Joe Conason's Journal

A farewell to Armey. Plus: Orwell's cheap imitators; racial politics on the bayou.

By Salon Staff

Published October 16, 2002 3:21PM (EDT)

Blair vs. blaring
An old journalistic habit that resurfaced after Sept. 11, and has grown contagious since then, is beating up on fringe leftists -- as if doing so proves the writer's courage, patriotism and darned good sense. Everybody is auditioning to play Orwell, who I suspect would not have had much use for all the bullying that now takes place in his name. (For one thing, unlike his would-be imitators, Eric Blair was mercilessly frank about the propaganda and lies deployed on all sides, and unsparing in criticizing inequality in his own society.)

Yes, al-Qaida and fascistic Islamism must be defeated. Yes, Stalin was a mass-murdering dictator. (Are we still arguing about this?) Yes, Saddam Hussein should be disarmed, at least, and deposed if he refuses to honor U.N. mandates.

As Michael Tomasky points out in an excellent entry on Altercation today, however, liberal columnists ought to avoid treating every dissent from White House foreign policy as equivalent to surrender. As Mike says, there are many millions of Americans "who are alarmed at the way things are going under this administration precisely because they believe in the country's ideals, but who carry on in quiet desperation because it often feels to them like no one except Robert Byrd is listening to them or speaking for them. Attacking a tiny constituency instead of defending this broad one is just a way of ducking the real debate."

Adios, Dick
Today Dick Armey inspires Dallas columnist Dave Lieber to suggest a few modest, nostalgic proposals for special legislation. Armey has irritated Lieber, most recently by attempting to use his power to harass the Dallas Morning News, a newspaper that published an unflattering series about his son Scott. But politicians who regularly blurt out the stupid, bigoted thoughts that cloud their minds are valuable, too -- and in that respect, the house majority leader was a natural talent.[1:19 p.m. PDT, Oct. 16, 2002]

White fright on the bayou
At election time the ancient racial attitudes behind the GOP's Southern strategy abruptly emerge, just like acne erupting before the prom. The Republican Party of Louisiana, an organization whose "mainstream" candidates have been known to consort with David Duke, provides today's most instructive example. Featured on the state party's Web site is an essay from a suburban Baton Rouge weekly, titled "Landrieu, Next Target of Suburban Republicans." In a signed column, the paper's publisher explains bluntly why he thinks incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu faces reelection trouble: "The flight to the suburbs by middle-class white voters in Monroe, Shreveport, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans is now the dominant force in Louisiana politics. And that force has adopted the Republican Party as its home. The people who have moved to Bossier City, West Monroe, Pineville, Covington, Denham Springs, Gonzales, and LaPlace did not leave the major cities because they wanted to. They left because they felt unsafe in their own homes, and because the public schools had become dangerous places for their children. Voting Republican without regard to the qualifications of any given candidate is their revenge. And who among us can condemn these voters? If African-Americans can blindly vote for Democrats without regard to the qualifications of any given candidate, why can't white suburbanites do the same for Republicans? Indeed, why should they do anything else?"

The Louisiana Republican organization includes "mainstream" figures who buy mailing lists from David Duke, so racial polarization isn't a foreign tactic to them. Louisiana's multicandidate Senate race may not end on Nov. 5, because of the Bayou State's strange open-primary system. The Republicans are promoting two or three candidates who hope to split away enough votes to deprive the incumbent of a majority on Election Day, forcing Landrieu into a runoff one month later. The state party's favored candidate is Rep. John Cooksey, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee is pushing elections commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell. According to poll takers and oddsmakers, Landrieu will probably prevail. Her name doesn't appear on any of the "most vulnerable" lists, but as the Republicans grow more desperate, this race could get ugly in an old-fashioned way.

Howling menagerie
When I praised Dan Kennedy yesterday as the nation's best media critic, I didn't intend to slight Bob Somerby, the incomparable impresario of the Daily Howler, though some of his fans took immediate umbrage. Kennedy scans the entire mediascape, while Somerby focuses on political coverage. His latest Howler reviews the resemblance between Andrew Sullivan and William Kristol and the characters in a dystopian novel by a certain celebrated English author. (No, they're not the heroes.)[8:19 a.m. PDT, Oct. 16, 2002]

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