Word and Image of Vermont
On and Off the Mark Archive    -    November 2004
Jerry Falwell is a bozo but John Stott is a real-deal, important Evangelical. That's the message in David Brooks's New York Times column this morning (November 30, 2004). I have little doubt that Mr. Stott is intellectually superior to Mr. Falwell. But why should that make Stott, rather than Falwell, the figure that Democrats should study in order to understand the way the religious right votes? Brooks seems to think that because Stott is a more interesting theologian than Falwell, the former is a better guide to the belief structures of the average right-wing religious voter. That's nonsense. As Brooks notes, most people in the United States have not heard of John Stott, who is an English author and preacher. So how can it be that he represents the core beliefs of "real-life people of faith," as Brooks claims? Brooks is correct in arguing, implicitly, that east coast secular intellectuals -- people more or less like himself -- don't begin to understand Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups. But to conclude that most of their members are sophisticated theological thinkers is to misread them as badly as those who characterize them as Neanderthals. The politicized religious right is an interesting phenomenon, but you're not going to learn much about it by turning to John Stott.

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The National Council of Teachers of English has a "Public Doublespeak Committee" which bestows an annual award on "American public figures who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-contradictory." This year the award was given to the Bush administration as a whole. There are legions now pointing out that the president and his closest associates twist the English language in ways that nearly make the mind explode -- if one pays much attention to them. Yet, the myth persists that the president is a straightforward talker who doesn't beat around the bush the way mincing Democrats do. The gap between mainstream myths and the reports of people who pay attention appears to be growing ever wider. It seems to me that the genuine division in the nation lies between those who believe in media myths and those who occasionally ask themselves what words actually mean.

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President Clinton's testy remark to Peter Jennings, during their November 18th interview got modest notice in the mainstream media. But I've seen little background coverage of Clinton's statement about "the way your people repeated every little sleazy thing he (Kenneth Starr) leaked." If you want more information, though, you can find it on Salon.com in Eric Boehlert's article about Chris Vlasto, the ABC News producer, who served pretty much as a propaganda arm of Starr's investigation. The notion that network news organizations are more concentrated on fair-minded reporting than the cable news programs are has been pretty much exploded, but if you still have doubts, Boehlert's piece should lay them to rest.

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On This Week (November 28, 2004), George Stephanopoulos convened a panel of clergymen to discuss the issue of faith and values in politics. It was made up of George Weigel, Gary Bauer, Tony Campolo, and Floyd Flake. In the ensuing discussion, several interesting things were said but not one of the panelists, said a word about what is clearly the principal issue concerning values in the political arena. And that is, how the language of values is used to legitimize bigotry. There was a great deal of talk about opposition to same-sex unions, as though it somehow flows out of values. I guess it does, if we mean "values" in its broadest sense, as indicators of what people favor. But if one is using "value" as a synonym for "morality" then, surely he can't speak of bigotry as being a value. There's no doubt that many -- and probably most -- people who vote on the basis of opposition to same-sex unions do so because they are driven by unexamined hatred towards homosexuals. What's moral about that? Isn't this a question clergymen have a duty to ask? But, on TV, it doesn't happen. I wish we could find out why not.

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George Will's most recent column (Washington Post, November 28, 2004) notes that a very large majority of professors at American colleges are opposed to George Bush. He then offers us a series of erudite sociological theories about group psychology and so forth to explain why this the is the case. It's the sort of thing one would expect from a professor. He doesn't mention the possibility that maybe, just maybe, George Bush is a bad president and that's why academics oppose him. Too simple, I guess. It's true that professorial society is rife with pretense and silliness, but that doesn't necessarily mean that when professors step outside their own realm of one-up-manship and obsession with job security they can't function as informed citizens and render rational judgments.

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The strange truth about American commentators on foreign affairs -- whether from the right, the left, or the center-- is they cannot imagine how the world looks from a non-American perspective. Thomas Friedman, a reasonably bright guy, has a column in this morning's New York Times (November 28, 2004) titled "The Last Mile." That's where he says we are now in Iraq. It's a hideously stupid metaphor. He thinks the problem in Iraq is that nobody in the U.S. government has really been in charge of coordinating our efforts there. We haven't had a good plan for turning Iraq into the kind of country we want. Now, during this "last mile," we've got to get it right. No, Mr. Friedman. The problem in Iraq is that it has been invaded by a foreign country who has killed tens of thousands of its citizens, most of them for simply existing where they happened to be, and who continues to occupy their country and goes about killing and wreaking destruction wherever it chooses. If you were an Iraqi, Mr. Friedman, wouldn't that be foremost on your mind? I know, you would be just a tribal person, without the experience to organize your society right, but, still, wouldn't that occupying power, stomping around your country, brandishing billions of dollars worth of killing equipment, occupy your mind? I guess it's just too big a stretch to imagine seeing the world from such a weird viewpoint.

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There's no question that Nicholas Kristoff is among the more decent voices in current American journalism. He has worked tirelessly to bring horrendous conditions around the world to the attention of the American public. His reporting is excellent but, sometimes, his geo-political analysis is so naive it makes one want to cry. His column in the New York Times for November 27, 2004 is a good example. The topic is the children of Iraq. He admits that the U.S. invasion has made their lives horribly worse than it was before March 2003. Yet, he argues that our continued military presence in the country is necessary to give them a chance for the future. He doesn't mention the ones we're going to slaughter collaterally  as we spread our benefits upon their surviving compatriots. He's also sad about the American young people who are going to die in the process. But, their deaths, he says, will be worth the price if we can bequeath to the Iraqis a stable, prosperity-bestowing government. What has Mr. Kristoff seen in the past two years to make him believe that U.S. power, wielded as we wield it, can bring such a thing into being? Although he, presumably, is a great believer in democracy, he seems to have no faith the Iraqis can practice it unless we keep on functioning as their baby sitters, lethal as our child-care practices have turned out to be.

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In tomorrow's New York Times Book World (November 28, 2004) Thomas Frank, author of What's The Matter With Kansas, has an interesting review/essay about the current Red State / Blue State obsession. He doesn't buy the idea that this divide represents a new alignment of political force in the United States. Rather, he thinks it's a manifestation of the same problem we've always faced -- how to protect widespread well-being against plutocratic rapaciousness. My own thought is that we have to take into account all the divisions being batted about so recklessly in the press if we're going to approach a realistic analysis of the country. The red/blue fashion is wildly exaggerated but, still, there's something to it. Yet, I agree with Frank to this extent. If I could do away with only one of the difficulties bedeviling us at the moment, I think I would choose irresponsible corporate power and its paramour, maniacal greed.

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The things people thank God for are getting more and more curious. In his November 21st sermon, Jerry Falwell thanked God for the Fox News Channel. I wish I understood this form of gratitude better than I do. I guess God, being God, is reputedly the maker of everything and, therefore, we can thank him for everything. But specific thanks of the sort practiced by Mr. Falwell seem to imply something other than universal creationism. It's just, I'm not sure what. Is Falwell saying that God is more responsible for Fox News than he is for, say, CBS (Mr. Falwell is not a fan of CBS)? Is he saying that God likes the news as reported by Fox better than he likes the news from CBS? But the biggest question of all, and one I'm fearful will never be answered, is, how does Falwell know all this stuff about God's journalistic preferences? If we could know that, we would probably be able to comprehend our social situation more fully than we do.

