8 Dec 2008
Readers, what in the HELL were the editors of the New York Times smoking when they decided to usher Timothy Egan’s guest column into print on Saturday?
We all know that the Times has a remarkable penchant for cramming a whole lot of stupid into their op-ed page, but Egan’s screed is really something else. Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, and Tom Friedman could pool their efforts and still have trouble coming up to this level of aggressive foolishness. Egan’s topic? How dare Joe the Plumber strike a blow against Literature by writing a book? Oh, the humanity!
Egan first apostrophizes Joe, pleading with Joe to put down his pen, as crocodile tears the size of horseturds run down his face as he reflects on the plight of belles-lettrists across the globe whose literary efforts go unrewarded. Then he gets nasty. Then he gets stupid. Just look at this:
[Joe,] I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.
Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.
With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.
Good lord, readers. This combination of self-congratulatory high-mindedness and nasty ad hominem attacks is truly remarkable.
Now, let’s get one thing straight here, before we go any further — I am no fan of Joe the Plumber. I think he’s a tool, and a deeply dishonest man to boot. But this column is so bad, so wrong-headed, so fucking stupid, that it actually puts me in the position of wanting to defend him.
Joe the Plumber was offered a lot of money to “write” a “book” (i.e. put his name and face on the cover of a ghostwritten piece of political hackwork, just in time for Christmas). Joe’s not the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed, but he’s not an idiot, and of course he took the money. Would I write a book if I were offered a similar deal? Damn straight.
What’s the big deal here? Joe the Plumber was offered a book deal, so he wrote a book. Does that mean Joe thinks he’s a professional author now? Will the Collected Works of Joe Wurzelbacher one day grace the elegant bookshelves of scholars? Did Joe the Plumber ever compare himself to Twain, Orwell, and/or Didion? Of course not. Egan did it for him, so that he could get angry about it, and scoff, rant, and rave about it. (Putting words in someone else’s mouth so that you can refute them is what’s known as building a strawman argument, by the way.) This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a major newspaper.
So aggrieved is Egan that he turns to the late Chris Farley for inspiration:
When I heard J.T.P. had a book, I thought of that Chris Farley skit from “Saturday Night Live.” He’s a motivational counselor, trying to keep some slacker youths from living in a van down by the river, just like him. One kid tells him he wants to write.
“La-di-frickin’-da!” Farley says. “We got ourselves a writer here!”
La-di-frickin-da indeed, readers. Egan doesn’t give a goddamn what Joe the Plumber may actually have written, and we certainly won’t be treated to a book review by Egan once the book has appeared in stores; he’s just beside himself with rage that Joe got to publish a book at all. He seems to think that the only reason people write books is because they want to contribute to the canon of Highbrow Literature, and that Joe has sinned against Art and Letters by having had the effrontery to write something. Egan is just so very high-minded, so serious, such a lover of literature, that Joe’s book deal just breaks his heart. Give me a fucking break.
If Joe the Plumber had published an experimental novel, or a collection of short stories, Egan might have a point. But, for God’s sake, Joe the Plumber has no literary ambitions. Hell, he didn’t even really write the goddamn thing: it was ghostwritten by one Thomas N. Tabback.
Scroll all the way down to the end of Egan’s screed and you’ll see this note, from the NYT editors, which pretty much sums it all up:
Maureen Dowd is off today.