You may not know the name Rod Dreher, but you will. This April, Grand Central Publishing is releasing his The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, for which he was paid a small fortune. I have not read the book, so let’s defer to the publisher for a synopsis:
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteacher. He was also struck by the grace and courage with which his sister dealt with the disease that eventually took her life. In Louisiana for Ruthie's funeral in the fall of 2011, Dreher began to wonder whether the ordinary life Ruthie led in their country town was in fact a path of hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher. In order to explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife decided to leave Philadelphia, move home to help with family responsibilities and have their three children grow up amidst the rituals that had defined his family for five generations....
The publicity push has already commenced and Little Way has been critically well-received. The book is going to make a mint. It will, I predict, be passed around churches and bought in bulk for book clubs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dreher ends up promoting the book on Oprah; he’s a decent writer, the story is assuredly compelling and he comes off as a reasonable sort.
Crucially, Dreher has (to employ a theologically inappropriate term from Law & Order) a rabbi in David Brooks. In late 2011, Brooks declared Dreher “one of the country’s most interesting bloggers” and “part of a communitarian conservative tradition that goes back to thinkers like Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet.” And last year, Brooks placed Dreher among the conservatives of the future, who “tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth.”
As it happens, I find most of this (“big government” crack excepted) thoroughly agreeable. It would be a wonderful thing indeed if Dreher were the type of level-headed conservative Brooks describes. But, alas, as Dreher expert Roy Edroso has patiently explained, he is not. Brooks ignores the side of Dreher that has nothing in common with Reihan Salam, Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen -- his pernicious social conservatism. In particular, homosexuality in general and gay rights in particular are longtime obsessions of Dreher’s. His writings in this area betray a belief that, one would hope, is not of a piece with the conservatism of the future.
Prospective readers, particularly gay readers and their allies, ought to know that the man to whom they might fork over their hard-earned cash is not in their corner and has made them a target of an astonishing opprobrium. What follows is hardly a definitive review of Dreher’s work concerning gays -- he makes these arguments ad nauseum -- but it is representative of his beliefs.
“Fully human.” In 2009, Dreher worried that homosexuality might be “legitimized.” Were that to happen, he wrote, that would “lock in, and on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality.” He continued: “I believe this would be a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human.”
“Death of the soul.” In the same post, Dreher says that “failing to live by Christian sexual morality” -- i.e., being gay -- “contributes to the debasement of one's character, and the death of the soul.”
"Homosexuality = alcoholism." "Let's assume, as I believe most people do, that homosexuality is not a choice,” Dreher wrote. “Given that premise, is it an immutable, morally neutral condition (like race)? Or is it an immutable, morally deficient condition (like alcoholism) that can be accomodated [sic] to some degree by law and custom, but which has no civil rights claims?” He continued: “The view of gay rights activists and their supporters is the first option; the view of traditional religious believers” -- among whom Mr. Dreher counts himself -- “is the second.”
“Purpose-driven hissy fit.” When it was announced that Rick Warren, a noted opponent of gays and gay rights, would speak at Barack Obama’s first presidential inauguration, activists recoiled. “The narcissism of some gays really knows no bounds,” responded Dreher, who accused activists of living in a “spiteful little bubble.”
“Repulsive.” In July 2006, after George Michael was accused of engaging in anonymous public sex, Dreher used the incident to tar gays at large. “[W]hat are the rest of us supposed to think,” he asked, “about gay male culture, and the degree to which it self-defines according to behavior that most people rightly find repulsive?” It should go without saying Dreher produced no evidence that gays “self-define” according to enthusiasm for sex in public places any more, or less, than straights.
“Moral order.” Commenting on a story about the near-slaughter of a Texas family, Dreher said what was really shocking was the presence of bisexuals in the small town: “From my point of view, both [murder and bisexuality] are violations of the moral order."
”Hetero activities.” In 2007, an Australian hotel catering to gays won the right to exclude straights and women. Dreher, riffing on the story, wondered why it wasn’t okay for gays to be similarly shut out. When a reader complained, he replied that “there's an offensive inconsistency of gays demanding full access to hetero activities/places (to the point of filing a lawsuit), while also demanding the right to exclude heteros from gay activities/places[.]” Edroso saw the absurdity in Dreher’s argument, noting, “Similarly, it's offensively inconsistent for women to demand full access to male preserves -- such as barrooms, political clubs, and many other organizations were, once upon a time -- while also demanding the right to all-chick domains such as Curves Fitness Centers, ladies' rooms, etc, from which hiding places they no doubt plot man-bashing jihad!”
“Gay McCarthyism.” In 2000, Dr. Laura Schlessinger sought to parlay her success in radio into a syndicated talk show and was met with opposition from the gay community, offended by her description of homosexuality as “a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex" and "deviant behavior, a dysfunctional behavior." The resulting were denounced by Dreher as “gay McCarthyism” (a particularly odious label because Joseph McCarthy went after homosexuals), “the death of free speech” and “un-American.”
To be sure, relative to the late Jerry Falwell or Jesse Helms or the still-breathing Tony Perkins, Rod Dreher’s distaste for gays is subtle. You will not catch him publically tossing around faggot or queer. But the intolerance is very real, and the purpose seems to be always to undercut homosexuals. There isn’t another way to interpret Dreher’s belief that gays are less than “fully human,” that being gay means “the death of the soul,” that homosexuality is synonymous with alcoholism, and that bisexuality is a “violation of the moral order.” Just keep that in mind over the coming months as Dreher continues his media blitz. He is not a nice guy.
Purely for kicks, I once followed Luke Russert and Kathryn Jean Lopez on Twitter. Both are uniquely stupid and utterly lacking self-awareness; the former has no idea he’s being humored by his colleagues in misguided deference to his father, while the latter doesn’t realize that live-tweeting Mass is a sad snooze. Even in bite-sized doses, exposure to these morons made me feeble, so I cut them loose.
Readers, I recommend you do likewise. Herewith, a barrel of horribles who ought to be jettisoned, exuberantly flung from civilization. They are boils on the ass of the media beast, and it is my well-considered opinion, they should be ruthlessly lanced. With one exception, these offenders were not chosen simply on the basis of awful election-year prognostications, though all were indeed guilty. No, this is a lifetime achievement award. These folks (with one exception) have been awful for a very long time; I propose that in the new year we stand athwart their shitty track records and yell “Enough!”
