POLITICS JUNE 24, 2002
THE FACE OF EVIL: There are two things about the Daniel Pearl video that are unforgettably shocking. The first, of course, is the sight of his murder. Even as he looks into the camera and utters the statements that his captors demand that he utter--a confession of his Jewishness, followed by a confession of the sins of America--there is a good, genial look in his eyes, and a complete lack of despair in his voice; and then suddenly he is on the floor and a knife is passed along his throat and his severed head is raised by a hand in a white sleeve, and your heart breaks for this obviously lovely life destroyed in some low, godless corner of a deranged world. These are the images that a website called prohosters.com decided to keep online despite FBI demands that they remove them and that The Boston Phoenix controversially chose to link to. The images are, to put it mildly, tasteless; but surely there are times when truth is more important than taste. Why should Americans not see the actual savagery of some of our actual adversaries? The squeamishness of some critics of the video's distribution is certainly not owed to any mixed feelings about what it depicts, or about American policy in Muslim lands. No, it appears to be a more generalized squeamishness about the reality of the universe that the video shows: about the facticity of evil. This fear must be fiercely resisted, if we are to have clarity about the struggle in which we now find ourselves. For this reason, a viewing of this hideous video is as instructive an experience as it is a shattering one. But then there is the other shocking thing about this little snuff movie: It is a commercial. Pearl's doomed talking head is isolated within the blackened frame and surrounded by bubblelike images of the intifada. Moments before the tape's grisly climax there appears a photograph of Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush at the White House. There is a primitive soundtrack of thumps, sounding alternatively like drums or bombs. The anonymous executioner lifts his victim's head again and again, in a kind of triumphal refrain, and there appears an announcement that this has been brought to you by the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistan Sovereignty. That obscure anti-American and anti-Semitic groupuscule then lists its demands, which include the release of the f-16s the United States has not yet delivered to Pakistan. The f-16s! So the images may be raw, but the footage is not raw: This is a political advertisement, pure and simple. It was produced and edited and titled the way advertisements are produced and edited and titled. Like all advertisements, it was designed to appeal to a particular audience. The assumption of the makers of this advertisement was that it will not inspire only horror, but also admiration. Once the genre of what you have seen begins to sink in, so does a sickening feeling of just how twisted is the environment in which these enemies of ours prosper. And what remains in the mind once the "credits" have rolled is not merely disgust, but also the conviction that the only right and proper response to this variety of anti-Americanism is American power.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING CAVEATS, CONT'D: "I remember campaigning in Chicago, and one of the reporters said, 'Would you ever deficit spend?,'" reminisced President Bush last week. "I said, 'Only--only--in times of war, in times of economic insecurity as a result of a recession, or in times of national emergency.' Never did I dream we'd have a trifecta." Bush has repeated versions of this story time after time over the last several months; but as we've pointed out before, there's no reason to believe it actually happened. Last Sunday "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert told White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels that no one at NBC could find any evidence Bush had said this. "I'm not the White House librarian, so I haven't made a personal search myself," replied Daniels, "but I do know that I've heard the president say it privately and publicly, over and over, for a long time, as have scholars and theorists and supporters of balanced budgets, perhaps including Senator [Kent] Conrad." Even by the standards of Mitch Daniels, this is an astonishing piece of obfuscation. First, Daniels may not be the "White House librarian," but the White House does have researchers in its press office, who, despite repeated requests, have never produced any evidence to corroborate Bush's statement. Second, the fact that other supporters of balanced budgets have made this exception is irrelevant: The question is whether Bush made it, publicly, in Chicago--or anywhere else for that matter--during the campaign. And finally, if Daniels has heard Bush offer this caveat "publicly" and "for a long time," why can't he present just one example of Bush having done so during the campaign, as he says? The answer almost certainly is that he can't because it never happened. If the president won't admit he made this story up, will he at least stop repeating it?
IS BOB TORRICELLI ON DRUGS?: "Let the fight begin," New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli declared last week after Douglas Forrester won the Republican primary to challenge him this November. And Torricelli came out swinging, savaging Forrester for his job as president of BeneCard Services Inc., a company that manages prescription-drug plans. Forrester, Torricelli argued, "takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from prescription-drug companies, and instead of using that money to lower the cost of prescription drugs, he keeps it for himself to become a multimillionaire." It's a fair line of attack, but not exactly the one you'd expect from the senior senator from New Jersey. Torricelli, after all, has been one of the pharmaceutical companies' staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. Most famously (or infamously), in 1999 Torricelli introduced legislation to allow Schering-Plough to seek a three-year extension of its patent for the popular allergy pill Claritin. Although the bill ultimately failed--and Schering-Plough's patent on Claritin will expire this year--it could have netted the pharmaceutical giant billions. Which is probably why, the day before Torricelli introduced the legislation, Schering-Plough gave $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Torricelli then headed. Forrester may wrest the title "Senator from New Jersey" away from Torricelli this fall, but the title "Senator from Claritin"--as Torricelli is called on the Hill--is safe and sound.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A WEEK MAKES: "Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Thursday he would advise President Bush to veto any legislation creating a congressionally authorized Office of Homeland Security if Congress approves a bill this year.... Ridge's comments came as key members of Congress ramp up efforts to approve legislation that would create a full-fledged Cabinet-level position for homeland security."--Govexec.com, May 30
"White House officials say [Ridge] was a driving force behind [a Cabinet-level post], pushing for its development after meetings with department heads, members of Congress, state and local officials, private industry leaders, academics and former government officials."--The Washington Post, June 8 (Thanks to talkingpointsmemo.com.)
DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS: Due to a research error in last week's TRB, Boston was mistakenly identified as one of America's ten largest cities. While the metropolitan area ranks tenth, the city proper is twentieth. Also, the last name of a letter writer in our June 3 Correspondence section was misspelled as Reff. His name is, in fact, Jonathan Raff. We regret the errors.
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This article originally ran in the June 24, 2002, issue of the magazine.