Monthly Archives: April 2008

The World According to Michelle

Mark Steyn on Michelle Obama:

… the problem for the enigmatic Obama is that his wife gives every indication of broadly subscribing to the Reverend Wright’s world view, albeit without the profanity and accompanying pelvic thrusts.

She was born in 1964, so, unlike, say, Condi Rice, she has no vivid childhood memories of racial segregation. She grew up in a conventional two-parent household which, though poor and living in a small apartment, gathered each evening for dinner, so she’s not a victim of the Great Society’s atomization of the black family. She was among the first generation to benefit from “affirmative action”, which was supposed to ameliorate the lingering grievances of racism but seems, in Mrs Obama’s case, merely to have transformed them into post-modern pseudo-grievance. “All my life I have confronted people who had a certain expectation of me,” she told an audience in Madison. “Every step of the way, there was somebody there telling me what I couldn’t do. Applied to Princeton. ‘You can’t go there, your test scores aren’t high enough.’ I went. I graduated with departmental honors. And then I wanted to go to Harvard. And that was probably a little too tough for me. I didn’t even know why they said that.”

But hang on. By her own admission, her test scores weren’t high enough for Princeton. Yet, rather than telling her, “You can’t go there”, they took her anyway. And all the thanks they get is that her test scores are now a recurring point of resentment: “The stuff that we’re seeing in these polls,” she told an interviewer, “has played out my whole life. You know, always been told by somebody that I’m not ready, that I can’t do something, my scores weren’t high enough.” If you were, say, Elizabeth Edwards and your scores weren’t high enough, that’d be that (Teresa Heinz could probably leverage the whole Mozambican thing). Yet Mrs Obama regards state-mandated compensation for previous racism as a new form of burthen to bear. In an early indication of the post-modern narcissism on display at Zanesville, she arrived as a black woman at Princeton and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the problems of being a black woman at Princeton. Princeton-Educated Blacks And The Black Community is a self-meditation by the then Miss Robinson on the question of whether an Ivy League black student drawn remorselessly into the white world is betraying lower-class blacks. As she puts it:

“A separationist is more likely to have a realistic impression of the plight of the Black lower class because of the likelihood that a separationist is more closely associated with the Black lower class than are integrationist. By actually working with the Black lower class or within their communities as a result of their ideologies, a separationist may better understand the desparation of their situation and feel more hopeless about a resolution as opposed to an integrationist who is ignorant to their plight.”

Ah, the benefits of an elite education. The thesis is dopey, illiterate and bizarrely punctuated, but so are the maunderings of many American students. What makes Miss Robinson’s youthful opus relevant is that the contradictions it agonizes over have dominated her life. Indeed, her apparent bitterness at a society that has given her blessings she could not have enjoyed anywhere else on earth seems explicitly to derive from her inability to live either as an “integrationist who is ignorant to the plight” of “the Black lower class” or a “separationist” embracing its hopelessness and “desperation”. Instead, she rode her privileged education to wealth and success and then felt bad about it. That’s why she talks about money – her money – more than any other putative First Lady ever has: it’s like an ongoing internal dialogue about whether she sold out for too cheap a price.

Still, she’s learned her lesson. As she told her listeners in Ohio:

“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do. Don’t go into corporate America.”

That’s what the Obama campaign is “asking young people to do”? “Don’t go into corporate America”? But isn’t “corporate America” what pays for, among other things, the Gulf Emir-sized retinue of courtiers the average US Senator now travels with?

And in what sense did the Obamas “leave” corporate America? Mrs Obama works for the University of Chicago Hospitals. She’s not a nurse or doctor. She’s a lawyer who was taken on by the hospitals in 2002 to run its “programs for community relations, neighborhood outreach, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity and minority contracting.” In 2005, she got a $200,000 pay raise and was appointed Vice President for Community Affairs and put in charge of managing “the Hospitals’ business diversity program”.

