There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder ...
Research ››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN
I got the pay wall lifted on "The Real Fake News," here.
And speaking of The Nation, the entire issue speaks to the issue I was discussing with Kurt Andersen last week, which is the fact, that were we, as a society, to take the threat of global warming seriously, it would be a hell of a big deal, and absent a Gore presidency, almost surely won't happen.
I'm really surprised at the lack of coverage of Arthur Schlesinger's memorial service. This was the only mention that came up in a Google News search. In fact, it was an exquisitely moving occasion, beautifully orchestrated by Arthur's friend William vanden Heuvel. The speakers were disciplined by time to distill their recollections of Arthur and his influence into its essence and for the most part, did so with the wit, grace, and eloquence that Arthur spent his life earning (and inspiring). Personal highlights, from my standpoint, were Ted Sorensen's gentle ribbing of his close friend and sometime rival, an extremely frail, but still graceful -- if you can believe that -- Norman Mailer, a somewhat self-mocking Ted Kennedy, a beautifully delivered and quite humble appreciation by Bill Clinton, and Sean Wilentz's thoughtful and learned disquisition on Lincoln, who spoke so famously from the same podium in a speech that won him the election of 1860, and whom, Sean aptly noted, "was Arthur's kind of Republican." The only slightly sour note, depending on your point of view, was the almost comically self-serving remarks of Henry Kissinger, who, as Bud Trillin leaned over and remarked, confused people who thought they were at a "Schlesinger tribute." I sure hope there are plans to print everyone's remarks, as it was a morning to treasure.
Update: My screwup: The Times' coverage of the service is here.
I think from now on, if I ever get invited to any more cocktail parties, I'm going to ask for a signed notarized document freeing me from the responsibility of having any form of communication with anyone associated with Time's pool of columnists. (I'm willing in advance to grant Kinsley a waiver.) First, tough guy Joe Klein wants to have it out over cocktail-party hot dogs. Yesterday, having to come home from the Schlesinger service to deal with the events described in this HuffPo item was sublimity to ridiculousness in zero to sixty. When you think about it, it's beyond absurd. Remember, I was minding my own business. I agreed to Ana Marie Cox's request to discuss her unhappiness about what she'd read on Altercation and in The Nation; she somehow insisted that it was my job to hassle her boss in person about the things I wrote on my blog but got all angry when I said it sounded more like her job. I get hassled for name-dropping on the basis of quotes they made up (and because I accurately described the location of a conversation about which she asked/accused me). She later apologizes but it somehow makes it into the blog of her former employer and all without a single sourced quotation. Two questions: Do all the initiated conservations of Ana Marie Cox end up on Gawker (without mention of her apology)? And are all Gawker's items so shamelessly innacurate?
(Omigoodness, The Observer actually has a transcript of this historic encounter, here. As far as I can tell, it requires no revision whatever in my account, I'm pleased to report ...)
That said, I did have one happy, albeit accidental, confrontation in Washington. At Tammy Haddad's cocktail party, I saw Cal Thomas walk by and I stopped him to introduce him to someone I thought he'd like to meet. I introduced him -- good naturedly I thought -- as "a big right-wing Christian." Guess what? He was furious and walked away harumphing. I was surprised as I meant the description to be merely accurate and innocuous. I said I didn't get the problem, "Cal, I'm a Jewish liberal, you're a right-wing Christian." (Cal, before he was a syndicated pundit, was the spokesperson for Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.) He didn't want to talk about it. Thinking about it, it can't be that he's offended by the word "Christian." So it must be the word "right-wing." Turns out it's an insult now, six years into George W. Bush's catastrophic presidency, to call someone a right-winger." How cool is that?
Terrific interview by Jon Stewart of Matt Cooper last night on The Daily Show last night. Matt's a great example of an honest, decent reporter trying do what he understands to be his job at a place like Time, and the Novak/Wilson/Plame affair is a useful, albeit exaggerated, example of just how corrupt and Alice-in-Wonderland that world has become.
