A leaked manuscript by one of Sarah Palin’s closest aides from her time as governor charges that Palin broke state election law in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and was consumed by petty grievances up until she resigned.
The unpublished book by Frank Bailey was leaked to the media and widely circulated on Friday.
The manuscript opens with an account of Palin sending Bailey a message saying “I hate this damn job” shortly before she resigned as Alaska’s governor in July 2009, less than three years into her four-year term. The manuscript goes on for nearly 500 pages, a mixture of analysis, gossip and allegation.
Copies of the manuscript were forwarded around Alaska political circles on Friday. The Daily News received copies from multiple sources, the first from author Joe McGinniss, who is working on his own Palin book. McGinniss didn’t respond to a message asking where he obtained the manuscript and the reason he circulated it.
Bailey, a political insider who joined Palin’s 2006 campaign for governor and became part of her inner circle, has never before told his version of the Palin story. Bailey has consistently refused requests for interviews and did so again Friday. The book was co-written with California author Ken Morris and Jeanne Devon of Anchorage, who publishes the popular anti-Palin website Mudflats.
The book comes with all sorts of caveats–it’s not yet published, there’s been no outside verifcation, and Palin has yet to comment–but these are the new nuggets that Palin obsessives are digesting:
Palin may have violated Alaska’s state election law by collaborating with the Republican Governor’s Association on a campaign ad. “State candidates can’t team up with soft-money groups such as the Republican Governor’s Association, which paid for TV commericials and mailers in Alaska during the election in a purported ‘independent’ effort,” the Anchorage Daily News’ Sean Cockerham and Kyle Hopkins explain.
Bailey claims he was “recruited” by Palin’s husband, Todd, to take down Mike Wooten, a fire trooper who was engaged in a child custody battle with Palin’s sister, his ex-wife. According to Bailey, “Todd Palin kept feeding him information on Wooten, which he passed on to troopers.” Bailey also asserts that the selection of Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen as one of the top two judges considered for Supreme Court appointment by the governor was directly influenced by Christen’s ruling against Wooten in the custody fight with Palin’s sister.
Palin supposedly abandoned a commitment to work with the Alaska Family Council to promote a ballot initiative outlawing abortions for teens because she was working on her book. In the manuscript, Bailey writes that this was the final straw, as he had realized Palin was motivated primarily by the prospect of making money.
Bailey claims that the campaign trail revealed Palin’s widespread support was less than genuine. Bailey recalls, “we set our sights and went after opponents in coordinated attacks, utilizing what we called ‘Fox News surrogates,’ friendly blogs, ghost-written op-eds, media opinion polls (that we often rigged), letters to editors, and carefully edited speeches.”
Frank Bailey’s co-authored manuscript, “Blind Allegiance To Sarah Palin,” which leaked out via his agent’s emails to potential publishers, is dynamite. Why? Because Bailey was as close to the Palins as anyone from Palin’s first race for governor to the bitter end, is a rock-ribbed Fox News Republican, has vast amounts of firsthand data (the emails he has published alone reveal a lot), has contempt for Trig skeptics like yours truly, and comes to a simple conclusion in retrospect: Palin is a dangerous, vindictive, incompetent, congenital liar who has no business in any public office. Any publisher interested in the truth about Palin (Harper Collins therefore need not apply) should fight to publish it.
There’s a useful summary of its contents at the Anchorage Daily News, and some notes from the paper’s gossip column with this tart truth:
In the end, what makes Bailey’s manuscript worth more than other Sarah books is his liberal use of contemporaneous records — long quotes from e-mails written at the time by the actual participants. If you want to understand who Sarah really is, you can’t beat her own words.
There’s also just, well, nutritious nuggets like the following. Bailey describes Palin’s eventual media strategy: avoid any MSM interviews and get talking points out through surrogates. Who were they? Bailey names names: Bill Kristol, Mary Matalin, former Bush aides Jason Recher and Steve Biegun, GOP officials Nick Ayers and Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, Sean Hannity, and Bill O‘Reilly.
Unlike that other Palin book in the pipeline, Bailey wasn’t just geographically close to his subject (strangely, the Anchorage Daily News reports that author and Palin-neighbor Joe McGinniss was one of the people to pass them the leaked manuscript), he was actually a close confidant to both Palin and her husband, Todd. The book was reportedly put together with the help of 60,000 emails back and forth between he and the former governor. It actually opens with a quote from one of those emails as Palin tells Bailey she “hate[s] this damn job,” shortly before her resignation.
But, everyone’s wondering, what’s the dirtiest “all” that this tell-all “tells?”
The article quotes several passages from Bailey’s book, but none of them seem to rise to a level of scandalous behavior or shocking revelation. Palin obsesses over her media image? Well, maybe, but few politicians at the national level don’t. Palin confidentially told Bailey “I hate this damn job”? Even people who love their jobs have those moments, especially jobs with large responsibilities. Bailey wonders why Palin decided to get caught up in the Carrie Prejean controversy in May 2009:
Concludes Bailey after the episode: “The question we failed to ask was: What does this possibly have to do with being governor of Alaska? While it had nothing to do with Alaska, it had plenty to do with publicity. Fox News made this an ongoing story, giving it wall-to-wall coverage. Sean Hannity in particular latched on with both hands. With Sarah suddenly an outspoken supporter, he had gorgeous Prejean on one arm and sparkling Governor Palin on the other. He appeared a happy man.”
It’s not exactly an unfair question, but it also presumes that every other governor ignores national stories and keeps themselves insulated, which is hardly the case. Palin by this time had already become a national political figure, especially on conservative issues through the burgeoning Tea Party movement, and had been outspoken on social issues since the presidential election. It’s hardly surprising that Palin would want to work to keep up a national profile, which is harder to do from Alaska, both for the grassroots leadership she wanted to provide and for her own political ambitions. While it’s a fair point for criticism from the perspective of Alaskans, it’s hardly the mystery or the anomaly Bailey suggests.
“A leaked manuscript by one of Sarah Palin’s closest aides from her time as governor charges that Palin broke state election law in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and was consumed by petty grievances up until she resigned.” Nah, that doesn’t sound like her. Must be a governor of another unpopulated northern meth-and-jerky wasteland they’re thinking of. On the other hand, it appears this book has been leaked to Wonkette at least twice, by somebody with a South African e-mail address. And the publisher is said to be upset. Fine. Anyway, here is the good quote holding everything together, dating to right before her resignation as governor: “I hate this damn job.” If she didn’t like that job, she must be very happy she will never be president!
FreedomWorks has been distributing “Who Is John Galt?” signs and merchandise at CPAC, part of an advertisement for a faithful adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Clips from the movie have been playing at CPAC. I haven’t watched them all. I have seen the trailer.
Last night, the CPAC Bloggers Bash attendees were “treated” to an excruciatingly long preview of the forthcoming “Atlas Shrugged” movie, which will hit a theater near you on April 15. Actually, it’ll just be Part I. Like the Lord of the Rings, this will be a trilogy.
Judging by the preview, I can fully understand why it took more than two decades to find a studio to produce the flick. This is quite possibly the most boring film ever made — and I include documentaries that are shown in grammar school so that children can request to view them backwards.
Put it this way: I simply do not know enough expletives to adequately express how truly horrible this film was. I would rather be subjected to the “Clockwork Orange” treatment than sit through one part of this. I might well prefer death to enduring the trilogy.
As a long-time fan of the novel and a very discriminating movie viewer, I’ll admit that I’ve had my doubts about this project all along, given its low budget and rushed production schedule. Viewing the scenes that I did – albeit a small sample size – did not assuage my early concerns.
Like the book, the film is set in the near future, though now it’s given the date of 2016. The filmmakers went for a “ripped from the headlines” type vibe, with images of the economy tanking, the country’s infrastructure collapsing, protests raging in the streets, Congress passing statist legislation, and a TV news anchor leading a panel discussion between some of the book’s characters.
The dramatic scenes were true to the book. The problem is that Rand’s characters don’t really speak like normal people, and this can be particularly jarring on film if not handled correctly. I found the dialogue in the parts between Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon to be unnatural and their acting subpar.
I spoke with some fellow bloggers afterword who thought I was being too harsh and others who were outright enthusiastic about what they saw. I felt compelled to write something given the immense interest in this film, but I’ll withhold further judgment until I see the entire movie, which is the first of a planned three-part series.
If anything, to me it feels too generic, like a promo for some new Fox primetime soap about young, beautiful businesspeople. Think “Melrose Place” meets “Wall Street.” Or isn’t that what “Atlas Shrugged” basically is, plus some loooooooong didactic passages about libertarianism? (Haven’t read it!)
For all I know, “meh” is not actually a word, but somehow it perfectly describes the new Atlas Shrugged trailer. This movie has been through true development hell – detailing every incarnation would be a long, strange trip, but for some reason, no one’s ever pulled the trigger on it until now.
Its 40 year ride through development, through Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe, through Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron, has deposited it here – without any big stars and split up into three films.
Before I begin, no post about Atlas Shrugged is complete if it does not include this:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.- KF Monkey
So, for your Friday evening’s viewing pleasure (courtesy of DougJ aka A Writer At Balloon Juice, LLC) and pretty much everyone else who has stumbled across this youtube nugget: Atlas Shrugged: The Movie, coming soon to cinema emporium hopefully nearer to you than me.
Trains. Who in America doesn’t want to see more movies with lots and lots of trains in them? And industrialists talking about money and profits. And trains. Let’s go to the imdb description:
A powerful railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, struggles to keep her business alive while society is crumbling around her.
As we can see from the preview, Dagny is going to shut down her train business and that will make America fail. Because America’s trains …. well, I guess they power iPhones or make porn or something. And we all know that America cannot live without those things.
Rand’s dramatic classic comes to the screen after decades of endeavor. Although on a tight budget, it is well cast, and the story is given a modern setting to appeal more to today’s audiences.
If they wanted to update it to appeal to modern audiences then the trains would change into big robots are start fighting each other amidst shit blowing up. Then they could have gotten Michael Bay to make this film. It would still be shitty, but at least it would make money.
That’s the title and it’s by me, the Amazon link is here, Barnes&Noble here. That’s an eBook only, about 15,000 words, and it costs $4.00. If you wish, think of it as a “Kindle single.”
Your copy will arrive on January 25 and loyal MR readers are receiving the very first chance to buy it. Very little of the content has already appeared on MR.
Many of you have read my article “The Inequality that Matters,” but there I hardly touched on median income growth. That is because I was writing this eBook.
Has median household income really stagnated in the United States? If so, why? Are the causes political or something deeper? What are the important biases in how we are measuring national income and productivity and why do they matter for economic policy? Are we getting enough value for all the extra money we are spending on the health care and education sectors? What do some major right-wing and left-wing thinkers miss about this phenomenon?
