Politics Fray welcomes a surprise visitor.

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July 19 2007 6:43 PM

Elizabeth Edwards Speaks Out

Politics Fray welcomes a surprise visitor.

First came the on-air confrontation with right-wing pundette Ann Coulter. Now Elizabeth Edwards personally responds in Politics Fray to John Dickerson's article alleging that a new Edwards campaign spot capitalizes upon family tragedies for political gain. (Earlier this morning, Slate verified the authenticity of this post with the Edwards campaign.)

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John Dickerson needs to read my husband's book, Four Trials. In it, he will read the stories of four families uprooted by tragedy or accident who leaned, in their worst moments, on John Edwards. He was but a young man when he represented a former salesman, E.G. Sawyer, who, because a doctor prescribed an excessive amount of a pharmaceutical, was confined to a sliver of life in squalor. Without John's strength, intelligence and voice, he would have died that same way. Dickerson would not have to have read Four Trials to know the story of Valerie, whom John represented after a pump connected to a kiddie pool drain with a faulty cover sucked most of her intestines from her little body. And there are hundreds of E.G.s and Valeries over a twenty year career, hundreds of stories too hard to hear and certainly too hard to tell. But John heard them, and told them, and lived beside these families until their lives were righted. He is doing a broader version of the same work today. His Road to One America tour was high-lighting what he has seen as he has worked on poverty issues: people in need: in need of housing and health care and jobs, surely, and in need of dignity and respect, and in need of a voice. He, again, is their voice. Yes, he has faced death and disease in our family, but the measure of his strength is the fights he has -- for his entire adult life -- voluntarily taken on, not just those that fate would not permit him to avoid.

Marshall faults Mrs. Edward's interpretation of her husband's deeds in Four Trials as "misplaced hero-worship: that somehow the struggles, difficulties, and tragedies confronted by a principal, are transmitted and endured by their handsomely paid agent." For analogboy490, however, the theme of the New Hampshire ad is convincing : John Edwards' perseverance in the face of personal tragedy speaks to his ability to lead the nation in a time of crisis. By contrast, Dickey Roscombe finds it "a vague character spot that invites the viewer to impose any underlying meaning on the basically content-free praise that Mrs. Edwards is heaping upon her husband."

JerseyDave accuses Edwards of "sending out emissaries" instead of standing up for himself, while DGol seems for her part swayed by Elizabeth's intervention: "picturing this gallant, graceful, kind-hearted and intelligent woman as First Lady definitely seals the deal." hogiemo's passionate defense of the Edwards' sincerity is also a must-read.

Elizabeth Edwards responds to her various critics in this follow-up :

These were emotionally and physically exhausting trials where the fate of a family was in his hands, one case after another for nearly two decades. Was it as hard on him as it was on the families? Of course not. Was it a test of his perseverance when others might (and some other lawyers often had) withered? It was.

(And I wasn't suggesting Dickerson buy the book. I was suggesting, perhaps inartfully, that anyone who knows his life work would know that our personal obstacles were not the only "worsts" John has faced with strength.)

John Dickerson replies here . Whether a calculated buzz generator or the unscripted passion of a woman who sees her husband wrongly maligned by a hostile press, Mrs. Edwards' response ultimately earned props from her political opponents. Hermes issues a "hardy thank you" to the candidate's wife for sharing her thoughts. topazz also sends best wishes to Mrs. Edwards and her family for the long road ahead.

In an era of tightly-controlled political campaigns, there is perhaps an engrained cynicism in all of us that questions the possibility of unfiltered debate. For that reason, today's exchange brought out a fleeting sense of euphoria, as if we were seeing Internet-driven democracy in action—a direct line of contact to a public figure made possible by the unique reader-centric forum that is Slate's Fray.

Of course, politicians' wives have always played a strategic and integral role in responding to attacks. All things considered, Elizabeth Edwards might just be taking a page from Nancy Reagan's 1980 playbook .

Stay tuned for further developments in this exchange. AC3:26pm PDT

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

RML Returns also finds the algorithm justification dubious.

Take a looksie in Ad Report Card Fray and tell us what you think. AC6:05pm PDT

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Am I the only one wrestling with a case of the summer blahs?

None of this excuses Fraywatch for taking an unannounced sabbatical. But sometimes, you just have to respect the difference between a Fray post and a column. Other times, thankfully, you don't.

