Larison is Shrill

Douthat has his panties in a bunch about the lack of subtle shades in the movie “Green Zone” :

[…] the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.
The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare.

Larison unloads:

Yes, the problem might be that we do not have artists capable of rendering contemporary architects of a war of aggression that was based on shoddy intelligence, ideological fervor and deceit in a sufficiently subtle, even-handed manner. If only Hollywood were better at portraying the depth and complexity of people who unleashed hell on a nation of 24 million people out of an absurd fear of a non-existent threat! Life is so unfair to warmongers, is it not?

Interesting to see one of the sanest and most civil bloggers around driven to complete frustration by Douthat’s mealy-mouthed horseshit. His whole response is worth a read.

82 replies
  1. 1
    bob h says:

    I had resolved to see no more Matt Damon movies in the Bourne style, and wish I had kept to it. “Green Zone” is just $100 million spent on car chases and shootouts.

  2. 2
    beltane says:

    Ross Douthat, so young yet so prissy. Was this how George Will got his start?

    And wasn’t Daniel Larison expelled from the conservative brotherhood a few years ago for committing the crime of unlawful sanity.

  3. 3
    Fencedude says:


    Haha oh wow, Larison is fucking pissed.

  4. 4
    Dino says:

    Larison nailed it. Why should we demand more nuance and even handedness from our artists than we do our politicians?

    The last decade was a triumph of hubris in many areas. Moreover, there has been little accountability. You don’t need me to summarize, read it.

    This exemplifies why the New York Times should have picked Larison instead of Douthat.

  5. 5

    That Chunky Bobo piece made me see red too. I seem to recall a conspicuous lack of nuance on the part of Bush and his neocon enablers during the run-up to the war.

    “You’re either with us or against us,” for example, and labeling anti-war liberals “objectively pro-terrorist” and similar nonsense. Not much fooking nuance then, but now that the war has been revealed as the giant cock-up we said it would be, well gosh, let’s not be too judgmental.

    Douthat can eat a bowl of extra-chunky nuanced dicks.

  6. 6
    beltane says:

    The neocons lack the complexity of character required by a top-notch Shakespearean villain. Sorry, but Dick Cheney is no Richard III, and he is way too one-dimensional to be the subject of an interesting monologue. These are more comic book style villains, and Hollywood is very well equipped to portray them.

  7. 7
    mistermix says:

    @Fencedude: Yeah, I thought for a moment that Glenzilla was guest blogging today.

  8. 8
    kid bitzer says:

    the abuse of the tragic spirit:

    to invoke tragic inevitability as an excuse for things that were entirely avoidable.

    the unforgivable abuse of the tragic spirit:

    to invoke tragic inevitability as an excuse for things that you helped to cause.

    but i kinda like it better how betty cracker put it @5, so i’ll imitate:

    Douthat can eat a bowl of extra-chunky tragic dicks.

  9. 9
    IndieTarheel says:

    Wow. Even for Douchehat, that was fracking pathetic.

  10. 10
    MattF says:

    Whoa, gosh– an actual conservative. Rather than a “I’m a conservative because I read a book by Ayn Rand (cover to cover!) when I was a teenager” conservative.

  11. 11
    El Cid says:

    I’m so glad our billion dollar media corporations work so hard to find the absolutely best, most insightful voices among our 300 million strong citizenry to share with us each day.

  12. 12
    aimai says:

    Boo-hoo! The fact that Chunky Bobo and his pals aren’t the fucking heroes of the movie means that the terrorists have won.


  13. 13
    cleek says:

    won’t someone think of the warmongers?

  14. 14
    SpaceSquid says:

    Agreed. That was one of Larison’s best pieces in a while, and given how high his standard is generally, that is no mean feat.

  15. 15
    flukebucket says:

    His whole response is worth a read.

    When it comes to Larison I find that to be the case more often than not.

    The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare.

    Tell it to the dead.

  16. 16

    Hey, Ross! Shhhhhhhhhhhhh … hear that? It’s the world’s saddest song being played on the world’s smallest violin.

  17. 17


    The fact that Chunky Bobo and his pals aren’t the fucking heroes of the movie means that the terrorists have won.

    We are not worthy.

  18. 18

    The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare.

