August 19, 1996
Here We Go Again
"G children, and of the United States," the Russian-born political scientist Moisei Ostrogorski remarked in 1902, on the subject of our presidential nominating procedures. Ostrogorski, like many high-minded reformers of the Progressive era, thought America's boss-ridden, coalition- based, two-party system drained the country of responsible and principled leadership.
August 12, 1996
"It is not only a great honor, but also a great challenge, for an advocate to aid this tribunal in its task." --Defense counsel Hans Rolfe, Judgment at Nuremberg Poor Abby Mann. Somebody's cribbed a page from his screenplay. A few weeks ago, Edward Medvene announced he would defend Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic at his war crimes tribunal in The Hague. (General Ratko Mladic, the other main defendant, will be tried separately.) Perhaps inevitably, the Los Angeles lawyer sounded as if he were trying out for Judgment at Nuremberg.
July 29, 1996
A Man of Good Intentions
Profound disappointment creased the usually impassive face of Warren Christopher the night of May 29. The secretary of state and his staff on the seventh floor of the State Department were hearing about the election returns from Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, a committed foe of trading the Golan Heights for peace with Hafez al-Assad's Syria, had defeated Shimon Peres, Israeli architect of the land-for-peace enterprise. Christopher had invested more than three years of effort, as well as presidential, national and personal prestige in trying to broker such a deal.
July 15, 1996
The end of obscenity
On June 11, three judges in Philadelphia struck down parts of the Communications Decency Act. The decision, ACLU v. Reno, is being justly celebrated as the New York Times v. Sullivan of cyberspace, an occasion for dancing in the chat rooms. The three judges understood how the old First Amendment battles are being overtaken by new technologies; and in an endearingly self-dramatizing touch, they had their separate opinions distributed on floppy disks.
Welcome to the Olympic Village
Matthew Cooper talks about race and the Atlanta Olympics
Loathing In Las Vegas
On the airplane, I caught sight of someone reading the latest issue of U.S. News and World Report, with a cover story on "How to Raise a Moral Child." It sounded like typical middlebrow sermonizing, based on the assumption that morality (that is, morality as defined by the editors of the magazine) could be taught in the same way as spelling or darts. It's not that simple, as I could attest. Here I was traveling to Las Vegas with a polygraph expert to interview a man who, I believed, did not have an adult sense of right and wrong.
July 08, 1996
Reed in the Wind
Active Faith: How Christians Are Changing the Soul of American Politics by Ralph Reed (The Free Press, 311 pp., $25) The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore (W.W. Norton, 191 pp., $22) Ralph Reed is Pat Robertson's boy, but his new book contains not a trace of such Robertsonian concerns as Armageddon, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Warburgs and the Rothschilds, or, for that matter, God. Rather than propose that the United States become a theocracy, Reed heatedly renounces the idea.
Poor Justice O'Connor! For the past three years, she's struggled ineffectually to split the difference between four liberal Justices, who think that the Constitution doesn't prevent the states from drawing voting districts on the basis of race, and four conservative Justices, who think it does. But last week, in striking down majority black congressional districts in Texas and North Carolina, she found an ingenious solution to her dilemma.
June 24, 1996
What Right to Die?
It's hard not to be moved by emotional accounts of how laws prohibiting assisted suicide can drive pain-wracked people to desperate ends. A year ago, in The New Yorker, Andrew Solomon wrote eloquently about how he and his brother helped their mother take sleeping pills to spare her the final agonies of ovarian cancer, an ordeal made even more harrowing by the fear of prosecution. All of the jurors who acquitted Dr. Jack Kevorkian in May similarly said they were influenced by videotapes in which two women suffering from chronic pain described their anguish and pleaded to be allowed to die.
May 27, 1996
"He talks a great game, and right now 55 percent of the people view him as a moderate. We need to change that. That's why we're talking about his liberal judges." --Bob Dole, The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1996. Judicial bashing, by and large, is a wholesome tradition in American democracy. Jefferson's attacks on the "sappers and miners" of the Federalist judiciary helped to chasten a rabidly partisan Justice Samuel Chase. FDR's saber-rattling hastened the "switch-in-time" that saved the New Deal.