The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Awful Burden of Influence

Posted on | October 9, 2011 | 34 Comments

My son Jefferson, 12, and Alex Pappas of the Daily Caller
at the FRC Values Voters Summit, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011

“‘Tis not in mortals to command success, but we’ll do more, Sempronius; we’ll deserve it.”
Joseph Addison, Cato, 1712

While I was kneeling down in front of the stage in the Regency Ballroom to get photos and video of Ted Cruz’s speech Friday, I happened to glance up and notice that the organizers hadn’t yet removed from the stage the table for the previous session. The table for the “All-Star Media Panel” was still set up and I saw the names on the place-cards: Joe Carter of First Things, Kathryn Jean Lopez of NRO and Ed Morrissey of Hot Air.

Ah, yes — another conservative conference where all my friends are invited speakers, and I am reminded once again that I don’t know nothing about nothing worth knowing.

Whenever I point out such evidence of my abject failure — calling attention to my non-invitation to BlogCon 2011, for example — people tend to take offense, as if I am blaming them for my failure to deserve respect. Everybody in the conservative movement talks about the need for “accountability,” and yet when I hold myself accountable for my own failure, people act as if I’ve lost my mind.

Last week, a blogger friend replied to an e-mail I’d sent by urging me to get help with a “chemical imbalance,” so the possibility that I’m descending into madness can’t be ruled out. Yet my stubborn pride and my intense competitiveness, no doubt exacerbated by excessive coffee consumption, are symptoms of mental illness only if you consider it crazy to prefer success over failure.

Jimmie Bise seemed to glimpse the method to the madness, so if there’s at least one certifiably sane person who doesn’t think I’m nuts, maybe I can avoid being committed at the Happy Acres Home for Disappointed Bloggers. (Success indeed requires “commitment,” a double-entendre that is perhaps not entirely coincidental.) And at this point, long-time readers of this blog are saying to themselves, “Oh, this is going to be another one of those long ones, eh?”

Prophetic Omen of the Shadow Menace

Let us now disgress to consider the most “surprising” recent events of the 2012 presidential campaign: Herman Cain’s surge into contender status, and the ongoing meltdown of Rick Perry. Dealing with a fairly minor addition to the latter category, the Mormonism-is-a-cult remarks of a Perry-endorsing pastor, Adjoran made a comment that prompted me to respond with a reminder:

Right: For $17 million, you’d think maybe the Perry campaign could have afforded a little vetting, eh?
And this puts the Perry campaign in a horrible predicament: Bible-believing evangelicals do think of Mormonism as a “cult,” so Perry can’t disown Jeffress without looking like he’s caving in to political correctness. On the other hand, failing to disown Jeffress makes Perry look as if he’s tolerating bigotry. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t — and all because somebody on Perry’s $17 million staff couldn’t be bothered to do a bit of basic research.
Didn’t I try to warn people about the “Phantom Menace”? And aren’t my prophecies coming true? Yet you don’t see the people who jumped on the Perry bandwagon crediting me with having been right, right, right when they were wrong, wrong, wrong. Why? Because giving me credit would diminish their prestige, and they are too insecure to accept the embarrassment they deserve.

People do not gain influence as pundits by calling attention to their own errors of judgment. You don’t see Karl Rove on Fox News talking about how his advice as top political advisor in the Bush White House led directly to the GOP disasters of 2006-2008. And you will never pick up the Washington Post and find in Charles Krauthammer’s column the phrase “as Stacy McCain presciently predicted …”

Rove would lose face if he admitted his own culpability for GOP “brand damage,” and Krauthammer would not enhance his own prestige by admitting he’d been out-prognosticated by some guy on the Internet nobody ever heard of — a blogger so obscure that even his fellow bloggers won’t invite him to speak at their conference.

By the way, this is as good a place as any to plug a conference that did invite me to speak: Maryland Conservative Action Networks will hold its “Turning the Tides” conference Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Doubletree Hotel in Annapolis. It’s about a 100-mile drive from my house in Hagerstown to Annapolis, so if you’re within a 100-mile radius, what’s your excuse for not attending? I might even bring Mrs. Other McCain, so you’ll have an opportunity to ask her questions like, “Has he always been this crazy?” and “How do you put up with him?” That might be more interesting than anything I have to say, which is why you should hurry and sign up for “Turning the Tides” now.

Returning to the theme, I am aware of the extent to which my problems are (a) mostly of my own making and (b) a divine rebuke of my pride.

Ascending the Ziggurat of Ambition

It has pleased God that I should become an object of public scorn, and I will be grateful for this chastisement: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6 KJV). And I know that I suffer for my own sins, for which no one else is to blame. So it is neither self-pity nor insanity that causes me to celebrate my repeated humiliations. Had I deserved the honor of speaking at BlogCon 2011, I would have been invited, and my non-invitation is a timely reminder of my utter worthlessness, lest vanity convince me that I am anything more than a wretched sinner wholly dependent on the merciful grace of a loving God.