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There will doubtless be hundreds of summary pieces about Dan Rather's career between now and when he leaves the CBS Evening News in March. I just read one in the Boston Globe by Michael Socolow, the head of the journalism school at Brandeis (November 25, 2004). It's about 50% sense and 50% nonsense, which I suspect will put it in the upper ranks when all the entries are in. Mr. Socolow attributes CBS's decline in the ratings to Mr. Rather's quirky personality. I'm not sure "quirky" is the adjective I'd pick but there was something about Rather's personality that set him off from Brokaw and Jennings. They manage to pretend, on the air, that they are normal people (whatever that might mean) whereas I doubt anyone would ever see Rather as a normal person. The characteristic that irritated me, at times, was a smarmy sentimentality, but it's unlikely that would push him down in the ratings because its a quality the American public seems to have a boundless appetite for. I suspect that CBS's third-placeness came from technical reasons more than from anything about Rather. Generally, where I've been, the CBS News has come on at 7:00 P.M., a half-hour after the other two. I doubt there are many people who want to watch two national news programs, so after they've seen either ABC or NBC at 6:30, they tune in to something else. In any case, though he has frustrated me at times, I don't think Dan Rather is a terrible person, and most of the people who are lining up to kick him now will never come close to him in journalistic competence.

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Scarcely anything gives us a more accurate depiction of Republican leadership than Dennis Hastert's decision to take the current security bill off the House calendar. According to Hastert, the bill is a "good law that will make this country safer." All the Speaker had to do was schedule a vote and the bill would have passed. But he wouldn't do it because, as David Broder reports in his November 25th Washington Post column, "Hastert has an aversion to any bipartisan coalition that does not include the majority of his own members." In other words, giving Republicans credit for passing the bill is more important to Hastert than the nation's safety. I wonder how long it will take the American people to get it through their heads that the privileges of the political class are far more cherished by our leaders than the public well-being. I'm the first to admit that the bill itself may not be all Hastert says it is. There may, indeed, be valid reasons for opposing it. But not in Hastert's rhetoric. It's a good bill. It will make the people safer. But the people can't have it until Hastert and the Republicans get credit for it. If this were a genuine democracy, there would be a storm over this issue. But, there's scarcely been a peep. Most of the media have concentrated over the split in Republican ranks. Reporters want to know who's going to come out of this struggle with added advantage. But the truth that a public official is holding back the public safety just because he doesn't want the other party to be in the majority in voting for it barely registers with the journalistic throng.

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Nicholas Kristoff, the New York Times columnist, is on a warpath (of sorts) against the "Left Behind" series (November 24, 2004).  Clearly, he views the sequence of popular novels about the apocalypse as little more than an exercise in bigotry. But he also acknowledges that bigots, for the most part, don't know they're bigots. They're sincere. They see themselves as people of faith transmitting unpopular truths to a foolish and corrupted world. The serious question this argument raises has to do with the value of sincere faith. I think, for the most part, it gets a better press than it deserves. People can be faithful to virtually anything and their steadiness of support has nothing to do with the quality of the thing they're supporting. At the urging of a religious relative I read the first novel in the series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. She pressed it on me as the true prophesy of coming events. I promised to read it with an open mind, and I really tried. But, its literary quality was so abominable and its prejudices so blatant I couldn't see it as anything other than hack propaganda. Do Mr. Jenkins and LaHaye sincerely believe they're telling us the truth about God's intentions? Probably. But the question I have to ask is, so what?

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A lead article in this morning's Dallas Morning News (November 23, 2004) reports that a woman in Plano, Texas, evidently cut off the arms of her ten-month old daughter. At least that's what she said when she called 911. Rescue workers found the maimed baby who later died in the hospital. Trying to get in touch with the minds of deranged persons is always hard, but in this case it appears to approach impossibility. We don't know what to do with a person who commits this sort of act but, probably, more important, we have no idea what it means. Does it mean anything? The woman had suffered in the past from depression, but depression doesn't usually lead to assaults on helpless persons. Our social statistics aren't good enough to tell us for certain whether horrific behavior of this dimension is on the rise. I tend to think it is, but I'm not sure. It is civilized to want explanation, but civilization may, in itself, take away our ability to grasp that there may be events which can't be explained.

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Am I the only person in the country suspicious enough to wonder whether the undermining of the new security legislation was done not in opposition to the White House but rather as a secret tactic of the White House. The Sunday talk shows (November 21, 2004) were full of reports that the Pentagon is out the president's control and topedoing a bill Mr. Bush wants. But, how do we know it's out of control? Mr. Bush has shown no hesitation in getting rid of people who were not fully in line with his desires. Why do we think he wouldn't also fire Donald Rumsfeld if Mr. Rumsfeld were, indeed, opposing him? There have been many instances of a politician praising something that's popular while, behind the scenes, he tries to scuttle it. I can't think why Mr. Bush would want the kind of Security czar the new legislation proposes. It would serve only to reduce the president's authority and Mr. Bush has not shown himself to be open to any reduction of his influence. He's a control freak, so why would he want to set up somebody with the power to block his adventures?

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A drumbeat is growing louder to get American troops out of Iraq. And, low and behold, many of the people pushing it are precisely those who cheered on the invasion. The Iraqis have not greeted our troops as heroes and more and more young men are willing to take up arms against them. As that development grows, American soldiers serve as targets more than as peacekeepers. I'm glad to see the belated recognition that you can't invade a country, lay waste to its cities, and kill thousands of its citizens without stirring resentment. But I don't want this turnaround to function as a forgetting of what neo-conservatives are turning around from. People such as Michael Vickers, General William Nash, Robert Pfalzgraff, Christopher Preble, Max Boot were all aggressive advocates of war. Now, they don't want our soldiers to be targets. I don't want them to be targets, either. But, I don't want anyone to forget why they are targets. The American people are slow in assimilating lessons but that's all the more reason why the lessons should be kept fresh.

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Gradually among people who were pretty much clammed up by the election campaign there's beginning to be slightly more honest talk. I recently heard Senator Chuck Hagel say that once an actual sovereign government is installed in Iraq -- if that ever happens -- it is likely to want to reduce the number of American troops in the country because their presence is the source of instability. Until recently, it has been taboo to discuss what stance a genuine government in Iraq might take. It's hard to imagine that it would not be hostile to the United States. Our country has, after all, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis. We don't care enough about the people we kill even to keep a count of them but that's a dismissive attitude no independent Iraqi government can maintain. It will have to deal with the loved ones of people who have been slaughtered, and the survivors, unlike the United States, do keep count. In truth, there's a good chance that a democratic Iraqi government will be more hostile to America than Saddam ever was. The Bush administration doubtless has plans to stop such a development, but they can scarcely be the programs for democracy and freedom that have been so loudly proclaimed.

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George Will said an interesting thing this morning (November 21, 2004) on the ABC program This Week. The topic was Iran and nuclear weapons and Will pointed out that we have to assume Iran is trying to acquire them because it's the only rational thing for them to do. The Iranians are surrounded by countries with nuclear weapons and they are threatened by the United States which has demonstrated its willingness to invade and occupy a country that can't defend itself. What else should we expect them to do? This a note of realism that doesn't often intrude into mainstream political discussions, where the mock morality of American intentions is normally the starting point. Few commentators are brave enough to admit that many countries around the world now fear the United States as a potential aggressor and feel driven to arm themselves in any way they can to avoid becoming a target of U.S. military power. It would be no surprise if, over the long run, President Bush becomes known as the person who did more to spread nuclear weapons than any other leader of history.

