Many people believed at the time that the trauma of 9/11 would change the world. My feeling was that our American response would be far more crucial.
To counter Bush, the Democrats must present a different version of a safe world.
The Women Legislators Lobby (WiLL) is a professional organization of state legislators formed in 1990 as a program of WAND (Women's Action for New Directions). WAND's mission is to empower women to act politically to reduce militarism and violence, and to redirect excessive military spending toward unmet human and environmental needs. WAND/WiLL honors Helen Thomas with the 2003 BellSouth Torchbearer Award for her lifelong willingness to ask the "tough" questions and her recent commentary speaking truth to power.
These are dog days for Democrats. The top-gun President continues to
ride high in the polls, despite the chaos in Iraq.
It sure smells like imperialism. That's the word historians use when powerful nations grab control of desired resources, be it the gold of the New World or the oil of the Middle East.
Shortly after September 11, Dan Rather--or "El Diablo" as he is known to
conservatives--appeared on Letterman and announced, "George Bush is the
President, he makes the decisions, and, you know
Let's start with Cynthia McKinney. Don't you think that if Arab-American
or African-American groups targeted an incumbent white, liberal, maybe
Jewish, congressperson, and shipped in money by the truckload to oust
the incumbent, the rafters would shake with bellows of outrage?
Yet when a torrent of money from out-of-state Jewish organizations
smashed Earl Hilliard, the first elected black Representative in Alabama
since Reconstruction, you could have heard a mouse cough. Hilliard had
made the fatal error of calling for some measure of evenhandedness in
the Middle East. So he was targeted by AIPAC and the others. Down he
went, defeated in the Democratic primary by Artur Davis, a black lawyer
who obediently sang for his supper on the topic of Israel.
At that particular moment the liberal watchdogs were barking furiously
in an entirely different direction. Ed McGaa, a Green candidate, has had
the effrontery to run in Minnesota for Paul Wellstone's Senate seat.
Such an uproar! Howls of fury from Marc Cooper and Harold Meyerson
lashing McGaa for his presumption. Even a pompous open letter from Steve
Cobble hassling the Minnesota Greens for endangering St. Paul. Any of
these guys think of writing to Artur Davis, telling him to back off, or
to denounce him as a cat's-paw of groups backing Sharon's terror against
Palestinians? You bet they did.
Then it was McKinney's turn. A terrific liberal black Congresswoman.
Like Hilliard, she wasn't cowed by the Israel-right-or-wrong lobby and
called for real debate on the Middle East. And she called for a real
examination of the lead-up to 9/11. So the sky has fallen in on her.
Torrents of American Jewish money shower her opponent, a black woman
judge called Denise Majette. Buckets of shit are poured over McKinney's
head in the Washington Post and the Atlanta
Here's how it's been working. McKinney sees what happened to Hilliard,
and that American Jewish money is pumping up Majette's challenge. So she
goes to Arab-American groups to try to raise money to fight back. This
allows Tom Edsall to attack her in the Post as being in receipt
of money from pro-terror Muslims. Lots of nasty-looking Arab/Muslim
names fill Edsall's stories.
Now just suppose someone looked at names in the pro-Israel groups
funding Majette, who by mid-August had raised twice as much money as
McKinney. Aren't they supporting the terror that has US-made F-16s
bombing kids in Gaza? What's the game here? It's a reiteration of the
message delivered to politicians down the years, as when Senator Charles
Percy and others went down: Put your head over the parapet on the topic
of Israel/Palestine, and we'll blow it off. And when blacks denounce the
role of outside Jewish money in the onslaughts on Hilliard and McKinney,
there'll be an avalanche of hysterical columns about the menace of black
anti-Semitism. Just you wait. It's a closed system.
Next sour thought: Yes, Katha, you did raise a little stink re McKinney,
in overly decorous but still commendable terms right here in The
Nation. Which reminds me, here's what I wrote to a fellow angered
over a piece by Ellen Johnson we'd run in CounterPunch,
criticizing you for saying Dennis Kucinich's position against abortion
rendered him ineligible as the progressives' future champion:
"Hi Matt, I'm forwarding yr note to Ellen, but allow me to say that I
think your reaction is too hasty. Ellen raised some very serious points
about the monoptic way NOW and leading feminists address the abortion
issue. I think it is right to emphasize that we should battle for social
conditions where abortion ceases to be regarded by many progressives as
a prime indicator of freedom and liberation for women.