Evangelicals like to talk about “stepping out on faith,” but it’s remarkable how few of them ever actually do so, instead plotting their careers with worldly caution as they advance their way up the Ziggurat of Ambition. And if you do something as crazy as quit a newspaper job because “God said go,” you can’t blame people for thinking that you are recklessly irresponsible. Ergo, might as well make a point of living up to such a disastrous reputation, rather than trying to convince people that you’re sane and sober.

Or, to put it another way: “Being notorious is not the same as being famous, but it’s better than being anonymous.” Long-time readers can connect the dots to figure out whether I’m actually as crazy as I seem, and perhaps also remember when I’ve reminded critics, “Just because you don’t know what I’m doing doesn’t mean that I don’t know I’m doing.”

When our Underpants Gnome Business Model works, I’m more than happy to hog the glory, so when the plan fails, I alone must bear the blame.

The mystery thus explained — buried past the 1,000-word mark, where no one important will see it — I can now tell you why the sight of those placards on the “All-Star Media” panel at the Value Voters Summit caught my eye: Joe Carter.

Does that name ring a bell? How about David Kuo? And if that doesn’t make your synapses snap, try Conor Friedersdorf.

Yes, David Carter was managing editor of Culture 11, which burned through a seven-figure sum of start-up capital in less than a year before its memorable Hindenburg-at-Lakehurst implosion in January 2009. And didn’t I warn them?

In July [2008], a friend sent me an e-mail wondering if I’d be willing to contribute freelance features/columns to a project called “Liberty Wire.” Hey, if it pays money, I’m interested. But I was told to keep it hush-hush, as they were still in the planning stage and had a big roll-out planned, etc. In a subsequent e-mail, my friend explained:

We are a social media network that creates cultural content to develop online and offline community for the mass conservative market…offering irresistibly interesting perspectives on life in America from pop culture to politics, from faith to family. We are asking the question, how do you share and shape the culture? . . .
I was wondering if you’d be interested in contributing in the coming month? I’m trying lots of writers and hope to get regular gigs say, once a month columns perhaps. What do you think?

So I proposed a story and asked, “What’s the rate?” My friend didn’t know yet, but as soon as things were formalized, I’d hear back, yadda, yadda. Three days later, I saw this in the New Republic:

Have you ever been reading Slate and found yourself thinking, “This is great, but if only if were more conservative…”? Then LibertyWire is for you! The new online publication, being launched in mid-August, is billing itself as “a conservative version of Slate.” David Kuo (left), a former Special Assistant to President Bush and author of tell-all Bush indictment Tempting Faith, is going to be the CEO. Bill Bennett (right), former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar under Bush 41 and host of Morning in America, will be the editor chairman. I spoke with Kuo on the phone a few days ago, and though he would not divulge much on-the-record, he confirmed his and Bennett’s involvement.

And that was that. I immediately e-mailed my friend to say that under no circumstance would I ever associate myself with any project run by David Kuo. It wasn’t merely that I’d read Tempting Faith and found it emetically obnoxious. It was also that there was nothing — nothing — in Kuo’s biography that suggested he knew anything about running an online publication (or running anything else, for that matter). The man is an albatross, whose presence in any enterprise is an inerrant harbinger of doom, and I advised my friend to get as far away from Kuo and “Liberty Wire” as possible.

Read the whole thing, in case you’ve forgotten how right I was. You might suppose that my eerie prescience, my preternaturally accurate judgment of David Kuo’s inability to manage any journalistic enterprise, might have earned me praise. But if you thought such a thing, this goes to show that you don’t know anything about how the Washington pundit game is played. Kuo has influential friends, as does Joe Carter, and for someone as friendless and un-influential as me to call attention to their (entirely predictable) failure did nothing but to aggravate my status as persona non grata among influential Beltway types.

Systemic Incentives to Failure

It was not until after the Lakehurst implosion of the Culture 11 zeppelin that I learned that, prior to hiring Joe Carter as their managing editor, the people who put together Culture 11 had interviewed a good friend of mine, an editor and author of tremendous skill and good reputation, and had evidently found him lacking in merit. This anecdote was just another tiny straw of evidence on the camel’s back of systemic failure, And while I have no idea who Matt Zeitlin is, he was clever enough to praise Culture 11 on the occasion of its collapse:

Founded by David Kuo, a former Bush administration official turned critic, and Joe Carter, a former aide to Mike Huckabee, the site sought to offer quality journalism and analysis on American culture at large. The product, to my mind, was excellent.