How does all this relate to our recent financial crisis?
I dedicated this book to Michael Mandel and Peter Thiel, two major influences on some of the arguments.
Why did big government arise in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, what is its future, and why is science so important for macroeconomics? How can we fix the current mess we are in?
How great was Tyler Cowen’s marketing coup? Well he forced a technophobe like me to actually learn how to use Kindle. I wasn’t too happy about that, which makes me inclined to write a very negative review. But that’s kind of hard to do credibly when I agree with the central proposition of the book; that technological progress (at least as traditionally measured) has slowed dramatically, and will continue to be disappointing for the foreseeable future.
In an earlier post I argued that my grandma’s generation (1890-1969) saw the biggest increase in living standards; most notably a longer lifespan (due to diet/sanitation/health care), indoor plumbing and electric lights. Less important inventions included home appliances, cars and airplanes, and TVs. From the horse and buggy era to the moon landing in one life. And all I’ve seen is the home computer revolution. Not much consolation for a technophobe like me. I’m probably even more pessimistic than Tyler.
The parts of the book I liked best were those that discussed governance. I had noticed that there was a correlation between cultures that are good at governance, and cultures that are good at running big corporations. But Tyler added an interesting perspective, arguing that the technologies that facilitated the growth of big corporations also facilitated the growth of big government. I don’t recall if he made this point, but I couldn’t help thinking that the neoliberal revolution, which led to some shrinkage in government size, was also associated with a move away from the big corporate conglomerates of the 1960s, towards smaller and more nimble businesses.
Tyler has a long list of complaints about the wasteful nature of our government/education/health care sectors, which he hinted is really just one big sector. While reading this section I kept wondering when he was going to mention Singapore, which has constructed a fiscal regime ideally suited for the Great Stagnation. When he finally did, on “Page” 830-37, he did so in an unexpected context, as an example of a society that reveres scientists and engineers. He had just suggested that the most important thing we could do to overcome the stagnation was:
Raise the social status of scientists.
My initial reaction was skepticism. First, how realistic is it to expect something like this to happen? I suppose the counterargument is that every new idea seems unrealistic, until it actually occurs. But even if it did, would it really speed up the rate of scientific progress? My hunch is that if we doubled the number of people going into science, there would be very little acceleration in scientific progress. First, because the best scientists (think Einstein) are already in science, driven by a love of the subject. Second, with a reasonably comprehensive research regime, progress in finding a cure for cancer may require a certain set of interconnected discoveries in biochemistry that simply can’t be rushed by throwing more money and people at the problem. Similarly, progress in info tech may play out at a pace dictated by Moore’s law. Given Moore’s law, no amount of research could have produced a Kindle in 1983. Could more scientists speed up Moore’s law? Perhaps, I’m not qualified to say. But that’s certainly not the impression I get from reading others talk about information technology.
Here’s another exhortation that caught my eye:
Be tolerant, and realize there are some pretty deep-seated reasons for all the political strife and all the hard feelings and all the polarization.
I couldn’t help thinking of Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen, the two brightest stars of the economic blogosphere. If only one of those two are able to have this sort of dispassionate take on policy strife, how likely are the rest of us mere mortals to be able keep a clear head and remain above the fray? Still, it’s great advice.
Mr Cowen’s book can be very briefly (too briefly) summarised as follows. The rich world faces two problems. The first is that a decline in innovation has reduced the growth rate of output and median incomes, making it hard for rich countries to meat obligations accepted when expectations were higher. The second is that a lot of recent innovation is occuring in places like the internet, where new products are cheap or free and create very few jobs.
Mr Sumner’s response is a good one. What Mr Cowen is essentially saying, he suggests, is that the actual price level is tumbling. Technology has created a lot of great things that are available for free, and so the price of a typical basket of household consumption is dropping like a rock. People used to spend a lot of money going to movies, buying books and records, making expensive long-distance phone calls, paying for word processing software, and so on. Now, a lot of that can be done at almost no cost. Prices are falling.
That has a couple of implications. It suggests that real incomes are actually rising, at least for those consuming the bulk of the free online content. And perhaps real incomes are too high, in some cases, for labour markets to clear. Given broader disinflation (understated because non-purchased goods aren’t included in price indexes) both prices and wages may need to adjust, but if they’re sticky, then they won’t. What’s needed is reinflation.
To a certain extent, Mr Cowen is concerned about society’s ability to pay off old obligations, and one reason society might struggle to do this is that new innovations deliver value through non-monetary transactions. But the value is still there, and that’s what should really matter for the paying-off of obligations. When you borrow, you’re offering to compensate the lender with more utility tomorrow for less utility today. Thanks to the internet, utility today is cheap, and that’s only a problem because the obligations we acquired yesterday were denominated in dollars. But we can print enough money to meet yesterday’s obligations. Indeed, we should, in order to offset the deflationary pressures from the cheap innovations.
Imagine a world in which technology has advanced to the point that robots can build robots that operate at basically no cost at basically no cost, such that people can have anything that want anytime for free; the only constraint on consumption is the time available. That would be a cashless economy, and as a result, debtors would be totally unable to pay creditors. But does that matter?
Better yet, think about how a typical middle-class family lives today compared with 40 years ago — and compare those changes with the progress that took place over the previous 40 years.
I happen to be an expert on some of those changes, because I live in a house with a late-50s-vintage kitchen, never remodelled. The nonself-defrosting refrigerator, and the gas range with its open pilot lights, are pretty depressing (anyone know a good contractor?) — but when all is said and done it is still a pretty functional kitchen. The 1957 owners didn’t have a microwave, and we have gone from black and white broadcasts of Sid Caesar to off-color humor on The Comedy Channel, but basically they lived pretty much the way we do. Now turn the clock back another 39 years, to 1918 — and you are in a world in which a horse-drawn wagon delivered blocks of ice to your icebox, a world not only without TV but without mass media of any kind (regularly scheduled radio entertainment began only in 1920). And of course back in 1918 nearly half of Americans still lived on farms, most without electricity and many without running water. By any reasonable standard, the change in how America lived between 1918 and 1957 was immensely greater than the change between 1957 and the present.
Now, you can overstate this case; medical innovations, in particular, have made a huge difference to some peoples’ lives, mine included (I have a form of arthritis that would have crippled me in the 1950s, and in fact almost did 20 years ago until it was properly diagnosed, but barely affects my life now thanks to modern anti-inflammatories.) But the general sense that the future isn’t what it used to be seems right.
Tyler Cowen’s celebrated Kindle publication “The Great Stagnation” has received a lot of attention from the Web community. The New York Times David Leonhardt gets the author to sit for an e-interview on his e-book and asks a good first question: If our innovation motor is broken, what should we do know?
Cowen responds that we should double down on science…
The N.I.H. has done a very good job in promoting medical innovation and this is in large part because it allocates funds on a relatively meritocratic basis; Congress doesn’t control particular grants and on many important fronts the N.I.H. has autonomy. It is one reason why the United States is the world leader in medical research and development and I would expand its funding, provided it retains this autonomy. Basic research is often what economists call a “public good” and it offers economic and health returns for many years to come.
… and get realistic about clean energy.
“Clean energy” is a very important issue, for reasons of climate change, but it won’t be a job creator in a useful sense. In terms of energy production, fossil fuels are quite powerful. With green energy, at this point, we are simply looking to break even, namely to receive some of our current power but without the negative environmental consequences which accrue from carbon. That’s a worthy goal, but we shouldn’t start thinking about green energy as speeding up economic growth or creating jobs. It’s more like a necessary burden we will have to bear and the fact that these costs lie in front of us – from both the climate change and from the technological adjustments — is a sobering thought.
These are smart thoughts from a very smart guy. But let’s think about NIH funding from a jobs perspective. If the government increases science funding and this results in more pharmaceutical drugs coming online, that’s a great thing for the pharmaceutical industry. But new drugs, like any new technology, can be disruptive. For example, a drug to ease the side-effects of end-of-life diseases might replace the need for home health aides, which are projected to be one of the fastest growing jobs in the country for low-skilled workers. That’s not a reason not to develop a totally useful rug! But it throws a wrench into a claim (one that I’ve often made, too) that innovations in biosciences are pure job-creators.
Cowen’s characterization of plumbing, fossil fuels, public education systems, penicillin and so forth as “low-hanging fruit” bugs me a bit. It took human beings quite a while to figure all that out. But Cowen is right to say that once discovered, those innovations produced extremely high returns. From the economy’s perspective, the difference between having cars and not having cars is a lot larger than the difference between having cars and having slightly better cars. A 1992 Honda Accord and a 2010 Honda Accord aren’t the same, but they’re pretty close.
The obvious rejoinder to this is, “What about the internet?” The problem, as Cowen points out, is that the Internet is not yet employing many people or creating much growth. We needed a lot of people to build cars. We don’t need many people to program Facebook. It’s possible, Cowen thinks, that the Internet is just a different type of innovation, at least so far as its ripples in the labor market are concerned. “We have a collective historical memory that technological progress brings a big and predictable stream of revenue growth across most of the economy,” he writes. “When it comes to the web, those assumptions are turning out to be wrong or misleading. The revenue-intensive sector of our economy have been slowing down and the beg technological gains are coming in revenue-deficient sectors.”
Maybe the Internet just needs some time to come into its growth-accelerating own. Or maybe the Internet is going to be an odd innovation in that its gains to human knowledge and enjoyment and well-being will serve to demonstrate that GDP and even median wage growth are insufficient proxies for living standards. Either way, we’re still left with a problem: Stagnant wages are a bad thing even if Wikipedia is a big deal.
And it’s not just the Internet. Even when we’re growing, things look bad. The sectors that are expanding fastest are dysfunctional. We spend a lot of money on education and health care, but seem to be getting less and less back. The public sector is getting bigger, but it’s not at all clear it’s getting better. For much of the last few decades, the financial sector was was generating amazing returns — but that turned out to be a particularly damaging scam. And economic malaise is polarizing our politics, leaving us less able to respond to these problems in an effective or intelligent way.
Tyler makes a bunch of other arguments in “The Great Stagnation” too, some more persuasive than others. Like some other critics, I’m not sure why he uses median wage growth as a proxy for economic growth. It’s important, but it’s just not the same thing. Besides, median wage growth in the United States slowed very suddenly in 1973, and it’s really not plausible that our supply of low hanging fruit just suddenly dropped by half over the space of a few years. I also had a lot of problems with his arguments about whether GDP generated by government, education, and healthcare is as “real” as other GDP. For example, he suggests that as government grows, its consumption is less efficient, but that’s as true of the private sector as it is of the public sector. A dollar of GDP spent on an apple is surely more “real” than a dollar spent on a pet rock, but there’s simply no way to judge that. So we just call a dollar a dollar, and figure that people are able to decide for themselves whether they’re getting the same utility from one dollar as they do from the next.
