The biggest political news of last week was not the shaky maiden debate of presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire but the chaos in the streets of Seattle, where over 30,000 protesters mobilized against the meeting of the World Trade Organization and were met by an astonishingly ill-prepared and inept police force.
My first thought, as I watched the news footage of scrambling crowds, shattering windows and clouds of tear gas, was "There goes the Democrats' hope to hold onto the White House next year." Aging liberals may remember the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago for the fascist tactics of Mayor Richard J. Daley and his police, but the riots in the street partly provoked by anti-war demonstrators cost the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, the election, and they sparked a national movement to the right whose effects can still be felt among the electorate. When law and order break down, it's liberalism that loses.
The battle in Seattle forced a welcome if brief international consciousness on the mass TV audience, which has been preoccupied with domestic issues and celebrity scandals throughout this decade, an obliviousness barely dented by President Clinton's outrageous boutique bombings abroad. The protesters' success in hamstringing the WTO, which adjourned without reaching key agreements, will surely inspire more young people to social activism for a wealth of causes. I hope it's curtains for another style spawned in Seattle -- the apathy and whining asexuality of passive-aggressive grunge.
The danger is that this nascent coalition of Democrat-led trade unions with environmental and labor equity groups will get stereotyped as left-loony. When post-adolescent anarchist goons pledge total destruction of the system or when dinosaur Marxists denounce capitalism as "evil" and call all property "crime" (caught on camera in Seattle), this promising movement doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of gaining popular support.
Capitalism, in my view, is the best vehicle of social change. Free enterprise and free thought are inextricably and creatively intertwined. Over the past 200 years, capitalism has enormously advanced global prosperity, even if an unacceptable economic gap remains between the first and third worlds. Though you'd never know it from the snide rhetoric of cloistered liberal academics, modern feminism owes everything to capitalism, which gave women financial independence for the first time in history.
On the other hand, capitalism is inherently Darwinian, and a just society must provide a safety net for the poor. While intrusion by government into the market should be as minimal as possible, it is ethically imperative to monitor working conditions, product safety and environmental integrity. My lifelong scriptural texts are William Blake's radical poems "The Chimney Sweeper" and "London" (discussed in my first book), which heartbreakingly dramatize the disparity between the powerful and the powerless in newly industrial, polluted England.
Adjusting tariffs or formulating trade guidelines is a very difficult matter when emerging nations interpret U.S. demands as a usurpation of their sovereignty. We need a stronger "green" lobby that will fruitfully ally with its foreign counterparts. And we urgently need a broad-based, rigorously rational progressive party that will, without succumbing to outdated Marxist formulas, challenge the corruption of the major political parties by big money; critique the escalating power of multinational conglomerates; and condemn flagrant corporate greed (as in the looting of company profits through the inflated salaries of top executives).
There is no stopping the high-tech transformation of the world economy -- except by Mother Nature, of course, with one of her standard cataclysms (a perennial Paglia prophecy). What is needed is massive educational reform -- such as the development of trade schools and vocational programs serving students of every age. The social convulsion of job losses because of migration of industry abroad cannot be wholly prevented by artificial government manipulation. At present, American primary education is failing to provide either knowledge or skills for anyone but those already set on a professional track by their affluent, upper-middle-class families.
Don't look to Washington for help, since Congress is stalemated and the immediate political field seems bleak. Gov. Bush has yet to show presidential qualities, and his elementary communication skills are weak. Hillary Clinton's senatorial fantasy is sapping the Gore campaign by stealing P.R. wattage and keeping 20 years of Clinton scandals on the front burner. Al Gore continues to lose credibility through his own foolish choices and grating hamster-wheel freneticism. After the devastating revelations in the Nov. 20 New York Times about the leading advisory role played by his shallow 26-year-old daughter Karenna (Naomi Wolf's Ivy League pal), who can take Gore seriously?
Shame on the superstructure of the Democratic Party for its cowardly decision, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in early 1998, not to force President Clinton to resign: Gore would have been elevated to the presidency at his peak of strength and prestige and would have grown into the job, guaranteeing Democratic control of the White House well into the next decade. Instead, we Democrats must watch the gruesome spectacle of Gore whittling himself down day by day as dope-on-a-rope Clinton bounces from screw-up to screw-up.
