The Snotty & Weary style of hard-right rhetoric combines various stylistic widgets to create a piece of writing that serves a couple of purposes: to make the writer look super-intelligent and to impugn the motives and character of those holding opposing views. (An honest attempt at persuasion is never a motive.)
The choice of adjectives is often key to effective Snotty & Weary. “Silly” is a favorite, used to piss on the arguments (or street actions or hunger strikes) of those who disagree with the Snotty & Weary writer.
You see “silly” a lot in the writings of the more pompous of the hard-right writers, most notably Will and Krauthammer. “Absurd” is another favorite of this cult, for different reasons. But there are plenty of other hard-right writers who would spit on “silly.”
As illustration, consider this recent remarkable entry by Respected Legal Mind Ed Whelan, Harvard Law ’85, a former Scalia clerk who is now paid mainly by National Review Online, I think:
“The Left continues to generate all sorts of silly arguments that the Constitution somehow forbids Republican senators from taking various courses of action to prevent confirmation of a Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee.”
“Silly” does a lot of work here for such a short word: it diminishes the opponent and the opponent’s arguments. It also exudes a slight stench of emasculation.
Now—because the dissenter is SO small and his concerns SO trivial—”silly” goes further, and delegitimizes: these words can’t even be recognized as argument. In this way, the dissenter’s argument can never rise to Whelan’s intellectual (or whatever) level. You can almost hear Whelan’s eyes rolling when he writes “silly.”
Further along, there’s a second well-worn technique within the phrase “….Republican senators taking various courses of action….”
Like “silly,” this phrasing also minimizes, but here the intent is to obscure: why, those Republican senators could be doing various things! Getting some steaks ready for the BBQ! Mixing up a batch of martinis for the ride home! Those things aren’t mentioned in the Constitution either! Ignoring a Supreme Court nomination is only one of a number of trivial things those Republican senators might have been doing! Nothing to see here!
It’s a remarkable first sentence. Who cares?
Because it’s setting up the engine of Whelan’s entire piece: a false characterization of “The Left’s” reaction to the Republican Supreme Court wildcat strike. Once this is in place, the rest of the piece consists of a knocking over a bunch of straw men.
Which is a technique that goes on so much it’s too boring to write about.
Nonetheless, Respected Legal Mind Ed Whelan gets this week’s Silver Pen for packing all of this shit into one sentence, and into an introductory sentence to boot! We’ll keep on reading, Ed!