The New Republic's Curious Political Puddle; Just as Confused as Tom Daschle; Next Stop: A Federal Holiday on Crazy Horse's Birthday

Make text smaller Make text larger

Granted, Master Peter Beinart's place-holder editorship of The New Republic has produced a pale version of the provocative magazine two of his predecessors, Michael Kelly and Andrew Sullivan, oversaw during the 1990s, but it has a herky-jerky quality that's not altogether boring. The May 21 issue is an apt example: The cover, which shows an irritated President Bush against a blue background holding up a couple of dollar bills, is a sizzler, especially with the sensationalistic headline "He's Lying." That art direction is the highlight?along with an astute "Cambridge Diarist" column by owner Marty Peretz, in which he praises Germany as Israel's "best friend in Europe"?since the two lead stories about Bush's tax policy are rehashed yawners.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's contribution, "Going for Broke," is "adapted" from his book Fuzzy Math, and so is already out of date, containing nothing substantial about last week's congressional passage of a $1.35 trillion tax cut. It's the same tiresome argument Krugman has beaten into the ground for the past nine months at his Times perch, and concludes: "No previous administration has tried to sell its economic plans on such false pretenses. And this from a man who ran for president on a promise to restore honor and integrity to our nation's public life."

Krugman, whose economic philosophy is every bit as suspect as his Princeton colleague Peter Singer's novel ideas about human/canine sexuality (just for starters), is just being typically dishonest, as he shows with his denunciation of Bush for a supposed betrayal of his campaign agenda. In fact, Bush touted his tax reform plan since the fall of '99 and has indeed kept his promise to make it a centerpiece of his administration. You can argue about the merits of the legislation?which Jonathan Chait does in an accompanying piece, proclaiming for the 118th time that it's just not fair?but Bush has kept his word about what goals he'd pursue in his first term in the White House. Maybe Krugman's dictionary is different from mine?and considering his twin employments at Princeton and the Times it's entirely possible?but I'd say that's an example of "integrity."

Actually, the most disturbing development last week was that Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT) huddled and came up with a compromise that would drop the top tax rate to 36 percent (from 39.6 percent) instead of Bush's still-too-high 33 percent. I hope the President stays firm on his much-ballyhooed proclamation that no American should fork over more than a third of his income to the feds: any capitulation would be a severe disappointment. Yes, he'd still have shifted the debate in favor of a broad-based tax cut, but, considering the backloading of his initiative, it'd be a t-ball victory at best. It's bad enough that the White House found it necessary to gut Bush's education bill in order to appease Democrats, but that's acceptable if he can hold firm on taxes, Social Security reform and ditching the ABM treaty in favor of the missile-defense shield.

Beinart's own contribution to the issue, a liberal's tribute to hyper-focused Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform, hints at the Democrats' major political problem: the absence of a credible national spokesman who can unite the party's diverse factions. Beinart doesn't quite say it, but Sen. Tom Daschle is a public-relations nightmare, and is quickly shedding his (exaggerated) reputation as a quiet but tough negotiator in favor of a Maxine Waters/Teddy Kennedy-type rhetorical bomb-thrower. The Minority Leader has become a comical figure with recent statements such as this criticism of missile defense: "The single dumbest thing I've heard so far from this administration"; and that Bush's budget is "a nuclear bomb for fiscal discipline in this country," as well as a "major degradation of the rule of law."

Rep. Dick Gephardt, who's joined the editorial board of The New York Times in its "America Last" view, is freezing before our eyes into a Fred Flintstone figure from the early 1970s. Gephardt's time has come and gone: he hasn't been able to wrest back control of the House for the Democrats in the three elections since '94, and the GOP can only pray that somehow he'll win that 100-1 shot and snag the nomination to oppose Bush in 2004. After the U.S. was booted off the United Nations' Human Rights Commission, Gephardt, in at least symbolic solidarity with countries like Sudan, China and Sierra Leone, blamed Bush. He said: "Unfortunately, today's action demonstrates that U.S. unilateralism in foreign policy has consequences? I hope the Bush administration shifts course, and learns that our government must work cooperatively with our allies and other nations when possible to have influence abroad."

The Euro-centric Times, in a May 13 editorial, took another swipe at the United States, in this instance using Timothy McVeigh's ongoing drama as a vehicle. The writer said: "Americans who travel in Europe, whether as tourists or ambassadors, marvel at the frequency with which they are called on to defend the American legal system's reliance on capital punishment. At least among European elites, the death penalty has become an even stronger metaphor for America since the nation is led by a man who presided over 40 executions in 2000 alone and the government was preparing, until Friday, to carry out on May 16 its first federal execution in 38 years."

It's just a hunch, but I doubt that the relatives of McVeigh's Oklahoma victims give a damn about "European elites."

The Democrats happen to have an earnest, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington leader in their midst?Sen. Russell Feingold?but he's still in the doghouse for adhering to his principles and voting _to confirm Attorney General John Ashcroft despite vehemently opposing the former senator's hard-right conservatism. Feingold, unlike his partner on campaign finance reform, John McCain, really is that rare honest politician who's as likely to be upended by scandal as Laura Bush. That Feingold, whose liberal dogma is passionate and articulate, isn't given a starring role as the voice of the minority party is one reason the Democrats appear so bedraggled.

It's entirely possible that Bush will suffer congressional losses next year?a sputtering economy, the energy crisis or some foreign policy mishap could all contribute to a major defeat?but it won't be on account of the Democrats offering a sober alternative. The threatened block on judicial nominees?which Bush shrewdly derailed by nominating a first group of 11 men and women, who are mostly conservative, but included a couple of liberals and minorities?is dumb and simply reminds not only the right-wing, but Republicans in general, of the repugnant smears against Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Ashcroft.

Now, Theodore Olson might be denied the position of solicitor general because of his tangential association with The American Spectator and its relentless (and over-the-top, in my opinion) demonization of Bill Clinton. Democrats can take succor in Thomas Edsall's inconclusive Washington Post article of May 10, which relied substantially on disaffected Spectator staff writer David Brock for evidence against Olson. As The Wall Street Journal editorialized last Friday, "The 'Arkansas Project' was an exercise of The American Spectator's First Amendment rights, something much of the major media seems to think applies only to itself."

But back to Peter Beinart, who's clueless when it comes to describing conservatives. He writes about Norquist: "His real job is to host a meeting every Wednesday that brings together every species of conservative?gun nuts, home schoolers, anti-environmentalists, capital gains tax cutters?to plot strategy." This naive characterization of millions of Americans is an inexcusable blind spot for the editor of a well-read, if small-circulation, political weekly. Gun nuts? This is the elite Beltway idea of anyone who owns a gun and doesn't want his constitutional rights taken away by a DC/Manhattan/Hollywood cabal of alleged intellectuals who really do believe they know what's best for the country's citizens.

Anti-environmentalists? Home schoolers? Capital gains tax cutters? I'm surprised Beinart didn't add to his insect-like list of conservatives other pejoratives like "Bible-belters," "free-traders," "country & western music fans," and, to top it off, "pro-life crazies." It wouldn't occur to an insulated young man like Beinart, who studied at Yale and now lives in DC, that conservatives are also people who despise excessive government regulation; thieving trial lawyers; crooked and ineffectual union leaders; barely educated teachers; the phony populism that Al Gore espoused last fall (while he courted "gun nuts" in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania); and the politicians in those private clubs known as the House of Representatives and the Senate who insist on dumping taxpayers' money down the toilet.

Next Stop: A Federal Holiday on Crazy Horse's Birthday

I read New York City's daily newspapers closely, but apparently the Times editorial ridiculing the Mother's Day ban at the Upper West Side's Rodeph Sholom Day School whizzed right past me.

A joke, Señor.

Just like the private school's absurd abolition of its children participating in Mother's and Father's Day activities, reversing a decades-long practice. Cindi Samson, mouthpiece for Rodeph Sholom on this contentious issue, wrote parents this dopey note: "We are a school with many different family makeups, and we need to recognize the emotional well-being of all the children in our school. Holidays that serve no educational purpose and are not vital to the children's education need to be evaluated in terms of their importance in a school setting, as the recognition of these holidays in a social setting may not be a positive experience for all children."

Public school teachers, obviously, don't have a monopoly on stupidity. I wonder what the reaction would be if this school eliminated the observance of Kwanzaa or Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday? Wouldn't happen in today's cultural swamp, of course, but you get my drift. My sons' all-male private school, thankfully, hasn't followed the lead of Rodeph Sholom, but it's only a matter of time, I fear, till the innocent celebration of Mother's Day will go the way of airplanes departing on schedule. Ostensibly, the decision was made because some students are from broken homes?as if that's a new phenomenon?or have same-sex parents and thus feel left out of the hour or two dedicated to making mothers a present during art class. Everyone has a mother and father, regardless of whether they live in a nuclear family, and it's a shame this harmless exercise has been mauled by the rapid disintegration of common sense in affluent (and liberal) parts of the country. Yes, it's undeniably painful for a youngster who's tragically lost a parent to premature death; but Mother's or Father's Day isn't at all a bad time for that student to reflect on his heritage.

I don't care whether Daily News columnist Mike Barnicle borrowed the following lines from some unnamed source for his May 13 piece, they ring true. He wrote: "Let's get something straight: This isn't about accommodation. It's another example of promoting a social agenda that bears little resemblance to what most regard as normal... [L]ike Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and all the other horribly politically incorrect holidays that seem to offend a tiny, extremely vocal, well-connected minority. All of it, normal. Despite the predictable rants, the protests over knocking Mother's Day off the calendar have little to do with unease over gay couples raising children. Who cares what goes on next door if nobody rattles the teacups or breaks the law? It's a live-and-let-live world. The problem is that one more word?'normal'?has been stolen from the language. It's been misappropriated by politicians eager to please a special interest. It's also become a weapon, to put others on the defensive."

