For years now, sensitive and intelligent members of the Washington journalistic community (we’ll name no names!) have wondered what makes the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner so mortifying to decent people everywhere—such an embarrassment to the journalism business, to the city, to our great nation itself.
Is it the terrible food, the -watered-down drinks, the suffocating crowds, the cheesy ballroom? Or is it simply the self-importance of the thing—the spectacle of the nation’s political reporters dressing up in ill-fitting tuxes and ballgowns and demanding that the president of the United States come to their dinner, eat their food, and then do a stand-up routine making fun of himself and flattering his hosts? Could be.
Or maybe it’s the self-congratulation—the journalists’ shameless and apparently indestructible need to give awards to one another, in a kind of daisy chain without end? That’s a possibility, too.
Or wait: Maybe it’s the pathetic self-abnegation, which bumps right up against the self-congratulation—the sight of gainfully employed and supposedly independent-minded adults falling all over themselves to grab a cellphone camera shot of . . . oh, take your pick: Bob Barker, Paula Abdul, Bruce Jenner, Rahm Emmanuel, failed sitcom stars, superannuated movie actors, benchwarming sports figures, the lower orders of national celebrity. Very likely.
Or is it that the event just emits too darn much CO2?
That last one, we admit, had not occurred to us until last week, when we read an announcement issued by the White House Correspondents’ Association about this year’s dinner, which will be held May 1. We quote from it liberally:
And for the first time in its 96-year history, the association is taking action to reduce the carbon impact of its annual black-tie gala; these actions include using as much as possible renewable energy for the event, paper products, supplies and services that reduce the threat of global warming, deforestation, toxic wastes, hazardous chemicals and species extinction.
“This will be the most eco-friendly dinner ever hosted by the association,” said Edwin Chen, the group’s president and a Bloomberg News White House correspondent.
“And we encourage our members and guests to join in that effort, such as by car-pooling, using hybrid vehicles and, for long-distance travelers to Washington, buying carbon-offsets,” Chen said.
There’s that self-congratulation again. But never mind. Make no mistake, as the president says; let us not be misunderstood. We have ourselves seen with our own eyes, and heard with our own ears, the emission of tons of life-threatening gases at past correspondents’ dinners. And while Chen’s “eco-friendly” -reforms won’t make the gala any less of an embarrassment, we applaud the members’ efforts to make a dent in their carbon production, thereby preventing the extinction of every species except Journo Americanus.
Besides, using paper napkins is a small price to pay for the thrill of seeing Helen Thomas pull up to the Washington Hilton on a bicycle.
If You Only Knew the Power of the Stimulus
Why is Time columnist Joe Klein so angry? Because most Americans believe the stimulus failed: “It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens,” he complains. “It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.”
This probably isn’t the response liberal Democrats should have to public disapproval of the Obama agenda. As Matthew Continetti noted at weeklystandard.com, “To date, the Obama White House has been careful not to blame the American people for the Democrats’ failures. Obama campaigned on a promise to redeem America from Bush, to make the government live up to its citizenry. But his agenda has polarized the electorate and soured the public on the president and his party.”
So why shouldn’t Americans believe the stimulus failed? “The administration backed the stimulus with the explicit promise that unemployment would be held to 8 percent if the bill passed,” writes Continetti. “Didn’t happen. It is no doubt true that unemployment would have been worse without the stimulus—state and local governments would have had to lay off many people without federal aid to the states, for example—but parties do not win elections with the slogan, ‘Hey, it could’ve been worse!’ The stimulus was sold to the public under the banner of economic recovery. And while stimulus measures help boost short-term economic growth by bringing demand forward, the recovery is neither strong nor durable. A jobs plan that does not produce jobs growth is not a success.”
As for Klein, “He harks back to the tradition of liberals blaming others for their own failures. What was significant about President Carter’s malaise speech was its implication that there was something wrong with America which prevented him from having a successful presidency. Obama knows better. But, if he follows Klein’s lead, it will be only a few years before he gives a malaise speech of his own. And if that happens, the clock will begin to count down the remaining seconds of his one—and only—term.”
