APRIL 21, 2003
Every now and then, a politician will, through accident or poor judgment, say something that tells you everything you need to know about him. (It is usually a him.) Bill Clinton's contention that "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" captured forever his evasiveness and moral relativism; Dan Quayle's mangling of the United Negro College Fund motto, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful," couldn't help but suggest that he perhaps spoke from experience.
Recently, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay joined this proud fraternity. For weeks, Republicans have been racking their brains for a way to attach an unpopular tax cut to a popular war (see Jonathan Chait, "Home Front," April 7). White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer explained that the latest cuts were a way to ensure that "when the war is over, our military has jobs to come home to"a touching sentiment, though rather misplaced given that when our professional, all-volunteer military "comes home" they will continue to have jobs in the military. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison voiced concern that, "when our troops are over there fighting, we don't want partisan bickering to be what they see on television from back home." Leave it to DeLay, the House majority leader, to abandon such delicate arguments. Appearing before a meeting of bankers a few weeks ago, he declared, rather astonishingly, "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes."
Nothing? Off the tops of our heads we would have imagined that perhaps protecting U.S. borders or limiting American casualties or even ensuring a just peace would be "more important in the face of a war" than cutting taxes. But DeLay has put us straight, once again serving as the id of his party, the primordial lizard brain of Republican orthodoxy. In its current form, that orthodoxy maintains that tax cuts favoring the wealthy are a de facto good-in peace and in war, in good times and in bad, when we can afford them and when we cannot. For this clarification we can thank Tom DeLay.
Many commentators worry that, in its occupation of Iraq, the U.S. military will be insufficiently sensitive to the religious beliefs of that overwhelmingly Muslim country. But few thought it necessary to be concerned about the military's sensitivity to the religious beliefs of its own troops. For example, near Najaf in southern Iraq, water shortages have meant that thousands of soldiers in the Army's 5th Corps have been unable to bathe for weeks or would have been unable to if not for Army Chaplain Josh Llano. Llano, a self-described "Southern Baptist evangelist" has under his control a 500- gallon pool of clean, cool water in which soldiers can bathe-provided that they submit to two and a half hours of sermonizing and baptism. "It's simple," the enterprising chaplain told The Miami Herald. "They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized. ... You have to be aggressive to help people find themselves in God." Llano's "aggressive" efforts aren't only a demeaning exploitation of the servicemen and women risking their lives to disarm Saddam Hussein; they're also an utter abrogation of the Army's "Chaplain Requirements," which require chaplains to be "[s]ensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel." The Army told TNR it is "seeking additional information" on the matter. We certainly hope so.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
'I really admire David Brock," announced Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle at a party he co-hosted last week to celebrate the paperback publication of Brock's Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. Minority Whip Harry Reid seconded his boss's sentiment, declaring, "David, you've given us inspiration to fight and fighting we are. And I think you'll see a new Democratic Party in the future." We shudder to think what this "new," Brock- inspired Democratic Party would look like.
Brock, of course, is the journalist who in the early '90s built his career on a series of tawdry, widely refuted right-wing hatchet jobs in The American Spectator-the best-known being "The Real Anita Hill," which declared its subject "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty," and the "Troopergate" story, which introduced the world to "Paula," i.e. Paula Jones. In Blinded by the Right, Brock supposedly renounces his sleazy, journalistic past. His Anita Hill reporting, he confesses, was "sloppy, skewed, slanderous material," "a witches' brew of fact, allegation, hearsay, speculation, opinion, and invective"; "Troopergate" was "not fit to print, ... a mix of circumstantial observation and rumor." But, rather than a departure from this kind of innuendo-laden, ad hominem reporting, Brock's book is actually a continuation-this time with conservative targets. Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Arianna Huffington are "right-wing fag hags"; Juanita Broaddrick's rape allegation against Bill Clinton was probably an effort "to get herself out of trouble with her boyfriend"; Richard Mellon Scaife was "linked" to two suspicious suicides. The book contains a few errors or misrepresentations, though Brock contends that a seminal moment in his embrace of conservatism occurred when, as an undergraduate at Berkeley, he saw students heckle a speech by Jeane Kirkpatrick, he did not write an article about it for the next day's student paper as he claims. And a handful of Brock's subjects dispute his descriptions of interactions with them.
But let us be clear: David Brock is, by his own admission, a liar. He lied when he was a youthful liberal, and he lied when he was a not-quite-so-youthful conservative. Whether he lied in his latest book is, in some ways, beside the point: It is a toxic smear job of nearly everyone who wandered into Brock's careerist orbit in the '90—sources, employers, colleagues, friends. And, if Tom Daschle and Harry Reid find "inspiration" in that, the Democratic Party is in more trouble than anyone realizes.
Last month, we were delighted to announce in this space that Samantha Power's book, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, published by New Republic Books (Basic Books) had been awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. This month, we are more delighted still to announce that she has now added the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction to her trophy case. To those who have already read Power's wrenching account of America's foreign policy failures in the '90s, this latest honor will come as no surprise; to those who have not, we can only hope it will serve as an incentive.
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