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Chris Timmons: I’m serious, bro

I was reading tributes in various magazines of a well-respected and accomplished social scientist, who had recently passed away. Within those tributes, the word “serious” always crops up —as in, he was a “serious scholar” or a “serious man.”

Indeed, James Q. Wilson (even the name implies it, or the Q, as it does with the F, in George F. Will), was serious. He was cautious in temperament, careful in his diagnosis of contemporary social problems, and meticulous in his use of fact and data to support whatever viewpoint he was expressing. In the end, earning credibility and respect from his recondite audience of academic scholars, policymakers and general readers.

When someone says “serious” in this vein, usually the word starchy is not far behind. Or the image of the above-mentioned George Will, a model in this arena, with his professorial delivery, arch prose style, and overdone bowties and demeanor. It’s okay, George, I know you went to Oxford, and have read Evelyn Waugh. Nevertheless, seriousness is the foremost problem of public and cultural life today; it presenting with devastating precision the trite and tiresome vacuity of how things operate now.

As an issue “seriousness” does not compare to affordable health-care, who’s the next president, war with Iran, or any of the innumerable public questions out there. It’s kind of old-fashioned, out of date, un-hip, and middlebrow, a staple of the black-and-white era of the 50s, when men went to work in gray suits and fedora hats. Perhaps so.

But it seems to be coming back as a legitimate issue of public concern, and not solely as conservative complaint (who generally suffer as the stiff pants in politics and culture). Cultural critic Lee Seigel, affiliated with liberal magazines such as Slate, has written a book on it, titled “Are You Serious: How To Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly” . It’s a lament and how-to-guide. He gives examples of how it works, models for men in such figures as Cary Grant, gets into a wide-ranging philosophical discussion using Aristotle and Cicero (above my head), and gives us examples of how current standards of pop culture childishness is taking us backward.

Generally, it’s good to avoid easy connections, but the low rent quality of our politics may have something to do with the lack of seriousness in the society at large. Let’s admit it: The 1960s cultural cascade, while fun and sexy, daring and bold, but mostly intemperate, with a hint of youthful bombast, is what caused what is turning into a serious ailment.

Plenty of well-meaning movers-and-shakers in commerce, media mavens and politicians, lament the state of civility in public discourse. Yet civility requires common standards, a recognition of important principles and beliefs, the inseparability of passion and purpose, but its tight regulation through courtesy and honesty, not through political bullying and blackballing, or the veneer of false consensus that creates PC squadrons. In essence, a return to normalcy, a standard of adulthood that accepts limits, relishes differences, respects reality, but taking a mature view of them all.

The times require it. This presidential election has definitely clarified the situation for me, especially with the tug-of-war going on within the Republican primary. Or for me what’s really at stake: a national decline through the inertia of our political institutions, and a failed president in Barack Obama. All politics is local, says the late Speaker Tip O’ Neil. Through those great laboratories of democratic experiment, our local governments and associations, things do happen.

A few weeks ago, I attended an event sponsored by the Village Square, in which local elected officials came together to discuss pressing public problems. The discussion was fine, thoughtful, albeit with a few things I disagree with. Still, it was a great interaction between the politicians themselves and citizens. We need such a serious renewal.

The ultra-serious James Q. Wilson, an avatar of careful and rigorous scholarly detachment, a student of the hurlyburly of American politics, personal and professional standard is a great model. So, too, the Village Square’s unstinting belief in the ideal of civility.

I’m so serious, bro.


Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square.
(Photo credit)

Chris Timmons: Louis Armstrong’s life speaks to strugging youth

“It’s a funny thing how life can be a drag one minute and a solid sender the next.” — Louis Armstrong, in “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans”

Louis Armstrong was a man of character. And that’s the most important thing about him. Granted, he was a genius, an impeccable composer of great hits and riveting trumpet solos. But his character was what made his genius work. Let me say from the jump: This is not some isolated, historically obtuse reminisce on a long-forgotten figure.