1. Dick Morris. Regrettably, the Big Dog’s coattails are impossibly long (see Penn, Mark). If Morris couldn’t put “former Clinton adviser” in front of his name, he would be just another toe-sucking mercenary with a gift for impossibly goofy predictions. What’s remarkable -- indeed, an achievement -- is Morris’ ability to continually find suckers willing to compensate him. This includes The Hill, that respected Washington rag, where he still collects a check. The staffers are suitably embarrassed by Morris’ weekly dross. But I do not include Morris for his predictive failures. Stupidity is forgivable, but his sin, operating in bad faith, is not. Morris confessed to Father Sean Hannity a week after Mitt Romney lost the election that he, Dick Morris, projected a Romney victory because “the Romney campaign was falling apart, people were not optimistic” and “nobody thought there was a chance of victory.” There is no value in a man willing to tell you what you want to hear.
2. Niall Ferguson. In America a Scottish brogue, a nice build and good hair can get you pretty far. These attributes go a long way, I assume, toward explaining why Ferguson hasn’t been run out of Harvard Square on a rail. A review of Paul Krugman’s clips are instructive; if he’s not racist, he’s brutally stupid -- ignorant of borrowing costs and willing to lie to his audience about the cost of healthcare reform. Ferguson really showed his ass in the week before the presidential election: in a single Daily Beast column, he argued that Barack Obama still needed to win over undecided voters (he didn’t), that polls were “scar[y] for the incumbent” (they weren’t, which accounts for the War on Nate Silver), and that Obama, on the cusp of the election, would support an Israeli attack on Iran. So: Ferguson was, in the words of Meat Loaf, doubly blessed: ill-equipped to adequately comment on economics -- his area of “expertise” -- and politics. Since he’s also a two-time loser (an adviser to McCain ‘n’ Mittens, respectively), there is no compelling reason to give him the time of day.
3. Peggy Noonan. Mary Ellen Noonan has been around so long it is assumed she must have been, in the supply-sider universe far, far away, talented. Her reputations rests on “a thousand points of light,” a meaningless, ambrosia salad phrase made funny by Dana Carvey, and “Read my lips: no new taxes,” a lie. But that’s enough for a lifetime Journal sinecure, apparently. Noonan’s prose, turgid and purple, is at its worst when evoking the name of Ronald Reagan, which is always. The irony: Her relationship to the 40th president was tenuous. As a former Reagan adviser pointed out, after Noonan trashed her fellow speechwriters in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Noonan was “never part of the team” and her gifts, such as they were, were limited to self-promotion. And yet Noonan, like the execrable Mr. Morris, has dined out on this skimpy presidential connection well past the sell-by date.
4. Michael Barone. There are rumors Barone was once a reason-based, intelligent lifeform. I have heard nice thing about The Almanac of American Politics. He continues to be revered by conservatives, who treat him like a combination of Nate Silver and Jesus. But there has been no trace of this supposedly erudite, analytical man for a very long time. In March 2003, Barone wrote that “Quick success in Iraq, followed by success as soon as possible in Syria and Iran, will help us deal with” the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. (To recap: An invasion of two countries that hadn’t attacked us, so quickly on the heels of an invasion of yet another country that hadn’t attacked us.) Indeed, this is in keeping with a fellow who, in 2005, e-mailed Glenn Reynolds (below) to say “there might be something to Intelligent Design.” That same year, he predicted “the end” of political polarization. In 2006, he wrote that a McCain-Lieberman presidential ticket “would probably win easily.” By the time Barone said journalists didn’t care for Sarah Palin because "she did not abort her Down syndrome baby," it wasn’t really a surprise.
5. Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer once argued, in the pages of America’s second-most-influential newspaper, that torture was okay under “the ticking time bomb” scenario, which does not exist and has never existed in real life. For reasons that escape me, the New Republic keeps on its masthead a man who lets a "24" wet-dream dictate his views on foreign policy. I hope it’s simply a matter of priorities -- the magazine has undergone a redesign -- but perhaps they believe, as does Politico, that he is “sophisticated.” Krauthammer certainly fooled the Pulitzer committee, which must be so proud to have honored a man so addled he hates the Berenstain Bears and believes Obama blackmailed David Petraeus. In any case, by Krauthammer’s own metric, he ought to be put out to pasture. On April 22, 2003, he told an American Enterprise Institute audience, “Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.” And here we are.
6. Jennifer Rubin. Rubin’s descent into outright hackery (see this Drudge-sirened “EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW” with, ugh, Ed Gillespie) wasn’t precipitous, even though she wrote for Commentary, a journal of sub-basement quality. Her columns filed during the previous election cycle for the New York Observer were relatively clear-eyed. Romney, she wrote, was “the least adept politician in the field.” She criticized his “manicured appearance and cautious language [ibid].” In another column, she noted that “Americans don’t like it one bit when candidates adopt positions (or entire platforms, for that matter) for political expediency.” (You don’t say!) It’s unclear what transpired between that election and the most recent, but this time around she functioned not as a reporter but as an unpaid spokeslady for the Romney campaign. Her advocacy was breathtaking brazen; she often resembled those fixtures of pre-Giuliani Times Square, cleaning up after each Romney flub. To Rubin’s credit, she admitted as much.
7. Andrew Sullivan. In an assessment of Sullivan’s sins related to the AIDS epidemic here, I neglected the larger problem: He is a one-man refutation of Blink. Every initial position he takes is wrong. In April 2011, he gazed into Paul Ryan's blue eyes, considered the man’s sociopathic, granny-starving budget, and concluded that, “whatever you think of it, is serious.” Three whole paragraphs later, he noted that the burden would be shouldered by the poor and the old. It took him two weeks to connect the dots. Then, after Obama’s somnolent first debate, he famously wept “it's hard to see how a president and his party recover.” There was no more evidence that Obama would lose the election than there was for the seriousness of Ryan’s budget. Much is made of the fact that Sullivan, unlike most high-profile bloggers, admits his mistakes and revisits his conclusions as needed. That is an unacceptable standard, particularly when the Daily Dish is blessed with an editorial staff and a fucking poetry editor.
8. Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds, unlike Sullivan, has not the decency to admit his mistakes. He has whiffed on every major issue of the last decade: he believed that George W. Bush would be level-headed post-September 11, 2001; that the Iraq War was marvelous; global warming is stupid; and that guns, more guns, are the solution to every problem. Meanwhile, this rolling horrorshow is subsidized by Tennessee taxpayers (Reynolds is a professor at University of Tennessee) who don’t mind underwriting Reynolds’ fantasies of robot sex and assassinating Iranians. One could argue there is value in Reynolds, as a purveyor of the conservative movement’s latest shitty ideas, but I’ll fight you on that; if the “fiscal cliff” nonsense has taught us anything, it’s that conservatives have only one idea: tax cuts.
9. Hugh Hewitt. Hewitt is the ur-Rubin, a Romney groupie for whom nothing matters save the success of Republicans. There was a particularly humiliating moment during the Harriet Miers debacle when Kathryn Jean Lopez -- one of the dumbest people alive -- gently excused Hewitt’s support for doomed Miers by noting, “[D]oesn’t our friend Hugh tend to be a reliable party man?” Yes, and this tends to blind him to reality, often with hilarious results. Never was this more evident than the ‘08 primary, when, every couple of weeks, Hewitt would proclaim “Romney Rising” on his eponymous blog. The cheerleading incurred the mockery of Erick Erickson, who, it’s worth recalling, pimped Rick Perry for the presidency.
10. Jay Cost. Cost, the conservative answer to Nate Silver, is the least-known on this list. Week after week, he gave the wingnut base reasons for why Mitt Romney would not lose the election. His columns were, increasingly, desperate rationalizations to postpone suicide. My favorite, published on November 4, was his prediction that Romney would win Pennsylvania. It was bushwa of a very high grade; to his credit, his columns ably mimicked intellectual respectability. But he was wrong, deeply wrong -- as one expects of a Weekly Standard columnist -- and the only thing separating Cost and Dick Morris is the former does not, I think, have a toe-sucking fetish.
Thirty years ago this week, the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia among previously healthy gay men. It was not for another year that these deaths were attributed to gay-related immune deficiency -- a name that exacerbated the homophobic positioning of the disease -- and then, mercifully, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Twenty-five million have since died of AIDS. Put another way, the population of Texas has been raptured off the map. Still, as we’re told ad nauseum, the disease is no longer a death sentence; millions are taking HIV antiretroviral therapy for the first time; Magic Johnson is alive and well; and according to UNAIDS figures, expanded access to treatment led to a 19 percent decline in deaths among people living with HIV between 2004 and 2009.
It gets even better! Three weeks ago, we learned that men and women who take antiretrovirals while their immune systems are still “relatively healthy” are unlikely to transmit the disease.
If you grew up listening to stories of the skeletal Rock Hudson and the doomed Ryan White, as I did, such developments seem gloriously improbable. Against such darkness, it’s almost possible, amid the current revelry, to ignore the millions already dead and the 1.8 million who continue to die each year. For a non-death sentence, AIDS sure does kill a lot people. You can’t assign blame for this to just one person, but Ronald Reagan really does deserve an outsized heap of opprobrium. Despite what you may hear from his defenders, the Gipper, when you get down to it, really did care more about UFOs than the new plague.
The numbers: 3,700 dead after his first term, 46,344 after the second.
Reagan was hardly alone in his deficiency. The history of the AIDS epidemic is littered with people who, through malice or cowardice, made an unimaginably awful situation even worse. America’s collective memory being what it is, it’s worth identifying them.
Jerry Falwell, Religiohuckster
Crime: As co-founder of the Moral Majority, Falwell and his merry band of Gantrys helped foist Reagan on the country and then connived to remain close to the Oval Office. Proximity to the powerful allowed Falwell to smite the meek. One of the more repulsive instances was a 1983 debate with activist Gary Walsh -- a PWA, in the parlance of the time -- during which the preacher told the dying man, “When you violate moral, health, and hygiene laws, you reap the whirlwind.” And on live television, no less!
Last Known Whereabouts: Christopher Hitchens, to his credit, shouldered the burden of eulogizing Falwell while the body was still warm, and he properly bid the corpulent monster adieu: “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing,” he told CNN: “That you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called ‘reverend’.” To C-SPAN’s audience Hitchens observed that, had Falwell “been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox.”
Dr. David Sencer, New York City health commissioner
Crime: Contra Falwell, Sencer’s sin is complacency. He had been burned once before; in 1976, a swine flu outbreak at Fort Dix killed 14. The CDC, headed by Sencer, ordered widespread vaccinations that led to the deaths of as many as 32 people. Sencer was fired. This incident may explain his Chinatown approach as health commissioner: do as little as possible. When the city became racked with AIDS he refused to widely educate New Yorkers or to close the bath houses. In the beautiful words of Ronald Bayer, Sencer believed -- as did many other public health officials -- that “the exercise of caution was a reflection of wisdom.”
Last Known Whereabouts: He’s dead too, as of a month ago. The Times’ obit was so loaded with treacle there wasn't space to include Sencer’s 1983 claim that new cases of AIDS “appears pretty much to have leveled off,” though such a belief would have helped readers understand his lethal stasis. Nor did the Times see fit to quote him, also in 1983, saying he could “see no reason why we would close the bath houses” -- as if New York being home to half the country’s AIDS cases (71 percent of whom were gay men) was not reason enough.
Ed Koch, New York City mayor
Crime: It bothered Koch terribly, he told New York in 1988, “that militants among gays believe that San Francisco has done more for treating AIDS patients … than New York City. It’s totally untrue.” It totally isn’t. San Francisco’s response to the AIDS epidemic wasn’t perfect, but it far exceeded all other cities -- funding for hospice beds, AIDS wards and clinics. Koch, on the other hand, refused to authorize hospice care for the afflicted homeless, and when asked by Gay Men’s Health Crisis for use of an abandoned high school as an "AIDS service center" demanded $2 million. A full two years into the epidemic, New York City hadn’t spent a cent on education or services -- “despite,” observed Randy Shilts, “being home to 45 percent of the nation's AIDS victims.”
