Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2002/ 10 Mar-Cheshvan 5763


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Oatmeal for brains | Occasionally, the still-pervasive influence of ex-editor Michael Kinsley on the website Slate is neutralized by common sense. Kinsley, who's ruined more young political journalists than Robert Christgau has rock critics, is a greater threat than noisier Democratic propagandists like Paul Begala, James Carville or pollster Stanley Greenberg, because in the eyes of media elite he's a serious thinker, not a cartoon caricature.

His Oct. 10 column (reprinted the next day in The Washington Post) claims that President Bush has lied to Americans about the danger Saddam Hussein poses not only to this country, but Mideast and European nations as well.

Parroting the long-neutered and unreliable CIA, which concluded that Hussein, if cornered like a snake, might use his weapons of mass destruction, Kinsley castigates the Bush administration for failing to request timely permission from the networks to televise his 8 p.m. speech about Iraq on Oct. 7. Never mind that CBS, NBC and ABC knew the topic of the address, and that it didn't concern Bush's current jogging time; "news" executives decided to proceed with normal programming and cede the President's explanation for a possible war to the cable stations. It was a disgraceful night for, pardon the oxymoron, tv journalism.

Rationalizing the decision, NBC spokeswoman Allison Gollust said, "The President is giving a speech to a group of people in Cincinnati, which is different than an address to the nation." Okay. On Sept. 11, Bush spoke before "a group of people" in New York City, commemorating the first anniversary of last year's terrorist massacre. NBC broadcast that one. Another network official said Bush's half-hour speech-the first one specifically about the threat Hussein's dictatorship poses-was a mere "pep rally," with the intention of "trying to move Congress forward."

Kinsley, who's no doubt bonded with Reps. James McDermott and Pete Stark, writes: "The Bush campaign for war against Iraq has been insulting to American citizens, not just because it's been dishonest, but because it has been unserious. A lie is insulting; an obvious lie is doubly insulting.

Arguments that stumble into each other like drunks are not serious... A serious effort to take the nation into war would not hesitate to interrupt people while they're watching a sitcom."

Apparently, nothing less than the exact date that Saddam might kill 50,000 Israelis with a suitcase bomb, or give a similar weapon to some lunatic who'd similarly blast, say, London, Los Angeles or New York, is "serious" enough for Kinsley.

What more do Bros. Kinsley, McDermott and Stark want from the President? Two months ago, the self-righteous roar from the left was that Bush was a cowboy unilateralist, unwilling to engage in debate or consult our "allies," some of which actually are friends to the United States. Since then, to the Democrats' dismay, much oratory has taken place in Congress and in the media, including criticism from officials in past administrations. These notables include Brent Scowcroft, any number of retired generals, Clintonites trying to defend their own indifference to international terrorism from '93-'01, an incoherent Al Gore and Bill Clinton himself, who'll hold forth on any subject as long as the price is right. Oh, and Jimmy Carter, the Pest from Plains, who, now that he's finally received a Nobel Peace Prize (joining another Man of Peace, Yasir Arafat), might finally zip his lip and start building houses again.


Bush has appeared before the United Nations, suffering fools like Kofi Annan, to further his case. He's asked for, and received, the blessing of Congress. If he were a true unilateralist, the U.S. military would be shelling Baghdad in the midst of the World Series.

I wonder what Anglophile Kinsley thought of The Economist's lead editorial of Oct. 12, especially since he was a foreign-exchange journalist at the weekly several years ago.

The magazine's writer reasoned: "War, says Mr. Bush, is neither imminent nor inevitable. But if the Security Council fails, the threat will remain and America will feel obligated in the interests of its own security to deal with it.

"Can such an argument satisfy the war's doubters? Not in a month of Sundays. Many doubters take strong exception to the idea that any nation has the right to go to war alone, except under a U.N. mandate or in strict self-defense. Applying this principle to Iraq, they would rather allow a dangerous dictator to acquire nuclear weapons, and with them the power to kill millions of people, than allow the Security Council's prerogatives to be sullied or circumvented by the superpower. But those who think this way (The Economist, you may have guessed, doesn't) must accuse Mr. Bush of error not hypocrisy. His administration could not have done more to make it clear that it takes precisely the opposite view."

Back to Slate. On Oct. 11, William Saletan, certainly no acolyte of Bush, Rumsfeld or Cheney, directed his wrath at the feckless and election-driven Democratic senators who voted to approve the war resolution. Specifically cited are Sens. Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle and John Kerry, who justified their vote on Bush's assertion that conflict with Iraq isn't, right now, "imminent" or "unavoidable."

Saletan writes: "These senators sound like a man who has just enjoyed a night of pleasure with a woman he took home from a bar, never fully preparing himself for the possibility of fatherhood. If the woman shows up on his doorstep pregnant, he'll berate her for misleading him or not being careful enough about birth control... "Any man who inseminates a woman has signed up for the responsibilities of fatherhood. Any member of Congress who voted for the Iraq resolution has signed up for the responsibilities of war.

Many senators seem to think that if Saddam calls our bluff, and the Security Council offers a watered-down resolution, and Bush says that isn't good enough, and the U.S. Air Force takes off for Iraq, they're entitled to some further say in the matter. They aren't. They had their chance to say no. They said yes. It's their baby now."

One can grimace at Saletan's prissy writing style- "a night of pleasure," "inseminates"-and argue that ambitious men like Kerry will forget their vote if the opportunity arises, but at least he got a sound judgment on the record. That's more than you can expect from Kinsley.

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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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