Can liberals shill for the president, too?

Can liberals shill for the president, too?

Can liberals shill for the president, too?

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Jan. 11 2005 6:54 PM

Pundit for Hire

Please, Mr. President, I can shill for you, too!

Nicolle Devenish, Communications Director
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC, 20500

Dear Ms. Devenish:

Congratulations on your new job. I'm Art Levine, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly who has also written for numerous other publications that have often been quite critical of the Bush administration. Nevertheless, I've got a great proposal for you to consider. Even though the administration's $240,000 arrangement with Armstrong Williams seems to have backfired, I'd argue that paying commentators to promote the administration's agenda is still a savvy approach. (As a job-hunting freelancer newly returned to Washington, when I saw the news about the Williams flap, my gut reaction was: Why didn't I think of that?) But for your purposes, instead of supporting a conservative figure like Williams—who, after all, was "preaching to the choir"—why not back an enterprising liberal journalist who can write high-impact contrarian articles that will create intellectual legitimacy for your priority issues?

As Democrats unite in opposition to your administration's agenda here and abroad, you'll need someone like me to "shill" for you in liberal circles. Of course, I'm not as well-known as Armstrong Williams, but my progressive

background will add credibility to the arguments I can make on behalf of your policies. And instead of the $240,000 your Education Department paid Williams, my services can be obtained for a mere $5,000 per article (plus expenses) and a "power lunch" at the Palm restaurant, drinks included. Here are some of the potential articles I'll be able to submit on your behalf:

Alberto Gonzales: The Next Bobby Kennedy?
With an up-from-poverty background that gives him a unique appreciation of the nation's minorities, Alberto Gonzales looks to be the sort of crusading attorney general who will surprise even his liberal critics with independent, public-spirited actions. And just as Bobby Kennedy was able to put his role as a henchman for Joe McCarthy behind him, Gonzales has shown that's he's capable of growth in office. Despite his alleged role in crafting purported "torture" memos, Gonzales showed a commendable readiness to learn and change when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration." He also vowed to "aggressively" pursue those who engage in such wrongdoing. Bobby Kennedy would do no less.

At the same time, Gonzales's tough-minded willingness to maneuver around petty bureaucratic niceties (e.g., the Geneva Conventions) when faced with America's enemies brings to mind RFK's crusades against Jimmy Hoffa and organized crime. Kennedy faced carping then for his brass-knuckle tactics, but history has proved him right, and Gonzales will be similarly vindicated after his term is over.

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Social Security Privatization: Building a Democratic Majority
President Bush's private Social Security accounts should be embraced by liberals who want to construct a winning Democratic majority. This majority will be formed not by opposing Bush's plans but by supporting them. Doing so will create a bloc of newly affluent Americans who, like Silicon Valley and Hollywood entrepreneurs, will become reliable Democratic supporters, able to write big checks for liberal causes. Let's take off our blinders on this issue: The stock market clearly pays more than paltry Social Security accounts that can't even cover most expenses. And this new generation of rich younger workers will favor progressive causes, such as increased social spending to help the growing numbers of starving and homeless senior citizens.

The Case for War: The Rise of Iraq's Counterculture
The media has focused relentlessly on the bad news from Iraq, but champions of cutting-edge expression should be cheered by the growth of a new generation of artistic rebels there. Only the presence of American troops makes it all possible. It took decades for Great Britain and the United States to develop thriving punk rock scenes, but Operation Iraqi Freedom has indeed created a new sense of freedom—including the freedom to attack American imperialism—in that once-repressed country. Today's Iraqi punk rockers—such as New Found Glory to Allah—have created a mass following among young Shiites and Sunnis alike with such powerful anthems as "Baghdad Calling" and "F*** the Military."

The United States has also worked to strengthen more moderate Islamic and secular factions, which in turn has allowed avant-garde artists to emerge who feel free to challenge not only America, but traditional orthodoxy as well. Whether it's a chic Baghdad gallery displaying Mapplethorpe-style photographs of gay Iraqi men posing in unique ways with bullwhips or just performance artists who feel free to burn American flags, a sense of liberation not seen since the heady days of the Weimar Republic is alive throughout Iraq. Even the prospect of a civil war has not deterred Iraq's emerging artists, and they stand ready to make the modern-day equivalent of such immortal masterpieces as Picasso's Guernica.

This creative upsurge in Iraq can be expected to bring with it support for such longstanding liberal causes as gay and abortion rights. Even if this flowering of personal liberation proves to be short-lived and its champions are all beheaded by a Shiite theocracy, this so-called "Baghdad Spring" will give an oppressed people a taste of Western-style freedom. The cost to America of establishing such a beachhead of personal—and artistic—self-expression in the Mideast has been well worth the sacrifice of our brave fighting men and women.

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As you can see, I have plenty of ideas for articles with a pro-administration slant. I hope you'll agree that arranging to subsidize my work would be well worth your money. I look forward to speaking to you soon about this win-win opportunity.

Yours,
Art Levine

Art Levine really is a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly.