The new education law is a victory for Bush--and for his corporate allies.
Two months after the September 11 attacks, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an academic watchdog group founded by Lynne Cheney, issued a report grandly titled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." Its authors proclaimed that while "citizens have rallied behind the President wholeheartedly.... college and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response." They painted academe as a passivist fifth column undermining the war effort through equivocation, "moral relativism" and outright opposition, noting: "Some [professors] even pointed accusatory fingers, not at the terrorists, but at America itself." And they named names: academics who had supposedly pointed such fingers and uttered such equivocations in 117 instances collected from media sources. They also announced that they would send the list to 3,000 trustees at colleges across the country.
Some of those named, such as University of Washington psychology professor David Barash, cheered at making ACTA's list: "Before, I was disappointed at being too young or too inconsequential to make Nixon's list." Others howled, however, that they'd been misrepresented and quoted out of context, leading the authors, ACTA president Jerry Martin and vice president Anne Neal (both of whom served under Cheney at the National Endowment for the Humanities), to yank the list off the group's website (www.goacta.org) after a week. It was soon back, however, minus the names, where it remains--not quite blacklisting, but a weird, anonymous graylist.
This switch went unremarked, and ACTA--which according to the Media Transparency project received nearly $700,000 from the conservative Olin, Bradley, Earhart and Sarah Scaife foundations between 1997 and 2000, and which was hired by Governor Jeb Bush to train Florida's 143 university trustees--continued to score the sort of high-volume attention most watchdog groups only dream of. The Wall Street Journal's editorialists and a Washington Times commentary endorsed the findings of "Defending Civilization"; Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley endorsed the similar findings of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which provided ACTA with some of its citations. Leftist "thought-police," Yardley intoned, "have launched a new onslaught on free speech and revived the anti-Americanism that was pandemic on the campuses in the age of political correctness." Other papers reported the claims in more neutral fashion while conceding ACTA's main premise: that it had actually assembled what Emily Eakin, in the New York Times, called "117 anti-American statements heard on campuses."
In fact, many of the statements were innocuous (e.g., "We have to learn to use courage for peace instead of war"), while one, by Oberlin freshman Jim Casteleiro, voices the appreciation of history that ACTA itself extols: "War created people like Osama bin Laden, and more war will create more people like him." Former US ambassador at large to Russia Strobe Talbott, now at Yale, makes the list by noting, "It is from the desperate, angry and bereaved that these suicide pilots came." He shares billing with Arun Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson, who told a UNC, Chapel Hill, gathering, "We must acknowledge our role in helping to create monsters in the world, find ways to contain these monsters without hurting more innocent people and then redefine our role in the world."
Some of the other statements ACTA cites do express strong opposition to the post-9/11 campaign, and a blithe zeal for blaming America. But the most obnoxious, which leads ACTA's list--"I was cheering when the Pentagon got hit because I know about the brutality of the military. The American flag is nothing but a symbol of hate and should be used for toilet paper for all I care"--is attributed not to an academic but to a "freelancer" at a Brown protest. Freelance peacemonger?
Nearly a third of the 117 examples in this critique of faculty "weak links" come not from faculty but from students and protest signs. ACTA's watchdogs vacuum up attributions where they can, sometimes at third hand (for example, a William Bennett Op-Ed citing a Commentary article). But "Defending Civilization" gets most slippery when it cites instances of universities supposedly suppressing or rejecting patriotic expressions. It reports that when Williams College president Morton Schapiro announced a "public recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance," only Schapiro and one other faculty member showed, plus 200 students and maintenance and cafeteria staff. But the one-minute event was held on a Sunday, when faculty aren't on campus and students and cafeteria workers are. Michael Lewis, the lone Williams professor who came to say the pledge, who sharply criticizes his colleagues' tepid war spirits, admits that many of them did attend a later candlelight vigil.
Then there's the Penn State vice provost whom ACTA lashes for telling a faculty member that "his web page advocating military action against terrorists is 'insensitive and perhaps even intimidating.' 'Intimidating' expression is grounds for dismissal at Penn State." Professor Stephen Simpson had quoted and endorsed an editorial by the Ayn Rand Institute's Leonard Peikoff that concludes, "We must now use our unsurpassed military to destroy all branches of the Iranian and Afghani governments, regardless of the suffering and death this will bring to the many innocents caught in the line of fire." Vice provost Robert Secor says that after "some of the students in Mr. Simpson's class" complained to him, he wrote to Simpson: "Since we have students from all countries at Penn State, whose families might be among the innocents Peikoff refers to, you can understand why these students would find such comments insensitive and perhaps even intimidating. I am sure this is not what you intended, but I want you to know this has been the unintended result."
Simpson at first contested Secor's assertion but then removed the quote. His site now just endorses "all-out war" against terrorist sponsors and has a link to Peikoff's tract. He says he heard nothing more from the administration but "felt a bit intimidated" by Secor's letter. Secor says he never threatened sanctions and, by stipulating that any ill perceptions were unintended, he seems to have absolved Simpson of "acts of intolerance"--which is what Penn State's policy actually proscribes. But though misconstrued, the episode demonstrates the boomerang effect that free-speech advocates warned of when colleges instituted speech and "tolerance" codes in the heyday of the culture wars.
To rouse the academics' enthusiasm for war, "Defending Civilization" proposes that they be required to teach more American history--a reform ACTA has long advocated, along with restoring the liberal arts core, which bears little relation to the purported problem. This turns a good cause into wartime polemic and loads it with extraneous neo-Red Scare baggage. And it's already alienated at least one ally. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, whom ACTA flaunted as a "co-founder," though he says he was only a supporter, considered resigning from its advisory council out of dismay at the report's methodology and conclusions.