My Time Warner DVR for some reason refused to record the Richard Perle edition of the PBS series America at a Crossroads, but I note that, in addition to the rest of it feeling like an incredibly long MacNeil/Lehrer Report, while they gave an hour to the discredited, corrupt Perle, they didn't give an hour to anyone who was right about the malevolence, dishonesty, and incompetence of the Bush administration. So, after all, the right wing's working of the refs still works. On one side, neocons however exposed as a horrific nightmare for the nation; on the other, down-the-middle reporting. No liberals need apply.
I was sorry to hear of the death of David Halberstam. I gave his later work some harsh reviews, but I still feel that after all this time, The Best and the Brightest, together with Graham Greene's The Quiet American, remain the two most perspicacious and prophetic books written about the American experience in Vietnam. Take a look at it; it's an incredibly audacious and amazingly well-reported, intelligently written book. The Powers That Be is also worth the considerable amount of time it takes to read, Nick Lemann's famous TNR takedown notwithstanding.
"I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions." -- Former Bush voter (and Chrysler CEO) Lee Iacocca, here.
What is probably the greatest refugee crisis on the planet today, the flight of Iraqis from their country (or their internal displacement within it) has received remarkably modest attention in this country. Even though 50,000 Iraqis are now estimated to flee Iraq each month and untold numbers of others are uprooted from their homes and have to resettle elsewhere in the country, there are few groups pressing to help them outside beleagured neighboring countries and little written about their dismal fate. Fortunately, independent journalist Dahr Jamail recently visited some of the beleaguered refugee camps and centers in Syria trying to cope with the tens of thousands of desperate Iraqi refugees arriving each month. He gives us a moving glimpse into their lives and trials.
Our premier investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, recently praised Jamail at a media conference, saying: "There is a young journalist here, Dahr Jamail, whose stuff has been very prescient, and I've four or five times included the brave accounts of some of his work in my stories." If you read today's dispatch about the Iraqi "crisis without a name," you'll know why. You'll grasp its magnitude -- almost 4 million people in a country of 24-26 million people forced from their homes -- but also its impact on individual Iraqis, many of whom have lost everything, and on the hard-pressed workers from the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, trying to deal with their plight in Syria where Iraqi refugees already account for 8 percent of the population.
"I left everything behind. My house was empty when I left, and I have no idea what became of it" -- that's the way Salim Hamad, a former railroad worker Jamail met in a Syrian refugee camp, typically begins his tale. One of almost 4 million such stories ...
The Band and Sly and the Family Stone, by Sal, NYCD:
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE -- REMASTERS. The bane of our existence has now been broken up into seven individual CDs for your listening pleasure -- A Whole New Thing, Dance to the Music, Life, Stand!, There's a Riot Goin' On, Fresh, and Small Talk. The obvious choices would be Stand!, Riot, and Fresh, and the one to avoid would be Small Talk. But truth be told, after giving all seven fresh listens, there's not a hack in the bunch. Even the least favorable "Small Talk" is much better than we ever remembered, and this particular reissue campaign has one more very amazing thing going for it -- the bonus tracks are not throwaways! So what are you waiting for? You need these! (Eric adds: there is also a limited-edition numbered box set of all of them. As someone who's been listening a great deal to the two-CD collection for the past few years, I'm blown away by how good are the backtracks, particularly on the later albums, when Sly was barely conscious, but had really found his (completely unique) groove. It's like James Brown meets Miles Davis. Start with Stand! but also check out Fresh and Small Talk.)
Alter-historical note: My first-ever concert was Sly, Gladys Knight, Rare Earth, and Ike and Tina, Madison Square Garden, 1970. I was ten and my parents made me leave a half-hour into Sly's 11 p.m. appearance. And for the record, I remain, "Everyday People ..."
