The New Republic’s Curious Political Puddle; Just as Confused as Tom Daschle; Next Stop: A Federal Holiday on Crazy Horse’s Birthday

Written by Russ Smith on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

Granted, Master Peter Beinart‘s
place-holder editorship of The New Republic has produced a pale
version of the provocative magazine two of his predecessors, Michael Kelly
and Andrew Sullivan, oversaw during the 1990s, but it has a herky-jerky
quality that’s not altogether boring. The May 21 issue is an apt example:
The cover, which shows an irritated President Bush against a blue background
holding up a couple of dollar bills, is a sizzler, especially with the sensationalistic
headline “He’s Lying.” That art direction is the highlight–along
with an astute “Cambridge Diarist” column by owner Marty Peretz,
in which he praises Germany as Israel‘s “best friend
in Europe”–since the two lead stories about Bush’s tax policy
are rehashed yawners.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman‘s
contribution, “Going for Broke,” is “adapted” from his book
Fuzzy Math, and so is already out of date, containing nothing substantial
about last week’s congressional passage of a $1.35 trillion tax cut. It’s
the same tiresome argument Krugman has beaten into the ground for the past nine
months at his Times perch, and concludes: “No previous administration
has tried to sell its economic plans on such false pretenses. And this from
a man who ran for president on a promise to restore honor and integrity to our
nation’s public life.”

Krugman, whose economic philosophy is every bit
as suspect as his Princeton colleague Peter Singer‘s
novel ideas about human/canine sexuality (just for starters), is just being
typically dishonest, as he shows with his denunciation of Bush for a supposed
betrayal of his campaign agenda. In fact, Bush touted his tax reform plan since
the fall of ’99 and has indeed kept his promise to make it a centerpiece
of his administration. You can argue about the merits of the legislation–which
Jonathan Chait does in an accompanying piece, proclaiming for
the 118th time that it’s just not fair–but Bush has kept his
word about what goals he’d pursue in his first term in the White House.
Maybe Krugman’s dictionary is different from mine–and considering
his twin employments at Princeton and the Times it’s entirely possible–but
I’d say that’s an example of “integrity.”

Actually, the most disturbing development last
week was that Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT)
huddled and came up with a compromise that would drop the top tax rate to 36
percent (from 39.6 percent) instead of Bush’s still-too-high 33 percent.
I hope the President stays firm on his much-ballyhooed proclamation that no
American should fork over more than a third of his income to the feds: any capitulation
would be a severe disappointment. Yes, he’d still have shifted the debate
in favor of a broad-based tax cut, but, considering the backloading of his initiative,
it’d be a t-ball victory at best. It’s bad enough that the White House
found it necessary to gut Bush’s education bill in order to appease Democrats,
but that’s acceptable if he can hold firm on taxes, Social Security
reform and ditching the ABM treaty in favor of the missile-defense shield.

Beinart’s own contribution to the issue, a
liberal’s tribute to hyper-focused Grover Norquist, the leader of
Americans for Tax Reform
, hints at the Democrats’ major political problem:
the absence of a credible national spokesman who can unite the party’s
diverse factions. Beinart doesn’t quite say it, but Sen. Tom Daschle
is a public-relations nightmare, and is quickly shedding his (exaggerated) reputation
as a quiet but tough negotiator in favor of a Maxine Waters/Teddy
-type rhetorical bomb-thrower. The Minority Leader has become a comical
figure with recent statements such as this criticism of missile defense: “The
single dumbest thing I’ve heard so far from this administration”;
and that Bush’s budget is “a nuclear bomb for fiscal discipline in
this country,” as well as a “major degradation of the rule of law.”