Always alive, always mortal, always there, because he’s multifaceted, a man to be studied, with much to be taken from his life; it holding complexity and simplicity in a pose of paradox. That maybe the most apt description of genius, which Armstrong personifies, or him. Whichever it is, it occurs to me there’s much for this community’s black teenagers to draw inspiration and purpose from in his early life.

Black History Month has its generic purpose, drawing attention to the lives of singular black figures, thus showcasing and celebrating the cultural contributions of black Americans. The month-long affair maybe archaic, a well-intentioned but still, poignant insult —black history being American history as its oft-said —and history being hard to pigeonhole in the first place. But it’s there, so why not use it. In this case, as a way of showing the enduring lessons a wonderful life, holds? Read all »

Chris Timmons: A Campaign Season of Ambition

The Village Square does not take positions on either candidates or referendums on the ballot. However, featured blog posts (like this one) may be submitted with your opinions, which we will post if there is real substance to it and it is executed with civility. You may also write your own op-ed on We the Wiki under whatever topic you please. Click on the Wiki square (just to the right) when you see it to go to related content on our Wiki. Coming soon to the Wiki: A candidates on the ballot section…

I deserve a pat on the back. If you see me somewhere around town, feel free to do so.

Only with this caveat should you congratulate me: I’m no darn do-good-er, no net-worker —just a normal citizen with a few ideas and a point of view.

I just submitted my application to be a community catalyst for the Knight Creative Communities Initiative. If you know me, this is a big deal. I’ve tried my hand at volunteering before with little success.

It takes a lot of stamina and a high tolerance for non-sense to volunteer in groups and on boards.

It also takes a belief in the good intentions of others and your ability to change things for the better. None of which I’ve had in a high degree. Like Garrison Keiler, who in many things I’m so unlike, I run away from committees of the well-meaning.

I don’t gainsay humanity or human will and possibility but have a measured respect for the bull-headedness of fate. So, this is a small concession to a rare tender-heartedness, an open mind. And my ego.

Since I’ve taken a stab at written things for a reading public, I’ve gained a real confidence in my opinions —though I really only have few, and my ability to express them. Some readers —okay, most will regret that I’d put such faith in that ability. But forgive me the vanity trip.

This is about improving this community for which all of us are obligated to pursue in our own way —by being wonderful neighbors a scout leader or cub manager, picking up trash, dining or buying locally, heading to B-Sharp, taking a trip to the Tallahassee Little Theatre or enjoying Lake Ella on a warm day with the sun set over orange clouds in the evening.

What got my me thinking along these lines is the noise of this campaign season. All these candidates grasping for the power of these complexity-filled public offices.

It’s getting nasty and mean —which sometimes, I’ll admit is fun and delightful —but between candidates for a certain city commission seat enough is enough.

Scandalous is an understatement for the rough attacks being administered by one candidate. Often enough such attacks can be an education to voters, highlight a policy difference, or shake a campaign from its complacency. But that’s not the case here.

He has been relentless in his prying and critiques of his opponent and the current City Commission but inexpressive about his own ideas.

From his campaign, we’d learned more about his opponent’s personal failings than we’d learn in a less competitive race because of his doggedness and inability to concede to decency. This harping on issues, some over 30 years ago in his opponent’s life, is wearying and beside the point. Obviously, there’s no substance behind this campaign.

A few of these candidates are in it mostly for ego and ambition —which is fine in proportion —but when its overweening it can damage public perceptions about politics which are already too low. Which brings me to another candidate.

There’s the sharp-looking, nicely built, and self-possessed young man but his commitment to this community is not exactly self-evident. It’s not good, if true, that this candidate hasn’t voted in any major election. Even for Barack Obama. I understand political disenchantment but this is an astonishing lack of interest in politics that can’t be explained away.

To which, I’d like to address one more race. This race is an example of power being sought for the right reasons —I can quibble about the ideology and results, and will, but this candidate has an authentic purpose. This candidate is tough, resilient, knowledgeable and has an obvious love of public policy (I once saw her in a public meeting with a novel on the environment) but the party apparatchiks are against her.

