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July 22, 2002


  • Editorials


  • The Right Welfare Reform

    It was bad enough that the Bush Administration co-opted the Children's Defense Fund slogan "Leave No Child Behind." Then the most famous former board member of CDF, Hillary Rodham Clinton, apparently decided to leave children behind in her rush to the political center, endorsing a bill that contained some of the worst elements of the Bush welfare reform plan.

    Fortunately, Hillary's Senate colleagues decided to take a courageous stand. To the surprise and relief of advocates, the Senate produced a bipartisan welfare reform bill that is more progressive than the current law in almost every way.

    The Senate bill, which emerged from the Finance Committee and soon goes to the floor, repudiates the White House vision of welfare reform. But the final version is still up in the air, and the politics of welfare reform are fickle, as evidenced by Hillary's unexpectedly harsh position. Whether we have a welfare reform law aimed at simply ending welfare or a sincere effort to help families get out of poverty will be decided in the days to come.

    The House of Representatives and the White House wanted to double the hours of work--paid and unpaid--for poor single mothers, effectively ending their chances of getting better jobs through education and training. They wanted to do away with exemptions from this workload for mothers with small children and other significant barriers to employment, and make it even harder for them to obtain access during "work hours" to drug treatment, domestic violence counseling and other services that might help people become more employable--not to mention lead more tolerable lives. (The bill Hillary signed onto also contained these provisions.) They wanted to keep the ban on Medicaid for many legal immigrants. And, despite all the emphasis on work, they added next to nothing for childcare, stranding single mothers with young children in an impossible situation.

    The Senate has taken a much more responsible approach: rejecting the increase in work hours, expanding education and training, and restoring benefits for legal immigrants. The Senate bill, however, has a few major flaws. One of the biggest is the $5.5 billion proposed for childcare funding, which will not even cover the cost of maintaining existing services.

    The final bill will likely increase those funds (twenty-five Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, are on the record as supporting more money for childcare). The bigger problem is that the quality of available care is so inferior as to be developmentally damaging and, in some cases, outright dangerous for poor children. Two toddlers died when they were forgotten in a hot van all day at a daycare center used by welfare-reform clients in Memphis. More commonly, children find themselves strapped into car seats, attended only by blaring television sets, or simply left to roam the streets. The trade-off of more mothers in the work force for more bad care leaves kids the losers.

    If policy-makers are serious about ending the cycle of poverty, they will look closely at the price children are paying for welfare "reforms" that focus relentlessly on pushing more poor mothers into low-wage work. A study by researchers at Columbia, Stanford, Yale and the University of California reports that mothers who have moved from welfare to work spend four hours less each day with their preschool children, read to and talk with their children less, suffer twice the rate of clinical depression as the rest of the population and cut meals to make ends meet.

    "You go through so much because of these people," says Swan Moore, a welfare client and member of Community Voices Heard, an advocacy group in New York City. Moore was one of 200 low-income women who took a bus ride to Washington in May to protest outside Hillary Clinton's home when she signed the welfare reform bill written by Evan Bayh, head of the Democratic Leadership Council. The women threw waffles on Clinton's lawn, urging her to stop "waffling"--saying she supported poor women and children, then signed punitive legislation.

    "I just wish politicians would meet with people and talk to us and stop trying to hop on some political bandwagon," says Moore. "How can you make laws for people you know nothing about?"

    Shortly after the protest, Clinton joined Ted Kennedy in a statement of progressive principles on welfare reform. But her waffling shows just how tenuous support for the poor can be. The question now is: Will Senate Democrats stick to their guns and fight for welfare reform that makes a positive difference? Watch what happens in the floor debate, particularly on issues of childcare and the five-year lifetime limit on assistance, which currently applies even to people working in low-paying jobs, who receive income supplements as low as $50 a month.

    There is a real chance for progressive legislation to reach the President's desk, now that the Senate bill has marshaled bipartisan support. The welfare bill came out of the most conservative committee in the Senate. Democrats have the votes to make it even better on the floor.

    The world has changed since the Clinton White House ended welfare as we knew it in 1996. No one is arguing for a return to the old system. Instead, advocates are pushing for a few provisions to allow poor women with children to earn a living and do right by their kids. The Senate bill contains the seeds of hope for that vision. Rather than risking a veto, the White House may try to delay until the bill dies. That would mean a one-year extension of the current law--but a year from now there will be even less money available for progressive programs.

    It's now or never. As the 1996 welfare reform law comes up for reauthorization, Congress and the President have a historic opportunity to change the future for children who live below the poverty line--16 percent of all kids, and 30 percent of African-American children. That's a lot of people to leave behind.

    Ruth Conniff

  • Political Cross-Dressing

    SEC chairman Harvey Pitt lurches from lapdog to bulldog, threatening CEOs with jail time if their corporate reports mislead. George Bush demands "top floor" accountability. Republican leaders in the House muscle their own caucus members into passing a sham prescription drug benefit.

    The run-up to the fall elections has begun. Barely a month ago, White House political guru Karl Rove was telling Republicans they could retain control of Congress by waving the flag, celebrating the recovery and promoting an ill-defined "compassion agenda." Now, with the dollar and the stock market sinking, the recovery looking shaky and Vice President Cheney back in hiding as investigations widen into accounting deceptions at his former company, Halliburton, Republicans are getting nervous.

    Americans don't want the war on terrorism turned to partisan purpose, pollster Stan Greenberg informed a Campaign for America's Future press briefing, "and they want this election to be about their own pressing concerns"--the soaring price of healthcare, educating their children, paying for college, decent jobs with good benefits and whether they can afford to retire now that their 401(k) has become a 201(k).

    At such a moment, progressive reforms are not only good policy but good politics. Add a real prescription drug provision to Medicare. Get serious about cracking down on HMOs. Invest in teachers, schools and after-school care and help with college tuition; pay for it by closing down offshore tax havens and making billionaires pay what they did before George W. Bush cut their taxes. Raise the minimum wage and curb excessive executive pay packages. Protect workers' pensions and prosecute corrupt corporate executives. Save Social Security from privatization's benefit cuts. Stop fast-track trade authority and demand trade accords that strengthen rather than diminish worker, farmer and environmental protections. Make polluters pay for cleaning up their toxic wastes instead of sending the bill to taxpayers and slowing the cleanup.

    The popularity of these reforms has led Republicans to add political cross-dressing to the Rove strategy: Hug a tree, hang a CEO, don't say the word "privatization." Whether they can get away with this is unclear. It's a bit like putting pearl earrings on a sow. It's an all-too-real prospect, however, at a time when Democrats control the Senate but fast track passes easily, when Senator Ted Kennedy still has trouble getting fellow Democrats to sign on for a rewrite of Bush's fundamentally flawed tax plan, and when Democratic Leadership Council-addled "money Democrats" blur the differences between the parties.

    If Democrats hope to win in 2002, they will have to do it the old-fashioned way--by running as Democrats. And labor, community, civil rights, women's and environmental groups will have to give them a push in the right direction--just as they did with the successful effort to keep the GOP from enacting a permanent repeal of the estate tax. Rove and his army of strategists are masters at filling the narrow cracks between the GOP and "kinder, gentler" Democrats. Only by opening a significant divide between themselves and the GOP can the Democrats emerge as the alternative that Rove and his minions fear--and that the voters are ready to embrace.

    the Editors

  • Going Down the Road

    POP-ing the Bankers

    Jim Hightower

  • 1776 and All That

    The country is riven and ailing, with a guns-plus-butter nuttiness in some of its governing echelons and the sort of lapsed logic implicit in the collapse of trust in money-center capitalism, which has been an undergirding theory of a good deal of the work that many people do. The tallest buildings, real profit centers, fall, as "wogs" and "ragheads" defy us, perhaps comparably to how the "gooks" in Vietnam did (from whose example Osama bin Laden may have learned that we could be defeated). But that was on foreign soil, and we believed that we had pulled our punches and beaten ourselves, and so remained triumphalist for the remainder of the twentieth century, as we had been practically since Reconstruction.

    Now we're not so sure. For the first time since the War of 1812 we have been damaged in continental America by foreigners, having made other people hate us, though we had never needed to pay attention to such matters before. Proxies could fight the malcontents for us in places like Central America, and the Japanese and Germans, would-be conquerors, had not felt much real animus, becoming close, amicable allies after the war. Our first World War II hero, Colin Kelly, three days after Pearl Harbor, flew his B-17 bomber (as media myth had it) in kamikaze fashion to hit a Japanese cruiser, before the Japanese made a practice of it. To give your life for your country, like Nathan Hale, is an ideal that's since evaporated.

    Obese individually and as a nation, and trying to stall the aging process, we talk instead of cars and taxes, sports and movies, cancer and entitlements, but with a half-unmentioned inkling too of what more ominously may be in store--a premonition that our righteous confidence might have served us just a bit too well. We never agonized a lot about killing off the Indians, or our slaving history either, once that was over, or being the only nuclear power ever to incinerate multitudes of people. We've hardly seemed to notice when free enterprise segues into simple greed, because our religious beginnings countenanced rapacity, as long as you tithed. Settling the seaboard in official belts of piety, whether Puritan, Anglican, Quaker or Dutch Reformed (only the frontier tended to be atheistic), we seized land and water with abandon, joined by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and what have you, westward ho. Each group encouraged its rich men to creep like a camel through the eye of the needle, and political freedoms were gradually canted away from the pure ballot box toward influence-buying.

    We swallowed all of that because the New World dream envisioned everybody working hard and getting fairly rich, except when undertows of doubt pervaded our prosperity, as in the 1930s and 1960s; or now when, feeling gridlocked, we wonder if we haven't gone too far and used the whole place up. We seem to need some kind of condom invented just for greed--a latex sac where spasms of that particular vice can be ejaculated, captured and contained. Like lust, it's not going to go away. Nor will Monopoly games do the trick, any more than pornographic videos erase impulses that might result in harm. The old phrase patrons of prostitutes used to use--"getting your ashes hauled"--said it pretty well, and if we could persuade people to think of greed, as well, that way and expel its destructiveness perhaps into a computer screen, trapping the piggishness in cyberspace might save a bit of Earth. The greediest guys would not be satisfied, but greed might be looked on as slightly outré.

