Cranks All Read From the Same Playbook
Here's Slate's Dahlia Lithwick commenting on the book Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America, by Mark Levin:
If a book lands on the best-seller list and nobody hears it, did it really happen? Mark R. Levin's Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America was ranked eighth on the New York Times list this week; it's been on that list for six weeks now, and seems to be leaping off the bookshelves, despite the fact that it concerns constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet it has been reviewed virtually no place and written up by almost no one. True, Charles Lane did a piece about it in the Washington Post a few days ago; he noted that absolutely nobody who writes, talks, or thinks about the high court has even read it. It's selling, it seems, almost entirely due to endorsements by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fox News.
Men in Black was published by Regnery Publishing—the outfit that brought us Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry last summer. Serious journalists spent serious time debunking the claims set forth in the Swift Boat book, but absolutely no one seems to be taking on Levin. This isn't too surprising: For one thing, there's no election on the line. And for another, no serious scholar of the court or the Constitution, on the ideological left or right, is going to waste their time engaging Levin's arguments once they've read this book.
I use the word “book” with some hesitation: Certainly it possesses chapters and words and other book-like accoutrements. But Men in Black is 208 large-print pages of mostly block quotes (from court decisions or other legal thinkers) padded with a forward by the eminent legal scholar Rush Limbaugh, and a blurry 10-page “Appendix” of internal memos to and from congressional Democrats—stolen during Memogate. The reason it may take you only slightly longer to read Men in Black than it took Levin to write it is that you'll experience an overwhelming urge to shower between chapters.
I can understand completely why the serious legal thinkers of this world have no interest in engaging with Levin on his legal scholarship. Jeff Rosen probably had to swallow hard—twice—before even referencing Men in Black in his op-ed on judge-bashing last weekend. But ignoring this book won't keep it from tearing up the best-seller list; and it's unwise to write off everyone who reads it as a Swift Boat lunatic.
See the original article for links.
Sound familiar? Not really a book at all? Two hundred eight large-print pages? Sells well but serious scholars don't want to touch it? Something that's obviously deranged to anyone knowledgeable in the field but persuasive to large numbers of people lacking such knowledge?
She could just as easily be talking about creationism. And that's because crankery always looks the same. The jacket title alone would tell a serious person that Levin is a crank. If the Supreme Court had as its explicitly stated goal the destruction of America they would be unable to accomplish the task. Separation of powers and all that. But over-the-top, mega-exaggerated claims are SOP among cranks.
Elsewhere in her artice Lithwick goes into detail about all the ridiculous oversimplifications and internal contradictions of Levin's book. But of course, Levin did not write the book in an attempt to make a serious contribution to legal scholarship. If you have ever seen him on one of his many television appearances, most notably on Fox's Hannity and Colmes, he is a bomb-thrower, not a scholar. This book exists to provide an excuse to have him on the show. Now he can be introduced as the author of the New York Times bestseller Men in Black, thereby giving him instant credibility.
Academics have a term for books like Men in Black: Quickie Books. It is an apt label for most of the books published by right-wing outfits like Regnery. The books of people like Ann Coulter, Mona Charon, William Bennett, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage are not there to be read and pondered. Most of the right-wing punditocracy would not be capable of writing such a book even if they wanted to. No, these books exist to provide phony credentials to their authors, and to persuade ignorant people that their baseless but deeply felt prejudices are justified.
But Lithwick is also right that ignorance must be confronted, and the confronting must be done by experts in the field. It's a thankless, boring job undertaken at the expense of more serious work, but it must be done nonetheless. Just as more legal scholars need to listen to Lithwick, so too do more scientists need to get down in the muck with the ID folks.