She’s compromised with Republicans on energy and environmental issues in order to squeeze her priorities in.

As far as I can tell, she’s as Democratic as they come, but her overwhelming preference for accomplishing things over the inactivity of floor speeches and amendment posturing is a signal to her party that she’s unreliable. Will Democrats learn?

To make a broader point: This is the problem with public service today. No acceptance of adult compromise or an adult way of being principled. No wonder we’re experiencing disillusionment and discontent from the citizenry.

In spite of the sad state of public affairs, anyone can make a difference, though it may be a bit more modest, in the various community organizations around town. Some of the candidates have done that in an exemplary way.

Although there’s not much remuneration in non-profit volunteerism, I’d take it any day over political office. First, because its modest. Second, because you meet an immediate demand and there’s more flexibility. Third, because you get the see the results sooner. In public service, this not always the case.

So, I’m happy to be making my small contribution. And hope others make theirs.

I’m a little sad, though, for our local candidates, whose greatest impact may not be in public office. But they’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars this year trying to get there.

Where’s the common sense? Somewhere hidden behind the ego, no doubt.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square.

Chris Timmons: A little rock n roll for your Sunday morning

David Kirby is probably immunized against what must be a common appellation for him: “brilliant.”

An award-winning poet and FSU professor, Kirby has written a homage to Little Richard, popular music as serious art, and a taut celebration of youth culture.

His book “Little Richard: The Birth of Rock n Roll” excels in giving us an exact and delightful portrait of the most significant musical pioneer of the last 60 years.

It is kind of sad, though, that Kirby would have to make the case for Little Richard’s brand of artistic greatness. That’s the fault of rock critics. At first, I got the impression that Little Richard was being used as a proxy for theorizing in the academic mode.

There’s some of that in here, but Kirby retains the sincere, nostalgic infatuation of a teenage boy getting his first taste of youthful revolt.

About that theorizing: It can be seen as a high IQ professor slumming, but Kirby is a genuine appreciator of pop culture and he’s made a nice case for its importance. A lot of it, he says, is non-sense.

The non-sense of pop life didn’t begin with “Tutti Fruit-ti” but it refined it by adding black rhythm, therefore, it is a case of profound injustice that Little Richard has been ignored as a pioneer of rock history, while Fats Domino and others says Kirby, have not.

Art, says Kirby, is largely accidental. And Little Richard’s ability to give young suede shoe teens joy was a product of an accidental moment.

That moment in a recording studio, where Little Richard blushing in embarrassment at the nature of the original lyrics —a “paean to anal intercourse” —stood singing against a wall to avoid the sight of a young lady writer —would change music history by creating a chasm between adult culture and youth culture.

This is especially significant because pop music up until this time was a universally shared pleasure. Mostly, it was the polished stuff of Tin Pan Alley —Cole Porter, the Gershwin boys, Harold Arlen —with singers like Frank Sinatra crooning the swank lyrics.

It had a youthful theme: romantic loss, love, etc but with an adult gleam and sophistication. Little Richard bulldozed that and paved the way for a good deal of the musical act we have now, Lady Gaga, for example.

Although, I admit, jazz was reaching the high point of its artistic achievement in the stuff of Miles Davis, it by then was a minor art-form, mostly ignored among the wider listening public.

What makes Kirby’s appreciation significant is its celebration of the youth culture that Little Richard’s music wrought. The 1950s, as cultural watchers like to say, was the real ferment of culture-upsetting ideas.

What it allowed some Boomers to do is cherish an idea of youthful impetuosity that is self-involved and self-defeating. Greater minds have said better things about its assaults on cultural life than I can muster here. However, I’d like make the point that this is one of the regrettable legacies of Little Richard.

You take his wonderful, interesting exploitation of vaudeville, the black church, and see its seamless integration into his personality: His pancake make-up, gaudy wardrobe, very gay, Wildean personality. And say, Wow! Like Louis Armstrong, he could make you smile.