    Some vertigo or "near death" experience of global warming may be required to trip the necessary degree of alarm. The droughts and water wars, a polar meltdown and pelagic crisis--too much saltwater and insufficient fresh. In the meantime, dried-up high plains agriculture and Sunbelt golf greens in the Republicans' heartlands will help because African famines are never enough. We need a surge of altruism, artesian decency. The oddity of greed nowadays is that it is so often solo--in the service of one ego--not ducal or kingly, as the apparatus of an unjust state. Overweening possession, such as McMansions and so on, will be loony in the century we are entering upon--ecologically, economically, morally, commonsensically. But how will we realize this, short of disastrous procrastination? Hurricanes and centrifugal violence on the home front, not to mention angry Arabs flying into the World Trade Center? That astounded us: both the anger and the technological savvy. These camel-herding primitives whom we had manipulated, fleeced, romanticized and patronized for generations, while pumping out their oil and bottling them up in monarchies and emirates that we cultivated and maintained, while jeering at them with casual racism in the meantime, when we thought of it, for not having democracies like ours. To discover that satellite TV, the Internet and some subversive preaching should suddenly provide them access to divergent opinions disconcerts if it doesn't frighten us, as does their willingness to counterpose rudimentary suicide missions to the helicopter gunships and F-16s we provide the Israelis. "Don't they value life?"

    They won't be the last. The Vietcong were as culturally different from the Palestinians as we are and yet succeeded in winning a country for themselves, at a tremendous but bearable cost, which the Palestinians will also undoubtedly do. Self-sacrifice can be a match for weaponry, not because the Americans or Israelis value Asian or Arab life--at key junctures and for essentially racist reasons they have not--but because of the value they place on their own citizenry. As many as fifty Vietnamese lives were lost for every American's, but that was not a high enough ratio for us, even though, unlike some Israelis, we don't ascribe to ourselves a biblical imprimatur. So we let them have their land, and the domino calamities that had been famously predicted did not result.

    To equate our own revolution with anybody else's is quite offensive to us. Mostly, in fact, we prefer to forget that we had a revolutionary past and kicked thousands of wealthy Tories into Canada, seizing their property. We were slow to condemn apartheid in South Africa, having scarcely finished abolishing our own at the time, and have been slow in general to support self-governance in the warmer climates or to acknowledge suffering among people whose skins are beiger than ours. And if our income per capita is sixty or eighty times theirs, that doesn't strike us as strange. We are a bootstrap country, after all. They should pay us heed. And the whole United Nations is "a cesspool," according to a recent New York City mayor.

    But primitive notions like those of Ed Koch invite a primitive response. And box-cutters in the hands of Taliban fundamentalists are not our main problem. We have gratuitously destroyed so much of nature that the Taliban's smashing up of Buddhist statues, as comparative vandalism, will someday seem quite minuscule. We have also denatured our own nominal religions: that is, taken the bite of authenticity out of Christianity, for instance. Our real problem, I think, is a centrifugal disorientation and disbelief. There is a cost to cynicism (as in our previous activities in Afghanistan), and the systematic demonizing of communitarianism during the cold war made it harder afterward for us to reject as perverse the double-talking profiteering implicit in phenomena like Enron, when we had thought that anything was better than collective regulation and planning.

    But ceasing to believe in revolutionary democracy--whether of the secular or Christian (or Emersonian) variety--has proven costly. A decent regard for the welfare of other people, in international as well as local life, is going to be more than just a matter of private virtue. In a shrinking world it may be a survival tool. Fanaticism doesn't carry as far unless catastrophic economic conditions lurk in the background, as we learned in the case of Germany between the two world wars but then, when non-Caucasians were involved, forgot. Our foreign aid budget, once the cold war ended, collapsed into spectacular stinginess, and our sole response to September 11 has been police work. This can probably erase Al Qaeda--which became after its instant victory that one morning quite superfluous anyway--but not the knowledge of our vulnerability to any handful of smart and angry plotters in this technological age. We might see an explosion of those.

    Our national self-absorption (in which the focus seems more on trying to stay young than helping the young) may give capitalism a bad name. Simple hedonism and materialism was not the point of crossing the ocean. Our revolution was better than that. It was to paint the world anew.

    Edward Hoagland

  • The Court’s Terrible Two

    Saving the worst for last, on the final day of the term the Supreme Court issued 5-to-4 rulings on school vouchers and drug testing that blow a huge hole in the wall of church-state separation and shrivel the privacy rights of students.

    Since 1996 Ohio has provided tuition aid for Cleveland grade school students to attend private schools, special city or suburban public schools and individual tutoring classes. In the 1999-2000 school year, 96 percent of the students in this program went to religious schools. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court approved the voucher system (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris). Writing for the Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted that the tuition aid went initially to the parents, who then endorsed the check over to the school. Because the parents could have chosen one of the public school programs, the "incidental advancement of a religious mission," wrote Rehnquist, is not attributable "to the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits."

    On its face, this is nonsense. The "achievement of a religious mission" is directly attributable to the state, which actually pays the funds to the religious institution; the parent is only a conduit who directs where the money will go. The declared purpose of these schools is religious indoctrination of students. The curriculums include prayer, and all subjects are taught in a religious framework. Providing the tuition money that makes it possible for these schools to enroll their students puts the government squarely in the business of achieving a religious mission.

    Formally, the program was neutral, but in practice it was not. The amount of aid was too little for nonreligious private schools but more than enough for the low-cost religious schools, where the program paid for the full tuition. The overwhelming proportion of this money thus had to go to religious schools, which, of course, the Ohio legislature had to know. Moreover, if formal neutrality is the test, a program will pass muster even if all the money and students go to religious schools, so long as it has some secular purpose. Since such a purpose can always be produced, the door is wide open for massive state support of fundamentally religious activity.

    The focus on choice ignores the point of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. That clause is not designed to promote a choice between religious and nonreligious institutions, nor is there any right to such choice at state expense. The intent of the Establishment Clause is to avoid spending taxpayer money in a way that promotes religion and thus encourages sectarian rivalry. We had a great deal of such strife before 1787, and the clause was adopted to prevent this. Also, as Jefferson explained, no one should be "compelled to...support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever...[even a] teacher of his own religious persuasion"; Madison, the father of the Bill of Rights, shared those sentiments.

    The decision will probably not result in many more voucher programs. There is a lack of state money for education and strong allegiance to public schools; studies by the government and other organizations do not support the claim that voucher programs substantially improve academic achievement. The decision will, however, produce many bitter religious fights. As soon as the decision came down, state and federal legislators introduced voucher legislation. There will also be conflicts over other programs, including challenges by religious groups to the more stringent provisions on church-state separation in state constitutions.

    The Court's drug testing decision is also more important for what it portends than for its immediate result. In 1989 the Vernonia, Oregon, school district instituted a drug testing program for student athletes. In 1995 the Court approved the program but stressed the special circumstances of the case: Vernonia had a serious drug problem in which athletes were the leaders of the drug culture; missed football plays and serious sports accidents had been attributed to drug abuse. The Court cautioned, however, "against the assumption that suspicionless drug testing will readily pass Constitutional muster in other contexts."

    That caution disappeared, however, when the Tecumseh, Oklahoma, school district found drugs on the campus, heard students talk about drug use and decided to test all middle and high school students who wanted to participate in competitive extracurricular school activities. Lindsay Earls, a member of the choir, the marching band, the Academic Team and the National Honor Society objected but, after winning in appeals court, lost in the Supreme Court (Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls).

    Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ignored all the special circumstances of the Vernonia case and dismissed the absence of a demonstrated problem of drug abuse as unimportant. Because (1) students have a reduced expectation of privacy, (2) the intrusion is "negligible," (3) the sanction (exclusion from extracurricular activities) is minor and (4) drug abuse is a bad thing, the program is acceptable. Any effort to link drug abuse to choir singing, the marching band or the Academic Team would have been ludicrous, and Thomas didn't even try. On his reasoning, as long as the sanctions are minor, all students may be subjected to drug testing because the other factors he mentioned always exist.

    Although the decision is far-reaching, its immediate impact is likely to be modest. Few schools routinely test even their athletes, and widespread testing is expensive. The decision underscores once again, however, that for the Supreme Court, the rights of young people are shredded when they walk through the schoolhouse gates.

    Herman Schwartz

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  • Columns

    Cheney’s Grimy Trail in Business

    Vice President Dick Cheney has spent most of the past year in hiding, ostensibly from terrorists, but increasingly it seems obvious that it is Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, th

    Robert Scheer

  • A Fox Is About to Reassure Us Hens

    For President Bush to pretend to be shocked that some of the nation's top executives deal from a stacked deck is akin to a madam feigning surprise that sexual favors have been sold in her establi

    Robert Scheer

  • Tinkering With the Death Machine

    The essential case for the abolition of capital punishment has long been complete, whether it is argued as an overdue penal reform, as a shield against the arbitrary and the irreparable or as part of the case against "big government."

    Christopher Hitchens

  • School’s Out

    When the New York City Board of Education called on public schools to bring back the Pledge of Allegiance in the wake of 9/11, my daughter, a freshman at Stuyvesant High, thought her big chance to protest had finally come. Have you thought about what you'll say if you have to justify not reciting it? I asked. "Sure," she replied. "I'll say, there's such a thing as the First Amendment, you know--separation of church and state? I mean, under God? Duh!" Judge Alfred Goodwin of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, meet my Sophie, future president of the ACLU if the punk-rock-guitarist plan doesn't work out.