THE BAND -- THE BEST OF: A MUSICAL HISTORY (CD/DVD). As we say here in the NYCD office, "too much Band is not enough." If you missed out on the multi-disc box set, "A Musical History," or if you just felt that it may have been too much for you (even though, as we just said, too much Band is not enough), here is a single CD from the box set, containing all the hits, some strong album tracks, and a couple of tracks that were unavailable apart from the box set. A version is also available which includes a DVD that features a half dozen of the videos that appeared on the box's bonus DVD. (Eric adds, "Ditto, with exclamation points. I really don't understand what kind of person could live without at least two cds of The Band....)
Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA
Is the Administration determined to make EVERY possible mistake in the Iraq war? (Here.) Even their purported hero, Ronald Reagan, understood that physical barriers are ineffective at best, deeply maddening to the people who have to live around them, and a PR nightmare. Oh, and the problem they're trying to solve with a 12' wall is mortar attacks. If this doesn't work maybe they'll try an impregnable Maginot Line of massive artillery pieces that only point in one direction. That worked well for France.
Matt Shirley, in an otherwise effective letter to Altercation about gun control, repeats the tired old chestnut that the gay and lesbian community "picked" 2004 to launch the gay marriage "campaign" (and, thus, helped screw up that year's election). This has been a convenient and easy scapegoat point for some on the left to help explain the 2004 loss, but it's much like the stubborn, commonly believed talking points about Al Gore (he says he invented the internet, etc.) that on close examination don't turn out to be very fair or very true.
Gay marriage didn't suddenly just pop on the radar in 2004 (Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, for instance) -- the Right has been screaming that tune for years -- and the prominence of gay marriage in 2004 came mostly out of the landmark Massachusetts decision in Goodridge v. Dept of Public Health that allowed same-sex marriage in that state. That was in Feburary 2004. But that case was initiated in 2001, and the original decision was made in late 2003 with a 180 day waiting period for action. Many of these cases had (and have) been wending their way through the system for years. This is hardly a case of the gay and lesbian community saying "hey, y'know, we're a little bored, and 2004, being an election year and everything, would be a great year to raise a fuss." After at least three years, who knew when the Massachussetts decision would be made? And once that landmark decision was made, it would have been unprecedented in the history of civil rights if the minority community in question did NOT get excited about it. Anyone who's paid even the slightest attention to the Right Wing Noise Machine knows that after that court ruling in February, the Right would loudly and frequently beat that subject into the ground. I suppose, perhaps, you're thinking of the marriages that went on in San Francisco that year for about a week that I guess scared all the straight folk silly, but gays could have shouted from mountains or never uttered a peep, and Karl Rove and his cronies would have still played the same fear and prejudice cards that year over and over and over again.
The gay and lesbian community has been pushing for equal rights with straights for decades, often with little help from even sympathetic straights, and marriage has long been part of that equation. But to insinuate that the gay and lesbian community somehow picked 2004 in particular for the same-sex marriage issue is poppycock.
And, besides, no offense to Mr. Shirley, but everytime I see someone falling back on that kind of scapegoating rhetoric, I mentally translate it into "Hey, Rosa ... could you just keep your mouth shut and stay back there a little while longer? We're trying to win an election here." One key difference with the Rosa Parks era is that many liberals of that time actually rose to the occasion, challenged social injustice head-on and eventually turned it into a strong selling point for them rather than a deficit. They didn't hide out and then blame that darned old "uppity" Rosa Parks and her compatriots for their losses in other areas. Given their recent history, many of today's timid wishy-washy liberals would likely say "Gee, I'm all for African-American rights and everything, but I still think traditionally bus segregation has been the way it has been for years and it makes me really nervous, so I just won't get involved." And (to shamelessly mix metaphors) by not ever taking the bull by the horns and actually owning the subject, they'd still be deservedly clubbed over the head with it, again and again, by the political opposition, even today, fifty years later. Karl Rove would still own you with bus segregation like he did same-sex marriage.
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I enjoyed your useful reviews of recent books by Charles Schumer and Charles Rangel in the NY Times Book Review. I won't spoil anything for your readers who haven't seen it yet, but thanks for the advice as to which to give as a gift to my lifelong Democratic mom -- it's not the one you suggest giving as a gift, but then, I care about my mom, so ...
Also a small point: in addressing the topic of the Viriginia Tech shooting reader Matt Shirley says that bans on "things like" assault weapons and armor piercing bullets wouldn't have helped prevent the tragedy. I must partially disagree, as I watched a Keith Olbermann report on MSNBC which stated that while the gun itself and bullets used were never the subject of a potential ban, the clip used inside of the gun was a piece of equipment which had been banned under the assault weapons ban, which our dear Leader of course allowed to expire with no action. Mr. Shirley notes that it is the ability of a gun to send forth a hail of bullets which makes guns, and other explosive devices, more deadly than a knife or a blunt instrument. But even if just this simple law had still been in effect -- as the gun used was apparently purchased legally -- the number of victims might have at least been lowered to 6 or 8. Hardly ideal but still worlds better, if you ask me. Thanks.
Unfortunately, Matt Shirley is misinformed when he complains that the gay community 'launched' a gay-marriage campaign during the 2004 election -- an election that had 18 anti-marriage constitutional amendments on the ballot in various states.
Those amendments were not put on the ballot by gays and lesbians, but were a transparent attempt by the religious right to take away the rights of certain American citizens. They saw an opening in the discussion that the country was having at the time to prey upon people's fears and ignorance in order to do something that they've wanted all along ... to turn gay & lesbian Americans into second-class citizens. The gay marriage debate was just the red-herring that allowed them to do so.
I hope that Matt will research this topic further instead of making sweeping statements again with nothing to back them up. Many of the state amendments that passed are about more than marriage. They also address many issues having nothing to do with marriage, like employer benefits, adoption and hospital visitation rights -- in effect, reversing many of the gains that we have made in the last 30 years at the cost of countless lives. The amendments that passed are a huge setback for the gay & lesbian community in those states, so don't complain when we want to fight back instead of remaining silent.
I again am attempting a two-fer. I find it regrettable that it takes the deaths of 32 folks at VaTech to create a discussion about gun control, but I find it more regrettable that this instance is not the best argument for it. One can easily agree that if Mr. Cho had had no guns, he would have killed less people--until you consider the possibility of his making a bomb that could have killed even more. He was insane; who's to say what he would have done.
The best arguments for gun control are not these instances of a crazy person going crazy. The best arguments for gun control are those deaths that receive only local coverage in the news: Drunk man beats wife, wife finds gun laying around the house and shoots him. My best example relates to a road-rage incident in Birmingham, AL (my home state) several years ago. Two women are having at it in their respective cars. They then happen to exit at the same exit, and at the stop light there, Woman #1 gets out of her car to tell off Woman #2, whereupon, Woman #2 pulls the gun she has in the car and shoots and kills Woman #1. Say what you will, but if that gun had not be in that car, Woman #1's children would still have a mother, and Woman #2's children would not have a mother in prison. Those two families were ruined because some idiot thought it was a good idea to keep a gun in the car.
I am compelled also to correct Matt Shirley's comment on the idiocy of the gay movement's raising the marriage issue in 2004. That's just false. The gay marriage debate was put on the table by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Karl Rove then seized on it as a way of further dividing the country. Democratic leaders who, in their usual fashion, could not find a spine if someone mailed them a skeleton, certainly provided him with an assist by not being for it or against it. However, you can't really blame us gay folk. We just seized the opportunity presented to us. Frankly, should we have been expected to say "no, the time is not right for us to be treated as full citizens, we should wait ... and wait ... and wait."
What I think is true about guns is that the NRA, once a group of hunters and sportsmen, have taken up their distorted view of the Second Amendment as though it was the truth, though they can point to no Supreme Court decision to back up the wacky idea that individual gun ownership is a personal right to repel tyranny. Not yet, anyway, though it seems to be katie-bar-the-door now.