The healthcare front is harder to judge. I agree with Tyler that we waste a lot of money on healthcare, but at the same time, I think a lot of people seriously underrate the value of modern improvements in healthcare. It’s not just vaccines, antibiotics, sterilization and anesthesia. Hip replacements really, truly improve your life quality, far more than a better car does. Ditto for antidepressants, blood pressure meds, cancer treatments, arthritis medication, and much more. The fact that we waste lots of money on useless end-of-life treatments doesn’t make this other stuff any less real.
To summarize, then: I agree that the pace of fundamental technological improvements has slowed, and I agree with Tyler’s basic point that this is likely to usher in an era of slower economic growth in advanced countries. At the same time, improvements in managerial and organizational efficiency thanks to computerization shouldn’t be underestimated. Neither should the fact that other countries still have quantum leaps in education to make, and that’s going to help us, not just the countries trying to catch up to us. After all, an invention is an invention, no matter where it comes from. And finally, try to keep an even keel about healthcare. It’s easy to point out its inefficiencies, but it’s also easy to miss its advances if they happen to be in areas that don’t affect you personally.
Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir, “Known and Unknown,” isn’t set to be released until next week, but several news sites have obtained early copies. Previews of the book give insight into Rumsfeld’s negative opinion of several of his colleagues, his regrets or lack there of from his years as defense secretary, as well has personal struggles within his own family.
Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush invited his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to meet with him alone in the Oval Office. According to Mr. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, the president leaned back in his leather chair and ordered a review and revision of war plans — but not for Afghanistan, where the Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and where American retaliation was imminent.
“He asked that I take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes.
“Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, those of us in the Department of Defense were fully occupied,” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls. But the president insisted on new military plans for Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “He wanted the options to be ‘creative.’ ”
When the option of attacking Iraq in post-9/11 military action was raised first during a Camp David meeting on Sept. 15, 2001, Mr. Bush said Afghanistan would be the target. But Mr. Rumsfeld’s recollection in the memoir, “Known and Unknown,” to be published Tuesday, shows that even then Mr. Bush was focused as well on Iraq. A copy was obtained Wednesday by The New York Times.
But Rumsfeld still can’t resist – in a memoir due out next week – taking a few pops at former secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice as well as at some lawmakers and journalists. He goes so far as to depict former president George W. Bush as presiding over a national security process that was marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, most damagingly on the war in Iraq.
Much of Rumsfeld’s retrospective reinforces earlier accounts of a dysfunctional National Security Council riven by tensions between the Pentagon and State Department, which many critics outside and within the Bush administration have blamed on him. Speaking out for the first time since his departure from office four years ago, the former Pentagon leader offers a vigorous explanation of his own thoughts and actions and is making available on his Web site (www.rumsfeld.com) many previously classified or private documents.
Sounding characteristically tough and defiant in the 800-page autobiography “Known and Unknown,” Rumsfeld remains largely unapologetic about his overall handling of the Iraq conflict and concludes that the war has been worth the costs. Had the government of Saddam Hussein remained in power, he says, the Middle East would be “far more perilous than it is today.”
Addressing charges that he failed to provide enough troops for the war, he allows that, “In retrospect, there may have been times when more troops could have helped.” But he insists that if senior military officers had reservations about the size of the invading force, they never informed him. And as the conflict wore on, he says, U.S. commanders, even when pressed repeatedly for their views, did not ask him for more troops or disagree with the strategy.
Much of his explanation of what went wrong in the crucial first year of the occupation of Iraq stems from a prewar failure to decide how to manage the postwar political transition. Two differing approaches were debated in the run-up to the war: a Pentagon view that power should be handed over quickly to an interim Iraqi authority containing a number of Iraqi exiles, and a State Department view favoring a slower transition that would allow new leaders to emerge from within the country.
Shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld offered President George W. Bush his resignation. Bush refused. Five days later, just so there was no confusion, Rumsfeld offered again, and once again, Bush refused. It was another two and a half years until Rumsfeld was finally canned. But in his upcoming 800-page memoir, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld writes that he really wishes Bush had just let him go earlier.
One of the few personal anecdotes in the 815-page volume takes place more than 12 hours after hijacked planes struck not only the World Trade Center but the Pentagon, filling his office with heavy smoke and forcing him to evacuate with other employees, some of them wounded. His spokeswoman, Torie Clarke, asked if he had called his wife of 47 years, Joyce. Rumsfeld replied that he had not.
“You son of a bitch,” Clarke said with a hard stare.
“I respect Secretary Rumsfeld. He and I had a very, very strong difference of opinion about the strategy that he was employing in Iraq which I predicted was doomed to failure,” the Arizona Republican said on “GMA.”
McCain and Rumsfeld had clashed over troop levels.
“And thank God he was relieved of his duties and we put the surge in otherwise we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq,” McCain told me.
Rumsfeld is also going to release a website full of “primary documents” that he thinks will prove his point. It will be like the WikiLeaks, only instead of pulling back the curtain and exposing American diplomatic and military secrets, they will probably just be a bunch of memos about how much Rumsfeld was “concerned” about the security situation in post-invasion Baghdad. Also I bet there will be a document that says “I promise Donald Rumsfeld had no idea that we were torturing and killing prisoners, signed, everyone at Abu Ghraib.”
Speaking of! Rumsfeld says Bill Clinton called him once and said: “No one with an ounce of sense thinks you had any way in the world to know about the abuse taking place that night in Iraq.” Yes, well, the people with ounces of sense are completely wrong.
Rumsfeld also apparently devotes a lot of space to rewaging various long-forgotten bureaucratic disputes. There is something about George H. W. Bush, whom he clearly hates. Rumsfeld also wants everyone to know that former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was “bullying” and an “imperial vice president,” which is hilarious for many reasons, including Rumsfeld’s closeness to Dick Cheney and the fact that as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, Rumsfeld basically blocked Rockefeller from doing anything.
Now let’s enjoy the attempted rehabilitation of Rumsfeld in the press, where his awfulness has probably been entirely forgotten.
Rummy says Defense was preparing for offense on Afghanistan at the time, but Bush asked him to be “creative.” Creative! Perhaps the military could stage a production of Grease for the people of Iraq before taking a bow and dropping a bomb on them?
The book mixes the policy and the personal; at the end of the same Oval Office session in which Mr. Bush asked for an Iraq war plan, Mr. Rumsfeld recounts, the president asked about Mr. Rumsfeld’s son, Nick, who struggled with drug addiction, had relapsed and just days before had entered a rehabilitation center. The president, who has written of his own battles to overcome a drinking problem, said that he was praying for Mr. Rumsfeld, his wife, Joyce, and all their children.
“What had happened to Nick — coupled with the wounds to our country and the Pentagon — all started to hit me,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “At that moment, I couldn’t speak. And I was unable to hold back the emotions that until then I had shared only with Joyce.”
Ah, there you have it. Rumsfeld could have said, “What the fuck are you talking about going to war with Iraq for? Our country was just attacked by a foreign terrorist organization we need to go try to destroy. Iraq has nothing to do with this. Aren’t you more concerned with winning this war we haven’t even begun yet?” But instead, his son had done some drugs. Sure thing, Rumsfeld. Perfectly good excuse. You should drop some leaflets on the families of people, American and Iraqi, whose children have died in that war. “Sorry, my son was doing drugs. I was emotional at the time. Not my fault.”
So here you have it: There’s finally someone to blame the entire Iraq War on: Nick Rumsfeld. HOPE YOU LIKED THOSE DRUGS, ASSHOLE!
It was obvious from skimming ‘O: A Presidential Novel,’ written by “Anonymous” and published Tuesday after an intense publicity campaign, that its author was male, on the political center-right, and not a professional writer. The writing lacked the finesse of a pro, described women in vivid physical terms, and imagined for the president a disdain for liberal Democrats that echoed the way conservatives talk about liberals, rather than the way reporters or mainstream Democrats do
A little D.C. parlor game at the moment is guessing who the author of the Anonymous novel O: A Presidential Novel, is. The New York Post’s Page Six pointed to former longtime John McCain adviser Mark Salter. Mark Halperin today says he has it “Confirmed by sources” that Salter is Mr. Anonymous. This morning, for what it’s worth, this is what Salter had to say to me: “I can’t confirm I’m the author. Been asked by the publisher, as have many others, not to comment on it.”
All I really know is if Salter wrote it, it’s a good read.
UPDATE: I should make clear: I haven’t read O yet. Assessment is a gamble, being familiar with Salter’s past writing.
Well that didn’t take too long: Mark Salter has been “officially” fingeredas the author of O, the fictionalized, non-sadomasochistic work of fiction about the president, written by someone described by the publisher as someone who “has been in the room with Barack Obama.” You remember Mark Salter as the man who writes everything for John McCain. Oh I see. Political ops. The book has been in print for two days. “Trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny,” says the New York Times!
Truth in advertising first. I haven’t read the novel, though I really like the graphics of the “O” and the “ears” as well as the brilliant blue of the cover.
Recently, I ventured into a cluster of leading conservatives with whom I had a great social encounter and saw the book in my friend’s living room.
Not having read it, I asked the host and others if they enjoyed it — and the response was “I just couldn’t get past the first few dozen pages. I tried twice.”
This person also said that Joe Klein’s brilliance in Primary Colors is that Klein really had an sympathy and understanding for the tough and miserable life politicians had to lead, an empathy for them. My friend said that he didn’t feel that O‘s author had that same respect for the profession.
I then mentioned that I had been hearing rumors that former McCain chief of staff and co-author of nearly all of McCain’s books, Mark Salter, might be the author.
Was Jonathan Karp on the level when he promoted this? Sort of. The author, we were told, was someone who’d been “in the room” with Barack Obama. That was a loose enough classification to apply to Sarah Palin or to Markos Moulitsas. But the book was also promoted as an insider account of how Obama thinks, which wouldn’t have been possible if it was marketed honestly as “what a confidant of the man Obama defeated in 2008 thinks about Obama.”
The Salter authorship (unconfirmed! barely!) does allow us to revisit a few interesting items in the novel. Is the contempt that “O” feels for Sarah Palin supposed to be in the president’s voice or Salter’s? The president’s, although Palin’s dizzy quotes and decision not to run don’t come from nowhere. Also, the six page section in which the war hero senator’s speechwriter screams “Whhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyy?” makes more sense now.*
*I am kidding about this but it’s worth a disclaimer when you’re discussing a stunt.
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I’m also using the term “Western parents” loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.
