I think Michael Berube overstates his case—as his character "His" notes at the end: Slate and #Slatepitch are still a thing. But they are much less of a thing. And everyone who writes for Slate or who used to write for the "never predictably Reaganite" Even the Liberal New Republic bears the mark on their reputation: Michael Berube: R.I.P., Liberal Contrarianism: "Before #Slatepitch became a punchline, Slate (and others) really did thrive on a certain kind of anti-liberalism. It’s dead now—well, almost...
...ILLE: Here’s your reliable index: the death of the liberal contrarian.
HIC: Come again?...
ILLE: You know what I mean. Go back into the files of your youth. It’s 1990, 1991. Richard Bernstein of The New York Times is appalled by the campus craziness. It’s like a dictatorship of virtue! Paul Berman discerns the roots of PC: a toxic hybrid strain of post-structuralism and Stalinism! The New York Review of Books reviews Dinesh D’Souza—favorably. The Atlantic actually publishes him.
HIC: Hell, The American Scholar published him. It was like seeing David Duke elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
ILLE: Well, that decision cost Joseph Epstein his job editing that thing.
HIC: A few years too late, no?
ILLE: But still. You know where I’m going with this. As the age of the liberal contrarian reaches maturity in mid-decade, Andrew Sullivan is hawking The Bell Curve at The New Republic, by then known as “even the liberal New Republic.” A few years later, Michael Kelly, having spent his time at TNR fulminating against the liberal hegemony of Heather Has Two Mommies, takes over The Atlantic. Camille Paglia is ubiquitous. Slate emerges as the West Coast, online TNR, and within a few years, the #Slatepitch becomes shorthand for the liberal contrarian hot take. By 1997, it’s like, they may seem innocuous, but maybe Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy are the most corrupt public officials in the history of the republic! Democracy and public decency demand an investigation! That was an actual, real Slate essay by Jacob Weisberg about Herman in February 1997.
HIC: And then what? What changes?
ILLE: What changes, my boy? What changes? Why, everything! Look around you! Mickey Kaus was once the #Slatepitch master—you know, “I’m a Democrat but I hate unions and minorities.” Now he doesn’t even have a career. Paglia lies on the ash heap of history. The Atlantic that once published D’Souza and answered to Kelly is now known as the place where Ta-Nehisi Coates airs his searing critiques of white supremacy....
I have one last sally. Let’s say Kimberly Peirce, the director of the acclaimed 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, comes to the People’s Republic of Reed College. And she is greeted by trans students who are outraged that the film cast Hilary Swank as the young transgender person Brandon Teena and even more outraged that Peirce herself is merely lesbian and “gender fluid” rather than properly trans. They scream “bitch” at her and put up posters saying “F--- this cis white bitch.” And let’s even say that this is not the most important or even the 38th most important thing to happen on an American campus in the past ten years. Even still. Surely this is not okay with you?
HIC: It is not. I would imagine, in fact, that even people dogmatically opposed to the idea of universal moral principles might entertain the thought that “F--- this cis white bitch” is never an acceptable response to anything, let alone a plausible speech act with which to address the director of a trans-friendly film many years ahead of its time.... I’m as appalled as you are that 19-year-olds don’t have any sense of historical context. But you know what? If I try to tell them how mistaken they are, or how straight-up misogynist it is to be saying “F--- this cis white bitch,” they’re going to write me off as a grumpy old white guy.... Whereas if... Jack Halberstam responds... the aggrieved students might more readily understand that they are dealing with someone who has walked the walk.... Now, of course you could say that if I’m outsourcing my critique of the Reed protest to Jack Halberstam, I’m giving in to the logic of identity politics. But... some people are going to have more credibility on some subjects than others, and sometimes their identities are going to be part of that credibility, because sometimes, perhaps often, those identities will entail distinct social and political experiences that you and I don’t have. Get used to it.
ILLE: Very well. What then shall we say of the once and future liberal contrarian?
HIC: Oh, there will be a ready market for liberal contrarianism for the rest of our natural lives, and perhaps even for our artificially extended lives when we are downloaded into the matrix of self-driving cars. Even as I type, I see two New York Times op-eds devoted to defending Christina Hoff Sommers from the campus hordes, one of them by young liberal-contrarian-in-training Bari Weiss. You remember that big 1995 Times Magazine spread on the new renegade conservative intellectuals, with Laura Ingraham in a leopard skirt? Someone ought to get Weiss to do a big Times Magazine spread on the new renegade conservative inellectuals. They could call it “The Counter Counterculture of the Intellectual Umbrageous Web,” or something like that. Seriously, I keep having to check the decade hand on my watch to be sure I haven’t been sucked into one of those nasty hot tub time machines. But hey, the dinosaurs hung around for almost 200 million years. Yet today, there is something of a global consensus that they were dinosaurs. That gives me hope...