Last week was a bad one for David Weigel, an acquaintance of mine who resigned his position as an online reporter and blogger at the Washington Post (likely at his editors’ urgings) after it was revealed that on a liberal email listserve, “JournoList,” he had written mean things about Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and the conservative movement he was tasked with covering.
Weigel’s attacks on Rush and Drudge were personal: he wrote, clearly in jest, that he wished they’d both die. His take on Glenn Beck must have been red meat on an email list that was created by WaPo’s Ezra Klein and reportedly included such luminaries as Paul Krugman, Matthew Yglesias, Eric Alterman, and Jeffrey Toobin. Said Weigel,
One extra, obvious point -- Beck’s campaign against [Van] Jones was transparently racial . . . he treated his very white, very angry audience to video after video of Jones giving scorching speeches. At one point Beck just eschewed subtlety and played videos of Jones alongside videos of Jeremiah Wright while he remained on the screen mugging like Harpo Marx.
Perhaps even Klein, Krugman & Co. were embarrassed by Weigel’s Frankfurt-esque comments about Republicans' protecting "white privilege” (if only!).
When a friend told me about this last weekend, I predicted that Weigel would soon get hired by The Nation. I was wrong. Yesterday, he was named a MSNBC contributor.
They say that Washington, DC, is Hollywood for the ugly. This strange fascination with Weigel really hammers that maxim home. When I lived there, I quickly discovered two important things about the small, incestuous band of local journalists and activists residing in the beige high-rise hell of Arlington, VA: First, they are all quite proud of the fact that they’ve located themselves near the center of world power; Second, they are uniquely interested in discussing -- indeed, reporting on -- the minutia of one another’s boring personal lives.
Before the JournoList fiasco hit, Weigel was the subject of another “scandal” that involved, 1) Weigel attending the wedding of two “libertarian,” right-of-center bloggers and journalists, 2) Weigel dancing alone because his girlfriend lives in Alaska (hmm…), 3) Two Washington journalists writing about this, 4) Other Washington journalists caring.
Conservative pundits have latched on to the email scandal as an outing of a liberal partisan. It’s true that most of Weigel’s opinions are universal among DC journalists, but the critics are wrong about Weigel’s orientation, for it was not too long ago that he was flirting with hardcore paleolibertarianism. (He quickly learned that there were much better ways of advancing his career.)
I first met Weigel at a meeting of The Robert Taft Club, a youthful paleo society that Marcus Epstein had founded in 2006 and whose board I joined in 2007. The Taft Club, now sadly dormant, was easily the most hard-hitting right-wing society going. It featured discussions on “race and conservatism” with Jared Taylor, Darwinism and conservatism with John Derbyshire, diplomacy towards Russia with Srdja Trifkovic, and a panel in which participants called for conservatives to dump the GOP. The Club even hosted Ron Paul, who spoke to a packed house in the fall of 2007, just before his candidacy exploded into the mainstream. (I can take credit for organizing that one.)
Marcus was the driving force behind much of the Club’s success ... and its subsequent notoriety. Marcus, who battled alcohol addiction, got into an incident in Georgetown in the summer of 2007 in which he allegedly mentioned the dreaded N-word. A secret service agent was present, and Marcus was charged with a “hate crime.”
Marcus eventually managed to have the charge dismissed; he also got himself sober and gained acceptance to UVA Law school. But in the Spring of 2009, a violent left-wing group discovered the charges, and a hysterical campaigned ensued that eventuated in Marcus leaving his position at The American Cause and UVA withdrawing its admission offer. Marcus could be linked to Pat Buchanan and Tom Tancredo, and excited liberals activists began to grossly exaggerate his importance. At the scandal's zenith, Marcus was made out as some kind of GOP mastermind who’d let the mask (or rather hood) slip.
In reality, Marcus is a good person who did a stupid thing and paid his dues. He’s not a mover and shaker within the conservative movement, mainly due to the fact that his opinions are actually interesting.
This inflation of Marcus’s power and influence reached ridiculous proportions when smear artist extraordinaire Max Blumenthal tried to link the Taft Club to James O’Keefe, he of the now-famous Acorn and Mary Landrieu stunts. (O’Keefe attended a few of the Taft Club’s events, but is far too mainstream in his views to have ever been a part of its leadership.)
