There was a very brief, one column/two-inch obituary in the Washington Post last week, which caught our attention: “Dwight Armstrong,” the headline read. And then the sub-headline: “Vietnam War Protester.” A slight chill went down the spine of The Scrapbook.
Of course, everybody knows that Vietnam war protesters were shaggy-haired kids who marched with signs and chanted, pretended to “levitate” the Pentagon, faced down National Guardsmen, or burned symbolic draft cards and flashed the peace sign in a crusade to force the withdrawal of American troops from Southeast Asia. Most went back to school once the draft ended, the troops were withdrawn, and South Vietnam fell. Some ended up in politics, or as public defenders or environmental activists, or teaching philosophy, getting married, raising kids, earning a living—but always with that little flame of idealism still burning.
Well, if Dwight Armstrong was a “Vietnam War Protester” then Major Nidal Malik Hasan should be known to posterity as a “Fort Hood Psychiatrist.” Armstrong was, in fact, a dropout/drifter and left-wing activist who, in 1970 with his brother Karl and two friends, parked a stolen van packed with explosives and jet fuel beside a laboratory building at the University of Wisconsin, and lit the fuse. The resulting explosion killed a young student-researcher named Robert Fassnacht and injured three other people.
Armstrong became a fugitive but was captured in Canada in 1977, tried and convicted, and served a total of seven years in federal prison. He died of lung cancer at 58 in the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, not far from the scene of his now largely forgotten crime.
It is often suggested that race—a reaction to the civil rights movement of the 1960s—was the predominant cause of a rightward shift in American politics in the 1970s and ’80s. Of course, race has always played a role in shaping the national mood; but it is useful to remember that many things happened in American society of that era, and among them were periodic breakdowns in the social and political order, destructive urban riots, and a radical antiwar movement that nurtured a certain amount of violence and murder. The antiwar movement was predominantly peaceful, of course; but it is important to remember that violence—vandalism, armed assaults, bombings—was part of the movement as well, and that made a deep impression on Americans at the time.
The late Dwight Armstrong was not a Vietnam war protester; he was a domestic terrorist and unrepentant killer who paid a small price for a calculated act of cruelty, and assault on a great American university. Robert Fassnacht, R.I.P.
The Post’s Idea of a Conservative
When the Washington Post hired Dave Weigel to produce a reported blog on conservatives and Republicans, management apparently did so because they were under the misimpression that Weigel is a conservative, or at least a libertarian who’s not hostile to conservatives and their ideas. In an online chat, the Post’s national editor, Kevin Merida, was asked whether the newspaper planned to hire any conservatives to balance its growing stable of left-wing opinion reporters. Merida noted that the Post had “added to our staff the well-regarded Dave Weigel” and mentioned the paper’s handful of right-leaning columnists.
So what kind of balance did Weigel provide? Not much. Weigel was a member of a now-defunct 400-person email group known as JournoList. The politics of the group were decidedly left-wing, and although the messages they sent each other were supposed to be off-the-record—well, we are talking about 400 snarky lefties. Leaks happen. In this case, a smattering of Weigel’s emails ended up being published on two websites, FishbowlDC and the Daily Caller.
They showed Weigel to be a proponent of the tired old all-Republicans-are-racists trope. He accused the party of protecting “white privilege” and of using the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” He also complained about his beat. “Honestly, it’s been tough to find fresh angles sometimes—how many times can I report that these [tea party] activists are joyfully signing up with the agenda of discredited right-winger X and discredited right-wing group Y?”
There was standard-issue liberal name-calling: Newt Gingrich is an “amoral blowhard,” Rush Limbaugh should drop dead of a heart attack, Matt Drudge is an “amoral shut-in” who should “set himself on fire”—in short, the kind of playground bluster that passes for wit in liberal circles (and, for that matter, got Al Franken elected to the U.S. Senate).
