Category Archives: New York Times op-ed

>Courage & Anger

>Frank Rich’s column yesterday, “Gay Bashing At The Smithsonian,” brings to mind an issue which has troubled me for some time. And that’s the issue of courage.

Rich discusses the removal of the late artist David Wojnarowicz’s work from an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. He writes:

When his mentor and former lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, fell ill with AIDS in 1987, Wojnarowicz created a video titled “A Fire in My Belly” to express both his grief and his fury. As in Haring’s altarpiece, Christ figures in Wojnarowicz’s response to the plague — albeit in a cryptic, 11-second cameo. A crucifix is besieged by ants that evoke frantic souls scurrying in panic as a seemingly impassive God looked on.

This is the piece that was originally included in the Smithsonian’s exhibition, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which is advertised as “a serious examination of the role sexual identity has played in the creation of modern American portraiture.” The National Portrait Gallery yanked “Fire in My Belly” from its exhibit in early December after the Smithsonian caved to a manufactured piece of outrage which I daresay few Americans even heard about.

Back to Rich:

Like many of its antecedents, the war over Wojnarowicz is a completely manufactured piece of theater. What triggered the abrupt uproar was an incendiary Nov. 29 post on a conservative Web site. The post was immediately and opportunistically seized upon by William Donohue, of the so-called Catholic League, a right-wing publicity mill with no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.


It took only hours after Donohue’s initial battle cry for the video to be yanked. “The decision wasn’t caving in,” the museum’s director, Martin E. Sullivan, told reporters. Of course it was. The Smithsonian, in its own official statement, rationalized its censorship by saying that Wojnarowicz’s video “generated a strong response from the public.” That’s nonsense. There wasn’t a strong response from the public — there was no response. As the museum’s own publicist told the press, the National Portrait Gallery hadn’t received a single complaint about “A Fire in the Belly” from the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 30, until a full month later, when a “public” that hadn’t seen the exhibit was mobilized by Donohue to blast the museum by phone and e-mail.

The museum caved. They caved. Why?

Time and again we see groups (and politicians) cave in the face of such obviously manufactured political theater. Where is the courage? Who thinks capitulation is a winning strategy, that it does nothing more than ensure future fake campaigns?

Why was Shirley Sherrod asked to resign so quickly last summer? Why was Van Jones thrown under the bus? Why do our Democratic leaders and institutions cave to the right wing noise machine, time and time again?

Why do they act so afraid that some pundit somewhere is saying something mean about them?

The fact that Republicans are allowed to do the same (or worse) without any pearl-clutching in the media proves how politically motivated these “fauxtrages” are. It’s all about framing, fear-mongering, indulging in stereotypes and retreading that well-worn path allowing the majority to pretend it is a persecuted minority, thus redirecting anger to a more politically expedient target.

Yes, it pisses me off. And with all of that swirling around in my head I turned the page and read Ishmael Reed’s op-ed piece in the same issue of the New York Times (expanded upon at blogs like my second home, The Swash Zone). Apparently, progressives calling for President Obama (and other Democrats) to show some backbone in the face of unprecedented GOP obstructionism need to STFU because we simply don’t understand what it’s like to be a black person in America:

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.

Um, here’s a news flash for you: President Obama has already been dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. Or haven’t you been listening to Glenn Beck, the very same right wing commentator who cost Van Jones his job? Were you paying attention when Ben Stein came out and called then-candidate Barack Obama an angry black man on Fox News in 2008? No? Well, we progressives were, and we countered those accusations every time. Where were you?

Look, the “angry” label is nothing new, nor is it unique to black intellectuals. Maybe you weren’t paying attention when Republicans called Hillary Clinton “too angry” to win a presidential election in 2008. Karl Rove called Al Gore “one angry dude.” Howard Dean was too angry to be president in 2004 and here he is screaming after a primary win to prove it! We’re “the angry left,” and voters “don’t elect angry candidates,” as former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman famously told ABC News. (For some reason anger isn’t a negative for the Tea Party, though — despite their guns and Town Hall shouting matches and hanging representatives in effigy. IOKIYAR.)