See also "The Afghan Humanitarian Crisis," by Matt Bivens.
Embattled campus activists hone their message about the crisis in Afghanistan.
Two of the most
famous figures in the Democratic Party, Senators Joseph Lieberman and
Hillary Clinton, have introduced the Media Marketing Accountability
Act of 2001, which, among other things, would make it illegal to
market or promote adult-rated rap and rock-and-roll albums to kids
under 17 and would empower the Federal Trade Commission to decide
which R-rated films may be marketed to minors.
Senator Clinton said, "If you label something as inappropriate for
children and then go out and target it to children, you are engaging
in false and deceptive advertising." And this summer Democrats,
occasionally joined by some Republicans, have browbeaten
entertainment-industry leaders at Congressional hearings, accusing
them of evading the rating system and selling salacious material to
young people. But the R rating on films doesn't mean kids under 17
shouldn't see them; it means they shouldn't see them without an
adult. Many parents want their kids to see such R-rated films as
Billy Elliot and Erin Brockovich. As for records, the
"parental advisory" sticker informs the buyer that the record
contains profanity, but it does not have an age
Lieberman disingenuously says, "We're not
asking the FTC to regulate content in any way, or even to make
judgments about what products are appropriate for children." But
that's precisely what his radical bill does. It empowers the FTC to
"establish the criteria" for new ratings for records and films, and
would legally require record companies and film studios to create and
implement "an age-based rating or labeling system." Marketing would
be deemed to be targeting minors if "the Commission determines that
the advertising or marketing is otherwise directed or targeted to
minors." With the FTC defining marketing to minors on the basis of
FTC-mandated ratings criteria, backed by the crippling financial
penalties for "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," it would be
able to decide which music and movies could be mass-marketed and
thus, by and large, which ones would be released.
Lieberman and Clinton apparently believe that federal
bureaucrats are the ideal arbiters of the appropriateness of
entertainment for teenagers. Lieberman told Inside.com, "We
know the difference between Schindler's List and Saving
Private Ryan and some of the slasher flicks that are aimed at
teenage boys. That's a decision best left to the administrative
Two days before the legislation was introduced,
the FTC issued a surreal report that criticized record companies for
advertising stickered albums on the World Wrestling Federation TV
show SmackDown! because 36 percent of its audience is under
18. So according to the FTC it's OK for younger teens to watch guys
knocking the living daylights out of each other, but it's not OK to
sell rap music to those same kids! Not surprisingly, more than 70
percent of the albums the FTC monitored were by African-American
artists. (The FTC also included the rock band Rage Against the
Machine, whose lyrics are frequently political, on the list.) At the
Hip-Hop Summit in June, attended by African-American leaders
including Cornel West, Martin Luther King III, Louis Farrakhan and
several black members of Congress, even those who criticized the
content of certain albums agreed that this legislation is dangerous
While the FTC investigation was conducted in
response to the Columbine murders, Lieberman is a one-man slippery
slope who makes no bones about his desire to regulate nonviolent
dirty words, complaining that "the leading music companies...have
been doing little if anything to respond to the FTC report and curb
the marketing of obscenity-laced records to kids."
the Washington elite focuses its rhetoric on corporations, young
people view these outbursts as attacks on youth culture. Just as baby
boomers didn't view Bob Dylan and the Beatles as "products" of CBS
and EMI, today's young people view rap and rock music as their own
culture, which appears to be precisely what middle-aged pundits hate
about it. George Will, for example, castigated rap lyrics last
September on ABC's This Week. Six months later, Will lavished
praise on Sopranos executive producer David Chase for his
creation. Both Eminem's Slim Shady and Chase's Tony Soprano are
violent, bigoted characters whose humanity and contradictions are
nonetheless illuminated by their creators. The primary difference is
that rap is the cultural language of young people.
Obviously, people of good will disagree about culture, and
there is nothing wrong with fierce criticism of any genre. But
Lieberman et al. want to go far beyond criticism. They want
government to have veto power over the marketing, and thus the
economic viability, of entertainment.
By supporting this
legislation Democrats may pick up a few "swing voters" who like the
symbolism of entertainment-bashing, but in doing so they risk
alienating young voters, fans of pop culture of all ages and civil
libertarians. It is hard to imagine the young people who still turn
out in the thousands to hear Ralph Nader speak at campuses being
attracted by Lieberman's approach. Voter turnout among young people
is at an all-time low, around 28 percent; and according to Voter News
Service, while Clinton had a 12-percentage-point margin over Bush
among 18-29 year olds in 1992 and a 19-percentage-point margin in
1996, Gore-Lieberman won this demographic by a mere 2 percent in
2000. None of the published postelection analyses by Democrats have
focused on restoring turnout or Democratic margins among young
Condescending to, alienating and demeaning young
people is bad morally and bad politically. No progressive movement
has ever succeeded without young people. Continued culture-bashing by
Democrats opens the door for more erosion of their natural base to
culture-savvy libertarians like Jesse Ventura.
Before the World Conference Against Racism at the end of August in Durban, South Africa, some 200 young men and women are expected to come together to draft a Youth Declaration and begin building
Only hours into the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) national conference in Chicago--before half of the participants had even arrived--students were walking the picket line in s
In the progressive playbook for 2001, labor is called on to assume a leading role.