Kirby makes a claim that I’m not sure I can agree with: Little Richard was the first cross-cultural black entertainer. By being one of the first black performers to strut his musical stuff in front of fully integrated crowds, Little Richard is a little noticed hero of race relations.

I think that designation really goes to Louis Armstrong. Through his countless tours, jazz sets and albums, but especially his TV appearances he was one of the first, really cool black musicians to become accepted by a white audience.

Sometime ago, I was showing a friend of mine an original recording of Ella Fitzgerald doing her famous rendition of “Mack the Knife” in Switzerland. He’d noticed the no-frills accompaniment, assured and dazzling singing, but the lack of a performance concept.

That’s another thing Little Richard did for music: He made it into a performance art. Armstrong had his performing repertory of hokum, but Little Richard seems to have elaborated and perfected it.

His overwhelming legacy, before Beatlemania, was ushering in youth culture and making it possible for a list of pop acts— Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga — to use considerably less talent, personal novelty and various hi jinks to vulgarize and propel the adolescent swing of pop life.

Kirby makes the case that Little Richard was an original and exciting pop artist in a vivid prose, but he also left a cultural dearth. Still, the music was, readily conceding my tender young ears, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop-a-lop-bam-boom.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square (and occasionally does a little bit of rock n roll).

(Photo credit.)

Chris Timmons: Why Obama may have Andrew Jackson to blame for his oil spill trouble

You’d think with the clamor for presidential leadership, in light of the BP crisis, which means President Obama must be seen emoting —rage, or expression of sincere pain thereof—he’d be on board. As the usually inane folks on “Morning Joe” noted, it’s not his thing. Thank God.

On this point —the concept of presidential leadership, I can’t say I’ve done some long reflecting, although I can say I’ve done a not so insignificant amount of reading and absorbing. I can tell you the pluses and minuses, etc of John Adams or Calvin Coolidge on the spot.

By reading American presidential history, I’ve become very firm on one point: We need less of presidential leadership. Recently finishing up a one volume bio of Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham, editor of the profit flailing Newsweek, “American Lion”, I was slightly annoyed.

I’ve had a small, ongoing animus toward Andrew Jackson. He just seemed damned fiery, a little intoxicated with himself. Turns out, I was right.

Meacham thesis is many-entrees but the choicest bits are: Jackson gave us the first glimpse of the Energizer Bunny presidency, our ongoing infatuation with presidential fanfare and personality, political glad-handing and campaigning, and the pernicious concept of the president as a “father figure” to the nation.

These are significant things, especially if you go back and review the constrained view and restrained use of presidential power —of Jackson’s enemies (like John Calhoun and Henry Clay) and his predecessors —James Madison, for instance.

Jackson went out of his way to strengthen the presidency because he had this bizarre view of the American people as his children. That’s how he explained his uncanny political sense and “mystical” connection to them and his political success.

I’d explain his success another way: He was a shrewd political operator and a manipulative and needy man. That guided his political instinct and his need for control. Meacham forwards the theory that this may in part have something to do with his being an orphan (His mother died in his early childhood). Having been an orphan myself, I can buy this view as top-notch psycho-babble.

Yet like Clay and others, I abhor the imagery because its the mindset of the dictator, the tyrant. Stalin thought he was the father of modern Russia.

Jackson was a man of phenomenally uneven judgment: His decision to take deposits from the Second National Bank, the infant Federal Reserve, caused an economic crisis; his Indian removal policy which tore up 25 yrs of diplomacy was a disaster from which Native Americans still suffer, and his inability to understand the complexities of the then emerging American manufacturing industry and the point of the tariffs for their support, was a setback. His only redeeming decision and virtue was his calling John Calhoun’s bluff and averting a succession crisis.

So, when Meacham in a smooth, lively and informative prose style praises Jackson and the presidency he created as taking America from its pedestrian and pre-modern constitutionalism, I can’t be persuaded it was a good thing, but just inevitable.

