Why Kevin Williamson Matters

Any rational person’s list of the most intelligent and pungent columnists now writing will perforce include the name Kevin Williamson, late of National Review and, as of Thursday, late of The Atlantic as well.

And anyone with a working internet connection knows that Williamson, hired to a chorus of drooling leftoid obloquy by The Atlantic a few weeks ago, was summarily fired by the magazine’s preening, oleaginous editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, after having written only one article, “The Passing of the Libertarian Moment.”

That article was not the problem. The problem (prescinding from Goldberg’s obvious spinelessness in capitulating to the baying mob) was a remark Williamson made about abortion during a podcast with his former NR colleague Charles C. W. Cooke. Like nearly 50 percent of the American public, Kevin believes that abortion is a form of homicide, i.e., murder (“homicide” somehow sounds more antiseptic), and noted he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide under the criminal code.” When asked how he thought those found guilty of abortion should be punished, he said although he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general,” death by hanging might be appropriate.  

If you listen to the exchange, it is clear—or so I think—that the bit about hanging was a flip provocation. It was a provocation that Kevin apparently liked, however, for he repeated it in a tweet (since deleted). The weaponized cyber garbage-dispensing service known as Media Matters insinuated its tentacles into the recesses of social media to compile snippets of Kevin’s views about abortion and other matters about which there can be only one opinion, and dumped the lot into the contemporary equivalent of the public square, i.e., much-visited internet sites. Then its politically correct masters sat back and waited for the mob to do its work.

Which it promptly did.

There are several points to note about this sorry episode of mob hysteria and editorial cowardice. The first is that Williamson would never have been hired at The Atlantic were he not ostentatiously anti-Trump. For a conservative, that political coloration was the sine qua non, the nonnegotiable key to the palace. Alas, as Ann Althouse noted, Williamson “gave them the anti-Trumpism they wanted. But it was not enough.” Ideological conformity on central issues of The Narrative was also required. These he could not supply.

These days, The Atlantic is swimming in money thanks to the benefactions of Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs. The magazine has made several high-profile hires recently—Williamson was one of them—but the place has yet to break free of its identity as a ghetto of loony leftism.  

Emblematic of the spiritual weather of The Atlantic is the ubiquitous presence in its pages of the preposterous Ta-Nehisi Coates, professional black person, who wanders around the world discovering racism (did you know that solar eclipses are racist?) and telling guilt-consumed white liberals that American blacks deserve reparations because their ancestors might have been slaves.

The presence of Kevin Williamson was supposed to introduce a dissenting voice into this desert of intellectual and political conformity. But, as the editor of the libertarian Reason magazine noted, “By Firing Kevin Williamson, The Atlantic Shows It Can’t Handle Real Ideological Diversity.” This is revealed in Jeffrey Goldberg’s initial response (before Media Matters turned up the mot about hanging) to the coven skirling for Kevin’s head.

“I would also prefer, all things being equal [but of course they never are], to give people second chances and the opportunity to change,” Goldberg wrote. “I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting.”

What a guy! He is sometimes willing to overlook “extreme tweeting,” whatever that is, even unto three offenses.  He is willing to hire conservatives, because even they deserve “second chances.” Chances to do what, you ask? Why, to “change,” of course! To become liberals.

I’ve known Kevin Williamson for more than a decade. Unlike me, he is opposed to capital punishment. He is about as likely to want people hanged as Jonathan Swift was to want children sold as food. Yet Swift, pondering the famine in Ireland, could suggest just that: “A child,” he wrote, “will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.”

As a perspicacious female friend of mine observed, “On the liberal scale of sins, making women feel bad about themselves is worse than infanticide.” Williamson is particularly sensitive about that species of infanticide we refer to with grisly lexical litotes as the exercise of “women’s reproductive rights,” a.k.a. abortion. On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2015, he noted that he never needed reminding which anniversary it was because it was also his anniversary. He was born three months—“call it a ‘trimester’”—before Roe.

“People like me,” he wrote,

we “unplanned,” the millions of us—now live the first part of our lives outside the protection of the laws of these United States. Our lives, and very often our deaths, are instruments of the convenience of others. That was different, in my case, by a matter of a few months. It is impossible for me to know whether the woman who gave birth to me would have chosen abortion if that had been a more readily available alternative in 1972. I would not bet my life, neither the good nor the bad parts of it, on her not choosing it.

I write a great deal about taxes, budgets, fiscal issues, and regulation. But whether the top marginal federal income-tax rate is 39.5 percent or 34 percent, life will go on. Life goes on, except when it doesn’t. I never went through any naturalization ceremony—if I wasn’t an American the minute before I was born, I don’t see how I became one the minute after.

The thing to appreciate in this despicable case is that Kevin Williamson was fired from his job as an opinion journalist for uttering an opinion. It is far from being a unique circumstance. Indeed, the New York Times (as perhaps befits a daily) managed to hire and fire an op-ed columnist within hours. Why? Because someone dug up evidence of opinions expressed elsewhere that didn’t pass muster with the Times’s censors. 

The rancid, totalitarian stench of enforced orthodoxy may be most patent on college campuses today. But the case of Kevin Williamson shows that those toxic plumes are wafting throughout the once-liberal institutions of American society.

A few hours before Kevin was defenestrated from The Atlantic, Victor Davis Hanson responded to Kevin’s combination maiden essay and swan song for that once-great journalistic shambles. Kevin’s piece included some critical remarks about Victor, which Victor answered. But given the course of events, Victor’s concluding remark is especially resonant: “Sadly, I think Kevin Williamson will soon find that National Review was far more tolerant of his controversial views than will be true at The Atlantic.”

Got that right.

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