I say Zeitlin was “clever” to praise this doomed disaster because, no matter how much any conservative spokesman may publicly exhort Americans to an ethos of “personal responsibility,” the organizational dynamics of the Official Conservative Movement inexorably reward failure and thereby incentivize future failures. No matter how often you’re proven right in counseling against such folly, your superiority of judgment in being right, right, right will be held against you if the people who are wrong, wrong, wrong are sufficiently influential. Their prestige is dependent on their maintaining the appearance of having a monopoly of wisdom, so when someone they consider an absolute nobody points out their failures, they’ll make damned sure that the nobody never becomes a somebody.

Mea culpa. Mea magna culpa. There is no one to blame for this but me.

The recipient of my July 2008 e-mail warning about Kuo and Culture 11 was my young friend Ericka Anderson, now a Senior Digital Communications Associate at the Heritage Foundation, where she leads an entire department, “strategic communnications” being another one of those topics about which I know nothing. Heritage Foundation was a sponsor of the Value Voter Summit, and I smile to wonder what the reaction would have been if — during some pre-conference planning session — Ericka had suggested to the organizers, “Hey, you know who we need on our All-Star media panel …?”

Nobody laughs at a joke like that. Dark humor doesn’t play well with Value Voters. And I notice that Joe Carter recently offered his views on the “Theology of New Media”:

Currently, the vast majority of online artifacts by Christians are reactive: commenting on politics, reviewing pop cultural phenomena, sharing links to sermons and news articles. Such tasks are necessary, of course, and all of us engage in such labor to some extent. A select few might even be called to create reactive content exclusively. Yet most of us — and all who are gifted and able — should be attempting to create original cultural artifacts, not merely discussing and sharing what someone else has made.

Indeed, and who can argue with that, huh?

Being neither gifted nor able, I’m relieved of any duty “to create original cultural artifacts” like Culture 11, and confess myself happy to avoid such duty. Instead, I’ll explain why this blog started with a picture of my son Jefferson and Alex Pappas of the Daily Caller.

Catching Up With the Media Scrum

Jefferson attended the Values Voter Summit with me as my assistant, and the good folks there were kind enough to provide my 12-year-old son with his own official media credential, so that he could shoot photos, collect notes and otherwise help me out in my coverage. After Herman Cain’s speech, I was in the filing center trying to upload some video when Jeff came running in to alert me that Cain was going down the hallway in the midst of a gigantic media scrum. So I grabbed my camera and we took off to catch up with the scrum, which ended up at the end of a hallway guarded by security.

Amid the scrum was Alex Pappas, like myself a Crimson Tide fan, so we exchanged “Roll Tide” greetings and I introduced Alex to Jeff, then took their picture together — two young journalists covering the 2012 presidential campaign.

That’s when I made a joking reference to Pappas being employed by Satan’s Bowtied Minion, which provoked Alex to ask why I started slagging the Daily Caller from the moment I learned that such a project was in the works. We then had a long conversation that I finally gave up as impossible. It was entirely honorable and fitting that Pappas should praise and defend his employer, and I felt compelled to make two points:

  1. Once it became clear that the Daily Caller would indeed be an ongoing project — rather than a short-lived boondoggle like Culture 11 — I publicly made a resolution not to be a naysayer. If the DC failed to achieve Tucker Carlson’s ambitious promise to create the “conservative Huffington Post,” it would not fail because of my criticism, and I would not have it said that my well-known resentments were to blame for that failure.
  2. My chief advice to Carlson, in reaction to his premature roll-out of the TuckPo, was “It had better not suck.”

The Daily Caller hasn’t sucked nearly as badly as I’d originally feared it would, and if my fastball under Carlson’s chin was in its own way as helpful to him as the millions he got from Foster Friess, I certainly don’t expect him to thank me for that brush-back pitch. He deserves all the credit for whatever success the Daily Caller has had, and it would be unwise of anyone to envy him the task of carrying the basket into which others have placed all their eggs.

What I resented about the way the Daily Caller rolled out was, in fact, very much like my reasons for resenting the way I learned of the “Liberty Wire” project that became the Culture 11 catastrophe.

Having spent ten years at the Washington Times, first as an assistant national editor and then as editor of their “Culture Etc.” page, I wasn’t exactly an unknown quantity in Beltway conservative journalism circles in 2008, when the Culture 11 investors were picking David Kuo to lead their doomed project.

Bill Bennett was part of that project, and hadn’t I twice interviewed him for feature articles during my years at the Times? Wasn’t it a fact that his books were published by Nelson Current, which also published Donkey Cons? And furthermore, wasn’t it true that my Donkey Cons co-author Lynn Vincent had been a colleague of Joe Carter’s at World magazine?

