When the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced at 3 pm yesterday, I quickly and dutifully posted the list here at The Nation—unable to shake the habit formed by my many years editing Editor & Publisher when we tried, and usually succeeded at, publishing the winners first online. Among the newly anointed was Joseph Rago, in the editorial writing category. The initial list included nothing beyond the fact that he works for opinion side of the Wall Street Journal, meaning that, whatever he wrote, it almost had to be not merely conservative in outlook but archly so.
Later I found the brief, official explanation from the unnamed judges for his win: “for his well-crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health care reform advocated by President Barack Obama.”
Now, one had to wonder about the “against the grain” aspect—no matter how “well-crafted” the columns might be—since there was so much sniping at the president’s plan from across the political spectrum, and wild-eyed criticism from the right. Perhaps Rago had offered a more nuanced critique than one might expect from the Journal and the right? That would surely be worthy of notice.
Alas, that was not the case. The proud Journal linked to the ten entries it had submitted to the Pulitzer board on Rago’s behalf. For starters, four of them had the derogatory term “ObamaCare” right in the headlines. On closer inspection, all ten of them used it in the body of the pieces. And Rago’s arguments were, in the main, predictable and sometimes fact-challenged. One after another it’s simply Rago Against the Machine.
One of his columns, from this past January 19, not among the entries (it was probably past the deadlline), continued the drumbeat. Its headline: “ObamaCare Howlers.” Six days before that another one: “New Jersey Sits Out ObamaCare Fight. “
But young Rago is an expert on many subjects. Check out his March 21 punditry: “No Nuke Disaster… the catastrophe that wasn’t in Fukushima.”
Just last week he co-authored a review of Obama’s “toxic” budget speech: “Did someone move the 2012 election to June 1? We ask because President Obama’s extraordinary response to Paul Ryan’s budget yesterday—with its blistering partisanship and multiple distortions—was the kind Presidents usually outsource to some junior lieutenant. Mr. Obama’s fundamentally political document would have been unusual even for a Vice President in the fervor of a campaign.” And: “The speech he chose to deliver was dishonest even by modern political standards.”
An amusing note: Among the ten entries was a column blasting PolitiFact for calling the right’s (e.g., Rago and the Journal) successful branding of Obama’s “government takeover of health care” as its “lie of the year.” Nowhere did he mention that PolitiFact recently won a Pulitzer of its own. This didn’t seem to bother the judges, although perhaps they agree: Pulitizers don’t nearly matter as much as people claim.
Rago graduated from Dartmouth in 2005, where he edited the famously right-wing Dartmouth Review. Naturally he was soon hired by the Journal and quickly gained notice by mocking the rise of the blogosphere, earning mockery from bloggers even on the right.
Here are just three wonderful Rago-isms from his winning Pulitzer entries:
March 20, 2010: “With the House’s climactic vote on ObamaCare tomorrow, Democrats are on the cusp of a profound and historic mistake, comparable in our view to the Smoot-Hawley tariff and FDR’s National Industrial Recovery Act. Everyone is preoccupied now with the politics, but ultimately at stake on Sunday is the kind of country America will be. The consequences of this bill will not only be destructive for the health-care system and the country’s fiscal condition, though those will be bad enough. Inextricably bound up in a plan as far-reaching and ambitious as ObamaCare are also larger questions about the role of government, the dynamism of American enterprise and the nature of a free society.”
April 2, 2010: “Democrats may have been able to trample the rules of the Senate to pass their unpopular bill on a narrow partisan vote, but they shouldn’t be able to trample the Constitution as well.”
December 23, 2010: “As long as the press corps is nominating ‘lies of the year,’ ours goes to the formal legislative title of ObamaCare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. For a bill that in reality will raise health costs and reduce patient choice, the name recalls Mary McCarthy’s famous line about every word being a lie, including ‘the’ and ‘and.’”