You can appreciate why Barack Obama is less gung ho than Hillary for socialized health care. If you work at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal or the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham, England, there are certainly the usual professional diversity apparatchiks but they’re not pulling down 350K a year plus benefits. You need a “corporate sector” for that.

This is what makes Michelle Obama in Zanesville another Teresa Heinz in Wendy’s or Prince of Wales making small-talk with black squaddies. Her “adult lifetime” – the period that left her with no pride in her country until the 2008 Iowa caucus – has been spent in some of the most unrepresentative quartiers of American life: Princeton; the ever metastasizing bureaucracy of diversity enforcement; and Jeremiah Wright’s neo-segregationist ghetto of Afrocentric liberation theology and conspiracy theory. If young people were to follow the Obamas’ message and abandon “corporate America” for the above precincts, the nation would collapse. Michelle Obama embodies a peculiar mix of privilege and victimology which is not where most Americans live, or work, or start businesses, or invent products, or create wealth. On the other hand, it does make her a terrific Oprah guest: unlike her sonorous, dignified, restrained husband she has exactly the combination of wealth and vulnerability, success and chippiness prized by connoisseurs of daytime talk-shows.

There’s something pitiful about a political culture that has no use for Mitt Romney, a hugely successful businessman, but venerates a woman who gets the best part of 400 grand for running a “neighborhood outreach” and “staff diversity” program. They seem curious career choices for the closest confidante of a man who claims to be running as a “post-racial” candidate. Which Barack Obama certainly could have been. He’s no tired old race-baiter making a lucrative career out of grievance-mongering, like Jesse Jackson, President-for-Life of the Republic of Himself. In many ways, he’s similar to Colin Powell, a bipartisan figure born to British subjects (in Powell’s case, from the Caribbean; in Obama’s, from colonial Kenya) and thus untinged by the bitterness of the African-American experience. And yet the two most important figures in Obama’s adult life exemplify all the tired obsessions he was supposed to transcend. I don’t agree with Powell on anything very much, from abortion to Iraq. But, with hindsight, it’s a tragedy that he didn’t have the fire in his belly to run in 1996. He was truly the post-racial candidate Senator Obama poses as.

Most Americans – even those upscale white liberals who embraced Obama as the new black best friend they’d been waiting for all these years – don’t want to think about race that much. I don’t suppose the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in his new 98% white gated community, even thinks about it that much. And as Michelle Obama advised: Feel – don’t think.

Is it a bumper sticker yet? It ought to be. It gets to the heart of the matter better than “CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN”, “BELIEF YOU CAN CHANGE”, “CHANGE YOU CAN FEEL”, “HOPE YOU CAN GROPE”, or the rest of the pleasantly gaseous uplift. Everyone feels good about Obama. He’s the fellow we’ve wanted to feel good about for so long.

But Michelle Obama, and her own uncertain feelings for America, put a big question mark over that.

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The Wrong Sister Souljah

George Will on Jeremiah Wright, demagogued political ads, and McCain’s “high horse.”

An excerpt:

…On Monday, Wright… espoused the racialist doctrine that blacks have “different” learning styles than do others. This doctrine of racially different brains, or of an unalterably different black culture, is a doctrine today used to justify various soft bigotries of low expectations regarding blacks, and especially black children. It has a long pedigree as a rationalization for injustices. Slaveholders and, later, segregationists loved it.

Obama should be questioned about whether he agrees about “different” learning styles. It is, however, predictable that journalistic and political choruses will attempt to suppress such questioning by suggesting that it is somehow illegitimate. The “daisy ad” and “Willie Horton” will be darkly mentioned.

There have been two television ads in presidential campaigns concerning which there is a settled consensus of deep disapproval. In both cases, the consensus about these acts of supposed mischief is mistaken.

