2013's Embarrassing Glut of Bad Op-Eds


Picking the year's worst op-eds — an annual tradition in this space — wasn't easy in 2013. There's the Slate writer who announced you're "a bad person if you send your children to private school"; the New York Times piece arguing that conservative Dallas "willed the death" of JFK (by getting a communist to shoot him?); and the fellow who worried that allowing more high-skilled immigration would exacerbate "America's Genius Glut."

If you've been losing sleep over the genius glut in American punditry, rest easy. That threat's a long way off.

To narrow the choices and give this pudding a theme, I've decided that 2013's malicious listicle will focus on the perverse affinity for executive power of our alleged "Thought Leaders." In a year when presidential incompetence and power lust ruled the headlines — when record numbers of Americans feared big government — the leading lights of the American commentariat clamored for more presidential power. Go figure.

5. Amitai Etzioni, "Why It Should Be Harder to Impeach a President," The Atlantic (May 16)

Early on in President Obama's summer of scandal eruptions, communitarian honcho Amitai Etzioni was incensed that anyone dared invoke the I-word. After all, the president likely "did not know diddly squat" about IRS harassment of the Tea Party.

Only a constitutional amendment making it harder for Congress to impeach the president could save us, Etzioni insisted. But since we manage fewer than one presidential impeachment per century, how much harder could it be?

4. Maureen Dowd, "Barry's War Within," the New York Times (Sept. 7)

MoDo routinely uses her space at the Times to work through her daddy issues: Why can't President Obama be "the strong father who protects the home" instead of an aloof "professorial president"?

In this column, Dowd's father figure disappoints her once again. Instead of "hurl[ing] a few missiles, Zeus like," at Syria, Obama had been contemptibly weak: "When it came time to act as commander in chief, he choked," reverting to "Barry, president of the Harvard Law Review." Apparently, only a legalistic sissy would ask Congress to authorize a war.

3. Norman Podhoretz, "Obama's Successful Foreign Failure," Wall Street Journal (Sept. 8)

But Obama only looks weak, according to neoconservative godfather Norman Podhoretz. Going to Congress was part of his sinister Kenyalinskyite plan to destroy US hegemony. Even when he golfs, he's hellbent on the "erosion of American power."

2. Richard Cohen, "The NSA Is Doing What Google Does," Washington Post (June 10)

The Post's Cohen greeted the revelation that the administration had been secretly collecting data on millions of innocent Americans with a spurt of bile against leaker Edward Snowden, that "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood."

"No one lied about the various programs disclosed last week," Cohen declared. Instead of Snowden being remembered as an heroic whistleblower, "[h]istory is more likely to forget him. Soon, you can Google that."

In his very next column, Cohen had to issue a correction. He "was not aware" that director of national intelligence James Clapper had blatantly lied to Congress about NSA spying. That column, urging the president to bomb Syria, contained yet another glaring error, praising the "NATO bombing campaign in 1999 that ended the bloodshed in Bosnia." It was Kosovo, actually. Cohen could've Googled that.

1. David Brooks, "Strengthen the Presidency," New York Times (Dec. 12)

"It's a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs," said David Brooks (a conservative writer for the Times) in this year's winner. What's more, Brooks writes, "[t]his is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we've just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout."

If that sentence confuses you, it's OK. Not all of us have what it takes to be thought leaders.

This column first appeared in the Washington Examiner.

NEXT: Michigan University Places "Selfie" at Top of 2013 List of Words to Banish

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  1. Paul Krugman should get the lifetime achievement award.

    1. Richard Cohen would be a runner-up. He makes more sense if you imagine him as a Betty-Bowers-style satire of statist talking heads.

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    2. Why not a Nobel?

  2. I'm seeing pro-Snowden lamppost stickers all over Brooklyn. Looks like some of Cohen et al.'s useful idiots have strayed off the reservation.

  3. There's the Slate writer who announced you're "a bad person if you send your children to private school"

    Was it the same one who said buying drugs is tantamount to donating to the Nazi party?

    The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
    -Thomas Jefferson

    1. Erik Vance is the drug idiot.

      1. His only other article on Slate is about how much worse volcanos in the US are compared to ones in Mexico.

        No, seriously.

  4. Of all the things I could possibly allow myself to fret about, a "genius glut" isn't even in the first ten thousand things on the list.

    1. I'm having difficulty wrapping my head around the "thought" processes that lead to the conclusion "more brilliant people is bad".

      If every genius like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Einstein immigrated to the U.S., wouldn't that be a good thing for citizens here?

      1. The thought process is the following. Any job that doesn't involve bloviating about how to run other people's lives or doing something deemed "creative" is automatically beneath any "brilliant person". Since there is finite demand for bloviaters, having too many "brilliant people" means that there will not be enough people to do the demeaning jobs that stupid, lesser people do like build things, repair things, and all of the other stuff that makes a civilization work.