I get that there is a strategy among those in power exploiting cultural stereotypes and stoking fear of the “angry black male” to oppress black advancement in this country. That’s the same reason we hear women are too emotional and gays are pedophiles and all Muslims are terrorists. We all have our baggage and yes, some people’s baggage might be heavier than others. But that doesn’t mean we capitulate to it. Caving to the whims of the hate machine which makes these erroneous claims does not make them go away. It enables them!

This is standard issue right wing framing. Liberals have been labeled “angry” (even “too angry”) for decades, and guess what, we are angry. We were angry when protestors rioted at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and we were angry when we protested the Vietnam War and we were angry when we burned our bras in the 1970s and we were angry when we protested apartheid in the 1980s and we were angry when we protested the WTO conference in Seattle in 2000. Hell we were so angry over the stolen election in 2000 and subsequent Bush presidential misdeeds that we created a bumper sticker about it, which the Tea Party has conveniently co-opted.

It’s okay to be angry. Angry people get things done. I just never understood why being angry was supposed to be a bad thing, anyway. Just because the RNC says it is?

So no, I’m not going to tell Democrats not to be angry because Tweety might have a sad or Joke Line may wring his hands about frothy-mouthed liberal bloggers. Getting angry is okay, if you are fighting for your principles.

This is where courage comes in. Getting back to Ishmael Reed’s op-ed, I have to say I was mighty offended when I read this:

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

Well damn, there’s a stereotype for you! Here’s a news flash for Mr. Reed: not all white progressives are used to getting it all, either. And I’ll be damned if I’ll be lectured on stereotypes by someone who can’t even recognize one when it pops out of his own keyboard.

Stand up and show some backbone, Democrats. Don’t cave to the right wing noise machine. Don’t agree to a political approach which neuters liberal outrage, and only allows conservatives to get angry. Every time you do so progress takes a step back. Every capitulation emboldens the opposition. It’s OK to be angry and it’s even better to use that anger to harden your resolve.

And I guarantee you that the Republicans are going to say mean things about you. You can take that to the bank. You know what? They’re going to say mean things anyway.


Filed under art, culture wars, Democratic Party, GLBT, New York Times op-ed, President Barack Obama, racism, right wing

>Nick Kristof Is Very Serious. Really.

>Someone must have sent a World Vision brochure to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof because in today’s column he makes the startling discovery that there are Christian groups operating charities in Third World countries! Oh my God, stop the presses.

Kristof is one of the most annoying of the media elite, not just because he has defended Third World sweatshops in a dozen or more columns (“Hey! People are lining up for those jobs!”). No, he annoys me primarily because he has such a myopic view of the world. His opinions are clearly shaped by his position of privilege and his rounds of the cocktail party circuit. Kristof sits atop an ivory tower and as a result, his Very Serious New York Times columns are riddled with stereotypes. Worse, they carry that unmistakeable stench of superiority.

Today’s is no different. Indeed, he lost me at hello:

For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”

Over the last decade, however, that divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.

”Many Americans,” Nick? You mean you, right? Right away he pisses me off by lumping everyone into two categories. There are no liberal or Democratic evangelicals in Kristof’s world, nor are there any Republicans who care about foreign aid. It’s all one big unhappy stereotype.

Please don’t tell Kristof that World Vision, the evangelical Christian organization he devotes much of his column to, was founded in 1950. Please also don’t tell him about groups like Sojourners, the evangelical liberal group founded by Jim Wallis in 1971.

Here’s another one:

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations.

”Some liberals,” Nick? Who? Someone you talked to at a cocktail party, perhaps? Or an anonymous blog commenter?

Is there a bill? A movement? An organization backing this? Anything? Not that I’ve heard. You know, there will always be debate on blogs about this but the reality is, every policy maker from the local level on up to the State Department knows that charitable groups do the heavy lifting when it comes to aid. They have to. Tea Baggers’ lamentations notwithstanding, our government is not that big. Be it homeless shelters in your local town or schools and orphanages in Africa, NGOs do the work. And the reality is, most of those groups are religious. This is not new, it’s been this way for decades. I guess Kristof was the last to get the memo.