Meanwhile, Bill Bradley, for whom I need a palpable reason to cast my Pennsylvania primary ballot, is still plodding along in a coma. Bradley's obliqueness is starting to look like petulance. A president needs more dynamism. If Bradley doesn't ratchet up soon, Bush will sweep to victory simply by reason of his raw, youthful, bulldog vitality. As for Sen. John McCain, whom the liberal media are busily over-promoting to sabotage Bush, I can't believe anyone takes him seriously as a candidate for high office. He belongs in military operations, not the Oval Office.
Salon reader Zack Galler, a former naval officer, writes:
McCain's claim to national attention is as our most prominent victim of bad luck. During his brief naval career, he had two aircraft destroyed beneath him, one by a Zuni rocket, another by a NVA missile. Granted he survived through unusual stoicism and discipline, but, bereft of these, his problem-solving cupboard is bare. Witness his pitiful response to the Kosovo fiasco, a call to persist and endure in whatever military horrors the commander in chief invents. His first principles are invariably to throw the weight of government regulation and law (as manifestations of discipline) against individual choice (tobacco, political speech [i.e. campaign finance reform], drug reform).
It's not expansiveness and charisma that the man lacks; it's the total absence of subtlety, creativity, and original thought which, hopefully, should sentence him to retirement as a minor politician from a minor state. He's a Sherwood Anderson grotesque.
If the media think they're atoning for their Vietnam-era sins or doing veterans a favor by giving this Strangelovian refugee a free ride, I wish they'd reconsider.
I couldn't agree more. The myopic McCain apologists in the Northeastern media are destroying their own credibility as political analysts.
Hillary Clinton, whose "I intend to run" two weeks ago was clearly ambivalent in tone (her qualification was truncated mid-sentence by a mad rush of hysterical lady teachers toward her) is embarking on a trial campaign for which she has no record of concrete achievement and which seems to have no other aim than to snag a comfy post-White House residence and a face-saving reason not to live with bimbo-besotted Bill.
Salon reader Steve Story asks, "Is New York in such dire intellectual straits that it must panhandle for leadership?" The people of New York (including my scores of relatives) are merely pawns in Hillary's game. Gail Sheehy's gushy new book, "Hillary's Choice," which I skimmed at the store, contains enough negatives to prove why Hillary has no business meddling in electoral politics.
Sheehy confirms that Hillary was indeed the hard-liner who refused to settle with Paula Jones -- thus putting the country through a divisive year of impeachment crisis (since Lewinsky's name surfaced in depositions in the Jones case). And Sheehy claims it was Hillary who pushed the president into bombing Kosovo -- in my view an abuse of American military power. If it is also true, as rumored, that Hillary leaned on Janet Reno to order the disastrous 1993 assault at Waco, then Hillary is beyond doubt one of the most destructive personalities in American politics in the last 25 years.
Sheehy's sentimental formulas can't conceal the bunkered mess of Hillary's early family life -- all of which was intuited, by the way, in my stormily controversial cover story for the March 4, 1996, New Republic, "Ice Queen, Drag Queen," where I focused on Hillary's eerie memory of a childhood snowman (her double, I argued) on her televised White House Christmas tour. Sheehy oddly fails to catch the killer competition that seems to have been going on between Hillary and her brothers and Hillary and her mother -- a dynamic that may have been operating in the two weeks Hillary played hooky from her brand-new duties as health-care czarina to station herself like a Victorian angel at her failing father's bedside.
Hillary has the kind of glib, sanctimonious mind that I loathe in the p.c. professoriat. She selectively memorizes facts and recites them without regard to context. She is devoid of psychological insight into herself or others. She simplistically externalizes conflicts onto demonic "enemies." She claims compassion for the dispossessed but prefers to hobnob with the rich and famous. She's a secret snob addicted to status, a true Machiavellian who reduces everyone, even her family, into instruments of her will.
The only thing that's fueling this absurd campaign is the complicity of the liberal news media. While 80 percent of the leading journalists and columnists now seem to have defected from the noisy Hillary bandwagon of early last summer, the picture editors are keeping it going, choosing the most glamorous photos and news footage of Hillary and carefully concealing how staged her events are -- how she comes and goes, for example, with bully-boy platoons of the taxpayer-funded Secret Service, who keep hecklers at bay.
Salon reader J. McCann writes from Johannesburg, South Africa, about another of our presidential candidates, Pat Buchanan, whose ambiguous Scottish-Irish heritage was addressed in an earlier column:
My Irish grandfathers inflicted on their descendants the bizarre experience of growing up Catholic in apartheid Calvinist South Africa, where for a time Catholic immigration was prohibited and clergy refused entry visas. Thus the eagerness of Americans to seek an Irish Catholic identity has always seemed incomprehensible seen from a country where we were long regarded with scorn.
