• Daniel Ethan Finneran

A Profile In Punditry

November 2018

In considering the endless media outlets from which a lay and humble man can choose, he’ll soon be made to blush. The French have a fantastic word for this dizzying over-abundance of choice; they call it embarrass de riches, and it means, as the Anglophone might suppose, an “embarrassment of riches”. Isn’t it convenient and very nearly colloquial when our translations rest so near? What is English, after all, if not a deviant amalgam of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French?

Yet while we have at our disposal a never-ending source of media from which to sip and by which we nourish and educate ourselves, there is something we lack. Sure, we have countless opinion networks and numerous cable TV shows, not to mention the premium subscription fees and the gratis YouTube channels. More than that, as if we needed more, we have in our ears and at the tap of our thumbs a trove of ubiquitous kibitzers on the air and a prodigious assortment of podcast pundits online. Never fated to be alone, nor, for that matter, to think an original thought, we have in our heads their voices each step along the way.

But we can’t consume them all and we therefore must be discriminating in our taste. Such is the constraint on our embarrass de riches, the restriction on our choice. This frustrating condition is made necessary not by that which we have, which, as I think I’ve shown above, is startlingly boundless, but by that which we lack. And what we lack, as it’ll come to none as a surprise, is time. It’s the only thing that seems to be shrinking in this current world of expanse.

Being that we are preoccupied and fugacious beings, busy and alive on this earth for so short a while, it becomes all the more important to choose from this embarrassment of media riches the best and most instructive of voices. For the politically attuned, in my opinion, this choice is clear.

If one desires the vantage of the left, and with it its ideas of the promulgation of parity, the veneration of diversity, the soft but ardent repudiation of religion, the invitation of more energetic government in our daily lives, and of the care for the trodden man, your preferred podcast is obvious: “Pod Save America”, a product of Crooked Media, is the avenue that beckons you forth.

So far as I can tell, it’s not intentional that Pod Save America’s acronym is “PSA”. Certainly, it’s not a “public” but a “partisan” service announcement. You see, Pod Save America is an exercise in tripartite punditry from the unabashedly progressive left. It rolls out as its usually comedic, reliably acerbic hosts a miscellany of former Obama staffers. Among them are the three pegs to this seat, John Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor. Occasionally involved in the action will be a fourth leg—Dan Pfeiffer who adds yet another solid voice.

Their commentary is somewhat refreshing; their orthodoxy reliably of the left-wing. Hence, they’ve found themselves as welcomed guests and hosts on various leading networks whose sympathies lie without exception toward liberals. Twice they’ve been seated next to Stephen Colbert on his eponymous late night show and once with the comedienne Chelsea Handler. No small feat on its own to be on that stage where some of the greats have laughed, they’ve used the opportunity to maximize their own exposure—as any honest guest will do. Theirs was a larger pursuit, which they accomplished on HBO this past mid-term election cycle. In transit from one city to the next, they filmed live events, from whose beginning to end they sallied invectives at the president and his Republican claque while encouraging their audiences to vote in the preferred way.

All in all, they make for a redoubtable group, but not an absolutely essential podcast. While as Democrats lashing out against Republicans, they’re unquestionably effective in their roles (and they have a particularly enticing appeal to the millennials of my own age), as thought-leaders they’re less than instructive. Of course, education for its own sake isn’t their professed aim, but to someone like me, whose ultimate quest from one day to the next is the widest possible acquisition of new knowledge, learning is absolutely vital and in listening to Pod Save America, I’m left wanting. Mere opinions, however cleverly or trenchantly expressed, will stimulate the mind, but they won’t sustain it. I’ve realized, probably to my detriment, that mine is such a mind that’s in need of hearty sustenance over a longer period of time.

Hungrily, then, I’m made to look for enlightenment beyond the left. I need, above all, consistent political acumen anchored to a strong grasp of fundamental concepts. First principles are a must and too often they’re neglected. If I’m to get the mental workout that I need in the short time that I have, they must be available to grapple with in full.

Unexpectedly, I find them awaiting me on the right. There the brain can exercise in the newest gymnasium of Conservatism—the Daily Wire, a site settling comfortably into a right-leaning niche. The site’s prize fighter, chief editor, and rather unassuming provocateur is Ben Shapiro.

Shapiro contains in one person the perception and output of four. Perhaps even that would be to underestimate the capaciousness of this single whirlwind of a man. His intelligence is of a boundless kind and his exuberance, as a matter of energy though not of cheer, is simply unmatched (he’s a rather dour fellow, concealing from no one the hardened pessimist groaning from within). As an author, lawyer, commentator, and serial entrepreneur, Shapiro has inhabited many fields, of which all find root in the acidic soil of political life. One might even call that soil saturated, as it feels as though every person with or without a microphone has something or another to say. Again, we thank these loquacious masses for their contribution to our embarrassment of choice. Swimming in the mud, however, makes you appreciate all the more a clean and invigorating bath. Shapiro’s then, to extend this image just a bit too far, is the voice in which you should wash.

In doing so, you’ll be not only relieved of the nonsensical soot that is the daily conversation, but enlightened head to heel. Such is the cleansing effect that facts, communicated in the right way and by the right voice, can have on a dirty body politic. His personality is an interesting and strangely appealing type: he’s fistic, but sometimes ideas need to fight; he’s pedantic, but I prefer precision in a mind; he’s garrulous, but every word of his counts; and, finally, he’s acidulous but I’ll gladly swallow a tart spoonful if it means having a taste of the truth.

You’ll feel yourself swept away by the rapidity with which he speaks, but always grasping on to profound truths that emerge along the way. That, in a word, is the engine by which his arguments move. Sentiment, on the whole, is an unimportant thing, at least so far as the truth is concerned. And more than ever, the truth need be concerned—and we, with it. Above all else, Shapiro is a seeker of veracity in a world of deliberately overt or subtle untruths. He’s the last bastion against changing definitions, transitory genders, micro-aggressions, and flat-out lies.

This is something that many other pundits (be they of the left or right) fail to acknowledge: facts are not protean things. They aren’t malleable globs of clay begging to be folded or rendered anew. Rather, they’re like resilient boulders sitting coldly on the earth—unpliant and disinclined to move, less so to break. Yet even knowing this, some people hope that enough erosion will turn their least favorite rocks and impediments into sand.

Though a professed partisan, Shapiro is perfectly willing to call out mistakes, errors, and instances of poor judgment on both sides. This adds to his bucket of qualities a sense of disinterest that others, be they on the airwaves of Pod Save America or elsewhere, unfortunately lack. Intellectual honesty, for him, is an unquestioned priority that must be preserved. At the same rate, cognitive dissonance is an unmitigated disgrace that one must avoid. The one should be promoted, the other dodged at all costs and Shapiro is adept at balancing this scale.

But with every scale is an hourglass of time. Watching each grain trickle through toward the accreting mound below, you must choose to whom you’ll commit your minutes and your days. Tragically, our hours are few, but are choices many. Hopefully, this makes the decision that much easier in a life made difficult by our own silly design. Choose from this embarrass de riches the pundit par excellence, the thought-leader exemplar, the best that our awful politics has on offer at this time, and you’ll choose Ben Shapiro. Your mind will thank you and your time will be best used.

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