Andrew Ferguson: Destroyer of Worlds

by Sonny Bunch on February 24, 2012

I consider Andy Ferguson a friend and mentor, so maybe you should take the following with a grain of salt. BUT. There is no one I’d rather have in a verbal knifefight than Mr. Ferguson. His latest for the Weekly Standard—a scathing look at Clinton nostalgia pegged to an absurd piece in Esquire by Charles P. Pierce and Mark Warren— is no exception. I hesitate to choose my favorite slash of the blade; instead, I’ll just offer the first three grafs and insist you click through:

The aging fops and dandies who edit Esquire magazine—yes, it still comes out, check a newsstand if you don’t believe me—devoted a chunk of their issue this month to Bill Clinton. It was an unusual move. Typically, under the motto “Man at His Best,” the editors concentrate their attention on those fabulous new chukkas Donna Karan just introduced, or the optimal thread count for Ralph Lauren Egyptian cotton sheets, or the yummy new clover-accented absinthe imported from Azerbaijan at $33 an oz.—or even, when el machismo oversweeps them, a superhot new starlet in slingback spike heels with off-color stitching and a simple but elegant choker. What I mean is, when these gentlemen put a politician, even an ex-president, on the cover and a long interview with him inside, you know something’s up.

So there he was on the cover, spookily lifelike, legs akimbo, head cocked, eyes moist, his large, experienced hands fairly gleaming from the exquisite manicure. “Bill Clinton and 78 other things we can all agree on,” read the headline. We may seem like a divided country, the editors were telling us, but at least we can all come together around the Man from Hope: “He has become the rare consensus figure in a country that has lost all sense of consensus.”

The consensus is so solid that the editors don’t feel obliged to explain what it is. But pretty soon you get the idea. In a patty-cake interview many thousands of words long, Clinton and his interviewers explore “why he’s now the subject of such public and surprisingly bipartisan affection.” We as a people have come to agree that Bill Clinton is a vaguely flawed but always well-meaning fellow, a great president whose greatness was stunted by a lunatic opposition, and who now, having emerged from the fires of Republican defamation, is universally recognized as a visionary of unalloyed beneficence, a statesman, a sage.

His latest column for Commentary, not yet available online, is similarly brutal. In it, he takes to task Jeffrey Goldberg for promulgating the idea of the racist dog whistle. A taste:

It’s one of the “darkest political arts,” Goldberg explains: “the use of coded, ambiguous language to appeal to the prejudices of certain subsets of voters.” Here’s how it works. When Newt Gingrich mentions food stamps, he sends a signal to racists—toot, toot!—telling them that he dislikes black people as much as they do. The signal is received even though, as many observers have pointed out, white food-stamp recipients outnumber their black counterparts by a good stretch. The pitch is so rarefied that only white racists and liberal Democrats can hear it. When somebody says “food stamps,” both Jeffrey Goldberg and David Duke immediately think of black people. Don’t ask me why.


The finest example of the Ferg Takedown (the Ferging, briefly) is his absolute and total annihilation of Peter Beinart. It’s actually painful to read, in a good way, like when a bully gets beaten up by a larger, older, and wiser guy who you thought was a pacifist but, in fact, won several Golden Gloves tournaments growing up.

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