    Douchetwat’s take on anything is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    We’ll find those WMDs, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

  19. 19
    cleek says:

    out, out, damned US military

  20. 20
    Ed in NJ says:

    Has the movie’s less-than-spectacular opening weekend been portrayed as a validation of GWB and the war yet? I would be disappointed if some right wing hack didn’t make the connection.

  21. 21
    Bullsmith says:

    There really is no argument too ridiculous for the “intellectuals” of the right, these days. (As opposed the real thinkers like Larison.) So the real problem in America, the core source of partisan rancor is that Iraq war critics weren’t nuanced enough in their arguments. Fucking hell. I cannot think of a less serious line of reasoning.

  22. 22
    4tehlulz says:

    Russ’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more.

  23. 23
    John O says:

    I’m always amused that Larison and those like him are basically persona non grata in today’s conservative movement.

    Sane? No room for you!

  24. 24

    To MattF:

    I actually did read the Ayn Rand series, cover to cover, in my younger days. And I am still not a conservative.

    Sigh. I guess there is no hope for me.

  25. 25
    El Cruzado says:

    First, we shall kill all the pundits…

  26. 26

    Hell hath no furry like a neocon scorned!

    (Yes, I know that’s Congreve and not Shakespeare, but the sentiment is what counts!)

  27. 27

    If we are getting Shakespearean this morning –

    And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.

    Now that REALLY WAS a tale told by an idiot. Pathetic.

  28. 28
    geg6 says:

    @Ed in NJ:

    Of course, guess who? If you said Not-So-Breitbart, you would be correct:

  29. 29
    JGabriel says:

    OT, but Wonkette is giving the Teabaggers ideas:

    A new standard for protest has been set in Thailand, and now Tea Partiers look like a bunch of nancies for not throwing (human?) blood at the buildings of their rivals.

    So if the Baggers pull a Carrie on Obama, will he destroy them all with his mind-blowing telekinesis?

    Because I wanna see that! Especially if it’s directed by DePalma.


  30. 30
    Jim Once says:

    Methinks chunky Bobo doth protest too sillily.

    (Stop us now.)

  31. 31

    @JGabriel: The difference is that the Thais don’t bring automatic weapons to their protests and their religion finds violence abhorrent and they (mostly) adhere to that belief.

  32. 32
    JGabriel says:

    True, but once people start throwing blood, it really never ends well.


  33. 33
    Barbara says:

    The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare.

    I am not sure Douthat understands what he is wishing for.

    For instance, what character might Douthat be in the Shakespearean drama of Iraq? Rosencrantz or Guildenstern — An amoral hack for our time, always at the ready to overlook the evil underlying ambition in order to wrest any opportunity for his own advancement.

    And no matter how many times I’ve seen it, MacBeth does not strike me as a hero, but a self-deluded fool.

  34. 34
    aimai says:

    I love the phrasing “story out of Shakespeare.” Its so middle brow. It reminds me of my favorite moment in the long dead show “Hart to Hart” when the heroine, who is supposed to be some kind of super history professor/journalist, burnishes up the otherwise rather flimsy exposition by referring to an important bit of information “it goes back into…oh…history.”


  35. 35
    Persia says:

    @John O: That and Larison can string together coherent sentences.

  36. 36
    Bulworth says:

    I read a snippet of Douthat’s column this morning and I don’t get it. Isn’t the entire War on Terror supposed to be about Absolutes and Good vs. Evil? You’re Either With Us Or Against Us? Wasn’t basically the whole W Bush regime about Good vs. Evil? I’m confused.

  37. 37
    cleek says:

    Shall I compare thee to a Shakespeare play?
    Thou art more murderous and more expensive:

  38. 38
    Keith G says:

    I am overjoyed that Ross has appeared in my life. He is a gift that keeps on giving. He has been a guest panelist on the Diane Rehm Show several times and invariably he makes factual and analytical errors which are quickly and assertively corrected by the other guests or Diane herself. He so completely shows himself to be in over his head that I end up giggling for the rest of the day.

    I do not know why he keeps coming back just to be so thoroughly shown a fool. His head must be a scary, scary place.

  39. 39
    cleek says:

    The ides of March are come.

    Aye, Caesar, but not gone.

  40. 40
    jron says:

    To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good … Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.

    Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

  41. 41
    ksmiami says:

    No no – Douthat followers and the 101st Chairborne aren’t Shakespearean… They remind me more of characters from John Cheever short stories, or a truckload of Walter Mittys secretly fantasizing about their awesome yet invisible powers, or glory days at the frat house long gone. Sorry, no Shakespeare for them.

    Seriously, WTF Douthat? WTF?

  42. 42
    gbear says:

    Column most foul.

  43. 43
    scav says:

    @ksmiami: But wait! Will no one speak for the comedies?! Which twin, possibly a boy dressed up as a girl dressed up as a boy could he possibly be cast as?

  44. 44
    neill says:

    The nuanced story of a bunch of empty-headed, home-schooled, regimented right wing american triumphalist pubescent snobs running shit like the post-occupation Iraqi “stock market” supervised by dickheads like Dan Senor and Kate O’Beirne’s “fucking retard” of a husband …yeah, that’s the ticket….

    Maybe a chunky nuanced story by a god damn empty-headed right wing pubescent snob who has no clue the drivel he is writing in the New York fucking Times.

  45. 45
    scav says:

    The Taming of the Shrill would work for the thread or The Many Whines of Windsor? The Merchants of Vengence.

  46. 46
    JGabriel says:


    Will no one speak for the comedies?!

    Verily, it seems the whole charade can be portrayed as Comedy of Errors!


  47. 47
    PTirebiter says:

    shine out fair sun, ’til I have found my ass
    so I might find a keeper for this most foul gas I pass.

  48. 48
    Mike in NC says:

    Douthat’s mealy-mouthed horseshit.

    That nicely summarizes everything this asshole has ever written or spoken about.

    The movie may or may not suck, but it’s based in part on a great book: “Imperial Life in the Emerald City”, a devastating take-down of Paul Bremer and the mendacious and dysfunctional CPA.

  49. 49
    Tom Q says:

    Along those lines, I saw David Gergen on CNN this weekend, being asked about Rove’s book. Gergen said, roughly, that on the matter of going to war over WMDs, Bush and Rove deserved benefit of doubt. Good Christ.

    But this pretty much sums up Beltway wisdom (reflected in Douthat’s maddening column this morning): the whole thing was just a sad, unfortunate, well-inentioned blunder. This of course means omitting scenes like Rumsfeld telling Richard Clarke on September 11th that they had to find a way to link the attack to Iraq; anything to do with the Cheney push on intel; Colin Powell at the UN; Judith Miller; Valerie Plame, etc., etc.

    The permanent government will always be willing to accept this “We’re all to blame” pose, because, paradoxically, they see it as the way to most fully exonerate themselves.

  50. 50
    Catfish N. Cod says:

    Actually, I think W is a fine tragic Shakespeare anti-hero. He has more daddy/party issues than Prince Hal, more gumption issues than Hamlet, and more rage at the machine than Lear.

    Cheney, on the other hand, is clearly a supporting character. He’s like Buckingham or Hamlet’s uncle: he is evil because the plot requires a villain.

    KERMIT THE FROG: “But, Nicky, why are you doing this?”
    NICKY HOLLIDAY (Charles Grodin): “Why am I doing this? Because I’m a villain, plain and simple.”

    And like any good Shakespearean tragedy, there are plenty of characters, signs, and portents to tell the antihero that he is screwing up — all of which he ignores until it’s too late.

    The Hospital Room Scene is either at the end of Act III or the start of Act IV, I would guess.

    Who wants to help script The Most Excellent Historical Tragedie of Bush the Second?

  51. 51
    kth says:

    Those years were Shakespearean, a la Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Othello, Lear: polities in meltdown, and every man for himself. But by ‘Shakespearean’, Douthat merely means “all tragic and shit”.

  52. 52
    gregor says:

    It would perhaps have been enough to say,

    Nuanced? You want Nuanced? Then SUCK.ON.THIS.

    The shame of Harvard lands in New York to embarrass another great institution.

  53. 53
    jl says:

    Doubt-that is correct, that matter is Shakespearean in epic scope, tragedy, well deserving of our deepest sympathies, which an eye on wise and considered rehabilitation of the poor helpless dears who got us into the mess and killed all those, whoever they are, and wrecked up all that stuff, and destroyed so many lives, though the silver lining is that it was mostly little common people hither and yon who mostly deserve a moments (seconds) notice of rueful whatever.