"Surely you cannot regard the killing of fetuses as somehow an
intrinsically 'good thing.' The real friends of abortion are the
Malthusians who want to rid the world as much as possible of the
'over-breeding' and disruptive poor, particularly minorities....
"More generally, I think liberal women's groups gave Clinton the pass on
savage assaults on the poor because the Clintons unrelentingly preached
commitment to abortion.... we ran the piece because we think it's high
time to get beyond bunker liberalism, where progressives huddle in the
foxhole, holding on to 'choice' as their bottom-line issue, with a
sideline in telling black teen moms that they are socially
irresponsible. Best, Alex Cockburn"
More sourness: The ILWU? That's the West Coast longshoremen. Their
contract expired on July 1. The contract is being extended on a daily
basis. The employers are playing tough, well aware that the Bush high
command has told ILWU leaders that Bush will not hesitate to invoke
Taft-Hartley, bring in troops if necessary and destroy the ILWU as a
bargaining agent for the whole West Coast. Tom Ridge, calling in his
capacity as chief of Homeland Security, has done some heavy breathing in
the ear of ILWU leaders about the inadvisability of a strike at this
The ILWU's coastwide contract was won in the 1934 strike, along with the
hiring hall, which replaced the old shape-up system, in which the boss
could keep out organizers and anyone else. These are bedrock issues, for
which strikers fought and died that year in San Francisco and Seattle.
The West Coast longshoremen stand as a beacon of what union organizing
can do. Of course, the Bush White House yearns to destroy it, maybe
using the War on Terror as pretext. If ever there was a time for
solidarity, this is it.
Final sour thought, on Paul Krugman. Krugman? He has just conceded that
maybe neoliberal policies haven't worked too well in Latin America. Look
it up. It's in his New York Times column for August 9, "The Lost
Continent." He spent 184 words on the matter. "Why hasn't reform worked
as promised? That's a difficult and disturbing question."
Gee Paul, since you constitute the entirety of the Democratic Party's
opposition to Bush, I know you're busy as hell. But since your crowd
supervised a good deal of the economic destruction of Latin America, and
your economic faction offered the basic rationales for that devastation,
I sure hope you return to the problem. Maybe you won't be so snooty
about opponents of "free trade." Maybe you'll even have a quiet word
with Tom Friedman.
How their wealth and power threaten democracy
The idea of empire, once so effectively used by Ronald Reagan to
discredit the Soviet Union, has recently undergone a strange
rehabilitation in the United States. This process, which started some
years ago, has accelerated markedly since September 11. References to
empire are no longer deployed ironically or in a tone of warning; the
idea has become respectable enough that the New York Times ran an
article describing the enthusiasm it now evokes in certain circles. It
is of some significance that these circles are not easily identified as
being located either on the right or the left. If there are some on the
right who celebrate the projection of US power, there are others on the
left who believe that the world can only benefit from an ever-increasing
US engagement and intervention abroad; for example, in ethnic and
religious conflicts (such as those in Rwanda and Bosnia), or in states
run by despotic regimes or "rogue" leaders (e.g., Iraq). It is on
grounds like these that the idea of a new imperialism has recently been
embraced by Britain's Labour Party.
That elements of the left and the right should discover common ground on
the matter of empire should come as no surprise. Contrary to popular
belief, empire is by no means a strictly conservative project:
Historically it has always held just as much appeal for liberals.
Conversely, the single greatest critic of the British Empire, Edmund
Burke, was an archconservative who saw imperialism as an essentially
radical project, not unlike that of the French Revolution.
The idea of empire may seem too antiquated to be worth combating. But it
is always the ideas that appeal to both ends of the spectrum that stand
the best chance of precipitating an unspoken consensus, especially when
they bear the imprimatur of such figures as the British prime minister.
That is why this may be a good time to remind ourselves of some of the
reasons imperialism fell into discredit in the first place.
