Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Back in 2002 I went over to see John and Elizabeth Edwards at their house in Washington. We had lunch, salads for us all, the pundit sizing up the prodigy with the usual Beltway questions about this or that, when suddenly Edwards set the agenda. He talked passionately about racial injustice.
I won't go into the particulars of that conversation -- it doesn't matter anyway -- but suffice it to say that I found it an unexpected turn of events. Edwards was even then known for rhetoric that was to become his stock campaign speech about"two Americas":"We're going to build an America where we say no to kids going to bed hungry, no to kids who don't have the clothes to keep them warm, and no forever to any American working full time and living in poverty." This is the rhetoric that has earned him the label"populist."
It is also the rhetoric that comes right out of his background as the son of a textile worker -- working class, blue-collar, always an accident away from financial disaster. Edwards's story is by now well known: the first in his family to go to college, the trial lawyer who sued the pants off rich corporations and lousy doctors, making them pay for maiming people in the grand cause of profit.
But over lunch in his house, little of that came out. Instead, it was civil rights, race and the ideology of some of George Bush's judicial appointments. Edwards spoke with a passion you don't often hear in Washington anymore, referring to his boyhood in the South and the degradation and humiliation of African Americans that he had witnessed -- a Southerner out to make amends. Either he felt it keenly or he was putting on one hell of an act.
Edwards is often likened to Bill Clinton, and the comparison is in some ways apt. They are both political wunderkinds who felt no obligation to punch the conventional ticket -- city council, state legislature, etc. -- and instead decided to start where other men are glad to finish. They both have tongues that are hard-wired to their brains, punctuating their thoughts with verbal commas and periods and not with the grunts and hmmms of most politicians. Both Edwards and Clinton studied their betters -- and bested them.
There is yet another way in which Edwards is like Clinton -- the quality, if that's the right word, of his wife. I will never forget sitting at a lunch counter in New Hampshire with Bill and Hillary Clinton as they answered questions from a waitress about various programs for single mothers. If Bill Clinton paused while putting some food in his mouth, Hillary Clinton took over. It may not be true that she knew as much as Bill. She probably knew more.
It was something similar at lunch with John and Elizabeth Edwards. That day, it was clear that if John Edwards needed to pause in the middle of a sentence, his wife could finish it, maybe adding a detail or two that he forgot. She, too, is a lawyer. Together, they are a firm.
The Edwards firm is now in competition with the Clinton one. If, as every Democrat in New York believes, Bill and Hillary have their eyes on a Clinton Restoration (Hillary as president in 2008 or 2012, depending) they now have to contend with the Edwardses. The brand new vice presidential nominee is just 51. Nothing is certain in politics, but an Edwards-Clinton showdown seems destined....
It has come to this: The crux of the political left's complaint about Americans is that they are insufficiently materialistic.
For a century, the left has largely failed to enact its agenda for redistributing wealth. What the left has achieved is a rich literature of disappointment, explaining the mystery, as the left sees it, of why most Americans are impervious to the left's appeal.
An interesting addition to this canon is"What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America." Its author, Thomas Frank, argues that his native Kansas -- like the nation, only more so -- votes self-destructively, meaning conservatively, because social issues such as abortion distract it from economic self-interest, as the left understands that.
Frank is a formidable controversialist -- imagine Michael Moore with a trained brain and an intellectual conscience. Frank has a coherent theory of contemporary politics and expresses it with a verve born of indignation. His carelessness about facts is mild by contemporary standards, or lack thereof, concerning the ethics of controversy.
He says"the pre-eminent question of our times" is why people misunderstand"their fundamental interests." But Frank ignores this question: Why does the left disparage what everyday people consider their fundamental interests?
He says the left has been battered by"the Great Backlash" of people of modest means against their obvious benefactor and wise definer of their interests, the Democratic Party. The cultural backlash has been, he believes, craftily manufactured by rich people with the only motives the left understands -- money motives. The aim of the rich is to manipulate people of modest means, making them angry about abortion and other social issues so that they will vote for Republicans who will cut taxes on the rich.
Such fevered thinking is a staple of what historian Richard Hofstadter called"the paranoid style in American politics," a style practiced, even pioneered, a century ago by prairie populists. You will hear its echo in John Edwards's lament about the"two Americas" -- the few rich victimizing the powerless many....
No one can accuse documentarian and bedraggled, beer-bellied gadfly Michael Moore of having a hidden agenda. He has raised a firestorm of controversy and generated a torrent of publicity not only by bludgeoning President Bush with his feature-length attack,"Fahrenheit 9/11," but also by declaring that he made the film in hopes of booting Bush from office.
In the end, he isn't likely to affect the presidential race. But"Fahrenheit 9/11" may have an altogether different effect: a change in the practice and the values of journalism. What Moore and the film have done is take dead aim on one of the most sacred of journalistic shibboleths: the idea that journalists are supposed to be fair and balanced. This isn't just a function of Moore having a point of view to push; there have always been provocateurs. Rather it is a function of the film revealing the harm that balance has done to our public discourse and the distortions it has promoted.
The words"fair and balanced" have been largely discredited in recent years because of the Fox News Channel, which uses them to mean not that Fox takes an objective, evenhanded approach to the news but that the cable channel is redressing the purported liberal bias of the mainstream news media, balancing them. But Fox aside, the idea of"fair and balanced" is still a mainstay of most journalistic practice, at least in theory. Reporters are not supposed to take sides. For every pro on one side of the scale there must be a con on the other. If the 9/11 commission declares that there is absolutely no credible evidence of any collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the press must also prominently post Vice President Dick Cheney's view that there was a relationship, whether he provides evidence or not. If the preponderance of scientific opinion says global warming threatens the environment, the press must still interview the handful of scientists who dismiss it. That's just the way it is.
