• John Kass weighs in on the Charlie Hebdo massacre

Catastrophes happen and journalists feel they must respond, but a sense of obligation by itself doesn’t make us profound. John Kass writes about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in the morning Tribune and I’m not sure what his point is, but I write about it too on the Bleader and I don’t have a lot of confidence in mine. Those Charlie Hebdo cartoons had been drawn to make Islamists angry—that’s an insight that would have occurred to everyone even if I hadn’t pointed it out.

I address Kass’s column only because of one remarkable sentence that appears towards its end. “Free people often make a mess of things,” he muses. “That mess is called freedom.”

And he goes on: “And we’ll stay free, on the left, on the right, and in the tepid accommodationist center, just as long as we can speak our minds, and defend the right of others to speak their minds too.”

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for what I like to think of as the radical middle. Back in the 60s radicals preached, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” That left no room for anyone to do what journalists love to do most (the point of drinking is to enable it)—question. The revolution had no interest in questioners and neither did the other side, composed of those solid citizens lining up behind Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

If you read Kass’s column, you’ll see that he rains contempt on left and right for the inability of either to deal with reality. But it’s the center that most disgusts him. Tepid? Accommodationist? Some words in the right hands sting worse than homicidal. I’ve always thought a willingness to speak my own mind and listen to people who dispute me speaking theirs was the classic centrist position; but if the center is merely the place where wimps huddle, then I’d better think twice.

Then again, Kass has made the center attractive. His scorn turns being there into a lonely, defiant, romantic act.