Jewish World Review August 29, 2003/ 1 Elul 5763


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Consumer Reports

Shapiro's a jerk: There's just no escaping genealogy | Down here in Baltimore, where finding even a mediocre newsstand is just not in the cards, I rely on home delivery for print copies of the Sun, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and New York Times. USA Today, the country's leader in circulation-however management cooks the numbers with hotel freebies-doesn't make it to our front lawn. It's a crummy paper, despite the hype about its maturation since starting in 1982, and you need only read political pundit Walter Shapiro to understand why.

Shapiro's resume is a horror show. He's worked for the Washington Monthly (the small D.C.-based stepping stone that's responsible for more asinine journalism-Michael Kinsley, Jonathan Alter and Timothy Noah are all graduates-than even the New Republic), Time, Newsweek and Esquire, and was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. Translated: This is one mushy Democratic dude.

Last Friday, Walter (in his mid-50s) devoted his "Hype & Glory" column to-shazaam!-the 1960s, a decade he remembers "with a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment." Although several years younger than the wistful Shapiro, I also came of age during the 60s and can't think of a damn thing that's now embarrassing, except perhaps buying some speed-laced LSD from a skuzzy dealer.

This paragraph is a pip: "All of us, young and old alike, are irreparably shaped by the decade in which we came to maturity. (On second thought, maturity may not be the best word to describe the '60s experience of listening to Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix in a drug-addled haze.)"

It's no wonder left-of-center op-ed columnists are often described as wimps. Frankly, I doubt Shapiro spent much time in a "drug-addled haze"-he was probably too busy sucking up to professors for high grades-but why the knock on Joplin and Hendrix? Maybe it's a joke I don't get.

Naturally, what Shapiro is leading up to is the extraordinarily premature analogy of Vietnam to Iraq. He doesn't use the word "quagmire," but that's the gist of his commentary. "For three decades," he writes, "America has been spared recriminations over wars that did not go exactly as planned. But now that we seem mired in one [uh, Baghdad fell in April of this year], those of us who lived through the '60s can't simply turn off deeply ingrained memories by uttering the incantation, 'No more Vietnam syndrome.' To what event are we supposed to compare Iraq? The invasion of Grenada?"

I have an idea. Why not ban all reporters and especially columnists and television talk-show guests over the age of 40 from even commenting on the still-evolving situation in Iraq? Send these old goats off to the racetrack; let them write and gab about the deterioration of the public schools they don't send their own children to; or put them on the Michael Jackson or Graceland beat. Readers across the United States would be grateful.

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A Boomer aside: By all means, avoid the upcoming and dreadful book about the Beatles (Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History, Harvard University Press) by Brooklyn's Devin McKinney. I'm certain Shapiro will-his favorite Fab Four song is undoubtedly "The Long and Winding Road"-but others might get sucked in. The following is typical of McKinney's gibberish: "Unlike Dylan's epic constructions of joke, biblical allusion, and poetic reference, the Beatles' songs invited participation without demanding exegesis; whatever meanings they bore arose subtly, organically, and were at least as much the fans' as they were the Beatles'. Fans were able to draw new formulations out of an all-inclusive well of fantasy without, perhaps, ever being fully conscious of what they were doing."

How's that for condescension?

One Big Thinker who's not entirely incompetent when reporting from or about Iraq is The New York Times' Thomas Friedman. Unlike the 2004 Democratic presidential contenders who, almost in unison, bleat that since the removal of Saddam Hussein, the United States is a less safe country, summoning anti-American terrorists by the thousands to Baghdad, Friedman offers analysis that's not aimed at left-wing environmentalists in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Last Sunday, Friedman wrote: "We are attracting all these opponents to Iraq because they understand this war is The Big One. They don't believe their own propaganda. They know this not a war for oil. They know this is a war over ideas and values and governance. They know this war is about Western powers, helped by the U.N. [barely], coming into the heart of their world to promote more decent, open, tolerant, women-friendly, pluralistic governments by starting with Iraq-a country that contains all the main strands of the region: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds."