And then into this staid and carefully counterpoised media culture came Moore, who chortled on"The Daily Show" recently that he was unfair and unbalanced. But he was only half right. Obviously"Fahrenheit 9/11" is not balanced in its approach to Bush. There are no Bush spokesmen giving the Bush spin. But by the same token, virtually every factual statement in the film, as distinguished from Moore's interpretation of those facts, is accurate. In short, the film isn't balanced, but it may be fair.
Even before Fox appropriated them, the words"fair and balanced" had been yoked as if they were somehow synonymous, but if by"fair" one means objective and unbiased, then more often than not"fair" and"balanced" may be mutually exclusive. To cite one glaring example of just how balance can transmogrify into unfairness, there is the story of a television host who once invited Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt on his program and then had a Holocaust denier as a counterweight, implying that the two sides were equally credible.
It should come as no surprise that conservatives have increasingly relied on this little journalistic loophole. They have come to realize that they can do all sorts of things, the more egregious the better, and the press will not call them out because balance, if not fairness, requires that the press not seem to be piling on. So the Bush administration can fashion a prescription drug program that is a shameless giveaway to the industry or continue to insist that the war in Iraq is the front line in the war on terror, knowing full well that the press will not report a giveaway as a giveaway or a trumped-up link to terror as a trumped-up link without also giving at least equal measure to the administration's own spin, even if it is demonstrably false.
At the same time, the adherence to balance that has so clearly aided conservatives has made liberals seem like the hapless fellow in a science fiction movie who keeps trying to convince everyone that the kindly new neighbors are actually aliens, only to be dismissed as a paranoid. Take Bill Clinton. However one felt about Clinton, it was perfectly obvious that the right had conspired to gang up on him just as he and Hillary said, though the press shrugged off the charge. After all, to privilege it wouldn't have been balanced....
ON SUNDAY, we Americans did what we always do on the Fourth: We grilled hot dogs and watched fireworks in celebration of the day in 1776 when we declared our independence of Britain by adopting"The Unanimous Declaration of The Thirteen United States of America." As Edmund Burke told the Parliament,"a succession of Acts of Tyranny" by the crown"was more than what ought to be endured." Then, as now, Americans were willing to wage war to unseat tyrants.
Americans have Iraq very much in mind, especially since we spent last week riveted to television images of a defiant Saddam Hussein telling a judge that Kuwait is part of Iraq. A further reminder of September 11 came when ground was broken for the new 1,776-foot tower in New York City (a height chosen to commemorate the break with Britain in 1776) that will replace the Twin Towers.
Fortunately for the president, 54 percent of Americans tell pollsters that the transfer of authority to the Iraqis will improve the situation in Iraq, and only 39 percent say the transfer will make things worse. Although a majority of Americans doubt that the administration has a plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, 66 percent tell CBS / New York Times pollsters that America should keep troops in Iraq"as long as it takes that country to become a stable democracy." That is about all of the good news the president can wring from recent polls, which suggest to everyone except the White House staff that the campaign is going badly.
PREOCCUPATION WITH IRAQ is only one reason that the decision of the Federal Reserve Board's Monetary Policy Committee to raise interest rates by 0.25 percent, from its 45-year low of 1 percent, hardly proved earthshaking, even though it represents a reversal of a four-year trend of ever-lower rates. The muted reaction consisted of cheers from pensioners dependent on interest earned on savings accounts; yawns from the majority of Americans--who have financed their home purchases with fixed-rate mortgages--and the markets, which had already priced in the long-anticipated increase; and concern from the inflation hawks who feel that Fed chairman Alan Greenspan is not moving hard and fast enough to nip inflation in its incipiency.
The hawks say that prices are rising at their fastest rate in four years, available excess capacity is disappearing, productivity growth is slowing, and unit labor costs are rising. Worse still, the items that consumers buy frequently--apparel, food, medications, and gas--have been rising at double-digit rates in the past year (butter up 23 percent, steak 17 percent, drugs used by the elderly, over 7 percent), while only infrequently purchased and therefore less-noticed items--such as used cars--are becoming cheaper. That has fueled inflationary expectations.
The hawks are also fretting because they see no end to the loose fiscal policy that has a profligate government spending more than it takes in as far ahead as the eye can see. They think that the Fed needs to tighten to offset the Bush administration's inflation-producing deficits....
If the American news media are lucky, 2004 will be remembered as the year of living dangerously. If not, then this election cycle may be recalled as the point at which journalism's slide back into partisanship became a kind of free fall.
Presidential elections always challenge the press: The pace of events and competitive pressure invariably war with the media's duties to provide balance and perspective. Readers, viewers and listeners inevitably become more critical news consumers as their personal preferences solidify. This year, the polls instruct us, the country is likely to approach November so exquisitely divided that serious analysts actually wonder whether Michael Moore's anti-administration agitprop may tip the electoral scales.
This situation — with all the extraordinary demands it is bound to make — comes at a time when an ever-growing share of the news media is increasingly unsure of its direction and when the public's trust in what it reads, sees and hears has fallen to levels unmatched in recent memory.
The issues can be seen most clearly in the knock-down, drag-out fight among the all-news cable television networks. What began as a normal struggle over ratings has become the contemporary media equivalent of the Spanish Civil War, a vicious battleground in which new technologies and strategies are being tested with daunting implications for the future. Actually, the war is between Fox and CNN. The third network, MSNBC, is sort of like the Catalan anarchists — slaughtered by everyone.
Its slogan notwithstanding, Fox News is the most blatantly biased major American news organization since the era of yellow journalism. But by turning itself into a 24-hour cycle of chat shows linked by just enough snippets of news to keep the argument going, Fox has made itself the most watched of the cable networks. One American in four now is a regular viewer.