The first ad was used in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater: A small girl plucked petals from a daisy as a voice counted down to a nuclear explosion. The ad, reflecting Johnson’s fear that his large lead would cause complacency among his supporters, concluded with a voice saying: “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Goldwater and many of his supporters were incensed. But Goldwater had said several things suggestive of a somewhat cavalier attitude about the use of force, including nuclear weapons. He had made his judgment a legitimate issue.

In the spring of 1988, in a debate among candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore used the matter of Willie Horton against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, one of Gore’s rivals. Horton had been in a Massachusetts prison serving a life sentence for the murder of a boy Horton stabbed 19 times during a robbery. Horton was frequently released on weekend furloughs. Finally, he fled, kidnapped a couple, stabbed the man and repeatedly raped the woman. Because the ad, made by supporters of Vice President George Bush, included a photo of Horton, critics called it racist. But supporters of Bush argued that the Horton episode was emblematic of Massachusetts’ political culture, or of a liberal mentality, pertinent to assessing Dukakis.

When North Carolina Republicans recently ran an ad featuring Wright in full cry, McCain mounted his high horse, from which he rarely dismounts, and demanded that the ad be withdrawn. The North Carolinians properly refused. Wright is relevant.

He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship that implies, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His Monday speech demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be.

Will might have mentioned the “swiftboat” ads against Kerry, which liberals have enshrined as “smears” against a great American war hero.

And Mary Katharine Ham elaborates on McCain’s “Sister Souljah moment” :

What should have been a mostly uneventful weekend for McCain, two weeks before the increasingly ugly Democratic campaign culminates in a Carolina showdown, turned into a hurricane of bad press when the presumptive Republican nominee asked the state Republican Party not to run an anti-Obama ad targeted at North Carolina’s two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, both of whom endorsed Obama.

The ad, now quite familiar to anyone with a TV or radio suggested that Obama’s connection to Wright made him “too extreme” for North Carolina, and made Richard Moore and Bev Perdue too extreme by extension.

It was a mostly unremarkable ad, employing no more radical a line of attack than the Republican National Committee, now run by McCain’s own people, had been actively and openly hoping would resonate with voters into the general election. The N.C. GOP used the attack precisely because it is a legitimate issue that resonates with voters, even with regard to a candidate once removed from Wright. It was a validation of the GOP’s strategy, not a violation of it.

Then, in soared John McCain, determined to have his Sister Souljah moment at the expense of the wrong people. No one reminded him that effective Sister Souljah moments must repudiate extremists like Wright, not mainstream officials of your own party running rather benign ads.

In the most comically overblown denouncement of a campaign flush with repudiations, McCain called the N.C. GOP “out of touch with reality and the Party,” “dead wrong,” and suggested the ad introduced issues of “race” that were inappropriate, which it did not.

For his crusade, he earned himself no less than two and a half hours of bashing on Friday’s “Rush Limbaugh Show,” where the conservative host mocked the senator for teaching us all that being of independent mind is something to be prized above all else, except for when being a Maverick means ignoring the Maverick himself. “We’re all Independents now, Senator,” Limbaugh hooted during each call from an angry North Carolina Republican.

By Saturday morning, the McCain news e-mail list, which had previously delivered to my inbox no fewer than 50 Jeremiah Wright stories since the story broke, sent me the New York Times’ editorial that validated McCain’s new notion that mentioning Wright had become “shameful, ugly, race-baiting, and manipulative.” I half-expected the next news story to inform me that McCain had joined the call of Al Sharpton to “shut down” New York City in light of the Sean Bell verdict, so deep into the weeds of liberal racial demagoguery had he creeped. In classic style, McCain’s sense of “right” was the only sense of “right” acceptable in this incident, and it happened to be decidedly, err, left.

Yes, it was a pickle only the likes of John McCain could have gotten himself into.

Luckily, it was a pickle only the likes of Barack Obama could have gotten him out of.

