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April 17, 2005

us hateful liberals

Don Herzog: April 17, 2005

May I have the envelope, please?  Ladies and gentlemen, in the — excuse me, I'm not presenting an award?  I'm unsealing an indictment?  Oh, sorry.  More somberly, then.

The Indictment is in.  From Rob Koons, over at Right Reason:

Ten Things I Hate About Liberals

The following are based on my observations of posts and comments by liberals on the web, especially this site.

  1. Liberals invariably charge their critics with the straw man fallacy, no matter how tight the fit between the criticism and the words and deeds of real liberals.
  2. Liberals are quick to distance themselves from their wacko spokesman (Michael Moore, Ward Churchill) whenever these spokesman are attacked by the right, but liberals will never initiate such criticism, holding fast to the maxim of pas d’enemi à gauche.
  3. Liberals love to play hard-ball politics, until they get beaned themselves.
  4. Liberals complain incessantly that conservatives don't know or understand them yet have never spent more than five minutes listening to conservatives or reading their works.
  5. Liberals are apt to label conservatives hateful, confusing vigorous rebuttal of liberal thought with personal attacks on liberals themselves.
  6. Liberals make extremely intemperate remarks, while holding conservatives to a standard of politeness so stringent as to make Emily Post squirm with anxiety.
  7. Liberals never bother to check their facts, since they know that only ignoramuses disagree with them.
  8. Liberals are boring, since all they ever have to say is "yada, yada, yada, yada,..." [Sorry, I stopped listening after the second 'yada'.]
  9. Liberals object vehemently to any attempt by conservatives to make generalizations about liberals, no matter how apt the generalization might be.
  10. Liberals have absolutely no sense of humor. They never laugh they only smirk.

I'm a liberal.  Or so I would have thought.  So how was I supposed to react to this list?  With the shame of seeing myself nailed so decisively?  With smug and pompous dismissiveness?  If dismissive, was I permitted to blush minutes later on realizing how blatantly I'd played into Koons's hand?  Or was I typecast as so damned sanctimonious that it would never even occur to me that a blush was in order?  Or was I not supposed to react at all?  Was Koons preaching to the choir? or auditioning as the conservative blogosphere's strutting cheerleader with pompoms?

Okay, I'll confess:  I grinned.  Well, I think I grinned.  Maybe Prof. Koons would have seen it as a smirk.  These things are so tricky.  And — ah, high culture! — with nary a tinge of remorse or anxiety about Dead White Males, I found a snippet of Shakespeare floating across the old mental stage:  Lord, what fools these mortals be!  Proudly, fatuously, cosmopolitan, thinking in a pop-culture way that we're all Bozos on this bus, I didn't even silently replace "mortals" with "conservatives."

Decalogues aren't my thing.  (It's that vicious secular-humanism thing.  Got me in its clutches.  Has ever since I was a wee 'un.  My bad.)  But I'll give it a try, if only to respond, point by point, to The Indictment:

  1. Sometimes people do make straw-man arguments.  I suppose Prof. Koons just did, unless he wasn't attempting any kind of argument at all.  But I hope my conversational repertoire is not so drastically limited that I really am capable of only one response.
  2. I volunteered a criticism of Michael Moore here.  I coupled it with a parallel criticism of Anne Coulter.  And all without messing up my plural English nouns! all without a syllable of misspelled French!  Your move, Prof. Koons.
  3. I hate hardball politics.  Actually, I shall ruefully confess that I kind of hate politics.  Or, better perhaps, I am morbidly fascinated by it.  But I prefer politics — and blogging when the participants scrupulously observe Queensberry rules.  As they oh so rarely do.
  4. Oh, agony:  another Public Confession is required.  No, not just the charming old saw, "some of my best friends," though that's true enough.  I have read almost every extant word of Edmund Burke (some 23 volumes).  Just about all of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (35).  I have felt extremely foolish sitting in rare books rooms around the country, watching librarians carefully cut the pages of centuries-old volumes by conservatives you've never even heard of, so that I could be the first to read them.  Why I even wrote an unpleasantly fat book about conservatism (and democracy), and those duplicitous wretches at The Guardian applauded me for not sparing the left my biting criticisms.  I have read de Maistre and Bonald.  When I worked on nineteenth-century American sources, my shelves groaned under the weight of John Taylor, John C. Calhoun, James Fenimore Cooper.  (Trust me on this one:  your literary and political life is not complete until you hunt down a copy of Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief, a book so dreadful that it got left out of the standard editions of Cooper's works.  Those recalling Mark Twain's immortal skewering of Cooper will realize that that means it's quite extraordinarily dreadful.  Yes, the novel is narrated by a handkerchief, which guides us from aristocratic France to revolutionary France to the vulgar new wealth of a New York speculator.  More of Cooper's deathless accomplishment I dare not reveal.)  Rocketing right along to the twentieth century, I have plowed through lots of H. L. Mencken I'm sure he often got me to giggle, not smirk, though I'll also confess that the antiSemitism and Christian-bashing of his preface to his translation of Nietzsche's Antichrist made me wince and I've read almost everything by that genial master of sesquipedalian witticisms, Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.  I devoured most of von Mises, lots of Hayek, all of Rand.  (The Objectivist Newsletter still graces my bookshelf.  No, I won't take bids for it, and yes, I understand perfectly well why some of you will protest vehemently that those three are not conservative.)  Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov disappeared screaming into my cavernous reader's maw.  I have even dipped into the thankless pool of books by Russell Kirk.  As a political theorist, I have sometimes felt grimly duty-bound to read work by Leo Strauss and his inordinately faithful students.  Tortured by a right-wing tribunal, I will duly and truthfully confess to reading the works of many other conservative authors, magazines and journals too, but you get the idea.  Heads up, Prof. Koons, I wouldn't want any bean-balls to come your way:  some of us hateful liberals reject conservatism and happen to know something about it.  In fact, some of us reject conservatism because we know something about it.
  5. Oh how boring.  And how unfortunate the contrast between this item and The Indictment's title.  How unfortunate, too, the way it makes the reader wonder whether The Indictment is an attack on liberal thought or on liberals.  Honestly, Prof. Koons, you can do better.  You have my permission to amend The Indictment as to this item.
  6. Yikes!  My last was intemperate.  But maybe only mildly intemperate?  A bit sassy, but nowhere near strident?  Can I get off that easily?  Pretty please with brown sugar on top?  Shall I take a goodly dose of Roger Scruton as medicine? or penance?
  7. Back in the day, that notorious liberal, feminist, democrat, and socialist, John Stuart Mill, insisted that it was hard to figure out what was true and that we could always be mistaken.  He touted free speech in part as a strategy for improving our views — and urged "the real morality of public discussion":  "opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemning every one, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor, or malignity, bigotry or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves, but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own; and giving merited honor to every one, whatever opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor."  Meanwhile, conservatives before and after Mill were horrified by the great unwashed vigorously debating in alehouses and coffeehouses, at hairdressers' shops and in factories, on the docks and even, be it said, whispering in church.  Mill's view sounds good to me.  No doubt the rot has set in since the good old days.  Or, in the words of that immortal conservative, Mercer Ellington, things ain't what they used to be.  Still, I love new facts, especially counterintuitive ones, and am perfectly used to discovering that I have been wrong about matters large and small.  Maybe it's all the time I spend in the rare books room:  do the musty books help preserve me from the rot?
  8. I don't think value is subjective, but maybe boredom is in the eye of the beholder.  Oh, I know perfectly well that I'm boring.  But I always assumed that was my doom because I'm a professor, not because I'm a liberal.  Doesn't "exciting professor" sound more oxymoronic than "exciting liberal"?  Don't you recall your days nodding off in lecture, wondering what necromancy let your dull professor overwhelm hefty doses of caffeine and exam anxiety alike and transform your eyelids into some lead alloy?  Don't you still shudder remembering your struggles with turgid secondary reading assignments in your college courses?  QED.  Or at least I think QED.  I could be wrong, though.
  9. Like conservatism, liberalism is a tradition.  That means it's not a simple unified view, but a family of disagreements.  Can you generalize about family resemblances?  Sure.  But ...
  10. ... this would be an example of a crummy generalization.  Why Prof. Koons has in fact tickled my fancy.  Shakespeare and Firesign Theatre nailed it:  Koons, me, all of us.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to reading Ronald Reagan's little book on abortion.  (Yes, really.)  No, I don't suppose he actually wrote the thing himself.  But that's pure speculation.  I could be wrong.  Anyway I am hoping that Reagan, or "Reagan," will shed more light than heat on the topic.  Speaking of which, anyone want to take up a collection to buy Prof. Koons a fluorescent bulb and an air conditioner?