Fox's winning formula is essentially the continuation of talk radio by other means: All opinions are shouted, and contrary views are admitted only if they agree to come on camera dressed as straw men. To anyone prone to twist the AM dial on the car radio, it's a familiar caldron, a witches' brew of rancor, sneers and resentment stirred for maximum distortion.
A certain number of people find this brew entertaining — much, one supposes, as others do bull baiting or cockfighting. The problem is that since it is popular within the relatively small universe of cable news viewers — the medium's most popular show actually has an audience about the size of a good metropolitan newspaper — and because it's cheap to put on the air, the other two networks are attracted to the model....
The cheering that surrounds John Kerry’s choice of John Edwards for vice president may fade quickly if the Bush campaign’s negative researchers are on the ball.
Edwards has a real vulnerability in the way he raised campaign money during his abortive presidential bid.
The North Carolina senator and former trial lawyer leaned heavily on his former peers for campaign funding. More than half of his donations came from trial lawyers, and 22 of his top 25 contributions came from his former colleagues at the bar.
While trial lawyers will not win any popularity contests, their support of Edwards, per se, will not do him much harm.
Trial lawyers are no less popular than the oil-company types who fund so much of the Bush campaign. But there is a strong indication that many of these funds may have been contributed illegally.
Trial lawyers are usually quite wealthy men whose firms are often not much more than a collection of secretaries, paralegals and processing personnel.
They sit atop these litigation factories where clerks process cases, computers encode them and low-level attorneys try to settle them out of court. Accustomed to giving large sums to political campaigns, these trial lawyers do not blink at writing six-figure checks for their favorite candidates.
But they are not used to hard-money requirements. Their usual soft-money donations to party committees and the like are easy for them to handle, but donations to a presidential campaign have to be limited to $2,000 per person. And there lies the weakness of the trial bar — finding enough people in their orbits rich enough to give $2,000 to a candidate.
For corporate attorneys, it is not hard to pass the hat around the firm and round up a sizeable sum. But in trial lawyers’ shops, the average clerk cannot usually ante up the funds to donate to a political campaign.
There is evidence that Edwards may have circumvented the campaign-finance law by bundling contributions from law clerks and paralegals who did not actually make the donations from their own funds.
Tab Turner, for example, the eminent Little Rock trial lawyer, donated $200,000 to Edwards’s campaign and his 527 committees. Investigators interviewed the clerks in his firm in whose names many of the donations were made. Slate magazine reported, on Aug. 29, 2003, that “one clerk who gave $2,000 to Edwards said that Turner had ‘asked for people to support Edwards’ and assured them that ‘he would reimburse us.’”
Edwards had to return $10,000 to several Turner employees and attorney Tab claimed that he did not know it was illegal to reimburse his employees for their donations.
One or two illegal contributions will not bring Edwards down, but it is easy to speculate that his donor list may be rife with such tales. The pressure on trial lawyers to come up with funds for the struggling Edwards campaign was intense, and many trial lawyers may have fallen victim to the temptation to use straw donors to make their contributions.
Bush’s negative-research people need to comb through the donor lists and interview each of the contributors to find out how many were putting up their bosses money.
Edwards could blow up in Kerry’s face, just as Geraldine Ferraro did in Walter Mondale’s and Thomas Eagleton did in McGovern’s....
Ray Sanders and his wife, Sharon, grew up on farms in the American Midwest, but Israel has long been their home. Their journey began in the 1970s, when they read Hal Lindsey's apocalyptic bestseller,"The Late Great Planet Earth," which laid out a scenario for the end of the world according to a literal interpretation of Bible prophecies.
"That awakened our understanding to Israel and its prophetic role in the Last Days," Mr. Sanders explains in his spacious Jerusalem office."That was a real paradigm shift in our lives."
That shift spurred the couple to leave their jobs, attend Bible college in Texas, and move to Jerusalem, where in 1985 they helped found a biblical Zionist organization called Christian Friends of Israel (CFI).
With a handful of similar groups here they are marshalling financial and moral support from evangelical Christians around the world, and particularly in the United States, to fulfill what they see as their role in an unfolding final drama.
Christian Zionists, an Evangelical subset whose ranks are estimated at 20 million in the US, have in the past two decades poured millions of dollars of donations into Israel, formed a tight alliance with the Likud and other Israeli politicians seeking an expanded"Greater Israel," and mobilized grass-roots efforts to get the US to adopt a similar policy.
Christian Zionist leaders today have access to the White House and strong support within Congress, including the backing of the two most recent majority leaders in the House of Representatives.
For many Jews, the enthusiastic support of these evangelical Christians is welcome at a time of terrorism and rising anti-Semitism. Several Israeli leaders have called them"the best friends Israel has."
But other Jews and Christians have begun speaking against the alliance, which they see as a dangerous mix of religion and politics that is harmful to Israel and endangers prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
For Christian Zionists, the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham and the center of His action from now to the Second Coming of Christ and final battle of Armageddon, when the Antichrist will be defeated. But before this can occur, they say, biblical prophecy foretells the return of Jews from other countries; Israel's possession of all the land between the Euphrates and Nile rivers; and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple where a Muslim site, Dome of the Rock, now stands.
These beliefs lead to positions that critics say are uncompromising and ignore the fact that most Israelis want peace."Pressuring the US government away from peace negotiations and toward an annexationist policy, that has a direct negative impact on the potential for change in the Middle East," says Gershom Gorenberg, a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report newsmagazine.
Two former chief rabbis of Israel, Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliahu, recently approved a ruling urging followers not to accept money from the groups, warning that their ultimate intent is conversion of Jews. (Christian Zionists believe that during the Last Days Jews must either accept Jesus as the Messiah or perish.)
Other Christians in the Holy Land oppose what they consider a false interpretation of Christianity that is heightening tensions here."Christian Zionism transforms faith into a political ideology, and one that needs an enemy," says the Rev. Rafik Khoury, of the Catholic Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.
