David Frum

04.10.13

Twitchy! Michelle Malkin's Phony War

Do you ever come across a word or phrase that so perfectly sums up a concept, you can't believe you haven't known it forever?

I had such a moment yesterday, when the following tweet popped up in my timeline:

Regrettably, the author is Brooks Bayne, a notorious internet low-life hitherto best known for tweeting "LOL" about the murder of 6 million Jews. 

Nevertheless, the term "malkinization" immediately struck me as good enough to be worth salvaging. The conservative embrace of identity politics and victimology, once the preserve of the far left, has often been noted in these pages but never had a name. Now we do, and it's perfect. If you doubt it, I urge you to spend a little while on Michelle Malkin's timeline (not too long, it's not good for anyone). It won't take you long to see the nature of the game: she, along with her many peers and acolytes, are engaged in a perpetual phony war against largely imaginary enemies. Conservatives are encouraged to see themselves as under siege, the last and greatest of oppressed minorities. The tiniest of slights from any vaguely left-of-center source is converted into fuel for the rage machine.

The current front page of Twitchy.com, Malkin's "news" site, leads with the following stories: a passive-aggressive tweet from discredited smear artist James O'Keefe, some fish-in-a-barrel mockery of a celebrity event at the White House and two separate stories about remarks made by an MSNBC commentator, the latter starring Sarah Palin.

It will be seen that none of the above is, in any conceivable sense, damaging to liberals or beneficial to conservatives. Nobody outside the hard-right bubble cares about these non-stories, still less will they change anyone's vote or affect the course of any legislation. This is the fight Malkin and so many others like her have chosen: a withdrawal from concrete policy goals into a battlefield of manufactured outrage and endless, tiny, wholly meaningless victories. Meanwhile, as David has long tired of pointing out, Republicans keep losing elections and Democrats are left to run the country (into the ground, he would say; I disagree, but don't find one-party rule attractive either).

This brings us to "malkinization"'s other virtue as a term: the allusion to "Balkanization". In geopolitics, this is where regions or states fracture into smaller, mutually-hostile units to the detriment of all. The analogy to the conservative movement isn't immediately apparent. The most striking thing about the latter, after all, is its monolithic conformity. What the Malkins of the world have sought to create is rather a kind of intellectual Balkanization. Conservatives were once concerned with big ideas. Now, too many of them seem to settle for "defeating" their enemies on Twitter in a neverending series of micro-controversies, to the detriment of actual conservative achievements in the real world.

There we have it. Malkinization: the practice of substituting squabbling for policy and victimology for self-respect. Make a note.