Ron Fournier is…The Least Self-Aware Man in the World

"I don't always criticize people for doing stuff that I do constantly, but, well, I do that quite often, actually."
“I don’t always criticize people for doing stuff that I do constantly, but, well, I do that quite often, actually.”

Ron Fournier wrote A Thing, wherein he declares the Obama Presidency over a scant three years early on account of how Obama is exactly like Bush, because Both Sides. If that’s his thesis, then it could have been very interesting and important if this influential DC opinion-maker had expounded on it in substantive, relevant areas, like executive overreach, the dangerously sprawling surveillance state, or our nasty habit of bombing innocent people, but I’m sure you can already guess that this stuff is mostly absent (one passing mention of the NSA aside) from Fournier’s column. No, apparently the Obama Presidency is over because President Obama had the temerity to win re-election and then try to Do Stuff, which is an interesting criticism coming from a guy who usually criticizes Obama for not Doing Stuff, with literally no concern for what that Stuff might be. There’s some sense that if Obama had started his second term with a commitment to Do the Stuff That Paul Ryan Wants to Do, then his presidency could have been saved, but alas, the moment was lost.

Then there are the scandals or crises or scandal crises, wherein we learn that Websiteghazigate (I’m trademarking that, so back off) is the same as Iraq and Katrina combined, and he gets in a little after-the-fact shot at Congressional Democrats for not being nicer to George Bush when they refused to go along with his nice plan to destroy Social Security, which is apparently the same as Congressional Republicans refusing to work with Obama on any issue whatsoever. In short, it’s the same column Ron Fournier has been writing for nearly five years now–awful, yes, light on substance too, and wrong on the facts and history to the extent that he bothers including elements of either, but familiar. Charles Pierce, Ed Kilgore, and Andrew Sullivan have much longer and better takedowns, and I wish I could say I wonder why they bother, but the sad fact is that important people in DC still hang on every repetitious word that flows from Ron Fournier’s computer for some reason, so you kind of have to respond to his nonsense.

What I’d like to focus on is the fact that Fournier seems to be among the least self-aware people alive, judging by the way he responds to his critics on Twitter (I don’t think any high-profile opinion columnist spends as much time as he does defending his columns from criticism, although to be fair he just dismisses every criticism as obviously motivated by base partisanship and therefore beneath his contempt, QED). I’m willing to listen to arguments that David Brooks is less self-aware, but as long as there’s a sliver of a chance that Brooks’ recent mental-breakdown-as-newspaper-column was actually supposed to be about himself, then I have to say that Fournier tops him in this category. Let’s take a closer look.

I’m going to look at four Twits from Fournier in response to his critics, and you’ll note that in every single case the lack of self-awareness involved in crafting these responses is astonishing. The first is in response to Chase Woodruff, who asks if Fournier is going to respond to Kilgore and Sullivan and their criticisms of his column:

There is nobody in the DC punditocracy whose mind is more made up, as in “impervious to facts standing outside his preconceived worldview,” than Ron Fournier. Nobody. Every problem boils down to a presidential failure to lead, every solution boils down to bucking extremists and compromising with The Other Side. It doesn’t matter what the specific problem is, or its circumstances, or the degree to which The Other Side is open to compromise. Fournier writes the same two columns over and over again; even the ones that appear to be taking The Other Side to task for its intransigence ultimately boil down to how they just need to resist extremism. Lead, ignore extremists, compromise, lather, rinse, repeat. That’s pretty much every Ron Fournier column you’ll ever read.

The exchange with Woodruff continued and led to this:

// What makes this great is that Ron Fournier is as hysteric a partisan as anybody covering politics today, it’s just that his party is the party of the Mythical Center. When’s the last time Fournier wrote something that didn’t follow the Both Sides Doctrine to the letter? Heck, he even coined a new term, “false purism,” to describe those nasty partisans who keep accusing him of false equivalence, but Fournier himself is as convinced of the pure, 100% rightness of his side (The Center) as the most rabid Republican or Democrat.

This one might be unfair, because it’s possible that Fournier was joking (although what do they say about the kernel of truth in every joke?), but how much “original reporting” goes in to writing the same two columns over and over again?

Then there’s the bizarre response where you start to think that Fournier hasn’t read his own column:

Right, the only thing he compared was Bush to Obama…in the sense that he explicitly compares the deteriorating situation in Iraq c. 2005 with “you can keep your health care,” the slow response to Katrina to the slow response to early signs of problems with, and Democratic resistance to Bush’s Social Security Demolition plan with blanket Republican opposition to even basic aspects of governance. I’ll give him the Plame leak being mostly equivalent to NSA revelations, but even there Fournier goes out of his way to revive Benghazi and the IRS “scandal” that most people outside the right-wing bunker quickly realized was not a scandal.

Bernard Lewis, the highly influential Orientalist academic who spent most of the latter two-thirds of his career squandering his reputation as a great scholar in favor of becoming the intellectual Godfather of the Samuel Huntington-Project for a New American Century crowd, used to give university lectures on all sorts of topics, but one of his favorites was a bit on Islamic propaganda. In it he would include the Arabic phrase Allahu Akbar (“God is great”) alongside the phrases Sieg Heil and Il Duce as examples of propagandistic slogans. When someone in the audience would inevitably offer the reasonable critique that Lewis was equating a mostly prayerful Arabic phrase with Sieg-freaking-Heil, Lewis would respond that he would never dream of comparing the two; he was simply offering them both as examples of a type, and any explicit comparison was entirely invented by the audience member. This is a rhetorical trick that lets the speaker (writer, in Fournier’s case) say (write) ridiculous comparisons while then denying that any comparison was intended and making such an absurd comparison the fault of the listener (reader). Of course he’s making that comparison. He’s just being clever about it.

It must be great to live in a world where you’re never wrong, where history and current events always align perfectly with your preconceived notions of The Way Things Ought To Be, and any criticism is prima facie invalid. But nobody really lives in that world. Some people imagine that they do, however, and nobody does that better than Ron Fournier.


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