Jim Sleeper: "Behind the Deluge of Porn, A Conservative Sea Change."
A book review in the 6/30/96 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle by assistant book review editor Dean Wakefield plagiarized 12 paragraphs from Jim Sleeper's Washington Post 6/2/96 review of the same book - Marshall Frady's "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson."
I speak by phone with Yale Political Science professor and former New York Daily News columnist Jim Sleeper 5/15/03 about Dean Wakefield.
Jim: "I believe his editor [politically correct elderly lady Patricia Holt] covered for him too energetically. That's why I brought this up in the case of Jayson Blair. Clearly we have something analogous at The New York Times. You have all these white people twisting themselves into pretzels and bending over backwards to protect a young black man, partly because its company policy to advance "diversity" that way.
"The first day coming out of the box [of the Jayson Blair affair], I and other people made the argument that this is the casualty of diversity policies carried too far. Yesterday [5/14/03] was the backlash. People were in furious denial. 'This couldn't really be diversity,' they said. 'It's because Raines plays favorites, he's arrogant.' But If Raines is arrogant, all the more reason he wouldn't suborn this kind of thing. This anti-diversity reaction ended when the Times mass meeting was reported and it turned out that Raines had confessed guilt on the diversity angle. He vindicated everything I ever said in chapters four and six of my book Liberal Racism."
Luke: "Did you write a 1971 book called The New Jews?"
Jim: "I was just out of college. It's an anthology of young leftist Jewish activists, of which I was one in those days, in the heyday of the counter culture. I contributed two essays."
Luke: "How do your peers at Yale react to you?"
Jim: "I've been attacked lately by some conservative students in the right-wing press, but they got the wrong guy, just because I criticized them for running to David Horowitz and Campus Watch and "reporting on" anti-war professors. It would be better for them, politically and pedagogically, if they rebutted them on campus. For the past ten years, ironically I've been getting lots of anger from the left. Originally I was liberal-left. During years as a New York journalist, I saw that a lot of the liberal policies that I had believed in were wrong. Like Orwell going to Catalonia [during the Spanish Civil War] and finding out that the left wasn't what he thought it was, I began writing like I saw it. The Closest of Strangers is the book where I first said to my fellow liberal leftists that we're blowing it by practicing a politics of racial grievance and then by settling for color-coded remedies. Neocons are going to agree with me up to a point but they're not going to find me totally on their side. And the Left is going to constantly want me to say what they want to hear about the glories of identity politics and racialism. I've been like that ever since. Like George Orwell, I'm hard to type politically. But after The Closest of Strangers, I was an enemy of the Left in the Left's own eyes. My book Liberal Racism was welcomed by the Right and it got good reviews in the Wall Street Journal and so on, but then some of them said, 'Wait a minute. This guy is not really on board with the right-wing agenda.' I'm not right-wing. I'm not a Thatcherite or a Reagenite on economics.
"At age 55, I'm a centrist. When it comes to free speech, I am a centrist liberal. I'm almost libertarian when it comes to freedom of speech, but I do appreciate some communitarian restraints on speech, especially the "speech" of entertainment conglomerates that are digitalizing our culture. It's a longer discussion.
"I supported the war in Iraq but I became dismayed at how some of the other supporters of the war were behaving. At Yale and on other campuses I heard about, there was some harassing and intimidating of antiwar people. I believed that many of the antiwar people were saying stupid things and they deserved to be heckled and rebutted and lampooned. Then I read that a couple of Yale freshmen were working with [Daniel Pipes] the organization Campus Watch, which exposes those professors saying things deemed unpatriotic and foolish. On a certain level that's fine. But these kids were beginning to behave like the young spies in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. They wrote an article on David Horowitz's thing [www.frontpagemag.com] reporting their own professors as "lunatic conspiracy theorists" and "viciously vituperative."
"Yale is a campus where there are ways to protest and rebut. Running around reporting people to the national media reminded me of Stalinism. I didn't like the way these kids were compiling dossiers on professors. I wrote a column [4/14/03] in the Yale Daily News. [Letter to editor 4/17/03 with Jim's reply.]
"Almost immediately I got attacked on MSNBC on the Joe Scarborough Show [4/23/03 column, response]. The two freshmen went on the show and claimed that I had bullied and oppressed them. That's a stretch, because I hadn't even named them in the column, although one could look up the Frontpage article I referred to. The point is, I criticized what they'd done.
Jim: "Hugh Hewitt's columns were filled with lies. He claimed I never returned calls from the MSNBC show...
"Ironically, the moreso in light of the Jayson Blair affair at the New York Times, I published an article in the Weekly Standard in 1996 about Arthur Sulzberger and diversity at The New York Times.
"I find myself calling out the lies on both sides of the political spectrum. I do enjoy seeing fatuous leftists have their balloons punctured by people who are sharp. But when tactics cross the line and it is like you are reporting people to the Comintern--the old Stalinist Communist International, with its Party-run media and commissars. I called the students' conservative media network the 'Con-intern,' and all hell broke loose."
Luke: "Are you active in Jewish life at all?"
Jim: "Not really. My sister is a cantor in a reformed synagogue, and I'm going to a reunion of people who attended a Hebrew-speaking summer camp I went to, as a camper and counselor, for eight years. But I'm not religiously observant."
Luke: "What was your reaction to the Yale Five [five orthodox Jews who didn't want to be forced to live in Yale's pagan dorms]?"
Jim: "I thought they were pushing it. What was your reaction?"
Luke: "I had mixed feelings."
Jim: Jim: "If these people felt this strongly about living a certain way, why did they choose to go to Yale in the first place? Why not Yeshiva University? You see, Yale has this wonderful residential college system. You are part of a community. Each college is much more than a dorm, it has its own dining hall, extracurricular activities, its own library. It gives you a sense of being a part of something that stays with you all of your life. It's not like going to a big state university where people are anonymous to each other. If you decide to go to Yale, it should be because you decided that that is what you want. A college like Yale's is not like a shopping mall or an apartment complex. It has the right to establish its own character.
"Some of the journalism on the Orthodox Five was atrocious. It said that Yale was like one big whorehouse with promiscuity and awful things going on. That is just not true.
"I hated Norman Podhoretz's book My Love Affair With America. I gave it a negative review in the July 2, 2000 Los Angeles Times."
Luke: "I've read a lot that Podhoretz has written and I haven't enjoyed any of it. I just read his book on the prophets and it was a waste of time. He contributes nothing. He's the most overrated Jewish intellectual."
Jim: "I honor honorable conservatives. But the Jewish neo-cons in New York were all on the Left once and they carry over from the Left to the Right habits of mind I find unattractive. He's a perfect example. They become polemical. They become blowhards. They spend the rest of their lives flailing at the ghosts of their youth. Everybody's got to stand up and salute. I really went after him.
"I credited him for doing some great things as young editor. My main quarrel with the conservative movement is that they refuse to criticize big corporations. It isn't the Left that puts the Jenny Jones Show on TV every morning or is pumping pornography into millions of hotel rooms. It's metastasized beyond the point where Bob Dole can get up and blame everything on Hollywood. George Will has acknowledged this.
"They're not reaching out to the people in the center, the way any good movement should. They just believe in bashing their old enemies.
"I don't think conservatives are being honest about why our society is eroding. It's not because of a bunch of left-wing professors. It's because of things that multi-billion dollar corporations are pumping into the bloodstream of this country."