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More thrilling “philosophical” content from Right Reason by Robert Koons: Liberals invariably charge their critics with the straw man fallacy, no matter how tight the fit between the criticism and the words and deeds of real liberals. Liber... [Read More]

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» Over at Left2Right, from The Volokh Conspiracy
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Comments

Posted by: john t

Don H you must have missed Herbert Spencer's Man Versus The State,it show's. I'll be happy to photo copy parts of it and mail them to you on the theory that you can still teach an old dog new tricks.

Posted by: john t | Apr 17, 2005 9:46:48 AM


Posted by: Dan Velleman

Koons' items 4 and 8 make an interesting combination:

4. Liberals complain incessantly that conservatives don't know or understand them yet have never spent more than five minutes listening to conservatives or reading their works.
8. Liberals are boring, since all they ever have to say is "yada, yada, yada, yada,..." [Sorry, I stopped listening after the second 'yada'.]

Posted by: Dan Velleman | Apr 17, 2005 10:14:31 AM


Posted by: ya hoznana

One thing that most non-republicans know how to do is count dead bodies: such as 15,000+ dead Iraqi civilians. While not agreeing with Michael Moore in toto, he does grasp the concept of accountability, something which Coulter (or Koons) and BushCo don't. And as the ad hominem character of this post indicates, conservatives, following in the tradition of TailGunner Joe, tend to rely more on insinuations and defamation than the facts themselves. The facts of the Bush Admin. are that it's "in the pocket" of the wealthy and the powerful. But in some sense the American conservatives are the Wehrmacht to the democrat's vichy.

Posted by: ya hoznana | Apr 17, 2005 10:50:13 AM


Posted by: Literally Retarded

ya hoznana -

Yeah. I hate ad hominem characterization, too.

Posted by: Literally Retarded | Apr 17, 2005 11:10:14 AM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

John Cleese is a liberal. Groucho Marx was a liberal. Rob is either misinformed, or has no idea what most people consider funny.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 17, 2005 11:51:43 AM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

ya hoznana:

Cool! You get WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam (well, maybe we can split Vietnam, but you get the lions' share-- fair enough?). I get the Civil War (nyah nyah), the Spanish-American War (blush), Panama and two Iraq Wars. Whoever gets the lowest bodycount wins. 'Ray! I win! (No fair talking about toppling evil neither--that's a wash).

Don:

Love the piece, but you leave us speechless. What can one say? Rumor has it that both you and I simply play at partisan because, as Nietzsche said, every man with sufficient intelligence thinks his way through, and out of, his party. The evidence is starting to accumulate, I fear...

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 12:28:09 PM


Posted by: David Velleman

Maybe his post was a parody. (He couldn't be serious, could he?)

Posted by: David Velleman | Apr 17, 2005 12:29:34 PM


Posted by: Mona

One thing that most non-republicans know how to do is count dead bodies: such as 15,000+ dead Iraqi civilians.

Uh-huh. Like the bodies that many "Progressives" willfully refused to count in Stalin's purges, the planned Ukrainian famine, and the slaughter in the Katyn Forest in Poland? Liberal NYT and their boy Walter Duranty got a Pulitzer for such grotesque blindness. Or how about the bodies that have not died in Iraq because a genocidal maniac is no longer around to torture them to death and hold the entire nation in a grip of absolute terror?