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There's a fascinating article in The New Republic Online (11/17/04) by Christopher Hayes about undecided voters. He worked in Wisconsin during the final weeks of the campaign, trying to recruit people who said they hadn't made up their minds. He discovered that they weren't undeserving of the scorn heaped on them by political critics but that the media had little grasp of exactly what the condition of their minds was. It was more bizarre than journalists imagined. The bad news for Democrats is that the undecideds' intellectual incoherence tends to favor Republican candidates. Mr. Hayes's major conclusions were that undecided voters aren't rational, they don't have any genuine interest in politics, many are what he calls "crypto-racists isolationists," and they don't think in terms of issues. Most of them, in fact, don't know what an issue is. All these inferences strike me as fairly obvious, so that the feature of the article I found most fascinating was the surprise Hayes expressed. I suspect that because we live increasingly in self-shaped circles, the interaction between people who are informed and those who are called ordinary is shrinking. When the former find out exactly what the intellectual condition of the latter is, they can't believe it.

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The appointment of Margaret Spellings to be Secretary of Education is calling up recollections of Christine Todd Whitman at the Environmental Protection Agency. You'll remember that Mr. Bush treated her abominably when the EPA produced a report attributing global warming to human activity. Eventually she resigned quietly and loyally. If Ms. Spellings is actually committed to improving the American education system, she's likely to face the same treatment. It's the culture of knuckle-under-to-the-boss that most attracts my attention in these cases. The ethos of the political establishment proclaims that one must make sweety-pie noises as one leaves office, even if there are knives sticking in his, or her, back as the door swings closed. I wonder if anyone can make a rational defense of this attitude. I understand the need to be reasonably cooperative with the members of one's management group. But, carried to the lengths we practice here, it becomes cancerous. It posits us, despite all our paeans to freedom, as a toady culture. There is no freedom if one signs onto a system where it's impossible to say what he thinks. What would be wrong, when a cabinet member leaves the administration, for him or her to say simply, "I think the president is wrong and I no longer want to be a part of that wrongness?" Would that turn the world upside down? It seems to me that if more people would say it, we would improve our chances of keeping the world right side up.

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In an article in the Boston Globe on November 16th, James Carroll alluded to "an unconscious need to think of our soldiers as innocents." I don't know what's unconscious about it. It seems to me that ever since we cranked ourselves up to invade Iraq the portrayal of American military personnel as pure, unstained youth has been blatant. And the purpose for doing it is obvious. Pure people can't do anything bad and, therefore, whatever actions our forces carry out become sanctified.. Whenever they descend to behavior that's too raw to be rationalized away, like the torture of prisoners, then a few are cut out from the herd and quarantined. They mustn't be allowed to infect the remainder of the force who remain as pristine as they were before. The government pushes this portrayal, but they do it with the full compliance of mainstream media. The latter will justify anything they can through sentimentality because they know that sentimentality sells.

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In his first annual message to Congress in December 1801, Thomas Jefferson said:

Sound principles will not justify our taxing the industry of our fellow citizens to accumulate
treasure for wars to happen we know not when, and which might not perhaps happen but from
the temptation offered by that treasure.

We should keep Mr. Jefferson's thought in mind as we move into the second Bush administration. There can be little doubt that we would have broader wars if the president had the means to wage them. Financial limits, right now, are holding our government back from actions that would transform the widespread dislike of the United States into large scale resistance. So, we should be profoundly grateful for them. Unlimited fortune in the hands of arrogant men is a formula for disaster.

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Why are the American media averse to the lessons of history, especially with respect to warfare? Anyone with a cursory knowledge of war through the ages knows that it turns many participants into savages. That's its nature. It doesn't just work that way for certain national groups. It works that way for all. No nation can wage war without committing war crimes. War itself is essentially criminal. There are times when it's forced upon us. But a principal reason we should take it up only as a last resort is that it will corrupt us as well as destroy life. This is no more than obvious truth. So when we have incidents like the one that occurred in the mosque in Fallujah on November 13th, why is it that media spokesmen never mention the most likely explanation, i.e., that a young marine may have succumbed to the savagery of war? He had seen his comrades killed. Wouldn't it be natural to want revenge? What's he supposed to be? An automaton? Instead of wallowing in pretentious bombast about rules of engagement and the perfect training of U. S. troops our journalists would serve us better by facing the actuality of war and leading a national discussion of how to deal with soldiers who find themselves driven past legality. My own thought is that they should neither be excused nor scapegoated. But a reasoned response can be made only when inevitability is acknowledged and plans are put in place for what any sane person knows is going to happen.

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A Washington Post headline proclaims, "City of Mosques Is In Ruins" (November 18, 2004). That's curious because just a couple days ago I read Mr. Allawi's statement that only about two hundred buildings had been damaged in the assault on Fallujah. I recall thinking, that night, while watching the news that I must have seen all two hundred of them in one TV shot. A phenomenon becoming ever more common is for a major official to make a ridiculous statement and for no one to pay any attention to it. We've slipped into a disjointed mental condition in which we expect officials to lie incessantly and yet, at the same time, we are expected to trust and respect them -- at least after a fashion. Mr. Allawi is proclaimed by our government to be the hope of his country, a great patriot, the leader in the quest for Iraqi democracy. Still, he can watch one of his cities being destroyed and brush it off with the breezy assurance that only an insignificant number of buildings have been damaged. Wouldn't you think that the leader of a country would go to see for himself if one of his cities was reported to have been ravaged? Yet, as far as I can tell, Mr. Allawi doesn't go anywhere. He just makes happy statements and no one seems to notice.

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When two large groups contend against one another it's to be expected that the extremists of each will be foolish. I have said that at the moment, in America, if I had to chose between right-wing and left-wing foolishness, I would, reluctantly, go with the latter because it's merely annoying whereas the right-wing version is murderous. I have to admit, though, that sometimes left-wing nonsense can rise to an absurdity that pushes the viciousness of the right out of mind. That happened last month at the University of New Hampshire where sophomore Timothy Garneau got into trouble for posting a sign in his dormitory elevator suggesting that freshmen girls would be healthier and look better if they would take the stairs. His motive, supposedly, was to relieve the crowdedness of the elevator. His little sign set off a fury and, eventually, he was charged with sexual harassment and disorderly conduct, kicked out of the dorm and suspended. The story has a happy ending. Timothy got in touch with legal representatives, who wrote to the university president. All the punishments were rescinded and Timothy was restored to dormitory life, though not in the same building he had inhabited before the sign went up. The damage in cases like this is not to the Timothys of the world or even, very much, to freedom of speech. Rather, it undermines criticism of the right by strengthening the impression that it always comes from monstrously humorless  people who will turn the world upside down over a little joke. It's true that humor can be cruel, although I don't think that Timothy's version was. But, it's also true that bombs and bullets and poison injected into people's veins are far more cruel. Anything that enfeebles our ability to hold them in check is more serious disorderly conduct than elevator humor could ever be.