Luke: "Dennis Prager often says that he has the views on big business of a communist. You sound in many ways like Mickey Kaus."
Jim: "I am like Mickey Kaus on this important matter of respecting , or at least understanding, as he does, the difference between economic and civic equality. I gave a favorable review to his book The End of Equality. He has a good sense of civic liberalism. I got into fights with some of his liberal friends like Nicholas Lemann. When I reviewed Bill McGowan's book, I recycled McGowan's story about that affirmative action black doctor [who was shut down eventually for performing shoddy medicine but Lemann never retracted his glowing NYTs profile of the man as an exemplar of affirmative action.]. Nick grew up in segregated New Orleans and he has the penitential Southern liberal guilt of a Howell Raines.
"I never say race doesn't matter. I try to say it shouldn't. The younger kids these days, the easy intimacy among 15 and 16 year olds... I see a casualness and completeness of acceptance that would've been unimaginable when I was 15."
Luke: "But remember these things change when people move over 30. Remember that Atlantic article about how everyone segregates himself. When I was a teenager, there was easy intimacy between races. But as you age, you prefer to hang with your own."
Jim: "I'd like to hope that race can decline to the level of importance of hair and eye color among whites. There are residual and aesthetic preferences, but they're not dispositive enough to matter much in one's life chances.
"I wrote for the New York Daily News, which had nearly 250,000 black readers. Some of them would send my columns back to me underlined with comments on the margins. I was close to a lot of black people. I was so immersed in [black neighborhood life in Brooklyn] that during my trips into Manhattan, the density of white faces would be disorienting."
In 1997, he published the acclaimed Liberal Racism, a kind of sequel to his 1991 book Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York.
In 1989, Sleeper published In Search of New York.
Dean Wakefield - The Jayson Blair of LA Times, SF Chronicle?
In the 6/30/96 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, assistant book review editor Dean Wakefield plagiarized 12 paragraphs from Jim Sleeper's Washington Post 6/2/96 review of the same book - Marshall Frady's "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson."
Sleeper writes 5/13/03: "Luke, I wish I knew where [Dean] Wakefield is now. I do feel a little sorry for him, and since no one ever conclusively proved plagiarism, I didn't use his name in the Courant column. The problem there, as at the NYT, was definitely his [elderly politically correct] editor, Patricia Holt, who ran the books section. It was she who really spared no effort to cover for him by blaming herself for having mixed and matched parts of my review with parts of a draft of his, all while he was on vacation. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, but even if so, it speaks to a lot of dereliction and incompetence on all sides. And that, too, they protected. Thanks for raising the question of what happened to him. If you find out, would you let me know?"
Luke says: I did a search on the Wall Street Journal Publications Library and found Dean Wakefield's review in the San Francisco Chronicle. At the beginning of Wakefield's plagiarized article is this note:
"Because of an editing error, the Book Review's June 30 review of "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson" by Marshall Frady carried some paragraphs from the review of the same book that appeared in the Washington Post. The problem occurred when a wire-service version of the Post review was placed in the wrong computer file and inadvertently spliced into The Chronicle review. Our apologies to the Washington Post and its reviewer, Jim Sleeper."
Jim Sleeper writes 5/13/03: "Luke, that's quite a compendium. Thanks. But I have news for you and your readers, which should be checked out immediately: The review by Dean Wakefield which you've linked, and which I assume is the one in their online archive, is not the one that actually ran. The one that actually ran was much longer and had twelve paragraphs from my original Washington Post review. I would hate to think that someone has doctored the review that actually ran, but if they did, they are in big trouble, and you have stumbled upon another cover-up. I have, in my possession, on paper only, of course, a fax of the actual SF Chronicle that ran, exactly as it appeared in the printed edition which everyone read, graphics and all. It is nothing like the review you have linked."
Here is Jim Sleeper's 6/2/96 review of the Marshall Frady book:
"I AM -- somebody!", people the world over have shouted with Jesse Jackson, making him somebody, indeed. But who is he, really? That so enigmatic a man became heir by default to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s foundering movement makes it important to know more about him. But it also raises questions about a strain of romantic moralism in our politics that periodically inflames, then depletes, black and liberal movements as well as fundamentalist ones. Marshall Frady has written this hagiography as a romantic moralist: "Absent the great moral dramaturgy of King's day," he writes, "Jackson was left to struggle in the vague spiritual flats of a more prosaic and middling season to find his apotheosis, his mountaintop." On every page, you can feel both subject and author yearning for that mountaintop.
Frady grew up near Jackson's native Greenville, S.C., and attended the white Furman College near Jackson's house in the late 1950s. He didn't meet Jackson until the late 1960s, as a Newsweek reporter, and only later still did he learn that Jackson had watched Furman football games from a black seating area that Frady and classmates had called the "crow's section." Not surprisingly, this Baptist minister's son and biographer of George Wallace brings to Jackson's story a Southern liberal's peculiar moral urgency and strained intimacy; he appreciates much but perhaps atones for too much. At times, the book seems as much Frady's pilgrimage as Jackson's, muddling our reckoning with the man and his "Rainbow."
In powerful chapters on Jackson's early life, Frady shows that his birth to a teenaged mother, after "a feverish liaison with a married man in his mid-thirties," took place in a black community that was otherwise still so deeply churched that its strong moral censure was inseparable from the strong social bonds that help a village to raise a child. With Jackson's shame ("You ain't nothin' but a nobody," children taunted) came a hunger to prove himself to watchful teachers and preachers who gave his talents the moral traction of a clear path toward redemption, a path from which he strays but to which, in Frady's view, he always returns.
It is too easy for Jackson's critics to condemn his foibles and discount his invocations of soul power to free hostages; to "preach the riot out of a crowd" bent on destruction, as he did during the collapse of Resurrection City in 1968 and, 20 years later, to angry blacks ready to invade the Democrats' Atlanta convention; to preach self-discipline and "conservative" social values compellingly to youths even more lost than he was; and to unite white and black voters as none of the other insurgent presidential candidates since Robert Kennedy has done, setting black electoral precedents that, ironically, strengthened Colin Powell's presidential plausibility.
But it's also too easy to swoon over Frady's misty-eyed, mediagenic accounts of Jackson as pilgrim and prophet. Wives of struggling white farmers weep in his arms. Armenian earthquake survivors embrace the man CNN has made a herald of their freedom (and of America's moral greatness). Tribal "kings," tin-pot dictators and Soviet apparatchiks squirm, sometimes melt, at his importunings. But they all become props on Jackson's noisy stage, and Frady's accounts of such encounters implausibly give Jackson the last word before the scenery changes. He omits too many occasions -- like the slaying of a black teenager by a white cop in New Jersey and a California Board of Regents' meeting on affirmative action -- when Jackson dropped in and held forth without knowing what he was talking about.
It's telling that Frady omits Harold Washington's strenuous effort, while grinning through gritted teeth on the night of his victory as mayor of Chicago, to keep Jackson from lifting both their arms high, like a boxing promoter heralding "his" fighter. Gary Rivlin's nuanced Fire on the Prairie describes this and others of Jackson's failures to sustain movement-building "on the ground" in Chicago, including his bunglings of the Breadbasket, Black Expo, and PUSH programs; Frady dashes through all this but dotes on symbolic trips like one to Angola that reappears several times in the book.