Back to Weigel. When I met him, "Dave" was introduced to me as “one of the boys.” At the time, he worked for the Left-libertarian Reason magazine; however, I was informed by mutual friends that Weigel had mentioned that his views on immigration had been affected by Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation and that he had become a fan of Steve Sailer’s blog. I don’t want to put words into Weigel’s mouth or thoughts into his head, but from all appearances he was conversant, if not necessarily in agreement, with the ideas of the paleo Right, and even HBD. Weigel actually published an article in the October, 2007, issue ofThe American Conservative, in which he described the Taft Club, positively, as hotbed of young, edgy rightists.
No one seems to have brought up this 2007-vintage David Weigel.
At any rate, at some point afterwards, Weigel seemed to have discovered that the Hard Right offered few employment options -- whereas the liberal establishment offered many.
This epiphany seemed to occur around the time the great brouhaha erupted over opinions -- interesting opinions -- published in Ron Paul’s newsletters during the ‘80s and ‘90s. (If you’re interested in revisiting this scandal, I’d direct you to Justin Raimondo’s two scathingarticles on the “F-Train Mafia,” which I published while I was editing Takimag.) Within days of the appearance of Jamie Kirchick’s “Angry White Man” in The New Republic -- in which Kirchick concluded that the congressman was just a lowdown… well, you guessed it -- Weigel and the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez published a piece at Reason.comthat put Kirchick’s article “in context” by discussing the evil “paleo strategy” of Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, who sought to win the American middle class over to libertarianism by appealing to sexism, racism, and gay bigotry.
I was surprised by to see this piece written by a Taft Club attendee … surprised again to see Weigel show up to Marcus Epstein’s 25th birthday party later that spring … and surprised yet again, a year later, to see Weigelreporting on Marcus’s mishaps, this time as a blogger for the liberal Washington Independent. Very few people keep a foot in each of these two camps…
To his credit, Weigel’s coverage of Marcus was relatively fair, and he took the lead in taking Blumenthal to task for his lies. Nonetheless, it was clear that he was more than happy to use his old ties as fodder for a “scoop.” He also managed some outrage when Marcus’s then-boss, Bay Buchanan, defended him in print.
Pace Weigel’s conservative critics, I don’t think his harsh opinions of Rush and the movement much affected his craft. As journalists who reported extensively on the Marcus Epstein Saga go, Weigel was by far the most “fair and balanced.” He is, in fact, one of the few reporters in Washington to take conservatives seriously, and not just treat them as deluded or pathological. What’s telling here is that Weigel was actually filing reports on the misconduct of Marcus Epstein -- and feeding liberal fantasies about a crazed racist in a position of power in the conservative movement.
For a brief period, roughly 2005-2007, many in the DC journalist circuit were speculating about an alliance between the Left-liberal establishment and “good” conservatives, those who were civil libertarians, antiwar, and -- most important of all -- anti-Bush. Barry Goldwater had a revival of sorts: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a glowing afterward to a 2007 reissue of The Conscience of a Conservative. Watergate witness John Dean began appearing regularly on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” as a responsible conservative critic of the GOP establishment. (Dean, too, published on Goldwater.) Ron Paul probably received better press from MSNBC than Reason (the newsletters controversy ending up as more smoke than fire).
The alliance collapsed, however, when liberals began to recognize that Godlwater-ites and “good” conservatives didn’t just oppose George W. Bush but Barack Obama -- and the Civil Rights Act.
The “thoughtful” conservatives and libertarians who were able to sustain contacts with liberals -- Weigel and Bruce Bartlett being excellent examples -- were the ones who transitioned from not just criticizing the Patriot Act but backing Obama, fretting about racism, and even mouthing Keynesian nonsense. Take this item from The Daily Caller’s Weigel exposé,
In the e-mails, Weigel appeared particularly invested in the President’s health care law, expressing undisguised scorn for moderate Democrats who seemed fearful about voting for it.
Weigel is still a contributing editor at Reason, a self-described “magazine of free minds and free markets.” One wonders: if Weigel isn’t against Obamacare, then what kind of “libertarian” is he exactly? Maybe in frequenting the Taft Club, he was undercover all along … gathering material for future appearances on Olbermann.