James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

Elizabeth Warren is running for president

Posted by James McPherson on April 23, 2014

elizabeth warrenThough I rarely produce journalistic scoops these days, here’s something that you can say that you read here first: Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will run for president in 2016, despite what she told ABC just a couple of days ago. Even if Chris Cillizza states flatly, “Elizabeth Warren is almost certainly not running for president in 2016.”

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps even Warren herself doesn’t know that she’ll be a candidate in 2016. And though I’m often blown away by her intelligence and her grasp of economic issues — and so I shouldn’t suggest that I know something she doesn’t — here are six reasons that I know she’ll run:

First, she wrote a book. And not just any book, as Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll pointed out yesterday, but “a campaign book.” Not a major policy work, but an autobiography, “nothing explosive, but juicy enough to feed the Washington media machine.” A book that “can, at times, read like an extended stump speech.”

Years ago, in my book about the post-World War II rise of conservatism in the U.S. (and previously on this blog), I compared Barack Obama’s campaign to those of earlier candidates. I wrote that Obama “wrote a popular book that might be compared to conservative icon Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope offered an image for the nation’s political future, calling for in one reviewer’s words, ‘a mode of liberalism that sounds both highly pragmatic and deeply moral.'”

A second reason I believe Warren will run is that we’re seemingly seeing her everywhere. Some of the most effective Senators — such as Hillary Clinton, for example — become what are known as legislative “work horses,” keeping their heads down and doing the hard work of legislating. Others become “show horses,” speaking out not only in public hearings but whenever they can on television. Do a search on YouTube for “Elizabeth Warren.” The result? “About 221,000 results.”

Third, Warren not only seems to be everywhere, but she also has something to say. As I wrote about Obama, in my book: Both Obama and Ronald Reagan “found themselves in demand as speakers inside and outside their parties. Though Reagan had a sharper wit, a folksier manner, and a more practiced delivery, both he and Obama spoke on behalf of their values in direct, positive and personal ways that connected with listeners.” Warren may be smarter than either of those men, and manages to tell us horrible news about financial institutions  in a way that makes it seem as if there might be an answer.

Fourth, Warren herself is the answer for the problems she raises, problems that most Americans can identify with. Without her, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would not exist. She rightfully should have been that agency’s first director, but Obama chickened out from appointing her, convinced that opposition from banks and Republicans would be too strong for her to be confirmed.

Fifth, as just pointed out, banks and Republicans don’t like Warren. That makes her appealing to Democrats who don’t happen to be bankers, and helps her raise money. Even if she were wishy-washy about the idea of running, she’d be getting a lot of pressure to run.

And finally, a sixth reason we should expect Warren to be a candidate: Her timing will likely never be better. Many said that Obama was running “too soon,” that he should wait four or eight more years to run. I think that his presidency — and the nation — has suffered in some respects because of his lack of experience. But as I have noted, we actually seem to prefer inexperience in our presidential nominees. Someone such as John Kerry or John McCain or Hillary Clinton who has served for a long period of time in government has a record that can be used and distorted by opponents.

Besides, if not now, when? If a Democrat should happen to win the presidency in 2016, that person would probably seek re-election in 2020. The earliest that Warren could run in that case would be in 2024, after she had already served a dozen years in the Senate (assuming she won a second term; if she lost a Massachusetts Senate race she couldn’t be a credible Democratic candidate afterward).

So, there you have it. She’s running. And if I’m wrong, well, I’ll be just like every other political pundit, hoping no one remembers later.

 

 

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Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Comparing Obama to other presidents — and to mermaids

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2013

mermaidAfter watching an Animal Planet program about mermaids the other night, I realized that the sea creatures and President Barack Obama have some things in common. Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, considering that the Weekly World News, a “news source” at least as reliable as World Net Daily, assures me that Obama has met with mermaids. Less surprising is that the article tells us that the mermaids are being “kept at an undisclosed aquarium.” Perhaps in Cuba?

And yes, I know the show was fiction, even if many people have apparently been fooled by the “documentary” style and the lengths the network went through to trick viewers. The fact that folks were duped isn’t a big surprise, though one might hope they would check things out before buying into the latest version of “Alien Autopsy.” I am a bit disappointed to find that Animal Planet is apparently now as much about animals as the History Channel is about history and the Arts & Entertainment network is about the arts.