Frady does argue that Jackson's strong showings in the 1984 and 1988 presidential primaries "startled all the given political wisdoms" with "an assertive black political force that could no longer be presumed to be a Democratic property free of any real expense." But he doesn't reckon fully with the reality that Bill Clinton became the first Democrat to win the presidency, with overwhelming black support, after repudiating Jackson and his vague agendas. His claim that "Jackson undertook to fashion ... a true, omnibus, populist mass coalition" misses or fudges the difference between televised rallies and real movement-building, between winning primaries and assembling a governing majority or plurality in a general election.
Does Frady ever show Jackson sinning? Sure, as John Bunyan shows Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, that Ur-text of moral heroes eager to recount their seductions by Mr. Worldly-Wiseman and Vanity Fair. Jackson's egotism, obdurate resentments and financial finaglings appear amid ritual sighing and "spin doctoring" by Richard Hatcher, Herbert Daughtry, Andrew Young, Roger Wilkins, Robert Borosage, and Jackson's wife, Jackie, whose folksy, stagey apologetics Frady swallows whole. He even concludes the famous story of how Jackson smeared his shirt with King's blood and claimed he'd held the dying martyr, by observing that "at least the symbolism of Jackson's story -- a transfer of the commission, signified by a kind of anointing with King's very blood -- would turn out to be largely the reality."
What is reality? In a politics of moral posturing, getting real is less important than being heard: "If you're a human being and weren't affected by what you just heard, you may be beyond redemption," Frady reports Florida Gov. Bob Graham saying after Jackson's magnificent address at the 1984 Democratic convention, which "some commentators" thought "the greatest oration delivered at a presidential nominating convention since William Jennings Bryan's in 1896." But, as Mario Cuomo's eloquence at the same 1984 convention might have taught us, oratory isn't action; a pilgrimage isn't a politics.
A new progressive politics should grasp an irony Frady softpedals: Jackson's big vote in some heavily white areas shows a country less racist than it has been; he has gotten a lot of mileage out of whites' own guilt and goodwill, with this book a case in point. Racism remains, but Jackson's ascent was thwarted less by color than by more intimate hurts and flaws; Harold Washington, Colin Powell and other leaders were born black and poor, too, but not hungry. Their moral journey is the one Jackson's own teachers and preachers envisioned for him, and the one Frady's romanticism obscures. Jim Sleeper, author of "The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York," is writing a new book about race.
Here is Dean Wakefield's original review in the 6/30/96 San Francisco Chronicle Book Review:
Born with every possible disadvantage that the son of a poor single mother in the angry last years of segregated South could have, Jesse Jackson declared himself a leader and became one.
Jackson is about as close as 20th cnetury life gets to Horatio Alger. He has been in the national spotlight for three decades. During the Ronald Reagen years, no one was more important in shaping the opposition. He came closer to becoming president than any black person in American history, on a platform of empowerment and morality so old-fashioned it's almost quaint.
The problem with telling Jackson's story, then, lies less in finding material than in sorting it out. What part is calculation, what part is conviction? What part is belief, what part is hustle? Was his "Hymietown" remark, referring to heavily Jewish New York City, a minor slip or a window to his soul?
Now a fellow Southerner, Marshall Frady, has written an authorized biography of the civil rights leader. What is different about "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson," is that both the author, a white writer who was formerly on th staff of Newsweek, and his black subject grew up around the same time not far from each other in small rural towns in South Carolina.
Frady was raised near Jackson's native Greenville, S.C., and attended the white Furman College near Jackson's house in the late 1950s. He didn't meet Jackson until the late 1960s, as a Newsweek reporter, and only later still did he learn that Jackson had watched Furman football games from a black seating area that Frady and classmates had called the crow's section.
At times, then, the subject of the book seems as much Frady's pilgrimage as Jackson's, muddling our reckoning with the man and his "Rainbow Coalition."
Nevertheless, in powerful chapters on Jackson's early life, Frady shows that Jackson's birth to a teenage mother, following "a feverish liaison with a maried man in his mid-30s," took place in a black community so deeply churched that its strong moral censure was inseparable from the strong social bonds that help a village to raise a child.
With Jackson's shame ("You ain't nothin' but a nobody," other children taunted him) came a hunger to prove himself. From then on, Jackson worked hard for teachers and preachers who offered him the moral traction of a clear path toward redemption. It's a path from which he strays in Frady's view, yet one to which he always returns.
Frady believes the first indication of Jackson's talent for oratoryemerged during his days at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, a mostly black institution in Greensboro, when 400 students were arrested and thrown into a building meant for 125 in scorching heat. When Jackson arrived, they begged him to get them out before they suffocated.
Frady quotes those who were there to hear his response. "It was a tremendous speech. It wasn't a tirade about te harshness of being in prison without soap and toothpaste and all that. He was talking about the suffering of those inside in the larger context of justice, and what this movement meant in terms of turning point in the history of the nation. It flowed without forethought. It was poetic. Those of us who were listening, we said, 'My God, this is comparable to Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham jail.'"
It is too easy, Frady believes, for Jackson's critics to condemn his foibles and discount his strengths and accomplishments.
Among them, he writes, are Jackson's invocations of soul power; his grandstanding yet stunning feat of persuading Saddam Hussein to free hostages in the Middle East; the way he can "preach the riot out of a crowd" bent on destruction, as he did during the collapse of Resurrection City (a tent city in front of the White House) in 1968 and, 20 years later, at the Democrats' Atlanta convention, which angry blacks were preparing to disrupt; his compelling promotion of self-discipline and "conservative" social values to youths eve more lost than he has been; and his gift for uniting white and black voters as no other presidential candidate since Robert Kennedy has done, setting black electoral precedents that, ironicially, strengthened Collin Powell's presidential plausibility.
Frady argues that Jackson's strong showings in the 1984 and 1988 presidential primaies "startled all the given political wisdoms" with "an assertive black political force that could no longer be presumed to be a Democratic property free of any real expense."
But he doesn't reckon fully with the reality that Bill Clinton became the first Democrat to win the presidency, with overwhelming black support, after repudiating Jackson and his vague agendas.
Does Frady ever show Jackson sinning? Jackson's egotism, obdurate resentments and financial finaglings are the subject of ritual sighing and "spin-doctoring" by friends and political allies such as Richard Hatcher, Herbert Daughtry, Andrew Young, Roger Wilkins, Robert Borosage and Jackson's wife, Jackie, whose apologetics Frady swallows whole.
"Of course I know what happens out there," she says of the rumos of infidelity that have surrounded Jackson for years. "I'm no dummy. I understand other women being attracted to him. But I don't believe in examining the sheets. My portion of him is mine, nobody comes into my house or my bedroom, and I can't spend too much time worrying about other women."
And after recounting the famous story of how Jackson smeared his shirt with King's blood and claimed he'd held the dying martyr, Frady observes: "At least the symbolism of Jackson's story - a transfer of the commission, signified by a kind of anointing with King's very blood - would turn out to be largely the reality."
Still, a new progressive politics should grasp an irony Frady soft-pedals: Jackson's big vote in some heavily white areas shows a country less racist than it has been. He has gotten a lot of mileage out of whites' own guilt and goodwill, and this book is a case in point. racism persists, but Jackson's ascent was thwarted less by color than by more individuals hurts and flaws. Harold Washington, Colin Powell and other leaders were born black and poor, too, but not hungry. Their moral journey is the one Jackson's own teachers and preachers envisioned for him, and the one Frady's romanticism obscures.