    For example, there is Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing, who was well intentioned, there is no doubt about that. I see the line I want is right there in Wikipedia article on the tragic, well intentioned Dogberry

    “O that he were here to write me down an ass! But, masters, remember that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass…O that I had been writ down an ass!”

    Once we rehabilitate Dogberry, we can move on to the case of the Bush II crowd.

  54. 54
    mistersnrub says:

    Something is rotten in the state of the New York Times. I think it’s coming from Ross Douthat’s armpits.

  55. 55
    bago says:

    Egads. One the commenters on Larison’s site goes straight to the clenis. As if thousands of spermatazoa wrangling out their last ebbs of life on a blue dress are equivalent to thousands of Americans bleeding out in the Iraqi sands. Isn’t moral relativism fun?

  56. 56
    Felonious Wench says:

    Ross has had a difficult run with movies here lately; Avatar and The Hurt Locker are obviously a plot to discredit his glorious vision of just war and world(s) domination….

  57. 57
    scav says:

    @Catfish N. Cod: I see Cheney more as an Iago / Richard III with W firmly in the Dogsberry vein of miscommunercating.

    Oh, oh, and if there is ever an excuse for bringing up Titus Andronicus, this could be the situation. After Cheney shoots someone, you really could envision him as a cook, no?

  58. 58
    Corner Stone says:

    properly told

    This is the key.
    He’s not saying it *is* Shakespeare-esque, he’s saying that it just needs to be *properly told* for the rest of us to finally get it.

  59. 59
    Fergus Wooster says:

    @Catfish N. Cod:

    Cheney, on the other hand, is clearly a supporting character. He’s like Buckingham or Hamlet’s uncle: he is evil because the plot requires a villain.

    Actually Claudius, whatever his crime, proved himself to be an effective monarch, at one point preparing for but averting war with Norway.

    Cheney is pure Iago – a black hole.

  60. 60
    priscianus jr says:

    The tragic hero, with all his flaws, is supposed to possess nobility of character. It’s hard to write a tragedy with an asshole for the hero. But it does lend itself to comedy. That’s why this is the golden age of political comedy (Daily Show, Colbert, etc.)

  61. 61
    Rick Taylor says:

    I’d be far more sympathetic to Douthat’s arguments we shouldn’t impute evil motives to people we disagree with automatically if he applied the same standards to, say, Iran.

  62. 62
    Rick Taylor says:

    Larison makes the point far better than I.

  63. 63
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Have ANY of these right-wing film critics actually seen this movie? I have. The tension in the film flows from the subtlety and humanity of all the characters. Everyone is trying to do good, everybody is trying to grab something for themselves – (slight spoiler) even the protagonist undercuts himself when, off on his own quest against the wishes and/or orders of his superiors, he tells his interpreter to just do his job.

    I’m more than willing to call Green Zone propaganda. It is. It’s based on the actual conditions on the ground more than most, but it is trying to persuade people of a particular viewpoint and teach them a little something about the Iraqi war. And it should be judged as propaganda – how closely does it adhere to the facts, is it selective in the facts it presents, can the intention behind the piece be determined, is that intention a good one, and is it effective?

    I’d accept a critique that was based on those kind of criteria. But just lying about the film? That’s plain old evil.

  64. 64
    b-psycho says:

    @bago: Yeah, the disconnect between him & some of the audience over there is amusing. Once in awhile he’ll post something about how dumb & contradictory the GOP is being about something & get greeted with roughly “but they have no power! Why don’t you bash libruls?” in reply.

  65. 65
    Rick Taylor says:

    The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive.

    “Suck on this.” When it comes down to it, I think that’s why we went to war. We wanted to kill some ragheads to show we couldn’t be pushed around. No other reason presented ever made any sense.

    You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war.

    You had an incompetent boob as President. Republicans decided that what name recognition and amiability and the consequent ability to win were more important than competence.

    You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war.

    Useful idiots.

    You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace.

    That of course anyone who was paying attention realized by the time of invasion were almost certainly a lie.

    And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.