    Virtually every politician in the country has issued a press release deploring Judge Goodwin's ruling that the words "under God" constituted a coercive endorsement of religion. "Ridiculous!" said the President. Tom Daschle led the Senate in a stampede to condemn the ruling 99 to 0, after they recited the pledge together. The Times editorial expressed the standard liberal line, mingling world-weariness and fear: "under God" is a trivial matter, so why arouse the wrath of the mad Christians? You can turn that argument around though--if it's so trivial, why not do the right, constitutional thing? Let the nonbelieving babies have their First Amendment bottle! The very fact that the vast majority of Americans believe in God counts against inserting expressions of religious faith into civic exercises for kids--civil liberties are all about protecting unpopular minorities from being steamrollered by the majority. The history of "under God" is not very edifying or even very long: It was added to the original pledge--written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist--by Congress in 1954 as a means "to deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." If that was the purpose, it worked. The new Evil Ones, however, have no quarrel with being "under God"; it's the "liberty and justice for all" they disapprove of. If we really want to drive them nuts, we should change "under God" to "with equality between men and women." Or better yet, retire the pledge as an exercise in groupthink unbefitting a free people.

    Something tells me we haven't seen the last classroom invocation of the divine umbrella--Judge Goodwin has already stayed his own ruling--but even if the decision is upheld, it's unfortunately the least significant in a number of recent rulings about education. The Supreme Court decision upholding the Cleveland school voucher program is a real, nonsymbolic triumph for organized religion, which stands to reap millions of dollars in public funds, taken directly from the budgets of the weakest school systems. Theoretically, your tax dollars can now support the indoctrination of every crackpot religious idea from creationism to stoning, with extra credit for attending rallies against legal abortion and for the retention of "Judea" and "Samaria" as God's gift to the Jewish people. What happened to e pluribus unum? (Interestingly, as David Greenberg notes in Slate, e pluribus unum was replaced as the national motto in 1956 by... In God We Trust!) And what about that pesky First Amendment? Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice Rehnquist argues that separation of church and state is preserved because it is the parent, not the state, who actually turns the voucher over to the religious school. By the same logic, why not a health system in which patients get vouchers good for surgery or a ticket to Lourdes?

    The same day brought the Court's decision upholding random drug testing of students who want to take part in after-school activities. Now there's a great idea--take the kids who could really use something productive to do with their afternoons, kids who, whatever mischief they're up to, actually want to run track or sing in the chorus or work on the yearbook, and don't let them do it! God forbid some 16-year-old pothead should get a part in the drama club production of Arsenic and Old Lace. The harm of the ruling isn't just that kids who do drugs will now have yet more time on their hands and yet more reason to bond with their fellow slackers, it's that everyone gets a lesson in collective humiliation and authoritarianism--stoned or straight, the principal can make you pee in a cup. Consider too that one-third of schools now offer abstinence-only sex education, in which kids are told that contraception doesn't work and having sex before marriage is likely to be fatal--if the kids don't go to parochial school, apparently, parochial school comes to them.

    The prize for the worst school-related decision, though, has to go to the panel of New York State appeals court judges that reversed Justice Leland DeGrasse's brave and noble ruling invalidating the state's school funding formula, which gives less money per child to New York City schools despite the fact that city schools have disproportionate numbers of poor and non-English-speaking children. According to Justice Alfred Lerner, author of the court's majority opinion, the state is required to provide its young only the equivalent of a middle-school education--enough for them to sit on a jury, vote and hold down a menial job. Anything more is optional and can be distributed at will. (Why not let kids drop out after eighth grade, you may ask? Well, then they'd miss abstinence classes and drug tests and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance!) The world needs workers at the lowest levels, the judge observes, so let the black and Hispanic kids of New York City be the hewers of wood and drawers of water and flippers of burgers. Somebody's got to do it--and it's a safe bet it won't be the judges' children.

    Maybe the critical legal theorists are right and the law is merely a form of words into which can be poured whatever meaning the ruling class wants it to have. It's hard to understand in any other way the court's willful misunderstandings of the actual conditions of city public schools, so that they could respond to plaintiff's evidence of schools with decades-old outmoded science textbooks by harrumphing that there's nothing wrong with libraries full of "classics."

    Katha Pollitt

  • On the Congressional Response to the ‘Under God’ Controversy

    They pledge allegiance to the thought
    That every politician ought
    To take a stand that's foursquare for the Lord.
    They think if they say, "God is great!
    Don't separate him from the state!"
    Election is the blessing he'll afford.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Books and the Arts

    Citizen Jane

    A half-century ago T.H. Marshall, British Labour Party social theorist, offered a progressive, developmental theory for understanding the history of what we have come to call citizenship. Taking the experience of Englishmen to define the superior path, he postulated a hierarchy of citizenships: civil rights, political rights and social rights. The last of these became the category in which twentieth-century Europeans have understood claims on the state to health, welfare, education and protection from avoidable risk. They conceived of these citizenships as stages in an upward climb toward an ever better democracy.

    Marshall's schema looked only at European men. Feminists have pointed out that women did not achieve citizenship in this order. In fact, women often won some social rights--for example, protective legislation and "welfare"--before achieving political ones such as the right to vote. And women's individual civil rights were often overwhelmed and even suppressed by legally imposed family obligations and moral sanctions. (For example, a century ago courts generally interpreted the law of marriage to mean that women were legally obligated to provide housework, childcare and sexual services to husbands.) Equally problematic were Marshall's obliviousness to British imperialism and what it meant for Third World populations, including the fact that he conceived of the British as civilizers rather than exploiters, and his apparent ignorance of the conditions of second-class citizenship for racial/ethnic subordinates within nation-states. In short, his historical hierarchy was highly ideological.

    But no one has yet done what Alice Kessler-Harris has in her newest book, In Pursuit of Equity, reaching beyond Marshall and his critics to suggest a new concept, economic citizenship. In this history of how women have been treated in employment, tax and welfare policy, Kessler-Harris--arguably the leading historian of women's labor in the United States--synthesizes several decades of feminist analysis to produce a holistic conception of what full citizenship for women might entail. In lucid prose with vivid (and sometimes comic) illustrations of the snarled thinking that results from conceiving of women as dependents--rather than equal in heading families--she offers a vision of how we can move toward greater democracy. In the process, she also shows us what we are up against. Her book illustrates brilliantly how assumptions about appropriate gender roles are built into all aspects of policy.

    She aims to resolve what is perhaps the central contradiction for policy-makers and policy scholars who care about sex equality: the contradiction between, on the one hand, valuing the unpaid caring work still overwhelmingly performed by women and, on the other hand, enabling women to achieve equality in wage labor and political power. Today, for example, although all feminists oppose the punitive new requirements of the policy that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children, repealed in 1996, they are divided about what would constitute the right kind of welfare system. Some find it appropriate that all adults, including parents of young children, should be employed, assuming they can get a living wage and good childcare. Others, often called maternalists, believe a parent should have the right to choose full-time parenting for young or particularly needy children. Behind this difference lie two different visions of sex equality--one that emphasizes equal treatment of the sexes and individual rights and responsibilities, another that seeks to make unpaid caring labor, notably for the very young, the old and the ill, as honorable and valued as waged labor.

    Kessler-Harris would resolve this contradiction through a labor-centered view of citizenship, a notion of economic citizenship based on equity, or fairness, in the valuation of socially worthy labor. Previously, the policy proposal closest to this principle of equity was "comparable worth." Second-wave feminists saw that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had failed to equalize male and female wages. Because the labor force is so segregated, and female jobs are so consistently undervalued, equal pay alone cannot produce justice to women (or men of color). The comparable-worth strategy called for equal wages for work of comparable expertise and value, even when the jobs differed. For example, consider the wage gap between truck drivers and childcare workers. Truck drivers earned much more even than registered nurses, whose training and responsibility was so much greater. The women's movement's challenge to inequality in jobs took off in 1979, when Eleanor Holmes Norton, then head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, called for evaluations of job skills to remedy women's low wages. But her successor, Clarence Thomas, refused to consider comparable-worth claims. Although some substantial victories were achieved in state and union battles--for example, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) won wage increases averaging 32 percent and back pay retroactive to 1979 for Washington State employees, 35,000 of whom shared a $482 million settlement--the comparable-worth campaigns faded in the 1980s.

    But even had the comparable-worth strategy been adopted, it could not have recognized the hours spent in caring for children, parents, disabled relatives and friends, not to mention the work of volunteering in underfunded schools, cooking for homeless shelters, running kids' basketball teams. Kessler-Harris is arguing for a citizenship that respects unpaid as well as paid labor.

    She has worked out the arguments in this book systematically over many years. Several years ago, an article of hers with the deceptively simple title "Where Are All the Organized Women Workers?" enlarged the understanding of gendered "interests" from an exclusive focus on women to take in men as well. She demonstrated that so long as men dominate, aspirations understood and characterized as class interests often express gender interests equally strongly. She uncovered how unions often operated as men's clubs, built around forms of male bonding that excluded women, primarily unconsciously but often consciously, too. In this new book she extends her analysis of men's gendered interests to reveal how labor unionists' inability to stop defending the privileges of masculinity have held back labor's achievements. One vivid example was unions' opposition to state-funded welfare programs and health-and-safety regulation, stemming from anxiety that they would deprive workers of their manly independence. Of course, unionist resistance to state control over workplace and work-centered programs also derived from a defense of workers' control. But this vision of workplace democracy was inextricably masculinist, and workingmen's understanding of their dignity rested on distinguishing themselves from women.