It's all of a piece with the daily acts of insanity that take place in schools, public and private, today. Last Friday, the Associated Press reported a story about an 11-year-old fifth-grader who was hauled away in handcuffs from Florida's Oldsmar Elementary School. His "crime"? Seems a group of classmates ratted the kid out for drawing pictures of weapons. The principal assured the media that "The children were in no danger at all. It involved no real weapons. All I can tell you is it was a threat...against students." That's the kind of double-talk Rudy Giuliani mastered in his headline-grabbing arrests of Wall Street traders in the late 80s: a boon to Rudy's political career, financial ruin for many of those victimized by his immoral behavior.

A Wall Street Journal website,, runs a daily "Zero Tolerance" watch that's a valuable track record of just how snake-bitten school administrators are today. A little girl shows up in history class with a water pistol? Might be talking expulsion. Some loudmouth junior high student brags about knocking the block off an enemy in an afterschool brawl? No college for that kid.

Meanwhile, the ninnies in Congress are wasting time trying to sabotage First Amendment rights with campaign finance "reform" while a real and present danger?the perversion of American education?continues apace. You'd think Sen. John McCain and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol might expend some of their excessive pomposity on this subject?a dire trend that's rapidly changing the way kids think and act and what they fear?instead of preaching to the converted on topics that people outside the cocoon of Washington, DC, just don't care about.

As it happened, my family spent a delightful Mother's Day together, starting with a few presents from the boys, then breakfast at Tribeca's Kitchenette, and finally an outing to Yankee Stadium where the pitiful Baltimore Orioles pulled off a miracle and slammed the Yanks 10-5 in 11 innings. Earlier in the morning, Mrs. M ran into an acquaintance on the street who said, "Oh, a baseball game, what a swell way to spend Mother's Day." Up yours, buddy. My wife, a fan, had a splendid time, and why not? The weather was gorgeous; all four of us were together; we saw the Yankees lose from excellent seats just behind their dugout; and MUGGER III finally caught the Major League ballpark bug when he came within a few feet of catching a foul ball. Junior and I kept our eyes trained on the scoreboard, jubilantly watching the postings from Boston culminate in an 11th-inning 5-4 win for the Sox, with Jason Varitek hitting a homer to end the game. Sunday's victory was right on the heels of Saturday's performance by Pedro Martinez?12 strikeouts with the oddity of his teammates actually providing offensive support?putting them in first place on the 13th of May. It's probably fleeting, but with Manny Ramirez making like Willie Mays, and a pitching staff that's leading the league in team ERA, it's gratifying to think of all the beat baseball writers who wrote off the Sox after Nomar Garciaparra had surgery and Carl Everett caused a ruckus or two in the clubhouse. As if the great Yankee teams of the late 70s didn't fight among themselves far more often than with opposing clubs.

The day before, while Mrs. M was down for the count with allergies, the boys and I went shopping uptown, which was the usual nightmare, aside from the nifty jewelbox on madison, a tiny store where we bought Mom some droopy earrings and the ladies in charge were charming, taming my rambunctious little rascals for a period of five minutes. Niketown, however, where Junior was looking for rubber-spike sneakers, was a disaster, simply because of the crowds. We witnessed a repulsive display of manners from a customer?French, of course (I do love that pissing on the Frogs is no longer a cliche, given their most recent international displays of boorishness)?who claimed she was waiting for half an hour and demanded help right that instant. Though being informed that she actually had arrived just 10 minutes earlier, in a wall-to-wall section of the complex, and, in fact, had a pair of shoes being sent up from the basement, the lady would have none of it, and using her dialect as a means of intimidation (as if the clerks cared one way or the other), stormed out in outrage. I could've sworn I saw five poodles strolling behind her, but Junior said that once again my imagination was on overdrive.

Later in the afternoon, as thunderstorms threatened, Junior's Downtown Little League Indians squeaked by with a 10-8 win against the Twins, a game that was the complete opposite of the one I described last week. Not only were the opposing squad's manager Tom Morton and the coaches gentlemen of the first order, but their group of eight-year-olds was easily the best team the Indians have faced. One future star actually made an unassisted double play, which was the most spectacular DLL defensive gem I've seen in three years as a spectator.

The Indians had many stars that day?Rafe Lepre, Troy Wong, Nile Green, Mackie Charter, just off the top of my head?and although Junior had a crummy time at the plate, chasing too many high pitches, I was pleased that he high-fived his friends when they scored, and whooped it up after the win, oblivious to a pair of whiffs. Both teams displayed the kind of sportsmanship that makes watching your kid's game a pleasure, instead of the irritation that wells up inside when oafish managers think they're playing in "The Show."

Make text smaller Make text larger




Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters