LeBron James just dunked on Laura Ingraham — again
On the headache of conservative shock jocks
In case we had forgotten the altercation between LeBron James and Laura Ingraham several months ago, Shut Up and Dribble premiered this week on Showtime as a reminder of just how savagely an NBA superstar dunked on a Fox News hack.
This all started last February when the 14x All-Star commented that President Donald J. Trump “really don’t give a fuck about the people.” Ingraham would not abide such insolence toward her preferred strongman: dripping with scorn, lacking all grace, she called James’ remarks “barely intelligible, not to mention ungrammatical.” Then, quoting herself, Ingraham directed King James to “shut up and dribble,” much as she directed the Dixie Chicks to “shut up and sing” several years ago. For this, the progressive press flayed Ingraham. Her comments were further proof, they said, of the kneejerk racism of the right. None did better in mocking Ingraham than James himself:
I will not just shut up and dribble … So, thank you, whatever her name is … I get to sit up here and talk about what’s really important.
It was as though Ingraham threw the alley-oop to James, which James then dunked on her. She was so far beneath James that he didn’t even bother to know her name. Or so he made it seem. (Contrary to Ingraham’s impression of him, LeBron James is a pretty smart man.)
Fast forward eight months and James is now the executive producer of a new three-part documentary about the intersection of basketball, race, and politics. To complete his rout of Ingraham — capturing and preserving her blunder for posterity — James quotes her in the very title.
For those who like audio-visual metaphors, James basically did the following to Ingraham:
James v. Ingraham captures among other things the headache of being conservative in the post-Buckley era, when the supposed champions of the cause fail to be very champion-like. Free enterprise, constitutionalism, and the Western tradition deserve better than the blockheads who preach them — as when Rush Limbaugh criticizes law students who testify about birth control before Congress (“it makes her a slut, right?”) or when Sean Hannity defends Donald Trump’s boorish infidelities (“King David had 500 concubines, for crying out loud!”). One has to pass seven names atop the list of Top Rated Conservative Talk Shows before finding someone not totally lampoonable, Hugh Hewitt.
Then, after Hewitt, the list continues on with Alex Jones, and we’re back to the clownshow.
For anyone who cares about the cause of conservatism, it’s hard to be charitable about Ingraham’s disastrous incompetence. All the more difficult because she has inflicted real damage (which LeBron James is not about to let anyone forget).
It’s also hard to know where to start in listing everything wrong with her rant. For some reason, she believes the sarcastic schoolmarm approach actually scores points, as though English teacher criticisms about grammar persuade anyone of anything — other than the fact of her own unpleasantness. Such a tonedeaf argument wouldn’t have been quite so bad without the laughable grasp of the facts that accompanied it. In explaining why his educational deficits should disqualify LeBron James from joining adult conversations about politics, Ingraham claimed that James “left high school a year early to join the NBA.” This is a breathtakingly simple fact to check. All you have to do is ask a person who knows anything about basketball. In 2002–03 LeBron James became probably the most famous high school senior in the history of the United States of America; ESPN televised high school basketball games played in the outposts of northeast Ohio just because he was in them. The guy graduated, dammit.
Here’s a good basic rule: people should get their facts straight before claiming that others lack the education to speak up. Or, to borrow the classic line The Wire: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
A skeptic almost has to wonder whether shockjocks like Ingraham are actually Manchurian Candidates, sent by progressives to infiltrate, discredit, and embarrass conservatives.
Conservatives need to understand that we are ultimately to blame for these headaches. We are the ones who tune in to buffoons, make buffoons important, pay the salaries of buffoons through our time and attention. (Did you know that Sean Hannity made $36,000,000 last year by being a professional blowhard?) We are the ones who undermine our own arguments about the virtues of free enterprise — because the Hannitization of the right presents a formidable argument against markets. The fault is ours. And now we have to answer for still more apparent evidence that the conservative movement is no place for African-Americans. This is awful. And not true, by the way. (See: Sowell, Thomas.)
And one of the most unfortunate parts is that maybe, just maybe Ingraham had an important point about the penetration of political disagreements into every aspect of American life. Maybe she was concerned about the impossibility of a common American culture when some kind of truce does not obtain. Maybe she doesn’t think that every shoe purchase should be a referendum on hotbutton issues. Maybe her argument had nothing to do with race. And maybe James’ comments, despite his long record of good citizenship, weren’t totally compelling and deserved some pushback. Maybe, maybe, maybe — all those maybes are now meaningless, thanks to Ingraham’s gracelessness and/or dumbassery.
Or maybe I am giving Ingraham too much credit. Either way, there are real consequences to such incompetence, and conservatives now have to face those consequences.