From Washington Post 8/12/96, Howard Kurtz writes:
Jim Sleeper's book review in The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Feb 17, 2002;
COLORING THE NEWS: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, by William McGowan. Encounter Books: 278 pp., $25.95.
There it was: that look, on the face of a member of Harvard's prestigious Society of Fellows, as I told him over coffee in 1996 that the "epidemic" of racist arson against black churches headlined on the nation's front pages was a fantasy. Worse, I said, newspapers weren't admitting they'd been stampeded by activists' claims that a small uptick in church arsons nationwide was concentrated on black churches. They hadn't bothered to discover that many of the black- church fires were set not by racist nightriders but by blacks seeking insurance money or drunken white teens seeking thrills. My new acquaintance gave me the easing-toward-the-exit smile of one who's found himself at the wrong table. Like many busy people, he relies more than he realizes on editors' news judgments to take his bearings amid racial, sexual and other social changes. Keeping his political and moral equilibrium sometimes involves being notified when to be outraged. It unnerved him to be told he was being misled.
William McGowan, who'll get lots of looks like the one I got, explains the problem with the arson story and other such reportorial wrongs. How are journalists, who are professional skeptics, so easily gulled? His answer is flagged by his subtitle: Something has gone terribly wrong with the noble goal of diversifying American newsrooms, where more racial and sexual variety is supposed to enhance political and philosophical vitality. Too often, McGowan claims, it has done the opposite, as high-end media managers dress up quarterly bottom-lining with color- and gender-coded crusading that asks reporters to become true believers, not skeptics. The result, he says, is a toxic brew of guilt-driven moral posturing by publishers and editors, bureaucratic diversity training and groupthink for reporters, racial and sexual sensationalism and cheerleading and stroking for targeted markets.
Promoting "diversity" for profit and moral purity reminds me of Woody Allen's quip that the socialist magazine Dissent was merging with the conservative magazine Commentary "to form Dissentary." But journalists who've made it their mission to slay the dragons of racism, sexism and homophobia may consider McGowan part of a conservative, white-male media-bashing campaign. There are indeed such campaigns. McGowan has gotten too close to them for a good skeptic's comfort, and some of his documentation looks sloppy or manipulative. But his targets' flaws transcend his own and must be reckoned with. He carries his argument through journalistic embarrassments touching feminism, gay rights and immigration as well as race, but the book's title reflects his preoccupation with the last, which began for him in Sri Lanka, where he wrote tellingly of racial and ethnic conflict for his book "Only Man Is Vile."
"Coloring the News" opens with an account of how, in 1995, as initiatives against affirmative action arose in California and other states, journalist Nicholas Lemann wrote a New York Times Magazine profile, widely reprinted and retold, that made a civic saint of Patrick Chavis. The black physician had been admitted to UC Davis' medical school under a racial-preference quota the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down after a challenge by white applicant Allan Bakke. Still angry about Bakke, Lemann contrasted Chavis' apparently noble work among the poor of Compton with Bakke's humdrum service in Minnesota.
Three years later (as the Los Angeles Times reported fully, though McGowan doesn't acknowledge it), California's medical board revoked the medical license of Chavis for "gross negligence" after six patients were injured and one died from botched operations in a liposuction business he was running. Chavis was an embarrassment to affirmative action because Lemann's misplaced moralism had made him an icon; so, McGowan reports, the New York Times and many other papers that had touted him never reported his fall. Perhaps, having abused Chavis by inflating him, Lemann and the New York Times hadn't the heart to hit him again. But what about their obligation to readers, like my Harvard acquaintance, who still think Chavis a hero?
Journalists whom McGowan queried agreed that had Bakke been "caught in such flagrant malpractice, the press would have been all over the story." But they wouldn't admit this in print, where, McGowan claims, their credibility is dropping as readers tire of forced marches through stagy morality plays like the Chavis and church-arson stories; the "decimation" of the Congressional Black Caucus by Supreme Court rulings against racially drawn districts; the "re-segregation" of higher education via Proposition 209 (at the hands of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, no less).
We need better reporting, especially, McGowan argues, to sort conflicting claims about racial preferences. He argues that--in sectors such as college admissions and journalism, where nonwhites are sought avidly--affirmative action, which was supposed to counter discrimination, has been superceded by a color-coded "diversity" to keep up the appearance of full racial integration even when pools of fully qualified applicants are thin. Instead of helping the disadvantaged, "diversity's" claim that serious deficiencies are really just cultural "differences" reflects a fudging of entrance and performance standards to deflect political or bureaucratic presumptions of racism and to enhance a company's niche marketing efforts. Thus contrived, diversity ends up misjudging and isolating its supposed beneficiaries, like Chavis.
How pervasive is this? McGowan says that news corporations' legal and marketing priorities are at odds with the public's need to find out. He notes that some "diversity" programs chill true diversity of opinion and freedom of expression: Religious and/or anti-abortion reporters are more closeted now in mainstream newsrooms than gays; so are blacks who think that O.J. was guilty or that racial preferences bring dubious returns. Those who leap forward to speak for their "groups" become apparatchiks of color, he claims, licensed to dispense bitterness and mistrust in measured doses to all who deviate from accepted patterns: Several times McGowan cites Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam, former president of the National Assn. of Black Journalists, for rants about the "plantation" racism of whites who doubt, say, Marion Barry's statesmanship, and he cites Latino and gay counterparts in the piety police. Nervous white editors roll over at dubious charges of racism: McGowan tells how only after embarrassing legal depositions did Gannett's Burlington Free Press in Vermont settle out of court with an award-winning white reporter it had fired because he'd angered a black politician by telling the truth about a public meeting "for people of color" at which whites were barred from speaking.
"If white men weren't complaining, it would be an indication that we weren't succeeding," retorts New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to such criticisms, in an in-house Times newsletter quoted by McGowan. Sulzberger, a crusader for what he calls "managed diversity" in the nation's newsrooms, adds that no longer can news be reported only from a "white, male and straight" perspective. McGowan pairs that with former Los Angeles Times publisher Mark Willes' call to make his "white male newspaper" more appealing to minorities and women with stories "more emotional, more personal and less analytic." You wonder whether these elite white men and their collaborators of color downstairs can tell "white" from wrong or "male" from stale. George Orwell or Lionel Trilling could have explained how such groupthink multiplies blunders.
But McGowan's political groupthink produces blunders of its own. He doesn't acknowledge that while liberal guilt certainly drives moralizing, the corruption of diversity is more corporate than "liberal." He touts the conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and Fox TV News as trustworthy alternatives to liberal bias, as if they had no pieties, phony crusades and buried stories of their own. They and most other conservative team players have given his book great play. I've long damned such devil's bargains, and McGowan hasn't escaped this one by putting me in his acknowledgments. He's caught in the left-versus-right paralysis of public discourse, in which each ideological camp is right about how the other is wrong yet too partisan to follow its truths wherever they lead.
"The profession would be better off," McGowan acknowledges, if it hired not more conservatives but more "journalists who possessed skepticism, a regard for hard truth and an impatience with the 'smelly little orthodoxies,' as Orwell described them." So why doesn't he cheer when the "liberal" press catches wind of itself and cleans up a little? In 1998, the New York Times and its Sunday magazine began producing some work on racial districting, bilingual education, affirmative action, hate crimes and even the supposed statesmanship of the Rev. Al Sharpton that all but rebuked editorial page "diversity" mantras that had framed the paper's mind-set. Stung by criticism like mine, the paper also cranked out a decent but dull "How Race Is Lived" series but then repackaged it for book publication in pious, editorial groupthink.