Last Known Whereabouts: Koch went full-tilt wingnut boogie, endorsing Bush in 2004. He maintains, against all available evidence, that his record on gay rights is solid, and told the New York Post it’s a “fucking outrage” to suggest otherwise. He maintains a Youtube channel on which he occasionally reviews movies. How’s he doing? Pretty shitty.
Dr. Joseph Bove, Officer of the American Association of Blood Banks
Crime: Bove, a member of the FDA’s blood safety committee, prioritized the business of blood banking above safety. By 1983, scientists were fairly certain that AIDS could be spread through blood transfusions, citing the rising number of cases among hemophiliacs and drug addicts as evidence. The American Red Cross endeavored to publicize a plan to carefully screen donors, and Bove flipped. “We have no medical or scientific evidence that justifies such a course right now,” he said. “I think it’s an overreaction.” In August 1983 Bove testified before Congress and famously said that if AIDS could be transmitted via a blood transfusion, the chance was one in a million. This line was repeated again and again, and wasn’t remotely true. As a result, the ELISA test wasn’t adopted for blood screening until February 1985, by which time tens of thousands had died.
Last Known Whereabouts: In 1996, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled that the American Association of Blood Banks had been negligent when it refused to rigorously screen donated blood. The court upheld a $405,000 jury award to William Snyder, who in 1984 contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during open-heart surgery at New Jersey’s St. Joseph's Hospital. “The foreseeability, not the conclusiveness, of harm suffices to give rise to a duty of care," the judge wrote. “By 1983, ample evidence supported the conclusion that blood transmitted the AIDS virus.”
Margaret Heckler, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Crime: In 1983, four months into her term, Heckler told a congressional committee that she “[didn’t] think there is another dollar that would make a difference” for federal AIDS researchers. That was news to the CDC, whose staff had to steal equipment from the other labs, and who were appalled at Heckler’s repeated assertion that AIDS was the administration’s “number-one health priority.” One attempt to paper over her boss’s failures was particularly awful -- a photo-op with an AIDS patient from Cabrini Medical Center. A dozen hospitals wisely said no. A decent gauge of Heckler’s competence was her famous 1984 prediction: “We hope to have such a vaccine ready for testing in approximately two years.”
Last Known Whereabouts: Reagan repaid Heckler for her failures with an ambassadorship to Ireland, a job for which she was apparently better suited. A couple of months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services celebrated Heckler during Women’s History Month as “a pioneer,” which is sort of true.
Andrew Sullivan, Pundit
Crime: Before calling the American coasts a “fifth column” for not humping the Iraq war; before endorsing Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare as “serious”; before he made his living posting photos of reader windowscapes -- before all this, Andrew Sullivan was arguably the most influential gay writer in America. And in 1996, in the wake of the introduction of protease inhibitors, he -- along with less notable opinion-shapers -- was happy to tell readers of the New York Times Magazine that “this plague” -- the AIDS epidemic -- “is over.” Gabriel Rotello wrote despairingly about what happened next: “As the meds came into use, people began celebrating. … Mainstream journalists took their cue and largely dropped the subject.”
Last Known Whereabouts: Sullivan is blogging for the Daily Beast and contributing to Newsweek. He has since mea culpa’d his Iraq war advocacy, but he’s stood his ground on the notorious Times article: “And yet, 10 years on,” he wrote in 2007, “everything in it was right.” Yes, everything except for the plague being over.
Abe Rosenthal, New York Times executive editor
Crime: True, Walter Duranty praised Joseph Stalin, but at least he covered him! The Times, under Rosenthal, ignored AIDS and wouldn't even use the word “gay” to denote homosexuals. Nor would it cover a benefit thrown by Gay Men’s Health Crisis, even though it took place in the Times’ backyard at Madison Square Garden, was sold out and boasted a “Star Spangled Banner” conducted by Leonard Frickin’ Bernstein. The paper only published an important series on AIDS after Max Frankel replaced Rosenthal -- whose reign was notoriously unfriendly to gays.
Last Known Whereabouts: Rosenthal was a “weeper and egomaniac, womanizer and homophobe, chauvinist and tyrant” -- under his editorship everything was not fit to print. When he died in 2006, it was widely agreed that Rosenthal’s tenure was a low point in the history of the great paper.
The Pope(s), Vicars of Jesus Christ
Crime: It took the Vatican 29 years to admit that condoms may be necessary to reduce the spread of disease -- only 12 years after church leaders in El Salvador spearheaded a law “requiring condoms to carry warnings that they do not protect against AIDS.” The Church has an unmatched record of ensuring -- or at best ignoring -- the destruction of the gay community. In 1986, the loving and compassionate John Paul II warned his bishops that homosexuality -- an “objective disorder,” he said -- was clearly a threat to the lives of straight people. Meanwhile, he continued, those damn gays “remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved.”
Last Known Whereabouts: John Paul II is dead but his legacy lives on, mainly in the form of the Republican Party. Eight conservative senators -- McConnell, Coburn, DeMint, Burr, Bunning, Chambliss, Sessions and Vitter -- refused to support a bill that expanded AIDS funding to China and India. Christine O’Donnell, a recent Tea Party flavor of the month, opined that the government spent too much money on AIDS and oh by the way condoms don’t stop the spread of the virus. She’s such a smart lady.
Jesse Helms, senator
Crime: “I think somewhere along the line we are going to have to quarantine,” said Helms, “if we are really going to contain this disease.” (A position, by the way, shared by erstwhile Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee.) He was venomous toward American AIDS victims and denied funding at every turn. Possibly this was because Helms believed that homosexuals were “perverted human beings.” He allowed insurance companies to deny coverage to victims and voted against AIDS education. In fairness to Helms, he didn’t just hate gays, he also railed against the use of funds to distribute sterile needles to drug addicts.
Last Known Whereabouts: Fearing an eternity of hellfire, Helms adopted AIDS in Africa as a hobbyhorse. "Perhaps,” he wrote in the Washington Post, “I am too mindful of soon meeting Him, but I know that … we cannot turn away when we see our fellow man in need.” Can and did! This was the last gasp of an awful man. When it counted, Helms was worse than ineffectual -- he actively sought to damage a community he loathed. At his passing, conservatives praised him as a statesman, which is just as well.