No one is seriously talking about doing away with government funds for these groups, it would be impossible to do so. But Kristof probably talked to someone at a cocktail party and therein lies the basis of his column.

And then we get to that telltale Kristofian air of superiority. Folks, I bring you last night’s Tweet:

Snooty and sanctimonious? Kristof must have been looking in a mirror.


Filed under New York Times op-ed

>Asking McCain To Give What He Can’t Deliver

>Silly New York Times! While wingnuts are trying to present the Times’ rejection of John McCain’s op-ed as an example of “liberal bias”, Times Op-Ed page editor David Shipley actually explained to the McCain campaign why the draft was rejected in this letter:

It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory — with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the senator’s Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan.

Of course, John McCain can’t do any of those things because he hasn’t a fucking clue. Like George W. Bush, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are mere props for a presidential power grab. It’s window dressing; hell, it’s barely real. It’s all just backdrop for the photo op.

But have no fear: Rupert Murdoch to the rescue! Murdoch’s NY Post had no problems publishing McCain’s “error-filled” op-ed. It seems to me the New York Times was doing John McCain a favor by not giving him an opportunity to embarrass himself.

Guess that’s what happens when you have no editorial standards.

Meanwhile, only “friendly” reporters who throw softballs will be allowed in the interview area on McCain’s new “Straight Talk Express” campaign airplane. That ought to teach uppity journalists a lesson.

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Filed under 2008 presidential election, John McCain, New York Times op-ed

>Or, How Not To See It

>A classic example of how the media continues to get Iraq wrong was in yesterday’s New York Times Op-Ed page. Nine contributors were asked to offer their views on “How To See This Mission Accomplished.” Here’s the intro:

For the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq, the Op-Ed page asked nine experts on military affairs to identify a significant challenge facing the American and Iraqi leadership today and to propose one specific step to help overcome that challenge.

Nine contributors. Nine “military experts.” Let’s meet them, shall we?

• Nathaniel Fick, former United States Marine Corps officer, now with the Center for a New American Security.

• Anthony H. Cordesman, former National Security Assistant to John McCain, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

• Frederick Kagan, pro-Iraq War booster and “surge” architect, now at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.

• Paul D. Eaton, retired Army general in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004, now an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

• L. Paul Bremer III, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, loyal Bushie and the guy blamed with screwing up the Iraq occupation.

• Danielle Pletka, Ahmad Chalabi’s BFF and pro-Iraq War booster at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.

• Richard Perle, Neocon and PNACer, and loyal pro-Iraq War booster, now at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.

• Anne-Marie Slaughter, pro-Bush Administration booster and dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.

• Kenneth M. Pollack, the pro-Iraq War booster at the Brookings Institution.

The vast majority of these nine contributors are people who have all been horribly, hopelessly wrong on Iraq. They are almost entirely people who beat the pro-war drums from the beginning, then offered “clap louder” lies and disinformation as it all disintegrated into a pile of shit from which no pony has yet to emerge.

And all nine of these people offer just one viewpoint on Iraq: the military viewpoint. There are no peace activists. There are no human rights activists. There are no diplomats. There are no energy policy experts or even economic policy experts.

It’s atrocious enough that the “liberal” New York Times would deliver an Op-Ed piece on the Iraq War and provide a predominantly pro-war, pro-Bush Administration slate of opinion writers. Failure to ask even one peace activist, UN official or diplomat their views shows how one-sided this “conversation” really is.

But like most news outlets they cover war from a solely military angle. War isn’t just a military exercise. It’s a human exercise. It’s involves the entire nation, the entire world. There is far more to the story of war than just what the Pentagon has to say. If we’re going to discuss how to “accomplish the mission,” asking only a bunch of pro-war people doesn’t give us the complete picture.

I’m tired of hearing from the Generals. I’m tired of hearing from Paul Bremer, Richard Perle, Kenneth Pollack and the buffoons at the American Enterprise Institute. These people have been wrong for too long. Why the New York Times continues to give them column space when they’ve yet to be right about anything is a mystery to me.