It turns out that first-time Fray poster, otter357, can verify that character trait, relaying an awkwardly sweet tale of an awkwardly warm pen pal relationship with America's most tragic President.

When I was a 13 yr old boy in Milwaukee WI, I was standing in line to shake RN's hand, and was getting close. He had been nominated by the Repubs and was throwing a thank you dinner for masses of campaign workers. Average spaghetti in a giant room with those portable trestle tables like in high school. I had stuffed fliers in newspaper boxes out the right hand car window as my mother drove the car past mailboxes.

Bored, mute and watchful, as a 13 year old can be, I noticed Pat Nixon was turning white(er) and was about to faint. I darted out of the line, skimmed up on the portable stage and flashed in between the secret service detail with the unconscious alacrity of the child. Still moving, I had to hurry, I scooted an already opened folding chair under her and instead of falling to the floor, she got a controlled crumple into the chair. Through this whole event I never said a word.

Remember how a child on the move simply weaves between adults without looking up to their full height? The secret service guys I barely noticed, they were like trees.

One secret service guy laid a hand on me, but not a hard hand. I think he was just making sure I didn't use my super speed and blur past him again. And another agent brought Pat a paper cup of water. I remember that. Pat waved them off me and as her color returned, she murmured her thanks.

I was stock still now, and I was mute, and looking at her face, watching the color return to her face, almost clinically. She was now sitting, and I was still small for my age, our faces were very close. After a couple of heartbeats she took my face in her hands and kissed me solidly on the face, kind of on the lips.

Still mute, but my job done, I turned, hopped down, retook my place in line, and waited my turn to shake hands. When I did get to shake hands, the Nixons were a little extra warm with me and Pat winked at this grave, small, dark haired boy.

Click.., its 1980 or 81, now I'm 26 and broke. I'm half flunking out of grad school in Columbia SC, studying comparative anatomy both in the science lab and in my spare time, and testing the effects of pot on the dissolute summer student. Seeking amusement on a budget of three dollars, I see a used copy of "No more Vietnams" in a bookstore window with a magic $2.95 price tag. I buy and read it. A champion reader by now, I read it swiftly, and while Nixon had a lot to say, I felt his style was a bit flat, and that he needed to know.

Savvy enough to know that you have to write something short and snappy to get past the assistants, and wanting to teach some style by example, I began my first (typed of course) letter to Nixon with this hook:

"Dear Mr. Nixon,

You don't know me but I once kissed your wife."

Then I talk about the book and give him a stylistic hint or two. Then I close with the incident above. The whole letter is only a page with a decent amount of white space.

Well, he wrote me back from his old New Jersey address, and penned a note at the bottom saying that he remembered the incident. I wrote him a few more times over many years and each time I got a reply. The last time I wrote him was after Pat died.

Well, I always had sympathy for Nixon, as I felt he was a person who was a little emotionally stunted, as was I. I know the struggle those with a limited emotional repertoire have to become whole, broad people, if they choose to try to be more...whole.

I felt that was what Pat saw in my face. Maybe it explains in part, her love for RN. And the body of my Richard Nixon correspondence, while not very personal, does have an odd tone of mutual sympathy.

As always, there's a wealth of great conversations taking place in the Fray .  GA ... 3:30am PDT

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Monday, July 9, 2007

It's no secret that Slate has actively cultivated a reputation for contrarianism. Our headline piece over the weekend, in which Jack Shafer took down the clichés of Slate's "green journalism," raises our institutional antagonism to Whitmanesque dimensions. Labels aside, however, there is no shortage of received liberal pieties before which Slate habitually genuflects. Take, for example, the case of racial desegregation in America's public schools.

On June 28th, the Supreme Court handed down a mammoth decision striking down the use of race as a factor in programs designed to counteract racial discrimination. This decision provoked a blistering dissent from Walter Dellinger in our Supreme Court Breakfast Table, a critical introspection of Brown's intellectual weakness by Risa Goluboff, and a plan of attack for "integration at any cost" by Richard Kahlenberg. Even our designated contrarian, Stuart Taylor, fizzled on the big question: Is racial segregation of America's public schools necessarily a bad thing?