In part, though, people believe in mermaids (check out some of the claims and a bad poem about mermaids and sonar in the comments section here), for some of the same reasons they believed–and in some cases, continue to believe–that Barack Obama is liberal, anti-war, anti-business, Muslim, a gun-grabber, Kenyan-born, a supporter of economic regulation, deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, a socialist, or the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In fact, because both were relatively unknown and perhaps unknowable, mermaids and Obama became defined by how others want to see them. (We often elect “outsiders” for that reason.) But just for fun, here are some other comparisons:

  • Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was translated into dozens of languages and led to an animated movie; Obama’s Dreams from My Father was translated into dozens of languages and led to an unanimated presidency.
  • Mermaids are famous for melodious singing that mesmerized sailors; Obama is famous for melodious speeches that mesmerized Democratic voters.
  • Mermaids hang out with fish; Obama also has been accused of having some fishy compatriots.
  • In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be seeking souls; Obama brought soul to the White House.
  • Mermaids can be found all over the world; Obama also has made appearances all over the globe.
  • Mermaids never appear on television without the help of CGI; Obama rarely appears without the aid of a teleprompter.
  • And perhaps most significantly, mermaids are thought to be half human, half fish; Obama seems to be half Democrat, half Republican.

In fact, Obama is pretty much like most other presidents, and that’s the problem. He’s certainly no liberal; like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is a politically practical neo-conservative who relies on a combination of charm and corporate money for his power. Like FDRHarry Truman and Bush, he’ll freely kill civilians abroad to look politically strong while reducing American military casualties (for example, more Americans have been killed by guns in this country just since the Newtown massacre than were killed in the entire Iraq War). Like Bush and Roosevelt, Obama will overlook civil liberties to lock up potential “enemies.” Like Nixon and Bush, he is secretive. Also like Nixon and Bush, Obama is willing to let the government be intrusive, if not abusive.

I’ve noted previously the similarities between Obama and Ronald Reagan, and have become increasingly troubled by some of the current president’s similarities to Richard Nixon. (I agree with Bob Dole’s recent statement that neither Reagan nor Nixon could be elected as Republicans, though I think either might have a shot as a modern-day Democrat. After all, both Reagan and Nixon were more liberal in many respects than Obama.)

Obama is not particularly brave, nor especially effective in accomplishing his goals. He has accomplished some good things while doing some bad ones. He seems to be more reflective than Bush, but who isn’t? The one thing that liberals and conservatives might agree on in regard to Obama is that he has been … a disappointment.

Obama’s new support for a federal shield law and his nomination of James B. Comey as FBI director might seem to be encouraging notes in a presidency that has otherwise been marked by its obstruction and intimidation of the press and a general lack of once-promised transparency. But it’s worth noting that Obama previously helped kill the shield law (which probably would prove largely meaningless, and may actually make things worse for journalists, anyway) and the drone warrior’s latest “transparency” promise lasted all of about a week. And, of course, Comey may have had the gumption to bust Martha Stewart and WorldCom execs, but he also is another demonstration of how the president is continuing the work of George W. Bush, even if Comey proved to be a thorn in Bush’s side.

Obama’s attorney general apologized for the administration’s treatment of the press, but I wonder why he felt the need to offer the apology in an “off-the-record” meeting. (I’m also troubled by the fact that three of the five editors who attended the meeting promptly violated the terms to which they had apparently agreed; they should have done what most media organizations did and boycotted the meeting.)

So while it is true that some of Obama’s recent words sound good, we’ve heard false promises in the past. Until I see more evidence, I’m not putting a lot of faith in either Obama or mermaids.

Sunday follow-up: Slate offers some more perspective on the Animal Planet’s mermaid tales, and five things the channel could better be focusing in regard to the world’s suffering oceans. Related to#4 of the list, today I bought a tie covered with pictures of a dozen kinds of sharks. Maybe they ate the mermaids.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

The cowards among us: killers, legislators and the NRA

Posted by James McPherson on December 15, 2012

A question for parents: How many of you have toy guns or “first-person-shooter” video games nicely wrapped under your Christmas trees as you get ready to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Here in America, of course, that’s just the batcrap-crazy norm, as we go from one supposedly shocking mass killing to another and another and another. Maybe this year the deaths will hit triple digits. And unless you’re related to them, or it involves a member of Congress, you probably won’t remember any of their name  by New Year’s Day.

“They packed the pews to remember, mourn and pray,” wrote CNN’s Dana Ford. “What else can you do?”

What, indeed? Surely we can’t have a serious discussion about gun control, or get members of Congress to stand up to the National Rifle Association for even common-sense legislation. After all, some folks think it outrageous that “government” keeps us from easily owning automatic weapons, machine guns and hand grenades.

We also can’t adequately fund education or mental health care, especially at the risk of raising taxes or cutting military funding. We can’t rationally discuss what it is about US that makes mass murder now commonplace. To do that would be both too scary and too political.