Wouldn’t it therefore seem likely (I later asked myself) that one of the several people familiar with my work might have said something to someone involved in the planning of Culture 11, “Hey, you know who you ought to call …?”

There could be only one explanation for why no one had made such a suggestion: My friends and acquaintances had such a low estimate of my character, knowledge and abilities that it never occurred to them that I might be suited for any position of editorial influence in such an online publication.

Mea culpa. Mea magna culpa.

Logical Conclusions or Paranoiac Delusions?

No one is to blame for this but me. If those who best know my work think me untrustworthy and incapable of exercising independent responsibility, who am I to say they have judged me wrong? And I am thankful that I was so judged, lest an accidental association with me might have ufairly tainted the reputations of my friends.

Had it not been for my acquaintance with Ericka Anderson, I probably wouldn’t even have been asked to contribute to Culture 11, and certainly Joe Carter would have taken alarm had he known of Ericka’s solicitation of my work. The simple mathematics of 2+2 produces the conclusion that my friend Lynn Vincent must have warned Joe not to have anything to do with me, and she no doubt advised him wisely.

Had I not rejected Ericka’s offer (because of my refusal to work for that treacherous backstabber David Kuo), whatever I had submitted to Culture 11 would have been rejected by Ericka’s bosses, who then would have blamed her for it: “What the hell are you doing soliciting contributions from that crazy McCain guy?”

You see why I laughed this week when my friend e-mailed the suggestion that I seek help for a “chemical imbalance” after I wrote to call attention to one of my recent failures.

Paranoid? It is not a paranoiac delusion to suspect that those in positions of influence view you with contempt when they pass up every opportunity to praise, honor or recommend you. And it is a disservice to others who know you to suppose, in such a situation, that you are undeserving of their contempt. If you had ever done anything worthy of a higher estimation, then your reputation would be better, and you would be recommended for honors that instead were accorded to others

Call me crazy for thinking this way, but I’ve seen those who reacted to failure with self-pitying narcissism — seeking scapegoats to blame — and I’ve seen where that led them. If the downfall of Charles Johnson taught us nothing, it should have taught us this, but that’s a lesson too long and complex to be recounted now, when I’m already past the 3,000-work mark. But did no one else make the intended connection in my March 2010 essay about the madness of Pentagon shooter Patrick Bedell?

[Christopher] Lasch’s insight about the connection between culpability and competence, and the way in which “therapeutic morality” undermines self-sufficiency by negating personal responsibility, is essential to understanding the impact of a culture that fosters narcissistic personality traits.
Good mental health is characterized by optimism and a sense of agency — that is to say, the belief that we are ultimately in control of our own lives. The sense of agency is critical to success and happiness in every area of life, in large part because it is necessary to self-improvement and problem-solving.
Everyone encounters failure and disappointment, but a person who believes that his life is within his own control will respond to such setbacks in a positive, constructive way — analyzing the cause of the failure, seeking ways to improve, determing to work harder to overcome disadvantages and remedy personal deficiencies. A psychologically healthy person therefore must accept responsibility for his failures and shortcomings just as willingly as he accepts reward for his successes and abilities.
While it is true that other people sometimes contribute to our failures by undermining our efforts, it is also true that our successes generally require the assistance of others. Factors which are genuinely beyond our control tend to even out over time. In a free and prosperous society, few people are so disastrously disadvantaged as to have no hope whatsoever of improving their lot in life.
Thus, it is psychologically unhealthy to blame others whenever things go wrong in our lives, but this is exactly what “therapeutic morality” encourages. (Emphasis added.)

When I publicly blame myself for my failures, when I advertise to the world my inglorious humiliation, it is not in a bid for anyone’s pity, nor is it evidence of a “chemical imbalance,” but simply because to do the opposite — to give in to the temptation to seek scapegoats for my own failures — would be more harmful to me than any unfair dishonor that others might heap upon my name.

Given the opportunities I’ve had, and mindful of the unmerited blessings bestowed upon me, if I fall short of achieving any goal within my boundless ambition, no one else is to blame but me. If others do not recommend or praise me, this is my fault and not theirs, and it would be great folly indeed to think that I deserve any more praise — or any less criticism — than I get. Others more praiseworthy have been ignored, and others less blameworthy have been rejected and condemned.

Everyone thinks they deserve more praise, and no one is so truly modest as to mean it when they dismiss as undeserved such praise as they get.

On the one hand, you see, those who go into the pundit game and succeed are envied for their prestige, and the rewards (both material and symbolic) that accompany success. Yet a pundit is only as successful as the influence he wields, and with influence comes a heavy burden of responsibilty. To endorse a candidate who loses, or recommend a policy that leads to disaster, is the sort of consequence of influence that lends truth to the proverb that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

Whether it’s Fred Barnes or George Will, Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, everyone who ascends the heights of influence becomes acquainted sooner or later with the burden their success entails.

