Daily Archives: April 4, 2003

Michael Kelly died today And his passing has recieved the sort of coverage one would expect for a media star of his ilk; widely credited with “transforming” The Atlantic Monthly from a “stodgy” but tasteful publication into the sort of cheap rag that would feature an image of Al Gore as a vampire on its cover.

“Along the way, the 45-year-old Kelly has largely dispelled fears — inside and outside the magazine — that he would transform The Atlantic into a vehicle for the right-leaning (though not doctrinaire) political views expressed in his syndicated column.” said a Boston Herald puff piece on the occasion of Kelly’s Atlantic ascendancy in the wake of his being fired from The New Republic , presumably for his hostility to Liberal political thought. But then just about everyone in “mainstream” journalism is hostile to Liberalism these days — with TNR going so far as to formally announce that fact in their pursuit of suitably reactionary scribes.

In another Kelly puffball this time in The Washingtonian he took a stab at summing it up.

The “liberalism” of the past decade, he wrote, has become an “ideology of self-styled saints, a philosophy of determined perversity. Its animating impulse is to marginalize itself and then enjoy its own company. And to make itself as unattractive to as many as possible: if it were a person, it would pierce its tongue.”

Which only goes to show that Kelly never got a gander at Norah Vincent. But why would he care about that? She’s got the “right” attitude: hatred of Liberalism, fealty to the status quo. That’s all that matters. Who cares about her piercings?

Or would Norah’s lesbianism have rankled Kelly? Hard to say. For in that same puff buffet there’s this truly revealing side dish:

“One of those cultural interests is stamping out discrimination against gays. The problem is, all the people who are for this don’t have their children in those schools anymore. The sons and daughters of editorial writers at the New York Times haven’t been in those schools for generations. The children who are in those schools are the sons and daughters of working-class people, many of them immigrants, many of them Catholics, and they don’t want their children propagandized against their wishes.

“Now at one point in our time, there was a liberal democratic philosophy that represented the interests of those immigrant parents, and that concerned itself with whether or not the school was good enough for them. Now we have a philosophy that calls itself liberal and progressive, interested in the marginal cultural elite but not particularly interested in making the schools good again.

“What we should want is a kind of liberalism that wants to make life decent for the assistant plumber and his wife and his kids—to make the public schools good, the streets safe, the city well run; so they don’t have to live 50 miles out in the suburbs because only the rich can afford to live in the city and spend $10,000 a year on the education of each kid. . . . I don’t think you have to have a political system that forces people to choose between silly leftism and uncaring greed.”

It is unimaginable to Kelly that any member of what used to be called “the working class” would be able to recognize, let alone respect, any of the same-sex-oriented in their midst. And that fact in itself belies his own class prejudices. To him gays and lesbians were some sort of rarefied upper class side dish that pushy Liberals were trying to force-feed “the plumber and his wife and kids.” Far be it from Kelly to imagine that some of those kids might be gay. Or that the plumber’s wife was planning to leave him for another woman. Or that the plumber himself had “strange twilight urges” to deal with on his own.

But this is cultural blindness of the simplest sort. Standing behind it is Kelly’s arrogance. “How dare those liberals tell the lower classes what to do. That’s my job!”

And it was likewise his job to push the “war” — an attack on a nation that has not invaded our shores but is being blamed for what it “might” do to us with the weapons we claim it has but as of this writing have yet to be actually produced. And in this propaganda mission, Kelly is no lone figure but in terms of the current media landscape a perfectly representative and thoroughly expendable one. There’s a whole lot more where he came from. Alas.

Natually one isn’t supposed to speak this way. The man is dead. He leaves a wife and two children and I have no doubt many people more than capable of talking about what a great guy he was when you got to know him. And that’s why Atrioshas been so upset by the plethora of negative posts at “Eschaton” reacting to Kelly’s death. I’m not surprised he erased them.

Luckily I saved the best one:

“I am fortunate enough to be very old and death is my constant companion. I know more dead people than live any more.

Death is not in and of itself sad except for those who knew and loved the departed. All those of you saddened by the little bitch’s death don’t understand that death is a normal part of life.

This was a truly disgusting man who passed unheroically (we do not offer medals to those who die in car accidents yet) and who was only too happy to send others to their doom out of ignorance or malice — it really doesn’t matter which.

If we furrow our brow at the departure of this sad bit of genetic effluence then let us rip our clothing, affect sack cloth and roll in ashes over those dead, maimed, and wounded truly innocents the war his deceitful and meretricious words celebrated and cheered on.

William Wayne Walker”


I am surrounded by death. That’s the way its been for well over two decades. Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train isn’t my favorite movie for nothing. These were people I’m sure you’ve never heard of, even though the lives they led were of infinitely greater value than Michael Kelly’s. And right now I’m in the midst of writing a review of Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara, a memoir by his great friend Joe LeSueur. Frank O’Hara was killed in a freak accident in 1966 and it’s safe to say that none of his friends — and they were legion — ever “got over it.” As for LeSueur, he passed away in 2001 just after completing this manuscript. Lucky us that he got it done.

And it’s safe to say that both of them are more alive this moment than Michael Kelly ever managed to be.

“There is a man going by with his arm in a sling. I wish men could take care of themselves better.”

So do I, Frank. So do I.

Trackback Ping(s)
Speaking Ill of the Dead
Excerpt: After reading all of the puff pieces on the death of Michael Kelly, David E gives us a welcome antidote,
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Tracked: April 9, 2003 08:20 PM