Naturally, Friedman insists the Bush administration is behind the curve-or worse-and somehow connects tax-cutting at home with his dim view of the Pentagon's performance in the "postwar," but that's just his inner Walter Shapiro jabbering. And his lead paragraph is also silly: "In the wake of the bombing of the U.N. office in Baghdad, some 'terrorism experts' (By the way, how do you get to be a terrorism expert? Can you get a B.A. in terrorism or do you just have to appear on Fox News?) have argued that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a failure because all it's doing is attracting terrorists to Iraq and generating more hatred toward America."

His conclusion is also from the Times playbook: "We may fail because to win The Big One, we need an American public, and allies, ready to pay any price and bear any burden, but we have a president unable or unwilling to summon either."

I'm as unfamiliar with the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq as Friedman is, but isn't it preferable to have a convention of terrorists in one country rather than spread out across the globe? That's essentially what Friedman is arguing, but his jabs at Fox News (wrong target, Tom, it's Kerry, Dean and your bosses at the Times who are the sudden "terrorism" experts), Bush and Donald Rumsfeld muck up his coherence.

Mark Steyn's Aug. 24 Chicago Sun-Times piece is what I imagine Friedman would really believe if his brain weren't polluted by conversations with Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins. Poor, confused guy. Steyn agrees with Friedman that the war in Iraq is about more than just Saddam; he just presents a more articulate case. Steyn's conclusion: "The terrorists watch CNN and the BBC, and, understandably, they figure that in Iraq, America, Britain, the UN and all the rest will do what most people do when they run up against someone deranged: back out of the room slowly. They're wrong. There's no choice. You kill it here, or the next generation of suicide bombers will be on buses in Rotterdam, Manchester, Lyon, and blowing up the UN building in Manhattan. This is the battlefield."

Iowa Torture

The Sept. 1 Weekly Standard features two dispatches from Iowa, with Matt Labash drawing the short straw with his assignment to cover Sen. Bob Graham's moribund campaign. He makes the best of a bad situation, ogling the Floridian's four daughters and at least getting off a decent joke. "The Graham family," Labash observes, "is a White House-ready family. They are the Kennedys without the extramarital affairs and bad livers. The grandsons are all buddies who easily throw their arms around each other. And the granddaughters are model-quality, many boasting ringlets of natural curls."

David Tell, on the other hand, is able to bash John Kerry (D-Heinz Fortune) after seeing Howard Dean speak at Nancy's Coffeeshop in Newton, IA. Not that Dean, just endorsed by tummy-tucker Manhattan Rep. Jerrold Nadler, escapes Tell's wicked pen. When someone asked him about Israel, Dean replied, "They'll be all right… I'm not going to let anything bad happen to Israel. My wife is Jewish." Swell, Howie, that's really getting into specifics.

But Kerry, who on occasion is Jewish and will presumably be saved by Dean as well, takes the brunt of Tell's deadpan commentary. He writes: "In his more controlled, set-speech campaign appearances, Kerry likes to quote Bill Clinton on the only reason why Republicans are sometimes able to outmaneuver Democrats on Election Day. 'Strong and wrong' beats 'right and weak' every time. Well, here's a new one for you senator, try it on for size: Diffident and shrewd, like Howard Dean, is gonna beat amiable and relatively guileless, like John Kerry, more times than John Kerry can probably afford."

That doesn't top Dana Milbank's Aug. 13 Washington Post brief about Kerry's unfortunate visit to South Philadelphia's Pat's Steaks. Milbank, who, unlike stingy New York Times reporters, will credit another newspaper, in this case the Philadelphia Inquirer, recounts that Kerry ordered his cheesesteak with Swiss cheese-rather than the customary Cheez Whiz-and to make matters worse was photographed "nibbling daintily at his sandwich-another serious faux pas."

Kerry probably didn't want to soil his clothing. Nothing wrong with tailored British dress shirts-the senator's partial to Turnbull & Asser-but there's simply no way Kerry can out-regular guy George W. Bush. The biggest boost Kerry could receive right now is if he was heard telling an aide that the president is a "lying motherf-cker with balls the size of peanuts."

Maybe then he could dent the base of voters who earn less than $200,000 a year.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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