Their every word is scrutinized, and any stumble they make will be celebrated by rivals who hope to benefit by taking them down a peg or two. If they were not successful, they could avoid all this, because no one gains any credit for mocking an obscure nobody. (Charles Johnson has elegated himself to such irrelevance that any jest at his expense is nowadays usually greeted by the reaction, “Charles Who?”) Lots of kids in the conservative movement hope to be “the next Ann Coulter,” but I’m sure if they asked Ann about it, she’d tell them, “No, trust me — you don’t want what you think you want.”

A Comet in the Blogospheric Sky

Having seen the awful toll wrought on others by the burden of great influence, and having felt some small pains as a result of my own relatively meager influence — “RAAAAACIST!” — I sometimes wonder whether I go out of my way to court a bad reputation as a sneaky way of avoiding responsibility. There is perhaps too much truth in my occasional jest, “I can resist anything but temptation and I can handle anything except responsibility.” But once again I digress . . .

When I woke up before dawn today, it wasn’t my plan to write 4,000 words contemplating the way in which prestige and influence are accorded within the realm of Beltway punditry. But then I saw that I’d been linked by Jazz Shaw, a thing so rare as to be some kind of omen or portent, like the appearance of a comet. And a long-form essay, having little to do with BREAKING NEWS UPDATES was a more pleasant way to spend Sunday morning than transcribing audio or uploading photos. And then there’s that looming shadow of the 2012 campaign that I’m supposed to be covering:

In Iowa, Rick Perry’s immigration problem grows

SPENCER, Iowa — Rick Perry’s immigration problem isn’t going away. It’s getting bigger.
Two weeks after he said Republicans who disagree with the Texas law allowing undocumented immigrants in-state tuition “don’t have a heart,” angering many of his base, Perry found himself in northwest Iowa Saturday trying to explain to voters exactly what the program does.
He did not have much success, his words seeming to confuse some voters rather than allay their suspicions. “I’m not sure exactly what he wants,” said one. “Maybe I misunderstood,” said another. . . . .

Rick Perry will have to deal with his problems as best he can, because I’ve got problems of my own. My next Shoe Leather Fund expedition is barely a week away. On Oct. 17, I’m flying out to Las Vegas with Smitty and Wombat to cover another debate. Smitty put the plane tickets on his credit card, and I’m supposed to pay him back, at least for my own ticket. And it would probably be best to pay him before we arrive in Vegas, for reasons that ought to be obvious enough. Every $10 or $20 you can contribute today is therefore most earnestly solicited.

So the readers may congratulate themselves if, when they started reading this rambling essay, they predicted it would end with the Five Most Important Words in the English Language: “Hit the freaking tip jar!”

What? You expected some kind of moral to this story? An altar call at the end of the sermon?

Look, if Joe Carter wants me to “create original cultural artifacts,” and what I create is the literary equivalent of a Seurat painting, is it my fault if readers lack the gestalt to discern the pointillist pattern in all those colorful dots? Let the reader decide for himself what, if anything, is the moral of the story. Supply your own meaning, and if you conclude that I’ve written 4,500 words for the sake of proving beyond all doubt that I’m crazy — cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs — I won’t even bother to argue.

Just don’t forget to hit the tip jar, because when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, and at least I ought to turn a profit at this.

One day my son Jeff will be asked by his kids, “Daddy, what was Grandpa like?” And he can answer, “He was professionally crazy.”

UPDATE: Failure again! Reading over this lunatic gibberish, I see where I failed to finish explaining my resentment of Tucker Carlson’s selection as the recipient of Foster Friess’s largesse, or how that was logically connected (at least in my own disordered mind) to the situation with Culture 11.

It is not merely that Carlson is the favored child of privilege — for that is not his fault — but rather that he is 10 years younger than me. When he was beginning his journalism career at Policy Review (if we may trust his Wikipedia biography, a necessary caveat), I was in my third or fourth year as sports editor of the Calhoun (Ga.) Times, supporting a wife and infant daughter on a salary of $325 a week. It took me another seven years to land a job as an assistant national editor at The Washington Times, starting at an annual salary of $42,500. And it had been my original hope in doing so that, after three or four years in D.C., I might return to Georgia or Alabama as an editor/columnist for some metro daily, in Birmingham or Augusta or wherever.

Alas, I got caught up in events and, by the time I might have been ready to seek out that editor/columnist gig, we’d been through the Lewinsky scandal, the Florida recount, and 9/11. Not only that, but the world of print journalism had begun shrinking rapidly. Metro dailies hit by the advertising crunch were laying off veteran staffers, not hiring editor/columnist types. As I remarked to a friend about that time, it was like climbing a ladder and then looking down to see that someone had removed all the rungs beneath you. There was nowhere to go but up, or else they’d remove the rung you were standing on, and the only honest way to get ahead was to work harder than ever.