To begin with, empire cannot be the object of universal human
aspirations. In a world run by empires, some people are rulers and some
are the ruled: It is impossible to think of a situation where all
peoples possess an empire. On the other hand, the idea of the
nation-state, for all its failings, holds the great advantage that it
can indeed be generalized to all peoples everywhere. The proposition
that every human being should belong to a nation and that all nations
should be equal is not a contradiction in terms, although it may well be
utterly unfounded as a description of the real world.
It is precisely the exclusivism of empire that makes it a program for
ever-increasing conflict. If the mark of success for a nation consists
of the possession of an empire, then it follows that every nation that
wants to achieve success must aspire to an empire. That is why the
twentieth century was a period of such cataclysmic conflict: emergent
powers like Germany and Japan wanted empires as proof of their success.
Those who embrace the idea of empire frequently cite the advantages of
an imperial peace over the disorder of the current world situation. This
disregards the fact that the peace of the British, French and
Austro-Hungarian empires was purchased at the cost of a destabiliza-tion
so radical as to generate the two greatest conflicts in human history:
the world wars. Because of the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, there can be no doubt that a twenty-first-century empire
would have consequences graver still.
An imperium also generates an unstoppable push toward overreach, which
is one of the reasons it is a charter for destabilization. This is not
only because of an empire's inherent tendency to expand; there is
another reason, so simple as often to go unnoticed. The knowledge that
an imperial center can be induced to intervene in local disputes, at a
certain price, is itself an incentive for lesser players to provoke
intervention. I remember an occasion a few years ago when one of the
leaders of a minor and utterly hopeless insurgency asked me: What kind
of death toll do you think we need to get the United States to intervene
There can be no doubt that political catastrophes can often be prevented
by multilateral intervention, and clearly such actions are sometimes
necessary. But it is also true that in certain circumstances the very
prospect of intervention can, as it were, become an incentive for the
escalation of violence. The reason the idea of empire appeals to many
liberals is that it appears to offer a means of bettering the world's
predicament. History shows us, unfortunately, that the road to empire is
all too often paved with good intentions.
Devotees of "balanced," "objective," "fair" and "evenhanded"
nonfiction--well, they be hurtin' in these early days of the
twenty-first century. Enough, perhaps, to demand that self-help, how-to
and "wisdom of menopause" books return to dominate, as they once did,
the now separated-from-birth (and diet and crosswords) New York
Times nonfiction bestseller list. In the
April 21 issue of the Sunday New York Times Book Review, nearly
half the top ten nonfiction bestsellers belong to a genre that
middle-of-the-road innocents might label "one-sided," "unbalanced,"
"exclusionary" or worse, though the Times's blurbs artfully avoid
Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, which manages the non-Euclidean
trick of being centrifugally one-sided, denounces us as a racist, sexist
"nation of idiots" even though we're plainly not a nation of idiots.
Whether you love Moore for blasting the "Thief-in-Chief" or adore him
for bashing Clinton and paying dues to the NRA, he's still guilty, as
Ben Fritz's stiletto review in Salon demonstrated, of being "One
Moore Stupid White Man," because "Moore gets his facts wrong again and
again, and a simple check of the sources he cites shows that lazy
research is often to blame."
David Brock's Blinded by the Right castigates the conservative
movement, which Brock recently fled, as "a radical cult" bored by ideas
and committed to a "Big Lie machine that flourished in book publishing,
on talk radio and on the Internet through the '90s." Brock insists on
that even though many conservatives believe in right-wing principles as
honestly as leftists and liberals believe in theirs. While it was lauded
by Frank Rich as "a key document," by Todd Gitlin as a book that "rings
with plausibility" and in these pages by Michael Tomasky as essential to
understanding this "fevered era," its credibility on the left seems
largely based on Brock's hawking a story the left wants to hear, just as
the right thrilled to The Real Anita Hill: that a "convulsed
emotional state," as Tomasky construes it, rather than an ideology, "is
the real binding glue among the right." Despite Brock's repeated
acknowledgments that he's been an unscrupulous, self-serving liar
throughout his life, flatterers of his book give little credit to the
possibility voiced by Slate's Timothy Noah that lying may be "a
lifelong habit" for the author. Bernard Goldberg's Bias, in turn,
offers mirror-image goods to true believers on the right: chapter and
verse on how his old employer, CBS News, and the media in general,
"distort the news" in a liberal direction, even though the media, by and
large, do not distort the news--they report it. On the strength of one
purported conversation with CBS News president Andrew Heyward, however,
and his own epiphanic experience after writing an anti-CBS Op-Ed for the
Wall Street Journal, Goldberg sounds certain that he's packing
smoking guns. No matter that he fails to clarify, in case after case,
how "bias" differs from a presumptive judgment held on the basis of
revisable evidence, or why conservative bias poses no problem within
Finally, Kenneth Timmerman's Shakedown, another targeted killing
by the only national publishing house with the reflexes of a helicopter
gunship, leaves Jesse Jackson barely breathing as a political player.
