Letters to the Editor

Is Bush controversy about character or issues? Plus: Fame and notoriety after 500-man gangbang; ugly Americans in Beirut and Berlin.

By Letters to the Editor
September 8, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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It's about character, stupid


Fred Branfman isn't entirely accurate in characterizing the furor over Clinton's
dalliances with Monica Lewinsky as highlighting something new about the
frailties of our presidents. The American public is often more aware of
our past presidents' shortcomings than their accomplishments. Ask anyone
about Jefferson and the name Sally Hemings will more often than not
precede any mention of the Declaration of Independence or the Louisiana
Purchase. Certainly Ulysses Grant and Warren Harding are remembered for
nothing but their scandalous presidencies.


We have a long history of putting up with rascals in the Oval Office or
its previous iterations. It is very rare that we have had a
commander in chief with the dignity of a Washington or a Lincoln. For the
most part we will elect individuals as flawed and conflicted as
ourselves. And we must accept that the hurly-burly of modern politics may
compromise the choices laid out before us.

If we want to "restore dignity" to the office it is ultimately our own
responsibility. We must demand and seek "character" in our highest
office, not allow a candidate's acolytes to decide for us what we are
privileged to know or not know. Only once we do know, we may decide
whether to elect what we deserve.

-- Erich S. Huang


Fred Branfman is wrong about Clinton's supposed "demystification of the
presidency." Election mentality is different from incumbent mentality. If
Clinton had another election to endure, he would lose over Monicagate. The
public would vote him out simply to avoid the further interruption in the
public's business. But when citizens invest their most prized political tool
(their votes) in a candidate, those who would remove that official must leap
over a higher bar. The Republicans tripped over it in 1998.

Branfman does note that "in the old days," the
public was hypocritical and used divorce as a disqualifying factor in
Rockefeller's case. But there is no evidence that the public has become
much less hypocritical since 1960. Perhaps divorce is no longer a factor;
but, in the hands of party spin-operatives and breathless media,
evidence of hard drugs usage is still a non-starter for any presidential
wannabe. Certainly for Republicans ... look at their own polls about W and

Our government won't improve
until competent, average citizens decide to run for office, and that won't
happen if they think the garbage cans of their private lives are going to be
ransacked. Candidates, when asked questions of a personal nature, should all
say, "Next!" Eventually, the media will get the idea: It's the issues, stupid!


-- Ron Duplantis

Fred Branfman writes, "What if he were addicted? Sold the
drug? ... Why did he stop? Did he think about the potential harm it could do
to his father's political career if he got caught?" These questions don't go to the heart of Bush's character, they go to the heart of Branfman's imagination. I
would hope that candidates would be judged by their character in the era
in which they're running. Bush has stated he hasn't used drugs in more than
20 years, which is still disclosing more than the public needs to know.
He doesn't use drugs now nor does he endorse their use. The man that may
be president is the George W. Bush of 1999. If he has the political
qualifications and speaks to people's needs now, the decisions he made
concerning his personal life 20-odd years ago shouldn't matter.


-- Stacey Pasco

Don't ask, he'll tell


Amid surreal opposition, Steve May is doing a good job in the Arizona Legislature. Though it bothers me, as a gay man and a lifelong Democrat, to approve of a Mormon Republican, I have stopped laughing. Go Steve! Keep telling -- and get rid of that stupid policy for good!


-- Frank Hartigan

Tempe, Ariz.

Isn't it misleading to describe May as an openly gay Mormon? The Mormon
church explicitly disapproves of homosexual activity and ordinarily
excommunicates members of the church who willfully practice, much less
publicly advocate, a homosexual lifestyle or political agenda. I think that
point should be made. Otherwise your article appears to normalize the homosexual lifestyle -- "Gee, even Mormons can be openly gay." This is very misleading. I suspect May
would concede that his alleged Mormon identity and his avowed gay identity
are quite contradictory.

-- Dave Frame


"Log Cabin Republicans"? When you consider that the most
forward-thinking Republican is a good 20 years behind the curve, wouldn't gay Republicans be better off supporting their friends, rather than making excuses for their enemies?

-- Michael F. McCarthy Jr.

West Palm Beach, Fla.