But Christian Zionists argue that Christians' role is to back Israel wholeheartedly and conform to God's message in Genesis:"I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curses thee" (Gen. 12:3).
To this end, Christian groups have sponsored the migration of thousands of Jews from Russia, Ethiopia, and other countries. They've funneled resources into social programs for Israeli communities, and they encourage churches in the US to support Jewish settlements in the occupied territories....
Germany's Social Democratic Party, which has headed its governing coalition for six years, has always been the party of the country's working class. That is why when the leader of the country's biggest trade union called the government a failure the other day, it seemed as if something was fundamentally out of kilter in German politics.
Things seem to get worse and worse for the Social Democrats and for Germany's beleaguered chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. He is widely regarded as one of Europe's canniest politicians, but he is not only setting record lows in German public opinion polls but also seems in danger now of losing his core constituency, the labor unions.
His one consolation, however, is that he has good company in Europe. Whatever their ideology or position on the spectrum, the governing parties of many countries, certainly the biggest ones, are experiencing troubles similar to his.
In France and Italy, governed by conservative parties, and in Britain and here in Germany, governed from the traditional left, the governing parties have been soundly defeated in recent local or European elections, as their rankings in the polls have continued to decline.
The fact that both leftist and rightist governing parties are in such trouble suggests that something deep is at work in Europe, a general distrust of traditional parties that transcends ideology and bespeaks a pessimism about the ability of the standard politics of either the left or the right to work in the future.
"There's a tremendous amount of disillusionment with politics altogether," said Timothy Garton Ash, the Oxford University historian and commentator."People feel that the mainstream parties don't represent them, and this is strong right across Europe, old and new, and that's why you get these extraordinary protest votes, which was dramatic in Britain."
"We live in a slightly paradoxical time," he continued,"when people are disillusioned with politics, but they also don't think that politics matter that much anyway. They feel they're going to live comfortably anyway, so they can afford a protest vote."
The situation, not surprisingly, is different in each of the biggest European countries. In Spain, the Socialist Party took power in March when voters turned out the conservative government after it appeared to have withheld information about the Madrid terror bombings that killed 191 people. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair's political troubles have a great deal to do with his support for the war in Iraq.
In other words, while in Germany and France the governing parties are getting no reward for their opposition to the Iraq war, in Britain Mr. Blair has clearly been punished because of his firm support of it, with the failure of the occupying forces to find illicit weapons hurting his standing perhaps more than any other issue. The irritation at Mr. Blair is well summed up by his widespread portrayal as President Bush's poodle, a lapdog who is viewed as having deceived the public to justify Britain's participation....
America's spy agencies have been under relentless scrutiny over mistakes they made on Iraq and their failure to prevent the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A public report from the Senate intelligence committee expected to be released soon will spell out the flaws in US intelligence in Iraq in more detail and the spotlight will return with a later report from the panel investigating the September 11 attacks.
British agencies will face a similar examination over the Iraq war next week with the publication of Lord Butler's review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.
As their records are examined, the fortunes of the intelligence agencies of the two countries will to some extent rise and fall together. While their assessments of the threat posed by Iraq in 2002 did not agree on everything, they shared an enormous amount of raw information and co-operated closely on the analysis. Inevitably, intelligence co-operation across the Atlantic will come under intense review.
According to Thomas Powers, a US intelligence historian, the close co-operation between the American and British services"helped President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair make their case for war while protecting them from awkward questions".
In many respects, US and UK co-operation represents the most significant aspect of the so-called special relationship. Its closeness is often the source of great frustration to the intelligence services of Britain's European Union partners. Indeed, European governments argue that Britain's obsession with its transatlantic partner obstructs intelligence sharing within Europe - which is especially important in light of the terrorist bombings in Madrid last March. From the British perspective, the relationship with Washington has no peer. Britain's intelligence budget is large in international terms, but it represents only about 5 per cent of American spending. Piggy-backing on the US opens a world of information to the government in London to which it would otherwise have no access. Nowhere is that more true than in signals intelligence, known as sigint, where a network of satellites, computers and other high- technology assets is used to eavesdrop electronically on targets all over the world.
Some people in Britain are sceptical of its utility to the UK, but a central part of British strategy since the second world war has been directed towards securing and retaining a high level of US intelligence co-operation.
Some current and former British intelligence practitioners say that, as the junior partner in a complicated relationship, the UK tries harder to retain the attachment and to be useful to its American partner."In secret intelligence more than in most activities, a good reputation is slowly gained, and easily lost," said Michael Herman, a retired intelligence officer formerly with Britain's General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), at a recent conference at Oxford University.
Other experts, however, see it differently."It's a servant-master relationship," says Cees Wiebes, professor of comparative politics at the University of Amsterdam. In contrast to its free sharing with the US, Britain tends to be parsimonious with the information it shares with its European partners."In 2001, the Dutch almost broke off liaison with British GCHQ because it refused to share (information) with the Dutch," he says.
So what does Washington benefit from retaining the UK as its junior partner? With the possible exception of Israel, the intelligence relationship with Britain is America's most important, say US experts. Jeffrey Richelson, of the National Security Archive in Washington, says:"Very important is one way to put it. Another way would be that if the relationship were to disappear overnight, there'd be rather a significant loss in terms of US intelligence capability."
The relationship is managed on a host of different levels, but most UK-US co-operation is with the equivalent intelligence agency on the other side of the Atlantic. For instance, the key relationship for the National Security Agency (NSA), the US main signals intelligence operation, is with GCHQ in the UK. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, liaises closely but not exclusively with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Security Service (MI5) with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the CIA.
According to UK officials, a new Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre in London - with 100 personnel drawn from 10 government departments - has made it a priority to liaise closely with the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, an interagency group in Washington set up last year.