All the same, even when Western parents think they’re being strict, they usually don’t come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.
Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.” Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.
This weekend, I came across “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” by Amy Chua. Since I have a Chinese mother, I assembled my face into a self-righteous smirk and began to read. But—woe is me!—my Chinese mother’s a fraud.For Amy Chua revealed that my Chinese mother (maiden name: Lily Chua) failed her ethnicity by failing to slave-drive me with the “screaming, hair-tearing explosions” necessary for raising a superior child. Consequently, I am not a math genius who performs open heart surgery and violin concertos simultaneously, but a blogger who spends her days contemplating Katy Perry’s breasts. I learned arithmetic not by “every day drilling,” but the way every red-blooded American does, by typing equations into my TI-86 during marathon sessions of Drugwars. (Maybe I got the “sneaky Chinaman” gene instead of the “obedient Chinese daughter” one?) And my mother and I never had showdowns like this:
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. […] When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
“The Little White Donkey,” just like Amy Chua’s husband, a stupid caucasian ass named Jed who lacks her superior Asian childrearing skills:
“Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated.”
Reading Amy Chua’s article, I am sad as a broken fortune cookie. If only my Chinese mother had humiliated me in newspaper articles that would plague my dating life forever—maybe I, too, could have performed piano solos in Carnegie Hall, like Amy Chua’s daughter did, according to Amy Chua. How unlucky I am: I have never hated my mother.
My only solace: that Irish-American father’s inferior academic genes came packaged with superior genes for drinking.
That said, Amy Chua appears to have absorbed a few American parenting skills, like the incessant upper-class need to one-up every other upper-class parent in the tri-state area. Mommy bragging: The virtue that unites us all.
Chua’s mindset and methods—bolstered by faith in Chinese family tradition—pose a useful challenge for an era haunted by a helicoptering ethos as hard to shake as it is to like. Here is an alternative to the queasy hypocrisy of typical hyperparents, buffeted by shifting expertise that leaves them anxious about overpressuring even as they push. Chua breaks through all that. She is a crusader invigorated by practicing what she preaches: the arduous work she believes necessary to do anything well, child-rearing included. Her exacting program isincredibly time-consuming and burdensome, for her as much as her kids, and is bound to look outlandish to others. (While teaching, writing her second book, and traveling constantly, Chua types up elaborate practice instructions, which freak out one of her law students when he stumbles on them—and which are to be found on pages 163-165.) But precisely because Chua slaves away as hard as her girls do, one thing her program is not is guilt-inducing. In the end, her ordeal with Lulu teaches Chua humility and proves her daughter’s very healthy autonomy—and inspires next to no regrets.
Let’s hope a furor over the book doesn’t change all that. Boris Sidis lived to regret his boastful diatribe, or at least his wife did, lamenting poor Billy’s interlude in the spotlight, which complicated an already rocky transition to adulthood that ended in a lonely retreat. “Educators, psychologists, editorial writers and newspaper readers were furious” with her husband, Sarah Sidis wrote. “And their fury was a factor in Billy’s life upon which we had not counted.” Norbert Wiener, who battled depression to become the future founder of the field of cybernetics, was devastated as a teenager when, browsing in a magazine, he learned that his father, Leo, had claimed his son’s successes as his own, while blaming failures on the boy. Proselytizing and prodigy-raising are a fraught mix.
In a coda to her book, Chua loosens up, describing how she gave her daughters the manuscript and welcomed them as collaborators. The wise girls are wary about getting roped in. “I’m sure it’s all about you anyway,” Lulu says. As they hunker down to criticize, and make her revise, revise, revise, Sophia, now 17, issues a warning well worth keeping in mind if, or when, the mommy wars erupt over Chua’s provocative portrait. “It’s not possible for you to tell the complete truth,” Sophia tells her mother. “You’ve left out so many facts. But that means no one can really understand.” Let’s not forget that it’s only how the girls themselves understand their mother’s methods that really counts in the end.
It did not escape my attention that “Jewish” was not on Chua’s list, and furthermore that her softie foil in the essay was her husband, who is identified as Jed—and is presumably why their daughters can be intimidated with threats of withheld Hanukkah presents. (Minimal Internet research reveals that Jed is, like his wife, a Yale Law School professor and a published author; his last name is Rubenfeld.) Most American Jews are comfortably assimilated, although Chua could probably forge a Sino-Soviet alliance with a few Russian-speaking recent arrivals. But even in the early twentieth century, when Jews were known for toughness (see Siegel, Bugsy; Rosenbloom, Slapsie Maxie) the stereotypical Jewish mother used what Joseph Nye would call soft power, wrapping specific and restrictive ideas about her children’s future in a nurturing bosom. This blend of stubborn guidance and smothering affection has produced successful doctors, lawyers, and engineers. It has also inspired characters from Sophie Portnoy to Estelle Costanza (who, though technically not Jewish, qualifies, too), envisioned by creative children scarred by their childhoods.
Some children, Chinese and otherwise, may respond well to “Chinese mothering,” and I hope for their sake that Chua’s two daughters are among them. But it’s simply not possible that every child becomes “the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama.” And not every child is well served by forcing them to try. Some children will fail with tragic consequences, others, if we are more fortunate, with literary ones, finding humor and meaning in stories of suffering. In a perfectly plotted world, one of Chua’s girls will, according to plan, become the concertmistress of a world-class orchestra, and the other will avenge herself by novel or memoir—and sell more books than her mother and father combined.
Chua’s tone is arrogant but filled just the same with bullseye observations, and I spent a long time trying to untangle the sincere from the deadpan. So much of the piece is an accurate reflection of a specific brand of hard-ass Asian parenting. But would other people be able to sense the gleeful embellishments in her piece, the way she seems to relish insulting and threatening her kids to get them to perform? And then I doubled back: was I being too charitable to read it as exaggeration?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Internet, one of my aunties sent the piece around to other women in my family last night. “Thought you might enjoy this,” my auntie wrote to other mothers. “Were you raised by a Chinese mother … or are you perhaps one yourself?”
My mother was horrified at the piece, called it embarrassing and terrible and outrageous, said that she resented the fact that Chua used the term “Chinese mother,” even with the disclaimers at the opening that not all Chinese mothers deserve the title, and some non-Chinese mothers could be admitted to the club of harsh, ultra-strict parenting.
Like Chua, my parents sacrificed a great deal to raise me and my siblings–they make for great stories now that we’re all adults. My mom would hand us math workbooks to occupy us during car rides the way other parents hand their kids Pop Tarts or carrot sticks. She, like Chua, packed our violins in the trunk of the minivan so we could practice even while we were on vacation and forbade sleepovers and weeknight television well into my high school years. I struggled mightily with math and science and my mother would wake me up at 6 am on weekends so we could go over math drills together for hours. Letting me fail was not an option to her, though I occasionally wished she would have. Thanks to her, I didn’t.
There are many, many bizarre and debatable notions in the memoir extract that Yale law professor Amy Chua published in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, in which she argued that screaming at one’s children to do drill work and depriving them of entertainment or social contact with their peers are the secrets to why Chinese people raise smarter and more successful children than regular decadent Americans do. A working-class Jamaican-immigrant mother, for instance—who would be an honorary “Chinese mother,” according to Chua—might be surprised to learn that good, hard parenting means spending a week at the piano, going “right through dinner into the night,” threatening and yelling at a seven-year-old girl to force her to learn a difficult piano part. Not everybody’s boss gives out flex time as readily as Yale Law does.
But mostly, as with so many child-rearing success stories, the biggest question Chua raises is: what makes you so sure you’ve succeeded? God bless Chua’s daughters, but according to some simple arithmetic and the pictures accompanying the Journal piece, they’re considerably younger than, say, 60. Or 40. Or even 25. There’s plenty of time yet to find out what fruit all those years of rigorous “Chinese” alpha parenting—no sleepovers with friends, Chua brags, no personally chosen extracurriculars, no musical instruments other than piano and violin (sorry, Yo-Yo Ma; your parents weren’t Chinese enough)—will really bear. Marv Marinovich wouldn’t let his son eat Big Macs, either. Discipline and high standards, all the way. “I don’t know if you can be a great success without being a fanatic,” was how he put it
In the week since The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of the new book by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Ms. Chua has received death threats, she says, and “hundreds, hundreds” of e-mails. The excerpt generated more than 5,000 comments on the newspaper’s Web site, and countless blog entries referring in shorthand to “that Tiger Mother.” Some argued that the parents of all those Asians among Harvard’s chosen few must be doing something right; many called Ms. Chua a “monster” or “nuts” — and a very savvy provocateur.
A law blog suggested a “Mommie Dearest” element to her tale (“No. Wire. Hangers! Ever!!”). Another post was titled “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason Asian-Americans like me are in therapy.” A Taiwanese video circulating on YouTube (subtitled in English) concluded that Ms. Chua would not mind if her children grew up disturbed and rebellious, as long as she sold more books.
“It’s been a little surprising, and a little bit intense, definitely,” Ms. Chua said in a phone interview on Thursday, between what she called a “24/7” effort to “clarify some misunderstandings.” Her narration, she said, was meant to be ironic and self-mocking — “I find it very funny, almost obtuse.”
But reading the book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” it can be hard to tell when she is kidding.
“In retrospect, these coaching suggestions seem a bit extreme,” she writes in the book after describing how she once threatened to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals if she did not play a piano composition perfectly. “On the other hand, they were highly effective.”
In interviews, she comes off as unresolved. “I think I pulled back at the right time,” she said. “I do not think there was anything abusive in my house.” Yet, she added, “I stand by a lot of my critiques of Western parenting. I think there’s a lot of questions about how you instill true self-esteem.”
I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.
Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.
Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals (swimmers are often motivated to have their best times as part of relay teams, not in individual events). Moreover, the performance of a group does not correlate well with the average I.Q. of the group or even with the I.Q.’s of the smartest members.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon have found that groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others’ emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly, when they detect each others’ inclinations and strengths.
Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.
In a letter to the New York Post, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld responded to the critics of her mother’s recent Wall Street Journal piece, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” which details the numerous restrictions Chua imposed upon her two daughters during their childhood. Among many other things, Chua has been blasted for forbidding her daughters from attending sleepovers and calling one of her girls lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic for playing a piano piece incorrectly.
In “Why I Love My Strict Chinese Mom,” Chua-Rubenfeld says outsiders don’t know what her family is actually like.
“[Outsiders] don’t hear us cracking up over each other’s jokes,” Chua-Rubenfeld wrote. “They don’t see us eating our hamburgers with fried rice. They don’t know how much fun we have when the six of us — dogs included — squeeze into one bed and argue about what movies to download from Netflix.”