Obama, apparently confused by the old adage “never murder your opponent when he’s busy committing suicide,” decided to offer rigorous first aid to the Arizona senator on “Fox News Sunday,” saying, “I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue.”

The Terrorists' Salon

I don’t know about you, but I would feel extremely uncomfortable in the presence of anyone who once belonged to a group of murderous terrorists like the Weather Underground. Apparently, this is why I’m not an “intellectual” like Professor Stanley Fish who thinks that bringing up Obama’s association with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn is akin to McCarthyism.

Ayers said in 2001, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” But that’s OK in the social circles Fish swims, for as he says in today’s New York Times:

I too have eaten dinner at Bill Ayers’s house (more than once), and have served with him on a committee, and he was one of those who recruited my wife and me at a reception when we were considering positions at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Moreover, I have had Bill and his wife Bernardine Dohrn to my apartment, was a guest lecturer in a course he taught and joined in a (successful) effort to persuade him to stay at UIC and say no to an offer from Harvard. Of course, I’m not running for anything, but I do write for The New York Times and, who knows, this association with former fugitive members of the Weathermen might be enough in the eyes of some to get me canned.

Did I conspire with Bill Ayers? Did I help him build bombs? Did I aid and abet his evasion (for a time) of justice? Not likely, given that at the time of the events that brought Ayers and Dohrn to public attention, I was a supporter of the Vietnam War. I haven’t asked him to absolve me of that sin (of which I have since repented), and he hasn’t asked me to forgive him for his (if he has any).

Indeed in all the time I spent with Ayers and Dohrn, politics — present or past — never came up.

What did come up? To answer that question I have to introduce a word and concept that is somewhat out of fashion: the salon. A salon is a gathering in a private home where men and women from various walks of life engage in conversation about any number of things, including literature, business, fashion, films, education and philosophy. Ayers and Dohrn did not call their gatherings salons, but that’s what they were; large dinner parties (maybe 12-15), with guests coming and going, one conversation leading to another, no rules or obligations, except the obligation to be interesting and interested. The only thing I don’t remember was ideology, although since this was all going on in Hyde Park, there was the general and diffused ideology, vaguely liberal, that usually hangs over a university town.

Many of those attending these occasions no doubt knew something about their hosts’ past, but the matter was never discussed and why should it have been? We were there not because of what Ayers and Dohrn had done 40 years ago, but because of what they were doing at the moment.

Ayers is a longtime professor of education at UIC, nationally known for his prominence in the “small school” movement. Dohrn teaches at Northwestern Law School, where she directs a center for child and family justice. Both lend their skills and energies to community causes; both advise various agencies; together they have raised exemplary children and they have been devoted caretakers to aged parents. “Respectable” is too mild a word to describe the couple; rock-solid establishment would be more like it. There was and is absolutely no reason for anyone who knows them to plead the fifth or declare, “I am not now nor have I ever been a friend of Bill’s and Bernardine’s.”

You have to wonder whether Fish and his fellow professors would absolve a former and unrepentant abortion clinic bomber who, nonetheless, “lent [his] skills and energies to community causes” and “raised exemplary children” and took care of aged parents. The truth is that, despite all their claims to the contrary, Fish and his colleagues really consider Ayers and Dohrn to be counter-culture heroes of the 60’s, the best and brightest of the smartest, most idealistic generation in human history. They also see nothing wrong with Jeremiah Wright’s anti-Americanism and paranoid fantasies since they coincide with their own.

Pope Al, Respected Democrat

“The Reverend” Al Sharpton is again stirring up his constituency of the perpetually pissed-off and their media apologists, this time because three New York police detectives were found innocent of any crime in shooting a drunk who tried to run over one of them with a car.

Power Line tries to put this Democratic Party buffoon in context. When you realize that Democratic grandees have been kissing this guy’s butt for years, it’s not surprising they see little wrong with Obama’s relationship with “The Reverend” Wright, not to mention the terrorists Bill Ayers and his odious wife Bernadine Dohrn.