Skip forward to 2008. In January, I’d quit the Washington Times and gone off to Uganda, then returned to start my blog and cover the presidential campaign as a freelance correspondent for The American Spectator. It was during that first year of my journalistic independence — the year of “How to Get a Million Hits” — that Culture 11 made its ascent and collapse. Having predicted the disaster in advance, I happily danced around the bonfire of its implosion, supposing that someone might have noticed: “Hey, maybe that McCain guy knows something about this online journalism racket.”

Perhaps you can imagine my horror and blood-boiling fury when, mere months after Culture 11 blew up, somebody else made a big deal of launching an online project advertised as the solution to all that ailed conservative New Media:

The Daily Caller strays from the model used by blogs and typical news sources, developing a “massive talent pool that most can’t afford.” Carlson hopes to closely record the traffic on the site, giving a substantial cutback of the profits to news reporters. “The bulk of the effort will be volunteering,” he said. A large collection of contributors can critique and add to the site.
A first version of the website will be uploaded in three weeks and will prospectively open to the general public shortly afterward.
Carlson was optimistic, noting that while there are many conservative news sites, there is “room for a center of gravity to this administration in Washington, and we hope to be that.”

Three weeks turned into nearly six months, but who’s counting now, eh? What pissed me off the most was that here I’d spent more than 20 years in the newspaper business, then struck out on my own to create a successful career in online journalism — demonstrating something of a flair for everything necessary to the enterprise, including self-promotion — and for what? So that the “HuffPo of the Right” could be launched by a kid 10 years younger than me whose claim to fame was being a cable TV pundit who couldn’t out-argue Paul Begala?

When I was a kid, everybody told me I didn’t have enough experience for the jobs I wanted. Once I’d accumulated enough experience to qualify, everybody wanted to hire kids for the jobs I wanted. And I could see that if a 40-year-old was going to get the gig as Editor-in-Chief, it was unlikely he’d be hiring any 50-year-olds as columnists.

That was the way those threads tied together, you see. My essential problem is that I spent nearly ten years becoming an experienced professional journalist before I ever became a conservative, whereas nearly everyone else in this racket was a conservative first, and pursued journalism as a consequence of their political ambitions.

Because I cannot go back and undo the past, I’m left to wonder where I go from here. And the only thing I can see is to keep going the way I’ve been going, which is crazy.

Insanity as a career qualification is a subject that is too seldom examined in any depth. But if there’s a publisher out there who’s interested, I could write the definitive textbook: Crazy on Deadline: Journalism Is Not a Mental Illness, But Is Merely a Symptom.


34 Responses to “The Awful Burden of Influence”

  1. Donald Douglas
    October 9th, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    Jesus! That take you 10 hours to write?!!

  2. smitty
    October 9th, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    I stole the brevity for the dick joke post.

  3. Susan Ally
    October 9th, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    Does it make me racist-sexixt-homophobe to believe Mitt Romney handraising to his Environmental Religiousity is freaky cultist?
    I’ll say this about Romney, he is as smooth a sweet-talker as Obama.  Must be a Harvard thing. 
    No wonder Kathyrn Lopez at NR thinks Romney is so “dreamy”, she likes the sweet-talking to sooth her rightiousity

  4. M. Thompson
    October 9th, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

    Mr. McCain, I’m guessing you don’t get the invites you really want a bit because you focus more on being the reporter, not the commentator.

    Also, with being crazy:  Go big or go home!

  5. Anonymous
    October 9th, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

    Stacy, it’s just you and Rodney Dangerfield, IYKWIMAITYD!

    October 9th, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

    Rachel Maddows glasses look MUCH better on a man. lookin good in that pic, boyz

  7. Anonymous
    October 9th, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

    You’re not just writing about yourself, but writing about yourself writing about yourself, and writing about yourself writing about yourself writing about yourself…etc.

    Cut it out.

    When the reader tries to distinguish between the serious, semi-serious, whimsical, sarcastic…eventually ennui takers over.  Who cares.

    But your posts on politics are uniformly excellent.

  8. Tim
    October 9th, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    Twenty bucks incoming. Keep fighting the fight, man. The only way we lose is if we surrender.

  9. Anonymous
    October 9th, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    But does my lunatic gibberish make any sense at all? Was it worth the time it took to read it? Never mind the time it took to write it, because if I’m not worth 20 minutes on a BlogCon panel, my time must be pretty much worthless anyway.

