WSJ doubles down on Jill Biden insult

Joseph Epstein, 83, is a man of letters. He was editor of Phi Beta Kappa’s magazine from 1975 to 1997, and a visiting lecturer at Northwestern University from 1974 to 2002. His own academic credentials consist of a B.A. from University of Chicago, although he actually studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Do not confuse him with the late criminal Jeffrey Epstein; they are (I should say were) two different people.

Make no mistake, Epstein is an intelligent and articulate man. For example, his famous 1988 essay criticizing modern poetry (read it here) begins,

“I am not about to say of poetry, as Marianne Moore once did, that ‘I, too, dislike it,’ for not only has reading poetry brought me instruction and delight but I was taught to exalt it. Or, more precisely, I was taught that poetry was itself an exalted thing. No literary genre was closer to the divine than poetry; in no other craft could a writer soar as he could in a poem. When a novelist or a dramatist wrote with the flame of the highest inspiration, his work was said to be ‘touched by poetry’—as in the phrase ‘touched by God.’ “The right reader of a good poem,” said Robert Frost, “can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound—that he will never get over it.” Such quasi-religious language to describe poetry was not unusual; not so long ago, it was fairly common. ‘The function of poetry,’ wrote Robert Graves, ‘is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites.'”

What I’m saying is, the average clod can’t write like that. (Neither can I.) He goes on to complain about the increasing difficulty of modern poetry, which T.S. Eliot argued “must be as complex as the civilization it describes,” concluding that poetry “had become an art for the happy few, and the happy few, it must be said, are rarely happier than when they are even fewer,” i.e., literary snobs.

Epstein has won literary prizes and been awarded an honorary doctorate. He’s also a man of strong personal opinions, including a 1970 essay attacking gays, and, according to his Wikipedia bio (read it here), “During the 1980s and 1990s, Epstein received increasing criticism for commentary widely regarded as anti-feminist …. He compared feminist scholars at various times to ‘pit bulls’ and ‘dykes on bikes’.” He also was “met with further criticism for giving cultural conservatives … a platform in the [Phi Beta Kappa] journal, and [failing] to offer space for their adversaries.” Those controversies got him fired from his editor position, which he groused was “for being insufficiently correct politically.” 

So the guy is a cultural conservative, and opinionated, and outspoken to boot. Look, I’ve spent a lot of time with brainy people, and they can be insufferable at times; you have to make allowances. If everyone you know is average IQ, count yourself lucky. If you’re average IQ, you’re luckier still. Nearly all the very smart people I know are both neurotic and unhappy. So, I surmise, is Mr. Epstein; and probably has been for his entire miserable insecure small life. Without a doubt, he would’ve been happier fixing cars.

So, this brings us to the present. The guy has reached an age (83) where he ought to just kick back and try to enjoy, as best he is able, what’s left of his life. But he can’t stop himself. He can’t stop thinking, writing, expounding, and above all, being an asshole.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal, made itself a complicit partner in Epstein’s misogynistic whining about women with academic attainments loftier than his, or I should say a woman, and garnished with what appears to be partisan sulking, by publishing a condescending piece by Epstein that begins,

“Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title ‘Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.’ A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.”

(You can read the rest here, if you’re so inclined, or merely curious.) As a housekeeping matter, the degree Epstein refers to as “fraudulent” and “comic” is a Ph.D. in education “which she obtained from the University of Delaware in 2007 at age 55 after 15 years of work while raising her three children,” according to Huffington Post (here). I’m not aware she rubbed it in his face, but he seems to feel she did, as in “I have a Ph.D. and you don’t, neener neener,” which I assume (maybe I’m wrong) was triggered by her having the effrontery to become First Lady, which implies he’s dissatisfied with how the election turned out (here, I’m merely trying to make sense of his pettiness).

The Wall Street Journal immediately received backlash — including from the Biden transition team — for publishing an essay many ordinary mortals consider disrespectful, but which — coming from an intellectual powerhouse like Epstein — in actuality is thought-provoking. It must be such, because the WSJ defended it (here, if you’re a subscriber or know how to hack their paywall), even calling the transition team’s complaint “Trumpian.” (How poetic!)

Not missing a chance to both trivialize the insult and double down on it, WSJ opinion editor Paul Gigot (bio here), who also has academic credentials superior to Epstein’s (Dartmount, summa cum laude), and has won a Pulitzer Prize, but still manages to be a journalistic and partisan hack, responded:

“‘Why go to such lengths to highlight a single op-ed on a relatively minor issue? My guess is that the Biden team concluded it was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power.’ He added: ‘There’s nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism. It’s the left’s version of Donald Trump’s “enemy of the people” tweets.'”

Gigot continued,

“The difference is that when Mr. Trump rants against the press, the press mobilizes in opposition. In this case the Biden team was able to mobilize almost all of the press to join in denouncing Mr. Epstein and the Journal.”

(Read story here.) Oh, my. Are we thin-skinned, or what? Gigot only succeeded in encouraging more people to pile on. For example, Kamala Harris’ spokesperson “called the piece a ‘disgusting and sexist attack’ and said the paper should be ’embarrassed’ to print it. He added: ‘If you had any respect for women at all you would remove this repugnant display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize to her.'” For more about this tempest of public pronouncements, read the Daily Mail article here.

As for the WSJ publishing Epstein’s whine, and defending it, shrug. What do you expect? While WSJ didn’t formally endorse Trump in 2016 or 2020 — because it has an editorial policy of not endorsing candidates (see here) — it has long been a Trump cheerleader (see, e.g., here) and waited until yesterday to say Trump should concede for the good of the country, and then only to defend the Supreme Court and, by extension, the rule of law (in an editorial here, behind a paywall). (Capitalists and their champions generally support the rule of law, because as a practical matter, there’s no private property without it.)

I don’t agree with those who argue WSJ should tear down Epstein’s piece. Whether they apologize for publishing it is up to them. I say let Epstein, Gigot, and the Wall Street Journal

embarrass themselves. Let the world see what they are. I let people do that in this blog’s comments. As Justice Brandeis once said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Photos: Education advocate, political wife, and victim (middle); the perpetrators of misogynistic credential jealousy (Epstein, top left) and editorial hackery (Gigot, lower right).

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