But it is in the field of signals intelligence that the relationship is the closest."The two Sigint organisations operate almost - but not quite - as if they were separate national divisions of some larger international conglomerate," said Mr Herman, the former GCHQ officer.
The relationship is governed by secret accords finalised in 1948, usually described as the Ukusa agreement, which also includes ties with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The agreement goes beyond the exchange of intelligence, providing for common security standards, a division of responsibility in terms of signals collection, and the sharing of intelligence assets.
Large numbers of GCHQ personnel go to the NSA, usually for three-year spells, and vice versa."We have integrated: Americans working here are firmly part of the team," says one official at GCHQ."But it's a relationship that nobody takes for granted. It's about very hard-headed business judgments. . . The Americans aren't there to subsidise us or feed us or direct our work. It's about mutual support."
Sharing intelligence is not automatic, but much more is shared among the Ukusa Sigint organisations than among their human intelligence (humint) counterparts. Material collected by US intelligence satellites does not go automatically into a common system. However, some activities - such as the Echelon arrangement that targets commercial communications satellites and allows interrogation using specific key words - is said by specialists to be available to all the Ukusa countries.
The closeness of the alliance occasionally produces strange outcomes. Take, for instance, the Suez debacle in 1956 when France, Britain and Israel launched an invasion of Egypt against strong US opposition."The UK continued its intelligence exchanges with its US critic while denying them to its French ally, and the US at the same time supplied Britain with timely U-2 bomb damage assessments of the RAF's attacks on Cairo airfields," says a former UK intelligence officer....
Although it has been 10 years since its membership last changed, the Supreme Court that concluded its term last week was, surprisingly and in important ways, a new court.
It is too soon to say for sure, but it is possible that the 2003-04 term may go down in history as the one when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist lost his court.
The cases decided in the term's closing days on the rights of the detainees labeled"enemy combatants" by the Bush administration provided striking evidence for this appraisal. The court ruled that foreigners imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as American citizens held in the United States are entitled to contest their classification before an impartial judge.
The surprise lay not in the outcome: it was scarcely a great shock, except perhaps to the administration, that a court preoccupied in recent years with preserving judicial authority would reject the bold claim of unreviewable executive power at the core of the administration's legal arguments. Rather, what was most unexpected about the outcome of the cases was the invisibility of Chief Justice Rehnquist.
It is a remarkable development. Since his promotion to chief justice 18 years ago, his tenure has been notable for the sure hand with which he has led the court, marshaling fractious colleagues not only to advance his own agenda but also to protect the court's institutional prerogatives.
Four years ago, for example, the court reviewed a law by which Congress had purported to overrule the Miranda decision, a precedent Chief Justice Rehnquist disliked and had criticized for years. But in the face of Congress's defiance, he wrote a cryptic opinion for a 7-to-2 majority that said no more than necessary about Miranda itself but found common ground in making clear that it was the court, not Congress, that has the last word on what the Constitution means.
This year, there was every reason to suppose the chief justice would want to shape the court's response to the war on terrorism. His 1998 book on the history of civil liberties in wartime reflected his extensive knowledge and evident fascination with the subject by which the term, if not his entire tenure, was likely to be known. If there was a message to be delivered from one branch of government to another, Chief Justice Rehnquist figured to be the one to deliver it.
Yet the Guantánamo case found him silently joining Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion as Justice John Paul Stevens explained for the 6-to-3 majority why the federal courts have jurisdiction to review the status of the hundreds of foreigners detained there....
MICHAEL MOORE'S blockbuster, Fahrenheit 9/11, is the worst good film I have seen.
Opening in Britain after breaking box-office records in America, it ranks among the most savage and sensational antiwar movies. Though I agree with its thrust, the depiction of George Bush over Iraq is flawed. Don't miss it, but turn off your brain first.
Then go quietly home and read a slim volume from two conservative historians, Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke. America Alone tells how a small group of neoconservatives contrived to take the greatest nation on Earth to war and kill thousands of people. Their anger is coldly controlled, and far more effective. How much better the Right does outrage than the Left.
Moore's thesis is simple. For more than a decade the Saudi aristocracy invested deeply in Bush family interests in Texas. They wanted to keep close to Washington out of self-protection, as they kept close to the Taleban. After 9/11 George W.
Bush was appalled that his Saudi friends might be threatened by the catastrophe.
He smuggled them out of the country, played down bin Laden's role and devoted all his efforts to blaming Saddam Hussein for 9/11.
These charges are visually spectacular rather than forensic. The Bushes are shown endlessly greeting Saudis, often in sinister slow motion. They bail out young George's business ventures. In return the CIA is ordered to prove the unprovable after 9/11. Soon two thirds of Americans hold Saddam responsible for the attack.
Scares are exaggerated and exploited by the White House (as in Britain) to generate a war psychosis. America is terrorised into confrontation.
This film may be one-sided but then so was the war. It should be compulsory viewing for every politician who orders into the air that most obscene and cowardly weapon, the bomber. Targets are missed everywhere. Bits of babies splatter the screen, interspersed with Donald Rumsfeld boasting his"brilliant accuracy".
The public gets to see not just triumphalist footage of the Pentagon's Apocalypse Iraq, in theatre-shaking ferocity. It sees the human consequence on the ground, the numb bafflement of bereaved families and smashed neighbourhoods. I left the cinema with my contempt for the futility and cruelty of air power reinforced. I also left with a deep respect for many American soldiers, having to risk their lives in the backlash from the bombing yet not afraid to admit their shame at what America was asking them to do....
