by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Kyle Smith uses a National Review Online column to explore the response to Bret Stephens’ first New York Times column.
Ordinarily when war breaks out between the activist Left and the New York Times, the conservative impulse is not to delve too deeply into the substance of the dispute but rather to inquire about the availability of refreshments: When the Ayatollah and Saddam go to war, what is there to do but put one’s feet up and enjoy the carnage?
I invoke Islamism advisedly. After Bret Stephens, the Times’ new conservative op-ed columnist, made the mild-mannered and more or less inarguable point that there are details unsettled within the topic of climate change, his many ideological opponents reacted with a mindless fury characteristic of religious zealotry. Someone tweeted at Stephens that he should share the fate of Daniel Pearl, like Stephens a longtime Wall Street Journal writer, who was denounced for being Jewish and beheaded by men acting in Allah’s name. The web of ties between ordinary global-minded progressives and jihadists grows ever more dense: For both groups, American conservatives pose the principal threat to their goals. …
… Stephens’s perfectly reasonable column amounted to friendly strategic advice for the climate alarmists: “Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts,” he noted, and he was immediately treated as a deplorable imbecile. Think Progress compared him to a Holocaust denier and a KKK official. Nate Silver, whose reputation for being a dispassionate data nerd increasingly seems endangered, denounced the column with a barnyard epithet and posted a tweet in which a Times billboard advertising “Truth” was (sarcastically) juxtaposed with a quotation of Stephens’s unassailable point that “claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science.” “Classic climate change denialism,” thundered Slate. “Climate denial wouldn’t get past my desk,” a New Yorker fact-checker tweeted, as if Stephens denied there is a climate. (Stephens also said human influence on global warming was “indisputable.”) The Guardian, as ever the most grievously wounded of them all, called Stephens a “hippie puncher.”
The near-lunatic disapproval of Stephens’s first Times column indicates more than just fierce disagreement with the tenor of his remarks, or surprise that an institution that barely bothers to disguise its political inclinations would allow someone like Stephens to make his case. The degree of shrieking, world-coming-to-an-end hysteria Stephens unleashed (from the moment he was hired, even before he had published a word with the Times, social-media users were trying to shame Bennet into reversing the decision) reveals a deep-seated worry within the Left. What if “Shut up” isn’t such a persuasive argument to everyone? If it doesn’t work on fellow liberals today, there is significant danger that it might not work, in future, on university presidents or Fox News Channel.