The gang's all here



Apparently we have reached a point in our society where people are so
desperate to become famous that they will do anything, no matter how
degrading. I'm not too old to remember when a person became famous for
contributions to society, hard work or a long-distinguished career.
This new breed of celebrity constantly confuses "fame" with "notoriety."


I cannot for the life of me understand what would motivate someone to
act out what is supposed to be an intimate expression of love in front
of a camera with 500 men present. Instead of placing ice on her
genitals, as your story stated, she should have iced her head.
I read the passage about her tucking her daughter into bed, and
realized we'll never see anything about Houston under "Mothers Who

-- Kirby F. Warnock


Caught in the crossfire


How dull and predictable. Gosh -- tanks and soldiers in Beirut. Really?
Imagine that (with a war going on in the south and the threat of
Israeli attacks on civilian targets whenever they damn well please).


Your writers showed all the insight one should expect from people fresh off
the boat. The empty McDonald's and the mother angrily chastising her baby
daughter were colorful touches designed to make Lebanon seem even more
eerie to your average readers. The lack of people in the McD's could be an
indication of the late hour of the attack, or perhaps an indication that
the Lebanese have good taste in food. And is it even remotely possible the
mother might have been every bit as frightened and stressed as her child?

Who were these blasi people they met? Although I was in England at the time
of the attack, I can tell you that the majority of my friends here were just
as terrified as the two authors were, and for good reason -- this was not
"just another day" in Lebanon. Yes, Israeli warplanes buzz the city with
monotonous regularity and bomb the south and the Bekaa several times a month,
but Beirut hasn't been bombed since the last time Israel attacked in 1996.

I suppose with pidgin Arabic and 20 years of prejudice to overcome, one
might easily jump to the conclusion that Beirutis are insensitive to major
artillery fire. Your authors certainly did. However I am sure that once they
have been here for a reasonable amount of time they will realize that what
they thought was insensitivity is actually resignation -- Lebanon is a
convenient target 24/7 as far as Israel is concerned and no one anywhere
even bothers to denounce this fact, preferring to concentrate on the
occasional civilian fatality in the kibbutz of N. Israel.

This article, dressed as it is in "travel feature" guise, only adds to the misconceptions and irrational
prejudice that already shroud this city -- especially in American eyes. Yes,
300 Marines died here; so did 35,000 Lebanese civilians. Get over


-- Warren Singh-Bartlett

The ugly American embassy



What a contrast the pushy, flashy, self-righteous, short-sighted,
megalomaniacal U.S. embassy is to everything the careful, imaginative,
comprehensive, forward-looking yet historical "new" Berlin is aiming to represent.

-- Terra Lynch

The carousels of Paris

When I was a student in Paris during the early 1960s, carousels were a
bright spot in the otherwise dark gray "City of Light," whose buildings
culture minister Malraux had just begun to pressure wash. The mood of Paris
was as somber, with the Algerian War's terrorist acts shattering the city's
peace and quiet.

Thirty years later, in 1990, I returned to Paris with my wife and three
daughters. One of my most enjoyable moments was watching them ride the
"manege," near the stairs that lead up to Montmartre's Sacre Coeur. (Watching
my 3-year-old Caitlin chase the pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens was a
close second.)

Last year I visited my mother in upstate New York, and took her shopping at
the Carousel Center mall near Syracuse. I thought this was an interesting
name for a mall and asked her about it. She pointed to the carousel on
display and said, "Do you see that? It used to be at Roseland, near
Canandaigua. You used to ride on those horses when you were a kid." I had
come full circle.

-- Chuck Ralston

The respectable cult


Like Jonestown in slow motion



Laura Miller and Caroline Fraser fail to point out that many families turned
to Christian Science when medical treatment failed them. They also
have ignored Mary Baker Eddy's statement urging patients to seek other treatment when Christian Science treatment has not resulted in healing.

Personally, I am extremely grateful that Christian Science treatment
is available. In 1985, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis based,
in part, on an MRI. I was told by three different neurologists that
there was little that could be done for my condition. After a year of
depression in response to this verdict, I sought Christian Science
treatment. I was covered under my employer's long-term disability
plan; however, in 1993 benefits were discontinued (much to my joy!)
after an MRI and my neurologist could no longer find any evidence of the disease.