Aloise Buckley Heath once reminisced that, when her brother set out to establish National Review in the mid-1950s, “Our most deeply buried fear was that Gerald L.K. Smith was the only other conservative in America.” Fifty years later, William F. Buckley Jr.’s “weekly journal of opinion” (now bi-weekly) reaches more than a quarter-million readers, including the President of the United States, and is recognized as the intellectual fountainhead of modern conservatism. That magazine, whose rudder he captained for so many decades, has been deprived of his guidance. Last Tuesday, William F. Buckley Jr. relinquished ownership of National Review. We should hasten to add, Buckley (thankfully) is not retiring from public life and will continue to produce his regular column. But his beloved magazine will now be guided by hands other than his own.
The move does not come out of the blue. Buckley retired as NR’s Editor-in-Chief in 1990, assuming the title Editor-at-Large, and strictly curtailed his public speaking schedule at the turn of the millenium. However, his transfer of leadership marks a heartsick moment for conservatives, whose melancholy is heightened by the accompanying press release’s terse acknowledgement that, “Mr. Buckley, 78, cited concerns about his own mortality as the primary reason for his divestiture.” More than anyone else, William F. Buckley Jr. has come to embody conservatism itself. He made the term “conservative” respectable, realigned the Republican Party (permanently, one hopes) to the Right and set in motion a movement that saw two of its members elected President of the United States.
His prospects were not always so sunny.
He began his efforts during the high tide of Liberalism, the triumph of which was then, like the ultimate withering of Marx’s colossal State, considered inevitable. It already held all academia under its sway, as Buckley noted in his first book, God and Man at Yale. The intelligentsia believed the Great Depression – and the isolationist, nativist ravings of the Old Right – discredited every alternative; Liberalism was in full victory march. In this struggle, Buckley wrote in NR’s first editorial, his magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.”
Then, WFB proceeded to create an intellectually respectable conservatism de novo. After the publishing of his first book, he founded National Review (with Willie Schlamm) to present a regular rebuttal to the nation’s academic and political culture. He recruited a roster that included James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, Ralph de Toledano and Frank Meyer. Buckley’s evident wit, patrician mannerisms and expansive vocabulary defied caricature. Clearly, neither the sharp-tongued young sophisticate nor his peers could be dismissed ad hominem. Assembling this group proved easier than holding together thinkers with such widely divergent views, a task Buckley accomplished by focusing all parties on the overriding objective of defeating Communism – and leavening disputes with his abundant personal charm. This tactic would be writ large as Cold War conservatism united libertarians, neo-conservatives, traditionalists and social conservatives under its big tent.
Thus united, NR’s staff opened fire on the prevailing academic and political culture. Buckley flatly stated that university professors had a duty to defend the precepts of freedom, to deny that all philosophies were equally true, or equally plausible. (Liberalism claims to honor the intellect by pursuing every wind of doctrine, Buckley wrote, but conservatism pays the mind its highest tribute: that it has come to a few conclusions.) He believed the size and scope of government must be hemmed in as a necessary prerequisite to reviving the engines of capitalism left cooling under Eisenhower’s big government conservatism. He wrote that totalitarianism could be rolled back, not merely contained. And he dared to reveal that milieu of the Eastern Liberal Establishment regularly made martyrs out of scoundrels like Alger Hiss, Owen Lattimore and Harry Dexter White. Later, when the fifth column invaded the legal establishment, Buckley would call for the disbarment of William Kunstler. In National Review, and then in his syndicated newspaper column, he punctured the shibboleths of the Left with his rapier-like insights (which, despite their polemical nature, remain some of the most eloquent prose of their time). He also penned a full-length philosophical account of the Left’s pathologies and the Right’s responses, Up from Liberalism, which remains a classic. And the tide began to turn....
In the end, the American proconsul slipped out of Iraq with scarcely a word. L. Paul Bremer III pronounced the country a better place than the one once littered with Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, thanked the officials who had served with him on the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, bestowed power on the new Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and was gone.
It was a low-key exit reflecting problems that Mr. Bremer, and perhaps any American, could not resolve. Iraqis, in their vast majority, were pleased to be freed of their dictator and were mesmerized by his first appearance in court last week, but they have no wish to be ruled by the United States.
The Age of Empire is passed, and governments throughout the world were uncomfortable with what they saw as the brazen exercise of American authority over a country reduced to vassal status through force of arms. Mr. Bremer, a Christian ruling a Muslim country, could not fail to be a lightning rod to Islamic extremists in Iraq and beyond.
Perhaps"proconsul," with its echoes of imperial Rome, is a harsh word for the former administrator of Iraq. I met Mr. Bremer last December in his office in Mr. Hussein's bizarre Republican Palace, built in the despot's favored Mesopotamian Fascist style. He was businesslike, determined and self-effacing. But the setting, an ornate monument to a tyrant, seemed to capture all the irreconcilable contradictions of his role.
Mr. Bremer's mission was to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. Yet he proposed rule"of the people, by the people and for the people" from a palace inside a sprawling fortress known as the Green Zone, where he was severed from contact with the life of average Iraqis.
"We don't do empire," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld declared memorably after the first phase of the war. But Mr. Bremer was obliged to do something that looked very much like it. He directed political affairs, doled out contracts, drafted regulations and discussed the next military move with American commanders at the palace - all in a country where hostility could not be tamed and that was not and would never be his.
Here, perhaps, was the core of the problem: the United States seldom, if ever, looked more like an empire in a 19th-century British guise than over the 14 months of Mr. Bremer's rule. Indeed, the extent of America's wealth, firepower and cultural influence today gives it a dominance that almost certainly exceeds any achieved by Britain, even at the height of its power.
In Iraq, America's use of its power was blunt. This was not consensual hegemony, or empire by invitation, or rule through surrogates, but the direct hand of President Bush's proconsul placed on every significant lever of Iraqi power. That the rule had a goal declared noble by the United States scarcely seemed to matter.