And you invoke Tailgunner Joe. Fact is, while he may have been a reckless demagogue, many liberals dropped the ball on Communist infiltration of American government and industry. Hundreds, if not thousands, of highly-placed Americans, including Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss, and Lauchlin Currie, were, indeed, turning over intelligence to their Soviet Masters. Marxist physicist Ted Hall, from his place in the Manhattan Project, sped up Soviet acquisition of the bomb by years, thus emboldening Uncle Joe to take the position he did about North Korea, and have a war. And the "martyred" Rosenbergs? Absolutely guilty. (Tho Ethel less so, by far, then her husband.)

Since the CIA released the Venona decrypts in '96, and the Russians opened up some GRU and Comintern archives for study by historians in the 90s, there has been a watershed of documentary evidence that American Communists, and some non-Communist "Progressives" (e.g., Harry Dexter White) spied for Joseph Stalin, a genocidal tyrant. It has been most entertaining to observe how the left has responded to this evidence, mostly with petulance and anger. (Victor Navasky at the Nation, wondering, gee, what is really so wrong with sharing information?)

(I should point out that some liberals were hard at battle against Communists, and understood exactly how vile Stalin was, and what domestic Communists were up to. Hubert Humphrey, Arthur Schlesinger, Theodore Draper, Sydney Hook, Walter Reuther. But these also suffered from vicious accusations of hysteria and of aiding the right. )

As the repentant ex-Marxist and famed historian Eugene Genovese wrote in the socialist journal Dissent, on the left there has been: "a willful refusal to examine the evidence that has been piled high from the beginning...In a noble effort to liberate the human race from violence and oppression we broke all records for mass slaughter...we have a disquieting number of corpses to account for."

So, I'm really not inclined to listen to pious claims of body-counting that non-Republicans allegedly engage in, by invidious contrast with those who may vote Republican.

The left lacks the moral authority to make such accusations. Glass houses, and all that.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 12:41:34 PM


Posted by: ya hozna


Mona--

Who was making apologies for Stalin? Not I. I am not a marxist anyways: those who protested Vietnam were not all marxist either (you may recall Bertrand Russell voiced his opposition to the US military acts) . And while the starvation of the Kulaks and other stalinist acts were horrifying, there is evidence to suggest a few things--much of what was happening was not directly attributable to a decision of Uncle Joe but to his generals and henchmen (such as Beria and Zhukov). Stalin did not initiate an Operation Barbarossa as did Hitler and the Wehrmacht, nor did they operate death camps anything like the nazis were doing (and numerous republicans such as the Bush family and McCarthy did have some connections to nazis and german corporations). Russian and Ukrainian casualties due to the german invasion are somewhere near 20 million.
(please don't mention the Hayek joke-thesis that nazis were leftists).


Old-school republicans such as Eisenhower (not to say Abe Lincoln, who appears nearly Nader-like in some comments) were fairly liberal and respectable: Truman himself was, as far as the few things I have read show, quite the authoritarian, and his actions in Korea without approval of the Congress set a poor precedent for future presidents--Dem and GOP--to follow. Yet Coulter and her ilk would, given their ludicrous attacks on Truman and "liberals", would seem to be implying that some massive World War if not nukes in asia were justified.

An LBJ or Nixon differ only slightly but the worst bombing in 'Nam seemed to have occured under Nixon and Kissinger.

Anways I tend more to low-rent Camusian views: extreme left and right both tend towards pathopsychology. Yr in the a**hole of the world, Captain.

Posted by: ya hozna | Apr 17, 2005 1:11:49 PM


Posted by: Mona

David V., he seems serious to me. What I cannot imagine is that Don H. took Koons seriously. Any post that starts out in the format (and implicitly Koons is doing so) "All X are..." sends up red flags for me. On occasion it is accurate to ascribe universal deficits to a constituency, but very, very seldom. (Of course, I think Don was just using Koons as a launching pad for his pithy and entertaining post.)

Among other things, I'd like to know how Prof Koons defines "liberal."

I would also add, if Koons suffers from the delusion that only liberals engage in intemperate, vicious and ad hominem remarks, he should take a gander at the comments section at Free Republic. An absolute cesspool, especially on all things Schiavo.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 1:13:57 PM


Posted by: DBCooper

A Ten Things I Hate About Liberals list, and no mention of hippies? That list is a sham.

Posted by: DBCooper | Apr 17, 2005 1:23:26 PM


Posted by: Mona

And while the starvation of the Kulaks and other stalinist acts were horrifying, there is evidence to suggest a few things--much of what was happening was not directly attributable to a decision of Uncle Joe but to his generals and henchmen (such as Beria and Zhukov).

Actually, this is false. Among other things discovered in the archives of the former Soviet Union, is a signed order from Joseph Stalin to massacre thousands of Polish bourgeoisie at Katyn (many on the left had, for decades, insisted it was more likely that the Germans committed this atrocity). Further, Comintern records demonstrate that he ordered the death of Trotsky and enlisted American, Canadian and other Communists to aid in that assassination, and the killing of other defectors and their families. Stalin ran his show with an iron fist. The documentation and testimony from survivors is overwhelming on this point.

And I did not say you are a Marxist. But the fact is, the left -- non-Marxists -- for the most part, was and angered by opposition to Stalin and domestic Communism. It was wrong. Deadly wrong.

And it is wrong about Iraq as well. Almost none of the promised parade of horrible that invasion was supposed to bring about has occurred; instead, Iraq is moving toward a functional democracy and out from under life lived in a regime that ruled by terror. How this cannot be seen as a good thing for humanity boggles my mind.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 1:26:58 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

Mona:

For some reason, I find my thoughts turning toward Resnais' _Hiroshima Mon Amour_. Or possibly Schopenhauer.

This may seem like odd advice, but: Give Up. It's hopeless. What Hitler said about the Turks is true of the Communist Holocaust: no one cares, no one will ever care. The strategy is to deny that anyone was ever for it, which is far more effective than to deny that it ever happened. Insert enough generations between us and them, and the result is historical oblivion. For awhile I thought otherwise, but I now think that anyone who tries to refight these old battles ends up looking like they are complaining about atrocities under Napoleon. Or under Xerxes.