Also, Fraser's alarm that taxpayer dollars are being misused through
Medicare's coverage of Christian Science nursing services is almost
laughable when the cost of Christian Science treatment is compared to
conventional medical treatment. My last treatment from a Christian
Science practitioner cost $10. A medical doctor costs a bit more!
Since Christian Science prohibits alcohol and tobacco use, perhaps the
taxpayer and private health care insurance dollars spent on completely
preventable diseases caused by alcohol abuse and smoking should be
considered when evaluating wise use of funds.

-- Jane Starrett

Caroline Fraser mentions Diane Sawyer's "apologia" for Christian
Scientists, in which Sawyer stated, "In serious situations, many [faith
healers], most notably Christian Scientists, will seek outside help." If
Caroline Fraser was paying attention, she'd know this to be the truth. I
have never known a Christian Science parent who would put their child at
risk if medical treatment was necessary. My mother, for example, took me to
the doctor for stitches when I cut my arm on some broken glass -- not to
have done so would have left me with a scar or worse. Christian Scientists
are not unreasonable or foolhardy people who unnecessarily risk the lives
of their children. To suggest so is irresponsible.

One of the reasons I left the church was because I watched my grandmother
die of what was probably a treatable illness. It was her choice not to seek
medical treatment, but as a teenager it was difficult for me to understand.
Now that I'm in my 30s, I wonder if perhaps my inability to trust in a
God, to have that kind of faith, indicates something lacking in me.

-- Melissa N. (last name withheld at writer's request)


I agree with all of the criticisms Fraser makes against Christian Science and
the special privileges it has accrued over the years except one: the
use of Medicare/Medicaid payments for people in Christian Science
nursing homes. My grandmother entered a Christian Science nursing home
when she was 86 years old, not having seen a doctor since her family
converted to CS when she was 11. The care provided to her by the nurses
and staff in her CS nursing home near Olympia, Wash., was indeed
technically complex and "skilled" in many of the ways demanded by
Medicare/Medicaid regulations.

My grandmother's condition required
complex drainage, cleaning and bandaging that she was not capable of
doing herself. A CS nurse provided these services. By the time she
entered the nursing home she was no longer able to cook or clean for
herself. Christian Science staff undertook these tasks for her. These
are essential functions provided by nursing homes all over the United
States. The only difference is that residents of CS nursing homes choose not to
receive medical treatment. Does this choice mean they should be evicted
from their nursing homes? Of course not. As a society we have decided that nursing homes are the places our elderly go to die. If, along the way, they choose to die without medical intervention, there is
no necessary conflict between church and state to prevent
Christian Scientists from receiving the same support as everyone else.

-- Travis Robert Sanford

Is welfare reform sending more kids to foster care?



Nell Bernstein's article is misleading in several respects. There is no
reliable evidence that welfare reform has caused or will cause a dramatic
increase in child abuse and neglect cases, contrary to the dire predictions
of many observers after passage of the 1996 federal law. It is true that
the foster care population has gone up since enactment of welfare reform.
However, it had been going up long before welfare reform for reasons that
have more to do with parental substance abuse, the rise in single-parent
families and better reporting of child maltreatment than with loss or
reduction of cash assistance.

Bernstein also incorrectly states that child welfare agencies remove
children for reasons of poverty alone, a practice forbidden by law in many
states and certainly contrary to sound child welfare practice. She neglects
to mention that many states have safety-net programs funded with state
dollars designed to prevent extreme deprivation after loss of benefits.

More data is needed to assess the impact of welfare reform on poor families.
In the meantime, alarmist conjecture and speculation are not helpful.

-- Steve Christian


What I don't understand about Bernstein's column is the lack of any mention of common sense and personal responsibility when it comes to having children.
Welfare reform isn't "hurting" kids. It's irresponsible people -- who have
children and are not able to care for them, through the lack of either financial or personal resources -- who are hurting children.

Why is having children considered a "human right"?
If a person doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out
of, is it very smart for that person to spawn children?
Humans should consider the possibility that we are more than just
dumb "breeder" animals.

-- Russ Harris

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