    In A Woman's Wage, Kessler-Harris showed that both Marxist and neoclassical economics were mistaken in their joint assumption that the wage was somehow a consistent, transparent token of the capital/labor relation. By contrast, wage rates, wage systems, indeed the whole labor market were constructed by gender interests and ideology as well as by supply and demand or surplus value or the actual cost of subsistence. A wonderful example from her new book: The Hawthorne experiments of the late 1920s have been interpreted to show that women workers were more tractable than men. In one study, a group of women workers adapted more cooperatively and quickly to a speedup than did a group of male workers. In seeking to explain this behavior, investigators examined the women's home lives and even their menstrual cycles, while paying no particular attention to the fact that the collective rather than individual wage structure imposed on them was such that higher productivity could only increase their total wages, while the men's piece-rate wage structure offered no such guarantee--in fact, the men had reason to expect that the piece rate would be lowered if they speeded up. We see here not a "natural" gendered difference arising informally from culture and socialization, but female and male workers responding rationally to a gendered system imposed by employers.

    In Pursuit of Equity argues that no one can enjoy civil and political rights without social and economic citizenship. Marshall's alleged gradual expansion of civil and political rights not only excluded many others but actually strengthened women's exclusion from citizenship. One fundamental premise of democratic capitalism--free labor--was never fully extended to all women, whose labor was often coercively regulated, not only by husbands but by the state. Kessler-Harris shows how free labor developed in tandem with the "family wage" ideal, that is, that husbands/fathers should earn for the entire family and that women's destiny was domestic unpaid labor. The correlate was that men "naturally" sought economic and social independence while women "naturally" sought dependence. Ironically, most feminists of the nineteenth century went along with this dichotomy and tried to root women's citizenship in their essential family services rather than in the free-labor definition of independence. That is, they argued for rights on the basis of women's spiritual and material work in unpaid caretaking labor.

    The book demonstrates particularly effectively how the dominant modern gender system--the family-wage norm--made it difficult for women to become full citizens. In one closely documented section, Kessler-Harris exposes the condescending and defensive assumptions of those who drafted the Old Age Insurance program (which later became Social Security). The drafters agreed, for example, that the widow of a covered man with young children should be able to receive three-quarters of his pension until she remarried or the children reached 18. A widow without children lacked any rights to her husband's pension. But if this pension was her husband's by right, as the designers insisted, then why were his heirs not entitled to all of it as with all other parts of his property? If the widow remarried, she would not have to give up the bank account or house or car he had left her--why should she give up a Social Security pension? One Social Security drafter argued that retaining such an annuity after remarriage would make widows "a prize for the fellow that has looked for it," assuming that women are entirely passive in marriage decisions! The drafters were all convinced that "once a woman was no longer dependent on the earnings of a particular male (dead or alive)...his support for her should cease." In other words, his status as breadwinner should continue even after his death. The drafters rejected the idea of granting all widows of covered men an equal stipend or one based on the number of children. It was important for her benefits to be calibrated to his earnings so as to feed "the illusion that families deprived of a father or husband would nevertheless conceive him...as a continuing provider." "Why should you pay the widow less than the individual himself gets if unmarried?" Because "she can look after herself better than he can." Imagining women as less capable of handling money than men, the designers removed the option of a lump-sum benefit to widows, requiring them, unlike men, to receive monthly stipends. To avoid "deathbed marriages," they allowed a widow to collect only if she had been married and living with her husband for at least a year before he died.

    The concern with male status was reflected particularly comically in discussions about the age at which a wife could start to receive her share of her husband's benefits. Some argued for an earlier "retirement" age for women because if both men and women were eligible at 65, this would mean that men with younger wives--a common phenomenon--might not get their full pension for a number of years after they retired. But others argued that since men who married much younger women were more likely to be those who had married more than once, granting women an earlier retirement date might reward these men over single-marriage retirees.

    Several decades ago economist Heidi Hartmann pointed out that patriarchy was as much a system of power and hierarchy among men as a male-female relation, and Kessler-Harris confirms that insight. For example, the entire debate about whether married couples should be able to report separate incomes for IRS purposes concerned the inequalities this would create between men with employed wives and men with nonemployed wives. Fairness to women was not a prominent concern. The fact that employed women's old-age insurance benefits were restricted according to their marital status while men's weren't "did not seem like sex discrimination [to the Social Security designers] but rather like equity to men."

    At the core of In Pursuit of Equity is the understanding that what is "fair" is historically changing. The problem we face today is not that men deliberately built policies to subordinate women but that when our basic economic policies were established, men and women alike tended to see male breadwinning and female domesticity as "fair." That standard is far, far from reality today. One result is a double standard in which supposedly ideal family life, requiring a full-time mother, is a privilege of wives of high-earning husbands.

    In the United States, the resultant damage is worse than in Europe, because here many fundamental aspects of citizenship flow from the labor market. "Independence" today is generally defined as earning one's living through wages, despite the fact that the resulting dependence on employers leaves workers as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, than dependence on government stipends. Social rights vital for survival, such as medical insurance, retirement pensions and workers' compensation, typically derive from employment in this country, in contrast to most developed countries, which provide such help as a matter of right to all citizens or residents. This is one way in which American wage workers, as Kessler-Harris says, were "in a different relationship to the constitution than those who did care-giving work." As a result the development of democratic capitalism, even the growth of working-class power in some ways failed to strengthen women's economic citizenship, even weakened it. Indeed, she shows how victories against sex discrimination in the labor force in the 1960s inadvertently confirmed the assumption that all women could and should work for wages, thereby contributing to the repeal of welfare without creating the conditions that would make it possible for poor women to support themselves through employment.

    This gendered citizenship became more visible and more obnoxious to women as wage-earning became the female norm and as "alternative families" gained political clout. For example, if every individual was entitled to an old-age pension and unemployment compensation, we wouldn't have to struggle about the inheritance rights of gay partners or stay-at-home parents' need for support. Even today, banning sex discrimination is difficult because it is difficult to get agreement on what constitutes discrimination. In a few cases division among feminists has held back the struggle. Kessler-Harris ends the book with a brief reprise of EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., a 1980s marker of this division and a case in which she herself played a significant role. Sears admitted that very few women held any of its well-paying commission sales jobs but argued that women were not interested in these jobs because the positions were competitive, pressured, demanding. Another historian of women testified for Sears against the women plaintiffs, using her expertise to argue that women's primary attachment to unpaid domestic labor led them to want only jobs which did not conflict with it. Her arguments illustrated vividly the continuing influence of this emphasis on male/female difference, not necessarily as "natural" or essential but nevertheless beyond the appropriate scope of legal remedy. Sears won the case.

    There is one pervasive absence in Kessler-Harris's book--race--and the omission weakens the argument substantially. Her understanding of how the family-wage ideal works would have to be substantially complicated if she made African-American women more central, for they were rarely able to adopt a male breadwinner/female housewife family model and often rejected it, developing a culture that expects and honors women's employment more than white culture. Mexican-American women's experience did not fit the family-wage model either, despite their reputation as traditional, because so many have participated in agricultural and domestic wage labor throughout their lives in the United States. Equally problematic to the argument, prosperous white women who accepted the family-wage model often didn't do unpaid domestic labor because they hired poor immigrants and women of color to do it for low wages. These different histories must affect how we envisage a policy that recognizes labor outside the wage system, and they need to be explored.

    One aspect of Kessler-Harris's economic citizenship concept is being expressed today by progressive feminists trying to influence the reauthorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program for poor children and their parents that succeeded AFDC. We are pushing a House bill that would recognize college education and childcare as work under the new welfare work requirements. This book is a sustained argument for that kind of approach and should help it become part of the policy discussion. It probably won't win. Some will call it unrealistic. But today's policies are already wildly unrealistic, if realism has anything to do with actual life. If we don't begin now to outline the programs that could actually create full citizenship for women, we will never get there.

    Linda Gordon

  • Screen Rage

    One of the most persistent myths in the culture wars today is that social science has proven "media violence" to cause adverse effects. The debate is over; the evidence is overwhelming, researchers, pundits and politicians frequently proclaim. Anyone who denies it might as well be arguing that the earth is flat.

    Jonathan Freedman, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has been saying for almost twenty years that it just isn't so. He is not alone in his opinion, but as a psychologist trained in experimental research, he is probably the most knowledgeable and qualified to express it. His new book, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression, surveys all of the empirical studies and experiments in this field, and finds that the majority do not support the hypothesis that violent content in TV and movies has a causal relationship to real violence in society. The book is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand this issue.

    I should say at the outset that unlike Freedman, I doubt whether quantitative sociological or psychological experiments--useful as they are in many areas--can tell us much about the effects of something as broad and vague in concept as "media violence." As a group of scholars put it recently in a case involving censorship of violent video games:

    In a field as inherently complex and multi-faceted as human aggression, it is questionable whether quantitative studies of media effects can really provide a holistic or adequately nuanced description of the process by which some individuals become more aggressive than others.

    Indeed, since "media violence" encompasses everything from cartoons, sports and news to horror movies, westerns, war documentaries and some of the greatest works of film art, it baffles me how researchers think that generalizations about "effects" can be made based on experiments using just one or a few examples of violent action.

    Freedman, by contrast, believes that the experimental method is capable of measuring media effects. This may explain why he is so indignant about the widespread misrepresentations and distortions of the research data.

    He explains in his preface that he became interested in this area by happenstance, and was surprised when he began reading the research to find that its results were quite the opposite of what is usually asserted. He began speaking and writing on the subject. In 1999 he was approached by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and asked to do a comprehensive review of all the research. He had not previously received organizational support and, as he says, "was a little nervous because I knew there was a danger that my work would be tainted by a connection with the MPAA." He agreed only after making it clear that the MPAA "would have no input into the review, would see it only after it was complete, and except for editorial suggestions, would be forbidden to alter what I wrote. Of course," he says,

    they asked me to do the review, rather than someone else, because they knew my position and assumed or at least hoped that I would come to the same conclusion after a more comprehensive review. But there was no quid pro quo. Although I was nervous about being tainted, I am confident that I was not. In any case, the conclusions of this review are not different from those of my earlier review or those I expressed in papers and talks between 1984 and 1999.

