ARIANNA IN OUTER SPACE

Can anyone tell me what on earth has happened to Arianna Huffington? Until pretty recently, she was often funny, smart and on the ball. Yes, she was a bit of a vamp for the cameras, but she had a brain almost as big as her hair, and we were mainly the better off for it. She and I were – are – friends. But in a matter of a few years, she has gone from being the spouse of a potential Republican Senator, to some kind of neo-populist, to a tired and tiresome leftist. Today I read a column of hers about Bush’s environmental record, peddling all the usual NPR canards, failing to make any substantive points about what actually is different between Clinton and Bush on matters green, and then complaining that all the pro- and anti-greens care about is spin. Spinner, heal thyself. I’ve spent some time these past few years defending Arianna against those who have described her as a shallow opportunist and intellectual fraud. But I can’t keep doing it if she keeps producing the direst pieces of self-incrimination this side of Bob Kerrey.

NANNY STATE UPDATE: Prompted by the neo-Stalinists who run San Francisco, the FDA has now ordered pharmaceutical companies to cease publishing or making ads for HIV drugs that show people with HIV as healthy, happy or physically fit. Some truly bitter activists in SF can’t bear the sight of some people actually doing well on HIV meds, thriving physically, repairing their lives and responding to ads that help keep their spirits up and their minds educated. The activists argue that the ads don’t accurately describe the nausea, fatigue, and other side-effects of the drugs and encourage unsafe sex because they reduce the stigma of HIV. Duh. Why would anyone want to access a drug whose ad implies it will make you look like hell? (Besides are some difficult side-effects more troublesome than the alternative?) And the reason people might think unsafe sex is less risky today is not because they just saw an ad. It’s because the risks of getting HIV today are far lower than they were just five, let alone ten, years ago. I can see the point of having small-print in the ads explaining side-effects (as the ads now include by law) but what on earth is gained by re-stigmatizing the sick and undermining the self-esteem of people with HIV? Don’t these people realize that a positive psychological outlook is critical to long-term survival? I thought I’d seen everything in lunatic AIDS activism. But this is a truly new low. Next they’ll be trying to force some of us who look physically healthy and are openly HIV-positive to stay indoors all day so as not to send out the wrong signals. Or will we all be banned from the gym?

LIKE IKE?: Some interesting parallels between Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush. Check out my recent Sunday Times column opposite.

THE UNEXAMINED EDITORIAL PAGE: The authors of the study I cited yesterday showing unprecedented hostility to George W. Bush from the editorials and op-eds at the New York Times have an op-ed in the New York Times today, called “The Unexamined President.” They relate the results of their study of the media’s coverage of Bush with one obvious piece missing. You guessed it.

THE RANKS OPEN A LITTLE: The best piece I’ve read so far about Bob Kerrey is in Slate. It’s by my old friend Jake Weisberg. Jake manages both to empathize with Kerrey (whom he admires) and to avoid flinching from judgment. This is particularly admirable coming from someone who wrote one of the most fawning pieces I’ve ever read about a politician, on Bob Kerrey, in The New Republic in 1989. Kerrey subsequently told Jake he never read the story. Figures. It was entitled, if memory serves, “Saint Bob.” Not quite. There’s also a decent column by Richard Cohen today on how the Establishment’s view that Bob Kerrey should be left alone to “heal” is dubious. Could there be the beginning of a backlash?

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CRACK HOUSES AND OUT OF CONTROL PROSECUTORS

Brave and smart piece in National Review Online by Dave Kopel, urging President Bush to fire New Orleans U.S. Attorney, Eddie Jordan. Jordan has recently decided to try and shut down theaters that house “techno-raves” on the grounds that they are de facto equivalents of “crack-houses” that are already illegal as venues designed for drug -use. Jordan has even gone so far as to call plastic water bottles and glow-sticks the equivalents of drug paraphernalia, like bongs, and needles. Kopel is right that this is a tendentious invention of the law – the prosecutorial equivalent of judicial activism. But he’s surely wrong about one thing: the core of techno and rave music is drug-use. The cacophonous, monotonous music is all but unbearable without Ecstasy, Ketamine, Crystal, and other illegal drugs that fuel energy and temporarily lobotomize the brain. In fact, drug use is even more intrinsic to the genre than pot to jazz. The proper defense of these raves is that they are experiences that adults choose to enjoy with little harm to anyone except themselves. A free society would let these people be. A puritanical society would seek exactly the solution proffered by Jordan. No prizes for guessing in which direction we’re headed.