Let’s hear from some of the people who were right about Iraq for a change. Maybe we’ll finally learn something.

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Filed under Iraq War, media, New York Times op-ed

>Premature Celebration

>It’s sad when right-wing pundits like Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, and even our own Bill Hobbs clutch so desperately to such flimsy shreds of hope as yesterday’s Ken Pollack and Mike O’Hanlon NY Times op-ed.

Glenn Greenwald thoroughly debunks the “rank deceit” of the “liberal” Brookings twosome, who claim to be war critics suddenly and unexpectedly impressed by the progress in Iraq. In fact, they’ve been cheering on the war from the beginning–Greenwald documents Pollack/O’Hanlon war boosterism and false claims of progress going back to 2003. So have Greg Sargent and ThinkProgress. But don’t trust them — or me. You can read Pollack and O’Hanlon’s pro-war oeuvre for yourself over at the Brookings Institution.

So what we really have are two well-known war boosters and Bush surge supporters telling us how great everything is going after an 8-day Pentagon-guided tour of Iraq. Stop the fucking presses.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped the story from ricocheting across the mainstream media: “Harsh war critics do about-face! Huzzah!” I first heard such crowing on CNN yesterday morning, when <a href="
“>Heidi Collins interviewed Ken Pollack about how swimmingly things were going in Anbar province. Another U.S. Marine was killed there today. That’s progress?

Today I learn that Fox News and other conservative media outlets are touting this Op-Ed piece as some kind of vindication, as if Pollack and O’Hanlon have never been wrong about anything (they have). This is the same group of people who routinely dismiss the New York Times as liberal propaganda, who write off everything the Brooking Institute publishes. Now they suddenly believe the rainbows-and-lollipops picture of Iraq portrayed by Pollack/O’Hanlon? Are they that desperate for good news?

Here in Left Blogistan, we know better. We enjoyed poking fun at the New York Times’ more clueless op-ed writers; Atrios has his “Friedman Unit,” a snort of derision that even has its own Wikipedia entry. Personally, I believe David Brooks is senile and should retire to his front porch. Liberals know better than to jump all over a NY Times Op-Ed as proof of anything; this one was particularly bad because everyone from CNN to Bill Hobbs have touted Pollack and O’Hanlon’s “liberal war critic” cred as proof that what they write about Iraq has to be true: “Hey, if even vocal war critics say the surge is working …!”

Problem is, it’s not true. Pollack and O’Hanlon are not war critics, and as Greenwald has ably documented, they’ve got a history of seeing progress in Iraq where clearly none has been.

Here’s another Op-Ed to chew on. Top-ranking Republican and war supporter Sen. Chuck Hagel’s Washington Post piece from April 2007. You remember, the one in which the Vietnam Veteran and Senator from Nebraska writes:

I came home from my fifth trip to Iraq with one enduring impression. The Iraqi government must make the tough choices now to produce political reconciliation. If there is no such reconciliation in Iraq, there will be no progress — no matter how many American lives we lose and how much American money we give. We will have squandered our resources and efforts, undermined our interests in the Middle East and, however unintentionally, produced a more dangerous world.

Well it must be true! He’s a Republican, and he voted for the war! I’m sure with these credentials, Bill Hobbs, Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt were all over that one.

No? I wonder why.

It’s curious to observe the orgiastic response to the Pollack/O’Hanlon piece. Again, I have to get back to, why? Some folks are saying it’s because conservatives are eager to paint a portrait of near-victory in Iraq. That way, when the Democrats take control in 2009, they can blame the Dems for “losing” in Iraq, like they’ve tried to blame liberals for “losing” in Vietnam all these years. That sounds about right; everything has a political motive with this crowd. Problem is, it’s not going to work. Truth shines through, it’s a natural law. Iraq was a mistake and nothing will fix it. All we can do is cut our losses.

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Filed under conservative bloggers, Iraq, Ken Pollack, Mike O'Hanlon, New York Times op-ed