Rep. Dick Gephardt, who’s joined the
editorial board of The New York Times in its “America Last”
view, is freezing before our eyes into a Fred Flintstone figure from
the early 1970s. Gephardt’s time has come and gone: he hasn’t been
able to wrest back control of the House for the Democrats in the three elections
since ’94, and the GOP can only pray that somehow he’ll win that 100-1
shot and snag the nomination to oppose Bush in 2004. After the U.S. was booted
off the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, Gephardt,
in at least symbolic solidarity with countries like Sudan, China
and Sierra Leone, blamed Bush. He said: “Unfortunately, today’s
action demonstrates that U.S. unilateralism in foreign policy has consequences…
I hope the Bush administration shifts course, and learns that our government
must work cooperatively with our allies and other nations when possible to have
influence abroad.”

The Euro-centric Times, in a May 13 editorial,
took another swipe at the United States, in this instance using Timothy McVeigh‘s
ongoing drama as a vehicle. The writer said: “Americans who travel in Europe,
whether as tourists or ambassadors, marvel at the frequency with which they
are called on to defend the American legal system’s reliance on capital
punishment. At least among European elites, the death penalty has become an
even stronger metaphor for America since the nation is led by a man who presided
over 40 executions in 2000 alone and the government was preparing, until Friday,
to carry out on May 16 its first federal execution in 38 years.”

It’s just a hunch, but I doubt that the relatives
of McVeigh’s Oklahoma victims give a damn about “European elites.”

The Democrats happen to have an earnest, Mr.
Smith Goes to
Washington leader in their midst–Sen. Russell
–but he’s still in the doghouse for adhering to his principles
and voting _to confirm Attorney General John Ashcroft despite vehemently
opposing the former senator’s hard-right conservatism. Feingold, unlike
his partner on campaign finance reform, John McCain, really is that rare
honest politician who’s as likely to be upended by scandal as Laura
. That Feingold, whose liberal dogma is passionate and articulate, isn’t
given a starring role as the voice of the minority party is one reason the Democrats
appear so bedraggled.

It’s entirely possible that Bush will suffer
congressional losses next year–a sputtering economy, the energy crisis
or some foreign policy mishap could all contribute to a major defeat–but
it won’t be on account of the Democrats offering a sober alternative. The
threatened block on judicial nominees–which Bush shrewdly derailed by nominating
a first group of 11 men and women, who are mostly conservative, but included
a couple of liberals and minorities–is dumb and simply reminds not only
the right-wing, but Republicans in general, of the repugnant smears against
Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Ashcroft.

Now, Theodore Olson might be denied the
position of solicitor general because of his tangential association with The
American Spectator
and its relentless (and over-the-top, in my opinion)
demonization of Bill Clinton. Democrats can take succor in Thomas
Edsall‘s inconclusive Washington Post article of May 10,
which relied substantially on disaffected Spectator staff writer David
for evidence against Olson. As The Wall Street Journal
editorialized last Friday, “The ‘Arkansas Project’ was an exercise
of The American Spectator’s First Amendment rights, something much of the
major media seems to think applies only to itself.”

But back to Peter Beinart, who’s clueless
when it comes to describing conservatives. He writes about Norquist: “His
real job is to host a meeting every Wednesday that brings together every species
of conservative–gun nuts, home schoolers, anti-environmentalists, capital
gains tax cutters–to plot strategy.” This naive characterization of
millions of Americans is an inexcusable blind spot for the editor of a well-read,
if small-circulation, political weekly. Gun nuts? This is the elite Beltway
idea of anyone who owns a gun and doesn’t want his constitutional rights
taken away by a DC/Manhattan/Hollywood cabal of alleged
intellectuals who really do believe they know what’s best for the country’s

Anti-environmentalists? Home schoolers?
Capital gains tax cutters? I’m surprised Beinart didn’t add
to his insect-like list of conservatives other pejoratives like “Bible-belters,”
“free-traders,” “country & western music fans,” and,
to top it off, “pro-life crazies.” It wouldn’t occur to an insulated
young man like Beinart, who studied at Yale and now lives in DC, that
conservatives are also people who despise excessive government regulation; thieving
trial lawyers; crooked and ineffectual union leaders; barely educated teachers;
the phony populism that Al Gore espoused last fall (while he courted
“gun nuts” in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania);
and the politicians in those private clubs known as the House of Representatives
and the Senate who insist on dumping taxpayers’ money down the toilet.

