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Nicholas Stix

Bush League: Letters Page Politics at the New York Times
By Nicholas Stix
Sep 26, 2005 - 1:21:00 PM

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Being the New York Times’ lone Republican op-ed columnist comes with a price.

On September 25, the Times published not one, not two or even three, but four letters attacking columnist, David Brooks. The letters editor gave the letters the collective title, “Still Outraged, and for Good Reason.” A Democrat donor had long ago coined a better one, albeit in a different context: “Still Crazy, After All These Years.”

The correspondents wrote the sort of mindless, frothing-at-the-mouth rants that the Times has been monotonously publishing since November, 2000. (I’m just talking about anti-Bush II rants, as opposed to anti-Gingrich rants, anti-Bush I rants, anti-Reagan rants, anti-Nixon rants, anti-Ike rants, anti-Dewey rants, anti-Coolidge rants …) Now, I’m not even a fan of David Brooks, who is a pro-illegal immigration, pro-gay marriage, anti-Second Amendment, pro-War on Poverty II liberal Republican whom Pinch Sulzberger runs on the op-ed page so that he and his readers can delude themselves that the Times has a “conservative” columnist. And yet, even I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Brooks, in the face of the Times’ mischief.

Not counting five years (1980-1985) spent in West German exile, I have read the Times’ editorials and op-ed page intermittently since about 1974, during Russell Baker’s heyday. And since early 2000, like it or not, I’ve been a regular reader of those pages. The grind of reading the Times is part of my workday.

Already during the 1980s, it became clear to me that the Times’ editors protected their leftwing and affirmative action op-ed columnists from criticism. Thus, readers could heap scorn on the paper’s lone liberal Republican columnist, William Safire, and see their words in print, but its leftwing/affirmative action columnist, the logically and factually-challenged Anna Quindlen could rest easy. (I once saw Quindlen on a late night talk show – Tom Snyder, I believe – bragging about being the first AA hire to win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. What she failed to appreciate was that her Pulitzer was also an AA gift.) In recent years, Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman, and Maureen Dowd have likewise enjoyed such protection. (I’m not as sure about Nicholas Kristof.)

Meg Stewart of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., wrote,

“Thank you, David Brooks, for pointing out to us in ‘Kerry and Edwards, 2005’ (column, Sept. 22) how we all missed the boat in 2004. A narrow majority of voters helped President Bush squeak to victory over two thoughtful and outraged candidates.

“I, too, am outraged at the state of our country and the mess Mr. Bush has made of it, so Senator John Kerry speaks for me and many of us when he expresses his outrage. It is real, Mr. Brooks, and it is not to be ridiculed….

“What I don't want to hear from conservatives is ridicule at my outrage.

“What I want to hear, and have not, is ‘I'm sorry ... I'm just so sorry.’”

Even if we left aside the debatable adjectives of “thoughtful” in referring to senators Kerry and Edwards, and “conservative,” in reference to Brooks, it is simply not true that President Bush “squeaked to victory in 2004.” And in case you thought that Meg Stewart was writing with tongue in check, think again. The lady is severely irony-deficient – just the sort of person who needs to be mercilessly mocked.

Gary W. Priester, of Placitas, N.M., opens,

“David Brooks plays the conservative hate card when he says, ‘Now we all know people so consumed by hatred for George Bush that they haven't had an unpredictable thought in five years.

“We don't hate President Bush. We just hate that he has squandered the Clinton surplus and created the Bush deficit….” [Hate this, hate that, hate the other thing, but don’t hate the man.]

Blah, blah, blah. We don’t hate the sinner, just the sin. Oops, but Gary Priester didn’t cite Scripture. I’m not sure it is humanly possible, without divine intervention, to have so much hatred toward the works of a person, without hating the person, too. (Even if the correspondent’s name is German for “priest.”) And when you consider that Priester would accuse Brooks of “play[ing] the conservative hate card,” just for observing Democrat hatred, well you’ve got some human, all-too-human hate at work here. (Imagine how Priester would react to a white writer complaining about black racism!)

Douglas Gordon, of Brooklyn, mentions a sound argument from Brooks, only to refuse to acknowledge its point. Brooks pointed out that Kerry attacked Bush for not anticipating the failure of the levees, but that Kerry had himself made no such predictions. According to Gordon, being a Democrat means never having to say you’re sorry, while being a Republican means always having to say you’re sorry, which bring us back to Poughkeepsie’s Meg Stewart.

You’d never know it from the leftwing rants the Times published, but Brooks’ column was a delightful comparison-and-contrast essay on the internecine struggle within the Democrat Party, as exemplified by Kerry and Edwards’ different speeches on Hurricane Katrina. Brooks’ argument was that Kerry’s speech spoke to the wing that is content to wallow in self-righteous, narcissistic rage, while Edwards’ speech spoke to those who seek to offer the voters new programs.

“Kerry began his speech by making the point that Bush and his crew are rotten. He then went on to make the point that Bush and his crew are loathsome. In the third section of the speech, Kerry left the impression that Bush and his crew are evil.

“Now we all know people so consumed by hatred for George Bush that they haven't had an unpredictable thought in five years, but in Kerry's speech one sees this anger in almost clinical form.

[See Stewart, Meg; Priester, Gary; and Gordon, Douglas.]

“In the first place, not even Karl Rove's worldview is so obsessively Bush-centric as John Kerry's. There are many interesting issues raised by Katrina, but for Senator Ahab it all goes back to the great white monster, Bush. Bush and his crew should have known the levees were weak. Bush and his crew should have known thousands in New Orleans would be trapped. (Did I miss Kerry's own warnings on these subjects?)….

“And as the speech stretches on, a second thought occurs: Doesn't this guy ever get bored? If Kerry ever makes an anti-Bush jab, he makes it again….”

Well, I’ll say this for the folks at the Times, their readers, and John Kerry: They are nothing, if not consistent in their hatreds … and their irony deficiency. They remind all with eyes to see, why their standard bearer lost the 2004 election. And they permit, in their inchoate rage, George W. Bush and the GOP to get away with selling the American people short. After all, Bush & Co. need merely point at the world of the Kerry wing and the New York Times and say, “Hey, it’s us or the rabid dogs.”

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