They're Both Losers

The Times of London columnist Gerard Baker incisively examines the Democrats’ dilemma and concludes: Both candidates are losers.

Peggy Noonan is probably mostly right about Bush.

But Tom Maguire of Just One Minute is probably more right.

Also, I’m concerned about McCain’s holier-than-thou stance, expressed most recently over a North Carolina Republican Party ad reminding voters of the preachergate scandal. Obama (and his media toadies) are mau-mauing his opposition and the non-toady media by asserting that preachergate and the rest of Obama’s baggage are subjects not fit for discussion among respectable people. McCain’s request that the ad be pulled only legitimizes this ploy and does him no good.

The Clintons have, for years, managed to use this trick successfully in preempting any discussion of their baggage.

McCain has a lot going for him, but I think his self-consciously adopted Mr. Clean image leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy when he’s found to have flaws and disarms him by preventing him from raising questions about his opponent’s character – an issue at least as important as his opponent’s views on taxes.

Stuff Certain White People Like

Of course, it will become a proved-to-the-hilt truth that the “bitter” white working class’s lack of enthusiasm for Obama is fueled by their “racism.”

Linguist and columnist John McWhorter, who is black, comments:

…many are wondering whether Mr. Obama’s inability to “close the deal,” as Mrs. Clinton has put it, with less educated whites indicates that they don’t like black people. To conclude that racism is the issue here is, however, reflexive and even lazy.

What we are seeing is that to whites of this stratum, there is nothing especially magic about Mr. Obama. That is, a considerable amount of Mr. Obama’s appeal is based on his charisma, his air of “freshness,” and so on. And yes, a considerable part of that is his color. I have written this before and will write it again: many white voters are stimulated by the idea of voting for a black candidate for president, as a gesture toward getting past America’s racist past.

People isolating that sentence as evidence that I oppose Mr. Obama’s candidacy will be neglecting countless columns I have written supporting him in this space. Nevertheless, anyone who claims that he would be where he is now if he were white is exerting the same kind of mental gymnastics as someone who claims “I don’t see race.” Mr. Obama’s color gave a boost to an interesting and qualified candidate and, well, here we are.

But that boost, it would seem, came mostly from educated, collegetown sorts. To this crowd, attendance to the fact that racism still exists, policing themselves for remnants of it, and taking especial delight in diversity are more important than to most blue-collar, small-town whites. That is, opposition to racism as a high priority is, as the blog has it, “Stuff White People Like,” the idea being white people of a certain demographic.

This does not mean that the whites in Pennsylvania don’t like black people, are “not ready” for a black president, or are evidence of racism “lurking beneath the surface of polite discussion.” It simply means that these people are evaluating Mr. Obama in a neutral way, and find Ms. Clinton more experienced, better prepared to steward a nation at war, and perhaps even having paid her dues in a way that Mr. Obama has not.

Dig It!

It’s Thursday and time for our weekly dose of instruction from Ann:

…Asked why he would be friends with the likes of Weatherman Bill Ayers, Obama said: “The notion that … me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn’t make much sense.”

That’s a slick answer – even “Clintonian”! – but the problem is, Ayers and his Weatherman wife, Bernadine Dohrn, won’t stop boasting about their days as Weathermen.

It’s not simply that they haven’t repented. To the contrary, those were their glory days! And Ayers isn’t just someone who lives in the neighborhood: He and Dohrn were there at the inception of Obama’s political career, hosting a fundraiser for Obama at their home back in 1995.

Besides wanton violence, including a dozen bombings of buildings such as the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, historic statues and various police stations, the Weathermen’s “revolutionary” activity consisted primarily of using the word “motherf—–” a lot, dropping LSD, coming up with cutesy phrases – like “the Weather Underground” – and competing over who could make the most offensive statements in public. (I also believe Dohrn may have set the North American record for longest stretch without bathing.)