Yes, the United States ruled over Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, but it retreated from Cuba quickly enough and from the Philippines in 1946. Yes, the United States governed and remade Germany and Japan after 1945, but the consensus around that enterprise after World War II was overwhelming. Yes, the United States, during the cold war, was ready to show it would punish defectors from the Western camp, and did so in Chile and elsewhere. But there were two empires then.
"When we had half the world and the other guys were really nasty, our imperial power was often seen as a good thing," said Charles S. Maier, a historian at Harvard."But when you are one of one, it looks less attractive and more conspicuous."
Certainly, American rule of Iraq has often looked heavy-handed. So it is not surprising that the United States' presence there, which endures in the form of more than 130,000 troops, has prompted a lively debate over whether the United States is today an empire. Views have ranged from an embrace of the label to outrage....
On a sweltering day in August 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark clambered to the top of a 70-foot knoll north of the Missouri River. Local Yankton Sioux believed the landmark to be haunted, but instead of ghosts the explorers took in a vista that awed them with its majesty and potential.
''We beheld a most butifull landscape," Clark recorded in his journal, describing a realm of grassland extending ''without interruption as far as Can be Seen . . . the soil of those Plains are delightful."
The land has been tamed in the 200 years since then. The view from the rise called Spirit Mound today offers a bucolic version of the American dream that President Thomas Jefferson might have imagined when he dispatched the Corps of Discovery on its journey from St. Louis to the Pacific: tidy farms, busy shops, solid civic buildings, and church steeples protruding from cottonwood groves. Less charming, but still telling of prosperity, double-trailer truck rigs roar over wide highways while a crop-duster buzzes low over newly sown fields. The dome of a university sports stadium glints in the sun. In the hazy distance, a gigantic American flag floats languidly over a Phillips 66 gas station.
Yet to travel today the route taken by Lewis and Clark at the dawn of America is to encounter a nation that seems unsettled in its soul. Although an abiding faith in the future remains almost the national trademark, many people seem uneasy about the direction the country is taking.
''You've got to wonder where we're going as a nation and a people," said June Bosley Dabney-Gray, 69, a Missouri schoolteacher and former professional singer. Dabney-Gray graduated from the segregated St. Louis school system. Her father was the first black mail clerk on the old Wabash Railroad run from St. Louis to Omaha. Her nephew was the first black mayor of St. Louis.
She loves America, she said. And fears for it -- fears the fallout of a confusing war; fears for a society that, she believes, has strayed from religious values; fears for children lost to a world of ''hip-hop and street smarts" before they acquire basic learning skills. Her love of country but alarm about America comes close to summarizing the views of scores of people who spoke to a Globe reporter this spring in a journey across the broad arc of land that Lewis and Clark traveled -- territory that stretches from what is now St. Louis's Gateway Arch to land's end near Astoria, Ore.
''This is a country that makes you want to clap your hands and rejoice," she said. ''But also a country that makes you want to weep. There is a goodness in Americans, in our love of freedom, our quest for equality. But we are also people who are losing the light of the principles that have guided us. . . . People should sing the American anthem, should recite the pledge. We've got to be one nation indivisible, under God, or we're not going to stay together as a people at all...."
CLARIFICATION: It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.
John Carroll, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, who edited this newspaper from 1979 to 1991, recently proposed a correction like the one above during a speech on journalism ethics. Today, as the nation celebrates its liberties and marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this report looks back at the hidden history of Lexington's civil rights struggle -- and how this newspaper covered it. Or failed to.
Nearly every detail is fuzzy in her memory now of that summer day in 1960 when Audrey Grevious took part in one of Lexington's first lunch counter sit-ins. But she vividly recalls one thing: the cold, wet shock she felt as a waitress poured a glass of Coca-Cola all over her, while the whites standing behind her hissed,"Nigger!" Kay Grimes Jones remembers a night in 1960 at the Ben Ali Theater, where she and others stood in line, fruitlessly waiting to buy tickets for the"whites only" section. A crowd of whites jeered and spat on them."That's when I decided to help out in other ways," said Jones, who'd studied non-violence as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE."I wasn't sure I wouldn't spit back." The Rev. Thomas Peoples remembers the searing summer of 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Peoples, head of the local NAACP, joined city officials in a police car, driving around Georgetown and Deweese streets, begging people to stay calm as cities across the country exploded in rage.
These memories have made it into master's theses and oral histories as stories of Lexington's rich civil-rights struggle. But until now, they'd never made it into the local newspaper.- The people in charge of recording the"first rough draft of history," as journalism is sometimes called, ignored sit-ins and marches, or relegated them to small notices in the back pages. The omissions by the city's two newspapers, the Lexington Herald and the Lexington Leader, weren't simply mistakes or oversights, according to local civil rights leaders and former employees of the newspapers. The papers' management actively sought to play down the movement....
You can see him in action on the back of the book jacket, working a crowd with two hands, smiling, sucking up the attention, devouring the love. And it's fully reciprocated: The people are straining to reach him, to touch him, to receive his presidential validation. Bill Clinton's world has a radial symmetry, like a flower, with his white thatch of hair popping out at the center.
This was the life he wanted, the one he constructed, the one he recounts in 957 pages."My Life" has neither a subtitle nor subtlety, but it's surely a very American tale, a story of a kid who bounded from nowhere into the history books, erupting from the land like a force of nature (or a natural disaster, some might argue).
He was not a prince of the political universe like the guy who would one day be his vice president, or the fellow who would be his successor. Clinton was not anointed from on high. He never knew his dad, had a lush of a stepfather who once nearly gunned him down. He was pudgy. Talked too much. Silly clothes."I was a fat band boy who didn't wear cool jeans."
And now he's in the books as the 42nd president, two full terms, notwithstanding a wee bit of impeachment tarnish.