The confusion around Irish names is forgivable because it is a very widespread ignorance. Modern Scottish identity is largely an invention of the Victorian era. The Scots originated in Ireland and settled Scotland in the fifth century, displacing the Picts. The bagpipes, whisky/whiskey and plaid cloth they promote as British inventions were brought from Ireland along with the similar names and the Gaelic language.
To complicate the issue, at least one old Scottish name begins with O'. In general Irish "mc" names start with Mc, and Scottish ones with Mac, but there are exceptions. There has also been a flow of Irish migrant labor to Scotland leaving names like Connery, and Ireland has had Norman and Viking invaders as well as immigration from northern Spain and even Italy. Coupled with the recent historical arrival of formalized spelling and literacy in Ireland there is no completely sure way of establishing certain identity from just a name.
Incidentally, the Gaelic language is split in two streams and is also spoken in Brittany (Little Britain), France. It has its origin in the same Indo-European language group as Latin, and the two languages have many words in common. Some sub-Alpine dialects such as Occitane are thought by some to be closer to the Latin/Gaelic proto language.
Many thanks, Mr. McCann, for this complex contribution to our ongoing ethnic symposium. Cultural and linguistic transmission via population migration is a basic principle of history that I find woefully missing or distorted in the Foucault-influenced theorizing that saturates American humanities departments.
Responding to my
remarks about the routine defamation of Italian-Americans by the entertainment industry, Mark Hall writes from Richmond, Va., about "libeled Southerners":
If you are annoyed by the stereotyping of people of Italian descent here, try being a native Southerner for a while! I'm so fed up with Hollywood's (and others') pathetic and hateful smears on my culture and values that I rarely see movies or television anymore. I never thought that believing in honor, integrity, and equality (not the man-hating feminist or affirmative action quota kind of "equality") would make me "racist" or a "misogynist," but that's what I am, according to the now decades-old barrage from Hollywood.
You're absolutely right, Mr. Hall. Scriptwriters, directors and production companies based in New York and Los Angeles have a very blinkered view of the rest of America, which they see as a vast wasteland of rednecks and yokels. Even the Midwest is too much of a stretch for them, as witness the cringe-making way Kansas is always portrayed by my favorite soap, "The Young and the Restless," as a drab, beige-hued flatiron peppered with very simple, slow-spoken folks who seem to be auditioning for the 1940 dustbowl film "The Grapes of Wrath."
Extending our ethnic theme, Rob Williams of New York asks if Madonna is an "Anglophile":
A recent news item in the gossip pages said that Madonna is looking for a house in England that would be near a prestigious school for her daughter Lourdes. The item was interesting because Madonna seems to be transforming herself into a Brit. Every time I see her on awards shows these days, she seems to speak with a more affected air, as if she never grew up in Michigan. (I was reminded of a line in a Tom Wolfe book where a character criticized an American for adopting a British manner to appear more cultured, as if his new accent had arrived in an airmailed box from England like a pair of dentures that he popped in his mouth.)
Is Madonna's behavior an attempt to gain respectability by adopting the manners of the British middle class or royalty? Is she in the next stage of some evolutionary process from New Money upstart pop icon to Old Money aristocrat? Do you consider her behavior laughable or even hypocritical? Does Madonna demonstrate some kind self-loathing in the continual reinvention of her image? Is it an artistic impulse or are these reinventions a business necessity to thrive as an entertainer?
All of the above! Madonna's application to a chic Manhattan preschool for Lourdes was apparently denied on the grounds that a pop star's presence would be dangerous and disruptive. Rushing off to England in a snit without exploring other options doesn't exactly sound like Madonna has all her maternal oars in the water.
On the other hand, should Madonna decide that Lourdes ought to be educated in England, I would applaud it. American prep schools may have a substantive curriculum, but their graduates, as evidenced by the examples funneling into the Ivy League, are increasingly mundane. A British or continental education would give Lourdes a smattering of knowledge ("Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit," says Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell. "Touch it and the bloom is gone."), but more importantly it would make her a sophisticated woman of the world.
As for that bizarre in-and-out British accent, Madonna, like many artists, is a sponge. Just as she is a brilliant synthesizer of musical styles or fashion motifs, so she is highly susceptible to her last three-and-a-half experiences. Madonna talks like the queen mother when she's been loafing around with any of her British dates and pals, like that overrated bore of an actor Rupert Everett. As someone who has deliberately retained the irritatingly flat tones of her native upstate New York, I agree with you that it would behoove Madonna to remember her gritty family past in lower-middle-class metropolitan Detroit.
