POSEUR ALERT

“Dear peoples, though I rarely do stuff like this, pestering the masses, this is a topic that is too vital, too central, and too important to our entire planet to ignore or to simply not do something about. Every once in a long while, one nation on our small planet attempts to take a selfish step that goes against the tide of history. That time is now, and that nation is us. I’m asking for your help to stop George W. Bush’s energy plan. His plan will take us back in time to an era when we moved Native Americans from their lands in order to mine the minerals where they lived, a time when people thought that nuclear power was safe, a time when coal powerplants turned America’s skies black as the night.” – Mike D. of the Beastie Boys, taking a stand.

IF YOU’RE A LIBERAL, WE DON’T CARE ABOUT A PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE: The Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web Today on Friday rightly highlights the latest twists in a recent non-child-abuse scandal in Wenatchee, Washington. It was in the proud tradition of Dorothy Rabinowitz, who exposed several fallacious pedophile witch-hunts (see the item headlined “The Peter Principle”). So it’s a little jarring to read further down the page in the offensively titled item, “Dispatches from the Porn Belt,” a reprinting of pedophile charges against the liberal comic Paula Poundstone. We have no idea who has made the accusations, we don’t know what Poundstone’s defense might be, we have no idea how legitimate these claims are. Still, the Journal blithely passes them along, and justifies it by tying pedophilia to any state that voted for Gore in the last election. In a word: sickening. And against everything Ms. Rabinowitz won the Pulitzer for.

DOONESBURY CROSSES THE LINE: I remember at the very beginning of the Clinton presidency, we discussed at The New Republic a comic feature along the lines of Doug McGrath’s wonderful “Shrub File.” We were looking for a way to write about the new administration from an insider’s view. One idea was Chelsea’s Diary, a spoof of what the First Daughter saw and believed. We quickly nixed the idea because it was unfair – even in fiction – to drag a young girl into the political cross-hairs. By and large, the media followed suit, admirably leaving Chelsea alone for eight years. (In the end, it was her father who exposed her to intolerable public stress.) Now comes liberal do-gooder Garry Trudeau with a cartoon strip that violates any tattered remnants of the First Family’s privacy. Trudeau is a great cartoonist and often very funny. Which is why it’s sad he sometimes lets his hatred of Republicans get the better of him. Especially to the extent of using a private 18 year-old’s life as fodder for attacking the president.

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DEBATING HOROWITZ

I waited for a while to address my friend David Horowitz’s recent article on gays in the military in Salon. I didn’t want to obsess about a subject I was already writing a lot about. But I don’t want to seem to be ducking a debate either. So here goes. David makes one vital and good point. Not all opposition to openly gay men and women serving in the military is fueled by sheer prejudice. I hope I didn’t write anything to suggest otherwise. What David homes in on is the central, non-prejudicial argument presented in 1993: that openly gay soldiers would weaken unit cohesion and so harm military preparedness. I agree that this issue of preparedness – and not civilian standards of fairness – is the central concern for a military fighting wars. But I also believe, as I think David does, that if both fairness and competence can be achieved, so much the better for a democratic society’s military. The reason I disagree with David is that I simply don’t buy the unit cohesion argument. Its most eloquent supporter back in 1993, military analyst Charlie Moskos, has subsequently changed his mind, after studying the matter more closely in militaries abroad. So has Lawrence Korb, former Reagan official. The recent experience in the British and Australian militaries, who have now ended their own gay bans, helped bring Moskos and Korb around. The few fighting units in both countries with openly gay personnel have had nothing but minor problems. Even the staunchly Tory Daily Telegraph recently conceded that the end of the ban had been a non-event for all concerned in Britain. Why? Because most gay servicemembers are not radical activists. They’re among the most conservative homosexuals around. In almost every case, even when allowed to be open, they choose to keep their sexual orientation private on duty and at work. The number of openly gay soldiers in Canada and Britain have amounted to a few dozen at most since the ban ended – and, because many already have the respect of their peers, they have been free from abuse or disruption. The real, practical effect of an end to the ban would therefore, I’d wager, not be an influx of gay soldiers (there are plenty in uniform right now and always have been) but simply an end to the intolerable stress imposed upon gay soldiers who fear at every moment that they can be busted, harassed or, in extreme cases, assaulted with little response from the top brass. It would also remove the loophole I wrote about whereby straight guys get an easy out by simply saying they’re gay.