Despite the fact that most Americans, including most members of the NRA, favor some gun laws, we apparently can’t have any millionaires or billionaires stepping up to found an organization with lobbying influence to combat the NRA. No reason they should, since they live behind gates and their kids are in private schools. (Ironically, the chidren of workers for the country’s second-biggest gun lobby could actually be among the Newtown, Conn., victims, considering that the National Shooting Sports Foundation–which offers members a newsletter titled “Pull the Trigger,” boasting such articles as “It’s the Indian, not the arrow“– is within walking distance of the school.)

We can’t have gun-totin’ conservatives admitting that Barack Obama doesn’t really want to take away our guns, or that it’s easier to own a gun today and you can carry one in more places than before he took office. Or that conservative “hero” Ronald Reagan actually supported stricter gun laws than we have today, or than have been supported by any so-called liberal president since. After all, one of the many things Obama and Mitt Romney shared duting the recent presidential campaign was cowardice when it came to talking about guns.

Oh, we can do a few things. We can breathlessly watch the news media report the tragedy as quickly as possible, guaranteeing that they’ll get some things wrong in the process–yet again. We can expect the NRA to somehow use this tragedy as an excuse to fundraise while its followers tell us that it’s “wrong” to use a tragedy to discuss the politics of gun control. And we can continue to have nutjobs such as Spokane city councilman Mike Fagan suggest that we arm teachers or administrators.

After all, what could go wrong having stressed, distracted people in charge of too many children also packing heat? Of course they’d have to lock the firearms away, to avoid letting kids get to them. And if the gun and ammo were locked away, it would probably be useless in an emergency situation–especially because anyone looking to wreak havoc would know to shoot the teacher first, because s/he might be armed.

So what can we really do, other than to remember, mourn and pray? Well, after doing that for a few days (and perhaps for a few minutes on every Dec. 14 for the next few years) we could just let things go back to “normal” until the next mass killing. That’s what I’m betting we’ll choose. After all, it probably won’t be in your kid’s school.

Merry Christmas.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Back to the future: From Goldwater to Tea

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2011

Looking through drafts of blog posts that I never finished, I see that nearly two years ago, on Feb. 18, 2010, I started a post with the tentative title of, “Paleocons may hurt GOP in the short run, save it in the long run.”

My thought at the time was that Republicans were generating some nutty ideas–and some loony candidates such as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell–but that the “grown-ups” would eventually regain control of the party and sanity would be restored.

Events since then have demonstrated otherwise, of course, with the recent debt ceiling debacle being merely the latest example. And whatever you may think of Barack Obama’s jobs bill, the fact is that if it was made up entirely of ideas created by Republicans, those Republicans would then feel obligated to spin on their round heels to then oppose what they had proposed.

In fact, the current situation may be a return to something much earlier in American political history–the rise of Barry Goldwater, about whom I wrote at some length in a book. I credit the failed Goldwater campaign with providing much of the impetus for a new conservatism. Goldwater’s campaign was doomed, but the energy of that campaign helped bring us Ronald Reagan and eventually the 1994 Republican Congress.

Likewise, Republicans may be working toward producing another sacrificial candidate in Rick Perry, shifting a party that would now too inflexible for Goldwater or Reagan even further to the right. Barack Obama may be the luckiest presidential candidate ever, getting to run twice against Republicans who can’t win despite Obama’s serious flaws.

It’s still early, and we’ll find out much more about Perry as his GOP competitors continue to bash him. But if Perry is the nominee and then loses to Obama, does anyone think those who have drunk the Perry tea are going anywhere, or that Obama will be any more successful in dealing with the next Congress than he has been in dealing with this one?

One key difference exists between the 1950s-60s rise of neoconservative and that of today. That earlier version was a party of ideas, highlighted by the genius of William F. Buckley and a host of thoughtful conservative publications. Unfortunately those publications have generally become as shallow and shrill as most of the rest of what now passes for rhetoric in America. And big ideas of the sort tossed around gleefully by Buckley can’t be examined via the likes of Twitter or Facebook.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Reagan at 100: A study in myth-making

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2011

 It is fitting to remember Ronald Reagan this week; since Super Bowl Sunday will mark would have been his 100th birthday. He was a fascinating character, so much so that I devoted quite a bit of ink to him in both my first book and my second (which includes a chapter titled “Reagan’s Cultural Revolution”). 

As a president Reagan was not as bad as many liberals remember–in fact many of his policies were more like those of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than of George W. Bush (come to think of it, that’s more a criticism of Clinton and Obama than a compliment to Reagan).