Though it was “no tea party” growing up under all Tiger Mother’s rules, Chua-Rubenfeld claims to be more independent as a result of her rigid upbringing.
“I pretty much do my own thing these days — like building greenhouses downtown, blasting Daft Punk in the car with Lulu and forcing my boyfriend to watch ‘Lord of the Rings’ with me over and over — as long as I get my piano done first,” Chua-Rubenfeld wrote.
Chua-Rubenfeld may have thicker skin than her mother’s critics think. Chua has received lots of flak for rejecting the “not good enough” birthday cards her daughters made, but Sophia writes that she wasn’t all that offended.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”
Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”
Unsurprisingly, there are already those who are yelling “Censorship!” as well as others with thesauruses yelling “Bowdlerization!” and “Comstockery!” Their position is understandable: Twain’s book has been one of the most often misunderstood novels of all time, continuously being accused of perpetuating the prejudiced attitudes it is criticizing, and it’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context.
My immediate reaction was that this is taking the easy way out, is ignoring the truth of the history of language at the time and is diluting a piece of great literature from one of America’s greatest commenters. How are people to discuss the history of language and dehumanization and racism inherent in it if you replace “nigger” and “injun” both with the generic “slave?” However, I also believe that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer have value far beyond their use of the word “nigger,” and if that word is preventing a generation from accessing something other than Snooki’s new novel, then I understand the motivation to create a more “accessible” version for young readers who might perhaps graduate to untampered versions later in life.
Replacing this word with “slave” can change the meaning and certainly the intent of Twain. Consider the following line:
“Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free niggerslave there from Ohio – a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see…
The difference may be subtle but Twain clearly could have used slave. The word existed at the time. Twain chose the n-word to convey something beyond captive status. It was a word used widely. It is still used in literary works to say something about the people who use it.
Other authors like William Faulkner used this word in capturing the culture of the South. Consider the following passage from Go Down, Moses (1940):
This delta, he thought: This Delta. This land which man has deswamped and denuded and derivered in two generations so that white men can own plantations and commute every night to Memphis and black men own plantations and ride in jim crow cars to Chicago to live in millionaires’ mansions on Lakeshore Drive, where white men rent farms and live like niggers and niggers crop on shares and live like animals, where cotton is planted and grows man-tall in the very cracks of the sidewalks, and ursury and mortgage and bankcruptcy and measureless wealth, Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which is which nor cares…. No wonder the ruined woods I used to know don’t cry for retribution! He thought: The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge.
Would we rewrite Faulkner as well? How about all of the modern movies and books using this term as part of modern urban speech? Authors write to capture characters who are often racist or living in racist times. This publisher may billed itself as the “NewSouth” but this book was written about the Old South. To sanitize history or literature is an act of violence against the artistic work of these authors.
I find the editing of a great literary work to be nothing short of shameful and shocking, but views can differ on such a question. I would be interested in the views of others on the blog.
One writer at CNN compares the modifications to the changes that broadcast television networks make when the air movies:
If this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
It’s unfortunate, but is it really any more catastrophic than a TBS-friendly re-edit of “The Godfather,” you down-and-dirty melon farmer?
The original product is changed for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are not mature enough to handle it, but as long as it doesn’t affect the original, is there a problem?
This analogy simply doesn’t work. Neither the expletives nor things like the graphic details of the “horses head” scene or the brief sex scene between Michael Corleone and his first wife Appolonia are essential elements of the story that Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola are trying to tell in The Godfather. These items can be removed or modified for airing on broadcast television without taking away from the central themes of the story. This is not the case with either Sawyer or Finn, both books are set in a time period when racial tensions were a central part of life and are based, to a large degree, on the racially prejudices that Twain himself encountered as a child growing up in Missouri. This is especially true of Huckleberry Finn where, despite the fact that “the n-word” appears 219 times, it’s fairly obvious that Twain is condemning racial prejudice and that one of the central themes of the book is the process by which Huck discovers that the things he’d been taught by society by blacks were wrong, and that his companion him was, in fact, an heroic figure.Twain’s use of a word that, even in his time, was meant to be insulting and demeaning, was deliberate and removing it because of “sensitivities” seems to me to detract significantly from the overall power of the novel.
Beyond this, editing these novels like this strikes me as being the literary equivalent of putting a shroud around the waist of Michealangelo’s David, or covering the breasts of a woman in a Rubens painting. These are great works of art, changing them like this is troublesome and outrageous on a fundamental level.
I think I’d agree with Doug in nearly every other case. But the problem with Huckleberry Finn is that, like it or not, most high school teachers only have two choices these days: teach a bowdlerized version or don’t teach it at all. It’s simply no longer possible to assign a book to American high school kids that assaults them with the word nigger so relentlessly. As Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who led the bowdlerization effort, explained, “After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach [Tom Sawyer] and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.”
Given that choice, I guess I’d bowdlerize. After all, the original text will remain available, and teachers can explain the wording change to their classes if they want to. (Though even that’s probably difficult.) And frankly, I doubt that the power of the novel is compromised all that much for 17-year-olds by doing this. In fact, given the difference in the level of offensiveness of the word nigger in 2010 vs. 1884, it’s entirely possible that in 2010 the bowdlerized version more closely resembles the intended emotional impact of the book than the original version does. Twain may have meant to shock, but I don’t think he ever intended for the word to completely swamp the reader’s emotional reaction to the book. Today, though, that’s exactly what it does.
In any case, the only realistic alternative is that Huckleberry Finn vanishes from high schools and becomes a book taught solely at the university level. Maybe that’s better. But I doubt it.
Yes, the word “nigger” is offensive as hell. But it’s in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for a reason, and removing it is really stupid and counterproductive.
You don’t teach people about history by self-censoring it. And Finn is one of the great works of American literature. Rather than run for the hills at the sign of controversy, we ought to be teaching students why the word is used in the book, and what its significance is.
Just before Thanksgiving, in an impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Ron Paul called for Congress to be groped. The Transportation Security Administration, having rolled out its new airport body scanners, had decreed anyone who opted out could be subjected to the now-infamous enhanced pat-down. “Let’s make sure that every member of Congress goes through this,” Representative Paul said, waving his finger in the air. “Get the X-ray, make them look at the pictures, and then go through one of those groping pat-downs.” Perhaps this would put Congress in touch (quite literally) with real Americans.
Paul, the 75-year-old Texas libertarian and quixotic 2008 Republican candidate best known for his quest to abolish the Federal Reserve, is used to fighting lonely battles. But this time, he had company. Fox News went wall-to-wall on the (nonexistent) health hazards of body scans, naked outlines of passengers, and pat-down paranoia. “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested,” said newfound freedom fighter John Tyner to a TSA agent in a video that went viral. The left backed Paul too. Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald argued that the screenings had “all the ingredients of the last decade’s worth of Terrorism exploitation.” Blogger Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake called the X-ray devices “porno-scanners.” For one beautiful moment, the whole political spectrum—well, at least both vocal ends of it—seemed to agree: Too much government is too much government.
Maybe it was inevitable that the National Opt-Out Day, when travelers were going to refuse body scans en masse, failed to become the next Woolworth’s sit-in (how do you organize a movement that abhors organization?). It turned out most Americans actually supported the body scanners. But the moment was a reminder of just how strong, not to mention loud, the libertarian streak is in American politics.
No one exemplifies that streak more than Ron Paul—unless you count his son Rand. When Rand Paul strolled onstage in May 2010, the newly declared Republican nominee for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat, he entered to the strains of Rush, the boomer rock band famous for its allegiance to libertarianism and Ayn Rand. It was a dog whistle—a wink to free-marketers and classic-rock fans savvy enough to get the reference, but likely to sail over the heads of most Republicans. Paul’s campaign was full of such goodies. He name-dropped Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s seminal TheRoad to Serfdom. He cut a YouTube video denying that he was named after Ayn Rand but professing to have read all of her novels. He spoke in the stark black-and-white terms of libertarian purism. “Do we believe in the individual, or do we believe in the state?” he asked the crowd in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Election Night.
It’s clear why he played coy. For all the talk about casting off government shackles, libertarianism is still considered the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged. And Rand Paul’s dad is the craziest uncle of all. Ron Paul wants to “end the Fed,” as the title of his book proclaims, and return the country to the gold standard—stances that have made him a tea-party icon. Now, as incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Fed, he’ll have an even bigger platform. Paul Sr. says there’s not much daylight between him and his son. “I can’t think of anything we grossly disagree on,” he says.
There’s never been a better time to be a libertarian than now. The right is still railing against interventionist policies like TARP, the stimulus package, and health-care reform. Citizens of all political stripes recoil against the nanny state, which is nannier than ever, passing anti-smoking laws, banning trans fats, posting calorie counts, prohibiting flavored cigarettes, cracking down on Four Loko, and considering a soda tax in New York. All that, plus some TSA agent wants to handle your baggage.
Libertarianism has adherents on the left, too—they just organize around different issues. Whereas righty libertarians stew over taxes and bailouts, lefty libertarians despise de facto suspensions of habeas corpus, surveillance, and restrictions on whom you can marry. It’s not surprising that the biggest victories of the right and the left in the last weeks of this lame-duck session of Congress were about stripping down government—tax cuts and releasing the shackles of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Much of Americans’ vaunted anger now comes from a sense of betrayal over libertariansim shrugged. Right-wing libertarians charge that the Bush presidency gave the lie to small-government cant by pushing Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and a $3 trillion war. Left-wing libertarians are furious that Obama talked a big game on civil liberties but has caved on everything from FISA to DOMA to Gitmo. Meanwhile, the country faces a massive and growing deficit (too much government!) that neither party has the power or the inclination to fix. If there were ever a time to harness libertarian energy—on left and right—it’s now.
Beam’s piece ends on an extended Big But, in which we hear warnings about doctrinal purity, extreme Randian selfishness, Brink Lindsey leaving Cato, and minarchy being “an elegant idea in the abstract.” In the real world, not bailing out banks “would have unfairly punished a much greater number” of homeowners, and so on. Plus, that one Tennessee house burned down, and: Somalia! He ends the piece like this:
It took 35 years for Ron Paul to reach the center of American politics. And it could take another 35 before he or someone like him is back. It’s certainly a libertarian moment—but it’s not liable to last too long. Libertarianism and power are like matter and anti-matter. They cancel each other out.
The first two-thirds of the article are a sort of tour guide of libertarian personalities, factions, and general philosophy. It comes off a bit like Beam describing to Manhattanites some exotic new species discovered in Madagascar, but I suppose that probably is how libertarians come off to people outside the politics/policy/media bubble. This portion of the article is mostly fair, though are still some revealing word and phrase choices. (For example, the Koch brothers are only “infamous” if you don’t happen to agree with them. Just like George Soros is only infamous if you’re opposed to the causes he funds.)