    What utter nonsense. Iraq was frantically trying to convince us they did not have anything by the time we invaded. They opened up their country to inspectors, gave us what they had, and even dismantled long range missiles at the behest of the UN even as they knew they were probably going to be invaded. We invaded because they didn’t turn over weapons of mass destruction they did not have.
    A Shakespearean play? No,not any I recall seeing.

  66. 66
    Whispers says:

    The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare.

    Would that be A Comedy of Errors?

    More seriously, the entire war resembled Vonnegut more than Shakespeare.

  67. 67
    Joseph Nobles says:


    Thank you. The neocon would have been the tragic hero of Shakespeare’s Iraq war.

  68. 68
    Ash Can says:

    @Rick Taylor:

    What utter nonsense.

    Seriously. If this poor yutz genuinely believes that the people responsible for the invasion of Iraq were decent and well-intentioned, I excpect him to write an article any day now on how he was robbed of his life savings by some vicious, unconscionable scam, one rendered all the more dangerous since it was able to deceive even his brilliant mind, and that the authorities need to do something to crack down on these nefarious Nigerians at once.

  69. 69
    Rick Taylor says:

    @Ash Can
    The frightening thing is he’s among the more honest better informed conservatives. At least he admits the invasion was a bad idea.

  70. 70
    Sentient Puddle says:

    Uh…did Douthat forget that Shakespearean tragedies have villains in them? They didn’t generally go that something wrong happens, snowballs, and everyone dies. It’s more like everything’s going swell, then some dipshit like Iago comes along to fuck it all up.

    (Othello was the first one that came to mind for me)

  71. 71
    tigrismus says:

    Things lack subtlety when they don’t treat his views with unquestioning sympathy.

  72. 72
    Uncle Omar says:

    I, for one, can hardly wait for Doghouse Riley’s take on the latest Douhat.

  73. 73
    Irony Abounds says:

    It is indeed ironic that Douthat laments that people aren’t willing to examine the subtle nuances and complexities of those very men and women who literally demanded that the world HAD to be viewed in terms of black and white. I’m quite sure Douthat is far too thick to understand the irony.

  74. 74
    scav says:

    @Irony Abounds: Indeed, I do remember when trying to understand the mind / motivations that underlay the acts of terrorists was un-American and liberal and elitist and all those terrible things. For that matter, isn’t Shakespeare elitist and very much not homespun real ‘Mercan prose, don’t ya betcha? Exit, pursued by bear.

  75. 75
    licensed to kill time says:

    Methinks he DOuTHat protest too much.

  76. 76
    asiangrrlMN says:

    You guys are killing me. I love the Shakespearian snark going on in this thread.

    Douthat, Douthat, wherefore art thou, Douthat?
    Deny thy insipid insights and refuse thy impulse to cavil.
    Or I shall no longer restrain myself from stabbing you with a rusty pitchfork.

    Ebert’s review on the movie.

  77. 77
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Shakespeare’s Timon of Baghad: A well-meaning American bureaucrat goes to Iraq to distribute democracy to the people, but factionalism destroys his efforts after he dismisses the army and his hand-picked leader turns out to be an Iranian asset.

  78. 78
    JohnR says:

    @Catfish N. Cod:

    “Actually, I think W is a fine tragic Shakespeare anti-hero. He has more daddy/party issues than Prince Hal, more gumption issues than Hamlet, and more rage at the machine than Lear.”

    And is more clueless, self-absorbed and asinine than Bottom (to stretch a metaphor beyond the snapping point).

    You’re being too generous – W is what he wanted to be. Shakespeare’s characters were activists, for good or evil. They did things, worked towards some end. W is fundamentally a passive, lazy man. Sure, he likes physical activity, but for almost all his life his goal has apparently been to do just enough to get by. And let’s get real – W “rag[ing] against the machine” like Lear? What in God’s name are you on, anyway?

  79. 79
    dougie says:

    You can’t read these two brutally emasculating pieces and not shake your head in despair that Douthat is the one with a New York Times column.

  80. 80
    dougie says:

    Oops, lost the linky bit for my previous comment, to the second Larison pummeling of Assthat, this time schooling him on Shakespeare.

  81. 81
    cde says:

    @Uncle Omar: Doghouse comes through in exemplary fashion:

  82. 82
    Carl Gordon says:

    Not William S., more like Genet, i.e., Waiting for Godot (WMD).

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