But Reagan was nowhere near what many conservatives remember (and to their credit, some conservatives such as Alan Simpson and Ramesh Ponnuru are among those who point out his complexities).

Reagan is perhaps our most mythologized former president, and the Reagan myth has grown in recent years. Perhaps that’s appropriate for a former movie actor who sometimes “remembered” things that never happened, or simply made stuff up.

At a time when the economy may be our most important, problem, however, it would be nice if politicians on both sides noticed where Reagan came down on economic issues. Yes, he cut them–once, in his first year. And then he raised taxes each of the next seven years. He grew the size of government and of the deficit. Every budget he submitted to Congress was larger than the one Congress actually approved.

Perhaps if we stop pretending that Reagan was something he wasn’t, we can also get real about the current budget crisis. Remember, though the Gipper was famous for his quote that “facts are stubborn things,” he also said in his farewell address, “Don’t be afraid to see what you see.”

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

A case in which conservatives might support abortion and liberals might favor welfare cuts

Posted by James McPherson on February 10, 2009

As the case of Caylee Anthony continues to draw an inordinate amount of attention from the media and others (the toddler’s funeral attracted more than 1,000 “mourners”), and even as Fox News is already breathlessly highlighting what its likely to be its next dead-kid story, the news media’s other family obsession, Nadya Suleman, now says she’ll use student loans to help support her 14 children (10 under the age of 2).

Suleman, who said she had no income and claimed to not be on welfare, but who admits to spending $100,000 for in vitro fertilization procedures, apparently gets almost $500 per month in food stamps along with untold amounts of money in disability payments for three of her first six children. She also received about $165,000 in disability payments after being injured in a riot at a state mental hospital (where she worked, not–as would seem appropriate–where she was a patient). You have to love the rationale offered by her “publicist” (and the fact that she has a publicist):

“In Nadya’s view, the money that she gets from the food stamp program … and the resources disabilities payments she gets for her three children are not welfare,” he said. “They are part of programs designed to help people with need, and she does not see that as welfare.” I suppose in a society where politicians can parse the definition of what “is” is, where oral sex with an intern is not “sexual relations,” where waterboarding is not torture and where leaders can lie us into a crippling war without facing legal consequences, Suleman is simply a product of her society–a good learner, so to speak.

I feel for Suleman’s kids, having a whacko as a mother, but beyond that I care very little about this story except for one concern: Especially at a time when the economy is so bad that it’s sending illegal immigrants home, boosting military enlistments and producing more new jobs for topless dancers than for auto workers, an unfortunate side effect of the Suleman case might be a crackdown in social programs and/or problems in reforming health care. After all, Ronald Reagan gained support for welfare cuts by exaggerating the extremely rare cases of “welfare queens in Cadillacs.”

Meanwhile, Bill O’Reilly is on the case: Today he offers “a ‘Factor’ investigation you won’t want to miss,” asking the question, “Is the octuplet mother obsessed with trying to look and act like  Angelina Jolie?” Looking perhaps. Acting, not really: After all, Jolie is adopting most of her children while Suleman is having hers the old-fashioned way–if artificial insemination can be considered old-fashioned.

The cases would be more similar, of course, if Jolie were farming out her uterus to “adopt” so-called “snowflake babies” of the kind that surrounded George W. Bush when he vetoed the first bill of his presidency–especially if, like Suleman, she could get a doctor to implant enough “snowflakes” to form a snowball.

By the way, Nancy Grace and other dead-kid fetishists might take note of the fact that another 35,000 or so youngsters also died the same day as Caylee–and every day since.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Congress approving digital delay that few want?

Posted by James McPherson on January 27, 2009

After last night’s unanimous Senate vote, the House of Representatives will take “emergency action” to vote on a bill to delay the switch to digital television from Feb. 17 until June 12. The House vote may come as early as later today, though I suspect ongoing stimulus talks and other issues (which fortunately included passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) will delay it until tomorrow or later this week. So much for the idea that interest groups and lobbyists have all the power in Washington, since students and I learned first-hand last week that representatives for several powerful groups actually oppose the delay to digital.

The “emergency” aspect of the House action is somewhat humorous, since the switch to digital has been scheduled for more than a decade and those of use with cable or satellite hookups probably won’t be seriously affected (though even we may need an extra cable box or experience a slight  increase in the number of neighbors who want to watch football games at our houses). A January startup date previously had been moved to Feb. 17 after legislators realized what might happen if the switch screwed up people’s Super Bowl viewing or messed with the plans of advertisers, who will pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of advertising during the game. No, that’s not a joke–at least three experts we spoke with in New York and Washington, D.C., verified the Super Bowl-related reasoning behind the February date.