Now if we can just forget about the Nazi Holocaust too, we can all get on with our lives, and the writing of new pages in the book of history with new gallons of blood. As any serial monogamist will tell you: memory is *so* overrated.

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 2:03:26 PM


Posted by: ya hozna

The 20,000 dead Polish officers at Katyn is horrifying, but quite a bit less so than, uh, the nazis' extermination of millions. The Katyn thing is a tragedy, but some of the catholic poles were siding with germans; thus Stalin and his officers probably thought that catholic poles might side with the nazis. That doesn't excuse anything of course. It's incorrect, however, to claim that all the American liberals were implicitly pro-stalin--there were numerous figures who supported Trotsky ( John Dewey and other academics did). As an afionado of Orwell's writing, I am quite aware of Stalinist terrors, but that does not entail that one embraces the likes of Annie Coulter. Moreover, you didn't respond to my hypothetical regarding Annchen Coulter, GOP Shewolf: given her charges that Truman was "soft" and her embrace of McCarthy, is she implying that some nuclear war was justifiable? She's a bloodthirsty, jingoistic nutcase really.

Posted by: ya hozna | Apr 17, 2005 2:06:02 PM


Posted by: RSA

Almost none of the promised parade of horrible that invasion was supposed to bring about has occurred; instead, Iraq is moving toward a functional democracy and out from under life lived in a regime that ruled by terror. How this cannot be seen as a good thing for humanity boggles my mind.

If it turns out that Iraq ends up as a functioning democracy, that will be a wonderful thing. It's still reasonable, however, to think that the war in Iraq was a bad idea. There was an enormous risk involved, and the Bush administration showed in any number of ways that it didn't take that risk seriously. It's fine to say that everything turned out okay (as far as we can see at this point). What I worry about is that Bush will view his success as a justification for the process that was followed, an ends-justify-the-means argument. To exaggerate a bit, if I win a sweepstakes at work, I don't sink my life savings into lottery tickets, thinking that I've got some special analytical ability. The Bush folks don't even seem capable of looking back and seeing what went wrong.

Posted by: RSA | Apr 17, 2005 2:12:03 PM


Posted by: Mona

ya hozna: Let us return to the original point. You wrote that non-Republicans are busy counting the dead in Iraq, in the context of Don's discussion of a sophomoric indictment of liberals by some rightwinger. I did and do take strong exception to your implicit claim that left/liberals are vested with the moral authority to make such pronouncements.

You may not be a Stalin apologist, but many of your intellectual forebears were, and a few still are. And even you seek to diminish the Katyn Forest massacre by invoking the Nazi's genocide of millions. News Flash: Stalin killed more millions than did Hitler, and Katyn was merely one example of depravity that was denied for decades by many on the left. Yes, you can add John Dewey to my list of liberals who got Stalin and the CPUSA's number. There were some, and they suffered mightily for their brave insight at the hands of other liberals. Sidney Hook, a social democrat to his death, was made a virtual pariah among "Progressives," for daring to denounce Stalinism and domestic Communist infiltration of American govt and other sectors of the society. Anti-anti-communism was the position of all who did not want to appear gauche.

But Untenured Republican is quite correct. The left today wants Stalin and the era of Communist espionage and atrocity to go down a memory hole, and there is not going to be the accounting for that period in history -- in which they and they and/or their ideological parents were so UTTERLY WRONG -- because it is, well, embarrassing, Best not examined too much.Ellen Schrecker, an accomplished scholar of American Communism who is most unhappy with what the Venona decrypts and the Soviet archives have revealed (and which devastate much of her prior scholarship), lamented while speaking before the American Historical Association: "We should recognize the issue of communism and Soviet espionage has become an antiquarian backwater. After all, the Cold War is over." Prof Anna Kasten Nelson dismisses the new books coming out dealing with this wealth of damning new evidence: "...it is time to move on." [Quotes taken from one of those book, by Profs, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, "In Denial."] Yeah, this is the kind of sentiment one expects from HISTORIANS, fer god's sake: antiquarian backwaters (from about half a century ago) are dull, and historians should move on. These two might want to check their job descriptions.

But, notwithstanding that this era, in which many on the left apologized for a mass murderer and totalitarian, and who virulently objected to any who criticized him, whenever any of you descendents who have "moved on" dares to raise the notion that you care about human life in contrast to those who may vote Republican, I shall bring up this late unpleasantness.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 3:00:27 PM


Posted by: ya hozna

Another amusing thing about conservatives, especially the Christian type (such as those whacky Xtians at Right Reason), is how they will rant on about the stalinist horrors (and, yes, they were real), and then turn around and praise "Christian values" and proclaim how we should all be more pious and follow biblical principles, never making the Phil. 101 inference that any putative God would be ultimately responsible for world wars and genocide (as well as tsunamis), regardless if brought about by Stalinists or nazis.

Posted by: ya hozna | Apr 17, 2005 3:10:59 PM


Posted by: ya hozna


Miss Mona:

Let's get this right. Anyone who supports the democrats implictly supports people who at one time may have supported communism and thus stalinism, and thus has no moral ground to criticize any subsequent actions taken by any conservative or Republican. So by voting for Kerry, I in effect voted for Stalin.

heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh

Posted by: ya hozna | Apr 17, 2005 3:24:18 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Mona hazards a generalization of her own:

The left today wants....

This leftist rallied early and hard to George Orwell, to John Dewey, to Emma Goldman turning sour on Lenin early and spending years trying hard to alert leftists in the West that the Soviet Union was shaping up as a disaster on wheels. (Mencken published her in The American Mercury. Good for him.)

Lots of human history, especially the twentieth century, is a sickening bloodbath. The Nazis. The Soviets. Pol Pot. And on and on, for all too many more. (Pedantic footnote: Early on, Edmund Burke wrote a Vindication of Natural Society which insists that governments cause untold human suffering. Scholars have usually taken it as a satire on Bolingbroke. But Murray Rothbard and others have argued that the young Burke was some kind of anarchist.)