Historians will judge his merit as a president, and readers can decide for themselves whether"My Life" is as interminable as many reviewers suggest, but in any case the million-selling memoir adds more data to one of the great mysteries of America: Why do some people defy all the probabilities of the world and wind up as the president of the United States?
Political success at the highest levels may require such things as intelligence, cunning, idealism, an ability to read other people, an instinct for when to attack and when to retreat, and so on, but you usually don't get anywhere near the White House without boodles and boodles of drive. You need more than your garden-variety vim and vigor. You need to ache for greatness. You need to crave distinction. Often it is referred to in political circles as"fire in the belly."
This is the norm for presidents. They can sprout from the most depleted soils, and flower brilliantly, as though what flows in their veins is not the same kind of juice that sustains everyone else.
"They're not normal people," says Richard Shenkman, author of"Presidential Ambition: Gaining Power at Any Cost.""All of these presidents seem to have extra hormones. . . . They are not normal in their appetites, in their passions, in their drives, in their willingness to take on great burdens in service to their ambitions, and to sacrifice almost everything on the altar of their ambitions."
Their great attribute -- drive -- can be their downfall as well. Their success can be intoxicating. They sense they are invulnerable. They overreach. They take unneeded risks. They become the leaders of their own cult of personality....
David Hendee, in the Omaha World Herald (June 27, 2004):
It was the Nebraska version of a gold rush.
Thousands of land-seekers poured into remote towns from O'Neill to Alliance 100 years ago this week to stake a claim to a square-mile homestead in Nebraska's last frontier.
They temporarily reversed a period of declining population that had started in the 1890s.
In less than two decades, the population of the 37 central and western Nebraska counties included in the federal Kincaid Act swelled by 84 percent as farmers fenced and plowed the vast grasslands of cattle barons.
After that initial population spike, however, the gains in most of Nebraska's Kincaid counties were erased by decades of decline.
Now, a century after the boom, a majority of the Kincaid counties have fewer people today than they did in 1900. And Congress is considering a new bold initiative to break the cycle of out-migration.
The depopulation hasn't gone unnoticed, especially by descendants of the Kincaiders.
"I wish they'd do it again," said rancher Dorothy Barthel of Amelia. "We're losing our people."
The Kincaid counties are the heart of a swath of the Great Plains where seven of 10 counties from the Dakotas to Texas saw population declines averaging 30 percent since 1980.
Among the century's big losers was Custer County in central Nebraska. It grew by 1,000 people a year from 1904 to 1910 and added a few more hundred in the next decade before starting a steady decline. The county now has nearly 8,000 fewer people than in 1900....
The Kincaid Act was the work of first-term Republican congressman Moses P. Kincaid, an O'Neill attorney.
Although historians, in general, write off the law as a failure, O'Neill High School history teacher Lauren Hiebner doesn't agree. Hiebner wrote his master's degree thesis on the legacy of the Kincaid Act.
"The Kincaid Act was an avenue for bringing progress to what had been considered an undesirable region of western Nebraska," he said. "If not for Kincaid, a lot of towns in the Sand Hills would have dried up a long time ago."...
Just as the Kincaid Act was a refinement to make the Homestead Act of 1862 viable in semiarid western Nebraska, Hassebrook said, the Great Plains needs a new federal policy.
He sees hope in the New Homestead Act proposed by Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. The legislation promises economic benefits such as tax credits and forgiven student loans to people willing to try to make a living in a depopulated community.
"This is a big bill, and we recognize that we're not going to accomplish everything in one gulp," Hagel said. "But if we can make progress every year . . . then at least we give people more options and opportunities for their families and children."...
Kincaid Act of 1904
Named for U.S. Rep. Moses P. Kincaid of ONeill. Effective June 28, 1904. Allowed 640-acre homesteads. Original Homestead Act of 1862 limited claims to 160 acres. Settlers received title to the land after living on it five years and making $ 800 in improvements. Many settlers requested extensions. Created a land rush in the Sand Hills. Last Kincaid claim completed in 1941.
Confined to 37 counties in semi-arid western Nebraska
Michael Hill, in the Balt Sun (June 27, 2004):
...In the same way that the Bush administration prefers to portray American troops as liberators instead of occupiers, it would rather compare the Iraqi transformation to the aftermath of World War II in Germany and Japan instead of post-colonial independence in places like Africa.
But Jeffrey Herf, a historian at the University of Maryland, says there are significant differences. "As soon as people began saying that the war was over last April, I was making comparisons to Germany and pointing out that that war lasted six years and that when it was over in May of 1945, Germany was truly defeated, with millions of its people killed and its cities destroyed," he says.
"I view the various disasters that have befallen our actions as one consequence of having made the mistake of assuming the war was over when the Iraqi army was defeated in that first phase," Herf says. "The war has never ended, and you have to win the war. Everything else is secondary. If you don't do that, all the other talk about democracy is just nonsense."
Even with total defeat, Herf notes, it took fours years of Allied occupation after the end of World War II before Germany held a national election in 1949. And that occupation was not just a celebratory liberation of the German culture from the clutches of a handful of Nazis.
"There were several hundred thousand people arrested in Germany and about 5,000 convictions for war crimes," he says. "There were 800 death sentences issued and 400 carried out. That was in the Western zones alone. It was very harsh."
And, he points out, that was without any real armed opposition of the type U.S. forces are facing in Iraq. Herf says the United States should have realized that Hussein's Baath party ruled Iraq for 35 years, three times as long as Hitler's Nazis ruled Germany, and thus had roots that ran even deeper.
"The Baath party was very large, with several million members," he says. "It wasn't like it was Tony Soprano and 10 other people running the country. But (the Americans) actually seemed to think that once they got rid of those 55 people on the playing cards, that would take care of it. That was ridiculous."
"The basic problem is that we underestimated terribly the amount of resistance we would face, and I think that is unforgivable," says Herf, who says he supported the war....