Posted on | April 24, 2014 | 81 Comments
The quoted tweet could be lesson one in a New Media seminar: “How Not to Respond to Jeff Goldstein on Twitter.” It began when Jeff (@ProteinWisdom) asked @CaliAzona why she favorited a certain tweet, and you can read through the resulting flame war.
My apathetic inattention to everything — except whatever it is I’m obsessed with at any particular moment, e.g., radical feminism — means that I completely missed that Twitter firestorm Tuesday, and didn’t notice it until Bob Belvedere called it to my attention.
What is this about? First, it’s not about ideology.
This always happens: Whenever people involved in politics get into a conflict, they will tend to define the conflict as political. The person with whom they disagree will be accused of deviation from the True Ideals of the Cause, whatever the Cause may be. I’ve seen this happen in all kinds of contexts over the past 15-plus years.
It’s basically what happened to Charles Johnson (who?) of Little Green Footballs (what?) — he got into a conflict with Pamela Geller, became convinced that it was ideological in nature and, within two years, Charles went from being one of the most influential conservative bloggers to being an obscure asterisk in Internet history.
OK, if it’s not about ideology, is it about courtesy?
The Internet Etiquette Police could not be reached for comment.
Urgent Breaking News: People are being rude on Twitter!
Nevertheless, one could say that any inclination toward deference by any of the parties involved might have averted the conflict. Deference is really the essence of courtesy, but a society that has no generally recognized hierarchy has no basis on which deference should be expected. This was what Edmund Burke meant, after all, in his famous lament that “the age of chivalry is gone.”
If the Queen of France could be seized by a mob of rabble, Burke correctly observed, then every customary basis of respect — “The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise” — was under assault.
Ah, but never let it be said “democracy” has no hierarchies! Wealth, fame, beauty, political power — some animals are more equal than others, and the mad scramble to ascend the Ziggurat of Ambition produces a ceaseless churning: Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s up? Who’s down? Who made the Top Ten list and who is Number One?
Status and prestige are marketable commodities, and values shift constantly in the exchange. Those who aspire to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous discover that what qualifies one as Rich is subject to inflation, while Fame is a notoriously fickle whore. Nearly every day brings news of the death of an erstwhile VIP whose passing in old age is unlamented by youth who never knew their name.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
It has been a little more than two years since Andrew Breitbart died at the apogee of his fame. Everybody swore then that Andrew would never be forgotten, but when was the last time anybody quoted him? Andrew’s widow has been sued by Shirley Sherrod, and who has been following the process of that vexatious lawsuit?
People in a democracy are present-minded, prone to forget their heritage and ignore history, and democratic culture is hostile to tradition — even hostile, ultimately, to the tradition of democracy!
But I digress . . .
Amid the Tuesday flame war, Jeff Goldstein sarcastically remarked: “Conservatism on the internet began in 2009.” That is to say, some people who became active in online political discourse when the Tea Party first flared into existence five years ago — in particular, Twitter users — have a limited knowledge of what went on (and who did what) in the blogosphere Back in the Day.
It should not be necessary for Jeff Goldstein to remind people just how long he has been Fighting the Good Fight, but alas, it is:
It’s an interesting trip down memory lane, but it also shows a kind of site trajectory. So in that sense, the exercise was instructive — at least to me. My Twitter stalkers won’t read them, because, you know, being challenged intellectually is not what this new brand of “conservative activism” is about. . . . I’d rather talk about substance than deal with the kinds of people whom I now have to rely on to carry “our” battle flag. Because having dealt with them — and been blocked by a few who have 10s of thousands of followers — that’s just too damn depressing. Especially when I realize that some of these were written when the current crop of “conservative influence peddlers” on Twitter were probably in the 3rd grade.
Please read the whole thing, because Jeff has every right to believe that many of us are deeply in his debt, and we are thus obligated to defend him against those who do properly not appreciate his long years of service to the conservative cause.
And now, boys and girls, it’s Story Time With Grandpa McCain: It was in Santa Barbara, California, at the West Coast Conference of the Young America’s Foundation in the fall of 2007 that I first met Jeff Goldstein. My buddy Jason Mattera had invited several bloggers to attend the conference, and I’d helped suggest names to be invited. Ace of Spades was there, and so was Rusty Shackleford of the Jawa Report. Little Miss Attila showed up, and I seem to recall Jim Hoft being there, too, but Grandpa McCain’s memory isn’t very reliable because of that unfortunate experience with psilocybin back in ’79. Anyway . . .
Several of us were lounging around the hotel lobby bar one evening when Jason Mattera approached me and said, “Hey, what’s up with this Jeff Goldstein guy?” Jason proceeded to tell me that Jeff was outside on the oceanview veranda in a heated argument with some of the college Republican kids attending the conference. Jason asked me to see if I could attempt to quell the dispute.
Outside I went, to find Jeff confronting half a dozen of these kids. He had a glass of bourbon in his hand and, from the tone of his discourse, I gathered it was his third or fourth glass. At least.
Jeff is philosophical by nature, and he was in the process of challenging these college kids’ commitment to classic liberalism.