DROPPING THE SOAP: What about the showers issue? Again, it’s largely a non-event. The difference between a post-ban military and now would not be gay soldiers being in the showers rather than not in the showers. They’re in the showers now. In fact, every communal shower straight men have ever been in has had a gay guy somewhere – from football practice to the gym. The difference is that this would have to be acknowledged in a handful of cases in a post-ban military. Sure, there may be some awkward moments, but I can’t believe that this small issue is really going to cripple military effectiveness. If anything, those openly gay men in the showers and bunks may well be forced to adopt even stricter forms of self-effacement than before. Above all, they will be given an opportunity to disprove all the hysterical stereotypes about gay men – that they’re sexual predators, that they find even all straight guys indiscriminately attractive (don’t kid yourselves), that they can’t keep their pants on, and so on. Strict rules about fraternization should be enforced and anyone found disobeying them should be thrown out. Isn’t this approach – giving people a chance to prove themselves, regardless of identity – part of what conservatism should now be about? Since when should conservatives assume certain behavior of people just because they belong to a particular ethnic, sexual or religious group? I thought that was what the left is now all about.

TWO OTHER THINGS: I think David is off-base with his analogy to racial integration. The military integrated in 1948 under extreme duress. The impact on unit cohesion was far deeper than any openly gay presence would be, because racism was far more entrenched then than now, because there are many more blacks than gays, and because, unlike gays, blacks couldn’t hide. Truman believed that ending this discrimination was worthwhile even if it temporarily disrupted the military’s preparedness at the height of the Cold War. Are we really saying that in a time of peace, we cannot afford even a tiny risk of the same thing? And the women-in-combat analogy is also inapt. The British and Israeli experience suggests that integrating women is far more disruptive than integrating gay men – because women are not physically or psychologically the same as men, and because women had never been in such positions before. The difference with gay men is that they’ve been in the military for ever, and they’re men, goddammit. In fact, I think one of the deepest reasons for resistance to the notion of gay soldiers is that their very presence debunks the effeminacy that many (including the p.c. left and far-right) want to foist onto most homosexuals. It’s not true; it has never been true; and it deserves debunking. David, here’s another anti-p.c. crusade we could both endorse. Why not come join me?

THE TIMES VERSUS THE FACTS

“With the low turnout in yesterday’s primary, once again we see the perils of such tactics – they leave too many voters with the idea that neither candidate is worthy of the job or worth the time and effort it takes to vote. Over the next four months, New Jersey voters deserve a general election campaign that stresses the sharp policy and philosophical differences between Mr. Schundler and Mr. McGreevey without turning off the electorate.” – The New York Times editorial on the New Jersey Republican primary. In fact, the turnout in the primary was the highest for either party in twenty years. Correction, anyone?

NOW STOSSEL GETS MUZZLED

The authoritarian left is at it again: this time against John Stossel, a reporter who has the gall to report that our environment is far cleaner and healthier today than thirty years ago. For an ABC News show on phony environmentalism, Stossel interviewed some children to learn their views about the environment. Of course, they all reiterated the view dinned into them by most sources – that the earth is sicker than ever. Enviro-lefties subsequently got hold of the kids’ parents, smeared Stossel, and persuaded the parents to yank permission. Sure, as Stossel acknowledges, the parents have every right to keep their kids from appearing on a TV show. But the context stinks. And we all know the Environmental Working Group’s real agenda: to end any dissent on environmental matters, and stifle free speech by any means possible. The left did it to Dr Laura. They will try to do it to anyone who dares take their often-silly ideas on. Kudos for ABC News for standing by Stossel. And kudos for Stossel for fighting back.

PETARD HOIST WATCH: Yesterday’s New York Times had a telling story about some bus shelter ads for HIV testing in New York. One poster showed two men together with the slogan: “I’m not gay, but I sometimes have sex with other guys,” and provided a number for a health-line. This is exactly the kind of campaign needed to target men who have sex with other men, especially Hispanic or black men, but who do not identify as “gay.” Alas, some people objected to the sexual dimension of the ads, and the ads have now been pulled. The piece quoted no gay activists complaining – but then how can they any more? Who, after all, campaigned to remove other HIV ads in San Francisco and elsewhere, because they found the content – that people with HIV can be healthy, sexy, positive people – offensive? All of this helps show how gay attacks on freedom of expression will backfire sooner rather than later. No group needs the First Amendment more than gays. When gays attack it for p.c. reasons, they will only remove the surest defense they have against a sometimes oppressive majority.

BEGALA AWARD NOMINEE

“The Cuban American community in Miami, in its handling of Elian, seemed to suffer a stunning political and public relations defeat. The leaders of the community showed themselves to be single-minded zealots – emotional, unreasonable, even fanatical, driven by wild-eyed anti-Castroism.” – Gregory B. Craig, today’s Washington Post. And easily led?

