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The Politics of Cooties, Again
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The Politics of Cooties, Again

Giving a little something to the other party? That’s too much to ask for, apparently.

Cornel West speaks to the media on August 28, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

I like Cornel West. His politics are stupid in the way very smart people very often have stupid politics, and his record on Israel’s response to the unprovoked massacre (and mass kidnapping, and organized rape) of its citizens by Hamas has been indefensible. There isn’t any need for him to wait until after he has lost his quixotic presidential campaign to apologize for it—no time like the present. 

But there is the matter of cooties that needs addressing. 

I have written before—too much already, I think—about the politics of cooties. The politics of cooties is what makes compromise and consensus-building impossible in Washington: the notion that an idea, or a piece of legislation, or even a figure of speech becomes infected when it is taken up by the other side, by … them. That was the case made against that self-abasing dope from California who used to be speaker of the House by that beady-eyed dope from Florida who led the effort to oust him: that he relied on Democratic support to get certain things done.* That’s the case the beady-eyed dope from Georgia is trying to make against a gutless dope from Louisiana currently serving as speaker of the House: You can’t use Democrats’ votes to pass a bill—those votes have cooties!

Getting members of the other party to support one’s own priorities in Congress once was a sign that you were what the old-timers used to call “good at politics.” If you happened to be the speaker of the House with, say, a six-vote majority in a party populated partly by gap-toothed yokels from Toad Suck, Arkansas—actually, the gentleman who represents Toad Suck seems like a pretty normal old-fashioned Republican, a former president of the Little Rock Rotary Club and chairman of the local chamber of commerce, but you know what I mean—then you could avoid being held hostage by the dumbest and most intransigent members of your own party. How? By giving a little something to the other party. By passing bills that were (if you were really good) 80 percent stuff you cared about and 20 percent stuff they cared about. Being in the majority still meant mostly getting your way, but having 50 percent plus one didn’t make you a temporary dictator. Everybody’s bread got buttered, which wasn’t always great for public finances but helped to get things done. 

You know that scene at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where Donald Sutherland (RIP) points and shrieks at his former friend in Washington, revealing in the process that he has been body-snatched? That’s the treatment Cornel West is getting from the low-rent shills over at MoveOn. 

(MoveOn is the textbook example of an organization that has outlived its purpose. Founded more than a quarter-century ago to argue that the country needed to “move on” from Bill Clinton’s intern-diddling impeachment drama, it had two things that confer a very long life in American politics: office space and a good fundraising list. And so, while the country has moved on, MoveOn hasn’t. Which is weird, but this is America.) 

The problem, from MoveOn’s point of view, is that Professor West is doing business with people who also do business with Republicans, relying on GOP-aligned political professionals for his ballot-access operations: “Cornel West Caught AGAIN Relying on Republican Operatives To Get on the Ballot,” the headline huffs. Retreating to its fainting couch, MoveOn notes that the professionals the West campaign has hired in Arizona worked with Blake Masters, one of those blue-suited money-monkeys that billionaire Peter Thiel has tried to attach to the body politic from time to time. (Masters, former COO of Thiel Capital and president of the Thiel Foundation, is the guy who lost that Senate race to Democrat Mark Kelly last time around.) So, there’s your Muppet News Flash: A guy trying to do some politics hired some people who have done that kind of thing before. 

Well, raise my rent. 

That outrage makes sense only if you accept the politics of cooties the way a kindergartener accepts the more general epidemiology of cooties. West wants to be on the ballot in Arizona. Somebody can get him on the ballot for $x, where $x < y (where y is what the campaign has to spend on Arizona ballot access). It’s a no-brainer. Now, the MoveOn guys may or may not be cootie true-believers—maybe they’re just trying to shame everybody out of the race who might take a vote from Joe Biden. (“Maybe.”) Although, in a sense, even that kind of “binary choice” horsepucky is founded on cooties politics: If his campaign might be good for Republicans, then Cornel West’s campaign has cooties, never mind who he is or what he believes.

You’d be surprised how much this kind of thing infests the political world—including the nonprofit and campaign world—even at the operational level. I’ve seen substantial contracts awarded to perfectly nice people not particularly good at the task at hand over better-qualified alternatives because the nice guys have the right kind of politics, because they were on the right side, the right sort of people. That only makes sense from a cooties-centric point of view. 

It’s convenient, of course. The politics of cooties saves partisans the trouble of thinking. If you are on the right and there is some unpleasant news in the New York Times, you can just say, “Well, it’s the New York Times, I don’t believe it.” You don’t have to engage with the argument or the facts. Likewise with progressives and right-leaning media. When I point out that the Washington Post won a Pulitzer for error-ridden and wildly inaccurate reporting on firearms issues, they can just dismiss it as coming from the wrong sort of critic and brazen it out. So far, so good for them. 

There was a time when these things were a matter of honor and reputation. But who needs honor and reputation when the other guys all have cooties?

Correction, July 3, 2024: This article originally misstated which state Matt Gaetz represents.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.