I'm overcoming my basic urge to ignore Milbank. Isn't he just repeating what I've already addressed? Why feed him with attention? But he's got high profile whether I pay attention to him or not. That column has upwards of 5,000 comments, and Milbank is actively shaping Walker's image right as Walker is getting national attention.
Walker — with his hardcore on-message approach — does not respond to the usual efforts to entice Republicans to make damaging remarks about sex, race, religion, and other things that aren't part of his message. Another strategy is needed, and Milbank seems to think he's found it. (I put "seems to" in that sentence in honor of Walker's dogged refusal to make statements about what's inside another person's head.) Milbank's idea is to make Walker's restraint into a horrible flaw that disqualifies him from serious consideration.
In the first column, Milbank used the label "cowardice." In the new one, it's "agnosticism." But what's wrong with agnosticism? Is he knocking one of the world's great religions? Oh, it's "insidious agnosticism." Insidious, really? Why not invidious? Or perfidious?! Milbank uses the religion-related word as he attempts to crucify Walker for saying that he doesn't know whether President Obama is a Christian:
This is not a matter of conjecture. The correct answer is yes: Obama is Christian, and he frequently speaks about it in public....Milbank (who is probably not a Christian) is missing something about Christianity that is quite glaring to me (whose possible Christianity is an enigma). To many Christians, claiming to be a Christian doesn't make you a Christian.
As I child, I often found myself in a Christian church with a congregation singing "Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart." Dana Milbank, do you understand why that lyric is experienced as profound, or would you scoff "Why are these idiots pestering God about wanting to be something that they obviously are? The correct lyric is 'Thanks, Lord, for making me a Christian'"? Why are you the arbiter of what is correct in Christianity? Why aren't you more of an agnostic? Your non-agnosticism here is insidious, invidious, and perfidious.
Milbank says that Walker's idea that he would need to talk to Obama about Christianity is an "intriguing standard," and then he lets loose with the snark:
I’ve never had a conversation with Walker about whether he’s a cannibal, a eunuch, a sleeper cell [sic] for the Islamic State, a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome or a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. By Walker’s logic, it would be fair for me to let stand the possibility that he just might be any of those — simply because I have no personal and direct refutation from him.No. Walker's logic is that if anyone were to ask a bad question like that, he would turn the spotlight back on the questioner and expose the defectiveness of the question. And that would be a better response, because it doesn't treat the question as serious. That is, it's better to say "That's a clown question, bro" than to treat it like a real issue by saying no. Walker doesn't say "That's a clown question." He's more polite. But it's the same idea.
Walker is engaged in the enterprise of disciplining the press, and I can see why they don't like it. Milbank reveals his frustration:
Walker justifies his agnosticism on grounds that he is avoiding gotcha questions.... This is insidious... because it allows Walker to wink and nod at the far-right fringe where people really believe that Obama is a Muslim from Kenya who hates America.Only because the question was asked! Stop asking questions like that and you'll be disabling Walker's insidious winking. Face it: Those who are putting these questions to Walker are trying to elicit material that they can used to serve the audience on the left. They have the power to turn off the Walker winks, but they hate to do it. They want to generate material on hot subjects like sex, race, and religion because it works so well to draw in normal, ordinary Americans who know that economics and national security are what really matters in a President but who find these topics boring and difficult.
If only something like "legitimate rape" would drop out of Walker, they'd be in business.
... Walker’s technique shuts down all debate, because there’s no way to have a constructive argument once you’ve disqualified your opponent as unpatriotic, un-Christian and anti-American.Disqualified? Dana Milbank used that word in the previous column, "Scott Walker’s cowardice should disqualify him." You declared him disqualified, and now you accuse him of shutting down all debate because he won't debate with you about a subject that isn't constructive. You know it's not constructive, that it's a trick, and he's not playing the game. So what do you do? You switch to accusing him of playing a game through silent signalling — unpatriotic, un-Christian and anti-American. Of course, you're frustrated that you can't lure him into the conversation you want, and you'd like to deprive him of the power to discipline you into staying on his message.
At this point, Milbank's column sinks into madness:
On the Internet, Godwin’s Law indicates that any reasonable discussion ceases when the Nazi accusations come out; Walker is essentially doing the same by refusing to grant his opponent legitimacy as an American and a Christian.What? Walker didn't say those things. (Also, that's not even what Godwin's Law is.) And Walker isn't doing the equivalent of bringing up the Nazis. He's not talking about the things you wish he'd talk about, so you're saying it for him. You know you're doing that, so you toss in the word "essentially" to patch up the mess of that sentence... that sentence that purports to long for reasonable discussion.
Milbank ends the column with an imagined Q&A in which a Walker opponent supposedly gets questions like those Walker has received and answers them the way Walker has answered those questions. The first 2 questions are not in the form of the questions Scott Walker has been asked: "Why does Scott Walker hate America?" and "When did he stop beating his wife?" Those are questions that assume a fact, a notoriously improper form of question. There's a prior unasked question in both cases that could be answered "I don't know" — Does Scott Walker hate America? and Did Scott Walker ever engage in wife-beating?
So, right off, we can see that Milbank is doing something insidious and invidious. Milbank hasn't shown us an example of Walker's failing to acknowledge the problem of an assumption inside a question.
Milbank proceeds to some questions that don't have that problem: "Does Walker love his children?" and "Does he have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood?" And Milbank seems to think that he's demonstrated that the answers should just be "yes" and "no," but I think a better answer to those questions would be to refuse to accept those questions as appropriate and to turn the spotlight onto the questioner, which is the Scott-Walker-press-disciplining technique.
I’ll go out on a limb and stipulate that Walker loves his country and his family, and I have no reason to think he isn’t a good Christian and a decent man. But he’d be a better man if he didn’t insinuate with his demurrals that his political opponents are not.And you'd be a better man, Dana Milbank, if you didn't pose as if you were saying something nice about Scott Walker and inviting him to a higher level of civil discourse.