    The book proceeds meticulously to examine the approximately 200 studies and experiments that Freedman was able to find after an exhaustive search. (He suggests that the exaggerated numbers one often hears--1,000, 3,500 or simply "thousands" of studies--probably derive from a statement made by psychologist John Murray in the early 1980s when the National Institute of Mental Health sponsored a review of the media violence research. Murray said that there were about 2,500 publications of all kinds that were relevant to the review. This is far different, of course, from the number of empirical experiments and studies.)

    Freedman begins with laboratory experiments, of which he found eighty-seven. Many commentators have noted the artificiality of these experiments, in which snippets of a violent film or TV show are shown to one group of viewers (sometimes children, sometimes adolescents or adults), while a control group is shown a nonviolent clip. Then their level of "aggression" is observed--or rather, something that the experimenters consider a proxy for aggression, such as children hitting a Bobo doll (an inflatable plastic clown), delivering a "white noise" blast or--amazingly--answering yes when asked whether they would pop a balloon if given the opportunity.

    As Freedman and others have pointed out, these laboratory proxies for aggression are not the real thing, and aggressive play is very different from real-world violent or destructive behavior. He comments:

    Quite a few studies with children defined aggression as hitting or kicking a Bobo doll or some other equivalent toy.... As anyone who has owned one knows, Bobo dolls are designed to be hit. When you hit a Bobo doll, it falls down and then bounces back up. You are supposed to hit it and it is supposed to fall down and then bounce back up. There is little reason to have a Bobo doll if you do not hit it. Calling punching a Bobo doll aggressive is like calling kicking a football aggressive. Bobos are meant to be punched; footballs are meant to be kicked. No harm is intended and none is done.... It is difficult to understand why anyone would think this is a measure of aggression.

    Freedman notes other serious problems with the design of lab experiments to test media effects. When positive results are found, they may be due simply to the arousal effect of high-action entertainment, or to a desire to do what the subjects think the experimenter wants. He points out that experimenters generally haven't made efforts to assure that the violent and nonviolent clips that they show are equivalent in other respects. That is, if the nonviolent clip is less arousing, then any difference in "aggression" afterward is probably due to arousal, not imitation. Freedman's favorite example is an experiment in which one group of subjects saw a bloody prizefight, while the control group was shown a soporific film about canal boats.

    But the most striking point is that even given the questionable validity of lab experiments in measuring real-world media effects, the majority of experiments have not had positive results. After detailed analysis of the numbers that the researchers reported, Freedman summarizes: Thirty-seven percent of the experiments supported the hypothesis that media violence causes real-world violence or aggression, 22 percent had mixed results and 41 percent did not support the hypothesis. After he factored out experiments using "the most doubtful measures of aggression" (popping balloons and so forth), only 28 percent of the results were supportive, 16 percent were mixed and 55 percent were nonsupportive of the "causal hypothesis."

    For field experiments--designed to more closely approximate real-world conditions--the percentage of negative results was higher: "Only three of the ten studies obtained even slightly supportive results, and two of those used inappropriate statistics while the third did not have a measure of behavior." Freedman comments that even this weak showing "gives a more favorable picture than is justified," for "several of the studies that failed to find effects actually consisted of many separate studies." Counting the results of these separate studies, "three field experiments found some support, and twenty did not."

    Now, the whole point of the scientific method is that experiments can be replicated, and if the hypothesis is correct, they will produce the same result. A minority of positive results are meaningless if they don't show up consistently. As Freedman exhaustively shows, believers in the causal hypothesis have badly misrepresented the overall results of both lab and field experiments.

    They have also ignored clearly nonsupportive results, or twisted them to suit their purposes. Freedman describes one field experiment with numerous measures of aggression, all of which failed to support the causal hypothesis. Not satisfied with these results, the researchers "conducted a complex internal analysis" by dividing the children into "initially high in aggression" and "initially low in aggression" categories. The initially low-aggression group became somewhat more aggressive, no matter which programs they watched, while the initially high-aggression group became somewhat less aggressive, no matter which programs they watched. But the children who were categorized as initially high in aggression and were shown violent programs "decreased less in aggressiveness" than initially high-aggression children who watched neutral programs. The researchers seized upon this one highly massaged and obscure finding to claim that their results supported the causal hypothesis.

    Freedman examines other types of studies: surveys that compare cities or countries before and after introduction of television; experiments attempting to assess whether media violence causes "desensitization"; longitudinal studies that measure correlations between aggressiveness and preference for violent television over time. No matter what the type of study or experiment, the results overall are negative. Contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific support for the notion that media violence causes adverse effects.

    Why, then, have not only researchers and politicians but major professional associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association repeatedly announced that thousands of studies have established adverse effects of media violence? One reason was suggested to me recently by a pediatrician active in the AAP. The organization's guidelines argue for scientific support for policy statements. This puts the AAP in a serious bind when, as is the case with media violence, its leaders have a strong opinion on the subject. It's tempting then to accept and repeat assertions about the data from leading researchers in the field--even when it is distorted or erroneous--and that's what the professional associations have done.

    Another factor was candidly suggested by Dr. Edward Hill, chair of the AMA board, at a panel discussion held by the Freedom Forum in New York City last year. The AMA had "political reasons," Dr. Hill said, for signing on to a recent statement by professional organizations asserting that science shows media violence to be harmful. The AMA is "sometimes used by the politicians," he explained. "We try to balance that because we try to use them also."

    Because Jonathan Freedman believes the scientific method is capable of measuring the impact of media violence, the fact that it hasn't done so is to him strong evidence that adverse effects don't exist. I'm not so sure. I don't think we need science to know from observation that media messages over time can have a powerful impact--in combination with many other factors in a person's life. Some violent entertainment probably does increase aggression for some viewers, though for as many or perhaps more, the effect may be relaxing or cathartic.

    If the media do have strong effects, why does it matter whether the scientific research has been misrepresented? In part, it's precisely because those effects vary. Even psychologists who believe that the scientific method is relevant to this issue acknowledge that style and context count. Some feel cartoons that make violence amusing have the worst effects; others focus on stories in which the hero is rewarded for using violence, even if defensively.

    But equally important, the continuing claims that media violence has proven adverse effects enables politicians to obscure known causes of violence, such as poverty and poor education, which they seem largely unwilling to address. Meanwhile, they distract the public with periodic displays of sanctimonious indignation at the entertainment industry, and predictable, largely symbolic demands for industry "self-regulation." The result is political paralysis, and an educational structure that actually does little to help youngsters cope with the onslaught of mass media that surround them.

    Marjorie Heins

  • 1776 and All That

    The country is riven and ailing, with a guns-plus-butter nuttiness in some of its governing echelons and the sort of lapsed logic implicit in the collapse of trust in money-center capitalism, which has been an undergirding theory of a good deal of the work that many people do. The tallest buildings, real profit centers, fall, as "wogs" and "ragheads" defy us, perhaps comparably to how the "gooks" in Vietnam did (from whose example Osama bin Laden may have learned that we could be defeated). But that was on foreign soil, and we believed that we had pulled our punches and beaten ourselves, and so remained triumphalist for the remainder of the twentieth century, as we had been practically since Reconstruction.

    Now we're not so sure. For the first time since the War of 1812 we have been damaged in continental America by foreigners, having made other people hate us, though we had never needed to pay attention to such matters before. Proxies could fight the malcontents for us in places like Central America, and the Japanese and Germans, would-be conquerors, had not felt much real animus, becoming close, amicable allies after the war. Our first World War II hero, Colin Kelly, three days after Pearl Harbor, flew his B-17 bomber (as media myth had it) in kamikaze fashion to hit a Japanese cruiser, before the Japanese made a practice of it. To give your life for your country, like Nathan Hale, is an ideal that's since evaporated.

    Obese individually and as a nation, and trying to stall the aging process, we talk instead of cars and taxes, sports and movies, cancer and entitlements, but with a half-unmentioned inkling too of what more ominously may be in store--a premonition that our righteous confidence might have served us just a bit too well. We never agonized a lot about killing off the Indians, or our slaving history either, once that was over, or being the only nuclear power ever to incinerate multitudes of people. We've hardly seemed to notice when free enterprise segues into simple greed, because our religious beginnings countenanced rapacity, as long as you tithed. Settling the seaboard in official belts of piety, whether Puritan, Anglican, Quaker or Dutch Reformed (only the frontier tended to be atheistic), we seized land and water with abandon, joined by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and what have you, westward ho. Each group encouraged its rich men to creep like a camel through the eye of the needle, and political freedoms were gradually canted away from the pure ballot box toward influence-buying.

    We swallowed all of that because the New World dream envisioned everybody working hard and getting fairly rich, except when undertows of doubt pervaded our prosperity, as in the 1930s and 1960s; or now when, feeling gridlocked, we wonder if we haven't gone too far and used the whole place up. We seem to need some kind of condom invented just for greed--a latex sac where spasms of that particular vice can be ejaculated, captured and contained. Like lust, it's not going to go away. Nor will Monopoly games do the trick, any more than pornographic videos erase impulses that might result in harm. The old phrase patrons of prostitutes used to use--"getting your ashes hauled"--said it pretty well, and if we could persuade people to think of greed, as well, that way and expel its destructiveness perhaps into a computer screen, trapping the piggishness in cyberspace might save a bit of Earth. The greediest guys would not be satisfied, but greed might be looked on as slightly outré.

    Some vertigo or "near death" experience of global warming may be required to trip the necessary degree of alarm. The droughts and water wars, a polar meltdown and pelagic crisis--too much saltwater and insufficient fresh. In the meantime, dried-up high plains agriculture and Sunbelt golf greens in the Republicans' heartlands will help because African famines are never enough. We need a surge of altruism, artesian decency. The oddity of greed nowadays is that it is so often solo--in the service of one ego--not ducal or kingly, as the apparatus of an unjust state. Overweening possession, such as McMansions and so on, will be loony in the century we are entering upon--ecologically, economically, morally, commonsensically. But how will we realize this, short of disastrous procrastination? Hurricanes and centrifugal violence on the home front, not to mention angry Arabs flying into the World Trade Center? That astounded us: both the anger and the technological savvy. These camel-herding primitives whom we had manipulated, fleeced, romanticized and patronized for generations, while pumping out their oil and bottling them up in monarchies and emirates that we cultivated and maintained, while jeering at them with casual racism in the meantime, when we thought of it, for not having democracies like ours. To discover that satellite TV, the Internet and some subversive preaching should suddenly provide them access to divergent opinions disconcerts if it doesn't frighten us, as does their willingness to counterpose rudimentary suicide missions to the helicopter gunships and F-16s we provide the Israelis. "Don't they value life?"