When George Bush’s reelection campaign ran ads containing footage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Debra Burlingame’s ire was directed not at Bush’s admen but at “9/11 family members” whose relatives had been killed. These people, said Burlingame, “enjoy the cloak of deference that has been graciously conferred upon them by the public, politicians and, most significantly, the media.” The charge carried some heft: as sister of Charles Burlingame, pilot of the doomed American Airlines flight that slammed into the Pentagon, she was herself the beneficiary of such deference -- particularly from the press.
This hasn’t changed a bit, even now, as Burlingame’s opposition to Park51 (frequently called the “Ground Zero Mosque” by the ignorant and bigoted alike) has made her a go-to source for pithy, cutting quotes. Thanks to the controversy over the unfunded, nonexistent and probably-never-to-be-built edifice, she regularly opines on the dangers of the proposed Islamic community center as well as subjects that are ostensibly out of her purview. For instance, any real knowledge she may have of Western philosophy (for much of the Muslim world “the enlightenment hasn't even happened yet,” which would be news to a certain G-20 democracy) and DOJ appointments (“...[Neal] Katyal is probably the best of the bunch”) is a well-kept secret.
According to LexisNexis, Burlingame was cited 87 times in August alone, a level of ubiquity even she might agree warrants a look under the cloak. Until now most of the attention paid to Burlingame has been forward-looking and coated with gauze. The New York Times profiled her in 2005 when she lobbied against the proposed International Freedom Center, but noted only that she “graduated from Cardozo, practiced law for two years, and spent five years at Court TV before moving to Los Angeles to start a production company.” Not a word about what kind of law Burlingame practiced, her duties at Court TV or what become of the production company. Also absent was a quote from the Center’s founders -- Chelsea Piers president Tom Bernstein and Dow Jones vice president Richard Tofel -- in response to Burlingame’s charge that “they're treating 9/11 like a 3,000-person car crash.” (Cardozo’s alumnae office says only that Burlingame was class of ‘93, and Turner Broadcasting System won’t comment on former Court TV employees.)
This is quite the kid gloves treatment for someone who in the three scrutiny-free years following 9/11 accomplished quite a lot. In fact, a review of her record past and present suggests that Burlingame uses her survivor’s patina for purposes that are occasionally admirable. More often than not, though, she resembles a political operative who frequently exploits the trauma of 9/11 at the expense of the good name and reputation of her adversaries. (Burlingame did not respond to questions submitted by AlterNet.)
Ground Zero and the International Freedom Center
In hindsight, you can see the International Freedom Center controversy and Burlingame’s part in it coming a mile away. But at the time, questioning the credentials of IFC’s founder, real estate developer Tom Bernstein -- a longtime friend and former business partner of George W. Bush -- was strange.
Conceived in late 2001, the Center was modeled on the United States Holocaust Museum. The plans for Bernstein’s brainchild included “a gallery devoted to the world’s sympathetic response to the attacks, an exhibition on freedom-related political documents like the Declaration of Independence, and a salute to freedom fighters around the world.” Slated to be built along Ground Zero’s edge, the project was seen as vanilla enough for five Fortune 500 corporations (including American Express) to quickly commit to its funding.
Even so, hundreds of September 11 victims' relatives were opposed, claiming the project would “dishonor the memory of their relatives,” reported the Times. The Center, they charged, “would shift the focus from the victims of the terror attack toward political harangues against United States’ foreign and domestic policy.”
As it happened, Burlingame was perfectly positioned to magnify the relatives’ discontent. She’d recently been appointed to the board of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, the sole purpose of which was to raise $500 million for the construction of a performing-arts center and memorial designed by Michael Arad and Frank Gehry, respectively. The board had august company: four ex-presidents, financiers Maurice Greenberg and Henry Kravis, and much of the New York social register.
Mayor Bloomberg, facing an easy reelection, was not supportive of Burlingame or the other relatives. “It's a fantastic design,” he noted during the Freedom Center plan’s unveiling, even as he acknowledged the contentiousness of the project. “You are never going to please everybody,” he said, “[b]ut we're trying to remember those who have passed and at the same time build for the future.”
In a move that echoes her current involvement in the Park51 project, Burlingame took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal. She wrote that Ground Zero had been "hijacked" and "stolen" from her and spun conspiracy theories about IFC board members Anthony Romero, the director of the ACLU -- who wanted exhibits to reflect the curtailment of civil liberties -- and Eric Foner, the eminent historian, for the crime of calling the Bush administration’s rhetoric “apocalyptic.”
The Journal editorial was brutally inaccurate. As the Nation’s Alisa Solomon wrote a few months later:
She didn't mention, for instance, that the people she named represented only five of the project's eighty-nine advisers and board members; she tarred Eric Foner by associating him with an infamous remark made by another Columbia University faculty member at an antiwar teach-in in 2003, even though Foner had denounced the remark at the event. Most misleading of all, perhaps, Burlingame made it seem as if the IFC would be taking the place of a memorial and 9/11 museum, not standing alongside those edifices.
Foner resigned. (“I have never met or written a word about Burlingame,” Foner says in an e-mail. “You'd have to ask her why she attacked me.”) In September 2005, New York Governor George Pataki announced the abandonment of the International Freedom Center proposal. Four years of work, down the tubes.
There was a time when this would have seemed improbable. Debra Burlingame still deserves credit for her very first, incredibly tenacious act after her brother was murdered.
What she wanted, quite reasonably, was to have Charles Burlingame buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where their parents had recently been interred. In an interview with Katie Couric on September 13 she said, “We know that he always planned to be buried [in Arlington] when his life would end.”
The Army said no. As a retired reservist, the 51-year-old wasn’t eligible for his own plot for another eight years. A compromise was offered: Charles Burlingame could be interred in his parent’s plot. Debra Burlingame refused and wrangled a number of sympathetic senators, including Rick Santorum, R-PA, George Allen, R-VA and John Warner, R-VA, in a bid to change the law.
Success: After Warner introduced legislation to waive the age requirement for burial, the Army agreed to a one-time exception. Charles Frank Burlingame was buried on December 12, “with seven members of a Navy honor guard firing three shots each into the sky.”
It would be more than a half-year before Debra Burlingame would resurface.
