MAKING IT: How does a conservative break into one of the leading papers? There are two ways, as this week illustrated. In one case, he gets involved in something certain people in liberal Washington might find disturbing. This activity then becomes the stuff of a major page one story. Exposed and discredited, the man behind it is essentially told to cease and desist — and crawl back in his hole. In the other case it’s the conservative who actually does the writing, usually in the form of an op-ed that at least in part criticizes the conservative or leading Republican view of the matter under discussion. In such a piece it’s possible to gently scold the liberal/Democratic position as well. But the important thing is that it above all buy into certain liberal premises. In return it runs as the lead op-ed.
It’s no accident that Grover Norquist has never written the latter kind of piece for the New York Times and Washington Post. As president of Americans for Tax Reform and a leading conservative and Republican strategist, he doesn’t seek the liberal papers’ approval but seems instead to measure his success by the degree to which he can rub them the wrong way. His latest score along these lines was last Monday’s Post story ominously headlined, “GOP Monitoring Lobbyists’ Politics: White House, Hill Access May Be Affected.” The short of it is that in something called the “K Street Project” Norquist and “other prominent Republican lobbyists” have gone through public records to determine the political activity and giving of Washington lobbyists and listed this information in a report, a draft of which is apparently already in White House hands. The hope is that it will cause the Republican administration to give preference to GOP over Democratic backers, and also “prod” corporations, trade groups, and lobbying firms to hire more Republicans for their Washington offices.
In Washington, where Democratic lobbyists aren’t used to rude treatment under a GOP presidency, Norquist’s project is akin to the second coming of Joe McCarthy. As confirmed in its opening sentence, the story is important because it describes a campaign that “could deny government access and prime lobbying jobs to Democrats.” Later we’re told: “Democrats expressed outrage that Republican were politically profiling at best — and blacklisting at worst — the denizens of K Street…” Tom Daschle is among those very upset: “I am appalled that anybody would be that brazen.” Daschle added that his lobbyist friends (such as his wife?) “have cautioned him that Republicans are pressuring firms to purge Democrats.” Said Daschle: “If they put this in writing, that puts a whole new dimension to this practice.”
Now imagine if Norquist were a woman and his goal was to break through the glass ceilings at Washington’s leading lobbying firms. He’d be treated as a heroine and Daschle would be kissing his hand. When it comes to challenging and changing the unwritten rules of Washington, there’s no one like Norquist — and it must make his day if Tom Daschle calls him brazen in the Washington Post. How many Republicans can be said to be that unafraid?
Which brings us to the second type of conservative appearance in the Post-Times orbit. While Ramesh Ponnuru’s Tuesday op-ed in the Times would never qualify for the Kevin Phillips award that Norquist likes to confer on conservatives who criticize conservatives on liberal turf in order to win liberal favor, it does say enough that can only be described as music to liberal anti-Bush ears. Ostensibly, Ponnuru’s main point is unexceptional: the war on terrorism should be the subject of healthy debate. Everyone knows Republicans are generally more hawkish than Democrats, or that the arguments for war against Saddam Hussein can go either way. Let’s deal with all these issues openly, he urges, and let the “terrorism war be a partisan issue.”
What worries Ponnuru, however, is that when it comes to the war the country finds itself under a “smothering unity.” And here he essentially blames the White House and its allies, for responding to “mild criticism” by accusing “the Democrats of irresponsibly undermining the war on terror.” Instead of welcoming a “robust debate,” the Bush administration “would rather pretend that criticism undermines American resolve and is always politically motivated.” Well, when has the anti-Bush criticism not been politically motivated? Ponnuru doesn’t say, though he does turn on a dime to argue that “war time criticism, much of it politically motivated, is an American tradition.” If that’s the case, what’s the problem if the White House calls its critics politically motivated? That’s rather healthy and robust of it, no? One might even compliment the White House for doing a splendid, politically motivated job in fending off its politically motivated critics.
One suspects, though, that that would be the last thing the op-ed editors at the Times would want to hear.
CLINTONITES OF THE WEEK Why do liberals get no respect? Consider this latest little episode. The kids at “Tapped,” the American Prospect Online‘s hot new blog, thought they saw a new opportunity to go after some favorite neoconservative prey, and so they pounced, with this item last Monday:
FORGET SOCIALISM. WHAT ABOUT NEPOTISM? Astute commentators have long noted the neoconservative penchant for nepotism. (The upwards failure of John Podhoretz, possibly the worst movie critic in Christendom, being the prime example.) Last week the excellent Rittenhouse Review noted that Midge Decter’s latest review essay in Commentary heaps praise on Joshua Muravchik’s new book Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. But that’s no surprise. Decter is Muravchik’s aunt! Like Rittenhouse, we wonder if Commentary editor Neal Kozodoy knew this when he assigned the book. [posted 11:10 am]
Now anyone who knows anything about anything immediately could see the item is dead wrong. Pathetically dead wrong (not to mention scurrilous — but then that’s what makes Democratic Party mouthpieces so lovable). The only question is what kind of correction and apology Tapped would post and how long it would take before they appeared. Twenty four hours and ten minutes later, “Tapped” did finally react, with this:
OOPS. Yesterday we linked to what seemed like a juicy post from the usually-reliable Rittenhouse Review regarding a supposed familial tie between Midge Decter and Joshua Muravchik, the former having reviewed the latter’s book in Commentary recently. Turns out Rittenhouse was dead wrong. Here’s the correction. (The original post seems to have been taken down.) [posted 11:20 am]
What’s wrong with that picture? First, not a word of apology, not just to Ms. Decter and Mr. Muravchik, but to Neal Kozodoy, whose integrity was also impugned, not to mention to John Podhoretz, who got mugged for no reason. Second, no acceptance of responsibility. Instead, all blame is pointed at “dead-wrong” Rittenhouse. One day you’re “excellent,” next day you’re dead meat. But what about Tapped? One suspects its office is big on hygiene, a place where everyone keeps very busy washing his hands.