Posted by: Rick | Friday, July 24, 2009

Neocons Can’t Write. Can They Think?

Every so often — and with the best of intentions — I’ll pick up a copy of The Weekly Standard to find out what fresh horrors the Axis Of Cheney is contemplating.  Unfortunately, the headlines and sub-headlines of the magazine’s articles are so infelicitous and awkward in their grammatical construction, and so egregiously strained in their attempts to be clever, that I can barely get get past them to read the actual content.  Here’s a sampling from the issue dated July 20, 2009:

The MAD Legacy of Robert McNamara  It’s badly in need of rethinking

The Grass Is Greener  Wimbledon’s lawns are once again tennis’s premier surface

So Three Cows Walk into Court .  .  .  Animal-rights extremism in the Obama entourage is no joke.

On Top of a Volcano  The Iranian regime, after the crackdown

In the Arena  Parting thoughts from the priest of the public square

Himself When Young   An American novelist on his formative years at Oxford

Crystal Ballplay  When a futurist looks to the future, anything is possible and war is imminent

No Fly Zone  The obvious answer to the cost of travel

Yawn Dillinger  It’s not the thief but the den of thieves that makes a crime movie

Not all of the above are completely awful, but you wouldn’t find any of them in a well-edited journal such as The Nation or — it pains me to say it — The New Republic.  (Martin Peretz is still the worst “writer” in America.)

Why are these little snippets such good examples of bad writing?  My cop-out answer is that bad prose is like obscenity — I know it when I see it.  But I’ll try to be more specific:

First, there’s their monotonous structural rhythm.  They all sound like they were assembled by the same person, on the same day, using the same formula.

Then there’s the diction.  Some of these words are just . . . off.  Can you “rethink” a legacy?  Is “Obama’s entourage” actually descriptive of the two legal scholars mentioned in the article?  And what exactly is “ballplay”?  (Never mind.) 

Third — lazy, illogical thinking.  “When a futurist looks to the future, anything is possible and war is imminent.”  What else would a futurist look at that we might care about?  (And if war is imminent, peace is not possible.  Ipso facto.)

Finally, there’s the ostensibly clever wordplay.  “Yawn Dillinger”?  Check, please!

All of this may sound like quibbling, but bad writing — and bad editing, Mr. Kristol! — are indications that something may be rotten in Denmark.  Perhaps the neocons aren’t trying very hard.

(The articles themselves aren’t much better.  If I ever finish reading one, I’ll dissect it in a future post.)



  1. Sounds like everyone is out of step except you.


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