Mona's generalization alas is in fact a pretty good one. But as she agrees, there are honorable exceptions on the left. And as she should agree, there were individuals on the right ready to apologize for the excesses of their guys, even if those excesses were on a hugely smaller scale than Hitler and Stalin. (I'm thinking for instance of the Kirkpatrick-style defense of "authoritarian" regimes in Latin America, pressed when people worried about death squads and other human rights abuses.)

There is a serious political question about whether left or liberal views end up, against the noble intentions of their sponsors, producing floods of blood. If they did, that would be more than ample reason to renounce them. Me, I think of liberalism as in large part a theory about the dangers of state power, and the liberal support of a robust state/society distinction, lots of separate institutions, and a robust civil society, as a fine strategy against the overweening tyrannical state power.

Yes, I recognize that many readers here imagine liberals and leftists as people who turn to the Omnipotent State to Solve All Problems. I think they're wrong about that.

But oh how things have gone sour and somber. Here we could have been delighting in Prof. Koons's profundities.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Apr 17, 2005 3:34:03 PM


Posted by: Mona

Don H.: Yes, there *were* leftists who tried to raise the hue and cry about Lenin and Stalin; Emma Goldman was one such, and she was pilloried by the majority of Progressives for it. (I just saw a fine bio of Emma on PBS, and it made that point, as well as that when she sputtered to Lenin about people having free speech, he basically just patted her on the head and informed her that she was a naive little girl.)

But in the larger discussion, and what I mean about "the left," is that there is incredibly strong institutional resistance to admitting the truth about the spies, and Stalinism. Emory Prof. Harvey Klehr is among those historians who studied Venona and who were given access to the Soviet archives, and then commenced prolific publication about the horrors and the espionage. The overwhelming response among others in his field has been...to deny and continue to defend Stalin among some, to ignore the new scholarship, or to angrily claim this is stuff that is no longer relevant and that the alleged "triumpahslism" the new scholarship evinces is distasteful. Writing on an academic list that enforces rules of civility even more severe than those at L2R, Klehr contains his seething anger in a post titled Holocaust Denial and Stalinism Denial .

And ya hozna: No, I do not think, and did not remotely imply, that a vote for Kerry is a vote for Stalinism. What I did argue, correctly, is that those of you who voted for Kerry and are all busy counting bodies in Iraq, and holding them up as an indictment of any who voted for Bush -- and implying that only your side has the moral sensibility to care about dead bodies -- might want to first count the bodies that most of your ideological forebears denied even existed, while they indulged and even admired the genocidal dictator who produced them. (And yes, a lot of liberals admired Stalin, and thought, "gosh, his way isn't our way, but isn't it interesting what he's trying to do over there." See, e.g., Joseph Davies and Mission to Moscow)At least the dead in Iraq did not die in vain; a democracy is growing there and a brutal dictator who rendered life *hell* has been removed.

And btw, I have yet to encounter even one of the historians who have been pouring out books and articles based on the new data from the Soviet archives, who have a nice word to say about Ann Coulter. They think she is polemicist who, as one of them puts it, depicts a "cartoon character" version of history lacking in necessary distinctions.(And they don't like Joe McCarthy, at all.) Certainly Harvey Klehr does not think Harry Truman was a secret Stalinist or had "treason" in his heart, and in fact, credits Truman with the security measures he finally took that routed many spies from govt posts. I agree, and don't know why you have been wanting me to address Coulter, whom I do not at all care for (altho I sometimes find her witty, which she is, even if one disagrees with her).

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 4:05:52 PM


Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog, you are not a liberal. I consider myself moderately conservative and your views are pretty close to mine. I consider you, as you put it once, a "milquetoast moderate".

So I'm sure that reading Koons' screed, if you thought he was applying it to you, would have made you laugh (not just smirk).

Now, go to the democratic underground, michaelmoore.com, and/or moveon.org to learn how real liberals think and speak. Then apply Koons' decalogue to them and you might find it fits a lot better.

Posted by: Bret | Apr 17, 2005 4:09:43 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

Reflection on the human condition quickly and inevitably becomes somber. All that may be left to the thinking and feeling human being when confronted with it is that "smile of outward and inner contempt" that Joseph Brodsky wrote of in his impeccable "Flight from Byzantium." Don is quite correct that opposition to tyranny lies at the heart of the liberal tradition properly understood. But Mona would be correct in detecting a certain defensiveness among far too many among my brothers and sisters who Vote Differently. If I am honest, I would have to say that the experience of that defensiveness had quite a lot to do with my own political odyssey, and the strange bedfellows I now find myself snuggled up with, some of whom seem to be quite confused about certain little things like separation of powers, individual autonomy, the proper relationship between religion and government, just for starters. Since "fiscal responsibilty" is something of a wash, I want to report for the record that if I started hearing a critical mass of Democrats having audible and appropriate Sister Souljah moments about the meaning and extent of twentieth century democide, I'd switch parties. In a heartbeat.

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 4:12:41 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Oh, here Bret is extending his hand in peace and friendship, and I am going to have to oh so sadly decline. He writes,

Don Herzog, you are not a liberal. I consider myself moderately conservative and your views are pretty close to mine. I consider you, as you put it once, a "milquetoast moderate".

I'd introduced that as a possibility only to sardonically imply that it was false. Predictably I will deny that the "real liberals" spout off at the websites that Bret mentions, though I should add, in caution, that my quick forays into those settings have left me irritated by their shrill dull self-congratulatory tones. Blecch. Does Bret think Anne Coulter is a "real conservative"? Does he want to march behind her banner?

I'm sure I'm a liberal. And — don't flinch — I'm sure some of those we call "conservatives" are liberals, too. I mean the more limited-government market-friendly kind, and emphatically not the "social conservative" kind worried about "values." The latter seem quiet in the blogosphere, or at least this part of it. But if Bret is the former kind of conservative, then he's just an eighteenth/nineteenth century liberal.

