Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Moral Abomination of Robert Farley

Some time back, I wrote about Robert Farley's review of David Horowitz and Ben Johnson's Party of Defeat.

Recall that Farley
completely bombed in his attempt at making even the slightest dent in the Horowitz and Johnson's thesis, a thesis holding that the Democrats - pandering to their antiwar base - turned against a war they had nominally supported, an about face unprecedented in the domestic politics of American warfare.

Horowitz and Johnson show in exacting yet excruciating detail that today's Democrats have demonstrated a eager willingness to abandon objective national security threat assessments for narrow partisan political gain. Where once the party of John F. Kennedy led the fight against communism worldwide, the heirs of Democratic containment have sought to appease terrorism and coddle dictators. From Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha, to Harry Reid and Barack Obama, at no time in our historical memory has a political party sought to weaken American standing in war and diplomacy abroad.

As I noted in my post, "Farley's essentially dishonest in his review," which was apparent
in the baseless allegations he made in his essay alleging "the summary field execution of Afghan civilians" in the war in Afghanistan.

It should be no surprise now, then, that Farley acknowleges - in
an essay today at the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money - his own unseriousness and shallow motivations for undertaking a book review of a serious study of American foreign policy - a book he knew in advance would fundamentally challenge his ideological beliefs.

Here's how Farley explains his approach to reviewing Party of Defeat, noting his response to an e-mail from Frontpage Magazine offering $1000 to formally comment on the book:

My first thought was "Have I read the book yet? Heh." My second thought was "$1000. That sure could buy a lot of whiskey sours." My third thought was "200. It could buy 200 whiskey sours, if I go to the right places. Maybe with a few Manhattans sprinkled in for variety." My fourth thought was "Hey, it could even pay for whiskey sours that I've already bought, and that are still hanging around on my credit card balance." It's fair to say, then, that I found the offer appealing from the get go.

I immediately IMed Matt Duss, who told me that the offer had been floating around the DC blogging/journalism community for a while. Duss (and others) had given thought to taking the deal, but then decided that engaging with Horowitz would grant him too much legitimacy. This, I thought, was true enough; it was the reason that Horowitz was willing to pay an outrageous sum for lefties to review his book. He was trying to buy legitimacy. The point was to create the illusion that there was something in Party of Defeat that was worth engaging with, and consequently that David Horowitz was a man of ideas, rather than a thug and second rate polemicist. As such, engagement with the work as meaningful scholarship could be fundamentally dishonest, in that it accorded the book a level of respect greater than the typical bar bathroom scrawl.
Given these sentiments, why accept the offer?

There was a certain comfort in the recognition that Horowitz' effort was transparent; taking the money to review the book was, in itself, subversive of the notion that Horowitz was a serious thinker. Of course, I would accept money to review a book that I had an interest in reading, but I would never read Horowitz were it not for the money.
Readers might carefully ponder all of this.

One thousand dollars is a great sum to write a brief book review, and self-interest alone might explain Farley's decision. Yet, if that's the only motivation, there's logically little need for an intellectual investment in performing what most would consider a professional obligation: to review the work with good faith and rigor. Yet,
Farley's self-expose reveals nothing of the sort, as seen in his experience in first wading into the book after agreeing to write the review:

And so on a Monday evening I set out for the Mellow Mushroom with Party of Defeat and a yellow notepad. I ordered a pitcher of beer and a pepperoni, pineapple, and jalapeno pizza, and settled in, expected to read roughly a third of the book. And then, about halfway down the first page, I noticed a serious problem with my plan. The. Book. Is. Unimaginably. Terrible. You may think you can guess how bad it is, but you can't. It's Benji Saves the Universe Terrible. It's notes on each of the first seventy pages terrible. It's spitting up your valuable, valuable beer terrible. There's just nothing there. It can't be engaged with, any more than the homeless dude with the tinfoil hat can. It's a disaster, and I just couldn't understand how I could possibly come up with a thousand words that could conceivably be termed "engagement", and still have any pretence to intellectual honesty.

As I so often do, I sought solace in alcohol. I gave some thought to bagging the project, because I didn't think that the $1000 was worth having to do a genuinely dishonest appraisal. Then again, I'd spent some time and intellectual energy; I also really wanted the thousand dollars. Finally, I latched onto the idea of treating the book as if it were a work of historical fiction, or perhaps even the novelization of some crazy right wing movie.
I recommend that readers see for themselves what's so shocking in Party of Defeat. The introduction is here, and includes this:
What nation can prevail in a war if half its population believes that the war is unnecessary and unjust, that its commander-in-chief is a liar, and that its own government is the aggressor? What president can mobilize his nation if his word is not trusted? And what soldier can prevail on the field of battle if half his countrymen are telling him that he shouldn’t be there in the first place?

It was July 2003, only four months after American forces entered Iraq, when the Democratic Party launched its first all-out attack on the president’s credibility and the morality of the war. The opening salvos were reported in a New York Times article: “Democratic presidential candidates offered a near-unified assault today on President Bush’s credibility in his handling of the Iraq War signaling a shift in the political winds by aggressively invoking arguments most had shunned since the fall of Baghdad.”

While American forces battled al-Qaeda and Ba’athist insurgents in the Iraqi capital, the Democratic National Committee released a television ad that focused not on winning those battles, but on the very legitimacy of the war. The theme of the ad was “Read His Lips: President Bush Deceives the American People.” The alleged deception was sixteen words that had been included in the State of the Union address he delivered on the eve of the conflict.

These words summarized a British intelligence report claiming that Iraq had attempted to acquire fissionable uranium in the African state of Niger, thus indicating Saddam’s (well-known) intentions to develop nuclear weapons. The report was subsequently confirmed by a bipartisan Senate committee and a British investigative commission, but not until many months had passed and the Democratic attacks had taken their toll.[18] On the surface, the attacks were directed at the president’s credibility for repeating the British claim. But their clear implication was to question the decision to go to war—in other words, to cast doubt on the credibility of the American cause. If Saddam had not sought fissionable uranium in Niger, it was suggested, then the White House had lied in describing Saddam as a threat.

In the midst of a war, and in the face of a determined terrorist resistance in Iraq, Democrats had launched an attack on America’s presence on the field of battle. This separated their assault from the normal criticism of war policies.

The problem for Farley, seen in his original review, but also in his blog post, is that he refuses to engage Horowitz and Johnson at a genuine intellectual level. It's all a "conspiracy" to him, and thus easily dismissed as unworthy of rigorous engagement.

Yet, David Horowitz, et al., is hardly the first person to argue that the Democrats have relinquished any sense of force of backbone since the Vietnam era.

In 2002, a few presidential wannabes - like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards - and some Democratic partisans confused over changes in international politics - like Harry Reid - rode the tide of national outrage over 9/11 into a vote authorizing intervention in Iraq. Many others in the Senate did not. The House vote, further, saw a majority of Democrats oppose the legislation.

A good case could be made, therefore, that on a straight roll-call analysis, the party - with the exception of a few aberrant members - stood fast in its ideological framework in opposition to a war considered ill-conceived and hastily arranged.

Farley doesn't do this, however.

Instead, he attacks Horowitz himself as a wild-eyed bozo too crazed for a modicum of respect.

Indeed, as Farley admits at his post:

I decided simply to not engage at all with Horowitz' use of evidence; factual claims in the book were designed for "truthiness" rather than for truth, and trying to start an argument about Plame or McGovern or Reagan or whatever else wouldn't be productive.

To argue against "factual claims," it seems, wouldn't be productive, since Party of Defeat makes its case so well.

Farley basically throws up his hands in opposition to the book based on faith, and faith alone. Evidence in debate doesn't count when all-encompassing leftist ideology provides comprehensive, irrefutable answers to the universe. With Howowitz and Johnson as "truthers" - selling a conspiracy to justify a con of the American people - Farley can keep sucking back a few drinks and take the money and run.

And that's basically what he did.

Robert Farley pissed on David Horowitz. He wrote a cheap rebuttal to a genuine and serious work of critical research on the Democrats and Iraq, all because the book challenged untouchable leftist shibboleths. This is anti-intellectualism, at the least, and certainly outright fraud of the first order.

Farley is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School. I know many untenured faculty members wouldn't put themselves this far out on a scholarly limb. No matter in this case, of course, as it's clear that Farley doesn't care one way or the other, not about reputation nor rigor.

This man's not only an academic mountebank, but a moral abomination as well.