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In a speech on May 11, 2004, in Van Buren, Arkansas, President Bush argued that "teaching to tests" is a good thing. This was in defense of the No Child Left Behind act. It's questionable whether any test can be designed so skillfully that learning how to pass it will constitute even basic education. It is certain that concentrating on tests in the way Mr. Bush advocated in his speech will do nothing to invigorate critical thinking. Critical thinking is not a part of the Bush administration's educational plan. Nothing but the basics for them. But, even using their standards, their educational program is not working. Reading scores among elementary school students have gone down since the No Child Left Behind act was put in place. True, they haven't gone down much. But just before the act, they were rising rapidly. Improving schools is a complicated process, which has to begin with a reasonably understandable notion of what sort of education we want. Relying on multiple choice tests not only to tell us what's going on but to drive educational reform is the sort of program this administration favors. But even if all you want is minimally competent and perfectly compliant employees, it doesn't make sense. And if you want our schools to encourage sharp-minded thought, it's a disaster.

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It's unlikely that Patrick Murray will ever become widely known to the American public. He is the chief of staff for Porter Goss, the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. There are many rumors flowing from the CIA that Mr. Murray is throwing his weight around in an obnoxious way and has been the cause of several top-level resignations. Porter Goss, himself, has assured us that none of this has anything to do with a partisan agenda, and that the Agency under his direction will simply report the truth to the nation's political leaders regardless of whether it suits their predilections. It's good, every now and then, for a person to take a firm stand and, consequently, I'm going to say unequivocally that I don't believe Porter Goss. All my instincts, and my knowledge of organizations, tells me that Patrick Murray is a Republican Party hack who is being used by Mr. Goss to spread the word among CIA workers that they had better get in line with the Republican agenda or they'll be booted out. Are Goss, Murray, and their pals doing this overtly? Not likely. Guys like them seldom do anything overtly. But that doesn't mean they're not doing it. The press would serve the people more fully if they would give attention to secondary figures like Murray, and explain who they are, what they believe, and how they behave. But, I doubt we can expect attention of that sort anytime soon.

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We are indebted to American news agencies for screening us from the "graphic" aspects of war. Their latest deed of sensitivity occurred with respect to the killing of a wounded Iraqi in a mosque in Fallujah last Saturday (November 13, 2004). Kevin Sites, working for NBC News, taped the killing, but we have been spared the picture of the bullets hitting the body and splattering blood on the wall of the mosque. After all, a young person might have seen it. We will now, doubtless, be treated to the explanation that the unfortunate marine who happened to get taped blowing out the life of a wounded unarmed man, is, himself, a young person being subjected to the exigencies of war and having to make split-second decisions with no opportunity to weigh the consequences. His misfortune of having a camera nearby will trigger an investigation. If the publicity gets too hot, he will be sacrificed amid assurances that he was the only U.S. military man in the assault on Fallujah to have done such a thing. Whether he will remain the hero he was before the picture got taken will be decided by the whimsicality of the American people. If I were Kevin Sites, I would surrender my embedded status quickly and get myself out of Iraq. There's no telling what the accidents of war might do to a reporter in the midst of split-second decisions.

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In its editorial about Colin Powell as Secretary of State, the New York Times says he chose being a "good soldier" over being a national leader (November 16, 2004). "Good soldier" in this context means backing up your superiors, no matter what they do. This is a form of loyalty which seems to be more prized in the United States than elsewhere. Its elevated standing in American institutions is a curious feature of our national ethos and deserves more investigation than it usually gets. There are many men -- I have known some of them -- who support whatever chain of command they happen to inhabit over the purposes the chain of command is supposed to serve. The only logical conclusion we can draw from such faithfulness is that, for them, the chain itself is the ultimate value and its announced purpose only window dressing. It would be useful to get inside their heads and try to discover why their values function as they do. But, these are precisely the sort of men whose heads you cannot get inside of. They associate strength with unwillingness to probe. My own suspicion is that they don't know why they do what they do and their supposed strength is simply a cover for their intellectual incoherence. But, of course, I can't be sure about that, and in the case of Colin Powell I doubt I will ever find out.

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One could construct a whole career writing about the things people are advised to pray for. The latest item I've heard about is relief from premenstrual cramping. The advice comes from Dr. W. David Hagen, who's in the news now -- a little bit -- because President Bush has announced that Dr. Hagen will be appointed to head the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee of the Federal Drug Administration. The committee hasn't met for two years, so one might wonder whether its functioning is vital to the processes of government. But, vital or not, Mr. Bush has decided to crank it up. Being the head of it doesn't require consent from Congress, so it is one of the posts the president can use to reward those of his followers who might be thought to have bizarre scientific opinions -- if they were known to exist or to have any opinions at all. Since I don't know exactly what the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee does, I'm not sure how significant Dr. Hagen's appointment will be. But it might spark discussion of the meaning of praying for something and not getting it, which, I guess, would be a good thing.

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I was scanning Sunday's letters to the editor in the Dallas Morning News, when I came on one from Bob Skall Keller who spoke of "the sniveling revisionism and excuse making of the new Homosocialist Party." Gosh! Bob's really charged up. He got me to wondering, though, whether the Homosocialist Party really is new. One of the things about guys like Bob is that they're so admirably succinct they don't always display the full scope of their thought. I've also been asking myself what it is that the Homosocialist Party is trying to revise. I think the nation deserves a more complete exposition of Bob's analysis of these issues.

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Now and then, I come on something in the news so funny it's hard to get my breath back. Reading Helen Dewar's article in the Washington Post (November 15, 2004) about attempts to undermine Arlen Specter's effort to become the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, I discovered that "Christian groups" are going to hold a "pray-in" on Capitol Hill to try to block Specter's advancement. You have to admit it: those "Christians" are zany guys. I'm trying to imagine the mind of a person who would pray about a Senate committee chairmanship. But, I can't do it. Is the expectation that God will intervene with the people who are going to vote and get them to vote the right way? (against Specter, of course; we always know where God's ballot would go). I realize that conceptions of God vary considerably. After all, I watch Joan of Arcadia. But the notion that God takes sides with respect to the leadership  of Senate committees seems off the farm. Maybe he does, but if that's the case, there's no telling what he might do.

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An experience we all must have had recently is seeing a putative statesman appear on our TV screen, look resolutely into the camera, and announce in a stentorian voice, "We cannot afford to lose this conflict." I just heard John McCain say those very words this morning (November 14, 2004) on the George Stephanopoulos show. Am I the only person in this country who doesn't know what that means? What would a loss look like? For that matter, what would a victory look like? Various spokesmen for the Bush administration have said that our goal in Iraq is a stable democratic state. But what if there were a stable democratic state that detested the United States and did all in its power to oppose us? Would that be a victory? Is it possible to imagine a genuinely independent government in Iraq that would not be hostile to the United States? Isn't our desire, really, for a government with the power to control its people which will be subservient to us? These are all questions I would like to see our officials asked. But, nobody ever asks them. Then we come to the question of what we can afford. Senator McCain says we can't afford to lose this conflict. Why not? It's the sort of thing that was being said several decades ago about Vietnam. We lost that conflict and afforded it very well. In fact, some might say that we were a lot better off for having lost it. I suppose meaningless cheer-leading statements have always been a stock in trade for politicians. But, you would think that sometime a courageous TV reporter would come along and try to probe behind them. Otherwise, why not just chant "We're Number One" and let it go at that?

