Curmudgeon Redux
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Jan. 8 2002 5:03 PM


Dear Tony,


Alas, I find much with which to agree in your latest missive, including the opening paragraph. Also your complaints about President Bush's myopic devotion to tax breaks for the rich (and not-so-rich) and his suggestion that unity against terrorists means that Democrats should stop fighting his domestic agenda.

But concord is boring. For the good of "The Breakfast Table," I now resume curmudgeoning. So, let's relitigate Paula Jones a bit. In my view, she was very far from being politically motivated, or even politically inclined. Sure, her cause attracted many motivated champions—and attackers. What scandal does not? Jones' champions were no more politically motivated than the people who so enthusiastically embraced Anita Hill's allegations that her boss Clarence Thomas had talked dirty and pestered her for dates—only to scoff, a few years later, at the less elegant Jones' more convincingly corroborated claims that her boss's boss Bill Clinton had demanded sex while exposing himself. The judge did not find Jones' allegations untrue. She ruled that even if true, the impact on Jones was not severe enough to warrant a legal remedy. This seemed reasonable—albeit contrary to some case law—to me. A similar ruling would, of course, have sent all of the Clinton-friendly feminists into orbit had the defendant been, say, Newt Gingrich, or Jack Welch.

What struck me most was the reflexive double standard applied by many liberals in rushing to judgment based almost entirely on ideological and cultural sympathies, not evidence. Conservatives did the same, dissing Hill and embracing Jones. But this liberal-conservative symmetry was not reflected in the news coverage or feminist reaction, which was overwhelmingly pro-Hill and anti-Jones. Perhaps such considerations, more than politics, help explain why the libertarian but not-exactly-right-wing Rutherford Institute took Jones' side.

I don't dispute your criticisms of the Bush administration's various moves on the environment. But I don't quite concur, either. My reason is that in all these environmental debates, unlike the Paula Jones case, I have not looked carefully at the facts and arguments for and against the opposing sides. I don't trust Bush or the Republicans to protect the environment or resist the blandishments of their supporters. But neither do I trust the Democrats to resist the blandishments of their own supporters or give sufficient weight to the interests of the American people in economic growth. Nor do I trust most news media—of any ideological stripe—to give insightful and balanced analyses. So, I drift along without firm opinions on many such matters, while paying attention when I see a piece under a byline that I respect, such as Gregg Easterbrook's "Why this war is also about oil" in the New Republicthree months ago:

Enviros and NIMBYs are to blame for opposing domestic oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, along coastal areas, and pretty much everywhere else. Right-wingers are to blame for opposing federal energy-efficiency standards and for celebrating the gas-guzzling SUV. Lefty alarmists and Hollywood airheads are to blame for terrifying the public about atomic power, which in the United States has never caused a single public death. … Oilmen—including Dick Cheney before he was sworn in as vice president—are to blame for calling for an end to export sanctions against Iraq and Iran before these states stopped sponsoring terror. The American public is to blame for insisting on unlimited access to the cheapest possible energy and then, when something goes wrong (oil-backed terrorists, California electricity, and so on), demanding to know who is responsible for the outrage.

As you note, I did not get the Bush quote exactly right. And your corrected version is a bit less garbled and thus more menacing than the one that I took from a news report. But I still have trouble believing that Bush is preparing a jihadagainst pro-Osama soapbox orators—as distinguished from members of the al-Qaida conspiracy to murder Americans. If such a jihadmaterializes, I will eat crow and we can link arms at the barricades.


Stuart Taylor Jr. is a National Journal columnist and Newsweek contributor.



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