    They won't be the last. The Vietcong were as culturally different from the Palestinians as we are and yet succeeded in winning a country for themselves, at a tremendous but bearable cost, which the Palestinians will also undoubtedly do. Self-sacrifice can be a match for weaponry, not because the Americans or Israelis value Asian or Arab life--at key junctures and for essentially racist reasons they have not--but because of the value they place on their own citizenry. As many as fifty Vietnamese lives were lost for every American's, but that was not a high enough ratio for us, even though, unlike some Israelis, we don't ascribe to ourselves a biblical imprimatur. So we let them have their land, and the domino calamities that had been famously predicted did not result.

    To equate our own revolution with anybody else's is quite offensive to us. Mostly, in fact, we prefer to forget that we had a revolutionary past and kicked thousands of wealthy Tories into Canada, seizing their property. We were slow to condemn apartheid in South Africa, having scarcely finished abolishing our own at the time, and have been slow in general to support self-governance in the warmer climates or to acknowledge suffering among people whose skins are beiger than ours. And if our income per capita is sixty or eighty times theirs, that doesn't strike us as strange. We are a bootstrap country, after all. They should pay us heed. And the whole United Nations is "a cesspool," according to a recent New York City mayor.

    But primitive notions like those of Ed Koch invite a primitive response. And box-cutters in the hands of Taliban fundamentalists are not our main problem. We have gratuitously destroyed so much of nature that the Taliban's smashing up of Buddhist statues, as comparative vandalism, will someday seem quite minuscule. We have also denatured our own nominal religions: that is, taken the bite of authenticity out of Christianity, for instance. Our real problem, I think, is a centrifugal disorientation and disbelief. There is a cost to cynicism (as in our previous activities in Afghanistan), and the systematic demonizing of communitarianism during the cold war made it harder afterward for us to reject as perverse the double-talking profiteering implicit in phenomena like Enron, when we had thought that anything was better than collective regulation and planning.

    But ceasing to believe in revolutionary democracy--whether of the secular or Christian (or Emersonian) variety--has proven costly. A decent regard for the welfare of other people, in international as well as local life, is going to be more than just a matter of private virtue. In a shrinking world it may be a survival tool. Fanaticism doesn't carry as far unless catastrophic economic conditions lurk in the background, as we learned in the case of Germany between the two world wars but then, when non-Caucasians were involved, forgot. Our foreign aid budget, once the cold war ended, collapsed into spectacular stinginess, and our sole response to September 11 has been police work. This can probably erase Al Qaeda--which became after its instant victory that one morning quite superfluous anyway--but not the knowledge of our vulnerability to any handful of smart and angry plotters in this technological age. We might see an explosion of those.

    Our national self-absorption (in which the focus seems more on trying to stay young than helping the young) may give capitalism a bad name. Simple hedonism and materialism was not the point of crossing the ocean. Our revolution was better than that. It was to paint the world anew.

    Edward Hoagland

  • Future Shock

    In Steven Spielberg's latest picture, a skinheaded psychic named Agatha keeps challenging Tom Cruise with the words, "Can you see?" The question answers itself: Cruise sees in Minority Report, but not well enough. He must learn to recognize his ocular limitations--a task he accomplishes by enduring chase scenes, double-crosses, confrontations at gunpoint and a few jocularly nauseating trials, conducted in Spielberg's bucket-of-bugs, Indiana Jones style.

    In Jacques Audiard's new picture, by contrast, Emmanuelle Devos can't hear, and she knows it from the start. The first shot in Read My Lips is an image of her tucking a hearing aid behind one ear, then concealing it with her hair. Her first lines, spoken while answering the phone in a nerve-jangling office, include the words, "I didn't hear. Can you repeat that?" Her task in the movie--accomplished through acts of larceny and hostage-taking--is to learn how much power she might have, despite her aural limitations.

    Ineluctable modalities of the filmable! We are discussing not only sight and sound but also America and France, plot and character, man and woman, innocence and experience. Film culture needs both sides; so if I tell you that I'd gladly watch Read My Lips several times but will be content with one viewing of Minority Report, please don't take it to mean that Minority Report shouldn't be seen at all. On the contrary: To miss it would be like bypassing one of those grand and macabre curiosities that lie just off the tourist's route--like visiting Madrid, for example, without troubling to descend the marbled stair to the crypt of the Escorial. In the monumental edifice of Minority Report, as in that palatial tomb, you may encounter something madly idiosyncratic, yet absolutely characteristic of its culture. It's just not much of a pleasure; whereas Read My Lips is so much fun, it could be retitled Curl My Toes.

    But, to begin with Spielberg:

    After last summer's release of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, all true filmoids were eager to know what nightmare he might next sweat out in public. Under the influence of Stanley Kubrick, under the pretense of selling us entertainment, Spielberg had made a nakedly confessional movie about abandonment, disillusionment and the corruptions of show business. Past a certain point, of course, the picture was a misshapen wreck; but that was because A.I. struggled so desperately to escape itself and concoct a happy ending. The harder it strained, the more compelling, and horrifying, it became. I felt that Spielberg had at last tapped into emotions he'd located not in his audience but in himself. Could he maintain that connection, now that he'd established it? That was the question hanging over Minority Report.

    The answer is now before us, in the only futuristic, metaphysical thriller I can think of that takes the violation of civil liberties as its theme and the abuse of children as its obsession. These twin facets of Minority Report come together, improbably but unforgettably, in the figures of oracles known as Pre-Cogs. They lie in a bottom-lit, Y-shaped pool somewhere in Washington, DC, in the year 2054: three damaged orphans who are adult in form but fetal in situation, since they are kept floating in an amniotic fluid of high narcotic content. Their fate (you can't really call it a job) is to remain forever in that stage of childhood where every shadow in the bedroom conceals a monster. Unfortunately, the monsters are real: They are the murderers who will strike in the near future, and whose crimes the psychics not only foresee but experience. You might think someone would take pity on the Pre-Cogs and release them from these visions, at which they convulse in pain and horror. Instead, for the public benefit, a police agency called the Department of Pre-Crime maintains these creatures in a permanent state of terror.

    We come to the theme of civil liberties, which must have required some precognition on Spielberg's part, since Minority Report went into production well before John Ashcroft declared due process to be an unaffordable luxury. It is the movie's conceit (borrowed from the writings of Philip K. Dick) that the police may someday arrest people pre-emptively, for crimes they would have committed had they been left on the loose. As chief of the Pre-Crime unit, Tom Cruise sees no problem with this practice, either legally or philosophically--which is why he is half-blind. He doesn't yet understand that the rights he takes away from others may also be taken from him.

    But I'm making it sound as if Minority Report constructs an argument, when it actually contrives a delirium. A sane movie would have been content to give Cruise a reason for arresting pre-criminals. For example, he could have been blinded by the pain of losing a son. That, in fact, is how the plot accounts for Cruise's keen efficiency; but it isn't enough of an explanation for Spielberg, who goes on to embed a second rationale in the mise en scène. Every setting, prop and gesture shows us that Cruise does this job because it excites him.

    He's in his brush-cut mode in Minority Report. He rockets around Washington, rappels onto the pre-crime scene, dives at the last second between the would-be killer and the not-quite-victim--and that's just the conventional part of his work. The real thrill comes from interpreting the Pre-Cogs' visions, which he does in front of a wraparound computer screen while a stereo pipes in the Unfinished Symphony. Waving his hands against the music's rhythm, making digital images slide around at will, he looks like a cross between an orchestra conductor and a film editor, working at some Avid console of the future.

    So childhood pain in Minority Report bleeds into fear of crime, which blossoms into a fantasy of omnipotence--and this fantasy in turn sows further pain, in the form of little stabs to the eye. In the year 2054, government bureaus and advertising agencies alike scan your retina wherever you go, blinding you with lasers a hundred times a day to track your whereabouts, your spending, your preferences in clothing from the Gap. What does it matter if Cruise comes to see the dangerous fallacy of pre-crime? Human freedom has already vanished from his world, in the blink of an eye.

    I hope it's clear from this summary that Minority Report not only represents another of Spielberg's Major Statements but also continues his risky new practice of self-expression--risky because his feelings remain unresolved, and also because he allows them to be Major. A solemnity pervades the movie, making itself felt most tellingly at moments of incidental humor. Spielberg has never been a rollicking filmmaker--the human activities that least interest him are laughter and sex--but in the past he's known how to raise a chuckle, and he's known when to do it. In Minority Report, though, clumsy throwaway gags keep interrupting the action, as if Spielberg had lost his sense of how to play with the audience. Slapstick assaults upon a family at the dinner table, or Olympian sneers at bickering couples, do nothing to leaven Minority Report. The movie's ponderousness is relieved only by Samantha Morton's uncanny portrayal of the psychic Agatha and by Lois Smith's turn as Dr. Hineman, the researcher who ought to have healed the Pre-Cogs but instead turned them into tools of the police. When Cruise goes to visit Smith at her greenhouse hideaway, the colors of Brutalist architecture briefly give way to those of nature, and the pace of the acting triples. Speaking her lines over and around Cruise, Smith plays her role in the manner of Vladimir Horowitz dashing off an étude.