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A favorite practice for post-election analysts is to pick out a voting group and say that if they had voted slightly differently the outcome would have been reversed. Most of the time, this is merely an exercise in the obvious and teaches us very little. But there is one voting group whose habits of mind really are significant in pointing to the future, and the reason is that this group's influence is bound to change radically fairly soon. The reason? It indulges itself in a lot of funerals. If you survey the results produced by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago you'll discover that people born before 1943 have strikingly different opinions from those born later. And many of these opinions have to do with the so-called values which propelled Mr. Bush to victory in 2004. Younger people don't hold them nearly to the extent that older people do. It is unlikely that any campaign which emphasizes the same issues that Mr. Bush emphasized this year can be successful in coming elections. Too many of the people who care about them will have died. And, perhaps more important, too many of the people who oppose them will have matured enough to decide to vote. I suspect that one of the reasons right-wingers are so rabid in their desire to transform the judiciary and push through radical legislation is that they know this is their last chance. Emerging mainstream opinion will not give them the same influence they have now. The press, maniacally focused on today and tomorrow, are ga-ga at the moment about a supposed values-based majority. But the press always ignores the truth that death takes no holidays.

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Bill O'Reilly has taken on the job of advising Hillary Clinton how to become president, a task for which Senator Clinton must be profoundly grateful. The first thing she must do is become more like June Cleaver. I haven't watched many reruns of Leave It To Beaver, but my recollection of the show is that Mrs. Cleaver never uttered a political sentiment. It seems to me, in truth, that the Cleavers lived in a world where politics didn't exist. There's a great nostalgia for a world like that among people who like O'Reilly and support Mr. Bush. But, somehow, I can't believe that Hillary can ever reach them, no matter how much she exchanges recipes with friends. The senator's deficit among people who find O'Reilly to be a font of wisdom is that she knows things. They don't like anybody to know anything -- it's an affront to their complacency -- but, especially they don't like a woman who knows anything. I guess Senator Clinton could try to have her brain erased -- we do have medical wonders nowadays, you know. But, if she did, she would probably forget why she wants to be president. You don't suppose that could be Mr. O'Reilly's real goal, do you?

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Even in his lame-duckness, John Ashcroft continues unabated to assert that the United States shouldn't have a constitution. We should have only a presidential dictator. In a speech yesterday (November 12, 2004) to the Federalist Society, a group of right-wing lawyers, Mr. Ashcroft informed us, that the courts are "not accountable to the people." Consequently, they shouldn't meddle with anything the president does. One is left wondering, since the courts are so completely unaccountable, what they should do. Maybe we don't need them at all. Perhaps anyone accused of doing anything the president doesn't like should be brought before a "commission" (appointed by the president, of course) and once he has been declared guilty be taken to a place of execution. Then, at least, we could get rid of law schools and have only commission schools, which ought not to be as expensive. There are many members of the Bush administration who consistently advocate policies that, only a short while ago, would have been considered insane. Maybe, behind the scenes, Mr. Ashcroft is being removed from office because the president knows he's crazy. I wish I could believe that. But I can't.

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There's a popular mode of argumentation among us, practiced mostly by right-wingers, that's distinctive enough to deserve a name. I've decided to call it Fox News Dipsy Doodle or FNDD. It's a process of rapidly rushing from one point to another as if they together made up a logical sequence when in fact there is no logical connection among them. The trick is to do it so fast and so boldly that few notice the lack of logic. If it were practiced only by Fox News it would be bad enough but it's spreading everywhere. I saw a prime example of it a couple days ago (November 10, 2004) in a column by Rod Dreher, the assistant editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News. Mr. Dreher's thesis was that the Dutch are committing suicide by failing to respond to the Muslim world as the Bush administration does. Early on he announced that "last week jihad arrived in Holland." His evidence for this apocalypse was a single murder. A young fanatic killed a film-maker whose documentary on the condition of women in Islam the killer evidently didn't like. The alleged assailant was arrested almost immediately by Dutch police. In fact, he was shot, and he is now in custody in a hospital. Any murder is a terrible thing, but Mr. Dreher doesn't pause to reflect that there are more murders in his home state in a single year than there are in a decade in Holland. Texas murders, I guess, don't signal anything, but this murder in Holland signalled a tremendous amount of stuff. From it, Mr. Dreher lept to the Dutch government's unseemly sensitivity to Islamic citizens. His evidence for this was that the government actually painted over a piece of graffiti that was sprayed on a wall near a mosque. From there. we rush forward to the breeding habits of Muslims, and then, breathlessly, to national suicide. The underlying implication in all this is that something must be done about these people, but Mr. Dreher doesn't ever say what. Would it be enough to unleash guys with spray cans? He may not recall that in the 1930s, there was another group of people who were said to threaten the purity of European civilization. And, then, a great leader arose, who sacrificed his own life (and the lives of about fifty million other people too) in a campaign to scourge them from the land. I don't guess we can assume that Mr. Dreher wants similar action now, but since he doesn't say what he wants, he leaves me with a slightly uneasy feeling.

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The New York Times and HBO joined to produce a documentary called Last Letters Home.  In it, grieving relatives read aloud from messages sent by soldiers who were later killed in Iraq. It was heart rending to see the agony and sense of loss of people who will never again hold the young people they cherished in their arms. Yet, these are emotions we're probably not going to be able to afford in the future. The occasions for them are going to be so voluminous that if we indulged them we would be washed away. We had best steel ourselves and take on a Spartan reserve because it appears we have decided to go to war with the world. And the world is not going to give up. It can't. When, in March 2003, the American people and their leaders chose warfare as a means not to protect themselves but as a method to project throughout the world their influence and their sense of how things ought to be run, we set off on a course whose consequences few imagined. You'll notice that when the president and his supporters proclaim pridefully that we are at war, they don't bother to add that the war will never end. The leaders will always tantalize us with "stay the course" blather, which suggests that all we've got to do is hold on just a bit longer and sacrifice just a few more kids.  But, given the nature of the conflict, the attempt to achieve world empire, it can never come to a conclusion. War has become the natural and normal condition of America. As long as we vote for it, it will continue as our reason for being.

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I suspect our future is set and, that over the short run, there is little anyone can do about it. The reason is the uneducability of the American people. They don't know what they are doing to the world. They don't want to know. When I say, "they," I mean, of course, a majority. There are many voices in America who speak clearly about the effect of our policies. But, for the most part, they cannot breech the walls of not wanting to know which are erected around the average American community. One of those voices is Derrick Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe, who, in his article today (November 12, 2004), paraphrases the biologist E. O. Wilson about the disastrous consequences of American consumption: "Our promise is a recipe for mass extinction of animals and plants, massive wars by humans over scarce resources." We are spending billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives to export that recipe to Iraq. And we call the campaign heroism and freedom.

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It turns out the the man who's going to follow John Ashcroft as Attorney General is not an ideologue. He's simply loyal. In other words, he'll do anything President Bush tells him to. I don't suppose it matters much, though, what Alberto Gonzales thinks -- or doesn't think. The main thing about him, according to the newspapers I've read, is that his parents don't have much money and they came from Mexico. He is a triumph of diversity among the Republicans. I suppose this can be taken as a relief from Mr. Ashcroft, who could never be charged with diversity of any sort. But still, there is the question of how Mr. Gonzales will behave when he moves a few blocks down the street, far enough away from the White House that he can't consult Mr. Bush on every issue. In the halls of the Justice Department there was once the notion that loyalty to the Constitution rose even above loyalty to the president. We don't know whether Mr. Gonzales believes that and if we rely strictly on the mainstream press, we may never know.

