Washington Sketch: Dana Milbank on Snark, Sen. Roland Burris and Richard Perle

Dana Milbank sketches the intellectual godfather of the Bush doctrine and the Iraq war as he disavows neoconservatism. Video by Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.com
Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, February 20, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns, videos and blog posts. He was online Friday, February 20 at 12 noon ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

A transcript follows.

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Dana Milbank:

Good afternoon, Sketchreaders. It's been a great week for recantations and revisions. Alan Greenspan, holder of the Ayn Rand chair in free-market economics, now favors nationalization of the banks. Roland Burris now admits he was involved in a little pay to play. And, in my column today, Richard Perle says he is not now and never has been a neoconservative.

In the spirit of recantation, I should say that I have never been a professional journalist, although my critics have known that for years. I expect it is just a matter of time before George W. denies that he was ever president.

Please send in your questions, comments, and recantations.


Baltimore, Md.: Dana: Your Richard Perle column this morning was stunning. I am left wondering, however, why the man was even invited to this event when he has long been proven to dissemble about nearly everything.

I was reminded of the line Groucho Marx declaimed in a movie when caught redhanded:

"Who are you gonna believe -- me, or your own lyin' eyes?"

washingtonpost.com: Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence (The Washington Post, Feb. 20, 2009)

Dana Milbank:

Well, I suppose the National Interest could follow the Perle model by denying that they ever invited him to speak. But I think they should be proud of it. I am all for giving public figures a forum in which to say crazy things. Just, now, I saw Alan Keyes on MSNBC calling Obama a "radical communist" who is destroying the nation. I had missed Alan Keyes terribly and am delighted he's back in the arena.


Oh my word: Dana, unfortunately I can't watch the video because I am at work, but I must ask: Are you sitting in your office during the taping? If so, how can you stand to be around all that clutter? I think I would suffocate! Or does the clutter make you even more creative?

Dana Milbank:

Okay, so here's a little secret: It's David Broder's office. We cleaned it up a bit for the filming.


New York, N.Y.: Richard Perle seems up there with Roland Burris in the off the rocker department. But Burris more fun. Why aren't you letting us in on the latest Burrisiana?

Dana Milbank:

It is just rotten bad luck that this latest Burris thing should blow up while Congress is on recess and he's in Illinois. As noted in previous chats, I'm grounded here in the capital because (a) we're broke, and (b) it doesn't quite work to do a Washington Sketch from Chicago. But if he doesn't come to town soon I'll have to go up there and help him carve another notch in his mausoleum.


Fort Collins, Colo.: Hi Mr. Milbank, I particularly enjoyed your article today, especially because you took the time to show us that Mr. Perle is being rather sloppy with the truth. There are so many times politicians recast history and as a reader, I find it very edifying when people such as you can remind us what actually happened. I hope you and your colleagues will continue to do so.

Dana Milbank: Thank you, Fort Collins. I am printing your very kind question/comment to inoculate me against the next question, from Chicago.


Chicago, Ill.: It's clear you're not a professional journalist. I know you meant that as snark, as everything you say and write is meant as snark, but you've hit upon the truth nonetheless. I think it's finally time to hang up the computer keyboard, Mr. Milbank. You are irrelevant. Snark is irrelevant, and moreover, profoundly irritating, in these times that call for seriousness of purpose and actual accomplishments.

Dana Milbank: You can run, Senator Burris, but you can't hide.


Arlington, Va.: Hey Dana, I was wondering if you heard anything from Mr. Plouffe following publication of your Sketch from last week? Surely he could not have watched it without getting a little red in the face! Any pushback from Georgetown?

Dana Milbank: If I did hear from Plouffe, I am sure it would be off the record, and quite possibly unprintable. But I haven't. Nothing from Georgetown either that I've seen.

Ray Nagin is now speaking in the White House driveway. Is this a great country, or what?


Evanston, Ill.: Hey Dana, do the descendants of Geronimo have a case against the Bonesmen?

Dana Milbank: I can tell you only what I told the Post's David Montgomery: "Of course it is true; it is kept in the vault in between Hoffa and Amelia Earhart and is only taken out for special occasions such as the Harvard game."


Ocala, Fla.: Did Richard Perle slowly disappear, leaving only his smile?

Dana Milbank: How did you know? It happened right after he drank from a bottle labeled only "Drink This."


