Everyone likes Lileks. I’ve liked him since 1998 when someone sent me the URL for the Insititue for Official Cheer, and I immediately linked to it. He’s a dead-tree writer, but he has an easy facility with geeky metaphor that typified early web authors, over which his embarrassment is clearly a mere professional affectation. He also has no qualms about sharing adorable anecdotes about his 2-½-year-old daughter, which might be a put-off to rabid Child-Free folk but which I (for predictable reasons) find all too engaging.
I’ve been reading Lileks’s Bleat for over a year now. It’s not a traditional blog, but it does function to compile a nigh-daily sampling of Lileks’s temperature and pressure, with the informal precipitation that comes from writing for free. Lileks’s basic mode is one of Midwestern rationalism. Rather than stridently fulminating from his pulpit, Lileks selects a bit of bloviation from our overheated discourse and proceeds to deflate it; usually not by direct rebuttal but instead by mocking extrapolation of the speaker’s logic. The effect is to create an impression of moderation, that the greatest sin is to become so enamored of your political beliefs that you become so hyperbolic that James Lileks will have to come along and put you down like a lame horse. It’s called satire, and it has a fine tradition. Yes, and I find Lileks to be quite adept at the form, even (or, I should say, particularly) when he targets a set of beliefs that has significant overlap with mine. I would much rather be dressed down by Lileks’s tangy irony (still not dead!) than wade through self-congratulatory sanctimony; the former reminds me to be judicious, the latter makes me dig in my heels.
It’s when Lileks abandons reason that he ceases to persuade. I have nothing against passion in debate, but Lilek’s common-sense rhetoric breaks down when subjected to the heat of his prejudices. In the stable of hobbyhorses that is the blogosphere, indulging in slippery logic is mostly harmless. When called into the service of rationalizing a national scandal, however, it deserves greater scrutiny.
Look, we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Saddam was a threat, Paul Wolfowitz rescued Jessica Lynch using a Jedi-Knight lightsaber. Lies! All lies! Storm the White House with pitchfork and torches, friends—it’s impeachment time!
Lileks’s patronizing whoa-take-a-deep-breath patter obscures the fact that his argument is no less motivated by a rabid leap of kneejerkism. We are assured that while bickering over the legalistic pretext used by the Bush Administration to package the war is mere partisan frippery, the dubiousness of supporting a military response to 9/11 by attacking a country with no demonstrated responsibility for 9/11 somehow burns away in a kiln of self-righteous fury, as if sifting through a crematorium were a grownup way to make foreign policy.
Lileks is not alone in supporting the war on terror, and he is not alone in ascribing his own motives to the Bush Administration. The neo-cons have their own ideas about remaking the Middle East, and they think the Bush Administration is behind the program 100%. Such people don’t seem to care that the Bush Administration didn’t give a fig about nuclear proliferation, international terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or totalitarian dictators until, after 9/11, it saw an electoral strategy in them.
Lileks’s appeal to reasonableness permits him to claim, with a reassuring dismissal of dissent, that the invasion of Iraq was all about 11 September 2001. His lack of reasonableness prevents him from seeing that it was probably more about 02 November 2004.