Hang ’em High
We pause to note the passing last week of General Ali Hassan al-Majid, 68, hanged in Baghdad pursuant to his eight death sentences for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Better known as Chemical Ali for his zealous killing of Kurdish Iraqis by means of mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and VX, Majid was buried near his cousin Saddam Hussein and Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, in Tikrit, their shared hometown.
Uneducated and personally ruthless, Majid served Saddam wherever an iron fist was needed—as head of the secret police, as military governor of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, as interior minister charged with crushing the Shiite uprising after the Gulf war in 1991. Arguably his most revolting accomplishment was the Anfal campaign in the late 1980s to suppress Kurdish demands for autonomy. His men looted, then razed, more than 4,000 Kurdish villages, displacing a million people. Males of an age to bear arms they rounded up and massacred. The prosecutors put the number of dead at 180,000.
At Majid’s first trial, some tape--recorded conversations were played for the court. In one, from 1988, the general was heard telling senior Baath party officials his plans for the Kurds: “I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? F— them!”
The general was right, but only in the short term. Fifteen years later, the international community roused itself in the form the American-led coalition of the willing that toppled the tyrant. Now at last, Chemical Ali has had his comeuppance at the hands of a democratic Iraq.
Something’s Rotten in Denmark
The attempted axe-murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has been widely reported. On January 1, a 28-year-old Somali Muslim hacked his way through the door of Westergaard’s house near Aarhus and when police arrived was attempting to do the same to the reinforced “safe room” where Westergaard had retreated.
Less widely reported is the shameful aftermath, in which Danes have cravenly ostracized the artist.
Westergaard is one of a dozen Danish cartoonists who depicted Mohammed for the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, for a feature on self-censorship that later touched off deadly riots around the world and the torching of three Danish embassies in the Middle East. There have been numerous death threats against all the artists. Two Pakistani immigrants, one American and one Canadian, were arrested in Chicago in October and charged with planning an attack on the newspaper.
After his narrow escape, Westergaard donated a watercolor painting to a charity auction hosted by a Danish TV program, with the proceeds to be devoted to earthquake relief in Haiti. But the Lauritz auction house got cold feet and refused to auction his art. “The drawing was in no way controversial, but it seems my name is. I’m sorry for the fear it causes people. When even my hairdresser, who is Muslim, told me with sadness that she didn’t dare keep me on as a customer for fear of reprisals, then there’s reason to be sad about this development,” the 72-year-old artist told reporters in Copenhagen.
The Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to his credit chastised Lauritz. But defenders of Westergaard are becoming rarer. And there is worse: Karen Thisted, a columnist in the leading tabloid Ekstrabladet, blamed Westergaard for his own troubles. Her January 5 column ran under the headline, “You Are a Coward, Kurt Westergaard.” She accused him of a “constant urge for self-promotion. . . . It has got nothing to do with freedom of speech to keep shouting about oneself and one’s artistic rights, and it irritates me intensely that we Danes have to suffer just because Kurt Westergard can’t get enough of his five minutes of fame.” The column concludes: “You suffer from the compulsive idea that you are personally engaged in a heroic fight on behalf of freedom of speech.”
Seems there are plenty of cowards (and worse, in the case of Thisted) in Denmark, but Westergaard isn’t one of them. A friend of The Scrapbook in Denmark notes that none of the papers there in their coverage of the axe attack dared reprint the cartoon.
On a happier note: Galleri Draupner in Skanderborg stepped up and auctioned Westergaard’s watercolor, raising 100,000 Danish krones ($19,000) for earthquake victims.
"I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
—Barack Obama, June 3, 2008
"I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some postpartisan era.”
—Barack Obama, January 27, 2010
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
"President Obama’s State of the Union address didn’t signal a political shift to the left or the right. It sounded more like a shrewd attempt to move from the inside to the outside—to position himself alongside disaffected voters, peering through the windows of the den of iniquity called Washington and . . . ” (Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, January 29).
"Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found the last few weeks in American politics particularly unnerving. . . . ” (Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, January 27).