Still, the first two-thirds of the article is mostly a quick and dirty introduction to or primer on libertarianism and the movement surrounding it, with Beam largely playing a neutral storyteller, interviewer, and interpreter.
It’s in the last third of the article there’s a noticeable and disruptive shift in tone. After establishing a certain trust with the reader that casts himself in the role of a mostly neutral observer and chronicler of this libertarian uprising, Beam then stops describing libertarianism, and starts critiquing it himself. The critiques are selective. He picks a few issues, broadly (and sometimes inaccurately, or without appropriate detail) describes the libertarian position, then describes why libertarianism fails on that particular issue. Taken as a whole, these critiques are supposed to support his thesis for the latter third of the article, which is that libertarianism is utopian and impractical. (He neglects to explain how the current system has produced better results, but that’s a different discussion.) I don’t think much of Beam’s critiques, but then I’m also a libertarian.
But it’s not the critiques themselves that I found off-putting. If this had been a straight Jacob Weisberg-style trashing of libertarianism, we could evaluate it on those terms. But this is more subtle and, I think, in some ways more pernicious. This was a thrashing disguised as a primer. That Beam makes these critiques himself comes off as abrupt and, frankly, condescending. There’s an aesthetic I’ve noticed among some journalists that libertarianism is so crazy and off the rails that it’s okay to step outside the boundaries of decorum and fairness to make sure everyone knows how nuts libertarians really are. (A couple years ago, I emailed a prominent journalist to compliment him on a book he had written. His strange response: He thanked me for the compliment, and then ran off several sentences about how dangerous and evil he thought my politics were.)
Radley Balko has written a characteristically astute critique of Chris Beam’s New York magazine article on libertarianism. I think Radley says all that needs to be said on the subject.
Instead, I’d like to throw out a few other approaches to the subject that might have worked better:
(1) While talking to a good friend, we came to the conclusion that while cultural conservatism’s influence has been fading (something we both lament, albeit in different degrees) and while social democratic thinking is moribund, certain kinds of libertarian incrementalism (think Ed Glaeser and Tyler Cowen), not just resigned but comfortable with the idea of a social safety net in an affluent society, have grown more influential. Libertarian purists hate it. But they’ve grown less relevant. This piece might have focused on criminal sentencing, the war on drugs, etc., with a “we’re all libertarians now” coda. The trouble with this piece is that it might be really boring. But it would make sense. And it would avoid a lengthy discussion of minarchism.
(2) A much more fun piece, attuned to a New York audience, would open with the Tea Party’s libertarianism and make a strong case for its hypocrisy: they call themselves libertarians, but here are the subsidies they love, the un-libertarian restrictions they champion, etc. This section would be tendentious and unfair, but that’s the fun of it. And then the piece would argue that modern-day New York city, for all its taxes and regulations, is the real home of liberty: look to the cultural freedom, and also to the entrepreneurial energy of Silicon Alley, etc. Bracketing whether or not this is fair, it would be a provocative piece about who really owns liberty.
(3) Drawing on Amar Bhidé and Tim Wu and Tyler, one could also write a straightforward piece on how Tea Party libertarians and minarchists are misguided because more freedom and more affluence and more government tend to go hand in hand. We get more free and less free at the same time, along different dimensions. Again, this piece might be boring, but not necessarily.
Beam’s history and etymology are going to be useful to outsiders, who don’t pay attention to this stuff. It’s a better case against libertarian policy, if you want that, than a shouty “investigative” blog post at some liberal site that connects a congressman’s staff to the Koch family with the assumption that evil has just been uncovered. But no case against libertarianism sounds very compelling right now, because any alternative to the managed economy sounds great to a country with 9.9 percent unemployment.
Do libertarians promise utopia? Sure. So do the socialists who came up with the ideas that motivate Democratic politicians. Voters don’t care much about where ideas come from as long as they have jobs. Now, the real test for libertarians will come if a year of Republican austerity budgeting is followed by economic growth. In the 1990s, the new, libertarian-minded Republican congressmen and governors discovered that fast growth allowed them to cut taxes and grow budgets for services that voters liked. In the 2010s, if unemployment falls, will the libertarian Republicans keep cutting budgets and reducing services? It doesn’t sound impossible right now.
In any case, I suspect the many reactions to Beam’s article are not because of any of its insights but rather because it is long and in a prestigious publication, and because it is written in such accessible language. It may not do anything but scratch a few surfaces and regurgitate a number of old anti-libertarian tropes, but that’s to be expected. Look, hereI am commenting on it myself, largely because it is long and because so many other people are commenting on it and because I’m surprised at how little it really says about the Libertarian Moment in question.
Yet libertarianism is more internally consistent than the Democratic or Republican platforms. There’s no inherent reason that free-marketers and social conservatives should be allied under the Republican umbrella, except that it makes for a powerful coalition.
People, especially people who are libertarians, say this all the time. But we should consider the possibility that the market in political ideas works is that there’s a reason you typically find conservative and progressive political coalitions aligned in this particular way. And if you look at American history, you see that in 1964 when we had a libertarian presidential candidate the main constituency for his views turned out to be white supremacists in the deep south. Libertarian principles, as Rand Paul had occasion to remind us during the 2010 midterm campaign, prohibit the Civil Rights Act as an infringement on the liberty of racist business proprietors. Similarly, libertarians and social conservatives are united in opposition to an Employment Non-Discrimination Act for gays and lesbians and to measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that seek to curb discrimination against women.
Let me refine the point a bit. The left-right division tends to center around the distribution of power. In both the economic and the social spheres, power is distributed unequally. Liberalism is about distributing that power more equally, and conservatism represents the opposite. I don’t mean to create a definition that stacks the deck. It’s certainly possible to carry the spirit of egalitarianism too far in either sphere. An economic policy that imposed a 100% tax on all six-figure incomes, or a social policy that imposed strict race and gender quotas on every university or profession, would be far too egalitarian for my taste. Soviet Russia or Communist China are handy historical cases of social and economic leveling run amok.
But in any case, there’s a coherence between the two spheres. Liberals see a health care system in which tens millions of people can’t afford regular medical care, or a social system in which gays face an array of discrimination, and seek to level the playing field. The inequality may be between management and labor, or rich and poor, or corporations versus consumers, or white versus black. In almost every instance, the liberal position is for reducing inequalities of power — be it by ending Jim Crow or providing food stamps to poor families — while the conservative position is for maintaining those inequalities of power.
Economic liberalism usually (but not always) takes the form of advocating more government intervention, while social liberalism usually (but not always) takes the form of advocating less government intervention. If your only ideological interpretation metric is more versus less government, then that would appear incoherent. But I don’t see why more versus less government must be the only metric.
We’ll see far more reaction as the book officially hits the shelves on Wednesday, but I expect much of the same. Conservatives will hate it, for obvious reasons. Weenie liberals will hate it, for obvious reasons. A bunch of “serious people” will tsk tsk the lack of civility in our discourse — now that a liberal is throwing the punches. And some people will appreciate that I’m throwing those punches.
Because look, this book, ultimately, is a big “fuck you” to every conservative who has ever accused us of wanting the terrorists to win. Why would we? The reasons I hate the crazy Right is the same reason I hate Jihadists — their fetishization of violence, their theocratic tendencies, their disrespect for women, their hatred of gays, their fear of the “other”, their defiance of scientific progress and education, and their attempts to hijack popular culture.
It’s a good book, and it’s paperback, so it’s cheap. Pick up a copy at your favorite online retailer or bookstore, and come up with your own opinion on the matter.
Observant readers (or bookshelf scanners) will notice that American Taliban, the new book by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, shares its smiley-face cover art with Liberal Fascism, the controversial 2009 book by conservative writer Jonah Goldberg. Indeed, there is a sense in which American Taliban is the left-wing counterpoint or spiritual successor to Liberal Fascism. But whereas Goldberg sought to make a historical connection between American liberalism and European fascism for the purpose of “clearing the record,” Moulitsas seeks to classify right-wing conservatism as a species of fundamentalist extremism, for the purpose of spurring progressive action.
This is not new ground for Moulitsas. In 2005 he wrote a short post slamming the conservative movement for its similarities to Islamic radicalism: The Taliban, he wrote, “are exactly what we see in the Republican Party as the GOP continues to consolidate power — creeping theocracy, moralizing, us versus them, embrace of torture, the need to constantly declare jihad on someone, hysterics over football-game nipples, control over ‘decency’ on the airwaves, lyrics censorship, hostility to women freedoms, curta[i]ling of civil liberties, and so on.”
Like Liberal Fascism, American Taliban is another entry in the tired genre of “my political opponents are monsters.” Indeed, Moulitsas begins the book with the Goldbergian declaration that “in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.” And he fills the remaining 200-plus pages with similar accusations. In the chapter on power, Moulitsas writes that “the American Taliban seek a tyranny of the believers in which the popular will, the laws of the land, and all of secular society are surrendered to their clerics and ideologues.” Which is, of course, why these American Taliban participate in the democratic system and hew to the outcomes of elections. Later in the chapter, Moulitsas argues that the right-wing hates democracy — they “openly dream of their own regressive brand of religious dictatorship” — loves war, fears sex, and openly despises women and gays. In the chapter on “war,” Moulitsas calls Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota a “high priestess of the American Taliban” — a veritable Mullah Omar, it seems! — and in the final chapter on “truth,” Moulitsas concludes by noting the foundational “kinship” between the two Talibans.
Now, it’s true that certain tendencies on the American right have analogues in fundamentalist Islam; for example, and as Moulitsas points out in his chapter on sex, right-wing conservatives share a hatred of pornography with fundamentalist Iranian authorities. Of course the similarities end there; conservatives boycott pornography, Iran punishes it with death.
But, this gets to the huge, glaring problem with American Taliban; ultimately, any similarities are vastly outweighed by incredibly important distinctions and vast differences of degree. I’m no fan of the right wing, but the only possible way it can be “indistinguishable” from the Taliban is if conservatives are stoning women for adultery, stalking elementary schools to throw acid in girls’ faces, and generally enforcing fundamentalist religious law with torture and wanton violence. The chapter on women becomes a joke when you realize that Moulitsas can’t distinguish between the odiousness of right-wing sexism and the vicious amorality of permanently disfiguring “immodest” women. Likewise, there are magnitudes of difference between executing gays (the Taliban) and opposing a hate-crimes bill (Republicans).
It doesn’t help that Moulitsas elides glaring contradictions in his argument and routinely misrepresents his evidence; in one instance, Moulitsas brandishes Ann Coulter’s infamous quotation from 2001, where she declared that “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity,” as evidence of the right’s bloodthirsty ways, while ignoring the fact that she was fired from National Review (an organ of the American Taliban) for that exact quotation.