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We have so many wars in this country it's hard to keep up with all of them. But now, guess what: according to a Washington Post headline we have a new one -- the indecency war. The current battle in this conflict rages over whether local ABC affiliates should refuse to show Saving Private Ryan because they're afraid the FCC will fine them if they do. And what's the source of the fear? Some of the soldiers depicted in the film say naughty words and the FCC is dead set against naughty words. I guess the really shocking thing is the supposition that American soldiers -- the best of the best, the purest of the pure, those who should be supported no matter what they do -- would ever descend to naughty language. True this film is about soldiers of another era, before the time when every single soldier had become Sir Galahad. But, still, there's an association. A little kid, not completely aware of history's  vicissitudes, might hear an American soldier uttering a naughty word and have his life, forever after, blighted. Everybody knows we can't have that.

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I never thought I would find myself writing anything in support of Arlen Specter. There was a time when he struck me as the nastiest man in the Senate. But, then, I never thought the political climate would shift so far in the direction of churchy tyranny that we would have to worry about the impunity of thinking for oneself. The right-wing assault on Mr. Specter's candidacy to be chairman of the Judiciary Committee signals a pattern we're going to see more of in the coming years. Any deviation from the ideology of the right will be punished. Mr. Specter fought off an attempt by the bluenoses to bring him down in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, but winning was just a temporary respite. It's clear they'll keep after him forever. He dared to think for himself, they say -- the ultimate sin. If he were really as independent as charged, he would figure out what the Republican Party has become, and get out of it. He will never find his way back to its good graces.

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Now we have a new false myth in the American political ethos -- Republicans are godly people whereas Democrats are not godly people. It's an opinion I read most recently  in a column by Mark Davis in the Dallas Morning News (November 9, 2004). Since Mr. Davis has his opinions, I'd like to set one of my own alongside them. I don't think he has an idea in hell of who, or what, God is. He seems, somehow, to have got it in his head that God is merely a collection of Republican prejudices, a kind of ward heeler for the Republican Party. There's an object of worship for you! The attempt to hijack Christianity for not only partisan political purposes but for filthy bigoted purposes is, after the defense of slavery, the most disgusting movement in American history.  If Democrats continue to let Republican hacks get away with the claim that they are devout Christians, then maybe the Democrats are ungodly. We can't be sure of all the things God expects of us, but, surely, if he expects anything it is for us to stand up for the truth.

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After every election, there's a lot of sweety pie talk about how it doesn't matter as much who won as the fact that we had the election and lots of people voted. That was the theme, for example, of Mark Davis's column in the Dallas Morning News for March 6th. This is line with the notion that casting the ballot is more important than casting it for good and intelligent reasons. It's a cute democratic romanticism but it doesn't have anything to do with the actual results of elections. People have voted for hideous policies innumerable times. In July 1932, elections in Germany made the National Socialists the largest party in the nation and laid the groundwork for Hitler's assumption of power the next year. Yes, it's good that we have a democracy, of sorts, in the United States (although the largest party, by far, remains the party of the non-voters) but that, by itself doesn't guarantee that we're going to have a healthy nation. It's only when people vote out of knowledge and good will and not out of ignorance and bigotry that the fruits of democracy can be realized. After an election, we should be as concerned with the motives for voting as we are with who won. And when the margin of victory is supplied by ignoble prejudices, the election itself gives us no cause to celebrate.

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ABC News, in an attempt to secure the top rating now that Tom Brokaw is checking out, is running a commercial in which Peter Jennings assures us that in America we have greater freedom of speech than almost anywhere else. How it is that we have greater freedom of speech than the people in Canada, or Denmark, or Sweden, or Great Britain, et cetera, Mr. Jennings doesn't say. Nonetheless, we are, at the moment, able to write what we want without much fear of being thrown in jail. But, there are other forms of repression besides jail and these Mr. Jennings doesn't mention. I was reminded of them while reading an editorial from the Mirror in London sent to me by a friend. It is titled "God Help America," and begins with this paragraph:

THEY say that in life you get what you deserve. Well, today America has deservedly got a
lawless cowboy to lead them further into carnage and isolation and the unreserved contempt of
most of the rest of the world. This once-great country has pulled up its drawbridge for another
four years and stuck a finger up to the billions of us forced to share the same air. And in doing
so, it has shown itself to be a fearful, backward-looking and very small nation.

You can agree or disagree with the Mirror's sentiments. But I don't think you can convincingly argue that the major media in America ever speak with this degree of frankness. Something is holding them back. You might argue that it's merely verbal propriety. But, I don't think so. We do have a repressed media and the result is a less vital democracy than ought to be the situation of a people who brag about our democracy as much as we do.

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Here's the theory put forward by the Bush administration. Though the soldiers of Nazism and the members of the Viet Cong deserved prisoner of war status when they were captured, the men swept up in Afghanistan don't. Why not? Because, according to Justice Department lawyer Mark Corall, other enemies of the United States were using "legitimate methods of waging war." The men caught in Afghanistan were terrorists. How do we know? They were defined as such. By whom? By the government of the United States. The Bush administration has consistently held that the president has the right to define anyone as something that places him outside all protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States. In other words, the Constitution comes into force only when the president says it does. When he says it doesn't, it's a dead letter. This is the theory of justice of the man the American people have just re-elected as their president. Do the people know it is? No. Why not? Because the people don't pay attention. Fortunately,  U.S. District Judge James Robertson does pay attention and he has ruled that the methods being used against the men imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay are illegal. Bush administration lawyers are now working to get round Judge Robertson and establish the principle that the president can set the Constitution aside whenever he wishes. Will the American people pay as much attention to this effort as they will to the Laci Peterson trial? No.

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When I was about eleven years old, I read one of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novels in which Tarzan traveled to a remote city in the desert. Shortly after arriving he discovered that everyone in the place was insane. I remember to this day the chill it gave me to think of a world where everybody was crazy. The worst of it was that it would be impossible to have a conversation that made sense. You may be suspecting that this is a lead-in to a political rant, but the condition that begins to give me the same chill I felt so long ago is as rampant among the people I agree with politically as it is among those I oppose. The sad truth is that so far as everyday life is concerned my political adversaries may be more reasonable than my compatriots. I derive my political stance from how willing groups are to kill people -- I've gradually become a fairly strong anti-killing guy -- and when pro-killing people aren't actually engaged in doing it they can be passingly pleasant. These thoughts are rattling around in my brain after just having come from an ordinary trip downtown to mail a letter and pick up some groceries. In a half-hour I saw so many irrational acts all I could think to do was jump in my car and get home. I'm safe for the moment. But every time I look out the window I'm taken back to the eleven year old boy.

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I'm an avid reader of journalistic opinion and enjoy the output of all sorts of writers. There are times when I even like a piece by George Will. But the most consistently intelligent columnist I have found is Bob Herbert of the New York Times. His article this morning (November 8, 2004) about discussions of the so-called "values" issue in politics is a good example of how he avoids being stampeded by the fears and passions of the moment. There have been many silly beliefs in American politics but I don't think there has ever been one higher on the list of silliness than the notion that people who voted for George Bush have values whereas the people who opposed him are concerned with mere interests. We've fallen to this nonsense because we've granted to bigotry the status of value. When a homophobe votes his vile prejudices the journalistic community seems eager to say he is supporting family values. Where does this idiocy come from? I suspect it's lazy-mindedness more than anything else. People who have succumbed to it would do well to take regular doses of Bob Herbert.