It's too soon to claim that McGowan is only fighting the last war. This country's vast race industry of activists, consultants, foundation officers, civil rights lawyers and government monitors enhances its funding, job lines and moral cachet by playing up bad racial news and discounting the good. Whatever his mistakes, McGowan is right to argue that journalists should be investigating the race industry, not working for it.
The problem is guilty (or opportunistic) white editors
Janita Poe writes Media News:
Jim Sleeper replies:
Todd Wallack writes Media News 5/24/03:
Jim Sleeper replies 5/28/03:
Times Editorials That Aren't Fit To Print
Jim Sleeper writes 5/27/03: Luke-- In 1994 I published this now forgotten column about Howell Raines. In all the recent debate over whether to blame the Jayson Blair debacle on Raines' commitment to racial "diversity" or his administrative and moral arrogance, I have argued mainly for blaming the Times' mania for "diversity;" indeed, that was the point of the chapter of Liberal Racism which I devoted to Raines and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.'s obsession with the problem and its likely consequences for The New York Times. (The book was published in 1997 and was re-issued this spring in a second edition.)
But now an old reader of my New York Daily News column reminds me that I had also called early attention to Raines' moralism on other fronts, and perhaps it will interest you and possibly your readers.
I'm beginning to think that some of us have been at this long enough to merit induction into the "Deja Vu All Over Again" Society, or at least the "Credit Where Credit is Due" Club.
New York Daily News,
TIMES EDITORIALS THAT AREN'T FIT TO PRINT
By Jim Sleeper
Even if you don't read New York Times editorials---perhaps especially if you don't---you probably assume that they carry great weight in the councils of power. You're right, but have you ever wondered why? Like the Pope, after all, the Times has no troops. Its credibility rests on a community of secular belief and mutual respect among people in politics, industry, and the arts. The editorial page affirms its community's integrity by providing the smart insights and sound judgments upon which busy and powerful people depend. Its clout rests on its readers' dread of losing face in an editorial rebuke guided by standards they're all bound to respect.
But even the strongest communities are fragile crafts in history's tides. They can drift, lose course and be torn asunder. Responsible people are now saying that The Times is drifting, that it is less interested in good judgment than in style and show and shaking things up---as if things weren't already being shaken by forces beyond the Times. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad; people are saying this about the editorial-page's new young Ahab, Howell Raines.
This week's New Yorker takes note of the problem in a profile of Raines that's a bit too soft and admiring. Peter Boyer's apologia is occasioned by a Rainesian bashing of the Clinton administration so harsh and unrelenting that it has made even New York Post editorials superfluous. Is the administration really "the most reckless… with the integrity of federal investigations since that of Richard Nixon"? Has its conduct in Whitewater really been "stupid, irresponsible and improper"? So Raines thinks, and even Boyer seems compelled to demur.
The Raines he portrays is a Southerner with an acute case of what I call Willie Morris Syndrome. "WMS" is a craving - named for the Southern writer who triumphed her as editor of Harper's in the 1960s - to come North and conquer by cutting a romantic figure in publishing houses and salons. When Raines, an accomplished and likeable novelist and memoirist, published Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis last year, he angled for a promotional spread by sending notes on fine stationery to People magazine's editor. This is "WMS" to the max, and, on one level, who cares? But it's fair to ask whether a passion to shake up us Yankees belongs at the helm of the Times' editorial page. And whether Raines' bashing of that other conquering Southerner, Clinton, has an edge honed by the adage, "It takes one to know one."
Raines tells Boyer he wants editorials that aren't bogged down in "on the one hand, on the other hand." A man of principle, he believes that "Every Southerner must choose between two psychic roads, the road of racism or the road of brotherhood." Such moral certitude, Boyer observes, "can come across to other Southerners, even some 'good' ones, as wearisome piety." It strikes some good Northerners that way, too, especially when applied to settings about which Raines knows less than he should.
Though the civil rights movement's evolution should have taught him otherwise, Raines can't conceive that syrupy notions of brotherhood wont' get us across today's stormy racial seas. Or that there's a difference between simply banging your drum - and weighing the other side's best arguments as if those you hope to persuade had principles, too.
The latter Raines does not do. Candidate Rudy Giuliani was an apostle of "civic Reaganism" with " no administrative experience" and a fondness for the tactics of Reagan henchman Lee Atwater. All untrue - indeed, all stupid and irresponsible - but, hey, we know where Howlin' Howell stands, and that's what counts.
The federal crime bill "deserves to die" because it excludes the Racial Justice Act, and never mind that most of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for it anyway. Raines will keep their consciences. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor practiced "Jurassic Park jurisprudence" by raising hard questions about racial redistricting. Justice Stephen Breyer didn't merit confirmation because Raines saw a "cloud" no one else saw. And on and on.
Such dubious positions make The Times less relevant to real battles under way. Serious people shake their heads and move on. Editorials should take unpopular positions on principle, but not for the fun of playing prophet. The point is to rally a working majority of people who are doing the world's heavy lifting. If that bores Raines, let him find other work.
SLATE magazine Remarks from the Fray, May 14, 2003:
In 1997 I devoted a chapter of Liberal Racism to warning, specifically and explicitly, that a strange symbiosis between Arthur Sulzberger, Jr's impish moralism and Howell Raines' penitential racialism was setting the stage for just the kind of journalistic debacle that has occurred. The chapter even opens with an anecdote about Times managing editor Gerald Boyd as told to me by Gay Talese. Not surprisingly, almost every reviewer of the book, including Slate's, contrived not to mention that chapter.
Still, it seems to me that anyone who really wants to discuss what has been going on at the Times should take Liberal Racism down off the shelf and read pp. 67-95. To my mind, the more furious of the denials from some quarters in recent days that Times' "diversity" policies have had much to do with what happened are just that: the furor of people in denial. They are also, however, a backhanded admission that the air is clearing--especially, I hope, for blacks, since they've been laboring for so long under the soft bigotry of low expectations. People like me, Bill McGowan (whose Coloring the News I reviewed in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 17, 2002) and others who've tried to crack open the walls of denial have paid more than a little for it, and sometimes that has made me a tad testy. All I can do is ask people to read Chapter 4 of Liberal Racism (and the Hartford Courant column which Jack Schafer linked) in light of what is now known.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
The truculent conservative writer and editor Norman Podhoretz "did not... fight his way out of 'political leftism' to abide 'the anti-Americanism of the Right,"' writes Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the cover of this new book; "It is America he loves, not ideology." Thus encouraged, any reader might well open "My Love Affair With America" expecting to hear a voice of civic conscience that has been missing in this country's ideologically riven, and increasingly inane, politics. Having broken ranks with what he called the "hate America" left in the 1960s and ended up on the right, mightn't Podhoretz indeed break ranks again, this time to strengthen an America that has made amply, if quietly, clear since the Clinton impeachment effort that it loathes ideologues on both sides of a discredited divide? To appreciate what a let-down Podhoretz's book actually is and why that matters, it helps to know what besides Moynihan's encouragement might have raised expectations in the first place.
