The Mark Levin-Conor Friedersdorf Show

by David Frum

Why does Mark Levin keep taking the bait?

Watching the exchanges between Conor Friedersdorf and Mark Levin is like watching a boy toss stones at a caged rhinoceros in the zoo.

Plink, plink, plink: the first two, three, four stones bounce off the grazing brute’s leathery head. But at last the beast can endure it no longer. He charges at his tormenter – and crashes right into the zoo fencing.

It happened again yesterday.

FrumForum blogger Alex Knepper cited Levin as a negative example in a critique of what Knepper called “talking point conservatism.” Conor quoted and linked to Knepper on the Atlantic site.

That afternoon, Levin erupted on his Facebook page against “malcontents,” “mental contortionists” and “pseudo-intellectuals” who did not sufficiently appreciate his book Liberty and Tyranny, a book he unironically describes as a “classic.”

Now the question again: Why? Why doesn't - why can't - Levin control himself? Surely he must recognize he would do better to preserve a dignified silence? As Levin will be the first to point out, his book sold many hundreds of thousands of copies. Maybe not so many as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but still … a lot. Why not cash the checks and enjoy the proceeds? Why explode just because a handful of “malcontents” think your book is dumb?

It’s a fascinating question, and the answer does Levin some credit. Whatever you may think of his radio persona, Mark Levin is not a stupid person, and he is not a cynical person. He can’t laugh his way to the bank. He wants more than the money. He wants to be regarded as the author not just of a commercially successful book, but of an intellectually important book. Unfortunately for Levin, people like Conor have disproportionate sway over the accolades Levin covets. A Sean Hannity would not understand. A Glenn Beck would not care. But Levin does understand, and does care.

So he reacts. Unfortunately for him, Levin is not a very nimble debater. He's a monologuist. But when he tries to make a point in an environment where he does not monopolize the microphone, he is awkward and unsure. Shouting "Hey Friedersdork - you're a jerk" does not wound Conor's feelings. It does not impress the audience Levin so desperately wants to impress.

Yet Levin cannot help himself. It’s all too provoking! Levin tells his critics they are “eviscerated.” But they don’t look or act eviscerated. Levin insists that his book is “sophisticated.” But he notices that the people who read the books generally regarded as sophisticated do not agree with his self-assessment. And so he paws the ground, lowers his tusk – and charges, thud, against a blank wall.

The bellowing stops. The dust settles. The stunned rhinoceros regains its footing. And then the sound resumes: plink, plink, plink.