Sticking with divas, I love this saga of a letter from Salon reader Audrey Mack, which is titled "Babs & politics; fluffy shawls 'n' quilty things" and had me in stitches:
I was flipping through the TV channels on Nov. 16 when I stopped to watch a few minutes of an interview between Rosie O'Donnell and Barbra Streisand. I thought it was going to be a Linda Richman-style love-fest, all about Barbra's music, Rosie's all-consuming love for it, whatever. Good for a few laughs, anyway.
But noooo. Babs was yammering away about politics, carefully explaining to Rosie that the Democratic Party is "the party of the people," "the party that cares about the people;" and that the Republican Party is "ALL ABOUT [her words, not mine] supporting big business, insurance companies, the tobacco industry," plus one other group I can't recall. She went on in this vein for several minutes.
Well, where do I start? Has this woman been asleep for the past 20 years? Has she not seen that many working stiffs in this country support the Republican Party as a defense against (what they perceive as) the tax-and-spend Democrats? And has she missed all the moral/religious battles, in which Republicans are seen as the champions of "decent" American moral values, family values, and so forth -- as opposed to (what Republicans perceive as) the anti-religion, liberal, secular humanist (gasp) Democrats?
Has she not seen that political party loyalties have changed greatly in the past 20 years, and are still changing, largely due to moral, religious and ethical issues? I'd thought that the days of the "have" Republicans battling "have-not" (mainly working-class) Democrats were over; that the political battles aren't mainly drawn along economic lines anymore. That was my parents' struggle, in the FDR and post-FDR eras.
Thank goodness I have Barbra Streisand to set me straight. I don't mean to knock all liberals here, but really, there's no liberal worse than a Hollywood liberal: ignorant, uninformed, clueless, just plain DUMB.
Babs' blather made me laugh, but I wonder how many other viewers reacted the same way. If she's an entertainment celebrity, she (and Warren Beatty, Cybill Shepherd, Ah-nuld, and Alec Baldwin), must know what she's talking about when it comes to politics, right?
(Oh, and Warren Beatty gets invited to speak at the Kennedy School of Government. The gargoyles have finally taken over the cathedral.)
Maybe any garbage can get sold nowadays if it's wrapped up in an attractive package. The set for the Rosie-Barbra interview was some room in one of Barbra's many houses: very country cottage, with flea-markety distressed furniture, and shawls and patchwork quilts draped over every surface: the sofas, the tables, even a piano. Very Shabby Chic. Barbra herself was dressed in a chenille-looking halter top with a matching shawl draped over her shoulders: very soft, very texture-y, very "woman-friendly."
It reminded me of the day Oprah turned herself into a New Age priestess, crammed full of opinions and feelings, with no disciplined thought. Suddenly she was wearing warm earth tones, sitting in brown leather or warm earth-toned chairs, on warm earth-toned sets, shot in soft-focus (Indian blankets on the camera lenses?), with gold and cinnabar (not a TRUE RED, no, that would be too strong) pillar candles twinkling in the background. If you can craft the image, you don't have to work on the substance.
Maybe Al Gore should hire Barbra's or Oprah's image engineers to work their magic, and hand Naomi Wolf her walking papers. So my question is, how much longer do we have to listen to these Hollywood idiots blather away about politics?
Someone should give you a column, Ms. Mack! Thanks for that surgical dissection of the flakes of Hollywood. And I suspect that a thousand gay men from Montreal to Montevideo will applaud your deft evocation of Oprah's "gold and cinnabar pillar candles."
The problem is not actors expressing their political opinions, since they have a perfect right to do so in a democracy. What is repellent is the lack of balance: Alternate viewpoints are rarely given equal weight or respect. This is in no one's best interests, since as you correctly observe, liberal politics in Hollywood (or on campus) have gotten retchingly sophomoric because of over-preaching to the choir. Upper-middle-class Democratic liberalism now has the arrogant imperialism of any establishment, lazy, slack and inert.
Your dart at Naomi Wolf, by the way, reminded me of a gibe made about her by a professional driver on the West Coast when I was being ferried around on my first book tour for Vintage Books in 1991. He had driven Wolf to several interviews on her tour for "The Beauty Myth" a few months earlier. Her constant primping and obsession with cosmetics seemed hypocritical, he thought, for someone who was claiming that looks don't matter. His snorting judgment: "She never passed a plate-glass window she didn't like!"