Ann Coulter was fired for going on TV and slagging National Review Online (she didn’t work for the magazine) for paying peanuts and because they wanted to edit her column. They made a big point about saying they fired her for her unprofessional conduct, not her writing. And she was hired afterward by USA Today (where she was also eventually fired and replaced by Jonah Goldberg.)She still has a nationally syndicated column and her work appears on Townhall, World Net Daily and Human Events among others. She sold many thousands of hate-filled anti-liberal books with titles like Slander and Treason and Godless, appeared all over the country to tumultuous, adoring crowds and landed on the cover of Time magazine — all after she made those statements. Apparently the National Review’s withdrawal of its imprimatur didn’t impress her audience very much. If that’s what constitutes a glaring contradiction in the book, then I’m afraid it isn’t Markos who has failed to do his homework.
This final point I’m afraid, is just perplexing
Conservatives haven’t actually gained from their willingness to bend and misrepresent the truth. For starters, Republicans are still deeply unpopular; according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24 percent of Americans gave the GOP a positive rating, a historic low. At best, with their constant attacks on “socialism” and “tyranny,” conservatives are responding to a gross caricature of liberalism; after years of taking down liberal straw men, conservatives can neither respond to actual liberals nor offer the public anything other than decades-old dogma. Indeed, their likely electoral gains notwithstanding, movement conservatives are still incapable of making an affirmative case for their governing philosophy. Their “new ideas” are anything but, and to most informed observers, it’s clear that “no” is the only functioning weapon in the Republican Party’s paltry arsenal. Put another way, there’s a reason why the movement’s leading voices are quasi-religious charlatans, rent-seeking celebrities, and failed ex-governors.
I don’t know that we are living in the same political world. Yes, their leaders are charlatans,rent-seeking celebrities and failed ex-governors. What else is new? And yet somehow, the right has been enormously successful for the past 40 years and has dominated politics and government because of their willingness to relentlessly demean and destroy liberalism by any means necessary, usually using institutional power wherever they can lay their hands on it. This is a mind-boggling assertion, really, especially considering the fact that they are on the verge of making an epic comeback even in the face of total institutional disarray and a takeover of the GOP by the lunatic fringe. And it’s purely on their willingness, indeed eagerness, to go for the jugular. Sure the GOP is unpopular. All politicians are unpopular right now. But conservatism has been the big political winner for decades — and constitutes a far bigger ideological bloc than liberalism. In fact, all American politics are played on the right side of the field, with liberalism on defense the whole way.
We are talking about cutting social security in the middle of the worst economy since the 1930s. That’s not a sign of failed conservative ideology. And yes “informed” people understand that they are about nothing. How many people are correctly informed?
He goes on to give a fairly boilerplate Sunday school lecture about truth, justice and the American way and it’s fine as far as it goes. Making up facts is not ok, although I see no evidence in this review that Markos has engaged in anything but hyperbole. But this is silly:
Yes, progressives are depressed and despondent about the future, but that’s no reason for dishonesty and scaremongering, and it doesn’t excuse the obscenity of comparing our political opponents to killers and terrorists. As reality-based members of the American community, we have an obligation toward the truth, even when it isn’t particularly convenient.
Actually, sometimes scaremongering is absolutely necessary for survival. People should be scared right now. History shows that bad things can happen, particularly in times of great transition and stress.
The inconvenient truth here is that these people are dangerous because their worldview is dangerous. Lethal even. And somebody has to have the guts and to call them on it in their own terms. This “tired genre” of “our opponents are monsters” has been decidedly dominated by one side and the consequences have been grave. We have a fight on our hands and the only real question left is whether anyone on our side is willing to wage it.
Listen, I have no problem with throwing punches and fighting the good fight against the forces of wealth and regression. And I won’t hesitate to attack the conservative movement for its sexism, racial resentment and monomaniacal devotion to enriching the privileged. But there’s a vast difference between that, and stressing a moral equivalence between the right and the Taliban. The former is true and focuses our aim for the battles ahead, the latter, as Patrick Appelwrites at the Daily Dish, doesn’t “accomplish anything besides juicing book sales and temporarily riling up like-minded folk.”
Hell, Kos admits as much when he describes the purpose of his book, “Because look, this book, ultimately, is a big ‘fuck you’ to every conservative who has ever accused us of wanting the terrorists to win.” Kos isn’t Paul Revere; he isn’t warning us about some incipient threat to our safety; he’s trying to get back at conservatives who accuse liberals of hating their country. Which, as I said in my review, is fair; Kos has never claimed to be an honest broker for the truth. But the fight for progress doesn’t require us to bend the truth or distort our opponents’ ideas; we can wage this war as we always have, by fighting for our values and giving the right the rope it needs to hang itself. Sure, “fuck you” feels good, but the moment you turn to smears is the moment you concede the weakness of your own position.
The conservative movement is a perfect example of what happens when you let dishonesty consume your argument. In its drive to demonize liberals, it has become an incoherent mass of rage and resentment, devoid of anything approximating a governing agenda. The right has become so doctrinaire that it has lost its capacity for self-correction. This year’s Republicans will win because of high unemployment and poor growth, not because the American people have suddenly become more receptive to conservatism (they haven’t).
Yeah, with great respect for Digby, I just don’t agree. I actually think precision, of this sort, is extremely important. Rightly or wrongly I’m a liberal, in large measure, because I think liberals have more respect for my intelligence. I can’t, in great detail, explain health care policy, or financial reform. But when I see one side’s most potent voices arguing that health care reform is actually reparations, or their leadership winking at the notion that Obama is a Muslim, I take it as a caution. It’s brand degradation, the sense that dishonesty and shading actually covers the lack of an argument.
Digby argues that Moulitsas should have some kind of poetic license,and shouldn’t be taken literally. That strikes me as squishy. This statement–“in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban”–is quite literal, and one is obliged to ask if it’s true or not.
The notion that “slut-shaming” and “nose-cutting” have the same deeper meaning–presumably a fear of women’s sexuality, though Digby doesn’t say this–is true as far as it takes you. Likewise the notion that black people should be slaves, the notion that they should be shipped back to Africa, that they should be segregated in communities, that they should not be allowed to intermarry, also have the same root cause–that blacks are unequal to whites. At varying points, Abraham Lincoln, John C. Calhoun, William T. Sherman, and Ulysses Grant held one or all of these views, and all probably died thinking blacks were unequal to whites. But that doesn’t make them interchangeable. Lincoln and Grant aren’t “less evil” versions of Calhoun.
As is often the case, with arguments that lead with analogy, the point isn’t to clarify anything, it’s to turn heads. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not think you claim that Glenn Beck is the white Malcolm X because you think it’s a particularly astute analysis; you do it because it will get you on the Atlantic Wire. I don’t believe you claim that the American right’s tactics are “almost indistinguishable” from the Taliban because you think it’s adroit and original. You do it to elbow your way up the best-seller list.
That’s fine–it’s an accepted strategy. But speaking only for me, if your committment is to making me look, as opposed to making me think, expect that I will only look once. Everything you say afterward is compromised in my eyes. Faulkner is still waiting.
I tend to think that this is one of the areas where progressives aren’t just doing the right thing, but have a smarter tactical approach to politics. There are scenarios in which tagging your political opponents with smears can be effective, but I don’t see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic “my enemies are totalitarian madmen” strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections. This should be differentiated from the occasional lapse into rhetorical excess that everyone does now and again. I’m talking specifically about the kind of sustained effort to seriously persuade people that Elana Kagan favors sharia or Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist that you see among loons of all stripes but that seems to be granted more respectability on the right.
This stuff doesn’t win votes anyone because, after all, it’s a form of preaching to the choir. Which is fine—the choir needs some sermons. But there’s no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond. Either underestimating or overestimating their level of viciousness and evil can lead to serious miscalculations. Which is just to say that getting this stuff right is more important than coming up with funny put-downs.
I haven’t read American Taliban and don’t plan to. I figure I already dislike the American right wing enough, so there’s little need to dump another load of fuel onto my own personal mental bonfire. But here’s what’s interesting: this review isn’t on a fringe blog site. It’s not from a reviewer for the DLC. It’s not written by some apostate liberal like Mickey Kaus. It’s written by a mainstream liberal writing in one of America’s premier mainstream liberal publications. Did Liberal Fascism get any similarly incendiary reviews from mainstream conservatives writing in any of America’s premier mainstream conservative publications?
Genuine question here. Maybe I missed the bad reviews from fellow conservatives. But the only one I remember on the way to Liberal Fascism becoming both a huge bestseller and a conservative bellwether was a gentle, academic scolding from fascism scholar Michael Ledeen. Does anyone remember any others?
Both Drum and Yglesias contrast the rebukes from some on the Left to American Taliban with what they recall as near universal acclaim for Liberal Fascism from the Right. I don’t have any comprehensive metrics available to me to do a useful analysis, but I do recall quite a few bloggers on the Right, myself included, pushing back on exactly the same grounds. In my February 2008 post “Goldberg, Coulter, and Savage,” I observed,
While I get the desire to rebut the notion that Fascism is right-wing phenomenon and therefore somehow comparable to American mainstream conservatism, the argument that American liberals are proto-Fascists is quite silly. The use of inflammatory titles, while an excellent publicity vehicle for selling books, is decidedly unhelpful if one’s purpose is to advance serious argument.
There is, however, a stark difference between Coulter, who seriously argues that liberals are traitors, fascists, or whathaveyou, than cutesy publicity stunts.
The New York Times is really taken with Jonathan Franzen’s “galvanic new novel, ‘Freedom.'” Michiko Kakutani wrote a glowing review last week. Two bestselling authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, are mad. They think The New York Times has a soft spot for white males. As Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Picoult and Weiner have had a field day on Twitter, Weiner tweeting that the “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs.”
But is The New York Times (among other publications) really playing favorites? And if so, how so? Do influential outlets disdain female authors, or disdain popular fiction of any variety? Here are a variety of perspectives on the growing debate.
Picoult, whose popular novels of everyday people facing awful dilemmas have sold more than 12m copies worldwide but are largely overlooked by the literary establishment, was quick to respond. “NYT raved about Franzen’s new book. Is anyone shocked?” she wrote on Twitter. “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.” For every review of authors such as Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat or the Dominican-American Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz, “there are 10 Lethems and Franzens,” she added later.
Picoult also criticised Kakutani’s use of the word “lapidary”. “Did you know what [it] meant when you read it in Kakutani’s review? I think reviewers just like to look smart,” she tweeted.
Contacted by blog the NYT Picker, Picoult reaffirmed her view that “the Times favours white male authors. That isn’t to say someone else might get a good review – only that if you are white and male and living in Brooklyn you have better odds, or so it seems”.