  10. That Crazy Guy at The American Spectator … : The Other McCain
    October 9th, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

    […] == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}. . . wasn’t me? Damn, here I am writing thousands of words of 99.4% pure crazy, only to get upstaged by a kid:American Spectator Editor Admits to Being Agent […]

  11. Richard Mcenroe
    October 9th, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

    I figgered out a way you can monetize not being invited to BlogCon:

    1.  Buy, rent or steal a red blazer.

    2.  Stand in front of the hotel (Lose the fedora) with BlogCon Parking sign.

    3. Take (or “occupy,” if you will)  the cars of con attendees.

    4. Sell the cars.

    5. PROFIT!!!

  12. Chap
    October 9th, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

    I’m not sure you framed that comment correctly.  There is a difference between being “worth 20 minutes on a BlogCon panel” and being *chosen* to be on that panel by someone.   And this leads me to a critique: Asserting responsibility may be necessary to lead a correct life, but if improvement is what you seek, wailing mea culpas will be insufficient. 

    I accept that being chosen for something is somewhat random, but there are aspects of this which aren’t random; perhaps some of those aspects are changeable.  Perhaps some things you could do to improve your shot are unacceptable or impractical (putting on a bow tie and slavering, getting plastic surgery to become a Mary Katherine Ham lookalike), but perhaps also there are other things one can do to improve those odds…or change the game entirely.

    This reminds me a little of Agony Aunt writings of other midcareer professionals who don’t see where they’re limiting themselves in a difficult career field.  I don’t know what it is, but the form of the complaint sounds a bit like it.  I am wishing you a little successful prayer and fellowship with some jackasses who can be blunt if such jackassery is needed.

    We’re all born unto trouble, brother.  Here’s wishing you a bright spark.

  13. Anonymous
    October 9th, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

    I accept that being chosen for something is somewhat random, but there are aspects of this which aren’t random; perhaps some of those aspects are changeable.

    No, you misunderstand: Tabitha Hale chooses only the very best for participation in BlogCon. Therefore the only explanation for my exclusion is the sub-standard quality of my work.

  14. Chap
    October 9th, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    Ah, so the core problem is the vicious blackguards who fogged Tabitha Hale’s judgment when she was not looking!

  15. john lichtenstein
    October 9th, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    Stacey deserves substantial credit as a prophet for naming that good looking redheaded kid “Jefferson”. 

  16. smitty
    October 9th, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

    I’ll say this about Romney, he is as smooth a sweet-talker as Obama. Possibly why the wife is unimpressed.

  17. Bob Belvedere
    October 9th, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

    -I understand much better now where you’re coming from, Stacy.  Thank you.

    -I’d rather be proven right by the passage of time, then praised and rewarded in the here and now.  Ultimately, I will have to stand before God and be judged.  Therefore, the only praise that I will and should ever want is to here: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.’  While having this attitude will not pay the bills nor satisfy the desire for recognition that we both crave [something about why we became musicians, I suspect], it is not such a bad or unrealistic one considering life still remains, despite all our progress, solitary, nasty, poor, brutish, and short.

    -One final thought: seemingly lost causes are sometimes the only ones worth fighting for [see: being a conservative in The Age Of Nihilism].

  18. rosalie
    October 9th, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    I predict Jefferson will be breaking a lot hearts in the near future – or maybe he is already.   He looks very much like a journalist/reporter in that photo. 

  19. Adjoran
    October 9th, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

    It’s not that you don’t have a valid point.  But this stuff goes on all the time in every industry and avocation, from school on up.  The formation of cliques without regard to performance or ability, but rather on being member of the clique, actually hurts whatever project the clique seeks to advance as well as those whose potential contributions are overlooked and excluded.

    It doesn’t hurt to point out when you’ve been right in predictions and ignored, certainly.   But it doesn’t help to play the woe-is-me-de-world-done-done-me-wrong card too often, or too long. 

    In this case, you beat the horse to death, kept beating it to a bloody pulp, ran over it with the KIA, backed over it again, sprinkled salt on the pile of mush, poured gasoline on it, set it afire, stared transfixed at the flames, beat the dying embers, gathered the ashes and scatter them at sea.  Then, you began to beat the waves on the shoreline for good measure.

    I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on but people would start saying, “Who the heck do you think you are – Stacy McCain?”

    Let’s face it:  Carlson’s success – such as it is – at the DC has more to do with the money to hire better writers and reporters than him.  When he has a hand in something it damages the brand, as the Mike Tyson story demonstrates.  But he would never have had access to the money without his privileged background.  You or I wouldn’t be seen around a squash court unless we were looking for vegetables and the security guard was on break.

    Fair?  Of course not.  Neither is the fact that young and inexperienced people put on conferences and invite other young and inexperience people, or people known mainly for their prominent failures. 

    There is no justice.  But what are you going to do – join the Wall Street protests?

  20. ThePaganTemple
    October 9th, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

    Which one of them, Smitty, you should be specific. Oh wait, you meant your wife, my bad.