Of course, the kids had no idea what was happening. They didn’t know who Jeff was, and the Total Goldstein Experience was rather shocking to them. Here they were, at a fabulous event in beautiful seaside Santa Barbara, and they had not expected to find themselves baited into a Socratic dialogue challenging their conservatism.
This is where it is necessary to explain that Jeff Goldstein is a complete fitness fanatic. He was wearing a T-shirt so that his muscular arms were displayed in all their bulging glory, a flesh-and-blood billboard declaring: “Don’t Fuck With Me, Hombre.”
Being from the South, where a skinny boy’s life and health depends in large measure on knowing who not to fuck with, the dynamic of the situation on the veranda at that moment was terrifying.
Trust me, I recognize an Incipient Redneck Brawl when I see one and with a sudden adrenaline rush I realized that, in asking me to intervene, Mattera had sent me into a potential combat zone.
“Hey, Jeff, let me buy you a drink!”
How does a skinny boy survive to adulthood in Georgia? By ingratiating himself to bad-asses, of course. If a fight breaks out, you want to make sure that the bad-asses are your friends, and so my first order of business was to head inside to the bar and get Jeff another bourbon on the rocks. This also gave me an opportunity to grab another Corona (in the bottle, because a beer bottle makes a handy weapon, if worse comes to worse) and time to analyze the situation. What the hell was happening here? And how could an escalation to violence be prevented? Honestly, I was kind of hoping the fight would break out while I was still at the bar, so that by the time I returned, the ugly confrontation would all be over.
As I recall — psilocybin can wreck your brain, boys and girls, so Grandpa McCain can’t say for certain — the biggest of the young Republicans facing off with Goldstein on the veranda was 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. Probably played offensive lineman in high school. Jeff is medium height and maybe 170, but it’s all muscle, so if a fight breaks out, he’s the most dangerous beast in the scrum. And as I returned to this weird scene outside, the tense verbal face-off had not ended.
Picture it: A pleasant evening in coastal California, the glow of sunset fading to night. Palm trees shifting in the warm ocean breeze, while the surf softly lapped the beach just a couple hundred yards from the patio where Jeff Goldstein faced down a semi-circle of college Republican kids who were angry — and I mean, fighting mad — at being aggressively interrogated about their conservative bona fides.
The incongruity of the scene struck me as I handed Jeff a fresh bourbon. Details of his Socratic colloquy have long escaped my memory, but there were three or four guys and a girl or two in the college Republican group. This was one crucial factor in the toxic atmosphere: Jeff’s intellectual challenge to the boys amounted to showing them up in front of their girlfriends. Standing behind Jeff, meanwhile, were Ace, Rusty and Attila, who had been trying to mediate or at least keep Jeff calm.
Just as it seemed that fisticuffs were inevitable, however, Ace made a clever sarcastic jab that suddenly evaporated all the tension. You could ask Ace what he said and maybe he would remember exactly, but it was sort of an inside joke about Jeff’s rhetorical tactics.
Jeff burst out laughing hysterically and the frightening stand-off with the college Republican kids ended happily, although the kids certainly must have left wondering what it was all about.
That was the fall of 2007, you see — way back in the misty dawn of Internet time, when Giants Bestrode the Blogosphere.
My point in telling that story . . . No, seriously, I’m sure that story did have an actual point, something other than (a) Jeff Goldstein enjoys arguing, and (b) Ace of Spades has always been funny as hell.
Ah — yes! My point was that the hierarchy of respect is not always apparent to us. Those college kids in 2007 probably didn’t spend a lot of time surfing around the conservative blogosphere but, even if they had read Protein Wisdom, they had no idea that the muscular guy drinking bourbon and arguing with them outside that hotel in Santa Barbara was the esteemed blogger Jeff Goldstein.
Fast-forward six-and-a-half years and, when Goldstein confronts someone on Twitter, their response is, “Who the F are u?”
.@CaliAzona Because it showed up in my timeline. I'm not "monitoring" anything. As to who the F I am, do some research.
— proteinwisdom (@proteinwisdom) April 22, 2014
.@CaliAzona You don't have to answer. I just found it odd you favorited a laughable Marxist selfie pic meant to take a feeble shot at me.
— proteinwisdom (@proteinwisdom) April 22, 2014
Well, in point of fact, Jeff Goldstein is somebody. You don’t have to like Jeff, but if you want to go to war with him, don’t make the mistake of underestimating him. Nor should you expect that Jeff’s friends will hesitate to join him in the fight. There are good people who owe Jeff favors, and I am most certainly among them.
Back in 2008, when I quit my newspaper job and embarked on this crazy freelance career, blog hits weren’t always rolling in by the thousands. There were days when getting linked at Protein Wisdom was an answer to earnest prayer. It would be dishonorable of me to forget such favors. The passage of time cannot erode an obligation of sincere gratitude.
Having met Jeff Goldstein (@proteinwisdom) I can assure you, nobody would insult him to his face.
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) April 24, 2014
Jeff and I haven’t had the opportunity to hang out in many years, but if he ever makes a trip East — or if I make a trip West — I’ll be glad to buy him another bourbon on the rocks. And if anyone wants to insult Jeff to his face, they’d better be ready to rumble.