      2. This is an old school of thought, originating when Homo habilis was bitching about the super-geniuses of Homo erectus ruining everything.

        1. Kids these days! Strutting around on their hind legs all the time! And they can't even climb trees.

      3. Start with the idea that you are a philosopher king. As a philosopher king, you need to make sure that there is balance. Are your subjects reading too much? Over-exerting themselves? Not producing enough and thus depriving society of their full potential? You need to keep on top of that to make sure everyone is happy and pulling their weight.

        Likewise, you need to make sure your kingdom is producing enough jobs and workers to keep everything running smoothly. Certain people are meant to be waiters. Others are meant to be ditch diggers. Still others are meant to be scientists. If too many people become scientists, then there won't be enough ditch diggers.

        If you want more insight into this mindset, I recommend reading, "The Principles of Scientific Management" by Frederick Winslow Taylor or "Progressivism -- And After" by William English Walling.

      4. "If every genius like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Einstein immigrated to the U.S., wouldn't that be a good thing for citizens here?"

        Only if they paid a living wage.

  5. Brooks is like the Micheal Jordan of stupid editorials. It is hard to give the award to Krugman. Krugman is just nuts and has degenerated to performance art at this point. He either doesn't mean what he says or is so irrational that he has no idea what he is saying anymore. That, I think disqualifies him for such an award. Brooks in contrast is in full command of all of his faculties. Brooks is a very thoughtful, level headed and hard working editorial writer. He is not crazy or irrational or dishonest or even lazy. Brooks really is just that stupid.

    1. I started reading Bobos in Paradise and quickly became embarrassed for him.

    2. Brooks doesn't appear to be stupid -- he's just a hardcore statist who wants way more government, leading to whoppers like this:

      This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we've just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout. It's important to advocate greater executive branch power in a chastened mood. It's not that the executive branch is trustworthy

      Translation: the president is incompetant and untrustworthy, so let's give him more power because now people will watch him more carefully than they did before.

      Hmmm, I take that back -- Brooks IS stupid, albeit articulate and clean.

      1. I'm nominating that italicized paragraph as the year's full derp prize winner. That a guy can present himself as thoughtful and write something so obviously self-contradicting is breath taking.

      2. Perhaps "foolish" is the better word. I don't doubt Brooks probably would score well on an IQ test. Scoring well on an IQ test however, doesn't excuse believing absolutely foolish and stupid things. Thinking that the failure of the executive branch is the perfect reason and time to give that branch more power is just stupid. If believing really stupid things doesn't make one "stupid", I am not sure the word has any meaning beyond referencing a score on some objective test.

        1. Shorter, from Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does.

      3. David Brooks needs to eat my shit.

      4. My favorite David Brooks quote is To have good leaders you have to have good followers -- able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it. -- unless, of course, I have the attribution wrong, in which case it's just a damned good quote anyway.

        1. Bootlicking and conformity is progress.


  6. It's a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs," said David Brooks (a conservative writer

    "conservative" does not mean anything like this.

    1. "conservative" does not mean anything like this."

      Indeed it's not.

      Brook's niche is being a liberal pet. They put him forth as a "conservative" in an attempt to recalibrate the political spectrum yardstick to portray any real (nonstatist) conservatives who want to conserve the founding fathers intent for a limited federal goverment as being raving anarchists.

  7. Thomas Friedman must have won the lifetime achievement award for bad editorials so he is no longer eligible for the yearly award.

    1. Friedman gets the lifetime achievement award for bad prose. His editorials are stupid but not really any dumber than the typical beltway writer. But his prose is just epically bad. I don't think it is possible to write more convoluted and poorly constructed sentences and paragraphs than Friedman does without being a straight retarded illiterate who can't even spell with spell check and the chance to edit like Sad Beard.

      1. I don't think it is possible to write more convoluted and poorly constructed sentences and paragraphs than Friedman does without being a straight retarded illiterate who can't even spell with spell check and the chance to edit like Sad Beard.

      1. Mixed metaphors are like the chupacabra in the basement of the society we hope to achieve.

    2. Like how Rick Reilly inexplicably keeps winning awards for awful, unimaginative, unfunny, sports writing?

      1. He only wins those because his competition is Mitch Albon.

        1. Or, gulp, Greg Easterbrook?

  8. I just this morning heard someone reference that "thought leader" piece.

    I'm afraid to read it, for fear of my sanity. Also, I can't afford a new computer.

  9. Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman have been eliminated from the running once again to give others a chance.

    1. Matthew Yglasias is also ineligible since the things he writes are so poorly written that they do not rise to the level of being considered an "editorial".

      1. I think Yglesias is disqualified because this list is supposed to be for people writing for legitimate publications who have some sort of name recognition.

        Yglesias is unbelievably dumb, but he's writing for a terrible website and no one cares what he thinks.

      2. Yglasias is a busy bee buzzing from bloom to bloom. A little nectar here. A little pollen there. Not much of anything anywhere.