At one rally, Dohrn famously praised the Manson family for murdering Sharon Tate and others, shouting: “Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach! Wild!”

In a better country, just saying “Dig it!” in public would get you 20 years in the slammer.

Dohrn has recently tried to clarify her Manson remarks by saying it was some sort of “statement” about violence in society and, furthermore, that she said it while under sniper fire in Bosnia. Also recently, the members of the Manson family have distanced themselves from Ayers and Dohrn.

At other rallies, Dohrn said, “Bring the revolution home, kill your parents – that’s where it’s at.”

After a Chicago Democratic official, Richard Elrod, became paralyzed while fighting with a privileged looter during the Weathermen’s “Days of Rage,” Dohrn led the Weathermen in a song sung to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”:

Lay, Elrod, lay,
Lay in the street for a while
Stay, Elrod, stay
Stay in your bed for a while
You thought you could stop the Weatherman
But up-front people put you on your can,
Stay, Elrod, stay
Stay in your iron lung,
Play, Elrod, play
Play with your toes for a while

Only because of a merciful God is the author of that ditty, Ted Gold, not teaching at Northwestern or the University of Illinois now, alongside Dohrn or Ayers. That’s because Gold is no longer with us, having accidentally blown himself up with a bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix for new recruits and their dates.

While trying to assemble the bomb at an elegant Greenwich Village townhouse that belonged to one of the revolutionaries’ fathers, the bungling Weathermen blew up the entire townhouse, killing Gold and two other butterfingered revolutionaries. Leave it to these nincompoops to turn their glorious Marxist revolution into an “I Love Lucy” sketch.

So in addition to being stupid and violent, the Weathermen were also incompetent terrorists. Would that Timothy McVeigh had been so inept!

If he had only said he bombed the building in Oklahoma City to protest American “imperialism,” McVeigh, too, could be teaching at Northwestern University, sitting on a board with and holding fundraisers for presidential candidate B. Hussein Obama.

After last week’s Philadelphia debate, I was puzzled by the lack of comment on Obama’s defense of his friend Bill Ayers when he noted that Ayers, after all, is a professor of English (actually, education – an even sillier occupation). In Obamaland, being a “professor” apparently confers instant respectability and seriousness.

City Journal’s Sol Stern on the on-going malignancy of Bill Ayers:

…What [Obama] can be blamed for is not acknowledging that his neighbor has a political agenda that, if successful, would make it impossible to lift academic achievement for disadvantaged children. … Ayers’s politics have hardly changed since his Weatherman days. He still boasts about working full-time to bring down American capitalism and imperialism. This time, however, he does it from his tenured perch as Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Instead of planting bombs in public buildings, Ayers now works to indoctrinate America’s future teachers in the revolutionary cause, urging them to pass on the lessons to their public school students.

Indeed, the education department at the University of Illinois is a hotbed for the radical education professoriate. As Ayers puts it in one of his course descriptions, prospective K–12 teachers need to “be aware of the social and moral universe we inhabit and . . . be a teacher capable of hope and struggle, outrage and action, a teacher teaching for social justice and liberation.” Ayers’s texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation’s ed schools and teacher-training institutes. One of Ayers’s major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony. Thus, the mission of all progressive teachers is to take back the classrooms and turn them into laboratories of revolutionary change.

Unfortunately, neither Obama nor his critics in the media seem to have a clue about Ayers’s current work and his widespread influence in the education schools. In his last debate with Hillary Clinton, Obama referred to Ayers as a “professor of English,” an error that the media then repeated. Would that Ayers were just another radical English professor. In that case, his poisonous anti-American teaching would be limited to a few hundred college students in the liberal arts. But through his indoctrination of future K–12 teachers, Ayers has been able to influence what happens in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of classrooms.