Next Stop: A Federal Holiday on Crazy Horse’s

I read New York City‘s daily newspapers closely,
but apparently the Times editorial ridiculing the Mother’s Day
ban at the Upper West Side‘s Rodeph Sholom Day School
whizzed right past me.

A joke, Señor.

Just like the private school’s absurd abolition
of its children participating in Mother’s and Father’s Day
activities, reversing a decades-long practice. Cindi Samson, mouthpiece
for Rodeph Sholom on this contentious issue, wrote parents this dopey note:
“We are a school with many different family makeups, and we need to recognize
the emotional well-being of all the children in our school. Holidays that serve
no educational purpose and are not vital to the children’s education need
to be evaluated in terms of their importance in a school setting, as the recognition
of these holidays in a social setting may not be a positive experience for all

Public school teachers, obviously, don’t have
a monopoly on stupidity. I wonder what the reaction would be if this school
eliminated the observance of Kwanzaa or Martin Luther King Jr.‘s
birthday? Wouldn’t happen in today’s cultural swamp, of course, but
you get my drift. My sons’ all-male private school, thankfully, hasn’t
followed the lead of Rodeph Sholom, but it’s only a matter of time, I fear,
till the innocent celebration of Mother’s Day will go the way of airplanes
departing on schedule. Ostensibly, the decision was made because some students
are from broken homes–as if that’s a new phenomenon–or have same-sex
parents and thus feel left out of the hour or two dedicated to making mothers
a present during art class. Everyone has a mother and father, regardless of
whether they live in a nuclear family, and it’s a shame this harmless exercise
has been mauled by the rapid disintegration of common sense in affluent (and
liberal) parts of the country. Yes, it’s undeniably painful for a youngster
who’s tragically lost a parent to premature death; but Mother’s or
Father’s Day isn’t at all a bad time for that student to reflect on
his heritage.

I don’t care whether Daily News columnist
Mike Barnicle borrowed the following lines from some unnamed source for
his May 13 piece, they ring true. He wrote: “Let’s get something straight:
This isn’t about accommodation. It’s another example of promoting
a social agenda that bears little resemblance to what most regard as normal…
[L]ike Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and all
the other horribly politically incorrect holidays that seem to offend a tiny,
extremely vocal, well-connected minority. All of it, normal. Despite the predictable
rants, the protests over knocking Mother’s Day off the calendar have little
to do with unease over gay couples raising children. Who cares what goes on
next door if nobody rattles the teacups or breaks the law? It’s a live-and-let-live
world. The problem is that one more word–’normal’–has been
stolen from the language. It’s been misappropriated by politicians eager
to please a special interest. It’s also become a weapon, to put others
on the defensive.”

It’s all of a piece with the daily acts of
insanity that take place in schools, public and private, today. Last Friday,
the Associated Press reported a story about an 11-year-old fifth-grader
who was hauled away in handcuffs from Florida‘s Oldsmar Elementary
. His “crime”? Seems a group of classmates ratted the kid
out for drawing pictures of weapons. The principal assured the
media that “The children were in no danger at all. It involved no real
weapons. All I can tell you is it was a threat…against students.” That’s
the kind of double-talk Rudy Giuliani mastered in his headline-grabbing
arrests of Wall Street traders in the late 80s: a boon to Rudy’s
political career, financial ruin for many of those victimized by his immoral

A Wall Street Journal website,,
runs a daily “Zero Tolerance” watch that’s a valuable track record
of just how snake-bitten school administrators are today. A little girl shows
up in history class with a water pistol? Might be talking expulsion. Some loudmouth
junior high student brags about knocking the block off an enemy in an afterschool
brawl? No college for that kid.