    "Who is the strongest Pre-Cog?" Cruise wants to know. Smith smiles indulgently at the blind man. "Why, the woman, dear." This claim of female superiority has the charm of gallantry; it's Spielberg's gift to the actress. But as it's developed in the rest of the movie, the notion (like far too much of Minority Report) lacks the flourish that gallantry requires. I offer sincere congratulations to Spielberg for at least two-thirds of this picture; but now I think it's time to leave Minority Report and consider a movie about a real woman.

    Her name is Carla. She works for a real estate development company, where she's treated like part of the office equipment. As embodied by Emmanuelle Devos, Carla has an apology for a hairdo and a choked-off complaint for a lower lip. When she's casually insulted--her paperwork ruined by the spill from a coffee cup, her skirt stained suggestively under the rump--Carla falls apart so completely that her boss offers to let her hire an assistant. "Trainees are cheap," he explains, as if that would make her feel better. She hires one anyway and comes up with the man of her dreams: Paul (Vincent Cassel), a greasy, long-haired, leather-jacketed, muttering ex-con, who assures her (while his eyes scan for the exit) that sure, he's worked with, uhm, spreadsheets. Plenty of them.

    One of the pleasures of Read My Lips--a pleasure that isn't available in Minority Report--is the way the movie invites you to see into these characters, who always amount to more than their functions in the plot. Early on, for example, when Carla and Paul are just getting to know each other, you see how they might be bound by a common lack of decorum. "What were you in jail for?" Carla asks bluntly, violating rule number one for dealing with ex-cons. Paul answers her, then asks in turn, "So you're deaf? I mean, really deaf? Like, you can't hear?" Although she tells him to shut up, Carla doesn't hesitate to play along when he asks her to read someone's lips. He likes her willingness to trespass on others. She likes the muscle he provides.

    Although Carla's alliance with Paul develops uneasily, it's not without humor. (No false notes here; Audiard always gets the tone right.) But even though the bumps and jolts of the plot are intriguing--and far more numerous than those in Minority Report--what's perhaps most engaging in Read My Lips is the evocation of Carla's reality. The images are often incomplete, oddly framed, out of focus, unsteady, surprisingly closeup, bathed in shadow, richly colored, dreamily slow. This is the subjective vision of human eyes, not the objective gaze of the camera--and Carla sees it all the more vividly because the world of sound is closed.

    I like the sensuousness of Read My Lips and the nuance of its portrait of a woman. I like the sense of possibility in the characters, the interplay between Devos and Cassel, the mundane realism of the plot (which asks you to believe only that the real estate business isn't entirely clean, and that large sums of cash sometimes flow through bars). I even like the happy ending. Although Spielberg's picture is the one titled Minority Report--an ironic name for a Tom Cruise blockbuster, as its maker surely knows--Read My Lips files the story that's too infrequently heard.

    Stuart Klawans

  • Poisoned Ivy

    Much as I hate to, I'm going to start by talking about the damn money. I'm only doing it because almost everyone else is.

    It's not just the author profiles and publishing-trade columns, but seemingly every other review of The Emperor of Ocean Park that mentions, way before stuff like plot or characters, the $4.2 million Knopf paid Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter for this first novel and another to come. Most, if not all, of these pieces seem incredulous that an academic-of-color could reap the kind of dough-re-mi for thriller writing that the John Grishams and Tom Clancys could command. Pundits of both colors--or of what Carter's novel continually refers to as "the darker nation" and "the paler nation"--sound pleasantly surprised that an African-American male could earn some pop-cultural buzz by being paid millions of dollars for doing something that doesn't require a ball or a microphone.

    I'm guessing Carter has the grace to be appreciative about all this. But I'm also guessing that the author of Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby is equipped with inner radar delicate enough to pick up faint signals of condescension (or worse) beneath all this hype. Sifting through the reviews so far, especially those taking Carter to the woodshed, one detects glimmers of doubt as to whether the book or the author deserves all that money and attention. No matter that Carter, Yale Law's first tenured African-American professor, has established his credentials as a legal scholar and public intellectual, having published seven nonfiction books whose subjects include values (Integrity, Civility), faith in public life (The Culture of Disbelief, God's Name in Vain) and, of course, race (Reflections...). Black people have been through enough job interviews to recognize the skeptically arched eyebrows in key precincts of Book-Chat Nation over Carter's big score. The eyebrows ask: Is the book worth all this fuss--and all that damn money?

    The short answer is yes, though we'll get to the longer, more complicated answer in a few clicks. First I want to address the other recurring motif in the reviews so far: a belief that the novel's primary value--if not the only legitimate reason for all that money--comes in the way it foregrounds privileged reaches of African-American society. As if Dorothy West, John A. Williams, Nella Larsen, George S. Schuyler, John Oliver Killens, Charles W. Chesnutt, Lawrence Otis Graham and E. Franklin Frazier, the Veblen-esque sociologist-satirist who wrote Black Bourgeoisie, had never been born, much less ever bothered writing books. To these weary eyes, such incredulity over class issues reflects nothing more than the same-as-it-ever-was manner in which novels by African-Americans are waved toward the sociocultural checkpoint before they can compete for artistic consideration. And since it's being marketed as a legal thriller/whodunit, The Emperor of Ocean Park has the added burden of being stigmatized as a genre piece. Hence the carping in some reviews over Emperor, whose closing kickers spring merrily like tripwires.

    Hello. It's melodrama. There are a lot of smart people who agree with Raymond Chandler, who confessed to a friend in 1945 that he chose to write melodrama "because when I looked around me it was the only kind of writing that was relatively honest." Also as Chandler and other smart people drawn to genre have repeatedly proved, it's possible to hang lyricism, social observation, even political ideas on melodrama's broad shoulders so long as you don't forget to play by the rules of the genre. One more thing: Melodrama, when played at top speed, often can be transformed into something very close to satire or, at least, sophisticated farce.

    The Emperor of Ocean Park doesn't move quite fast enough for that, which may be its biggest problem. Still, it is sophisticated entertainment; witty, elegantly written (way better than Grisham or Clancy, OK?), conceptually outrageous in a genteel way and flush with conflicting ideas unleashed in the stick-and-move fashion of a freewheeling sparring match. The surprise isn't that Carter can write fiction. It's his showmanship in mixing up the car chases, chess strategies, red herrings and gun battles with such dark, rueful observations as this:

    I suddenly understand the passion of the many black nationalists of the sixties who opposed affirmative action, warning that it would strip the community of the best among its potential leaders, sending them off to the most prestigious colleges, and turning them into... well, into young corporate apparatchiks in Brooks Brothers suits, desperate for the favor of powerful white capitalists.... And the nationalists were right. I am the few. My wife is the few. My sister is the few. My students are the few. These kids pressing business cards on my brother-in-law are the few. And the world is such a bright, angry red.... I stand very still, letting the redness wash over me, wallowing in it the way a man who has nearly died of thirst might wallow in the shower, absorbing it through every pore, feeling the very cells of my body swell with it, and sensing a near-electric charge in the air, a portent, a symbol of a coming storm, and reliving and reviling in this frozen, furious instant every apple I have ever polished for everybody white who could help me get ahead.

    This passionately skeptical, somewhat self-loathing voice belongs to Talcott Garland, who also answers to the names "Tal" and "Misha." (This multiplicity of names is one of the little jokes that Carter threatens to run into the ground.) A law professor at an unnamed Ivy League university, Talcott is one of four children of Oliver Garland, a conservative judge appointed by Nixon to the US Court of Appeals, who might have served on the Supreme Court if his nomination hadn't been derailed because he was seen hanging around the federal courthouse with a college roommate named Jack Ziegler, a former CIA agent and a sinister presence skulking in the dark alleys of American power.

    As the novel begins, Tal's father, whom Time once dubbed the "emperor of Ocean Park" because of his family's impressive digs in the Oak Bluffs section of Martha's Vineyard, has been found dead in his study. Tal is, at best, indulgent to older sister Mariah's suspicions that their father met with foul play. Still, Tal suspects something's afoot when, at the judge's funeral, Ziegler pulls him aside to ask the whereabouts of some "arrangements" that the judge stashed away somewhere. Knowing "Uncle Jack" all too well, Tal suspects that these "arrangements" don't exactly fall into customary categories of post-mortem details. By the time bogus FBI agents try to scare him into telling what little he knows and the Episcopal priest who conducts the funeral is tortured and murdered, Tal's paranoia has kicked into third gear.

    All of which Tal needs like root canal. Things are rough at the law school with various and sundry colleagues intruding their personal dramas onto his own. One of them, it turns out, is in competition with Tal's stunning wife, Kimmer, short for "Kimberly," for potential appointment to a federal judgeship. Kimmer frets and fusses about the appointment, oblivious to her husband's concerns for their safety from whatever or whoever is stalking them. She barely notices the shadow stalkers, traveling long distances from home to make rain for her high-toned law firm. Tal suspects Kimmer is having an affair, but can barely keep her close by long enough to probe for concrete evidence. He concedes being flummoxed in general by the nature of women, seeking respite from such mysteries in "the simple rejuvenating pleasure of chess." Indeed, the conundrums of chess, a game where, as in life, white always gets the first move over black, play a metaphoric role in the mystery, complete with missing pawns from the judge's own set and a strategic gambit labeled "Excelsior."

    A few words about Tal: He's the hero of the story, but he's not an easy man to admire. Readers so far think he's at best an unjustly beleaguered nerd or at worst an embittered brat, as self-absorbed as the mercenary students, career women and secular humanists he slaps with his words. He behaves badly at times, never more so than in a memorably chilling set piece in which he bullies and humiliates one of his students, "an unfortunate young man whose sin is to inform us all that the cases I expect my students to master are irrelevant, because the rich guys always win.... His elbow is on the chair, his other fist is tucked under his chin, and I read in his posture insolence, challenge, perhaps even the unsubtle racism of the supposedly liberal white student who cannot quite bring himself to believe that his black professor could know more than he.... I catch myself thinking, I could break him." And he does, adding to the rapidly expanding ledger tabulating his self-disgust.