This is hardly a flippant question. It has vexed liberals for more than half a century. Writing from 1958, in her Reflections on Little Rock, Hannah Arendt thought that Brown was an act of political immaturity which would "burden children, black and white, with the working out of a problem which adults for generations have confessed themselves unable to solve." More than one prominent black intellectual has openly challenged the assumption that Brown was a boon for black Americans. Even the famous decision itself seems more than a little racist, striking down de jure segregation because it "generates a feeling of inferiority" in blacks. It may have been 1954, but there were obvious moral and Constitutional critiques of legally enforced segregation available. The use of state power to enforce a racial caste system and to tyrannize a vulnerable minority is a self-evident violation of equality before the law, as well as a moral abomination. Given the context, Brown comes off as a rather tepid exercise in judicial psychotherapy, notwithstanding the real power of its implicit critique of white Americans.

First-time Frayster, soulgroove07, brings this question into sharp focus with his post "Blacks do not need racial harmony or white Americans:"

As someone who was bused for 8 of his 12 years in school there was no integration amongst the races outside of Football, Basketball and Track and maybe the creative arts. As an African- American what I saw was only 5-10 percent actually making an olive branch effort across racial lines. The only thing that busing taught me was that whites could be devious in their dealings with African- Americans either through school administrations or white students acting like they were God's little angels and they weren't as bright and slick as they thought they were.

So I think the Civil Rights leaders believed too much in the goodness of white Americans when they should have never allowed our children to be educated by our white enemies. White Americans believed in racial equality in theory—not in practice—and that has not changed in the 53 years since that moment. This society will never accept African- Americans as its fellow citizens.

African- Americans do not need to live, sleep, have sex or get along with the white population to live in this country. African- Americans need to be racial atheists when it comes to the white population—Justice John Roberts and the white posters' phony "colorblind" mantra notwithstanding.

I think getting away from each other would ease the racial conflicts amongst black males and white teachers and give us as African- Americans a chance to develop our infrastructure in educating our children. There is a big world and we as Black Americans should embrace other cultures, educational ideas and those whites around the world who respect us as human beings and not as problem citizens. White Americans are corrupt with privilege and dealing with them will only give you mental and physical problems.

As one would expect, there are accusations by white posters of "reverse racism" in the ensuing discussion. Another first-time Frayster, indigo, jumps in to add to the point:

Whether or not the original poster was a bit extreme, this does not negate his/her reality. Those of us who were bussed were all individuals; children of the same age, heirs to the same promise, yet we have had individual experiences. This person's experience rings true with me, and yet the white person's experience who was bused with his/her black neighbors rings true as well. As a black child growing up in "integrated" schools, I learned many lessons, reaped many benefits, and suffered many pains.

I learned what the original poster learned: that being educated by "the enemy" was, in some cases, simply putting a band-aid on a geyser; there were plenty of smiling faces from parents, but the understanding was often that you will be a "nice black" and go to school with my kids, but you will not come to my house for dinner. You get my drift. We'll put a happy face on this and act like integration is really happening, but in reality, by the time we got to high school in the '80s, most social circles were fairly well segregated, even though the college prep classes I attended were integrated.

Yet of course, the reality is that, as a child of integration, just like that white person who was also bused, I have grown up, been educated, and operated in mostly interracial/cultural circles of people. This makes me feel wonderful, but it does not erase the reality that Black people, in this country, will always need to have our own communities to return "home" to, even if only in symbolic ways. Black people from the diaspora have always had to be bilingual and bicultural, and I see that as a strength rather than a weakness.

The children of integration have a unique battle: We must remember that our "segregated" communities had a strength and love that cannot be matched, and we must work to maintain what remains of that, mostly, our family and social connections, while continuing to work with those of other races and cultures who remain open to us, and continuing to mingle and thrive in the multicultural domains in which many of us live and work. We must reach one hand backwards, towards home, which may be a homogenous community and one hand forward, toward communities of diversity. We must find and multiply love and growth in both places. It is not an easy task.

It doesn't sound like one. As a (very) white American, I've always had the nagging the suspicion that white support for integration has more to do with assuaging the conscience of white Americans than with the manifest injustices regularly visited upon black Americans. At a minimum, assigning black children to minority status in schools stocked with the racist white children of racist white parents seems a dubious favor. Is compulsory integration good for black Americans?

Hannah Arendt once asked of compulsory integration, "do we intend to have our political battles fought out in the school yards?" The answer, back then, was clearly "yes." After fifty years of Brown, and thirty years of bussing, many of us have seen first-hand how the decision turned out. Others still experience the problems of integration and diversity as an abstract question. If you've come of age in the last fifty-three years, we'd appreciate hearing your perspective in The Fray .   GA … 5:20am PDT

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