Letters from our readers.
June 20 1997 3:30 AM

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What's Not to Reich?

With regard to "Robert Reich, Quote Doctor," Jonathan Rauch is either mean, foolish, or both. Most of us in literate America know better than to buy, read, or in any other way attend to Washington memoirs. Such books are produced at a network-movie-of-the-week pace (I doubt Reich had time to unpack before his book appeared), and are meant to polish up whatever glossy finish the author thinks he or she had left upon crossing the Beltway. It doesn't hurt when journalists talk up otherwise unremarkable volumes (positively or negatively). Workaday facts, routines, the same old office coffee, or the unvarnished truth are precisely not the matter of these books.

Rauch naively (or cruelly) and sanctimoniously skewers Reich for doing exactly what is expected of him. Reich, in his response, is only too happy to put on a display of witty woundedness. Rauch strikes back, gleeful in his further discovery of docudramatic distortion in Reich's backhanded self-aggrandizement.

On net (no pun intended), Reich sells a few more novels ... I mean, "books," and Rauch rests easy, knowing he has done his part.


--Robert C. CookEvanston, Ill.

Kesey Does It

I side with Robert Reich ("Robert Reich, Quote Doctor"). Jonathan Rauch attacks the difference in details with a small-mindedness that misses the larger picture Reich was painting. That picture still seems pretty accurate to me. As I read the transcript of the disputed congressional hearing, and then read Reich's account of it, I could see how Reich's account could be essentially accurate. Reich may have actually done a better job of painting a picture of the emotions present in the room--emotions the transcripts failed to capture. (Although, even in the transcripts, you could see some definite hostility and sarcasm, which Rauch seemed to pointedly miss.) As a working professional journalist, I like accurate quotes. But space should be allowed for a memoir that may not be as accurate, in the smallest sense, as a daily newspaper. As Chief said in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, "It's the truth, even if it didn't happen."

--Alex MarshallNorfolk, Va.


We Got the Beats

While reading "Allen Ginsberg's Secret," by Paul Berman, regarding the poet's confession of altering a poem Norman Podhoretz had submitted to the Columbia Review, I was struck by a dark thought: What if Allen Ginsberg and Norman Podhoretz were the same person? Weren't both of them noted for taking long sabbaticals? They were writers, and therefore in a position to arrange their own schedules, correct? And Ginsberg was noted for unleashing many of his more notable works in marathon sessions under the influence of controlled substances, while Podhoretz's work diverged so far from the liberal mainstream that one could argue it could only have emerged using similar means.

I think it behooves Slate, in its effort to take over the public-opinion industry, to make a thorough effort to uncover the truth behind this unnatural connection. Slate's choice for this groundbreaking piece? That should be obvious: Robert Reich.

--Donald StadlerBeltsville, Md.


Apply Liberally

I was enjoying reading Karen Lehrman in the "Dialogue" on revisionist feminism until I came across the statement that "feminism--like liberalism--requires equality of opportunity, not equality of result." Perhaps that is an accurate description of Ms. Lehrman's view of feminism, but it is ludicrous to apply that description to liberalism. Modern liberalism, sad to say, has strayed far from the libertarian philosophy of classical liberalism. It is the left, after all, that continues to defend income-redistribution programs regardless of the evidence on their failure. It is the left that continues to resist an end to government-imposed racial and sexual discrimination. It is the left that props up our loophole-ridden tax system by opposing reforms, such as the flat tax, that are based on treating all Americans equally. Those of us battling for freedom long for the days when liberalism was based on equality of opportunity instead of equality of result. That day, unfortunately, ended a long time ago.

--Daniel J. MitchellThe Heritage FoundationWashington

In His Element


After reading David Edelstein's review of The Fifth Element, I had decided not to waste my time seeing such an illogical mess. But then I read a rave review in a major paper, which seemed to agree on every point about the movie's plot save one--the other reviewer thought it was intentionally funny, instead of unintentionally dumb. So I went to see it, wondering which of these two reviewers had so totally missed the point. Twenty minutes into the film I--and everyone else in the theater--was laughing uproariously. The Fifth Element is one of the funniest, most visually stunning satires in years!

The problem with Edelstein's review is summed up in this observation: "A good half hour is spent getting the couple past the flight attendants. It's as if Luke Skywalker had to wait around for his billet to be stamped before he could fly off to destroy the Death Star." This is actually an accurate description. Imagine various rabid mass murderers--and a priest--trying desperately to fool an irritated bureaucrat into believing they're legitimate passengers on the last flight out to the resort hotel where the Ultimate Weapon of the Universe has been left in a room. Now have them all try to be the same legitimate passenger, who has already boarded. Add in some slapstick, with one killer getting catapulted into a massive mountain of garbage. How could anyone see this and take it seriously?

