The Magazine

Public Nuisances

Some are dangerous, and some are just pains in the neck.

Oct 3, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 03 • By JOE QUEENAN
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Still, there are statutes of limitations on even the most noble vendettas, and sometimes Goldberg's variations give off the unambiguous fragrance of mold. Seeking to even old scores, and I mean old scores, Goldberg acts as if the geriatric Norman Mailer is still a vital force in this society, lambastes the increasingly pathetic, irrelevant Oliver Stone, and singles out David Duke for what he clearly believes to be a long overdue woodshedding. It's as if he started writing this book in 1979, set it aside for 25 years, then precipitously exhumed it, threw in a few generic remarks about how much he hates gangsta rap, and published it as is. No, there is nothing wrong with hating the enemy, but to be a worthy adversary one's nemesis must at least still be breathing. Oliver Stone's last movie was the disastrous Alexander; David Duke hasn't been a vital force in Louisiana politics for years, and never made any impact nationally; and even Norman Mailer knows he is too old to fulfill the role of Minister of Evil. Besides, Michael Moore's got it locked up.

This brings us to the subject of Harry Belafonte. A congenial has-been who last had a hit in 1937, Belafonte once referred to Colin Powell as a "house slave." This is poisonous, stupid, dishonorable, unmanly. That is not the point. Unlike Howard Stern, Eminem, Jerry Springer, Howard Dean, and, of course, Michael Moore, who exercise tremendous power in this society, Harry Belafonte is a foolish old man, a relic, a joke. (Rule of thumb: If people under the age of 30 haven't heard of you, you are probably not Beelzebub.) From the perspective of the embattled conservative, who sees his cause triumphing in the political arena but ceaselessly ceding terrain on the cultural battlefield, Michael Moore is smallpox, Martin Sheen is cholera, Barbra Streisand is yellow fever, Susan Sarandon is typhus. By comparison, Harry Belafonte is a mild case of tendonitis. This is worrying. If a seasoned malingerer like Bernard Goldberg cannot produce anyone more sinister than Harry Belafonte to put on his list of seditious ne'er-do-wells, it strongly suggests that things are not nearly as bad in this country as many of us believe. The same holds true for Wallace Shawn: If the hideous gnome who played the chubby dwarf in The Princess Bride is the 85th scariest guy in Goldberg's Personal House of Horrors, this country has seriously lowered its standards of terror.

This brings us to the final question. When Al Franken or Janeane Garofalo or someone even worse responds to Goldberg's insults by writing a parody of 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, who will appear on their list? Obviously, Mel Gibson will make a fine stand-in for Oliver Stone; clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger can do yeoman service as the right-wing version of Tim Robbins. But where does the right come up with a demon as malignant as Eminem? Where does the right find an ex-president as sanctimonious and unctuous and insufferable as Jimmy Carter? Where does the right look for a scoundrel as dapper and stylish as Al Sharpton? And where, oh where, is the right going to find its very own Harry Belafonte?

Frankly, I don't think the conservative movement has anyone in a class with Harry Belafonte. And that's why conservatives are just no fun.

Joe Queenan is author, most recently, of Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglo-phile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country.