    On the other hand, he loves his young son Bentley in a way that frightens him, especially when he visualizes a future in which Kimmer drifts out of his life with son in tow. He volunteers in a soup kitchen, partly as penance for his transgressions, partly to turn down the noises his own inner radar makes and submit to Christian values. He also yearns for a grounded sense of family, though relations with his aforementioned sister are strained and his brother Addison--the one Tal believes Dad liked best--is a commitment-phobic radio personality who keeps slipping from sight to avoid close scrutiny. (He has his reasons.) And there was a younger sister, Abby, something of a family renegade, who died in a car accident. "When Abby died," Tal recalls, "my father went a little nuts, and then he got better." It's the book's most pithy line. Don't, for a minute, forget it.

    Carter is very good at evoking the wonderlands of American life, whether the Vineyard, Aspen or Washington's "Gold Coast" enclave of wealthy, powerful African-Americans. He's even better at describing the machinations and intrigue in law school faculty offices--which shouldn't be a surprise, though Carter's extended disclaimer (pages 655-57) begs readers not to confuse Tal's spiky, tempestuous professional life with his own. Still, from what readers know of Carter's ideas about religion, ethics, politics and manners, it's not too much of a stretch to see Tal asserting his creator's right to probe, confound and, whenever possible, shatter conventional ideological boundaries.

    At one point, Tal has a reverie about one of his father's standard speeches to white conservatives, pointing to the overlap of their opinions on such issues as school vouchers, abortion and gay rights with those of the African-American mainstream. "Conservatives are the last people who can afford to be racist. Because the future of conservatism is black America!" Quickly, Tal's mind makes a countermove. "Because there were a few little details the Judge always left out. Like the fact that it was conservatives who fought against just about every civil rights law ever proposed. Like the fact that many of the wealthy men who paid for his expensive speeches would not have him in their clubs.... The Judge was surely right to insist that the time has come for black Americans to stop trusting white liberals, who are far more comfortable telling us what we need than asking us what we want, but he never did come up with a particularly persuasive reason for us to start trusting white conservatives instead."

    For fans of the well-made thriller, these and other digressions may seem like patches of glue. But for those who think the plot is, as with the rest of the book, somewhat overstuffed with data, false leads, sudden frowns and black-and-blue contrivances, Tal's asides come across like flares of random, cheeky insight. As the quote above suggests, neither left nor right is spared Tal's withering assessment, though if I were keeping score, the liberal humanists get it in the teeth far more than those with more spirit-based devotions explaining their identities.

    Readers have become accustomed to books written by African-Americans to come down hard on a sociopolitical point. Mystery lovers want airtight solutions. The Emperor of Ocean Park fulfills neither expectation. And that, as much as anything, earns both its money and its respect. Novels of ideas, in whose company Emperor surely belongs if I read my Mary McCarthy right, are supposed to be exactly that: About many ideas and not just one. Someone, maybe the author of Anna Karenina, once suggested that fiction should rouse questions, not answer them. Once again, the defense calls Raymond Chandler to the stand: "It is no easy trick to keep your characters and your story operating on a level which is understandable to the semi-literate public and at the same time give them some intellectual and artistic overtones, which the public does not seek or demand or in effect recognize, but which somehow subconsciously it accepts and likes."

    The Emperor of Ocean Park is no Farewell, My Lovely. But Carter is on to something. And he may someday deliver what Chandler does, along with a hearty serving of something non-Chandler-esque. What that something may be is hinted in a few lines close to the novel's very end:

    "That truth, even moral truth, exists I have no doubt, for I am no relativist; but we weak, fallen humans will never perceive it except imperfectly, a faintly glowing presence toward which we creep through the mists of reason, tradition, and faith."

    Your move, Tom Clancy.

    Gene Seymour

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  • Paul Wellstone & the Greens

    Paul Wellstone & the Greens

    Northfield, Minn.

    I was shocked to open my Nation and read the ill-informed and superficial June 17 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Future Wellstone Deserves," by Alexander Cockburn, who isn't generally ill-informed or superficial.

    To begin, there is no one--no one--in Washington more efficient than Wellstone in supporting green issues. Why is there no drilling in ANWR today? The answer: Paul Wellstone. As a freshman senator on the Energy Committee he made a scathing attack on the Johnston-Wallop bill, put forth by chairman Bennett Johnston on behalf of the oil companies. Of course, Wellstone didn't win many of his points against the powerful Johnston then, but he stood firm on ANWR and won that one, and that victory has given us a dozen years of no drilling.

    As for healthcare, it is simply not true that he has abandoned support of single-payer health. But insurance is not the only health issue: Wellstone has worked for several years to gain parity for mental health insurance, and this year the Wellstone-Domenici bill finally passed in the Senate; and what about his success on the domestic violence bill? As for campaign reform, Wellstone is working on Clean Money-Clean Elections Bills, which promise reform far better than the swiss-cheese bans on soft money.

    As for the statement about "some timid Greens...backstabbing McGaa": If Cockburn were in Minnesota, he'd realize that no backstabbing is necessary; McGaa is already self-destructing with progressives.

    SY SCHUSTER


    Sequim, Wash.

    "The suggestion that progressive politics will now stand or fall in sync with Wellstone's future is offensive," says Alexander Cockburn, who apparently has not realized that the principal sequitur of the election is control of the Senate. If the Democrats lose a single seat, control will pass to the Republicans. George W. Bush could, as he has promised, appoint Supreme Court Justices in the image of Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. Progressive politics would have to cope with a reactionary Court for the next quarter-century. Like Cockburn, I have differences with Wellstone and every other Senate Democrat. Unlike Cockburn, I realize the price we would all pay for handing the Senate to the GOP.

    D.C. MOORE


    Bentonville, Ark.

    Yes, Minnesota Greens may mess up Paul Wellstone's chances for re-election and end up electing a Republican in his place. But Wellstone needs to realize something--he's clinging to a party that doesn't represent the same things he does. Jim Jeffords jumped ship, and Wellstone can do the same. Why not ask the Minnesota Greens if he can join them and if Ed McGaa would graciously step aside and let him run as their candidate? Let's abandon the Democratic Party the same way they've abandoned us and stand behind a party that cares about the things that matter most in our lives.

    TROY JUZELER


    Kelso, Wash.

    Our warmongering Administration appears to have both barrels aimed at Paul Wellstone, a senator who stands up with the courage of his convictions. Why don't we dig into our wallets and send our $5, $10 or $50 to Wellstone's campaign and give him and the Administration of sleaze an overwhelming message that we're not going to take it anymore?

    LOLA VESTAL


    Keene, NH

    On my desk I had a check for $50 for the Wellstone Senate campaign. Then I read Alexander Cockburn's column, and I ripped it up. Wellstone may be a liberal, but unlike Abourezk, Metzenbaum and Feingold, he's no fighting liberal! No one wants to see the Senate go Republican, but perhaps we in New Hampshire can send Jeanne Shaheen. She has never advertised herself as the savior of the left, but if in one stroke she can get rid of the troglodyte Bob Smith and prevent the possibility of a "Senator Sununu" her value to the left will far exceed Wellstone's.

    FRANK MORIARTY


    Tempe, Ariz.

    Like Cockburn, I'm disappointed that Wellstone didn't stay firm in his commitment to a single-payer national health program, but as a Congressional contender once told me: "The only way you can be sure a candidate agrees with you on every issue is to run yourself." As a result of Cockburn's column I'm sending Wellstone another contribution.

    GAIL GIANASI NATALE


    Manchester, NJ

    So, Alexander Cockburn thinks that Minnesota voters should deny Senator Wellstone a third term because he isn't perfect. Well, who is? Senator Feingold, of whom Cockburn seems to approve, voted to confirm Ashcroft as Attorney General! In 2000, while I voted Green for President and Representative, I voted for Jon Corzine, a Democrat, for senator. Perhaps he isn't perfect either, but if I and others in New Jersey hadn't done that, we might now have a Republican Senate and twins of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas on the Supreme Court.

    DANIEL D. SCHECHTER


    Minneapolis

    The future Paul Wellstone deserves is to retire after two terms, as he promised Minnesotans when he first ran for office. In 1996 Wellstone voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, nullifying the chance for same-gender couples to have their marriages (or civil ceremonies) recognized by the federal government. Wellstone boasts of his advocacy for working families. But his voting record indicates that he is not willing to give legal recognition to working families headed by same-gender couples.

    JOHN R. YOAKAM


    Lynnwood, Wash.

    Senator Wellstone says, "I am a civil rights senator." If and when Wellstone takes a more honest and humane stance on US foreign policy--i.e., even Iraqi and Palestinian civilians have civil rights, and Israel does not deserve full support for its inhumane policies--I might believe some of the rest of his rhetoric. Until then, I will believe he is for civil rights for some (in this country) but not others (not in this country, particularly if Arab).

    MARY ELYNNE TAPPERO


    Salem, Ore.

    Alexander Cockburn didn't point out Wellstone's greatest failing: a no-show as the Congressional Black Caucus needed just one senator to challenge the Florida "election" results. How progressive is it to ignore the voting rights of African-Americans, much less stand silent as this coup went forward?

    MICHAEL DONNELLY


    Minneapolis

    I find it odd how cannibalistic some in the progressive left can be. Before Alexander Cockburn was so quick to highlight Wellstone's "failures" he should have read John Nichols's May 27 Nation article, which accurately highlighted Wellstone's role as one of the few true fighters against the regressive legislation continually proposed by the Bush White House. And there is nothing "supposed" about the irresponsibility of Minnesota Greens in this race. It's one thing to vote for Ralph Nader over Al Gore but entirely another to say a Green is needed in Wellstone's Senate race. Cockburn and those like him need to end the cannibalism. If the left can't come together behind Wellstone, one of our strongest leaders, then maybe we do deserve to be marginalized. Minnesota Greens should remember that, as Winona LaDuke said, Paul Wellstone is your friend.

    KATIE CONNOLLY

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