The 9/11 Commission and the Flag
Burlingame’s next foray into national issues occurred in June 2002, months after Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, introduced S. 1867 to establish a national commission tasked to produce a “full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, and the extent of the United States' preparedness for, and response to, the attacks.”
There are indications Burlingame was not opposed to the commission but simply skeptical. During a rally in Washington, D.C. organized by one Lorie Van Auken, Burlingame told the Record, “It shouldn’t be held hostage to Beltway politics.” She worried, reported Congressional Quarterly, that the commission would be “politics as usual, with finger-pointing and agency-covering.”
Somehow amid the hubbub around Lieberman’s bill Burlingame found time to lend her expanding profile to a local issue -- the restriction of public displays of Old Glory by her West Los Angeles condo board. Burlingame sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of legislation to overturn the existing rights of condo boards and homeowner associations to “govern various aspects of owners’ and residents' conduct.” The bill passed, slightly amended, with no discernible opposition. Not long after this small victory, shortly after Thanksgiving, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was established.
Burlingame’s turn against the 9/11 Commission is difficult to explain without ascribing partisan motives -- a rationale she always strenuously denied. But please, find another explanation for the contempt in which Burlingame held people who pushed for the Commission, and her assertions on the eve of Condoleezza Rice’s testimony that the “fix is in” and the testimony would be used to “embarrass or discredit the Bush administration.”
Most of her scorn was directed at Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Lorie Van Auken, and Mindy Kleinberg -- all of whom lost their husbands on September 11, 2001. By June 2004, the four women, known as “the Jersey Girls,” were on the precipice of a decidedly Pyrrhic victory: the Commission in whose creation they were instrumental was mere weeks from delivering its findings. The involvement of the Jersey Girls was not, as Republicans alleged, simply cosmetic: without them Henry Kissinger might have remained chairman and made a mockery of its conclusions.
Burlingame was not among their admirers. Breitweiser, Casazza, Van Auken and Kleinberg, she told the Telegraph, were “rock stars of grief” who had outstayed their welcome. “People are getting sick of them because they are being so demanding.”
The (Non) Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, cited by the 9/11 Commission as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” was arraigned at a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal in early June 2008. The New York Daily News reported that of all the 9/11 family members only Burlingame had been invited to the $12 million “Expeditionary Legal Complex” in Cuba to observe the proceedings.
A number of 9/11 family members were outraged. One wept. They had been blindsided, apparently only learning of their exclusion from the Daily News. Relatives of several 9/11 victims sent a letter to Susan Crawford, head of Guantanamo's military commissions since 2007. They charged that the presence of Burlingame, “a staunch supporter of this administration and the military commission system ... is but the latest example of a covert, politicized military commission system that has little hope of bringing any legitimate outcome."
Burlingame, in turn, alleged that the Daily News and its reporter, James Meek, were “dishonest" and knew that any trial would “be broadcast on closed-circuit TV and all 9/11 family members will be able to monitor the gavel-to-gavel proceedings from remote locations here in the United States.”
Ultimately, Burlingame did not attend the arraignment; the Department of Defense told her to stay home because they did not have time to implement a lottery system for 9/11 attendees. Former Pentagon spokesman JD Gordon attributes the incident to a "misunderstanding," noting that Burlingame had been invited as part of an established civilian observer program, separate from the DoD's 9/11 victim family member program.
Echalar v. 9/11 Families
Burlingame’s claim to dominion over the legacy of 9/11 manifested itself in venues far afield of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In November 2005, 13 foreign-born residents sued Maryland state agencies and officials, alleging the state’s driver's license requirements for foreign-born applicants violated their civil rights. For example, noted an attorney for the plaintiffs, a foreign-born applicant often waited “weeks or months” for an appointment punitively far from home.
In response, Burlingame and 9-11 Families for a Secure America filed a motion to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit, claiming that “the injuries suffered by their Maryland members resulted in significant part from Maryland's negligence in issuing identification cards.” (What went unmentioned was that the 9/11 terrorists were in the United States legally.) FSA further claimed they would “suffer pain, fear and anxiety” if the court acceded to the wishes of the plaintiffs, and that to do so would “increase the risk of...mass slaughter or terrorism.”
A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge told the group that the tie between state license law and terrorism was so tenuous that they lacked a “particularized interest” in the outcome. Basically: Mind your own business.
Finally, in August 2007 with no fanfare and little press, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals affirmed the prior ruling. The Court, in a delightfully prickly decision, observed that the “desire to avoid future terrorist attacks on innocents is shared by most, if not all, reasonable persons.”
Guantanamo Bay and the Uighurs
Burlingame’s crusades were not limited to terrorists or Maryland’s undocumented immigrants. In May 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that 17 Uighurs were cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay. These particular Chinese Muslims were, like a high percentage of Guantanamo detainees, not captured on a battlefield and an appeals court ruled a year prior they could not be classified as “enemy combatants.”
Burlingame criticized the decision, branded the Uighers “terrorists,” and not-so-subtly conflated them with Abdul Haq -- alleged to have planned terrorist operations in China and since killed -- and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda.
Burlingame’s preference, apparently, is to keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely. In a column for Andrew Breitbart’s Biggovernment.com last December, she labeled the Obama administration's intention to close the prison “nothing more than moral vanity and rank political theater aimed at satisfying his liberal soul-mates at the ACLU and Human Rights First.”
The mission of Keep America Safe, the plucky little 501(c)(4) founded last October by Burlingame, Elizabeth Cheney and William Kristol, is “to provide information for concerned Americans about critical national security issues.” However, it seems to be primarily concerned with scuttling plans for an Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero, selling bumper stickers claiming “Gitmo saves lives,” and, as Matthew Duss put it, “taking a power drill to the fear center of the American brain and leaving the bloody remains of factual accuracy and good taste in its wake.”
The outfit is backed by Melvin Sembler, a former RNC finance chair, ambassador to Italy and chair of Scooter Libby's defense fund who made millions as a shopping center developer and who has saturated the GOP with cash for decades. (He also, along with his wife Betty, ran a rehab clinic where many teen patients say they were abused.)
