture,” with too little “humility and compassion.” “Instead of being moved by [politicians’] suffering we revel in it.”

Bah, humbug. Political sex scandals are entertaining and edifying — they remind us not to cede power to the political class, whose members are often less responsible and more corrupt than those they seek to rule. Why not kick them when they’re down? They kick us when they’re up.

3. Bret Stephens, “The Mexican Paradox,” the Wall Street Journal (May 31)

Mexico’s suffered some 40,000 drug-war casualties since president Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006. Not to worry, says Stephens, the country’s doing swell, and the “vast majority” of the victims were gang members anyway — a dubious claim apparently based on the government’s self-serving assertions.

Stevens combines credulousness with callousness, quoting Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 comments on five gamblers hung without trial: “a portion of population, worse than useless in any community,” their deaths “never a matter of reasonable regret with anyone.”

2. David Brooks, “The Modesty Manifesto,” the New York Times (March 10)

This piece from the Times’s resident “National Greatness Conservative,” won largely on the strength of one line: “Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation.” What can you say? Sounds better in the original German?

Brooks worries that selfish Americans may resist the budget cuts we need because they’re no longer “conscious of themselves as components of a national project.” It never occurs to him that past “National Greatness” projects helped get us in this mess in the first place.

And the winner is!

1. Simon Winchester, “There Are Lies on Both Sides of Korea’s Border,” the Times of London (Dec. 20)

Other than Hennessy, the cognac producer that lost its biggest customer in Kim Jong-Il, it’s hard to imagine any Westerner getting wistful over the mad dictator’s death. But last week, Winchester allowed himself “a small measure of melancholy” because prosperous South Korea has had “its Koreanness utterly submerged in neon, hip-hop, and every imaginable American influence,” while “North Korea, for all its faults, is undeniably still Korea.”

Yes, let them eat … cultural authenticity. It’s terrific seasoning for a bowl of grass soup.

And so, my friends, we roll up our sleeves and limp forward, hunkered down to face what 2012 holds, our boats borne back ceaselessly into the past, yet always, always, twirling toward freedom.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.