Although Jackson had what a post-Buckleyite right-winger would call conservative instincts —- his states rights positions, his penny-saving fiscal policies, etc.— his overwhelming appetite for governmental power is a fine example of liberal presumption, which made those policy traits less distinctly conservative.

What Jackson did was create a polity that relies constantly on presidential guidance and interference —and it rarely likes the result.

As David Brooks wrote in his NYT column:

“In times of crisis, you get a public reaction that is incoherence on stilts. On the one hand, most people know that the government is not in the oil business. They don’t want it in the oil business. They know there is nothing a man in Washington can do to plug a hole a mile down in the gulf.

On the other hand, they demand that the president “take control.” They demand that he hold press conferences, show leadership, announce that the buck stops here and do something. They want him to emote and perform the proper theatrical gestures so they can see their emotions enacted on the public stage.”

We can thank Andrew Jackson, American lion, for this circus.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square.

Definition of civil discourse: Posting a smart and well-written blog even when it 1. Rips one of your favorite shows on TV (Morning Joe, I think they’re doing important work in this hyperpartisan climate) and 2. Rips your great x5 uncle (Andrew Jackson, although I already had a whole bunch of bones to pick with him, perhaps we just add one?)

(Photo credit.)

Chris Timmons: Are liberals thinking us to death?

Very soon, I’ll be engaging in a yearly process that makes my nerves particularly scatter-shot: my performance review, or evaluation (which makes it sound clinical, thus scientific). Usually, I bear it stoically. Somehow, the stoicism has taken flight and I’m left holding a debris of nervous anxiety.

A week or so ago, chatting up two colleagues, I found out their reviews were not so well-planned out and they received a rating that was less than an accurate assessment of their abilities, but that’s often the norm.

There’s an injustice in the process, an absurdity that compels an existential view of the matter, and causes untold professional and personal harm that’s can be an existential quandary, if that’s what making bread can be termed. What can we do?

There’s no way to replace a review that presents such an objective face. What in life is purely objective, you say?

The professionals who invented the company evaluation after WW II (liberals no doubt) would say the management system —Management by Objectives —i.e, goals and results, has been the best way of attaining disinterested information about an employee’s performance with the minimalist harm done to professional standards.

Samuel Culbert, a professor at UCLA and a corporate consultant, says not so fast in his impassioned book “Get Rid of the Performance Review.” He thinks the performance review a “parasite” whose feeding on company culture is needless, if companies had the will to exterminate it. He’s right.

When has a performance evaluation been correct, diagnosed the problems or properly hailed the virtues? Managers use it, he says, as an excuse to avoid the hard work of understanding people and human nature.

Such airy definitions of employee performance as “demonstrates leadership qualities” or “communicates effectively” only encourage prejudicial judgment —as all such instruments do —which makes this yearly ritual a farce.

Culbert makes me feel justified in my intense, bitingly ironical dislike of this process, yet more weary about it’s powerful allure. What makes intelligent people, who are privy to human error and hubris, think this method a way of properly assessing people?

A little theory: As in politics during WW I, when an academic named Woodrow Wilson, sought to make government run on scientific principles, a technocratic method, so thus is the modern business. An addendum: So thus is the Obama method.

What they fail to see is life is not science, people no testable hypotheses. All they would have to do is read a novel or get outside a bit. This is no doubt what I’ll be thinking when that inevitable moment comes.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square.

Chris Timmons ventures where conservative dare not go (and lives to tell)

A week ago, I was in a greenhouse of liberal thought and was enjoying myself. Besides, when has liberalism not been fun to watch?

I can’t remember how I signed up for the Leon County Sustainable Communities Summit, but a call from Meggie Theriot, director of the Office of Sustainability, reinforced the good idea to attend. So I did.

I’d be the last to say I’m totally convinced that global-warming will be eliminated if we just eat organic foods, discard fluorescent lights, and make Tallahassee a Smart Grid city, but I’m not some flat-earth schmo, either.

