Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Joseph Epstein Hurls Bricks Through Overton's Window

WaPo  |  The Wall Street Journal published a weekend op-ed that opened by addressing incoming first lady Jill Biden as “kiddo,” and argued she should drop the honorific “Dr.” from her name because she’s not a medical doctor.

The piece swiftly went viral, with critics bashing it as sexist and Northwestern University distancing the school from the lecturer emeritus who penned it. Dozens of Biden supporters, academics and activists hurled barbs at the newspaper’s opinion section on Saturday and Sunday with one Journal news reporter calling the piece “disgusting.

“The @WSJ should be embarrassed to print the disgusting and sexist attack on @DrBiden running on the @WSJopinion page,” Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for Biden, said Saturday on Twitter. “If you had any respect for women at all you would remove this repugnant display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize to her.”

On Sunday, though, Paul A. Gigot, the editorial page editor and vice president of the Wall Street Journal, doubled down on the piece, calling the attacks a bad faith example of “cancel culture.”

“Why go to such lengths to highlight a single op-ed on a relatively minor issue?” he wrote in a letter to readers. “My guess is that the Biden team concluded it was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power. There’s nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism.”

The rancorous debate this weekend echoed a much longer-running conversation about Biden’s use of an honorific, a discussion ongoing since she became second lady in 2009, two years after the community college professor earned her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware.

Joseph Epstein, who wrote the op-ed, taught English at Northwestern as an adjunct lecturer for three decades, but stopped teaching in 2003. He earned a bachelor of arts in absentia from the University of Chicago, and once received an honorary doctorate, but has no higher academic credentials.

He argued it is misleading for Biden to use the doctor title, at least while her husband is in the White House, because it is considered “bush league” in academic circles for nonmedical doctors to claim the honorific. Epstein also argued that an attachment to the title is silly because once-prestigious doctoral degrees have lost their value because of “the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards” at universities, in part because of an abundance of honorary doctorates like the one Epstein received.

Biden responded to the op-ed without addressing it directly on Sunday.

“Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished,” she said in a tweet.