More surprising, for a writer supposedly hired for his libertarian leanings, his steadfast support for the massive government expansion of health care under this administration led him to repeatedly apply his epithet of choice—ratf#$%ers—to Obamacare opponents like Sarah Palin. In May, he briefly got in trouble with his bosses for tweeting, “I can empathize with everyone I cover except for the anti-gay marriage bigots.” But it turns out that he really couldn’t empathize with anyone but his JournoList comrades—and unfortunately for him at least one of his fellow JournoListers couldn’t empathize with him.
So Weigel considers social conservatives “bigots,” Republicans racists, he favors government-run health care and scorns those with different views. None of this should be surprising, considering how Weigel came to occupy his perch on the Washington Post’s website. Weigel got his job thanks to a recommendation from his friend, left-wing Washington Post writer Ezra Klein, who also happens to be the founder of the JournoList. And Klein told Politico’s Ben Smith that Weigel is “hard to characterize politically.” Of course, Klein said this after many of Weigel’s snarky, anti-conservative emails had been distributed by his own JournoList.
Did Klein misrepresent Weigel to his new bosses at the Washington Post? That’s unclear. The real comedy of this whole episode is that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Weigel’s political views, however pungently expressed in what he believed were private emails, and those of his colleagues and bosses at the Post. Unfortunately for Weigel, the Post believed he was a diversity hire, someone they could point to whenever conservatives complained about ideological imbalance at the paper. His emails undermined their talking-point. They wanted a reporter who would allow them to maintain the fiction that they run a balanced newsroom. He embarrassed them by holding opinions indistinguishable from their own.
Well, you can’t embarrass your bosses like that. Late last week, the Post accepted Weigel’s resignation, perhaps hoping that doing so would bring to an end this embarrassing episode. The editors of the Post may have some hard questions to ask Ezra Klein, who had been reading Weigel’s anti-conservative tirades for some time before telling his editors that Weigel would be “the best reporter” on the conservative beat. But The Scrapbook hopes they’ll show a little understanding. From Klein’s end of the political spectrum, pretty much everyone else looks conservative.
The Making of Sausages
It’s not often that The Scrapbook feels the need to quote directly (much less approvingly) from a press release emailed from an elected official. In fact, it’s not often that we read such emails. But this little item from the June 25 “Morning Whip Up” from House Minority Whip (get it?) Eric Cantor’s office caught our attention, and it’s worth yours:
After reaching an agreement early this morning on FinReg [Financial Regulatory Reform], departing Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) was on a roll, telling the Wall Street Journal, “this is about as important as it gets, because it deals with every single aspect of our lives.” Dodd also told the [Washington] Post, “no one will know until this is actually in place how it works.” So in summary, (1) the legislation will affect every aspect of our lives, and (2) no one has any idea how it will work. That’s par for the course in Obama’s Washington—getting a new engine, tires and transmission when all you need is an oil change.
July 4 Weekend Reading
Looking for some good reading on or about July 4—after, of course, you’ve reread the Declaration of -Independence, supplemented by Jefferson’s June 24, 1826, moving letter to Roger Weightman? The Scrapbook has two recommendations—one fun and light, the other also fun but a bit more serious.
The first is the new novel by Douglas MacKinnon, Vengeance Is Mine, available from Amazon.com. MacKinnon is a conservative who’s worked at the White House and the Pentagon. He’s also a good thriller writer, who’s crafted an interesting and captivating tale of a politically incorrect private investigator who isn’t shy about wearing his conservatism on his sleeve as he takes on the bad guys. Tony Blankley calls the book “a thriller for the Tea Party generation,” and so it is—and one especially suited for reading on or around Independence Day.
The second is the summer issue of National Affairs, the fourth appearance of the new quarterly edited by Yuval Levin. National Affairs goes from strength to strength. Here you get guidance from James Capretta and others on how Obamacare can be repealed and replaced, thoughtful essays by Henry Olsen and William Schambra about American populism and American conservatism, Harvard’s Greg Mankiw on “Crisis Economics,” and much more. The essays are accessible, interesting, and important.
The Scrapbook’s recommendation: Alternate articles from National Affairs with chapters from Vengeance Is Mine. Fun and educational! Have a good Fourth; we’ll be back in two weeks.