THIRD WAY REALITY CHECK: Having won the election in part on plans to Thatcherize Britain’s Soviet-style public health and education services, Tony Blair now has to tackle the entrenched opposition of the labor unions who are part of his base. Guess what? He’s already waffling. Even the Guardian, aka the Blair government’s p.r. agency, can’t quite spin this one effectively. Blair says he has a mandate for change, but is backing down on privatization. The union leaders, after a meeting at Number 10, Downing Street, declared that Blair had eaten “humble pie.”

QUINDLEN FOR INFANTICIDE

I suppose it’s only fitting that a writer who has long blithely supported abortion on demand should now be straining to sympathize with Andrea Yates, who is accused of drowning her five young children in a bath-tub. Anna Quindlen’s logic-free discourses have long been hathetic masterpieces to me, but this latest one in Newsweek stood out. Yes, being a mother of young children can surely be hell at times. And we should surely not begrudge mothers from venting – or being honest about their mixed feelings from time to time about their kids. But killing them? It seems to me that even the severity of post-partum depression doesn’t excuse or mitigate this evil. I speak from some experience. My own mother had acute post-partum depression after my younger brother was born, and was hospitalized for months for it when I was four. She suffered terribly from a recurrence of this disease for many years, was hospitalized several times, and watching her long and dreadful ordeal close-up was one of the most searing experiences of my life. But she was still a mother – an amazing one, who loved her children beyond measure and did everything she possibly could for us despite her illness. Quindlen calls this achievement “the insidious cult of motherhood.” Well, sign me up then please. When I read Quindlen’s glib posturing, even equating her own privileged motherhood with Yates’ or with others’ who have had to deal with real mental illness as well as rearing kids, I felt like someone had gut-punched my sense of moral order. Yes, empathy for someone dealing with extreme stress and isolation is well and good. But nothing – nothing – can excuse what Andrea Yates has been accused of doing. If killing five young kids in a bath-tub cannot be simply and roundly condemned, what can?

WHAT A BROCK: Mickey Kaus and Jill Abramson get it just about right on David Brock’s latest piece of flim-flam. Abramson tells Howie Kurtz: “”the problem with Brock’s credibility” is that “once you admit you’ve knowingly written false things, how do you know when to believe what he writes? . . . It’d be awfully convenient to now say because what he’s writing is personally pleasing to me that he’s a 100 percent solid reporter. That would be a little disingenuous.”” Mickey lets it go with an ancient Chinese proverb: “Man who lies once for money and fame may lie again for money and fame.” I have a couple of other theories about Brock, whom I’ve observed from a distance in both gay and political Washington for over a decade. The first is that his current publicity stunt (we should all be grateful he didn’t take his shirt off this time) is a possible attempt to get the American Spectator sued. He confesses that he knowingly wrote an untruth in the magazine – a textbook case of libel. Will Kaye Savage and Anita Hill, whom he maligned and intimidated, sue him? Will Mayer and Abramson? Nah. If they sue anyone, it would be the Spectator itself. Even if nothing transpires, Brock must be enjoying the brief stress he has placed on his former protectors. The second theory is that Brock is a gay man who simply cracked under pressure. Knowing he was gay in the first place made him do things far more extreme than he was comfortable with in order to impress people he believed were homophobic and would only accept him if he were not just right-wing – but a right-wing hero. Hence his over-compensating attack-dog pyrotechnics. Note that this was largely in his own head. What matters is not whether his conservative allies actually were, as he charmingly puts it, “racist, homophobic Clinton-haters.” (Some probably were, but many were not.) What matters is that he thought they were and acted accordingly. So his original deceit was really a function of his homosexual insecurity in a right-wing world. With his Hillary book, Brock tried to see whether his conservative friends and allies would appreciate him for himself and his talents. When his book met with conservative indifference (actually, it met with universal indifference), he went off the deep end. It’s far easier to believe, after all, that you’re a victim of racist homophobes than that you simply wrote a not-too-interesting book. By then, the usual identity-mongers on the left were cooing in his ears and acceptance seemed finally achievable – by sucking up to liberals. Of course, he was wrong again. Liberals aren’t interested in him as such – as Abramson, Kaus and Noah have just shown – and I don’t blame them. Brock has demonstrated he cannot be trusted. He has confessed to being an opportunistic liar and character-assassin. Why would anyone trust him again? So this last little pirouette in a seemingly endless musical number will not settle anything. In fact, it makes me faintly nauseated. Using the word “conscience” in a book title when you have done what Brock has done is not confession. It’s spin. At long last, in his lack of center, in his need for love, in his contempt for ethics, he resembles almost perfectly the man he has fittingly come to embrace: Bill Clinton.

