Hacks and War Horses

 Posted by on October 9, 2012
Oct 092012

The piece has drawn plaudits from a number of quarters. Compared to their opponents, Kevin Drum writes, “liberals don’t have enough hacks … who are willing to cheerfully say whatever it takes to advance the party line, no matter how ridiculous it is.” While this has been “a liberal problem of long standing,” the hack gap has “rarely … been on such febrile display as it has since last Wednesday’s presidential debate.”

Imagine, Mr. Drum continues, if after the debate, instead of going “crazy,” instead of “wallowing in recriminations,” and instead of making a competition out of “who could act the most agonized,” liberals instead did whatever was necessary and possible to defend Barack Obama’s performance. In that case, Mr. Drum supposes, “News reporters would then have simply reported the debate normally: Romney said X, Obama said Y, and both sides thought their guy did great. By the next day it would barely be a continuing topic of conversation, and by Friday the new jobs numbers would have buried it completely.” But that is not at all what happened. As it was, the president’s supporters turned out in numbers to kick their own guy while he was down. “What’s amazing,” Mr. Drum concludes, “is that, as near as I can tell, hardly any liberal pundits held back.”

Like others, I have my doubts about the counter-factual. Like others, I suspect there actually are conditions under which even Republican hacks would be “willing to slag their guy.” Like some and unlike others, I noticed Mr. Drum’s wry wink, and that wink should incline to me towards a generous read. Read generously, it would be hard to disagree with Mr. Drum’s missive. But on a subtle, though crucial point, I do disagree. There is a gap. Liberals do lack something that their opponents have in abundance, but the disparity is not a disparity of hacks. In fact, to speak of hacks is to overlook the real crux of the matter.

Originally, a hack was not a hack at all, but rather a hackney. And a hackney was a horse bred and raised in Hackney for the purpose of becoming a saddle horse in London. The term eventually came to mean a horse for hire, and because such horses were inevitably ridden over and over until they were physically and temperamentally worn out and dull, the word soon evolved to mean broken down horse for hire. From overused hired ride it was only a small metaphorical jump to expand hackney’s meaning to prostitute, and drudge, and hireling in general, and in particular to those uninspired, third-rate hired pens who, without regard to integrity, were available to write claptrap for pay.

Hacks are not, as a rule, confident and creative and quick. Quite the opposite. But as Ed Kilgore notes, compared to their liberal opponents, the “Republican hacks are as a rule more impressively nimble, and less encumbered by self-doubt or objective reality.” This is a contradiction. Either the so-called “Republican hacks” are not as deft and audacious and imaginative as Mr. Kilgore describes, or the description is accurate and they are not truly hacks. I am inclined to believe the description is accurate. But if they are not hacks, what are they? They are agile and brazen and daring. They brave the barrage and gallop on, charging ahead to join the fight. Far from being dull and broken hacks, and most notably when everything is on the line, they are formidable and spirited war-horses. Between liberals and their opponents there is certainly a tremendous war-horse gap.

Of course, liberals do offer donkeys in great abundance. And especially donkeys of Eeyoric disposition.