The Podhoretz who decamped prophetically, if bombastically, from liberalism had begun his career as a public intellectual with the credibility of a poor boy from immigrant-Jewish Brooklyn who'd made what he called "the brutal bargain" of assimilation to Western high culture on scholarship at Columbia University and Clare College in Cambridge, England. It had been brutal, he reported, because to be accredited one had to have cut off one's proletarian roots. Podhoretz had done this but not without misgivings laced with muted shame: He would recall years later that upon ascending to Cambridge at 19, he was ushered into the first bedroom he'd ever had to himself, where, as the door shut behind him, he burst into tears.
Winning distinction as a student and critic just as American liberalism strode forth to change the country and the world, he found he had license to renegotiate the deal he'd made with high culture at Brooklyn's expense. As the new, young editor of Commentary magazine after 1960, he mid-wifed a then-unknown Paul Goodman's "Growing Up Absurd" and introduced liberals to James Baldwin, who was writing "The Fire Next Time." In 1965, he published the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin's argument that although black riots in Watts and other urban ghettoes were immorally and self-destructively violent, they were tortured calls for what amounted to democratic socialism.
At the same time, however, Podhoretz helped spark a role reversal in how conservatives and liberals would address race. The former had long said, in effect, "Every group in its place, with a label on its face," while liberals had fought to transcend race legally and even culturally. Podhoretz's 1963 essay, "My Negro Problem--And Ours," was the much-noted bellwether of the coming conservative rebellion against a patronizing, race-drunk liberalism. Although the essay (reprinted most recently in Paul Berman's anthology "Blacks and Jews") ended with a then-characteristically liberal call to transcend race through miscegenation, it unloaded a quiver of barbed, proletarian truths, drawn from Podhoretz's recollections of growing up among poor blacks, that punctured some hot-air balloons of liberal optimism about busing and other racially obsessed, quick-fix, "integration" schemes then floating across the land.
A few years later, he would help conservatives claim that in a true free-market society, the only color that mattered would be dollar green; it was liberals, he charged, who were squandering the civil rights movement's moral capital by advocating racial preferences and other social color-coding that abdicated the struggle to rise above race.
Podhoretz was a bellwether in other ways, as well. In 1966, he edited "The Commentary Reader," whose more than 50 essays confirmed the magazine's acuity and sheer range of well-grounded interests. Because many of the essays had appeared before Podhoretz was editor, he rightly credited his predecessor Elliot Cohen with "an uncanny sensitivity to what may be called the representative issues--that is, the problems preying on the minds of a great many people at a given moment . . . he invariably knew where the relevant areas of discussion lay and by which writers they might be illuminated." Podhoretz could also quite rightly have written the same about himself.
Not quite so rightly, he did just that a year later, in "Making It," a premature memoir-cum-advertisement for himself whose purported revelations about New York literary life angered many of his admirers. "Making It" virtually celebrated what Cohen's work had seemed to discredit: the "dirty little secret," as Podhoretz called it, that every American writer lusts after fame, fortune and power and lies about such desires. Chronicling his own literary ups, downs and aperus with the self-infatuation of an infant discovering his toes, Podhoretz seemed to expect the kind of adoration he'd gotten from his mother and her friends. Instead, he was dismissed by "the family" of New York intellectuals who'd admitted and even anointed him a promising young critic only a few years before.
Podhoretz emerged from what he considered New York liberals' mug and hypocritical disdain with 20-20 foresight about their conceits and a rage to drive home hard truths they'd suppressed. He would keep his "brutal bargain" with high culture by acknowledging the importance of ambition and political power. They would continue to betray the bargain, not least by disguising their own ambitions with support for "the oppressed," whose lives he understood far better than they. For the next three decades, Podhoretz would cry that his liberal ex-friends were betraying ordinary Americans' best hopes by indulging fantasies of Third World revolution and by romanticizing, then institutionalizing, racial and sexual identity politics that cheat their intended beneficiaries while projecting the intellectuals' own thwarted power lusts. They were wrecking an America whose prosaic capitalist and constitutional strengths had liberated more people than all "progressive" efforts combined.
Podhoretz has kept demanding vindication of his claims so obsessively that he's nearly made himself the Rodney Dangerfield of public intellectuals. "My Love Affair With America" is his fourth book about his conversion from liberal pietism to self-proclaimed defender of the American Truth. (The others, after the clamorous "Making It," were the bitterly tendentious "Breaking Ranks" in 1979 and the endlessly self-justifying "Ex-Friends" in 1998.) Increasingly, and not a little vindictively, he has always counterposed his new political family of the "patriotic" right to the "hate America" left.
But now such distinctions are blurring in another great role-reversal, this one involving conceptions of American national identity itself. And Podhoretz seeks to be prophetic again, this time against an anti-Americanism among his friends on the right that, mirabile dictu, bears an unnerving resemblance to what he denounced on the left. In this book his warnings are less credible, though, because over the years he has let the enemies of his old liberal crowd become such good political "friends" that he's in harness to their conservative movement, however uneasily. This matters, because the devil's bargain he made with the right out of disgust for the left is typical of many ex-liberals who followed him. Yet it would be unwise for liberals to gloat over the many false notes and incoherencies in "My Love Affair With America." The book is a sad testimony to how an ideological temperament, no matter what its doctrine, drains the political culture it claims to advance and saps the civic virtue of the ideologue himself.
Every month brings new indications of the nationalist role-reversal that is prompting Podhoretz's unease: This year's presidential primaries saw conservative leaders of a Republican Party long associated with a flag-waving patriotism scramble to discredit an American war hero who charged that a global capitalist "iron triangle" of big money, bad lobbyists, and undemocratic legislation is debasing his party and his country. Liberals, meanwhile, found themselves casting shy, admiring glances at John McCain's insurgency: On National Public Radio, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich marveled that McCain had electrified apathetic citizens, many of whom didn't want patriotism left to Pat Buchanan and Oliver North. In Seattle during the meetings of the World Trade Organization demonstrators protested the fact that Third World regimes oppose the very environmental and worker protections found in American laws. "Our country has many things well worth protecting, and most . . . are social inventions, not individual factories," commented Robert Kuttner, editor of the liberal American Prospect. "If this idea makes me a protectionist, I wear the Made-in-USA label with pride."
These aren't stadium shouts of "U.S.A.!," nor is there racism or imperialism in such stirrings of national pride. McCain tapped a hunger for what the philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls the "constitutional patriotism" of Americans who joined the civil rights and anti-war movements to oppose the government on behalf of an American civic nation transcending "blood and soil" and profits. Similarly but more recently, the philosopher Richard Rorty unnerved some fellow leftists by arguing, in "Achieving Our Country," that national pride is as important to struggles for social justice as self-respect is, and that the left has abdicated its responsibility to keep American self-respect on the sound footing set by Eugene V. Debs, Franklin D. Roosevelt, A. Philip Randolph and others who were anything but conservatives.
What better time, then, for an ideologically conciliatory "love affair with America?" Surveying the ruins of a century's world-saving schemes, Rorty, Michael Lind (in "The Next American Nation"), the historian Benjamin Barber (in "Jihad vs. McWorld") the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset (in "American Exceptionalism") and others find the United States pretty exceptional, after all. Not that the country is divinely blessed or racially superior; it's an extraordinary experiment in post-national civic nationalism, perhaps even in democratic world citizenship. The European Union is such an experiment, too. But the United States, founded on liberal Enlightenment terms and peopled too dynamically for ethnic corralling, has become the very progenitor of the very globalism and cosmopolitanism that nudged even the European Union into being. Our flaws are ghastly, yes; but compared to whom?