Welcome aboard, Bret.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Apr 17, 2005 4:28:50 PM


Posted by: Mona

Untenured Republican writes: I want to report for the record that if I started hearing a critical mass of Democrats having audible and appropriate Sister Souljah moments about the meaning and extent of twentieth century democide, I'd switch parties. In a heartbeat.

Let me strongly second that. And for all the reasons you set forth. On the domestic front, I am increasingly alarmed by what Bush & Co. are doing. I didn't vote for Christian Reconstructionists ( a *true* American Taliban mvmt) to be guiding policy on judicial nominations and the proper role of our courts.

Give me a Democratic candidate with a sane foreign policy, who will make sure those who want to hurt my country, or others, that such evil-doers will believe with that Dem in ofc we will hurt them back, hard, and I'll sign up. I've been seeing this sentiment from libertarians and moderates who voted for Bush, quite all over.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 4:31:13 PM


Posted by: Ted

Seriously? OK, I'll go first: I reject and repudiate Stalin as much as and as vigorously as I reject and repudiate Hitler; I do not defend him now, and I've never defended him in the past. The reason you don't hear a lot of liberals doing this, I suspect, is that most liberals don't know that much, or care that much, about Stalin. He died about fifteen years before I was born, so he certainly wasn't any kind of factor in my intellectual development. In fact (and, Don, I hope you don't regard this as a failure of my education) I don't think I've ever read anything he wrote. Mona seems to want to taint me with guilt by association: since I belong to a political party with some people who once wrongly believed in Stalin, I, and the whole party, are somehow supporters of Stalinism as well. I fail to understand why we liberals should be spending our time condemning Stalin but if you guys want me to do it this once, I have no problem with that. If there are still some aging people on the left who defend Stalin, well, they're wrong, but they're a tiny, uninfluential group.

And, Bret, michaelmoore.com is representative of liberals about as much as littlegreenfootballs.com is representative of conservatives.....

Posted by: Ted | Apr 17, 2005 4:49:12 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

I do know one English professor who brushes off criticisms of Stalin as misguided and sentimental. But I always thought that professor was on the payroll of the Republican National Committee to make the left look goofy.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Apr 17, 2005 4:54:42 PM


Posted by: Mona

(sigh) Ted, I am not indicting you and all liberal Democrats as supporters of Stalin. Have you followed the context of my comments, namely, the claim that pious non-Republicans spend their time counting bodies that pile up, impliedly, due to Evil Republicans? My point was and is, that for many decades, and even still today in some quarters, especially academic ones, liberals distinctly lack an interest in the worst body count in 20th century history, and most liberals of yesteryear were entirely wrong about the evil that produced that incomprehensible slaughter.

Hitler died before you were born, too. Is there thus no reason to examine the Third Reich and to come to a very good understanding of how such a thing could happen in a supposedly civilized and enlightened Western culture? Are you not curious as to how so many Western liberals were wrong about Stalin, one of the worst murderers and tyrants in history?

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 5:24:26 PM


Posted by: Bret

Here we are with one of those definitional thingies again. What I was trying to say was that I have a strong hunch that Koons is targeting the "liberals" at DU, michaelmoore.com, and moveon.org, not the type of "eighteenth/nineteenth century liberal" found blogging at Left2Right (are you guys really that old? :-). If you go read sites like DU and consider Koons' comments, I'd say the shoe fits pretty well.

I can't comment on Coulter because, except for an excerpt posted in the comments on this website, I've never read anything by her.

I've had the pleasure of being called both a "commie hippie" and a "right-wing facist" within a four hour period one day during two distinct conversations, so I've concluded that I have the ability to annoy just about everybody. I consider myself a "HereWeAreian Incrementalist" - in other words, things aren't so bad (pretty good in fact), but things change and we need to anticipate the direction of change, but we should do so slowly and incrementally so as not to screw up what we've got and make things worse. Seems more like a conservative than an "eighteenth/nineteenth century liberal", doesn't it?

Posted by: Bret | Apr 17, 2005 5:34:52 PM


Posted by: pedro

Well, it is interesting that what accounts for party affiliation is often distaste for the worst elements of the other side. A few months ago I heard an NPR interview with a historian, in which he gave an account of the rise of political parties in America along these lines. I confess I find indictments of the right-wing of the republican party far more compelling than the indictments of the left-wing of the democratic party. I feel threatened by the right-wing nuts, but I don't feel threatened by the left-wing nuts nearly as much. (I'm an immigrant, I'm not white, I'm not religious, I find the civil rights movement more inspiring than the American revolution, etc.) And I imagine the opposite is true of people like Mona. Then again, this sort of visceral identification against a party does not really account for party affiliation. I doubt the clown who wrote that bash-the-liberals post regards himself as a republican or libertarian simply because he believes there's some truth to his sweeping generalizations.

Posted by: pedro | Apr 17, 2005 5:35:18 PM


Posted by: Colin Danby

I agree with Mona's *2nd* post above, which if taken seriously should make us think whether the category "left" is useful either. When I was a kid in the 1960s there was a specific U.S. "left" (ranging from social democrats to communists to various tiny sects) that was always sharply distinguished from "liberals;" the latter category then included figures like Nelson Rockefeller. (And "liberal" had perhaps some residue of meaning from the way the term was used in the 19th century and the way the rest of the world still uses it.) We now have the weird situation in which Howard Dean, who seems very much in the Rockefeller tradition to me, is being bracketed with Lenin. And anyone who is, say, doubtful about the war in Iraq and/or about the fiscal policy of the Bush administration also gets grouped in this "left" and is beaten about the head for not denouncing Stalin often enough. It's absolutely bizarre.

Posted by: Colin Danby | Apr 17, 2005 5:35:24 PM


Posted by: RSA

Here we could have been delighting in Prof. Koons's profundities.

I especially liked #6, that conservatives are more polite than liberals. I've seen this opinion elsewhere as well. Perhaps for social conservatives, it really doesn't seem impolite or intemperate to say that feminists helped 9/11 happen, or that liberals were committed to Terri Schiavo's death, or that Democrats are against people of faith. I mean, it's all demagoguery, but obviously the left doesn't have a monopoly on it. (My impression is that intemperance on the right has been pretty constant, and it's only since the Republicans have come into power that intemperance on the left has risen to match, but maybe that's just bias on my part.)