Meanwhile, the ninnies in Congress are wasting
time trying to sabotage First Amendment rights with campaign finance
“reform” while a real and present danger–the perversion of American
education–continues apace. You’d think Sen. John McCain and
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol might expend some of their
excessive pomposity on this subject–a dire trend that’s rapidly changing
the way kids think and act and what they fear–instead of preaching to the
converted on topics that people outside the cocoon of Washington, DC, just don’t
care about.

As it happened, my family spent a delightful Mother’s
Day together, starting with a few presents from the boys, then breakfast at
Tribeca‘s Kitchenette, and finally an outing to Yankee
where the pitiful Baltimore Orioles pulled off a miracle
and slammed the Yanks 10-5 in 11 innings. Earlier in the morning, Mrs.
M ran into an acquaintance on the street who said, “Oh, a baseball game,
what a swell way to spend Mother’s Day.” Up yours, buddy. My
wife, a fan, had a splendid time, and why not? The weather was gorgeous; all
four of us were together; we saw the Yankees lose from excellent seats just
behind their dugout; and MUGGER III finally caught the Major League ballpark
bug when he came within a few feet of catching a foul ball. Junior and I kept
our eyes trained on the scoreboard, jubilantly watching the postings from Boston
culminate in an 11th-inning 5-4 win for the Sox, with Jason Varitek
hitting a homer to end the game. Sunday’s victory was right on the heels
of Saturday’s performance by Pedro Martinez–12 strikeouts with
the oddity of his teammates actually providing offensive support–putting
them in first place on the 13th of May. It’s probably fleeting, but with
Manny Ramirez making like Willie Mays, and a pitching staff that’s
leading the league in team ERA, it’s gratifying to think of all the beat
baseball writers who wrote off the Sox after Nomar Garciaparra had surgery
and Carl Everett caused a ruckus or two in the clubhouse. As if the great
Yankee teams of the late 70s didn’t fight among themselves far more often
than with opposing clubs.

The day before, while Mrs. M was down for the count
with allergies, the boys and I went shopping uptown, which was the usual nightmare,
aside from the nifty jewelbox on madison, a tiny store where we bought
Mom some droopy earrings and the ladies in charge were charming, taming my rambunctious
little rascals for a period of five minutes. Niketown, however, where
Junior was looking for rubber-spike sneakers, was a disaster, simply because
of the crowds. We witnessed a repulsive display of manners from a customer–French,
of course (I do love that pissing on the Frogs is no longer a cliche, given
their most recent international displays of boorishness)–who claimed she
was waiting for half an hour and demanded help right that instant. Though
being informed that she actually had arrived just 10 minutes earlier, in a wall-to-wall
section of the complex, and, in fact, had a pair of shoes being sent up from
the basement, the lady would have none of it, and using her dialect as a means
of intimidation (as if the clerks cared one way or the other), stormed out in
outrage. I could’ve sworn I saw five poodles strolling behind her, but
Junior said that once again my imagination was on overdrive.

Later in the afternoon, as thunderstorms threatened,
Junior’s Downtown Little League Indians squeaked by with
a 10-8 win against the Twins, a game that was the complete opposite of
the one I described last week. Not only were the opposing squad’s manager
Tom Morton and the coaches gentlemen of the first order, but their group
of eight-year-olds was easily the best team the Indians have faced. One future
star actually made an unassisted double play, which was the most spectacular
DLL defensive gem I’ve seen in three years as a spectator.

The Indians had many stars that day–Rafe
, Troy Wong, Nile Green, Mackie Charter,
just off the top of my head–and although Junior had a crummy time at the
plate, chasing too many high pitches, I was pleased that he high-fived his friends
when they scored, and whooped it up after the win, oblivious to a pair of whiffs.
Both teams displayed the kind of sportsmanship that makes watching your kid’s
game a pleasure, instead of the irritation that wells up inside when oafish
managers think they’re playing in “The Show.”

May 14

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