Another way of making the argument would be to show that even as global forces outstrip old national identities, we still need nations. Individuals can flourish only in societies borne of distinctive narratives, customs and principles--societies in which each of us has a voice and which sometimes we must be nudged, by law, to support. Because men aren't angels, as James Madison famously warned, they need legal and civic structures strong enough to vindicate their rights against impassioned factions and to train the young in the arts and graces of public trust. Only civic nationalism can do that for populations as diverse as America's. Ethnic, racial and religious sub-groups can't. The European Union, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization can't. That leaves American citizenship the promising microcosm of a larger world project: to nourish enough social benevolence and bonds across lines of race and class to offset self-fulfilling prophecies of group mistrust that rationalize all sorts of oppression.
Ideologues, by creating the "factions" against which Madison warned, deplete civic breathing space; the leftists among them sacrifice Madison's constitutional balance to a "cosmopolitanism" so abstract it rationalizes global enterprises fleeing environmental and worker protections. Conservatives, defending even global investments that accelerate the social decay they decry, sacrifice Madison to Madison Avenue. Each side has fought the other to a sterile peace: The left has lost the economic wars to the right, and the right has lost the culture wars to the left, making the more fortunate among us the bourgeois bohemians of David Brooks' recent "Bobos in Paradise." Many Americans whose lives are less charmed are left with a sinking feeling that the old decencies driving the McCain and World Trade Organization insurgencies are little more than doomed, wistful gesturings of a lost civic love.
Over to you, Norman Podhoretz ! Alas, "My Love Affair With America" is oddly esoteric and thin, or hopelessly self-referential, oblivious of recent discourse on America's national identity. His acuity seems played out, and in its wake, there is only maundering: Every page or so, he changes the subject to follow some other old war story that has just occurred to him--and to duck a more important insight he'd rather not follow through.
Podhoretz opens (and closes) by remarking on an "outburst of anti-Americanism" among some conservatives whom he had thought were immunized against it. "I should have known better," he writes, "than to be surprised, familiar as I was with the traditions on which the conservatives were drawing," such as elitism, racialism, anti-Semitism, and something para-military or terrorist-like opposition to liberal constitutional government. Seeing all this, he recounts, "I fell into a despair . . . over the possibility that I was now about to earn myself a new set of ex-friends on top of the ones I had made thirty years earlier in breaking with the Left. Fast approaching the age of seventy, I was too old to seek yet another political home." Fortunately, he claims, right-wingers' "passions cooled" just as he wearily buckled on his armor to defend America again.
The truth, more likely, is not that Podhoretz's right-wing allies calmed and redeemed themselves, or that he feels "too old" to seek another home, but that his enduring resentment of the left has driven him too much into the conservative movement to permit his discovery of the real, less-ideological, America. In this, he shares the sad fate of other northeastern Jewish intellectuals--Irving and William Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb and, in the younger generation, David Brooks and David Frum--who awoke amid the Clinton impeachment campaign to find themselves standing beside "blood and soil" mystics, racists, religious hysterics and aristocrat-wannabes, people as "un-American" as Communists were.
Alas for his colleagues' enlightenment, Podhoretz relives personal triumphs and hurts as if they were templates of the national political culture. Only if you were his biographer or a literary historian would you want to know, for example, how his love affair with America was shaped and shadowed by reactions to a negative review he wrote, in Commentary, in 1953, of Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March," which Podhoretz's liberal intellectual "family" saw as the first novel to stake a compelling Jewish claim to full American identity. For Podhoretz, "this unquestionably desirable, and even noble, project failed as literature because it was largely willed . . , not the natural, organic outgrowth of a state of being already achieved, but rather the product of an effort on Bellow's part to act as if he had already achieved it." Fair enough, perhaps, but do we really need a chronicle of every major literary figure's whispered or imagined reaction to his review, and of Podhoretz's reactions to the reactions, and of his second-guessing of even his supporters' motives?
What drives these ruminations about everyone else's past failures to celebrate them with full throats and whole hearts? Perhaps it's Podhoretz's discomfort at finding himself yoked, or at least driven, to do some of the right's dirty work in punishing apostates like Michael Lind (who exposed conservatives' enthrallment to televangelists) and Glenn Loury (who exposed their "Bell Curve" racism) with graceless "good riddances" and insinuations that amount to character assassinations. Podhoretz has done this, even though he knows far better than younger colleagues who behave similarly that, whatever the renegades' eccentricities, many of their criticisms are as valid as any he made of the left.
Worse, he has fronted for positions that intellectual and moral integrity wouldn't abide, and this, too, must have made him uneasy. For example, he keeps circling back to anti-Semitism, gently cautioning conservatives about it. But Commentary has temporized long and tellingly about anti-Semitism on the right, from penning tortuous apologias for Jacobo Timerman's Argentine-junta tormentors to excusing the theocratic conspiracy theories of Pat Robertson, who so loves Israel that he wants American Jews to be there for Armageddon. Podhoretz would never explain away leftist anti-Semitism so sinuously. Surely, every Brooklyn Jewish bone in his body is telling him to slam anti-Semitism wherever it shows its countenance.
Podhoretz has fronted, as well, for a sham less dramatic but more dangerous: Some conservatives' pretense that free markets alone liberate the country's best strengths. He writes, fairly enough, that "radicals were being driven half crazy by the refusal of America in the 1950s to fulfill their predictions of a postwar depression that would generate a new wave of social protest and discontent." But conservatives, driven even crazier by America's refusal to rise up against Bill Clinton during the impeachment campaign, concluded that social decay and personal irresponsibility had gone farther than they'd realized. What they can't conclude without the help of someone as perspicacious as Podhoretz is that moral decay has advanced behind their own corporate triumphs. For Podhoretz, racial preferences and group labeling are part of the decay of personal responsibility. Worse then is the fact that what had been a liberal agenda is now being usurped by CEOs. When, for example, Washington State's 1998 referendum against public affirmative action passed, the big defenders of preferences were such capitalist combines as Boeing and Microsoft, a fact that made some on the left wonder whether the color-coding of American identity is really so "progressive" after all, and some on the right to wonder whether private-sector bureaucrats can be just as stultifying as public ones.
In another circle of Podhoretzian hell, mass marketing has so shuffled our libidinal as well as racial decks that it's comfortable peddling sexual degradation. The Calvin Klein-cum-kiddie porn ads that showed up a few years ago on New York City buses were put there by private investors in the free market not by liberals. Podhoretz says nothing about any of this. But if it's wrong for the left to demonize as conspiratorial and even fascist the many mindless free-market disruptions of social life, it's wrong for conservatives not even to question corporate priorities.
Podhoretz claims that he left the left for the right because he'd seen "radicalism" through to its ugly bottom. He says he was a "radical" and a "utopian" in the early 1960s, the unwitting bearer of a social "disease" whose flushes of apparent optimism conceal the carrier's ripeness for disillusionment and then complicity in cruelty and oppression. He writes that he naively believed that America could end the Cold War and arms race, abolish poverty and racism, loosen and liberate sexual relations without destructive effects on marriage or the rearing of children (this is the closest the book comes to discussing the feminist movement) "and so on and so on into the blinding visions of the utopian imagination. . . . I was also convinced that all this could be done through reforms 'within the system' and without evolutionary violence."
