In Defense of 'Fucking Nascar Retards'

Eric Alterman, who is, according to his biography, a "Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism" wrote, on the infamous JournoList, the following distinguished words of journalism to describe Americans who disagree with Eric Alterman: "Fucking Nascar retards."

I will leave it to members of the Kennedy family, who have done great work advocating for the rights of the mentally challenged, and for their dignity, to argue against the use of the word "retarded" in this manner. What I would like to do instead is to put in a good word for Nascar. It is true, that as an environmentalist, and an advocate of energy independence, I worry about the amount of gasoline used in auto racing, and would gladly sacrifice Nascar if it meant freedom from Middle East oil. The truth is, however, that more gasoline is burned by Range Rovers waiting in the pick-up line at my children's very liberal private school than is burned at the conservative-leaning Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As for the sport itself, it is actually quite enjoyable for spectators, and more subtle than casual observers might believe. Of course, many people aren't seeking subtlety when picking a sport to watch, and Nascar offers a great deal of non-subtlety: Fast cars going around in circles, bright sun, beer, Lee Greenwood's grammatically-flawed but touchingly-earnest song "Proud to be an American" (Please see my upcoming Atlantic advice column, "What's Your Problem," for a discussion about whether it is permissible for liberals to enjoy Lee Greenwood songs). But stock car racing is actually quite complicated and challenging. The athletes who drive these cars -- yes, they are athletes, even though they are sitting down -- must possess steel nerves, quick reflexes, highly-developed small motor skills, and the mental acuity to develop elaborate plans for dominating a track crowded with cars that could kill them. True fans understand the complexity of the sport, and can discuss, in great detail, the combination of skills crucial for success. What I'm trying to say, of course, is that neither the tracks, nor the stands, at Nascar races are populated by fucking retards. It is true, in my limited exposure to Nascar fans, that many Nascar partisans are advocates of small government, lower taxes and a strong national defense, but I have not run into racists, anti-Semites or conspiracy-mongerers at Nascar events, either.

Jon Cohn, the co-convener of "Cabalist," the successor to JournoList, told me yesterday that, "There will always be the danger in opinion journalism that people will close themselves off to other views and find reinforcement, but I don't think this list exacerbates this problem. People who are likely to live in a closed world will continue to do so, but you can still be on the list and go out of your way to listen to other people."

I modestly suggest that Eric Alterman leave his closed world and head out to the nearest speedway. Atlerman's hero is Bruce Springsteen, and I doubt that Bruce Springsteen, who is responsible for this masterpiece, among others, feels contempt for Nascar-loving Americans, as his acolyte does.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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