One of KAS’s early high-profile initiatives was a December 5, 2009 rally in New York’s Foley Square in protest of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 conspirators the right to a civilian trial. According to its 990, KAS spent more than $30,000 -- not a fortune, but not chump change either. Still, KAS would have gotten its money’s worth if, per the 990, 4,000 people had actually shown up on that rainy day.
Aaron Harison, executive director of Keep America Safe, told me the press reports were wrong. The 4,000 figure was accurate, he said, and came from “eyewitness accounts, myself included. There was certainly way more than a couple of hundred. I was personally there.” He sent along this rally footage, which some may find persuasive, or not. Unfortunately, the NYPD says its policy is to not provide crowd estimates.
This brings us to late summer, a season in which a local zoning matter has, thanks in large part to Burlingame's efforts, roiled a nation. With support from KAS and her ancillary foundation 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, Burlingame’s opposition to Park51 has made her a star. Now, when she picks a fight with Mayor Bloomberg, both names are given equal weight.
Burlingame has played the game brilliantly. She was on the record in opposition to the project as early as May 24, well before 99 percent of America had heard of either Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf or his wife, Daisy Khan. In a 9/11 Families press release, she said, “We do not accept the Cordoba organization's view that we need Imam Rauf to lecture us about religious tolerance in a city still dealing with the consequences of the attack that he claims we brought on ourselves.”
Eminently quotable, Burlingame has made specious claims about the Imam and Cordoba House in interview after interview: She called it a “recruiting center for terrorism” (Daily News), “propaganda” (Associated Press), and claimed it “embraces the very Shariah Law that terrorists point to as their justification for what they did.” Of Muslims she said, “They don't believe that man-made laws supersede Allah's law” (Human Events).
This ugly campaign -- driven mainly by Burlingame’s proprietary view of Ground Zero -- is uncomfortably reminiscent of the quashing of the International Freedom Center. Richard Tofel, now general manager of ProPublica, offered some perspective. He says in an e-mail that Burlingame’s two campaigns are only similar “in the sense that she twists some facts and ignores others altogether. But she showed no religious bigotry last time.” Her opposition to Park51, he says, is “rooted in a toxic combination of [an] attempt to gain partisan advantage and simple religious bigotry,” noting her conspicuous lack of objection to strip clubs, fast food joints and OTB establishments, all of which are even closer to Ground Zero.
Tofel worries that the current fight, unlike the International Freedom Center row, “has the potential for far more damage to our country.”
Perhaps Debra Burlingame really is driven by bigotry and partisan gain. But maybe even that’s too complicated. A simpler answer, I think, may be found in a July 7, 2005 appearance on Fox News:
CAVUTO: Are you just saddened every time you see yet another terror attack?
BURLINGAME: I'm angered every time I see another terror attack. In fact, on the last anniversary of September 11, someone said to me, Debra, do you miss the unity? And I said, no. I miss the anger.
By that metric, the last nine years of Debra Burlingame’s life have been a magnificent success. Unfortunately, the anger that sustains Burlingame also inspires acts by her fellow sympathizers that are disconcertingly reminiscent of 1963 Birmingham. A credulous media and an overly sympathetic public, both of whom are unwilling to view Burlingame as something other than an eloquent reminder of national tragedy, all but ensure these heinous incidents continue.
Given their constant claim to be the “party of ideas,” Republicans don't offer much beyond the hopelessly impractical. Among them: deregulate anything that isn’t tied down; deficits don’t matter, until a Democrat's in office and they suddenly do; low-income “lucky duckies” need to be taxed, the top 2 percent does not. What happens when the Old Guard of conservatism moves on? Who will replace them as dependable propagandists for the right's most monstrous ideas? Readers, what follows is a comprehensive roundup of the guys and gals who will for the next half-century wield an increasing level of influence within the conservative movement and/or the Grand Old Party (assuming the latter isn’t reduced to a regional coffee klatch after the imminent desertion of Hispanic voters). This is the lovechild of The Breakfast Club and the Laffer curve.
1. Michael Goldfarb The Weekly Standard
Approximate Age: 29
Accomplishments: The line between political hack and hack journalist should be bright and impenetrable. Not so for Goldfarb, who temporarily abjured his wingnut welfare sinecure at the poor man’s National Review to take a position as “deputy communications director” of McCain’s vegetative campaign. Don’t let the fancy title fool you. Goldfarb’s singular triumph was to maintain a smile as he got the shit kicked out of him by Rick Sanchez, who is kind of dumb, on CNN. His failures will be forgotten or forgiven; expect to see him shuttle between the Fourth Estate and campaigns in perpetuity.
Fun Fact: Worked on a project called “The Upside of Global Warming.”
Antecedent: William Kristol, who did double duty as Goldfarb’s boss at the Standard and foreign policy adviser for McCain. (Kristol’s worldview is basically ‘bomb ‘em all and let the contractors sort ‘em out,’ which probably explains McCain’s ability to distinguish between Iraq and Iran.) History will show that between Goldfarb and Kristol -- thanks for Sarah Palin, asshole -- the Weekly Standard helped deliver the presidency to the Kenyan.
2. Mary Katharine Ham, Fox News, The Weekly Standard
Approximate Age: 30
Accomplishments: Ham’s first station of the conservative cross, a stint at the Heritage Foundation, is notable only for a series of columns in which she kvetched that her political beliefs made life a slog; she endured vicious jibes for her Bush-Cheney bumper sticker and was tossed from a taxi after the cabbie “f[ound] out I was conservative and supported the war effort.” It was, to be sure, tough times for a fundamentalist embryo on the conservative borg’s tenure track. Since then, the precocious Ham has twinkletoed the line at evangelical Christian media outlets and the House of Murdoch. In an unrelated note, a panel of judges declared her the “fourth-hottest conservative woman in new media.”
Fun Fact: Ham to Larry King, one week before the Republicans lost the House and Senate in the 2006 midterms: “I think the get-out-the-vote is strong. The money is strong. I think we're going to do fine.”
Antecedent: Laura Ingraham, who has made serious bank putting a pretty face on conventional wisdom. You know, when she isn’t outing gay college students.
