5 Reasons The WSJ Editorial Board Could Have Rejected That Terrible Joseph Epstein Op-Ed
I didn’t wake up this morning thinking “let’s drag the editorial board of a world-renowned publication in a Medium post,” but then I saw the Op-Ed by Joseph Epstein entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” (which I am not linking to, because it doesn’t deserve the traffic) and now here we are. I have been delighting in reading the brief rebuttals and sarcastic responses that Twitter allows. However, I do feel it requires a somewhat more structured response, and apparently I have both the time and inclination to write one today, so here we go. I count five places in this Op-Ed where the Wall Street Journal editorial board could have rejected it for a specific cause and avoided the public roasting they are currently experiencing.
I will admit to walking away for a minute when I read the first sentence of this piece so that I would not pass out from rage. An Op-Ed author calling a grown woman who is not his relative or close personal friend “kiddo” should have been disqualifying on its face. Regardless of the point being made or, in this case, the challenge being issued to the subject’s qualifications, it is generally the stance of major publications that individuals be addressed by their titles — or at the very least some other respectful manner. Since Mr. Epstein objects to Dr. Biden using the title her degree entitles her to and that she explicitly prefers, Mrs. Biden is acceptable. Madame First Lady is great, though technically inaccurate since her husband has not yet been sworn in. Jill is overly familiar. Kiddo is insulting, belittling, and sexist.
“Dr. Jill Biden sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic”
Mr. Epstein’s grounds for claiming fraud seem to be that Dr. Biden is not a medical doctor — which she has never claimed to be. Dr. Biden does, however, have a doctorate — which through convention if not explicit definition gives her the right to use the title “Doctor” if she so chooses. Mr. Epstein is perfectly within his rights to find that pretentious, but there’s plenty of evidence to back up Dr. Biden’s claim to the title and no reason to find it fraudulent or funny.
“The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences.”
“The prestige of honorary doctorates has declined even further.”
Dr. Biden does not have a Ph.D., she has an Ed.D. Mr. Epstein is obviously aware of this fact since he refers to it repeatedly throughout the article. Dr. Biden also does not have an honorary degree, so this point is not relevant either. Mr. Epstein is also aware of this fact since he took the time to research the title of Dr. Biden’s dissertation (which he dismisses as “unpromising”, based solely on its title). By contrast, Mr. Epstein is in possession of an honorary doctorate — and, in recognition of the difference in work required to obtain that degree, he rightly does not use the title “Doctor”. But, again, this has no relevance to the objection he raises about Dr. Biden’s use of her earned title. If Mr. Epstein wishes to present an argument about the standards applied to Ph.D. and honorary Ph.D. candidates, he is more than welcome to do so — but he should leave Dr. Biden out of it.
Political correctness has put paid to any true honor an honorary doctorate may once have possessed. If you are ever looking for a simile to denote rarity, try “rarer than a contemporary university honorary-degree list not containing an African-American woman.”
The idea that black women receive honorary degrees as an ode to political correctness and not because their accomplishments stand on par with others being honored is, quite frankly, appallingly racist. Taken in context with the point made about the lowered standards for receiving an honorary degree, Mr. Epstein’s point appears to be that, even with the lower standards, black women are not capable of clearing the bar. This is both offensive and objectively ridiculous, and I don’t believe any further commentary is required to point out why.
“Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill, and settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden.”
The implication here is that Dr. Biden should forego the recognition of her own accomplishments — represented by the title “Doctor” — and instead take pride in the accomplishments of her husband — represented by the title “First Lady”. This is a false choice. There’s no reason Dr. Biden’s full title shouldn’t be “First Lady Dr. Jill Biden” once her husband is sworn in, and it would speak well of us as a country if we celebrated having such an accomplished woman representing us instead of maligning her for taking pride in those accomplishments.
On top of these specific points, the objection raised by this piece is generally specious at best and maliciously petty at worst, and the editorial board could have rejected it for that reason as well. Sadly, they chose not to use any of the points above, and instead gave Mr. Epstein a platform to impart “wisdom” to a woman he is objectively less accomplished than about how to best represent herself to avoid annoying men like him — or, I suspect, to avoid making them feel inferior. When seen in the context of a society that has consistently belittled women who pursue higher education and expected them to humble themselves to make the men around them more comfortable, the decision to run this piece is even more mystifying. My consolation today is the near-universal roasting they have been receiving on social media for this choice, and the perhaps unrealistic hope that they will choose better in the future.