Salon reader Rich Berger sends a blast from the past from that very period, when I was under heavy fire from the feminist establishment:
While cleaning up our Tropical Storm Floyd (??)-soaked basement, I found a tape of your "60 Minutes" profile from 1992. The tape was sent to me by some friends -- he finds you interesting but his wife treats you like you were radioactive. I still get a charge out of watching it, especially the end piece where Steve Kroft discussed you with that condescending second-rater from Connecticut College. Although she was so pleased with her comparison of you with Marilyn Quayle, I thought she just seemed like a boob.
Yes, that "condescending" tone is exactly how the entrenched feminist theorists and high-muckety-mucks of NOW and Ms. tried to dismiss all dissidents during the p.c. era of the 1970s and '80s. Unfortunately, that tactic didn't work very well in the 1990s on a resurgent 1960s rock 'n' roll prankster and Joan Rivers-style stand-up comedian with a 700-page Yale University Press book on the whole history of culture. Up your nose with a rubber hose, gals! You missed the train of a new kind of pro-sex, pro-pop, pro-beauty feminism and have been chasing my caboose ever since.
On the feminist angle, I must mention Virginia Postrel's splendid review of Susan Faludi's "Stiffed" in the December issue of the libertarian magazine Reason. Its title -- "Reactionary Running Mates: Susan Faludi sounds like Pat Buchanan" -- gives you a hint of its originality and ingenuity.
This article will certainly enhance Postrel's ever-growing reputation as one of the smartest women in America. For years, she has demonstrated her daunting gift for cutting-edge social and economic analysis as well as her admirable command of lean, lucid prose. As a contemporary thinker, Virginia Postrel is vastly superior to derivative, overpaid affirmative action queens like the turgid Judith Butler or the windy Martha Nussbaum, who have manipulated the academic system and cowed the gullible with their manufactured importance.
The ongoing controversy over the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art has been further inflamed by a lengthy report in the Dec. 6 New York Times showing how British collector Charles Saatchi played "a central role in determining the artistic content" of the exhibit and effectively "usurped control" of it. Even the claim by museum director Arnold Lehman in interviews and "sworn court papers" that he had seen the "Sensation" show at the Royal Academy in London turns out to be false. When will Lehman be fired?
I was delighted to hear that Matt Drudge is leaving his Fox News Channel talk show (reportedly over a flap about a fetal photo), since I've longed for him to focus full attention on his historic creation, the Drudge Report, which at its best is an effervescent mix of politics, science news, crime stories, Hollywood gossip and plain old-fashioned scandal.
Where else could one have seen, the moment it flashed across the wires nearly a year ago, a color photo of Hillary Clinton (who had claimed a back injury days earlier) galumphing on humpy camelback down a sand dune with her daughter Chelsea clinging to her like a papoose?
Last week there was a classic Drudge moment: Into the humdrum monotony of midday came blazing onto the Drudge site a just-posted Reuters article titled "Daredevil jumps off Rio Christ in Bond-style stunt." In the magnificent color photo of the 98-foot-tall colossus of Cristo Redentor on Corcovado Mountain overlooking the misty green slopes of Rio de Janeiro, an Austrian parachutist who had fired a cable from a crossbow over the statue's arm at dawn could be seen about to jump from its outstretched hand. (He had left flowers on the shoulder of the Christ "as a mark of respect.")
Thank you, Matt Drudge, for a sublime moment of beauty and awe. Art has migrated from the museums to the Web.
This is my last column of the year and in fact my last article of the decade -- and a hell of a decade it's been! But this millennial brouhaha is getting on my nerves. When will it end?
Amid the many demands for millennial retrospectives this year (most of which were too mushy to respond to), my favorites were a request from the Sunday Times of London to analyze the "masterwork" of the millennium (I chose Leonardo's "Mona Lisa"; the piece appeared April 18) and a recent one from the BBC to address a major figure in religious history, a segment recorded last week by transatlantic hook-up from a Philadelphia studio.
Hence at 11 p.m. on New Year's Eve in the U.K., in the final broadcast of the year by BBC Radio 4, I will be celebrating my heroine and role model, St. Teresa of Avila. Mediterranean Catholicism, with its lurid pagan residue, has all the fireworks we need for the new millennium.
Happy New Year to Salon readers around the world! I'll see you again in January.