But if fairness ruled the world of book manuscripts, this one would have
swelled to far more than 512 pages. Because while Rod Dreher of The
National Review complimented the author for "collecting the dossier
on Jackson between two covers," a dossier in court or an academic
department typically contains both good and bad. The Washington
Post's Keith Richburg, crediting Timmerman's "meticulous research,"
rightly noted that the author also wholly ignores "Jackson's
accomplishments," like his registration of millions of new voters.
So is Moore a direct literary descendant of Adolf Hitler, that
over-the-top idea man whose snarly diatribes grabbed Publishers
Weekly's number-seven bestseller slot for 1939? Will self-confessed
"right-wing hit man" Brock--political sex-change operation or not--be
remembered as an heir to the legacy of Barry (Conscience of a
Conservative) Goldwater? Should Timmerman, whose Shakedown
batters Jesse so badly his reproductive equipment may never recover, be
considered just another scion of Victor Lasky, whose ferociously
critical attack on John F. Kennedy awkwardly arrived in 1963? And what
of Goldberg, our redemption-minded spy who came in from the ill-told?
Will his Bias someday be taught in the Columbia publishing course
alongside that 1923 bestseller, Emile Coué's Self-Mastery
Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion, whose system apparently involved
repeating to oneself, "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and
Yes, Flannery O'Connor was right: "There's many a best-seller that could
have been prevented by a good teacher." Each of these polemics keeps
rolling as a big commercial success for its publisher, even though, by
any standard of evenhandedness, each practices the big lie by what it
omits. Are they skyrocketing hits because they're tantamount to "big
lies," texts unwilling to address contrary views?
Maybe we've entered an era in which publishers and readers no longer
care about two hands working at complementary tasks--about evidence and
counterevidence, arguments and counterarguments, decency toward subject
matter. One way to interpret the ascent of the Feckless Four is to
accept that literary producers and consumers think we should leave all
that to college debating societies, scholarly journals and books,
newspapers of record and the courts. That's truth territory--this is
entertainment. And could that actually be the crux of the putative
trend? The recognition, by publishers, buyers and canny trade authors
alike, that well-balanced, evenhanded, scrupulously fair nonfiction
books bore the hell out of readers, however many prizes they may win?
Perhaps, in other words, the rise of the polemic is not simply a passing
curiosity, a reaction to political correctness cutting both ways in 2002
America, but a stage of evolutionary development in a post-
eternal verities culture. Educated readers--whether right or
left--hunger for books that simply smash the opposition and make one
feel the only sensation sweeter than orgasm: the sense of being utterly,
unimpeachably right. To update an old saw by publisher William Targ, too
many people who have half a mind to write a nonfiction bestseller do so,
and that's roughly the amount of brainpower the reader desires.
It certainly feels as if we're facing an epiphenomenon of the moment, an
upshot of the electorate we saw polarized on that red and blue 2000
electoral map. And yet, over the decades one spots many precursors of
Moore, Brock, Goldberg and Timmerman (a crackerjack adversarial firm
that might cost hundreds per hour if journalists billed like lawyers).