My position is more articulate, which is: If this is an ecological catastrophe that will befall, and have in its wake human and earth-bound carnage on a scale hitherto unknown, how in the hell is commuting by Star Metro or carpooling going to save us?

Alas, this will win me no Guggenheim for thought. Given my cowardice, I’d avoided expressing this at the summit, and settled for boredom and amusement. Got both in spades.

First up was Mike Pate, formerly with the Knight Foundation, who spoke about growing local talent by persuading college students to stay in Tallahassee. This seemed only to have a very slight relation to “sustainability” in its a common usage, but the etymology of sustainability is so elastic, I let’em slide on this one.

Being a guy of shameless habits, I napped in fits in front of 40 people in a discussion about “growing” green businesses led by Commissioner Bryan Desloge. A few more meetings like this, and I’m a goner, I thought.

Later that afternoon, I attended the best part of the summit. A panel with former Leadership Tallahassee graduates —-to be a Leadership Tallahassee candidate is always to be overweeningly ambitious — discussing the group’s 10 principles of leadership, while one-upping each other in a strange patter on who was in the best Leadership Tallahassee Class ever.

Vince Long, deputy county administrator, began the discussion with a Talmudic distinction between “leader” and “leadership effort.” Alan Williams, compared leadership to the perfect swing, and I had a retort ready but let it slip. Kelly Otte spoke about social justice as a demand of leadership, replacing old white men, and the other tropes of liberalism.

Yet I learned something: Can’t liberals be a little obnoxious, like they’ve been over-parented, given 5 stars in kindergarten when they’d deserved three; so earnest, so prideful, so ambitious and without self-awareness.

I’m all for making earth a better place but know the limits of that: human nature, the personality and stupidity of people, and the grubbiness of self-interest. The summit seemed so well-meaning and that’s what gnawed at me, even in boredom to make me a little mad, and distressed.

All of those panel people would be lovely neighbors, but often with people who are perfect they tend to aggravate the hell of the lesser souls like me, who tend to appreciate human disorder.

On the whole, I’d attend next year. It’s good for even a jaded man to see that some people believe and are brave enough to attempt the impossible.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square. Although as a liberal-leaner I must object strenuously… I did too deserve 5 gold stars.

(Photo credit.)

Chris Timmons: This digital barbarian will balance freedom and honor

chris timmons

You might want to take a moment to read this piece by our friend and guest blogger Chris Timmons, which ran in the Orlando Sentinel last weekend. Chris is young, smart and really knows how to turn a phrase (but I’ve got to ask him for a bigger picture, sorry Chris). Here Chris sees some troubling trends on the internet from a uniquely conservative perspective:

Mark Helprin has a beef, and it’s with me — or my generation.

Helprin’s new book, Digital Barbarism, at first blush, seems to be an overheated, high-watt diatribe against the computer geeks at Google who have given us the digital age. These geeks, in concert with a nonprofit corporation called Creative Commons, want to eliminate copyright protections for written works (after the holder is gone) and have them available for free on the Web for the public good.

This seems innocent enough, yet, like many a great writer, Helprin sees its dangers.

Helprin understands that copyright has more importance than its technical aspects. He relates in his book that copyright, because of the scale of what it protects, is an essential part of the cultural garment. Continue reading…

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?


The project The Village Square is working on, referred to in the article below, is finding more voices from both sides of the aisle for our blog, to engage in a real conversation (unlike the ranting on talk radio or TV opinion “news” shows). We’re particularly interested in auditioning blogging teams of friends from different political camps. If you’re interested, give us a yell at thecrier@tothevillagesquare.org. We tried this first offline in the “real world” in our invitation to have a lunch across the aisle. It’s our way, as historian Patricia Nelson Limerick writes, to “let friendship redeem the republic.”

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?
From today’s Tallahassee Democrat.

Two weeks ago, I had coffee with Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square, about a project she’s working on, and I enjoyed her passion for politics and ideas.

