Slacker Monday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I did a review for the Times book review of new books by Chuck Schumer and Charlie Rangel, here. I'll see about what I can do to get the pay wall taken down on my Nation column this week.

I gotta run this morning to a memorial service for Arthur Schlesinger Jr. I got back from Washington last night but wanted to drop by the Museum of the City of New York for the party celebrating 110 years of the Forward and see the wonderful exhibition about the paper's storied and moving history (and then, of course, there was that matter of the old weapons charge to clear up ...), so I don't have time to be too entertaining. I wanted everyone to make sure to be aware of Bill Moyers' 90-minute program, Buying the War, which will be broadcast on PBS this Wednesday night. Everyday Altercation readers will be familiar with the contours of the piece and much of the evidence -- as it speaks directly to what is perhaps the primary obsession of this website -- but the piece is incredibly compelling and satisfying nonetheless because Moyers, being Moyers, is able to demand a measure of accountability from those responsible. It's fascinating to see how the ones who are brave enough to show up react to the questioning of their responsibility for helping to lead their nation so far astray. Yours truly is not in the documentary and had nothing whatever to do with it -- though I suppose I should disclose my longtime personal and professional relationship with Moyers while writing this. Greg Mitchell, who has no such relationship, writes this terrific intro to the doc, and calls it "devastating," and per usual, we are down with him on that. There's also a fine article here in USA Today where we also learn, in a sidebar, that Bill's returning to PBS, back on Fridays at 9, when he will be interviewing Jon Stewart and Josh Marshall.

Quote of the Day:

"Liberalism in America," he argued, "has been a party of social progress rather than of intellectual doctrine, committed to ends rather than to methods. When a laissez-faire policy seemed best calculated to achieve the liberal objective of equality of opportunity for all -- as it did in the time of Jefferson -- liberals believed, in the Jeffersonian phrase, that that government is best which governs least. But, when the growing complexity of industrial conditions required increasing government intervention in order to assure more equal opportunities, the liberal tradition, faithful to the goal rather than to the dogma, altered its view of the state." -- Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans" (1956), from The Politics of Hope (Boston: Riverside Press, 1962).

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Matt Shirley

Hometown: Gurnee, IL

Dr. A,

If I may, I'd like to discuss further a couple of points from two people I deeply admire (in addition to your august self, of course), Charles Pierce and LTC Bob Bateman.

I think LTC Bateman makes a lot of good points about guns in circulation leading to more shooting incidents, and I agree with his broader points. I'd like to add that it is true in some sense that people kill people. However, as we saw at Virginia Tech this week, a dude with a firearm kills 20+ people, whereas if he had only a knife or a lead pipe, he kill only a couple of people before he's overpowered by a crowd. Squeezing a trigger is just too easy for someone in a homicidal mental state.

Second and my major point, as useful as banning things like assault weapons and armor piercing bullets would be, that would not have prevented this week's tragedy. The shooter didn't use those things.

The real root cause is our laughably ineffective background check system -- one that relied only on the word of a psychotic individual that he was OK before it allowed him to illegally purchase a firearm, and permits such absurdities as mail order sales of weapons (who's kidding whom about how effective THAT background check will be?) I'm reminded of John Ashcroft's Justice Dept that thought it was more important and less of a civil liberties issue to keep tabs on what folks were reading instead of what folks were buying guns. The other root cause is the abject failure of our health care system to ensure delivery of appropriate mental health care to someone who was hospitalized because he was a threat. It was entirely predictable when he was released that he would become ill again and become a threat again, and just as predictable he would not get the care he needed, curtsey of our ramshackle, no health care for you if you really need it, health non-insurance system. (But hey, Sen. Frist's HMO empire is making money hand over fist, and what really is the most important priority in a capitalist economy?)

So, I understand LTC Bateman's impulse to ban weapons. Before we go there (or perhaps in addition to going there), how about we change our procedures to effectively enforce the gun ownership laws we have, and get mentally ill people the care they need before someone gets hurt?

To answer Mr. Pierce's previous question: yes. Yes, it would be gauche to make comparisons to Wounded Knee in the immediate future. Your point is valid, but this is a singularly poor time to make the comparison. Now is the time to make compassionate remarks about the victims, and do as little as possible to inflame their grief. Telling someone their pain is less that someone else is an intellectually smug and unhelpful observation that immature intellectuals are prone to make. The shrieking section of the right wing media will be all over this one with more verbal flatulence about "____ hates America."

Don't be politically stupid (a la the gay and lesbian community picking no time but 2004 [!!] to launch the "gay marriage" campaign that handed Karl Rove an issue on a silver platter, but I digress ...). Wait a few weeks. Then, when we are at an appropriate time to discuss Wounded Knee (say, its anniversary), draw the comparisons to the VA Tech shootings, and use your audience's emotions about VA Tech to get them to feel the pain of the victims of Wounded Knee. Use popular emotion; don't get into some fat-headed, contrarian crusade about who has suffered more than whom.