Ayers’s influence on what is taught in the nation’s public schools is likely to grow in the future. Last month, he was elected vice president for curriculum of the 25,000-member American Educational Research Association (AERA), the nation’s largest organization of education-school professors and researchers. Ayers won the election handily, and there is no doubt that his fellow education professors knew whom they were voting for. In the short biographical statement distributed to prospective voters beforehand, Ayers listed among his scholarly books Fugitive Days, an unapologetic memoir about his ten years in the Weather Underground. The book includes dramatic accounts of how he bombed the Pentagon and other public buildings.

AERA already does a great deal to advance the social-justice teaching agenda in the nation’s schools and has established a Social Justice Division with its own executive director. With Bill Ayers now part of the organization’s national leadership, you can be sure that it will encourage even more funding and support for research on how teachers can promote left-wing ideology in the nation’s classrooms—and correspondingly less support for research on such mundane subjects as the best methods for teaching underprivileged children to read.

Here’s a link to Stern’s previous article on “Distinguished Professor” Ayers.

Still Crazy

Writer Paul Auster, without a trace of irony, reminds us of the humorless, egoistic self-absorption of his generation:

It was the year of years, the year of craziness, the year of fire, blood and death. I had just turned 21, and I was as crazy as everyone else.

There were half a million American soldiers in Vietnam, Martin Luther King had just been assassinated, cities were burning across America, and the world seemed headed for an apocalyptic breakdown.

Being crazy struck me as a perfectly sane response to the hand I had been dealt — the hand that all young men had been dealt in 1968. The instant I graduated from college, I would be drafted to fight in a war I despised to the depths of my being, and because I had already made up my mind to refuse to fight in that war, I knew that my future held only two options: prison or exile.

I was not a violent person. Looking back on those days now, I see myself as a quiet, bookish young man, struggling to teach myself how to become a writer, immersed in my courses in literature and philosophy at Columbia. I had marched in demonstrations against the war, but I was not an active member of any political organization on campus. I felt sympathetic to the aims of S.D.S. (one of several radical student groups, but by no means the most radical), and yet I never attended its meetings and not once had I handed out a broadside or leaflet. I wanted to read my books, write my poems and drink with my friends at the West End bar.

Forty years ago today, a protest rally was held on the Columbia campus. The issue had nothing to do with the war, but rather a gymnasium the university was about to build in Morningside Park. The park was public property, and because Columbia intended to create a separate entrance for the local residents (mostly black), the building plan was deemed to be both unjust and racist. I was in accord with this assessment, but I didn’t attend the rally because of the gym.

I went because I was crazy, crazy with the poison of Vietnam in my lungs, and the many hundreds of students who gathered around the sundial in the center of campus that afternoon were not there to protest the construction of the gym so much as to vent their craziness, to lash out at something, anything, and since we were all students at Columbia, why not throw bricks at Columbia, since it was engaged in lucrative research projects for military contractors and thus was contributing to the war effort in Vietnam?

Speech followed tempestuous speech, the enraged crowd roared with approval, and then someone suggested that we all go to the construction site and tear down the chain-link fence that had been erected to keep out trespassers. The crowd thought that was an excellent idea, and so off it went, a throng of crazy, shouting students charging off the Columbia campus toward Morningside Park. Much to my astonishment, I was with them. What had happened to the gentle boy who planned to spend the rest of his life sitting alone in a room writing books? He was helping to tear down the fence. He tugged and pulled and pushed along with several dozen others and, truth be told, found much satisfaction in this crazy, destructive act.

After the outburst in the park, campus buildings were stormed, occupied and held for a week. I wound up in Mathematics Hall and stayed for the duration of the sit-in. The students of Columbia were on strike. As we calmly held our meetings indoors, the campus was roiling with belligerent shouting matches and slugfests as those for and against the strike went at one another with abandon. By the night of April 30, the Columbia administration had had enough, and the police were called in. A bloody riot ensued. Along with more than 700 other people, I was arrested — pulled by my hair to the police van by one officer as another officer stomped on my hand with his boot. But no regrets. I was proud to have done my bit for the cause. Both crazy and proud.