HOME NEWS: PoliticalProfessional.com has just named us their smart site of the week. “The tactics and techniques underlying Sullivan’s strategy of web communication — at once personal, inclusive, integrated, and on message — look, to us, like a glimpse into the future of political communications on the Internet,” the editors say. They also call us: “always smart, often witty, and full of lessons for political professionals.” They seem particularly impressed, as professional pols might be, with our fundraising. The Tipping Point, by the way, just cruised past the $11,000 barrier. Not a fortune – but we’ve plowed it right back into a redesign to be unveiled soon. Thanks again

PRO-DEATH CATHOLICS

I’m glad to find that John DiIulio has actually written against the death penalty. My web search for articles didn’t include the Wall Street Journal, where an article he wrote in 1997 demonstrates his opposition. Good for him. It’s worth pointing out though that his view is not moral but prudential. It’s not an argument against the death penalty as such, but against it under its current capricious enforcement. Alas, there’s no free link, but here’s his conclusion: “The death penalty as it has been administered, is administered and will likely continue to be administered is arbitrary and capricious. As a political matter, that’s not likely to change. This who-shall-live state lottery is unjust both as a matter of Judeo-Christian ethics and as a matter of American citizenship. Since we can’t apply it fairly, we ought to consider abolishing it.” I’m sorry I missed it. Ditto the current issue of First Things has a big essay on the death penalty by Cardinal Dulles. It too hedges its bets somewhat, and takes a more lenient view of the death penalty than the current Pope does, but the Cardinal does oppose the sanction of death. Clearly, some Catholic neocons are struggling with this. (Buried in the archives of First Things, Richard John Neuhaus even has a small reflection on the subject – but nothing like the mounds of attention he focuses on homosexuality.) It speaks highly of them that they are – even if I think they’re wriggling a little.

THE KERREY FILES

“We may have made a mistake in sending the memo out, but it’s no mistake to say that if a ballot is illegal, it should be disqualified. It might help for me to go down there. They won’t expect a one-legged Vietnam veteran Medal of Honor winner to argue that a ballot that’s two weeks late should be disqualified. It’s bullshit to say otherwise. That’s one thing you learn in the military—you take responsibility for your actions, you follow orders, and even if you don’t know the rules, you can be court-martialed for not following them.” – from Jake Tapper’s book, “Down And Dirty,” where he reports on a phone conversation between Bob Kerrey and Al Gore during the Florida electoral crisis. I like particularly the notion that “even if you don’t know the rules, you can be court-martialed for not following them.” In fact, as longtime readers may recall, I agreed with Kerrey on the military ballots. But it’s a little rich for him to be a hard-ass when soldiers get their ballot applications wrong and forgiving when they, i.e. he, might have committed a war-crime.

CATHOLICS AND DEATH: Some of you have pointed out (see “PRO-DEATH CATHOLICS” below) that opposition to the death penalty does not have the same binding force as opposition to abortion or homosexual sex. They argue that the Church has ruled that every abortion and same-sex sexual act is wrong but that the death penalty can sometimes be right. My question is: if the current Pope says the execution of McVeigh, an unrepentant mass murderer of civilians, is not moral, then what execution could be? I think the gist of John Paul II’s teaching is that the death penalty is always profoundly wrong. Or, in his formulation, that the examples in modern societies where it is justified are practically non-existent.

THE LIBERAL MEDIA VS BUSH

Only 22 percent of respondents to the New York Times’ online poll have a negative view of George W. Bush’s first 100 days. But the editorial columns of the Washington Post and the New York Times, says the Project for Excellence in Journalism, are another story. A full half of the editorials were critical of Bush, with only 20 percent positive. Compare that with coverage of Clinton, who, despite a disastrous beginning by any standards, garnered positive editorials in his first hundred days twice as often as Bush has. Taking op-eds into account, anti-Bush pieces comprised 40 percent of the space in the Times and Post, compared to a meager 16 percent pro-Bush – a tally that amounts to an unprecedented liberal media crusade against the president. “I think it’s ideological,” Tom Rosenstiel, the project’s director, tells Howie Kurtz, winning the “no-shit” quote prize of the day. Still, the good news is that readers are simply ignoring the editorials. Over 60 percent approval ratings among the general public – and 60 percent approval ratings even among the Times’ online readers – is the best answer to the combined whine of DowdHerbertLewisFriedmanKrugmanCollins, from which not a single positive, or even vaguely fair, squeak can be discerned.