  10. Cohen's trip to a movie this year finally taught him that slavery is bad.

    1. Good thing he didn't watch Song of the South, then.

      1. He also learned that Gone With The Wind is not a documentary.

        1. I do not like that documentary at all.

        2. I bet you anything SugarFree Cohen is so poorly educated about history that he had no idea what slavery was actually like before seeing the movie.

    2. The Jonathan Chait article about 12 Years a Slave is one of the funniest things I've ever read.

      There has never been a better example of brainless left-wing preening. He claims that he wasn't able to sleep that night, which is ludicrous because he saw a matinee showing. He claims he couldn't sleep 8 hours after seeing the movie.

      Of course, 12 years a slave is also evidence of how evil conservatives are super racist against the president.

      He also compared people mocking president Obama to slavery.

      1. Here's Chait talking about mass employment. I guess he forgot he's been ordered to crow about how unemployment is under 7% thanks to our God-King.

        1. Chait also doesnt count due to the 'no one giving a shit about him' exception. Hes like the Glass Joe of the intellectual world, his only function is to put up just enough of a fight so that people can learn how the game is played. You just cant expect anything more from him.

      2. That gave me a headache. Every criticism of our dear leader has racist undertones. Thankfully people like Melissa Harris-Perry have cracked the code. Words like Obamacare, liberty, welfare and Chicago are code for lets lynch that uppity negroe. Progs don't even try to debate. Anyone that is not statist is most certainly motivated by racism in their worldview.

  11. I'd like to offer a half-hearted defense of "If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person." No, it's not because I agree with the judgment expressed in the title. What I do appreciate, though, is that it's a rare example of a liberal criticizing other liberals for being hypocrites.

    Usually, liberals demand that only conservatives and libertarians conduct their lives in perfect harmony with their beliefs. "If you support the war, why don't you join the Army so you can go fight in it?" "If Ron Paul opposes Social Security, he should not be on Social Security!" "If you're a libertarian, why don't you move to Somalia?" And so on. But if you try to ask a liberal to demonstrate his concern for the poor by, for example, giving more money to charity, he'll typically let himself off the hook with the "But I'm only one person, that wouldn't make a difference" excuse.

    The private school editorial argues that liberals shouldn't just brush off their responsibilities like that. ("Don't just acknowledge your liberal guilt?listen to it.") I find that attitude refreshing, especially with liberals routinely using put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is arguments against their opponents.

    1. The other nice thing about that article is it proudly, it seems, lets the mask slip. Your child's well being is unimportant next to the needs of the state, if you child must grow up illiterate and uneducated so that schools will have a chance to get more funding, that is a price we are willing to pay.

      I find it refreshing when liberals drop the 'crypto' from crypto facist.

  12. What no, "Fake Scandal" piece?

    a la =


    "The word scandal does not even fit ? this is not Teapot Dome, this is not Spiro Agnew, this is not Watergate, this is not Iran Contra. The 24/7 news cycle has taken the confluence of events and the ease with which congressional hearings become show trials and blown this all way out of proportion. After all, the definition of scandal is "an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage"

    There was nothing more pathetic than the ostensibly independently-minded Fourth Estate repeatedly chastising the public for believing that, oh, being repeatedly lied to by the president, or the use of the IRS to persecute political enemies, constituted anything worthy of more than a Yawn.

    FWIW, I think the fact they state so confidently, "This is no Iran/Contra" re: Benghazi to be hilarious. Because nothing has been so fundamentally identical to Iran/Contra in the last 30 years, yet so inconsequential for the sitting president because, well, TEAM.

    1. Iran Contra did not result in the death of a single American and got a few of them released from captivity. So yeah, this is no Iran contra. Iran Contra at least didn't kill anyone and did have an upside.

      1. Actually, FWIW, a number of US special ops and hired guns (a la Michael Echanis) did die in the covert program to arm/fund 'Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries'.

        But, yeah, your point holds nevertheless.

    2. "This is not stuff that the evil Republicans did forty years ago, so it obviously doesn't matter today. Priorities, sheep; let's have a Two Minutes Hate for Watergate."

      It is ridiculous that Watergate is *still* a regular topic in leftoid propaganda.

      Sell machine guns to drug cartels? Ignore the destruction of an American embassy and the murder of an American ambassador? Use the IRS to harass and persecute your political enemies? Whatev, thatz nuthin; a couple guys broke into a democrat party headquarters forty years ago!

  13. I'm surprised they didn't include the click-bait article from Slate which said that if you sent your kid to private school, then you're a bad person.

  14. It's all very entertaining to excoriate op-eds you disagree with, but the fact remains that 99%+ of all op-eds are partisan hackwork done under a deadline; even H. L. Mencken's (which are still great fun to read). That's simply the nature of op-eds. The only reason anyone has to expect otherwise is the poisonous fantasy we have been sold that unbiased reporting is desirable, or even possible.

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