jack kemp, considered by many conservatives as the great white hope of the Republican Party, has a strange weakness for America's premier black racist, Louis Farrakhan. On a campaign stop in Harlem during his 1996 vice-presidential campaign, Kemp praised Farrakhan as a "wonderful" supply-side role model for inner-city blacks, without mentioning Farrakhan's race-hate preaching against whites or his pathological obsession with Jews.
Kemp was prompted to embrace Farrakhan by his somewhat eccentric advisor, Jude Wanniski, a Wall Street economic advisor whose supply-side theories are highly influential in some conservative circles. But the two went much further earlier this month at Wanniski's annual gathering for clients and admirers at Boca Raton, Fla. Lured by such stars as Kemp, conservative columnist Robert Novak and key legislators like Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Budget Committee, approximately 100 Wall Street and industrial movers and shakers came to hear a 90-minute talk by the gathering's main attraction, Minister Farrakhan.
The Kemp-Wanniski agenda in Boca Raton was to introduce representatives of the white establishment to the "new" Farrakhan, a smooth-talking advocate of inner-city "self-reliance" -- a nostrum dear to the hearts of some conservative theorists -- and to promote reconciliation with the fanatic and his gullible followers. Novak, who moderated the event, described Farrakhan as "a man trying to transcend his past."
While Minister Farrakhan was supposedly undertaking that effort, his followers were distributing hundreds of thousands of copies of the March issue of his newspaper, the Final Call, to black communities across the nation. The issue accuses whites of "lynching" O.J. Simpson and insinuates that Jewish manipulators of the media deliberately scheduled NBC's airing of "Schindler's List" during Black History Month as an insult to African-Americans. It also reprints an article by the late Elijah Muhammad about the coming "fall of America" -- a fall ordained by God because of this nation's irredeemable wickedness -- and prints a message that Libyan dictator Moammar Kadhafi sent to Farrakhan's recent Saviors' Day Convention in Chicago.
What attracts these white conservatives -- who presumably don't read the Final Call -- to Farrakhan? Like the Marxists of a bygone era, Kemp and Wanniski are convinced that economics is destiny, even in the poorer segments of the black community. Convinced that "enterprise zones" will cure America's inner-city problems, they regard anyone who adopts such market-oriented solutions with favor. What they perhaps did not know was that only weeks earlier, Farrakhan had relaunched his own crusade for an independent and separate black state to be carved out of America. This, it is true, would be a self-reliant entity, but one premised on the belief that white America is irredeemably racist -- a belief that repudiates everything Kemp presumably holds dear.
If Louis Farrakhan wants to convince the objects of his venom that he is interested in reconciliation, he does not need Jack Kemp, Jude Wanniski or Robert Novak to act as interpreters for him. Any day Minister Farrakhan wants to show that he has changed his malevolent tune, he can do so very simply and all by himself. He can begin by repudiating the creed that he preaches: that white people are "blue-eyed devils" created by a mad scientist named Yakub, that they are guilty of monstrous crimes against humanity and are therefore slated for destruction by God, in order that the world may be saved. Then, he can stop his publication and distribution of "The Secret History of Blacks and Jews," which is the Nation of Islam's own home-grown version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, portraying Jews as the diabolical and conspiratorial enemies of blacks through history.
Until Farrakhan publicly repudiates such abhorrent and outrageous views, it's shameful for American conservatives to have anything to do with him.
March 20, 1997
THE SCARLET LETTER -- 1997
The critical bile poured upon Kathryn Harrison's "The Kiss" says more about the critics, and about our view of human weakness, than it does about the book.
BY NELL BERNSTEIN
should Kathryn Harrison be strung up in a public square for writing about her incestuous relationship with her father? Or just prosecuted for profiting from the account of a crime?
Critics were ready to slap Harrison in the stockades even before her memoir, "The Kiss," appeared in bookstores early this month. Since publication, Harrison has been held responsible for everything from the greed of American publishers to the excesses of Oprah Winfrey.
Michael Shnayerson threw the first stone at Harrison in the February Vanity Fair. In an article titled "Women Behaving Badly," he characterized her as part of a "new wave" of scorn-worthy female memoirists. Among Shnayerson's charges: Harrison is pretty, and will capitalize on that by putting her picture on the book cover. (She didn't.) She is a "tease" because she doesn't go into pornographic detail. She is mercenary, revealing sordid incidents to further her career. Finally (Shnayerson consulted a psychoanalyst for this), she is allowing "the abuse to be repeated ... because she accepts the abuse as adoration, which she craves."
There was certainly no lack of abuse from reviewers. The first sentence of Jonathan Yardley's review in the Washington Post included "slimy, repellent, meretricious, cynical." He went on to charge, "This confession isn't from the heart, it's from the pocketbook," adding that critics and authors who praised it "should be sentenced to perdition eternal." The New York Times' Maureen Dowd characterized "The Kiss" as "creepy people talking about creepy people." Salon's review characterized the book as a "numbed and numbing narrative" and warned readers: "You'll find more sizzle at a backyard barbecue."
What is everybody so upset about?
Some clue may come from a recent television interview in which a reporter leaned in and asked Harrison why she wasn't angrier. "I was outraged for you!" the reporter exclaimed. Harrison is resolutely unvictim-like -- blame doesn't seem to interest her. One reason she is inspiring plenty of hatred may be that what we really despise is the victim who won't hide her shame.
As vague as they are vicious, the attacks on Harrison also reveal a wish to go back to a time when the public forum was the exclusive property of great men recounting mighty deeds, while women and children protect family secrets. According to this standard, adversity is an acceptable topic only if you've triumphed over it in some dramatic fashion. If -- like most of us -- you've simply experienced it, absorbed it and carried on, you'd better hold your tongue.
Shnayerson makes it clear that he does not object to memoirs, but merely to those written by women who feel compelled to use the form for purposes of "liberation." In other words, he attacks "The Kiss" in an effort to reclaim the first-person singular for heroes looking back on their illustrious lives. While it is true that "The Kiss" does reflect a growing trend toward memoirs that take as their terrain private rather than public life, Harrison hardly seems poised to topple the reflective elder statesman (Walter Cronkite's memoir has been settled into the New York Times Best Seller list for over three months now).
Other critics say the problem is not so much with Harrison's story, or the way she tells it, as with the over-crowded genre itself. It may be true that not every story is worth telling, but the critics aren't ganging up on Michael Pollan for his book-length account of building a shed in his backyard. And lumping Harrison's memoir together with a tell-all by Mark Fuhrman (currently No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list) misses the point. A flash-in-the-pan celebrity using someone else's tragedy to set up a book deal is not the same thing as an established author using her own life as material. That is what writers do. If we no longer believe our stories can be of use to each other, we may as well abolish the book altogether.
Shnayerson and others have also asked why Harrison felt the need to write a memoir when she had already described many of the same events in her novels. This suggests an equally legitimate question -- why is she being so roundly attacked for the memoir when the novels garnered praise?
The answer may be that by naming her story "true," she has finally really "told." That, even more than the actions she recounts, has violated a taboo.
"Why didn't you tell someone?" people are always asking victims of everything from harassment to rape to incest. The critical response to "The Kiss" certainly answers that question.