OFF THE GRID

What’s for Lunch? The Judts

Jun 24, 10 | 7:45 AM   byMichael Wolff
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For me the best burger is made of sacred cow.

My meal the other day was two parts of the most serious and revered left-wing intellectual in the land, Tony Judt, and—even more shocking to the old ladies of the Web—one part his lugubrious and, apparently, preternaturally precocious 15-year-old son.

Big and little Judt, in a left-wing homage to Father’s Day, exchanged a series of simpering, pickle-up-the ass bromides about the environment and political leadership in the US on the Times' op-ed page. I said, hold on: This doesn’t sound like any 15-year-old I’ve ever known. Fifteen-year-olds (I have had three of them) can be smart, quick, and worth reading—what they aren’t is tedious, pompous, and observant of the conventions of formal prose. The smell test: Fifteen-year-olds don’t sound like 62-year-olds—unless they are.

The Judts’ piece was so left-wing treacly, and smacked so much of parental ambition and getting your kid into a fine college, that anybody but the most loyal or cornball ought rightly to have rolled his eyes if not off his chair and onto the floor in great hilarity. But, in fact, the setup here is that Judt, who isn’t just the last of the left-wing intellectuals but has ALS and is paralyzed from the neck down, was burnishing his own virtue—his sacred cow status—by showing off his wise-beyond-his-years, concerned-beyond-the-walls-of-his-private-school son. People—left-wing people, anyway—eat this stuff up.

The doubt I raised is a fair and obvious one. There is a reason the Times does not have 15-year-olds writing for its op-ed page. When, mirabile dictu, it does, and, indeed, in tandem with the 15-year-old’s father who happens to be a regular contributor to the page, it is more reasonable to assume extensive collaboration (if not collusion, and crafty nepotism) than not. It’s a dodgy circumstance, however you cut it. And the result isn’t so much writing as it is a stagy piece of agitprop.

Shame, shame for doubting them is the Web response. At least it is from other young people who see themselves as would-be op-ed writers, and from dedicated left-wing sacred cow defenders. For instance: there’s Andrew Leonard, a writer for Salon, who is eager to protect the Jesus-like young Judt. Leonard is a depressed, clergyman type of left-winger—always bristling and censorious—who is himself the son of a dedicated and depressed left-winger (I knew his father and stepmother). I seem to have been giving him conniptions as long as I’ve been writing columns. At the Village Voice, its designated Gawker imitator, Foster Kramer, seems curiously riled that my taste for sacred cows is but an effort to be provocative—which somehow the left (once defined by its provocations) has come to view as shocking and corrupt. (Gawker, which has built its business on provocation, has also developed a curiously snooty or competitive attitude when others provoke.)

Young Judt rose to his own defense, not unexpectedly claiming, in the Daily Beast, that he wrote his part himself. Once more, let us measure our credulity: Here’s a ninth-grader producing a publishable piece of prose and arranging publication (did young Judt call Tina Brown?) in 24 hours. And why isn’t young Judt in left-wing summer camp rather than writing op-eds and rebuttals?

On to politics, which this is about. If, say, Bill O’Reilly and his precocious son had opined on, I don’t know, left-wing media bias, and I’d doubted his son’s bonafides, the left would surely not have rushed to young O’Reilly’s defense—though likely the right would have (and with more fierceness than the left is defending Judt). Another point about politics: The problem with the left, straining its arguments as well as its credibility, is its insistence on its own virtue. That’s the crux of the Judts’ defense: How could we be doubted? Us? (Worth mentioning: Writers on the left, like those on the right, have a remarkable ability to rationalize away all evidence that does not conform to their assumptions. In other words, they lie a lot.)

But to the real issue: Fathers shouldn’t be organ-grinders and sons shouldn’t be monkeys. I’m sure your son loves you, Judt; don’t make him prove it. Let him alone. Maybe he’ll become a Republican.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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