Michael Korda's recent Making the List: A Cultural History of the
American Bestseller, 1900-99 (Barnes & Noble), suggests
that curators of American bestseller lists could have put up the neon
Onesided Books 'R' Us sign long ago. Diet books, medical guides, how-tos
and self-improvement schemes, after all, ritually command readers to do
it this way, not that way. Dale Carnegie made it to the list with How
to Win Friends and Influence People, not How to Win Friends,
Influence People and Also Estrange a Ton of Other Folks. Books by
political candidates advancing their platforms may not sizzle with
Moore's streety phrases or Brock's inside snitching, but they slant the
truth just the same. Similarly, the titles of leading bestsellers of the
1930s--Ernest Dimnet's What We Live By, Walter Pitkin's Life
Begins at Forty and Walter Duranty's I Write as I
Please--suggest unshakable points of view promised and delivered.
Even in that war-dominated decade, one sees the forerunners of today's
divided left/right list, with Mission to Moscow, which offered,
Korda writes, a "benevolent view of Joseph Stalin," coming in second on
the 1942 bestseller list, while John Roy Carlson's Under Cover,
"an expose of subversive activity in the United States," rose to number
one in 1943. Yet, Korda observes, while Americans favor books that
"explain to them what is happening," they "still want to be amused,
entertained, and improved." So when authors like Moore, Brock, Goldberg
and Timmerman bring added assets to their unbalanced texts--Moore's
over-the-line wit, Brock's salacious gossip, Goldberg's hate-the-media
vibes and Timmerman's avalanche of dirt--it's like attaching an extra
rocket to the binding.
The presence of one-sided books on bestseller lists, in short, is no
fleeting phenomenon. It's a tradition. But might their increase threaten
the culture? Not likely. Here an insight from Korda fuses with a larger
appreciation of how philosophy in the broadest sense--the way we
organize what we know into views that hang together--operates in
Korda extrapolates from bestseller history that "American readers have
been, since the 1940s, increasingly willing to be challenged and even
attacked. They might not have been eager to accept these challenges in
person...but they were willing to buy and read books that criticized the
status quo." He cites fiction as well Laura Hobson's novel
Gentleman's Agreement (1947), with its critique of anti-Semitism,
and Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), which
eviscerated the "white upper-middle-class lifestyle." It's equally true
that American bestsellers from the beginning sometimes set themselves
against a prevailing yet vulnerableview. Tom Paine's Common Sense
took off and became common sense after he insulted George III and monarchy
the way Moore zaps George the Second, and, well, monarchy.
Korda's insight jibes with a larger truth. Our growing readiness not
only to tolerate but to prefer lopsided views of things arises from our
gut-level understanding that America, at the dawn of the twenty-first
century--and contrary to its clichéd cultural image--stands as
the most vibrant philosophical culture in the history of the world, an
unprecedented marketplace of truth, argument, evidence and individuated
positions on sale to any browser with a browser. Anyone with a pulse and
a laptop can access material supporting the right, the left, the up, the
down, the Israeli view, the Arab view, the Zoroastrian, the pagan, the
poly, the foundationalist, the nonfoundationalist, the libertine, the
puritanical, the environmental, the deconstructionist, the Lacanian, ad
infinitum. That reservoir of opinions, attitudes and slants lifts our
tolerance for one-sidedness into an appetite for edifying entertainment.
Because we can order or click our way to the other side of almost any
viewpoint, and can get it wholesale or retail, we forgive omissions. In
our cornucopia culture, only diners have to offer everything.
TV executives, of course, knew from early on that brash, partisan
talk-show hosts would outrate scholarly balancers every time. (The talk
show, from Alan Burke and Joe Pyne to Bill O'Reilly, has mainly been an
exercise in getting someone to scream uncle.) So, in turn, canny
commercial publishers know that supplying "the other hand" can safely be
left to the equally one-sided polemicist around the corner, or to the
culture at large (particularly if the status quo is the "position"
omitted). The nonfiction polemic, like provocative theater, demands an
interactive audience member who'll supply or obtain elsewhere whatever's
missing, up to the level of individual need. The upshot of rampant
American pluralism, if not neatly packaged truth or beauty in marketable
texts, is an unburdening of public intellectuals and trade authors from
the academic obligation to be fair, judicious and open-minded. Like
artists, they're simply expected to arouse.
It's an unholy system, all right. A typically American market solution
to our supposedly innate demand for equity in the pursuit of knowledge.
But it's ours. And the big bucks it produces for paperback and foreign
rights? Don't even ask.