Name: Brian Thomas

Hometown: Portland

Eric,

Siva Vaidhyanathan's commentary about NBC's decision to release portions of the Cho Seung-Hui manifesto makes some excellent points about how sickening it will be to see that video get recycled through YouTube and the rest of our image recycling machinery. However, Vaidhyanathan dances around the central issue. In a way timed to gain maximum publicity his employer aired key sections of the killer's plea for other deeply angry and alienated individuals to rise up against "their oppressors" and slaughter innocent people. The portion of the video manifesto I heard played through the MSNBC.com website referred to the Columbine killers as martyrs for the cause. Surrounding this manifesto was the soothing voice of NBC talking heads and a news division chief telling us how much care they had taken in deciding what to air.

I didn't much like Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," but it was a hell of a lot better than this NBC remake. The actions of these NBC celebrity broadcasters and executives are at least as offensive and damaging to our society as the recent inexcusable words of Don Imus.

Name: Roger H. Werner

Hometown: Stockton California

I found Rauchway's arguments interesting and while his book might be very good, I found his arguments less than convincing. The justifications for the US invasion of Iraq were rather well stated by Bush and others in his administration. Apologists may wish otherwise, but the justifications offered by Bush and company were transparently false. They were false when they were proposed and they remain false today. When WMDs failed to materialize, the administration backpedaled and sought all sorts of reasons why the US was justified in invading Iraq. We may wish to debate the validity of the offered justifications but the fact is this: Congress and the American people are unlikely to have approved and supported any invasion without the presence of an imminent and real threat. No threat existed. I have a hard time finding the similarities between Iraq 2003 and Russia 1918. Wilson had specific justifications for his 1918 Russian adventure.

Name: Jordan

Hometown: Seattle

Eric,

Quotes of the day:

"We still have full confidence, the president has full confidence in President Wolfowitz," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino "And the President has full confidence in him (Gonzales)."

Q: Does the President ever get tired of having to express his full confidence in the people around him these days?

MS. PERINO: When you're President of the United States and you have this many folks that you are employing, it's a pretty small number that he's had to express full confidence in. All of us who serve at the pleasure of the President, if the moment he doesn't have full confidence in you, you no longer work for him. And we all take that very seriously.

My favorite is "it's a pretty small number that he's had to express full confidence in."

If these guys were managers of major league baseball teams, we would know that they were about to be yanked for a reliever, but who knows what having Bush's confidence means.

Name: David Shaffer

Hometown: Harleysville, PA

Doc -

Reading about the "my-dog-ate-my-homework" story concerning the DOJ's inability to get required documents to Congress raises the question:

Do our Senators and Representatives remember that they can jail people for contempt of Congress? We could start with Karl Rove - I'm sure they could find room for him at Gitmo.

On the book title: (1) Liberals: Why Are They Called Left When They're Right? -- or (2) Liberalism: Left Is Right and Right Is Wrong.

Eric replies: Nope, nope.

Name: Chuck Moore

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

For The Common Good (and then some kind of subtitle to the effect of "A Liberal Primer" or "A Primer On Liberalism")

Eric replies: Nope.

Name: Marc in Denver

Hometown: Denver, CO

How about, as a detached ironic shout-out to Catherine MacKinnon, "Liberalism Unmodified"?

Eric replies: Nope.

Name: Jeff B

Hometown: Florence, KY

OK, I'll throw my idea out there. How about "Intolerance Will Not Be Tolerated: The Liberal Conundrum" ?

Eric replies: Nope.

Name: Mike

Hometown: Warsaw IN

I've always thought "High Bouncing Gatsby," which Fitzgerald considered, was one of the all time best never-used book titles. I therefore submit "High Bouncing Liberal" for your tome.

Name: Hank Leland

Hometown: DC

A thorough review of suggested titles and of your responses thereto suggests the most appropriate title is "Dr. Nope."

Eric replies: Nope.

Name: Scotty

Hometown: Richmond, Va.

Dr. A.

Maybe because its spring ... but I was thinking maybe you need a lighter title, one that's a little more hip ...

How's about ...

"Liberal and Lovin' it!"

I'm seeing this with a sort of Rat Pack picture on the cover, maybe you and Krugman and Pierce with your ties loosened, posed in front of the CUNY or the Strand bookstore or some 'smart" place.

Same goes for; "Essays for Swinging Liberals" and "Liberal A-Go-Go" ... The kids love that stuff.

In the same vein there's also "Beyond the Valley of the Ultra-Liberals" with a nod to socially conscious auteur Russ Meyer ...

Don't say no until you've thought about it.

How about "Liberal, like a Fox" with a close up of you tapping your temple knowingly.

Look, I could go on and on here, but you get the idea. If I'm in the ballpark let me know, there's plenty more where this came from.

Keep up the good work.

Eric replies: Well, maybe ... Naaahhh.

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