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Gary Hart's op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times (November 8, 2004) about the inclusiveness of faith has reminded me that I'm weary of hearing George Bush described as a Christian. He is not a Christian. There has never been a less Christian high official in the history of the nation. Christianity is a religion for people who derive their faith from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Can anyone imagine Jesus being the primary advocate of state killing in a nation? Can anyone imagine Jesus going on a radio program and chortling about how the system he heads is about to kill someone? Can anyone imagine Jesus sending an army thousands of miles to slaughter tens of thousands of people who have not done a single thing to harm one's own country? Can anyone imagine Jesus cutting off support to poor people in order to glut the bank accounts of people who already have more money than they can spend reasonably? Can anyone imagine Jesus drumming up support from the bigots and hate-mongers of his country. The idea that George Bush is a Christian or that he switched from indulging himself in booze to indulge himself in raw power because Jesus told him to is ludicrous. People who keep on talking about this false association should read the four Gospels alongside Kevin Phillips's book on the Bush family. If they, then, continue to talk about the president's Christianity, they, at least, reveal the condition of their brains.

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In his column for November 6th, David Brooks of the New York Times says that there's no single reason why Mr. Bush won the election. It certainly can't be attributed to evangelical fervor or anti-gay prejudice. Brooks is right if he's saying that people supported Bush for reasons other than these. But, if he's arguing that Bush would have won without the support of anti-gay prejudice, then he's being dishonest. Brooks has consistently charged that northeastern liberals are so sealed up in their own smug self-satisfaction they fail to understand the rest of the country. And he's also right about that. Yet, traducing liberals tells us little about the nature of the rest of the country and which of its passions are defensible and which disgusting. The main difference between the Democrats and the Republicans right now is the sentiments each plays to. The Democrats are far from a perfect party but they do not get a significant portion of their support from raw, vicious bigotry against racial groups. The Republicans do. Not only do they accept the vote of bigots; they seek it. The Democrats do not fan up xenophobia. The Republicans do. These habits don't strike Brooks as reasons to withhold support from Republican candidates. It's certainly his privilege to care about what he cares about. Yet to argue, as he does, that the political scene is constituted by a split between two sincerely stated points of view about what's good for the nation is highly disingenuous.

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On Friday evening, November 5, 2004, ABC News declared Karl Rove to be its person of the week. That's fair enough if what's meant by person of the week is someone who has influenced public affairs. No one can deny that Mr. Rove has had an impact on the political climate in the United States. But if ABC News is going to boost Mr. Rove's fame, you would think it has a responsibility to explain how it has been achieved. The closest the report came to detailing Rove's tactics was to say that he's willing to go negative early and often. That's like saying that a serial killer who kidnaps people in order to disembowel them employs strenuous methods. Mr. Rove is a smear artist. He serves his clients by spreading vicious rumors about their opponents. And he doesn't care how false those rumors are. It's an effective technique but it is what it is. You would think that a powerful news organization in proclaiming someone's power would want to explain how he gained it.

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The uproar over whether Arlen Specter should become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee goes well beyond the issue of abortion. It shows clearly that a considerable portion of the people who voted for Mr. Bush are determined to squelch any speech that doesn't please them. Keep in mind that all Mr. Specter did was state a clear fact. Judicial nominees who have shown they will try to reverse Roe vs. Wade will have a hard time getting the Senate's approval. But one can't state facts that displease the right wing ideologues who constitute Mr. Bush's base. The attacks on Specter show what we're facing in the wake of the president's so-called mandate. We need, by the way, to discontinue the fiction that the people denouncing Mr. Specter for truth-telling are conservatives. Leading newspapers like the New York Times participate in this verbal dishonesty and as long as they do, the rabid nature of the Republican core will remain obscured.

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In his post-election analysis, Harold Meyerson, writing in the Washington Post (November 5, 2004), says that the Democrats "need candidates and a language that even the worst good-old-boys recognize as American." The innocent naivete of persons like Mr. Meyerson is so deep it's enough to make one weep. Do you suppose Mr. Meyerson has ever sat in a room with the sort of man he terms a "good-old-boy?" I can't believe he has. And, why is it, by the way, that the good-old-boy's definition of what's American has to rule? If Mr. Meyerson, actually, ever did have a conversation with the people he now wants the Democrats to condescend to, he'd discover that there is no language one can use to convince them that you are as American as they are. But there is something you can do to cause a good-old-boy to pay attention. Bust him in the mouth. Since Mr. Meyerson is probably not in the habit of throwing a good punch he needs to find the verbal equivalent of one. In the case of the good-old-boy that's pointing out, in unmistakable terms, that he is a filthy bigot. There's nothing like the light of clear description to cause vile behavior to shrink. And there's also nothing as effective in clearing up what's American and what's not.

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Everywhere I've been over the past two days, I've heard people who detest the policies that George Bush stands for saying that just because he won the election doesn't mean that anyone should stop resisting him. He won for reasons that don't deserve democratic respect and, consequently, now more than ever, he has to be thwarted and restrained. This is a healthy sentiment and it may, at long last, signal a dawning comprehension among Democrats that they can no longer indulge in a respectful struggle with the president. This is no longer politics as usual. That truth has to be faced. Nothing has been more harmful in the fight against Republican radicalism than the advice of the Democratic Leadership Council -- the Joe Lieberman wing of the party -- which says in effect, "Be more like Republicans and then you may have a chance to win." Such a craven attitude has no place in a revitalized democracy. Paul Krugman's column this morning in the New York Times (November 5, 2004) strikes the right note and could well be taken as a formative document of a reconstituted Democratic effort. There's no need to be crazy but there is a desperate need to be very tough.

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The best postmortem on the election I've seen so far comes from Ariana Huffington in her column for November 3rd. She says it was not won by Bush. It was lost by Kerry. He was too timid, too tentative, because he was overly concerned with undecided voters. It's a convincing point. A campaign which decides to pitch its argument to people who are one level above brain dead is unlikely to excite the emotions of anyone. The Bushites from the beginning constructed an image of Kerry as a trimmer and flip-flopper, and he walked right into it. His campaign got a boost when he began to attack Bush on the war, but by then it was too late. That Bush could win with a record as disastrous as his has been seen by some as evidence that the populace has shifted so far to the right anyone critical of chauvinistic arguments will be buried. But, if the debates showed us anything it was that a chauvinist made to squirm ends up looking silly. Coming out of the debates, Kerry had a clear opportunity to rip Bush's image apart. But he was too cautious to do it. Never once did he say that Bush manipulated the evidence and lied to the American people about his reasons for launching the war. He fell back on the tired charge that Bush's judgment wasn't what it should have been. Kerry had plenty of evidence to establish the president's dishonesty but he was afraid that if he used it he might offend someone. That's not a temperament that can prevail over an administration ruthless enough to say anything in order to win.

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Tom Friedman of the New York Times (November 4, 2004) has had a revelation. He's discovered something about the people who champion Mr. Bush. "We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is." This is like discovering, when you're fifty years old, that some people cheat. But despite his late dawning, Mr. Friedman is implacable in his respect. He respects the moral energy of the people who support the president. Why, he doesn't say. What is there to respect about it? What does Mr. Friedman mean by "moral?" If we can believe him, it appears to have nothing whatsoever to do with kindness. or with mercy, or with generosity, or with rational thought. Mr. Friedman and the rest of the pack at the New York Times need to learn that "moral values" is political code for bigotry. Until they get that, they should get out of the journalism business and spend time listening to what people say in the front yards of little churches on Sunday morning after they've drunk up one more raving denunciation of "humanism."

