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Saturday, August 07, 2004
WELCOME TO THE BIG LEAGUES, MICHELLE:
Michelle Malkin is a conservative author who, like many others, is paid big money by the forces of institutional conservativism (in her case, the right wing Regnery Press) to put out books to serve the interests of the Republican Party. (Her book titles all have the telltale colon in them, e.g., "Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores". When I see that colon, I run far away.)
Malkin's specialty is immigration issues. It's easy to be cynical as to why that is-- she's a fairly dark skinned woman of obvious Asian descent; she's thus the perfect person to make arguments that might be argued to be racist, nativist, or anti-immigrant if made by whites. But Malkin, let it be said, is also very smart and productive. She churns out a daily column (which is not easy to do) and is very articulate, and has an ability to process large amounts of information. Unlike many other right wing (and some left wing) popular authors, she has heard of the footnote and the primary source document.
As I noted above, she wrote a book a couple of years back advocating restrictive immigration policies. That's a perfectly good subject for a smart conservative to write about-- there are a thousand different opinions about the effects of immigration on society. A person can take an extreme position-- even a racist one (and Malkin, like many advocates of draconian treatment of foreigners, likes to conflate invading Arab terrorists with "invading" Mexican migrant workers)--- and the position can't be proven false. Immigration policy is, after all, a matter of opinion.
But Ms. Malkin has written a new book, and this one tackles a matter of history, not policy. Obviously the folks at Regnery wanted someone to put out a defense of Bush's anti-terror policies in advance of the 2004 election, so she spent the last year writing "In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror". (There's that colon again.) Her approach is to defend Bush's crackdown on civil liberties by saying that FDR's was even more oppressive, and the historical record vindicates FDR.
Needless to say, Ms. Malkin is swimming upstream here. The verdict of orthodox history is that FDR's actions were a grave and needless infringement on civil liberties, motivated by the worst sorts of racial prejudice. Of course, swimming upstream doesn't by itself make one wrong, but the reaction to Ms. Malkin's work by some professional historians is a nice object lesson in biting off more than one can chew.
Essentially, Ms. Malkin's problem is that she is not a historian, and she wrote her book in a year (working part-time, as she also writes her column AND had a baby this past year), drawing on some primary documents, mostly received from other conservatives who thought internment was not such a bad idea. And she is arguing that all the professional historians who have intensively studied the complexities of the historical record, and who have examined tens of thousands of pages of documents dispersed in archives in Japan, California, Washington D.C. and many other places, are full of it.
I've got to say that this has got to be one of the great examples of a conservative believing a bit too much of the movement's own BS. You see, conservatives like to refer to academics as biased pointy headed geeks who forsake rigorous study in favor of hack scholarship such as postmodernism and relativism. I will not deny, of course, that such hack scholarship exists, but that doesn't mean that any smart conservative with internet access, a Lexis account, and some like-minded friends who have collected a small sample of the primary documents is going to be able to disprove the consensus of professional academic historians. As biased as some academics may very well be, the fact of the matter is that the intensive methodologies of academics who are attempting to publish in professional journals or to produce a scholarly book cannot be duplicated by a smart layperson working part time.
In any event, I invite anyone who wants to see a conservative commentator, in over her head, get thoroughly eviscerated by academics who don't appreciate her efforts to discredit their life's work without paying her dues to click on this link and scroll down to all of the updates (and click on the Volokh Conspiracy links that are included down below the updates on the page as well).
Ms. Malkin has picked a fight she can't win.
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