PRO-DEATH CATHOLICS

The Pope’s letter to President Bush appealing for clemency for Timothy McVeigh is no surprise. The Pope regularly makes such appeals and has pioneered a more aggressive Catholic approach to capital punishment. What interests me is the position of many Catholic politicians and public figures who ignore this fundamental tenet of Catholicism with nary an explanatory word. Catholic neoconservatives in particular are stunningly silent on this one, while often demanding of gay Catholics that we stay celibate, and of pro-choice Catholics that they renounce their beliefs. Where are the leading Catholic neocons on this question? Richard John Neuhaus? Robert George? John DiIulio? Bill Bennett? George and Neuhaus take pains to oppose any and every measure to accord civil equality for gay men and lesbians, but I’m unaware of their tireless efforts against the death penalty. Maybe someone can point out to me some work of theirs’ on this matter that I have missed. I hope I’m wrong. DiIulio in particular has never seen fit to explain – to my knowledge – his position on the death penalty, while eagerly supporting a president who has signed the death warrants of more criminals than anyone now alive in this country. I’m not saying it’s incumbent of all Catholics to support every public policy position of the Vatican. For obvious reasons, I don’t believe that. But at least I’ve done what I can to explain my reasons for dissenting with the Church hierarchy on some matters. Don’t these other public writers and thinkers owe us the same favor on an issue that is, on the Church’s own terms, far graver than homosexuality?

THE LATEST KERREY SPIN: I guess we can all agree to disagree on what happened that night in Vietnam when up to 20 unarmed civilians were found massacred in a hut after Bob Kerrey’s unit visited. But what’s amazing to me is the almost unanimous view of the establishment that, whatever the facts, Kerrey should not be criticized, and that no-one who wasn’t there can say anything. (Check out the absolution from both right (Bill Safire) and left (Robert Mann) in the New York Times today. Kerrey is absolved by the right because the war was just and murdering civilians is okay in that context; and he is absolved by the left because LBJ was the real war-criminal.) Where were these understanding souls when Serbian war-criminals were put on trial? Murdering civilians in Bosnia is a barbarism, it seems, for which each war-criminal is responsible. Murdering civilians in Vietnam, on the other hand, is a function of an insane war where chaos reigned and the possible culprit needs “healing” not judgment. Some are even saying (Kerrey included) that no-one should be even subjected to questioning when troubling evidence comes to light. “I’ve got a right to say to you, ‘it’s none of your damned business.’ I carry memories of what I did and I survive . . .” Kerrey told Vistica. As John Leo has pointed out, this is an obscene piece of solipsism. Can you imagine the cops who violated Amadou Diallo saying such a thing and having a story about them spiked in Newsweek? Besides, if soldiers cannot be held personally responsible for possible war crimes, why should they be given awards for heroism? If an individual in such a context has no real responsibility for his actions, no ability to make moral decisions, on what grounds can he even be a hero?

THE RANKS CLOSE: The piece de resistance in Kerrey’s defense came, however, in Sunday’s op-ed by Max Cleland, Chuck Hagel and John Kerry. Here, Kerrey’s changing stories, spin-patrol with sympathetic journalists, and weekend bull-session with every other squad member to align their stories are a function of x85 courage! “Bob Kerrey’s personal and difficult disclosure last week demonstrates the courage we have all known in him for years,” the Senators write. They all oppose even an investigation into the incident. We truly are in Orwellian territory here. Spin is courage. Murder is heroism. Truth is unknowable. War-crimes are not war-crimes if you’ve had nightmares about them ever since.

FEELINGS

The best summary yet of what was wrong with Clinton’s empathy comes from George Will’s excellent column in the Washington Post today. He quotes Samuel Johnson’s warning to Boswell: “You will find those very feeling people not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling.” Wish I’d read that eight years ago.