Toledo, Ohio: When anyone other than a politician is guilty of "disassembling", it is usually a referred to as either lying or schizophrenia. In Perle's case, I think it is both, with a good measure of Cheney's "no regrets" thrown in the pot.

Dana Milbank: I'll try for a moment to defend Perle. I think he was approaching the session as a debater would, taking delight in his effort to argue an exceedingly difficult position.

Okay, I'm done. Let's get back to the ridicule. A prominent neocon contacted me today to say he thought Perle was being ridiculous.


Bethesda, Md.: "Snark is irrelevant, and moreover, profoundly irritating, in these times that call for seriousness of purpose and actual accomplishments."

I just love that someone feels so strongly about such irrelevance and irritation that he or she will deign to take time from SERIOUS purposes to (complain) about it in an online chat that is inherently snarky. Self-parody is awesome.

Dana Milbank:

Heh. Take that, Chicago. I've got my posse after you now.


In Defense of Snark: I take issue with the idea that snarkiness is inherently incompatible with "serious" times, or that, in fact, snarkiness can't serve quite a serious purpose -- as, indeed, it does in your quite amazing column about Mr. Perle and his revisionist history.

And, at the same time, snark can be a lot of fun. So snark on, Dana! Thanks.

Dana Milbank:

C'mon, Chicago. Drop your serious pursuits and return to your jihad against my snark.


Chicago, Ill.: You can pretend I'm Roland Burris if it makes you feel better to type those silly words, but the Post is not doing itself any favors by keeping you on. Your Yale education is no more well-utilized than George W. Bush's. You should try to make a real contribution to society in your golden years. Obviously journalism is not your forte. Maybe you could drive a truck for Meals on Wheels.

Dana Milbank:

Ooooh, that hurts, Chicago. But I'm glad a serious person such as yourself is still paying attention to this snark-laden chat.

I actually do deliver food to a soup kitchen on Fridays -- when I am not being snarky online with my fellow travelers in snark.


Question of the ages: Dana -- Why do people who don't understand or blatantly ignore the fact that you are a humorist a) read your column and b) write to protest that you are funny and they are offended (e.g. Chicago, above)?

One of life's imponderables, I guess. Unless you know?

Dana Milbank: I have found that it is very difficult to read the mind of Senator Burris.


Oscar bait: Was anyone filming Mr. Perle's presentation? Surely it is an Oscar-worthy acting performance that should be honored in some way for virtuosity in fabricating a character?

Dana Milbank: For those who want to see more than the brief clips in the washingtonpost.com video filmed by the lovely and talented Gaby Bruna, one of Costa Rica's finest exports, CSPAN was also filming yesterday's session.


Arlington, Va.: Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory is the thought that there used to be a piece of military hardware known as the Snark. I think it was either a torpedo or a missile.

The former would be so apropos, given that you use snark to torpedo pomposity, mendacity, and arrogance. Keep it up.

Dana Milbank: Well, I've got the official word on this, because I went on the Internets and put it in the Google and here's what Wikipedia says:

"Snark may refer to:The original Snark (Lewis Carroll), a fictional animal species in Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark (1876)."

So it is very appropriate that on the day my column and video are about Alice in Wonderland, we should be having this discussion about Snark.


Anonymous: Help, I'm snark confused, "A prominent neocon contacted me today to say he thought Perle was being ridiculous." How can I know the lie from the ridiculous, or no difference?

Dana Milbank: That's what these chats are for, to help the snark-confused nurture and grow their inner Snark.

On this matter, I kid you not. I received an email this morning from a household-name neocon. I am withholding his name at the request of David Plouffe.

He wrote: "while ridiculing Perle is appropriate -- (I cringed when I heard he was going to do this) -- I think there is a serious discussion to be had on this subject."


Serious question for Chicago: So, Chicago,

WHY do you read Dana's column and chat?

I want to understand...

Dana Milbank: Chicago? We are waiting.


Chicago, Ill.: What is snark? You recognize it when you see it -- a tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. Snark attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness.

Dana Milbank: Well, I guess "spreading like pinkeye," which is a nuisance but generally not fatal, is better than spreading like a cancer or some such.

But really, Senator Burris, you should be spending more time defending yourself and less time on this worthless snarky web chat.


Venus: This is not a time for snark? Excuse me? Perhaps the gentle reader from Chicago is unfamiliar with this comment from the Snarkster of All Snarksters, Jonathan Swift:

"Satire is a kind of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own."