3. John Hawkins, RightWingNews.com
Approximate Age: 39
Accomplishments: Hawkins is indispensable to the movement for putting a new spin on Reagan’s 11th Commandment -- Thou shalt not ask a difficult question of any fellow Republican. “In your opinion,” he asked Ann Coulter, “if someone like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush had been in the White House instead of Johnson, would we have won in Vietnam?” To Richard Perle: “Is there anything else you'd like to say or promote before we finish?” Newt Gingrich, John Yoo, Karl Rove, Michael Steele and Roy Blunt have all been similarly grilled.
Fun Fact: Is friends with that Daily Show Muppet.
Antecedent: Hugh Hewitt, master of the soft-soap interview: “Well, Marco Rubio, except for the fact you went to the University of Florida, and you root for the Dolphins, which means you don’t know much about football, I’m from Ohio, other than that, what defines your political theory?”
4. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Christianity Today, GetReligion.com
"The Fundamentalist Scold"
Approximate Age: 36
Accomplishments: Hemingway has perfected the art of slathering scholarly gloss on social conservative bullshit. In this way, she can take classically retrograde, fundamentalist positions -- i.e. gays are uniquely promiscuous and stem cell research is B-A-D -- and pretend it’s not because Jesus Told Her So. When Hemingway crosses paths with an expert one sees the limitations of the racket. Here, for example, Hemingway tries, fails, to convince Sarah Posner that homophobic business owners will be economically imperiled by a gay marriage fiat.
Antecedent: Peggy Noonan? Ziegler, however, has yet to match Noonan’s column on the magical dolphins who “surrounded [Elian Gonzalez] like a contingent of angels.”
5. James Kirchick, The New Republic, Commentary
Approximate Age: 27
Accomplishments: Under the strict tutelage of Martin Peretz, Kirchick has eagerly absorbed the knee-jerk contrarianism of The New Republic (i.e. Sonya Sotomayor = bad, buying off politicians = good). This ability may be what enables the fiercely intelligent, openly gay Kirchick to work for the brainchild of the reptilian Norman Podhoretz -- who believed that “AIDS is almost entirely a disease caught by men who bugger or are buggered by dozens or even hundreds of other men every year." Though he often conflates criticism of Israel’s foreign policy with anti-Semitism for fun and profit, Kirchick can be an excellent reporter. His monster on the Ron Paul newsletters will be remembered long after his cri de coeur on dating liberals is forgotten.
Antecedent: Kirchick should be so lucky to take after his mentor -- marry an heiress and cease to work for a living.
6. Erik 'E.D.' Kain, The Washington Examiner
Approximate Age: 29
Accomplishments: The only reason Kain is not widely loathed by his conservative brethren is that he is not, for the moment, widely known. He’s got a touch of the wingnut (“pro-life across the board”) but is anti-war, anti-torture and anti-death penalty. And if that isn’t enough, Kain wants to cut defense spending, which aligns him with, of all people, Alan Grayson. He has so far collected one antagonist of note: Robert Stacy McCain of “Emmett Till had it coming” fame.
Fun Fact: He’s so goddamn reasonable as to be unquotable.
Antecedent: Kain’s pulled a neat trick. He’s essentially David Frum: The Next Generation. But unlike Frum, Kain has nothing to apologize for.
7. Kathryn Jean Lopez, The National Review
Approximate Age: 34
Accomplishments: Lopez has worked for the National Review for a third of her life. Her reign as editor of its blog, The Corner, has been marked by very little actual editing (did you know Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife’s name was Loretta?), at least one sentence from May 25, 2004 that should be remembered -- “If the radio gig doesn’t work out[,] Al Franken can always run for Senate” -- and pom-poms whenever gays suffers a civil rights setback. The Corner perch has given Lopez entrée to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and the cable networks.
Fun Fact: From her Amazon wish list: The Nanny: Complete Season 4, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: Season One and an Israeli paratrooper bag.
Antecedent: None. Lopez is a true original. Never in the history of American letters has an editor had so little grasp of basic sentence structure.
8. Sean Medlock, The Daily Caller
Approximate Age: 42
Accomplishments: Writing as “Jim Treacher,” Medlock was actually sort of funny. His Eminence Roy Edroso once said the boy was the best the right-wing had -- to be fair, that’s praise so faint as to be invisible. TreachLock currently writes for Tucker Carlson’s vanity project, The Daily Caller, which reduces him to bits about how Newsweek sucks. Still, Edroso’s judgment holds true.
Fun Fact: In February, Medlock was hit by a State Department SUV. He was served with a jaywalking ticket while he was in the ER.
Antecedent: Medlock is treading the path worn by late-period Dennis Miller and P. J. O'Rourke.
9. Joseph Rago, Wall Street Journal
Accomplishments: Traditionally there are three daily U.S. newspapers at which journalists hope to die: the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. That Rago, just out of puberty, has already been a Journal staffer for five years is absurd. He has mostly avoided the Kleigs, but surfaces occasionally -- to paint Massachusetts health care as a failure, or push WellPoint’s claim that reforms are a “wasted opportunity.” His low profile is understandable: Not long after he joined the Journal, Rago wrote a very true piece in which he observed that blogs “produce minimal reportage,” “ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps” and are “excruciatingly boring.” Minds were lost, much laughter was had.
Fun Fact: Recently fell in with Breitbart’s Big Government scam. The youngster may not be aware that Breitbart is a charlatan.
Antecedent: The late, much loved/loathed Robert Bartley stayed with the paper for most of his life, too, and he did okay for himself. When Michele Obama’s whitey tape surfaces, Rago will have his very own Whitewater.
10. Reihan Salam, National Review Online, The Daily Beast
Approximate Age: 30
Accomplishments: Salam is the lesser-known co-author of “The Party of Sam’s Club,” a 2005 Weekly Standard thumbsucker that made a splash by proposing a number of policy prescriptions that boil down to: Republicans, stop acting like cocks. Parts of it, particularly on health care reform, are excellent. There are moments of hindsight hilarity: “The current Republican majority isn't likely to be defeated, or disappear, in the next few election cycles.” It’s a solid effort, and Salam continues to push his party into a more cerebral direction, recently from the pages of the National Review.
Fun Fact: He raps.
Antecedent: Salam adheres to a humane conservatism practiced by his old boss, David Brooks. Which isn’t to say that most of his or Brooks’ ideas are agreeable; but the fact that neither relies on the usual crutch of wedge issues is sort of admirable.