Never mind that because many intelligent people did believe such things, we've inched closer to realizing some of them. Did Podhoretz himself truly believe them? Not if, as he also writes, he was seduced by utopian siren songs into an "infidelity" to America that has required his "repentance," a "painful self-examination of what it was in the ideas I had held and helped to disseminate that could have given birth to the monsters [of anti-Americanism] I now hated and feared." Had this one-time disciple of Lionel Trilling and F.R. Leavis never considered Edmund Burke or Thomas Carlyle's accounts of the French Revolution? Did he publish Goodman and Baldwin because he was naive, or because they rode the zeitgeist and he wanted to be "with it" -- "A critic with a good pair of ears once wrote that he could hear in some of Podhoretz's essays 'the tones of a young man who expects others to be just a little too happy with his early eminence,"' he tells us. And, "I discovered that . . . the ideas we had been shaping and disseminating spread faster and further than I had ever dreamed possible" -- even to the Kennedy and Johnson White Houses, he recounts. Nothing utopian there. Was Commentary, by any chance, being mailed to the West Wing from Podhoretz's office?
Fortunately, he now says of such disseminations, "[T]here were protections in America against a seizure of power by utopians" such as himself. This would be comforting if there were no other evils or sicknesses imperiling America. But the most likely peril isn't the left's utopian-totalitarian impulses or the right's fascist vagaries but the bread-and-circus decadence, reminiscent more of the late Roman Empire than of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, coming your way relentlessly via the tube, the Internet, the casino, the sex shop and now the psychiatric clinic, where even irreducibly moral crises are medicated away. It's driven less by the left than by the quarterly bottom line and by the marketing division. Against this, Podhoretz's protests aren't even feeble; they're non-existent. "The economic system [liberals] were denouncing was itself a form of freedom," he writes. Calvin Klein is with him there.
There's yet another cautionary tale in the book, this one for the chattering classes: While there are times for every new group and talent to make its noisy claim to American acceptance, a full love of a country or culture needn't be "glorified with a full throat." The Jews' time to do that came (and went) in the first half of the last century with Mary Antin, Israel Zangwill, Emma Lazarus and Alfred Kazin, or, more uproariously, with Bellow and Norman Mailer. By now, more Jewish writers ought to have joined Lincoln in evoking mystic chords of a larger national memory and aspiration. The best such writing (Philip Roth's "American Pastoral", for example) is a dance of fewer words and more telling silences. Patriotic bombast and ethnocentrism cheapen civic love.
The literary historian Daniel Aaron describes three stages in the maturing of a fully American writer in "The Hyphenated Writer," an essay in his collection "American Notes." There is the outsider who demands acceptance of his or her group; the more confident interpreter who builds bridges between that group and others, in an idiom all can share; and the seasoned writer who makes a fully American, if ethnically inflected, contribution to some vision of the whole. Aaron is being diagnostic, not prescriptive, but it's hard not to think of Podhoretz as stuck somewhere between the second and third stage, which "My Love of America" shouts he's attained but which every passage, straining for vindication or ingratiation, shows he hasn't.
Podhoretz knows this. Lamenting years ago, in "Making It," that his "family" of Jewish intellectuals "did not feel that they belonged to America or that America belonged to them," he fretted that their prose "had verve, vitality, wit . . . but rarely did it exhibit a complete sureness of touch; it tended instead to be overly assertive or overly lyrical or overly refined or overly clever'--unlike the writing of older-stock Americans such as Van Wyck Brooks and Edmund Wilson, whose "sense of rootedness gave a certain music to their work." In the 1966 Commentary Reader, Philip Rahv warned that "any attempt to enlist literature in 'the cause of America' is bound to impose an intolerable strain on the imaginative faculty. Far better, Rahv argued, was quieter writing like the lovely closing paragraph of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," which, by allusion and understatement, traces the gossamer threads of bafflement, nostalgia and keening in Nick Carraway's dreams of America.
What a long way from demanding that America be "glorified with a full throat and a whole heart." If Podhoretz truly loves America, where's his contribution to a common narrative? Why these endless, pointless recyclings of old miscommunications and affronts? Why can't he make it to Aaron's third stage?
The answer is clearest in his closing chapter, "Dayyenu American Style," whose Hebrew word--"Enough for Us"--is the refrain of a Passover song affirming that any one of God's many gifts to the Jews leaving Egypt would have been more than enough. In that spirit, Podhoretz means to count his blessings, but he begins by complaining that gratitude to America has been replaced by whining, citing "the ugly hostility" that greeted William F. Buckley Jr.'s 1983 memoir, "Overdrive," in which the author surveys his opulence and feels "obliged to be grateful." This prompts a digression of a couple of pages on Trilling's misapprehension that conservatism like Buckley's was a collection of "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." Next, Podhoretz returns to his theme of ingratitude: He touches on old-stock aristocrats' alienation from a society that has sidelined them; the affinity between Southern agrarian conservatives' resentments and what Podhoretz regards as Gore Vidal's anti-Semitism; the difference between Richard John Neuhaus' call for conservative non-compliance with immoral Supreme Court decisions and Podhoretz's own strident anti-Court rhetoric (concerning racial preferences).
A reader wonders where all this is leading. So, apparently, does Podhoretz. Reviewing these contretemps, he sighs, "I was not about to make any predictions as to what lay in store for this country with which I was madly in love. Having entered even by today's standards of longevity into old age, I found it, as the elderly always have, more comfortable (and less threatening!) to look back than to look ahead." At last, he says what he's grateful for--for the distinctively American philanthropic ethos that gave him scholarships, and, more profoundly, for "a system in which, for the first time in history, individuals were to be treated as individuals rather than on the basis of who their fathers were. . . ."
"I know, I know," he adds defensively, "This principle was trampled upon by slavery.... There follows a new round of regrets about race and Vietnam, more pieties, and, "looking back as a septuagenarian on my life as an American, I am again reminded of something Jewish...." Funny thing; so am I. Over the centuries, the old refrain "dayyenu" has taken on an impish inflection--"Enough, already!"--as merry seder-goers tire of the liturgy and demand to eat. But Podhoretz can't stop his recitation. He tells us that if America had given him only the English language, then dayyenu--that would have been enough.
Had it sent him to great universities in New York and England, dayyenu--surely that would have been enough. And on and on: his chance to mingle "with some of the most interesting people of my time"; to run a magazine with complete freedom for 35 years "even when I was spending ten of them ungratefully attacking . . . America itself"; his country home, where he is "writing these very words . . . behind an unpainted wooden door that . . . snaps shut with the very same satisfying click that so mysteriously broke the dam of tears in the nineteen-year-old boy I was more than fifty years ago."
Dayyenu, Norman. Enough, already. It's more than 30 years since you first wrote about those tears. One of your nemeses and a mentor of mine, the late Irving Howe, didn't room at Cambridge or sup at its high tables, but when his garment-worker father's union won a strike, there was meat on the family table in the Bronx more than once a week for the first time in years. Right though you are about some things Howe got wrong, why not thank an America where, even today, Los Angeles janitors have rights enough to stake their own modest claim on opportunity and where your fellow septuagenarians who couldn't win Fulbrights had the GI Bill? One needn't be a socialist to do that; a good civic Madisonian could. Open your door a little to an America beyond both ideology and egoism, and stop giving patriotism such a small, sad name.