A CONVICTION POLITICIAN

“Folks, we have a moral responsibility to get taxes down.” When did you last hear that kind of clarity? Of course giving people back real control over their own lives is a moral issue. If people want to know why Bret Schundler won the Republican primary for New Jersey governor last night, that sentence will tell them a lot. So too will these from his victory speech: “I want there to be a day when African- American children in the lowest-income sections of this state don’t feel that there is a wall separating them from the opportunities other children have. I want senior citizens to know that they will not have to worry about paying their taxes or feeding themselves or losing their homes. And I want each one of you to know that New Jersey will not become one great L.A. sprawl out to every corner and paving over every green space.” It’s a good conservative combo: school vouchers, social security privatization, environmental concern. President Bush placed a congratulatory call to Schundler last night. I hoped he stayed on the line a while to take some advice.

THE HEALTH POLICE STATE: When it was revealed by Daniel Forbes in Salon that the White House Anti-Drug Office had been quietly insinuating government propaganda into network television, there was a justifiable hue and cry over excessive government power. The program was subsequently aborted. But now it turns out, according to the New York Times, that the Centers for Disease Control have been proudly doing the same thing. A recent episode of Beverly Hills 90210 was doctored to put across the correct message about using sunscreen to head off skin cancer. The Times reports that “In addition to providing “tips for scripts,” in the C.D.C.’s lexicon, on topics that include things like chlamydia and secondhand smoke, the agency is offering its experts as unpaid short-term technical advisers to help television writers get accurate information. Last week, Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the disease control centers, visited the Warner Brothers studios to kick around health topics with the writers and producers of “E.R.” and “The West Wing.”” Am I the only one to be disturbed by this? In recent years, legitimate efforts to improve public health, by the provision of good information and monitoring of diseases have been supplemented by a creeping authoritarianism. Whether it’s peddling bogus claims about second-hand smoke or censoring ads for anti-HIV drugs, government is gradually increasing its power to tell us how to live our lives under the rubric of ‘health.’ I don’t mind too much when it’s private entities peddling their nostrums – as long as there is full disclosure. What I do mind is tax-payers dollars going to bossy health propagandists – especially since health is now understood to include not just disease prevention but a whole range of prevention measures that add up to spectrum of lifestyle choices.

THEY ALSO SERVED: Here’s an email I just received that says more than I ever could about the injustice of our current military policy toward homosexuals. I think it speaks for itself. I have changed some details to protect privacy and anonymity: “About six years ago, I met a man who became a very good friend of mine. We were both volunteers for a local charity. He was out, very social and had many stories to share about his life. He shared stories about what it was like to be gay in the 1930s up until the 1970s. He met Presidents, celebrities, entertainers, and he also served in WWll. His military experience involved serving in the infantry in Europe right after D-Day and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He told stories to me of the freezing cold, going two months without changing clothes, of his foxhole buddy dying from shrapnel through his helmet right next to him. All of these stories were told matter-of-factly, as just a part of his life. He also keeps in touch with the members of his division and they have one or two reunions every year. If someone doesn’t show up, the others find out why and what is going on. Whole families attend these reunions, also widows and children. Well, last reunion my friend didn’t show up. He had an illness, and is still in recovery. He received many cards and calls from his concerned war buddies, which thrilled and I believe strengthened him. One phone message I heard when I was visiting him in which his buddy sent his “love” made him laugh with joy. As the case may be, my friend is not out to his military buddies. He is a product of his era, and also of the military and he is still not being asked and he is not telling. This doesn’t diminish the love and affection all of these men have for each other, but I still feel it is wrong. I am not passing judgment on my friend for not telling, nor on his friends for not asking. What I think is wrong is that this man fought for his country, in one of the most horrendous battles in one of the most grueling wars of this country’s history. What I feel is wrong is that today, my friend would not have had the opportunity to fight for his country, and I feel that his actions in the military in the past are going completely and disgracefully unacknowledged. This is not a sitcom, this is someone’s life. I have never written anything like this before, but I love, admire and respect my friend, and I think that the stories of our gay military heroes should and must be told.” Amen, soldier. Amen.

BEGALA AWARD NOMINEE: “Like the proponents of apartheid before them, these [pharmaceutical] companies acted to maintain the rules of a system that denies the value of black lives in favor of minority privilege. The result in Africa has been murder by patent.” – Salih Booker and William Minter, in an article obscenely titled “Global Apartheid,” in – where else? – The Nation.