Now that his column is a regular feature, perhaps Edelstein can amuse us with reviews of some older movies:

"The director expects us to believe not only that Gene Kelly would dance in the rain while using an umbrella as if it were a cane, but also that a symphony orchestra, conveniently hidden from view and under some shelter, just happens to be playing a tune while he does so."

Or perhaps:

"In an astonishingly illogical script, Mr. Allen expects us to believe, among other stupidities, that a nose flattened by a steamroller would be flexible and bloodless, and that a Volkswagen Beetle would start up after being neglected for 1,000 years. Even minimal research should have informed him that no lead-acid battery could sustain a charge for more than a fraction of that time."

I look forward to reading his future nitpickings; I just hope that somewhere along the way he develops a sense of humor.

--Dan SchwarczSharpsburg, Pa.

Economists Are People, Too

I just finished Herbert Stein's "Watching the Couples Go By." How can Stein be so literate, so open-minded, and so commonsensical, and be a Republican economist? Surely the two sets of phrases have zero overlap?

--Alan Kornheiser

Tutti Faludi

Thank you, both for proving the necessity of the feminist enterprise and for providing a powerful commentary on the sad position of contemporary feminism by publishing Herbert Stein's awful fancies ("Watching the Couples Go By") in the same cyberspace as that spat between Susan Faludi and Karen Lehrman ("Revisionist Feminism").

In a magazine which was written by Jacob, David, Nathan, Herbert, Bill, Paul, Ross, David, Stephen, Michael, John, William, David, Michael, Franklin, Robert, and Mark, I was less surprised by Stein's musings than by your publishing any women at all. I do feel, however, that his article might more appropriately have been placed under the "Diary" heading, allowing those of us who don't want to read erotic confessionals to have neatly avoided it.

My real quarrel, however, is with Stein's contention that "I have written these views entirely from the point of view of the man. That is only natural for me." Well sure, but only if it is biologically predetermined that men are incapable of understanding perspectives different from their own. My sense, based on reading Stendhal's On Love and a number of extraordinarily psychologically astute literary works by men, is that such a narrow perspective is most assuredly less natural than acquired. And it is acquired by the perpetuation of precisely the sort of one-sided public conversation as is found at your site.

Karen Lehrman, indeed, seems of a feather with Herbert Stein. She, too, believes that women's understandings are naturally (biologically) bounded by their own limited experiences and bodies, and that feminism must therefore focus only on that narrow swath dictated by such bodies. The most frightening thing to me about all this talk of nature and biology is that what is really being naturalized is the marginality of female voices. If men must naturally write only of men, and women only of women, then feminism and femininity become the only natural subjects for women writers and reporters. Hence, Anne Hollander on fashion, Susan Faludi and Karen Lehrman on feminism, and a "Diary" entry by Nancy Lemann.

And the rest of politics, art, and culture? Ceded to the boys, naturally.

--Garance Franke-RutaNew York City

Hey, Hey, Paula

I disagree strongly with columnist Jacob Weisberg's assertion in "Spin Out" that, by employing renowned attorney Robert Bennett to defend him against sexual harassment charges, President Clinton has lent credence to those charges.

"By hiring an obscure attorney in Arkansas," Weisberg contends, "or by letting his regular lawyer handle the case, Clinton would have sent a compelling signal that [the] story was a fantasy." Perhaps. But that strategy might best have served the president in the court of public opinion, rather than in a court of law. And it would certainly not have served him adequately in the present political climate. Keep in mind that this isn't the simple case of a wronged woman quietly making allegations against a powerful man. The president's accuser, Paula Jones, has allowed herself to become a weapon in a much larger and well-known political battle--that of right-wingers bent on destroying Clinton's reputation and career. The conservative journalists and other reactionaries who have shoved her story onto the nation's front pages hope not only to cripple the president's ability to control the Republican-led Congress, but weaken his support among women voters, who backed him overwhelmingly for re-election and will be equally instrumental in promoting Al Gore to the Oval Office in 2000.

Clinton has a plateful of historic tasks ahead of him in the next four years. He can ill afford the politically motivated distractions posed by Jones and others. He'd have been foolhardy not to trust his defense in this case to an experienced big gun such as Bennett.

--J. Kingston PierceSeattle

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