Posted by: RSA | Apr 17, 2005 5:35:45 PM


Posted by: hilzoy

I'll go second: I have an interest in history generally, albeit not a professional one; I have been aware of Stalin's crimes since, well, forever; I was taught by my liberal parents that they were crimes, and once I reached the age of reason and checked it out for myself, I concluded that my liberal parents were right. I have no interest in apologizing for him, nor have I ever had such an interest. Ditto Pol Pot. As I recall, when I first got curious about the PRC, back around 1970, there was very little information out, but it was quite clear to me that Mao had been a catastrophe for his country as of around 1976, when I was in my teens.

One reason why some of us don't have Sister Souljah moments more often is because it's really true that we never supported this stuff. The left was, I believe, generally sympathetic to the USSR at first, but large chunks split off as of the Moscow show trials, and most of the rest round about the time of Stalin's alliance with Hitler. That's an awfully long time to be opposed to all this; for most people on the left now living, it's their entire adult lives. It's more absurd than asking conservatives why they don't disown Franco.

Posted by: hilzoy | Apr 17, 2005 5:43:06 PM


Posted by: Mona

hilzoy writes: That's an awfully long time to be opposed to all this; for most people on the left now living, it's their entire adult lives. It's more absurd than asking conservatives why they don't disown Franco.

You really appear not to understand that until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the left-wing press such as The Nation and academics in relevant disciplines, were carrying water for Stalin, and for American espionage agents who spied for him. It was an article of faith in many quarters that Alger Hiss was an innocent victim of an unjustified anti-Communist hysteria.He was not; he betrayed his country because he was an ardent Marxist and Stalinist.

Franco did not honeycomb our govt with spies meant to deliver us to his regime. FBI reports of espionage by Franco were never a matter of ridicule and excoriation by the American left, or right. Defecting Franco spies who "snitched" did not set off political firestorms here. Franco had almost no impact on American history and did not arouse fierce refusal to see him criticized among the cognoscenti. Stalin did those things, and many on the left denied it right up until the bitter end, with a few still holding out and unhappy about the recent evidence that proves them wrong.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 6:14:38 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

I'm more than happy to disown Franco. I'm even opposed to the Ancien Regime. I don't even feel a need to so much as comment on the Spanish Inquisition. Some, however, feel that this was not such ancient history:

http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/Vietimages/fonda.htm

This one I'll just throw in because it's cute, though not especially probative:

http://dangerousdan.us/images/protest2.jpg

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 6:27:17 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

This is less cute, more probative:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/03/the_black_book_.html

It was all so long ago... July, to be precise.

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 6:42:31 PM


Posted by: hilzoy

Mona: I was responding to this statement of yours: "most liberals of yesteryear were entirely wrong about the evil that produced that incomprehensible slaughter." Unless 'yesteryear' is an awfully long time ago, in the 1930s, most liberals were pretty clear on the topic. I never really had a view on Alger Hiss; my sense was that doing the research needed to come up with one would be sort of like working through the various theories about the Kennedy assassination, since I was not interested in leaping to any of the various available conclusions on the basis of their consistency with my general views. But Stalin is a different matter. Is it your view that "most liberals", or even "many liberals". were "carrying water for Stalin"? If so, would you care to provide evidence for that?

U.T.: I thought Jane Fonda was wrong to have that picture taken at the time, like lots of people. I've never seen the picture of the protester before, but I imagine my feelings on disowning that person's views are something like yours on disowning, say, some picture of a white supremacist. Whoop de do.

Posted by: hilzoy | Apr 17, 2005 6:46:32 PM


Posted by: Mona

hilzoy: See Sam Tanenhaus' bio of Whittaker Chambers, for how liberals after WWII were all aflutter over Stalin. (I read a good deal in this area of history, and I wish this book was online so I could give a url or cut and paste, but when one's knowledge comes from dead trees it is more difficult to substantiate online without taking time to go to the index and manually typing quotes.) See especially how the liberals at Time magazine (the majority of the staff) lionized Uncle Joe. And why they thus hated Chambers.

Also, look at how Hollywood recently rose up against Elia Kazan and his lifetime achievement Oscar. And why? Because he testified before HUAC about actual Stalinists who were taking direct orders from Moscow to propagandize about the glories of Stalin. Much of the left still won't acknowledge that these Stalinists worked in the service of evil. No, they must remain martyrs. This is much more an issue to BOTH SIDES today than is anything to do with Franco.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 7:08:29 PM


Posted by: Mona

If you wish to see how this Communist/Stalinist problem was still playing out in America c.1970, when Tom Bradley was running for mayor of LA, do read this exchange of letters among Steve Allen (a great anti-Communist liberal), Dalton Trumbo (a blacklisted Stalinist and screenwriter) and Arthur Schlesinger. Allen was disturbed that a fund-raising party for Candidate Bradley was scheduled for Trumbo's home. (And Allen was often known to rail against liberal tolerance for Stalinists.) Excerpt from one of Allen's letters in the exchange, and link to fascinating rest:

It would be to a degree irrelevant and presumptuous here to review the political history of the first half-century but I cannot conceive how any true Liberal, being familiar with that history could be anything but anti-Communist. As a Liberal, I am in favor of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and of freedom of assemblage. But I know of no Communist society in which such freedoms exist. I am also opposed to the death penalty, as are most Liberals, but it is clear that Communist societies cannot function without the threat, and frequently the reality, of state murder. As a Liberal I am suspicious of official censorship, but I observe that it is harshly dominant in all Communist cultures. As a Liberal I do not think a college student should automatically be considered a crim­inal if a marijuana cigarette is found in his possession, but we know of the utter ruthlessness with which Communist societies stamp out such instances of bourgeois decadence. The civil liberties the ACLU so courageously defends are not the foundation-stones of any existing Marxist society. The litany of specifics need not be continued; certainly the point is clear enough... I have frequently been a stern critic of American society and expect to function as such in the future, [ed.: note the admonition he finds necessary] but for years I have con­sistently maintained the position that it does not profit the non-Communist political Left to be formally allied with those who will endorse a Liberal cause only when to do so coincides with the pur­poses of Moscow or Peking in Vietnam, for example, what I hope for is peace; therefore I cannot cooperate with those who are moti­vated primarily by hopes of victory for Ho Chi Minh.

