At Large

The Pipsqueaks’ Dirty War

Hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned.

By 1.14.03

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Hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned, and that may be why the New York Times has turned so nasty. All year the editorial page did its best, but hardly anyone paid attention, and for the publisher and his high editors it was one disappointment after another. Most painful of all, of course, was the November election. The Republicans had no business winning, but somehow they did. Then Bush went ahead with his conservative judicial nominees, and now he's calling for draconian tax cuts. Consequently the editorial page is beside itself, and it grows increasingly shrill.

A few Sundays ago, for example, the lead editorial began, "Now that Trent Lott has reminded the nation that ugly, antiquated racial attitudes still exist in this country, even in the highest ranks of government," and went on to warn us about Bush's judicial nominees. "Their views on race," it seems, "raise troubling questions."

But if the Lott affair reminded us of anything at all it was the emptiness of political rhetoric. Liberals and conservatives vied for the moral high ground as they denounced Lott's indiscretion. The Times assertion about "ugly, antiquated racial attitudes…even in the highest ranks of government," by which it meant the White House, was simply untrue. The accusation was inspired only by mean-spiritedness.

Then last Sunday the Times was at it again. An editorial charged Bush with complicity in the deaths of some unknown number of women. The White House, it seems, is not only racist; it is misogynist, too, and it hands drip with blood. According to the Times, President Bush's policies are "crippling the international family planning programs that work to prevent hundreds of thousands of infant and maternal deaths worldwide each year."

The lengthy editorial -- the only one on the page that day, a sign of the importance the Times attached to it -- appeared under the headline "The War Against Women." Indeed it said the war was a "major preoccupation of his [Bush's] administration, second only, perhaps, to the war on terrorism." Bush's "assault on reproductive rights," it seems, is "part of a larger ongoing cultural battle," and whether it stems from his "moral or religious beliefs" or only caters to "extreme elements within his party" is unimportant. What is important is that here and abroad, "some women will needlessly die."

Meanwhile other than the one lone reference to "moral or religious beliefs," there was nothing in the editorial to suggest that a great many Americans have genuine qualms about abortion. They are neither bigots nor fanatics, but they believe in the sanctity of life.

The Times dismisses them, however, and when it does it also points up its own irrelevancy. It is not serious, and it wants only to attack the White House. Meanwhile it recognizes no middle ground, and so it disqualifies itself as a serious critic. The Bush Administration, in fact, can be quite legitimately criticized for often surrendering to the ignoramus wing of conservatism. It sends delegates who think condoms are tools of the devil to international conferences on family planning, AIDS and related matters in impoverished Third World countries.

But the Times is more interested in rallying dispirited liberals, and putting fire in their bellies. The nuts and bolts of policy is not that important. The election was a wake-up call, and Bush must be stopped before he gains more ground; and if the Democrats themselves can't do this, then the press must do it for them. David Remnick was explicit about this in a recent issue of the New Yorker. A principal reason for Bush's success, he wrote, is that "the Democrats -- cowed, confused, incoherent -- too often end up speaking, when they speak at all, in the helium voice of a Warner Bros. pipsqueak."

Remnick is editor of the New Yorker, which, of course, believes as the Times does: liberals enlightened, conservatives benighted, and so forth. Meanwhile Remnick's characterization about the cowed Democrats appeared in a Talk of the Town piece he wrote about Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Havel, Remnick wrote, had triumphed over a totalitarian system, and restored the "dimensions and vigor of the liberal idea." America's Democrats, presumably, should now do the same. Remnick seemed to think the old Evil Empire and the Bush Administration had a great deal in common.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.