Entry from June 3, 2004

Chips from the workbench. . . It is way too easy to make fun of Tina Brown’s narcissism and self-absorption, but I just couldn’t resist this wonderful example from her latest column in the Washington Post. Of course we can guess most of the reasons why Tina, like all those beautiful people with whom she makes such a point of being intimate, despises George W. Bush, but this week she has come up with a new one. It is that Bush’s “rush to war” in Iraq — now legendary on the Upper West Side however dubious it may be elsewhere — deprived us of the two years and a bit that Franklin Roosevelt wisely allowed for discussion and argument between the German invasion of Poland and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “The trouble this time around is that the president allowed no time for a validating debate,” she complains. As a result, the out-pouring of appreciation for “the Greatest Generation” over the Memorial Day weekend left the baby boomers, poor lambs, feeling left out and with

the sullen sense that they did have a whiff of their own Greatest Generation moment, after 9/11 — and then, too soon, were cheated out of it. Nine-eleven handed Bush something FDR did not have even after the Nazis marched into Paris: an across-the-board national consensus to go after a manifestly evil enemy with all the power — military, diplomatic, economic, everything — the nation and its allies could muster. Instead, our president chose to go after Iraq for reasons that become murkier every week.

Never mind the dead and wounded Americans. Never mind the dead and wounded Iraqis. Never mind the thugocracy still waiting in the wings to take over in Iraq the moment we turn our backs on the place, as it now appears only too likely we shall. What is any of this to Tina Brown? What she cannot forgive is that W has deprived her and her fellow boomers of the thing they value most in the world: yet another reason to feel good about themselves.


Miss Brown’s easy “Instead” in the passage above also suggests that she belongs, not surprisingly, to that school of the President’s critics which pretends to think — surely they can’t really think? — that his options after deposing the Taliban in Afghanistan were easy ones. In the same spirit, a correspondent of The Times of London today criticizes Iain Duncan Smith, the former Leader of the Opposition, for writing in that paper that he was “tired of the critics who fail to offer any serious alternative” to the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq. “The alternative” thunders Mr Roy Hill of Guildford in Surrey “was to confront terrorism and al-Qaeda directly.” Ah yes, but was it a serious alternative? Like Mr Duncan Smith, I fear we have to say that it was not. For some reason, al-Qaeda has chosen to organize itself in just such a way as to prevent us from confronting it directly. It was very thoughtless of them, no doubt, but there it is. As a result Bush had only the choice of doing nothing militarily and whacking somebody — preferably somebody who deserved a good whacking anyway — whose example might give pause to others of America’s enemies who were tempted to provide sanctuary and support to al-Qaeda. I was one of those who thought that the whacking would have been more usefully administered to someone other than Saddam Hussein, but I never doubted that a whacking of some description was necessary. The alternative of doing nothing was, as Iain Duncan Smith wrote, “infantile.”

Such people as Mr Hill and Miss Brown appear to imagine that we would be doing nothing but getting on with our business if we weren’t fighting in Iraq — which is why they and others of the fashionably anti-Bush party insist so strongly that the invasion “has hugely encouraged terrorism” (as Mr Hill writes) by encouraging al-Qaeda recruitment. But al-Qaeda never needed Iraq as an incitement to recruitment. They had plenty of recruits already, and if we weren’t now fighting them in Iraq, we would almost certainly be fighting them somewhere else — most likely Pakistan whose own descent into chaos has been retarded by the events in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush may have done everything wrong in Iraq, but it is foolish to suppose that it was either that or a righteous, “Greatest Generation”-style war on which we could all agree. Anything we did would probably have produced at least as much trouble and heartbreak as Iraq has done, and the complainers are contrasting our war there not with a better war somewhere else but with the pre-war, pre-9/11 world that is gone forever.


As a gloss on my Wall Street Journal article, “Contemplating Homer, Tony, Buffy, George. . .” (see below), I notice that Alessandra Stanley is noticing in today’s New York Times that “It is hard to pinpoint exactly when it became safe to be a stupid slut on television.” It is indeed, but she has a stab at it anyway and puts her pin in 1992, the year of the debut on MTV of “The Real World” which, she says, “took the music video images of wanton women out of the realm of MTV fantasy and into the reality genre, training cameras on the carnal pursuits of ordinary people and teaching teenagers that fame, however fleeting, trumps shame.” From there it was but a short step to “Sex and the City” (one episode of which was titled “Are We Sluts?”) and “Good Girls Don’t. . .”, the new show on Oxygen whose first episode, “My Roommate Is a Big, Fat Slut,” put Miss Stanley’s pen in motion to condemn what she calls “the return to protosexism.” What she sees as the good old days of feminist-inspired TV are over, “perhaps because the quest to reverse engrained social and biological behavior is a little like adhering to strict religious rituals or sitting up straight; some people take to it naturally, but for most it is all too easy to slump.” Perhaps. But her metaphor suggests, as does her scornful use of the word “slut,” that there is something natural about “protosexism” — that it is everybody’s default position. But I wonder if it isn’t the women who are trying to make a joke out of being sluts who are the ones trying to advance feminism to new and hitherto undreamed of heights.

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