The Second Amendment came out against the idea of a standing army, and in favor of the state-organized militias. A permanent military budget was out of the question for all but the wealthiest states, and they preferred to go with the volunteers, who would keep their guns at home and make themselves available for duty. Forget the fact that the militia system hadn't produced major victories in the Revolutionary War. Washington was against the idea of a standing army, and there's a lot to say in favor of that old, austere republicanism. However, by the time the professional British Army burned the White House, the militia system had shown itself to be a joke in time of need.
So the Second Amendment slept for many years, a discarded relic of an old quarrel. We kept a Federal Army, though in peacetime it was small. And then the fanatics saw in it a way to sell arms to the mass market. (Once we left the farm, the percent of the population with guns has been shrinking for decades.)
We already have the right to self-defense from common law, and state and local governments have the perfect right to set the terms for who gets to use a firearm for that purpose. But there simply is no federal "right" to a firearm like there is a "right" to vote.
The one thing about modern conservatives that drives me insane is their complete disdain for debating issues openly and honestly. Instead, they lie, deflect, dodge, distract and shout to get their point across. So, while they claim letting markets decide is best for economic matters, it is quite another story when it comes to political matters. As we all know, the MSM does not help matters much by providing context, fact checking or pointing out blatant falsehoods, etc. At the end of the day, voters don't stand a chance because they do not have accurate information with which to make an educated and informed choice.
Liberals, for the most part, want issues to be discussed and debated openly so that voters can make the best choice as to who should represent them. Hence, liberals have a much more laissez-faire attitude when it comes to politics. They believe that honest public debate allows the best ideas and best politicians to rise to the top.
Given that the term "laissez-faire" has been co-opted by the conservative movement to justify economic policies which are not necessarily market driven, I suggest that your book title attempt to reclaim the term back for liberals by applying it to our political philosophy. Call it "Laissez-Faire Politics" or something to that effect.
Just a suggestion. Regardless of which title you settle upon, I look forward to reading your work.
Hi. The ongoing debate about gun control is always about how to restrict the purchase of a weapon ... what about the 200 million guns that are already in private hands in this country? It seems to me that the cat is out of the bag, and I don't see any reasonable way to put it back.
Bush claims to have gained confidence in Gonzales based on his testimony? Forget about impeachment for crimes, he should be ruled non compos mentis and be retired to a nice facility somewhere.
Matt from IL makes some very solid points (how can we say gun control doesn't work when we don't bother to enforce our current laws?) but seems to miss the point about comparisons between VT and other mass-murders. It isn't to detract from the pain of current victims; it's to counter-act the tendency of our media to overemphasize the most recent thing. VT was awful, but I think it's important to remind everyone that there have been a lot of these in the past and they happened long before video-games and movies and Marylin Manson and Collective Soul. And thirty-plus dead is just another day in Iraq. As for Brian from here in Stumptown, NBC has gotten all sorts of flack for running those clips and videos, but do we really think any other network would have done anything differently? And can you imagine what would have happened if they hadn't aired anything? There would have been a lot of useless speculation about what was in them, rising pressure to make them public until they finally do and get the same criticism they're receiving now.
Finally on your book title: isn't it a history of post-war liberalism? Why do all the titles being suggested sound like a marketing tagline? Liberals: The Other White Meat. If you're really hoping to get some decent ideas from Altercation readers I think we need to do some reading. Post part of the introduction and then I'll offer some ideas.
"Fear No Evil: The new (old) liberalism"
How about "Liberal Thinking: A Completely Redundant Title"?
I could only go so long...
"You're Liberal (Whether You Know It OR Not)"
"Enron, Love Canal, Vioxx - Who needs Protection?"
"Still Liberal After All These Fears"
The first is for Grover Norquist and his ilk, who don't REALLY want untested medicines, products, etc.; the second needs to be in the voice of Tony Soprano, and the third fulfills your love of song titles, albeit with a twist.
"The Great Re-Awakening: Liberalism and the Roots of America's Greatness"
Your book seems to be in line with the Schlesinger quote today, so here's a possible title: Faithful to the Goal: The American Liberal Tradition in the 21st Century.
Eric replies: Nope, etc., but thanks.