Rest of exchange as in Esquire here.

Posted by: Mona | Apr 17, 2005 7:42:53 PM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

Mona, I'm not a writer for Time, nor was I even alive during Stalin's tenure. Complaining about liberals who, at the time, failed to hate Stalin, or even talked him up is pointless, and a strawman, because no one here is doing that

On the other hand, a conservative congressman recently "joked" about nuking Syria, in a church. What's more, the crowd enjoyed the joke.

Also, conservatives are talking seriously about killing supreme court justices, and are quoting Stalin to drive the point home. These aren't fringe nutcases, these are fairly popular right wing authors, statesmen, and clergy.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 17, 2005 7:46:42 PM


Posted by: NoMoore

About making "sure those who want to hurt my country" get hurt back.
I suppose Kenneth Waltz and Stephen Walt are liberals. Yet they believe that coming into office to pay more attention to building an anti-missile missile and less to stopping terrorism was more hurtful to us than to the hurters. As was miring us in Iraq. Just to say, odd that choosing between Herzog's and Mona's brand of liberalism would turn on foreign policy, and to say also that if does turn on foreign policy, in my estimation as a superpower we're remarkably secure against attack by another state, and like any giant are well advised to trod very carefully in the little ones' lands. That is, if we want not to get hurt, maybe more restraint would help.

P.S. Kudos to Mona for the great restraint she showed in her 1:26 pm response to ya hozna, and for later calling attention to Harvey Klehr's all too pertinent denunciation of all too many "liberal" historians.

Posted by: NoMoore | Apr 17, 2005 7:51:15 PM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

Hey Mona, if you want to play the "well, 30 years ago, liberals stood for this crap" I can throw down some lovley right wingers for you to defend.

Let's talk right wingers who're in favor of anti-miscegenation laws, or for that matter, in favor of keeping voting rights away from blacks.

Feel like being associated with those people?

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 17, 2005 7:51:15 PM


Posted by: Colin Danby

Mona:

So how do you square the different uses of "liberal" (Time mag v. Steve Allen) in your two most recent posts? More generally:

When you write "left," what exactly do you mean?

When you write "liberal," what exactly do you mean?

thanks, Colin

Posted by: Colin Danby | Apr 17, 2005 7:51:57 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

And I'm not a slaveowner, or Nazi. It's so *tiresome* to read about these things. Time we moved on, eh?

My interpretation of Mona's point is not that she wants you and you and you to take personal responsibility for anything. What she wants is a shift in cultural attitudes. My kids learn about the Holocaust in school (public). They learn about slavery in school. They do not learn about the Gulag. They do, however, get a little unit on McCarthyism, thank goodness, just in case they ever *do* hear anyone make anticommunist noises--that way, they'll know that that's dangerous nonsense, partisan posturing designed to take away their freedoms. I had to do a little bit of homeschooling to fill in the blanks.

I want to believe that this problem which Mona is trying to zero in on is one we can all agree on. Unfortunately, I've never heard anything terribly promising in that regard. That's why I tell Mona to give it up. Let the dead millions sleep in their graves with the Native Americans, with abducted Africans sleeping at the bottom of the Atlantic, etc. It's completely futile. No one cares, except to rouse themselves enough to mutter "McCarthyism" before returning to sound sleep. What difference does it make anyway? In the long run we're all dead, and in the meantime, we can all bury each other.

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 8:00:55 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

I'm at the intersection, by choice, blood and marriage, of three different ethnicities that have been subjected to genocide. This subject pains and saddens me beyond belief. I'm going to have to leave it to Mona and bow out.

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Apr 17, 2005 8:09:05 PM


Posted by: hilzoy

UT: I am not trying to dismiss the Gulag. Anything but. I am trying to understand why, exactly, Mona thinks that "most" (I'll settle for "many") people who share my political views have dismissed it in recent memory. I'm reacting in the way you might if I started asking you why conservatives have not denounced slavery. If you found that annoying, it would probably not be because you thought slavery wasn't worth getting upset about. Likewise, I'm not reacting the way I do because I don't think Stalin is anything to get upset about, It's precisely because I do think it was beyond abhorrent that I object to the idea that "most" liberals don't see it that way.

I've now gotten a cite to a book I don't own, which will supposedly tell me about the appeal of Stalin to liberals after WW2. Goody.

Posted by: hilzoy | Apr 17, 2005 8:19:31 PM


Posted by: heh

So other blogs are filled with sophomoric partisan bickering where as this blog is filled with graduate/doctoral partisan bickering. I guess there is hope for the world after all.

Posted by: heh | Apr 17, 2005 8:37:56 PM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

I'm certainly for more info on the horros of Stalinism, Maoism, and other communist nations. I grew up in Southeas Asia, with living breathing communist mass murderers living a few countries away.

Sure. Stalin was a genocidal thug. As far as I know, my history books mentioned this. They were published in the US. Stalin, OTOH, wasn't mentioned in American History because Russia isn't America.

If I was studying Soviet History, I'm sure I would have learned more. Instead, I learned about American snd South asian history. And kids in America learn about American history.

When it comes to being represented in genocides, I'm queer, Jewish, and part Romany.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 17, 2005 8:44:24 PM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

whoops. Forgot to close the tag.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 17, 2005 8:44:51 PM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

Ah. That was the pre spell check version. Whups again.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 17, 2005 8:47:06 PM


Posted by: Nooble

I, a liberal, confident of victory, volunteer to face Mr. Koons in a joke-off.

Moreover, I will restrict myself to jokes that begin, "Knock, knock".

And that end, "Orange you glad I didn't say 'banana' ".

Posted by: Nooble | Apr 17, 2005 10:40:12 PM


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