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I just received (at 5:13 P.M., November 3, 2004) an e-mail message from John Kerry thanking me for my support. It mentioned, among other things, "the need, the desperate need, for unity for finding the common ground, coming together." I suspect that if Senator Kerry had not descended as often as he did into cliche, the result of the election might have been different. But that's of little matter now. I supported him wholeheartedly and I now wish wholeheartedly that he was going to be president. But what I will not do is follow him in trying to find common ground with people who promote everything I despise. Find common ground with George Bush? Where does this asinine sentiment come from? There is no common ground, Senator Kerry. That's what the election was about. How there can be a desperate need to find something that doesn't exist is beyond my understanding. If Mr. Kerry doesn't know what the desperate need is, I'll tell him. It's to resist this administration in its efforts to turn the nation into something vile. It's just as desperate a need tonight as it was last night. And just because we lost an election doesn't mean we should give up. That goes for Senator Kerry as well as it does for the rest of us.

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In my town of Montpelier, the presidential vote was 3, 536 for Kerry-Edwards and 1048 for Bush-Cheney. It saddens me to learn that there are more than a thousand people in Montpelier who voted for Bush. Still, if the whole country had voted as we did here and Mr. Kerry had got 77% of the vote, we would be in a healthier position today than we are. Why is there such a difference between us and the rest of the nation? It's a mystery I can't completely fathom. When you walk up and down Main Street, people seem to be much as they are elsewhere. They go into stores. They buy stuff. They stop and chat with friends. Sometimes they go into a shop and get a cup of coffee. At night they watch the same TV channels everyone else does. I tend to think of Montpelier as being perfectly normal. And, yet, there's the 77%. As far as I know there's nothing in the water to account for it. Our social scientists don't tell us much that we really need to know. If they would explain why Montpelier voted as it did and why Bartow, Florida voted as it did, then we'd really have something.

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Here's a cute little joke I heard while I was in Florida at the end of October: "If a nigger's hands are moving, he's stealing. If a nigger's mouth is moving, he's lying." The person who told it is an avid supporter of President George W. Bush. You might think it's a matter of national interest to assess why people who tell jokes of that character are so fond of the president. But you can be pretty sure that neither Dan Rather nor Peter Jennings nor Tom Brokaw will ever ask why. So long as the actual reasons for political support are held out of public discourse subterranean impulses will control our public life. They can persist for decades and as long as they avoid air or sunlight their power remains undiminished. A genuine journalist wants to bring light to the causes of important public occurrences. Yet, Dan Rather won't do it. And Peter Jennings won't do it. And Tom Brokaw won't do it. And, you know why? They haven't got the guts.

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For those of us who believe that Mr. Bush's presidency has been bad for the country, there's no reason to deny the truth that the results of yesterday's voting are bitter. It's hard to consider that for four more years George Bush will continue to be the principal representative of America. But harder, for me at least, is living in a country where a majority of the voters support him. I cannot think of a single decent reason for casting a ballot in his favor. Having just returned from Florida, I know, beyond any doubt, why he won there. Simple bigotry. Repeatedly, I encountered pure hatred of homosexual people, pure hatred of blacks, pure hatred of Mexican Americans, pure hatred of the people of Europe. The most hideous feature of these sentiments is that they cannot be discussed. One of the hopes of democracy is that if you hold a minority position you will have the opportunity to persuade voters in a manner to bring a majority to your side. But, there is no persuading a bigot. There is not even any talking to him. The dead face of hatred is not interested in hearing anything other than its own viciousness. A thing you cannot say to the population that favors Bush is "Wait a minute. Let's think about this." I see little  hope that we will be able to say it for a generation to come.

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A couple weeks before the election, the Chicago Tribune said in its editorial endorsing Bush that the war on terrorism is "the defining challenge of our age." Does anybody know what that means? Or, perhaps we should ask, does the Chicago Tribune know what it means? I'm not sure about "defining challenges" but I am pretty sure that the defining journalistic characteristic of our age will come to be seen as pretentious pronouncements about the profundity of what happened on September 11, 2001. After all, the same number of people lost their lives then as we snuff out every three months by shooting each other. But that ongoing toll is not the defining characteristic of our age. If anybody said it was, he would be considered ridiculous. It would be seen as equally silly to mention neglected pollution, an out of control public debt, the militarization of the American image, guzzling up a quarter of the earth's energy production, increasingly trivialized education, or a public whose ignorance has become the stock-in-trade of late night comedy shows. If I had to predict the sentence the history books of the future will devote to the America of 2002-2004, my best estimate would be: "The government of the United States pursued policies that led to its citizens becoming the most despised people on earth, producing hardship nobody then had begun to imagine." So, maybe the Tribune is right. Maybe our war is the defining challenge. It's just that the Tribune has not the faintest notion of how it will play out.

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On the plane yesterday (November 1, 2004), flying from Florida to New York, I saw on the tiny TV screen in front of me a poll showing how the people who live near a Starbucks and near a Wal Mart are going to vote. The close-by Starbucks folks are going for Kerry in a big way whereas the Wal-Marters are solidly for Bush. Not surprising, you might say. Maybe not, but it's thoroughly irrational. Over the past two weeks I've been to the Wal Mart in Wauchula, Florida more than I prefer to admit. And though I don't like to be always engaging in sociological analysis, I couldn't help noticing that the people up and down the aisles there come from the portion of the population most battered by Republican policies. Mr. Bush is doing nothing for them. And, yet, supposedly they vote for him. Why? I suppose it's because he pitches them the propaganda that they're well off, and they relish it. After all, they can go to Wal Mart and fill their carts with cheap goods. What more can anyone want? That may be the question which will determine our social future? Are piles of Wal Mart stuff what we actually want? Or, might there be something else to life? The answer isn't as simple as you might suppose.

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I've now had the chance to read, twice, David Grann's article in the New Yorker  for October 25th about Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News. It's an interesting piece but after one has digested it, he's left with a curdled feeling in the stomach. It tells the story of how news and politics have intermingled to create a system in which spectacle is more important than substance. The actors most caught up in the political process care mainly about who's best at shaping public image and virtually nothing about the consequences of government. In fact, one gets the sense from Grann's account that the effects of government policies would never be noticed by the political junkies were it not that occasionally what happens in life reaches out to touch campaign processes. Mark Halperin has become one of the more astute readers of the who's up-who's down spectacle. His daily on-line briefing, "The Note," prepared in excruciating detail by himself and a team of young reporters, has become the most talked about feature of the Washington scene. Grann leaves his readers uncertain over whether Halperin cares anything for social or political health. He comes across as scornful of those naive enough to moralize about politics but, yet, he seems aware, to some degree, of the triviality of the process that dominates his life. I guess one could say he's simply a young man on the make, playing the game that's presented to him, and playing it rather well. Though he's the subject of the piece, it's significance lies not in who, or what, Halperin is but in the description of how the news is managed by the so-called chattering classes -- or, to use Halperin's term, "the Gang of 500." It's not a picture to make one optimistic about America's democratic future.


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