  21. Joe
    October 9th, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

    I understand your frustration. The only thing worse would be suckup brownnoser Patterico being invited.

  22. Anonymous
    October 9th, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

    One moral of RSM’s thoughtful post: the conservative/libertarian intellectual infrastructure criticizes “progressive” intellectuals and elites of approaching politics and policy in a certain counterproductive manner, but then ends up doing roughly that same thing, itself.

    The same mistake RSM is alluding to is that, like “progressives,” the conservative/libertarian elites place undue value on the following traits among their peers: A). pedigree; B). style and polish; and most importantly, for purposes of this discussion, C). good intentions.

    When it comes to the higher levels of theory – one’s deeper mission in life and politics – almost everyone has good intentions, but so what? The respectable elites might have excellent pedigrees and be first-rate, polished communicators, but those are only means to ends (not ends in and of themselves). If these “experts” cannot deliver accurate, meaningful results, such as a track record of making reliable political predictions, in a manner similar to that of a successful entrepreneur in a competitive marketplace, then we – the conservatives and libertarians – are not supposed to make excuses for them, just because they had such fine and dandy intentions and are excellent companions at cocktail parties. That’s what leftists do.

    In reality, though, the conservative/libertarian infrastructure is only too ready to make excuses for their friends, who they personally know to be “talented and good people,” even as some of them fail over and over again, yet are celebrated as leading lights on the right.      

  23. Herman Cain: Occupy WallStreet Critic At His Best - The POH Diaries
    October 9th, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

    […] to the top. I was wrong. I’m not sure if it’s because of Stacy McCain’s uncanny ability to be proven right, or the fact that Cain just seems to be the only GOP candidate or politician who is not afraid to […]

  24. Bob Belvedere
    October 9th, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

    Sometimes it’s best that friends break the bad news.  With this in mind…

    Instapundit decided to post about how crazy people make better bloggers and who does he link to?  Susannah Breslin!

  25. McGehee
    October 10th, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    Given that choice (of being a great blogger, or sane), I’m perfectly okay with being a lousy blogger.

    Assuming, of course, that’s the choice.

  26. » Non sum dingleberry
    October 10th, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    […] and readers have occasionally (gently) chastised me for saying so. I assure them, though, that I’ve got nothing on Robert Stacy McCain: When I publicly blame myself for my failures, when I advertise to the world my inglorious […]

  27. Bob Belvedere
    October 10th, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

    As Ayn Rand said: Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

    Your premise that Tabitha Hale only selects the best writers/thinkers to be on the panels may very well be wrong.  She is human and, as you well know, that means she is quite likely to be in error.  Most certainly, she is not perfect in her judgements.  See Adjoran’s and PGlenn’s comments below: they make it seem likely that you are in error with your premise about Miss Hale’s talent-appreciation abilities.

    Yes, you are the Captain of your own ship, but the sea [aka: Life] is a harsh mistress.

  28. Bob Belvedere
    October 10th, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    Joe, Patterico being invited would prove my theory above.

  29. Bob Belvedere
    October 10th, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    Always trust a German gal’s instincts about people.  My Mother is of German descent and her reading of people’s character was always spot-on.

  30. Bob Belvedere
    October 10th, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    I thought Madcow was a man!

  31. Bob Belvedere
    October 10th, 2011 @ 4:15 pm


  32. Anonymous
    October 10th, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    Bob Belvedere, I agree about checking premises, but I read RSM as saying, basically, that he is willing to hold himself up to that “harsh mistress” of a standard. He rightly expects, however, that the conservative/libertarian intellectiual infrastructure ought to do the same.

    In this case, the cruel standard is “popularity,” exposure, and “reach”. In the media world, a writer/reporter/analyst is successful to the extent that his or her content is widely read, etc. Unfortunately, one obstacle to achieving that reach is overcoming the gatekeepers, who can bestow or deny a certain degree of exposure to writers. RSM is an outstanding writer, reporter, and analyst but if he has failed at times in overcoming the gatekeepers, he puts the blame on himself, rather than make excuses. It’s cruel and unfair, but it’s reality.

    In contrast, when one of the gatekeeper’s darlings fails in a media project, they are often coddled and given another opportunity. The problem with that coddling – in addition to being hypocritical from a free-market perspective – is that it does a disservice to the movement. 

  33. Anonymous
    October 10th, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

    I think this was Insty’s indirect version of Rule 5, since Breslin linked to Penelope Trunk and Dooce in her post, and Breslin herself achieved notoriety by writing about pr0n.

  34. Bob Belvedere
    October 10th, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

    What was stopping him from linking this post as well? On the one hand you had these neurotic basketcase Feminists and on the other, directly opposite them, was this essay by Stacy.