Where Is The Contest?

A friend sent me this from a German publication:

“We in Germany cannot figure out why you are even bothering to hold an election. On one side, you have a bitch who is a lawyer, married to a lawyer, and a lawyer who is married to a bitch who is a lawyer. On the other side, you have a true war hero married to a woman with a huge chest who owns a beer distributorship. Where is the contest ?”

What You Are, Picks Its Way

What a lovely day!: Obama loses the Pennsylvania primary by double digits and the Wall Street Journal’s wonderful Dorothy Rabinowitz does a job on Obama’s media toadies.

An excerpt:

…[ABC News] Moderators Charles Gibson’s and George Stephanopoulos’s offense was to ask questions Mr. Obama didn’t want to address. Worse, they’d continued to press them even when the displeased candidate assured them these were old and tired questions.

– “Akin to a federal crime . . . new benchmarks of degradation,” The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg declared, of the debate.

– “Despicable. . . . slanted against Obama,” Washington Post critic Tom Shales charged.

– A “disgusting spectacle,” the New York Times’s David Carr opined.

– The questions had “disgraced democracy itself,” according to columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

The uproar is the latest confirmation of the special place Mr. Obama holds in the hearts of a good part of the media, a status ensured by their shared political sympathies and his star power. That status has in turn given rise to a tendency to provide generous explanations, and put the best possible gloss on missteps and utterances seriously embarrassing to Mr. Obama.

The effort and intensity various CNN panelists, for instance, expended on explaining what Mr. Obama really meant by that awkward San Francisco speech about bitter small towners clinging to their guns and religion – it seems he’d been making an important point if one not evident to anyone listening – exceeded that of the Obama campaign itself.

Still, no effort in helpful explanations was more distinguished than that of David Gergen, senior CNN commentator, who weighed in just after the first explosion of reports on Mr. Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. About this spiritual leader – whose sermons declared the September 11 attacks to be America’s just desserts, who instructed his flock that the United States had set forth on a genocidal program to kill black Americans with the AIDS virus, who held forth as gospel every paranoid fantasy espoused by the lunatic fringe about America’s crimes – Mr. Gergen said, “Actually, Rev. Wright may love this country more than many of us . . . but we’ve fallen short.”

It was an attempt at exculpation, as regards Rev. Wright, that no one has equalled, though many have come close. Not least Mr. Obama, who spends considerable time arguing that the press has focused on a few “snippets” taken from years of sermons.

Mr. Obama’s apparent inability to confront, forthrightly, the pastor’s poisonous pronouncements and his own relationship with him is, of course, the cause of all the continuing questions on the subject. It had not been in him, for instance, to say publicly that for a pastor to have preached that the U.S. government had embarked on a project to inject blacks with AIDS was an outrage on truth and decency. He delivered a celebrated speech on race, one generally hailed as a masterwork, that was supposed to have explained it all. It was a work masterly, above all, in its evasiveness. Even its admirers, prepared to swallow his repeated resort to descriptions like “controversial” for the pastor’s hate-filled rants, couldn’t quite give Sen. Obama a pass when it came to his beloved white grandmother, or to the not so beloved Geraldine Ferraro, both of whom he suggested were racists in their own right.

These issues – the unanswered, the suspect – which outraged press partisans have for days attempted to dismiss as trivia and gossip, largely forgotten by the public, are unlikely to be forgotten, either today or in the general election, nor are they trivial. This, Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos clearly understood when they chose their questions. Mr. Obama’s answers told far more than he or his managers wished.

Offered a chance to explain the meaning of his remarks about the reasons people living in small towns cling to guns and religion, he went on to repeat them all over again in different words. What there was in those remarks, what attitudes shown, that had offended people, he had still not grasped. In short, what he had said that day he’d meant to say. “What you are, picks its way,” as Walt Whitman told us.