“The NYT has long made it clear that they value literary fiction and disdain commercial fiction – and they disparage it regardless of race or gender of the author,” said the author. “I’m not commenting on one specific critic or even on my own reviews (which are few and far between because I write commercial fiction). How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors are ROUTINELY assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves) while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?”
But she rejected the blog’s claim that her disgruntlement stemmed from poor reviews of her own work in the paper: in 2008 a reviewer said she had written her novel Change of Heart “on authorial autopilot”. Posting her email response to the blog online “in the effort of truth in journalism”, Picoult insisted that “nowhere in here do I criticise Ms Kakutani, rant, or suggest that my comment (which really was just that – a COMMENT) was precipitated by the fact that I don’t get rave reviews from the NYT. Just stating an opinion, as I see it, about those to whom the NYT chooses to devote inches of print”.
Her feelings were backed up by bestselling chick-lit writer Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes. “Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to chose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh, right. #girlparts,” she wrote on Twitter. “Books read by men – mysteries, thrillers, horror – at least maybe they’ll be noticed, whether author male or female. Books read by women – romance, chick lit, commercial fic, whatever – rarely get noticed. When they do, reviews often ignorant.”
Later, she added: “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs … In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement.”
Why do you feel that commercial fiction, or more specifically popular fiction written by women, tends to be critically overlooked?
Jennifer Weiner: I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.
Jodi Picoult: I think you only have to really look at the facts. I don’t think it’s overlooked in all venues. I think the New York Times reviews overall tend to overlook popular fiction, whether you’re a man, woman, white, black, purple or pink. I think there are a lot of readers who would like to see reviews that belong in the range of commercial fiction rather than making the blanket assumption that all commercial fiction is unworthy. But it’s not universal. The Washington Post for example, back when they had their book review section, used to do the widest reviews, because there were so many kinds of fiction reviewed, not just literary fiction. That’s where my gripe comes from. When in today’s market you only have a limited review space for books, I wonder what the rationale is for the New York Times to review the same book twice, sometimes in the same week. I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Jonathan Franzen. I hope I read (“Freedom”) and love it. None of this was motivated as a critique against him or his work, just that he is someone the Times has chosen to review twice in seven days.
Have you had experiences where you’ve felt, due to either the content of your books or your gender, your books have been misrepresented or dismissed?
Weiner: The only mention my books have ever gotten from the Times have been the occasional single sentence and, if I’m lucky, a dependent clause in a Janet Maslin flyover piece: “Look! Here’s a bunch of books that have nothing in common but spring release dates and lady authors!” I don’t write literary fiction – I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan “Genius” Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.
Picoult: Oh yeah, sure. But you know what? That’s your trade off. I think Jen Weiner was the one who tweeted the very comment that, “I’m going to weep into my royalty check”. She’s funny and honest and that’s what makes her great. There’s that unwritten schism that literary writers get all the awards and commericals writers get all the success. I don’t begrudge the label of ‘commercial writer’, because I wanted to reach as many readers as I could. I read a lot of commercial fiction and a lot of the same themes and wisdoms I find in commercial fiction are the same themes and wisdoms as what i see lauded in literary fiction.
Weiner: The examples you cite reinforce my argument that women are still getting the short end of the stick. If you write thrillers or mysteries or horror fiction or quote-unquote speculative fiction, men might read you, and the Times might notice you. If you write chick lit, and if you’re a New Yorker, and if your book becomes the topic of pop-culture fascination, the paper might make dismissive and ignorant mention of your book. If you write romance, forget about it. You’ll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list. I think I remember seeing one review of Nora Roberts once, whereas Lee Child can count on all of his books getting reviewed. This strikes me as fundamentally unfair.
Picoult: In my personal opinion I think those are anomalies more than the norm. But again it is one person’s opinion.
Both Picoult and Weiner are the kind of writers who, to use Saul Bellow’s phrase, are free to stuff their ears with money if they don’t like what they’re hearing about their own books. And while I hadn’t time to look up every interview they’ve ever given, I have a hard time believing that in their heart of hearts, they envision themselves as even writing literary fiction, or at least that they aim their work at the same critical audience Franzen does. (Would Franzen’s website have as a title “Novels About Family, Relationships, and Love”?) So I think it’s overbroad to claim that they are themselves being treated differently solely as women, in this instance.
And yet, they do have a point. And it’s a point that brings us right up to the edge of the precipice of having to re-evaluate what it is we think is worthwhile about literature, and why it might not be what current standards say it is.
There are a number of levels on which one can analyze this problem of literary merit. Only the first and most superficial is markets. From that perspective, this entire discussion is little more than wankery. First of all, not a day goes by where we’re not being reminded by publishers that the collapse in transaction costs related to publishing writing (thanks in no small part to websites like this here fine publication) is absolutely destroying traditional publishing. Whatever the former gatekeepers to literary fame think, in short, is becoming more irrelevant by the day, because if they don’t like what you’re writing, you’re perfectly welcome to self-publish (or to work with a progressive change publisher) and potentially earn a higher income, proportionate to sales anyway, than you would have if you’d signed with a major publishing house, by cutting out the middleman.
Weiner, who wrote the terrific and unexpected novel Good In Bed (which dares to suggest, among other things, that not all of a contemporary woman’s personal problems can be solved with a makeover and a diet, try to contain your shock) all the way back in 2001 and has been writing fiction about women ever since, is blown off as a “chick-lit author” here and here, and in The Atlantic, while her books aren’t exactly called “chick lit,” it has to be pointed out that they (and Picoult’s books) are “often referred to as ‘chick lit.'” (We’re not saying it’s chick lit or anything … we’re just saying SOME HAVE SAID it is chick lit, y’know.)
It’s a category we just don’t even need anymore.
I’ve written before about how much I dislike it when people don’t distinguish between popular women’s fiction and the much narrower category of shoe fiction (by which I mean fiction disproportionately focused on the acquisition of designer shoes and bags and other yabba-dabba-doo that is inevitably described in nearly pornographic detail). But at this point, I think the only solution is to stay away from the term “chick lit” as much as humanly possible, because it’s become a term that means “by and about women, and not something you need to take seriously, although we’re not necessarily saying those things are connected, so it might be a giant coincidence.”
Jennifer Weiner writes primarily about relationships between and among women. She writes about families, she writes about loss, she writes about loneliness, and she writes about a wide variety of other human emotions. The fact that she wrote a book called In Her Shoes doesn’t mean she writes primarily about shoes. (Seriously, is that where this started?) That book is about family — just like, for instance, Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You (a great book, by the way), which may or may not be a book written with greater skill, but which does not find itself assigned to a special genre as a result of being about a man, written by a man, and concerned with a man’s thoughts and feelings and complicated family and romantic relationships.
Once we’re calling Jennifer Weiner “chick lit,” I don’t know what “chick lit” is, and I don’t think I’d like the answer if I did. Most of the definitions I’ve ever known are apparently too narrow. If “chick lit” means it’s about young, independent single women looking for love (which was what I understood to be the earliest definition, when I first heard it back in the Bridget Jones era), Jennifer Weiner doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about finding a guy in general, she doesn’t qualify. If it means the book isn’t serious, she doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about the centrality of men to the lives of women, she doesn’t qualify, since most of the most important relationships she’s written about in her career are relationships between women (sisters, friends, mothers and daughters).
The term “chick lit,” as I mentioned today on Twitter as I was composing this entry, increasingly makes me feel like I’m being compared to a marshmallow peep just for reading books by and about women. I know what romance novels are — I read some of them, I dislike many of them. I know what shoe fiction is, in my own experience — it’s fine, but it’s not very nourishing. There are subgenres within commercial women’s fiction that are real and identifiable.
But I don’t know what “chick lit” is anymore, except books that are understood to be aimed at women, written by women, and not important. And I can’t get behind that.
Various people have chimed in agreeing with Piccoult or arguing that the Times coverage is more balanced than she claims. Ironically, Kakutani has previously been accused of taking special relish in pillorying white male authors. (Norman Mailer called her, in his typically subdued, politically correct style, a “one-woman kamikazee. She disdains white male authors…she’s a token. And deep down, she probably knows it.” I feel dirty retyping that.) And she recently sliced up the prototypical white male literary darling from Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem.
But this whole controversy, such as it is, reminded me of a recent lunch I had with a fellow editor. I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman? And I honestly couldn’t come up with anything for a few minutes. It was a pretty shameful moment, in part, because I started wondering about early onset memory loss (I eventually remembered that I’d recently read the luminous and terribly titled Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peele), but also because I’ve spent a lot of time advocating the reading of books outside of the reader’s direct experience as a way of understanding the world (through the Ringshout organization, for instance) and apparently I’ve been ignoring the literary output of half the human population. I can’t speak to the specifics of the Piccoult/Times disputebut I can say that the frustration Piccoult expressed is shared by a lot of women (and men) who write or work in the literary world. In my experience with by son’s namesake bookstore, it’s clear that women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women. And while I’ve never seen it quantified in any way, there’s definitely a feeling out there that men–even when writing about frivolous subjects–are taken more seriously as literary writers and are more likely to be presented to serious readers by the various literary gatekeepers.
So I’ve been trying to balance my own reading–consciously trying to read at least one piece of fiction by a woman for every one I read by a man. This sounds stupid, I know. But what are the results of this small and recent experiment?
It’s been sort of fascinating. After reading the well-reviewed-but-somewhat-disappointing (but still worth reading) Next by James Hynes, I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, which was, like the Hynes, formally inventive, but also creepy and funny and knee-wobblingly suspenseful. After reading Gary Shteyngart, I just turned to a book that’s been on my queue for a while: Chimamanda Adichie’s achingly beautiful The Thing Around Your Neck, both books about immigrants and police states and love affairs, but from two vastly different, whiplash-inducing, perspectives (BTW, check out Adichie’s fascinating TED talk, “The Danger of the Single Story” if you’re interested in the art of storytelling). Between chapters of The Book in the Renaissance, I’ve been dipping in and out of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is an incredible evocation of a young woman’s unruly interior, even if she was once picked up by Allen Ginsburg because he thought she was a boy.
Anyway, there are ways that our reading is shaped and limited by the biases of the dominant literary gatekeepers–maybe without realizing it, we’ve only read books by people of a certain race, or who write in a certain language, or who follow the conventions of a certain genre (including the unnamed genre of Anglo-American Serious Fiction). To some people this is the great opportunity in the coming bookquake, the chance to disintermediate some of those gatekeepers and their peculiar, ossified biases. But the real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities. How exciting is it to consider that there are worlds of literature out there that you may not have tapped into, undiscovered countries of books to explore that might yet tell you something new in a new way?