Snark on, dude.

Dana Milbank: More on snark from my source for accurate news, Wikipedia:

* Jack London's yacht The Snark, described in the 1911 book The Cruise of the Snark

* Snark (graph theory), a type of graph

* SM-62 Snark, an intercontinental nuclear cruise missile

* Snark sailboat, a small, inexpensive, and lightweight sailboat

* MV The Second Snark, a historic shipyard tender, now in service as a cruise boat and ferry

* Corporal Snark, a minor character in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 (1961)

* Snark (punctuation), a proposed ligature to be adopted as an English language "irony mark"

* SNARK theorem prover

* Snark (Half-Life), a small, fictional bug-like species of alien used as a weapon in the computer game Half-Life

* Snarks (Misadventures of Flapjack), The Snarks are a culture of seafarers feared by the people of Stormalong Harbor in the animated show "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack" on Cartoon Network. They appear to be a combination of stereotypical Russians and Vikings

* Snark (game), an early 1970s text-based computer game from People's Computer Company

* Snark (diving regulator), a tradename for an early single-hose diving regulator

* Zn'rx, a race of fictional aliens in Marvel Comics publications, commonly referred to as "Snarks"

* Snark (software), an Open Source BitTorrent client.

I believe the reader who identified snark as a piece of military hardware was thinking of "SM-62 Snark, an intercontinental nuclear cruise missile."

And speaking of ICBMs, this just in:

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says Sen. Roland Burris should resign his post for the good of the state.

This raises the alarming possibility that I will never again see him in Washington. Possibly I can get my editors to lift the travel ban just this once.


Philadelphia: "Snark is irrelevant, and moreover, profoundly irritating, in these times that call for seriousness of purpose and actual accomplishments."

'Cause the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows, nothing has ever been accomplished by sarcasm, satire, or anything masquerading as humor. As this chat is irrelevant, I suppose I'll return to reading "A Modest Proposal".

I wonder, though: what are the times that call for frivolity of purpose and no accomplishments?

Dana Milbank: I believe my college years would fit that definition.


Arlington, Va.: In defense of snark....

You are my favorite Washington Post writer, because you point out the ludicrous and asinine in politicians from both parties.

You, sir, are a gem.

Dana Milbank: This was another inoculation. Chicago is coming on like the bird flu. Here comes another.


Chicago, Ill.: Actually I usually try my best to avoid Mr. Milbank's "Sketches", but occasionally the worst of them are pointed out to me. And sometimes I watch hearings on C-Span and see Mr. Milbank in the peanut gallery and I wonder to myself how the day's proceedings are going to be distorted, snarkily, in the next day's paper.

Dana Milbank: Nice use of the adverbial form of snark.


Really from Chicago: I am the real Sen. Burris, the other "Chicago" poster is a fraud and I have NEVER had any contact with him.

Well, OK, I did talk to him once, but never about your column. And I did talk to him another time, about your column, but when I said I didn't I meant to say I did..

I like tuna.

Dana Milbank: As long as you didn't raise money for him. Oh. You did that too?


Ogden, Utah: the original Snark was a Carroll creation, true, and remember, if the Snark was a boojum than everyone who saw it would disappear.

Makes one wonder if it is safe to be in the same room as Mr. Perle...

Dana Milbank: More, from Wikipedia:

There are several different varieties of snark. Some have feathers and bite, and some have whiskers and scratch. All care has to be taken to not confuse a harmless snark with the apparently very dangerous boojum. The recorded evidence tells of a baker who on encountering a boojum softly and suddenly vanished away and was never met with again. It is not entirely clear whether the boojum is a subtype of snark, or another species entirely, closely resembling the snark superficially.


long live the snark: Satire -- or snark these days -- is one of the oldest forms of political change. If a leader was satirized, he was then deemed to have lost the respect of the people and deposed (often violently, but hey those were the times).

So, snark is perfectly acceptable for even serious situations.

Plus, we can't be all doom and gloom all the time. We have to do SOMETHING to cheer us up and keep us going. A little good natured snark never hurt anyone. Except those old-time leaders.

Dana Milbank: Well, said. Thank you, my snarky readers for snarkily snarking with me on this snark-filled chat.

I must now do something serious and with purpose; I am going to lunch.


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