Yet there was this tincture in the discussion. I noticed a small distress, a weariness about the close-mindedness, extremity and partisanship of politics these days.

She pinned it on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Not in that liberal, nose-upheld NPR kind of way, but more earnestly and with profound regret. I felt her pain.

I’ve listened to Limbaugh only once or twice myself, much the same for Sean Hannity.

They have some function in this world, and for many people, I’d bet they have sparked an interest and, let’s hope, a passion enough to search out all views. Something in me is hoping but doubts it.

There’s demagoguery, obtuseness and silliness in some of their views. I chuckled at Limbaugh’s bizarre plan to sabotage Obama’s primary campaign in Pennsylvania, dubbed with the military craft cliche: Operation Hillary. Yet Limbaugh and Hannity, in a circumscribed sense most certainly, are great entertainers working in a crowded field of political entertainment.

Anyone who listens to them with the intention of getting something intelligent out of it is simply lost. But they have little to do with what’s wrong in politics.

It’s those in the higher journalism attached to small magazines such as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Nation, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, Reason, Commentary and the National Review that offer not a principled defense of ideas but the false exploitation of ideas and a misuse of language that have a stultifying effect on political discourse and disarm thoughtful people like Joyner and threaten to disengage them from the process.

At least, after reading some of Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism,” I have come to feel this way.

Its title is cheeky, a reverse insult to those liberals forever calling conservatives fascists, which historically we have not been.

I felt redeemed once I read the title, and because Goldberg writes crisply and with humor, I was looking for a quirky intellectual history. I didn’t get that, because Goldberg decided to go for something much smaller.

He wanted to rebut every New York Times columnist, New Yorker staff writer or Ivy League academic who ever uttered the words “fascism” and “conservatives” together. Really, he wanted to sock Gore Vidal in the mouth, in a literary sense.

So, we get liberalism is fascism. No, it’s a cousin of fascism. No, really, it has a resemblance to fascism. Hey, look at Hillary’s devious phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” or Barack Obama’s equally menacing “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”

It’s obvious: Fascism is back!

As Richard Posner wrote about a popularizer of academic ideas: No serious reader could be persuaded by his books.

When words have no meaning, ideas lose their substance, since both require honesty and mutual agreement about their definitions. In Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” the know-it-all Henry Tilney lectures the heroine on her careless use of words and the word, in particular, “nice.” “Every time (you say), this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh it’s a very nice word, indeed — it does for everything.”

It may seem a conservative cliche, a backward way of arguing for small government, but part of this distortion of ideas and words, the meanness and small-mindedness of our political arguments, comes from our having too many ideas on the table. Create a concept, somebody once said, and reality exits pretty fast.

The pundits and politicians have forgotten the serious stakes that all of the ideas on the table carry. We’ve seen cap-and-trade rushed through the U.S. House, the call for a new stimulus bill (somehow the other didn’t do the job), and now a renewed call by the president for an expedited health care bill by October.

A Republican senator says this is the president’s Waterloo. The president cynically says Republicans are playing politics. Speaker Nancy Pelosi causally dismisses citizen’s concerns about a real and unprecedented power grab by the federal government.

It should surprise no one that, once ideas and words are scrambled only for effect and no one thinks thoroughly and thoughtfully about them, it’s easy to have four different health care bills, major miscommunication or noncommunication, spin and political calculation, inflamed citizens — and all the rest.

At the president’s news conference, for example, his bill was defined as an extension of the free-market concept. It is anything but, yet the president indulges in this because he knows that explaining ideas honestly doesn’t work in this political season.

In a letter, Mrs. Humphrey Ward chastises Henry James about his boredom and cynicism about politics. For her, politics and ideas are the “salt and sauce” of life. I’m starting to reject her views and embrace James’s.

To me, this unreasoning, vulgar, groundless, deafening and sapping partisanship is the “very measure of insipidity” for those who love ideas, politics and the village square.