Saturday, September 18, 2004


Jack Shafer reveals himself as a hack in this Slate tome attacking Lewis Lapham and Lapham's fears of conservative "non-profits", which Shafer laughs off as delusional and hypocritical. But what is more interesting is Shafer's tacit admission that he himself is a purveyor of Recieved Opinion, and that any editor who does not follow his example is an eccentric, unstable fool:

If Lapham finds right-wing ideas so uniformly bankrupt, "both archaic and bizarre," as he writes, why did he spend so much intellectual energy advancing them during his first tenure (1975-1981) as editor of Harper's? Lapham's piece anticipates those charges by noting that back then, "the magazine" (not the editor?) published articles by "authors later to become well-known apologists for the conservative creed, among them George Gilder, Michael Novak, William Tucker, and Philip Terzian. …" This is a deceptively short list considering the number of cons, neocons, free-thinkers, gold-bugs, and libertarians who contributed to the magazine. Lapham conspicuously neglects to name his onetime Washington Editor Tom Bethell, a supply-side touter and big-government critic who contributed at least a dozen stories about the budget, congressional pensions, welfare, the arts and politics, energy, the press, and other topics. Other Harper's writers who pitched right for Lapham the first include Ken Adelman, Paul Craig Roberts, Mark Lilla, Peter Brimelow, Lewis E. Lehrman (on bringing back the gold standard!), Michael Ledeen, Jude Wanniski, Norman Podhoretz (on appeasement!), Ben Wattenberg, and James Q. Wilson.

Harper's popularized so many right-wing economic and environmental ideas that Rob Stein might want to add another slide to his PowerPoint presentation naming Lapham an emeritus member of the conservative message machine.

I joke. But barely. I imagine that what drew Lapham to these writers was his taste for heresy—he's always loved starting fights on the playground and then bringing them back into the classroom. It's difficult to convey how unkosher these writers were in the late '70s, a time when liberal Democrats ruled Washington and the liberal establishment ran the media. Publishing contrary pieces gave Harper's an ecumenical edge because alongside the right-wing shit-stirrers, Lapham ran pieces by the brightest on the left—Richard J. Barnet, Edward Abbey, Andrew Hacker, George McGovern, Alexander Cockburn, Walter Karp, Michael Harrington, and William Shawcross, to name a few.

Well, that's quite a bit to digest. For one, the classic Nixon-Reagan talking point of late 70s "liberal media" hegemony is a real thigh-slapper, as opposed to the intended joke in the text, which is a real cricket-chirper. But the gist here is that Lapham's virtue -- publishing a genuine variety of left and right -- is a sin in Shafer's eyes, because of course it's much better to print "centrist" (actually, soft conservative) orthodoxy like what is commonly found in Shafer's Slate, whose general editorial line is yet another sorely-needed clone of The New York Times.

There's much more here boiling above and beneath the surface -- Shafer's boss Michael Kinsley has had a long-going row with Lapham and one hopes that Shafer got a nice bonus on this month's check for his hachetry -- as well as in the opportunistic use of the Randian/Conservatarian sillies of Reason's "gotcha moment", after which they immediately commenced to self-congratulatory backflips for "catching" Lapham accurately guessing at the Party Line at the Republican National Convention (as if there was ever any doubt -- look at the fucking platform!).

Anyway, great job, Shafer. I have no doubt there'll be a shiny new X-box under your Christmas tree this year, affixed card signed "Love, Michael."


Thanks to Rodger A. Payne's excellent blog, I have learned that Hesiod has come out of retirement, a pleasant surprise. If I had to place him, I'd say that Hesiod's most like Atrios: neither profound nor witty, but *extremely* resourceful, very "on the pulse", and, obviously when not retired, indefatigable.


I forget how I found this, but in The New Yorker is a piece that underlines all that is wicked in America: The New York Yankees and Republicans.

Then, in the Bronx, there’s the imperial George Steinbrenner, no master of nuance. Steinbrenner gave money to President Bush, and pleaded guilty long ago to funnelling cash illegally to Richard Nixon. (He was eventually pardoned by Ronald Reagan.) He might well be called a compassionless conservative. (Manager Joe Torre, a friend of Rudy Giuliani’s, is the compassionate one.) Or, as the Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy observed the other day, on the phone from Oakland, “There’s definitely kind of a Steinbrenner-Dick Cheney connection. They seem to be like-minded guys.” The Yankees resent the luxury tax that has been imposed so heavily on them by the commissioner’s office. Very Republican.

Of course it's not that simple (I'd say sabremetricians are becoming *very* "Republican" and that the Red Sox, too, are guilty of following the Robber Baron model). To his credit the author admits as much but is still to be commended for making the general argument, which is delicious if rather obvious. Still, he didn't connect the most glaring dots: that the Yankees and Republican governments penultimate similarity is in the fact that they are the biggest bullies in the histories of their respective fields.


A must-read companion piece to James Wolcott's series of snappy blog entries on the Kitty Kelley book is Matt Taibbi's latest:

Kelley's book is – unintentionally I think – a surprisingly tender portrait of a small, loyal group of vicious undead fiends, persevering against all odds in a world of the callous, uncomprehending living. Kelley does what no other writer to date has really done for the Bushes: she actually makes you admire them for their remarkable ability to remain consistently cold, calculating, predatory and unscrupulous in generation after generation after generation.

In one of the great laugh lines of this or any other biography, Kelley sums up the Bush charm by quoting (third-hand, mind you – there's that damn credibility thing again!) none other than Richard Nixon:

"The writer Gore Vidal recalled a conversation with his friend Murray Kempton shortly after one of the journalist's periodic lunches with Murray Kempton. Kempton had mentioned George Bush [Sr.], and according to Vidal, Nixon had responded: "Total light-weight. Nothing there – sort of person you appoint to things – but now that Barbara, she's something else again! She's really vindictive!" Vidal characterized the comment as 'the highest Nixonian compliment.'"

But then Richard Nixon hadn't met W.


As a book, The Family will merely affirm the worst suspicions of both those who hate George Bush and those who hate the Evil New York Liberal Media. But a few people who aren't too fond of the president might just change their minds. If you are the kind of person who roots for the monster in horror movies, expect to come away from The Family as a devoted Bush fan.

Do read it all, it's very very good.

Kitty Update: Read this. (Via UncleHornHead.)

Another Kitty Update: Here. (Via Fagistan.)