OPRAH & OBAMA: OUCH
I was surprised by the restraint in Patricia J. Williams’s explanations for why America feels there’s something not quite fair about Oprah endorsing Obama [“Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” Dec. 24]. She almost identifies the more insidious motivation when she suggests we’re uncomfortable with Oprah getting political. But it’s not just about her getting political; it’s whom she’s getting political with. Williams suggests that part of the appeal of the “double O’s” is that we trust them. I would submit that half of the attraction is that we flatter ourselves by believing they would trust and like us in return. That illusion is shattered for a huge portion of Oprah’s audience because by endorsing Obama she has revealed the obvious, the barrier that they’re afraid would keep her from being their friend: she’s black. These folks feel betrayed because she is very publicly reminding them of something they’ve been working very hard to forget.
As a black man, I have so longed to have Obama be the real deal. But, alas, he ain’t. His signal of support for the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism bill, aka the Thought Crimes bill or the Police State bill, shattered my illusions. My “black” candidate is Dennis Kucinich.
I am perhaps one of the few African-Americans who is not a fan of Oprah or Obama. Nevertheless, I was captivated by this column. Patricia Williams, you represent well.
RON & GORB: BEYOND THE FREEZE?
Jonathan Schell is one of my heroes, but he joins aging cold war hawks in attempting to rewrite history [“The Old and New Shapes of Nuclear Danger,” Dec. 24]. Reagan’s legacy should be viewed in terms of what he did during his eight years rather than by selectively recounting his abolitionist rhetoric.
Reagan pushed for the MX missile system. But Congress, empowered by the nuclear freeze movement, defeated it–reputedly the first major presidentially sponsored weapons system ever to fail to win funding. The military contractors were in shock. SDI was the stepchild of this defeat. It was sold to the public as a shield against Soviet attack; the universal ridicule by scientists was muffled by promises of hefty R&D grants. It was a hare-brained scheme with only one purpose: maintaining the flow of public money to the military corporations Reagan viewed as his primary constituency.
Sharing SDI technology with the Soviets was always patently absurd–how could Reagan make promises on behalf of some future administration? When had the United States ever shared vital defense technology with an adversary? The USSR could never afford to build it anyway!
Were Gorbachev to permit America’s development of SDI with massive reductions of missiles on both sides, a point would be reached when the United States retained reduced but still devastating first-strike capability, shielded from an equally reduced Soviet retaliation. No Soviet leader could agree to such a plan.
Reagan’s true Reykjavik legacy is as a President who sabotaged nuclear abolition at the one brief moment when abolition might have been possible. And he apparently did so because of a pet pork-barrel project he had neither the courage nor the conviction nor the vision to let go of.
MARC B. FRIED
New York City
There is a great deal of truth in what Marc Fried has to say. Reagan did tirelessly seek to deploy the useless and dangerously destabilizing MX missile, only to be defeated by a Congress emboldened by the freeze movement; SDI was a technical fantasy; Reagan’s devotion to SDI (and Gorbachev’s unnecessary opposition to it) prevented agreement on the abolition of nuclear weapons at Reykjavik. And I believe it is true that Reagan would never have surfaced his abolitionism, so startlingly at odds with his previous policies, if the way had not been prepared by the freeze movement. (Although Reagan had privately expressed his moral revulsion at nuclear weapons and his desire to get rid of them to his aides in the early ’80s, he did not go public until his SDI speech in March 1983, when the freeze was at its peak.) The lesson is an old one: profound changes in policy rarely, if ever, occur without intervention by a large, impassioned public movement.
But on other points I must disagree. There is no doubt in my mind that Reagan’s commitment to abolition was deep and sincere. This is the unanimous opinion of his aides, many of whom regarded abolition as absurdly naïve and still do. If, as Fried rightly says, SDI scuttled abolition, this could only have happened because Reagan–and Gorbachev–so strongly favored abolition. Let us recall that in the mid-’80s, not even freeze supporters (not to speak of virtually all mainstream politicians) were championing abolition. Reports of Reagan’s abolitionist proposals at Reykjavik outraged Democrats as well as Republicans. Senator Sam Nunn, one of the four former officials who now favor abolition, said at the time that if the talks had not fallen apart over SDI, the result would have been “the most painfully embarrassing example of American ineptitude in this century, certainly since World War II.” So intense was the criticism that the Administration sought to hide the truth about Reykjavik, as if it were a disgrace. It is only recently, with the declassification of the transcripts, that the depth of Reagan’s abolitionism has been revealed.
Acknowledging Reagan’s abolitionism is nothing to be feared by antinuclear activists. On the contrary, it is immensely welcome evidence that the cause they have favored since 1945 can cut clean across political lines. It is therefore equally to be welcomed that the quartet of “aging cold war hawks” have revived Reagan’s vision. What finally matters is not the company one keeps but the cause one champions.
Today, the nuclear danger is reviving in ever more virulent forms. It is rooting itself in new soil–South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East–without being removed from the soil of the cold war powers, who plan to maintain nuclear arsenals in the thousands in perpetuity and are busy thinking up new missions for them. Yet public awareness of this gathering global danger is close to nil. A few “aging cold war hawks” and an array of antinuclear organizations are seeking to do something about it. Also, in the face of widespread public indifference, they have remained faithful to the cause. But where is the movement on the scale of the freeze movement to move from vision to action? Its absence, not the emergence of abolitionist former cabinet officers, is what should alarm us.
RON PAUL & ROE V. WADE
San Mateo, Calif.
I appreciated Christopher Hayes’s “Ron Paul’s Roots” [Dec. 24]. Paul does appear to be joining the old right libertarians of his ilk with what Murray Rothbard used to call the “big government libertarians” at Cato and the pseudo-libertarians at Reason, who seem to put fornication and smoking dope ahead of economics and politics. I do take issue with Hayes that Paul’s ideal state will be one that “forces pregnancy.” Unless someone’s holding a gun on an unwilling couple, no one but the two who create a baby could be so accused. Dr. Paul is a constitutionalist who says Roe v. Wade should be overturned, thus returning the matter to the states.
“…a stripped-down state (though, oddly, one that still forces pregnancy)…” has me visualizing childless female citizens being rounded up and sent to state-run insemination centers. Needless to say, this is not part of Ron Paul’s vision, which is that this difficult issue is not in the jurisdiction of the federal government.
CLARIFICATION & CORRECTION
In Shahan Mufti’s article on Pakistan in the forum “What GWOT Has Wrought” [Dec. 31], it should have said that Benazir Bhutto was being tried in foreign, not international, courts.
The January 7/14 issue should have been designated Volume 286, Number 1.