Friday, August 03, 2007

The Opinionator

August 3, 2007, 5:54 pm
At YearlyKos, (Sigh) No Naked Bloggers
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: , ,

The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg is blogging from the liberal netroots gathering known as YearlyKos. Ezra Klein fears for his carefully crafted blogosphere niche. (“So should the rest of us retire? Compared to Hertzberg, we’re largely illiterates.”) Hertzberg’s initial reaction to the Kos Krowd: “I admit that I was expecting this crowd to look weirder. Not hippie weirder, though I did expect a bit of that, but nerdy weirder. So I was surprised at how extraordinarily normal everyone looked.”

The equivalent of the blogosphere in the 1960s and 1970s, Hertzberg says, was the “underground press.” Hertzberg attended several of “the ramshackle underground-press convocations that took place from time to time.” The fashionable look there was decidedly not normal: “The stereotypical look then was rock roadie or medieval wizard for men, groupie or earth mother for women.” Hertzberg adds:

On my bathroom wall I have a photograph taken at one of these underground-press convocations. It shows a crowd of a hundred or so undergrounders in a discussion circle. I’m in the middle, in shaggy haircut, Lennonish eyeglasses, and turtleneck, earnestly making some point (probably about the need to avoid alienating the great mass of Americans). And, sure enough, if you make allowances for a certain number of extravagant mustaches and batik prints, the crowd does look kind of normal, most of it. Except that three of the young women listening (somewhat skeptically, I have to admit) are stark naked.

No one naked around here. No chaos at YearlyKos. No “sweet smell of marijuana,” as the straight papers used to refer to it. No demands for revolution. No denunciations of bourgeois democracy. The Democratic National Committee Chairman is listened to respectfully and cheered enthusiastically.
What explains the new bourgeois left? Hertzberg’s theory: Because Vietnam was, “as Bob Dole might say, a ‘Democrat war,’ ” there was only one way to protest it. “You had to go to the left of the Dems,” he writes, “and if you hadn’t happened to have already acquired a moral/political compass, you might keep going till you ended up at the feet of Chairman Mao. This war is an all-Republican affair. And this generation, thank God, is perfectly content to stick with Chairman Howard.”

Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum concedes that “there’s a lot” to Hertzberg’s interpretation, but he also thinks Hertzberg is missing something: “the netroots isn’t a bunch of kids. In fact, the age distribution is pretty normal.”

Drum adds, “What’s happening now isn’t a youth revolt, and it’s not powered by free love, free acid, or fear of being drafted. It’s powered by a lot of bog ordinary moderate liberals who have been radicalized by George Bush and the Newt Gingrichized Republican Party.”


August 3, 2007, 12:50 pm
‘Hero’ Worship
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: , ,

We can’t all be heroes: Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks is perturbed by the post-9/11 habit of referring to everyone in uniform as a “hero.” “The empty rhetoric of heroism is everywhere these days,” Brooks writes. She adds:

Before you run me out of town on a rail, let me be clear: I respect the service and sacrifice of the troops. It takes guts to volunteer for the military. Injured service members deserve top-quality care, and the families of those killed deserve our deepest compassion. Soldiers, firefighters, police and many others accept risk and privation to serve the public, and we should be grateful.

But it’s a big mistake to mix up the idea of service — or the idea of sacrifice and suffering — with the idea of heroism.
Referring to every firefighter and every soldier as a “hero” obscures the feats performed by the truly heroic, Brooks suggests. She writes:

Take Jason Dunham, a 22-year-old Marine corporal who, in 2004, threw his helmet and then his body on top of an Iraqi insurgent’s grenade, saving the lives of the Marines around him. Dunham died of his wounds and became one of only two soldiers in the Iraq war to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in the United States. But in a world where every service member is a “hero,” how many Americans have heard of Dunham’s fatal courage?

There are plenty of other genuine heroes whose names will never be recorded, like the utility workers described by a Cornell University research team: On 9/11, “they went into the flooded Verizon building just north of World Trade Center 6, risking electrocution in chest-deep water and kerosene to shut off the building’s massive circuit-breakers by hand.” But when each of the thousands of stockbrokers and secretaries in the World Trade Center qualifies for the “everyone’s a hero” award, why bother to identify those whose actions were unusually selfless?

August 3, 2007, 10:13 am
Praise From an Unlikely Source
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: ,

The Wall Street Journal editorial page isn’t exactly a target constituency for a Democratic candidate in advance of the presidential primaries and caucuses, but a Journal editorial nearly swoons over Barack Obama’s statement [$] that, as president, he would target Al Qaeda in Pakistan if General Pervez Musharraf won’t: “Obama is taking heat from liberals and conservatives alike for his comment that he wouldn’t hesitate to send U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture or kill Al Qaeda leaders. Actually, it’s the best thing we’ve heard yet from the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.” The editorial adds:

Incidentally, Mr. Obama’s words — assuming they are sincere — indicate that as President he would have overruled former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who in 2005 is reported to have vetoed a U.S. commando raid into Waziristan on grounds that it might have destabilized Mr. Musharraf’s government. The Senator describes that decision as “a terrible mistake,” and anyone who wants to run to the right of Rummy on counterterrorism can’t be all bad.
(The editorial also embraces the “grown in office” cliché that conservatives usually denounce as a liberal term for Republicans who move to the left: “By distancing himself from his party’s pacifist wing, Mr. Obama is growing up as a candidate.”)


August 2, 2007, 2:23 pm
How to Examine Gonzales
By Chris Suellentrop

The Washington Post editorial page says Alberto Gonzales should not be impeached, nor should a special prosecutor be appointed to determine whether he perjured himself before the Senate Judiciary Committee though the editorial does add the caveat, “at least not yet.”

Instead, the Post editorial proposes, Solicitor General Paul Clement should refer the matter to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, “an independent watchdog who has not been afraid to take Justice officials to task on overzealous intelligence-gathering, among other things.” The editorial continues:

Mr. Fine and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility are already investigating apparent contradictions in the testimonies of Mr. Gonzales and former aide Monica M. Goodling over the U.S. attorney firings. And since at least last November, the inspector general has been examining Justice’s use of the surveillance program. The investigation into whether Mr. Gonzales perjured himself about intelligence matters would dovetail nicely with work that the office is already doing.


August 2, 2007, 10:25 am
Edsall’s Got a Crush on Obama
By Chris Suellentrop

Barack Obama’s speech outlining a muscular antiterrorism policy wasn’this “Sister Souljah moment,” says Thomas B. Edsall, political editor ofThe Huffington Post. But that’s only because Obama has already had atleast two Sister Souljah moments, Edsall suggests.

The speech was “part of the Illinois Senator’s larger campaign strategy, demonstrating his willingness to break from liberal orthodoxy — defying teachers’ unions, proponents of racially based affirmative action, and Democratic constituencies wary of the use of force,” Edsall writes. He later adds, “Although little noticed, Obama has been challenging influential Democratic primary constituencies at a rate of about once a month, building what now is a significant record of dissent from key party factions. He has taken on civil rights groups, the National Education Association, and the powerful lobby opposed to any changes in Social Security benefits.”

Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Obama is “seeking to establish his political independence from Democratic party interest groups, refutingstereotypes which might encumber his candidacy,” Edsall writes.

And unlike many political observers who have emphasized Hillary Clinton’s sizeable lead so far, Edsall also thinks that Obama’s campaign is having “unprecedented success”: “Despite Hillary Clinton’s institutional and organizational advantage, Obama has moved from running 20-plus points behind Clinton at the start of the year to a current deficit of only 12 to 13 points, compared to John Edwards’ 18 points lag behind Clinton today.”


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