From the Scrapbook
Apr 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 28
For a party basking in its “historic” health care reform, Democrats (not to mention their media camp followers) sure didn’t seem very happy last week. They were, instead, obsessed with supposedly violent, racist opposition to their great “achievement” on the part of tea partiers and conservatives. This was more than a little unseemly. The violence they cited was almost entirely a figment of overactive, partisan imaginations. Everybody in public life (even The Scrapbook!) gets nasty emails. That’s a permanent feature of the wonderful carnival of democracy in a country of 300 million people.
Perhaps needless to say, a victorious party unable to stomach opposition is a poor advertisement for democratic virtues. The only thing really running riot last week, as far as The Scrapbook could tell, was the persecution fantasies of the Obami. There were many choice specimens; it wasn’t just the usual hysterics on MSNBC who were worried sick about hateful conservatives saying mean things.
Most striking to The Scrapbook: Even people on sports talk radio were concerned. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser hosts a sports talk show in Washington, and on Thursday he interrupted his normal mix of banter, self-reference, and shtick to bring in Newsweek’s Howard Fineman to dilate on the seamy underside of American politics.
“The America we live in has turned very violent, very partisan, and very, very ugly,” Kornheiser began. “People who voted for health care, Democratic representatives who voted for health care, feel that their lives are in danger. And this is not made up of whole cloth.”
Fineman agreed. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “The anger, the fear, the intensity of it. . . . Normally I love everything that happens on the Hill in politics and ‘is this a great country or what?’—that’s my general attitude. But this was—it was scary. And I must say, my first thought after Bart Stupak made the deal that he did [throwing his pro-life scruples overboard] . . . my first thought is he should have 24/7 police protection from now on. Because there are, especially in the pro-life—on the fringes of the pro-life movement—there are some extremely, extremely scary people. . . . This is not a joking thing.”
It sure isn’t! Kornheiser groped for historic parallels. His first stop was the Southern backlash against the civil rights act: “Howard and I are old enough to remember the civil rights movement where there was this kind of violence as people thought that their lives were being threatened by a new world order in America.”
But the opposition to Obamacare is apparently even worse. “The violent aspect of it,” Kornheiser explained, “seems more frightening than anyone can remember.” He asked Fineman if he really thought Bart Stupak “has to fear for his life?” Fineman wasn’t sure, but “the psychology is very scary,” he warned.
Worse, even, than Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1963? Why, yes. Korn-heiser worried that the opposition to Obamacare is so out of control it could morph into some kind of national socialist-populism. “Are we looking at, you know, the rise of a skinhead movement in effect?” he asked. “Not skinheads, but you know what I mean: the rise of some populist, horrifying movement that’s going to sweep the country?”
Here, finally, Fineman demurred. “No, I don’t think so.” It’s good to see that there are some analogies even a Newsweek columnist finds implausible. Opponents of Obamacare: At least they’re not skinheads.
Taking Original Intent to a Whole New Level
‘The Supreme Court in India has endorsed the right of unmarried couples to live together in a case involving an actress accused of outraging public decency. A three-judge panel in Delhi pointed out that even Hindu Gods Lord Krishna and Radha were co-habiting lovers" (BBC News, March 24).
Profiles in Hackery
The publication of Karl Rove’s memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, inspired the Washington Post in a curious—although not unexpected—direction the other day: A feature in which the Post’s book editor invited six writers to choose “the least accurate political memoirs ever written.” Get it? We’re not claiming that Rove’s memoirs are an affront to decent people everywhere, says the Post, but isn’t this a clever device? And true to form, the Post recruited a fair and balanced panel—four leftists (James K. Galbraith, Ted Sorensen, Mike McCurry, Douglas Brinkley), one conservative (Steven F. Hayward), and Christopher Buckley—for the purpose.
In some respects, the panelists’ choices were predictable. Jamie Galbraith singled out Richard Nixon’s memoir, which gave him the opportunity to resurrect a quotation from his late father, John Kenneth Galbraith. Christopher Buckley made a brief, jokey mention of Gandhi’s auto-biography. Douglas Brinkley burnished his scholarly reputation by bravely condemning James Buchanan’s post-presidential apologia (1866).
The only one to rise fully to the bait, however, was Sorensen, who chose Karl Rove’s memoir. And here The Scrapbook switches to its literary-critic homburg; for say what you will about Messrs. Brinkley, Buckley, Galbraith, Hayward, and McCurry, they are competent writers whose prose is clear and whose meaning is unmistakable. Not so with the author of Kennedy and The Kennedy Legacy. Ted Sorensen’s entry, which is rambling, incoherent, and incomprehensible—full of puzzling asides and mysterious non sequiturs—may well be, in The Scrapbook’s considered judgment, the worst essay on the least accurate political memoirs ever written.
Here’s one quasi-readable example: “He doesn’t reveal why or at whose direction the waterboarding tapes were destroyed, feels entitled to castigate Teddy Kennedy’s criticism of the Bush Iraq war policy but makes no mention of President Bush’s avoidance of service in Vietnam.” And here’s another: “It is not surprising that Karl Rove’s memoirs . . . is a candidate for the least accurate of all political memoirs, in view of his pride at being known as the ‘architect’ of a presidency known for prevarication and two presidential campaigns featuring the charges (from which he distances himself) that Bush’s principal opponent in 2000, John McCain, had fathered a black child and that his principal 2004 opponent, John Kerry, had been a ‘swift boat coward.’ ”
Got that? Alas, it would seem that, after a half-century-plus of loyal partisan hackery and adulation of the Kennedy clan, Ted Sorensen’s principal opponent these days is the English language. And to think that this should have happened to the author of Profiles in Courage.
In Arms Control We Trust
The Washington Post refers in passing, in an article on U.S.-Russian arms talks, to “the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the global pact that contained the spread of nuclear weapons for decades.” Really? The Scrapbook is reminded of the observation by Norman Podhoretz in the mid-1980s that modern, secular liberals, despite frequent self-congratulation for throwing off irrational faith, are in fact believers in arms control, the most widely held superstition since the Middle Ages.
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
‘I now how the ‘tea party’ people feel, the anger, venom and bile that many of them showed during the recent House vote on health-care reform. I know because I want to spit on them, take one of their ‘Obama Plan White Slavery’ signs and knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads. I am sick of these people . . . ” (Courtland Milloy, “Congressmen Show Grace, Restraint in the Face of Disrespect,” Washington Post, March 24).