I don’t know the significance of the June 12 date, which among other things happens to be George H.W. Bush’s 85th birthday, the 70th birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 22nd anniversary of the date Ronald Reagan urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the 15th anniversary of when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered (an event that came 27 years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriages, suggesting that O.J. may have an odd way of celebrating key anniversaries).

Regardless of the date, the Nielsen ratings folks are concerned about the switch to digital, as Dave Thomas, president of Global Media Client Services of the company, noted when we met him two weeks ago. He estimated that 5 to 6 percent of viewers are “completely unprepared” for the switch (despite the fact that as National Association of Broadcasters executive VP Marcellus Alexander told us last week, more than $1 billion has been spent on industry advertising warning viewers that “you may need a converter box” if your TV is too old and you don’t have cable or satellite television).

“What’s troubling is that it’s not going to fall evenly,” Thomas noted about the people who will be left without television. Young people, the elderly and poor people will be most likely to suffer problems, and not nearly enough cost-reducing coupons have been set aside for people who need converter boxes. I don’t know how much the problem might be aggravated by people like me who got converter boxes despite already having cable, just in case a natural disaster or the desire to watch a baseball game while camping forces me to rely on older, non-digital technology.

A bigger problem will be that some people won’t have signals even with their new converter boxes, as we were reminded last week by Seth Morrison, senior VP of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. On the digital transition issue, members of CTAM–who naturally (but not “officially”) want everyone to switch to cable, anyway–find themselves in rare agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters in opposing the delay, in large part because in the meantime broadcasters and cable companies are paying to transmit both digital and traditional analog signals.

Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, told our group last Friday (and apparently told the Associated Press a few days later) that a four-month extension would cost PBS stations more than $22 million in extra transmission costs. Coincidentally, just a few minutes into our meeting, she had to leave the room to take a call from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the sponsor of the bill (favored by Barack Obama) to delay the transition to digital.

“It sounds like they won’t extend the date,” Kerger said when she returned, indicating that there didn’t seem to be enough Senate votes to force the extension. Assuming that Rockefeller wasn’t intentionally misleading Kerger, just three days later the tide shifted dramatically to make the vote for the extension unanimous, while illustrating another Kerger point: “The conversion has not been well managed.”

On the other hand, as more and more Americans find themselves without work, at least the delay will let more of those people spend their suddenly free time watching the antics of politicians and thieving financial fat cats, so viewers can better understand just how screwed they really are.

Incidentally, for tonight’s viewing I recommend FRONTLINE/World on PBS, which starts a new season with stories about Guantanamo prisoners, the Italian Mafia and Barack Obama’s Brazilian appeal.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Posted by James McPherson on January 4, 2009

“When is it sexism?” asks a Daily Beast piece by Elizabeth Wurtzel, best known as the sometimes-controversial author of the books Prozac Nation (published when she was 26 and later turned into a straight-to-DVD Christina Ricci movie) and Bitch: In Defense of Difficult Women

Though the self-absorbed and one-time plagiarist Wurtzel apparently thinks she is a far more important cog in the overall scheme of feminism than she is, she does sometimes raise interesting questions about the nature of feminism–as with this piece, in which she determines that Sarah Palin’s “Wardrobegate” was “sorta” sexist, while questioning Caroline Bouvier Kennedy’s qualificatons is not (and yes, Wurtzel includes the middle name as a apparent “Hussein”-like punctuation of her central point).

Wurtzel writes that feminism is in “a fine mess,” thanks in part to prominent political women: “In 2000, New York elected Hillary Rodham Clinton to be its first female senator—and her primary qualification was her previous position as first lady. Now that she’s moving on, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is likely to replace her—and her primary qualification is her previous position as first daughter.”

While I also don’t think Kennedy is the best choice to fill the vacant seat, I would point out that she has held several jobs. Like Wurtzel, she also attended law school (and apparently unlike Wurtzel, even passed her bar exam). Still, Wurtzel addresses an important overall theme when  it comes to working women:

The truth is, Kennedy long ago made choices that so many women make—she opted out of professional life, perhaps to be a mom and perhaps because she could—and now she’s hoping to reenter the commercial world at a level that far surpasses her exiting locale. All women who take time off to mother their children face similar sticker-shock when they decide to work again. Not only have they lost their qualifications by remaining dormant for a stretch, they also find that their earning power is much less than it was when they went into labor. In fact, studies show that there is salary penalty on motherhood: A woman with children will typically earn 10 percent less than any man doing the same job. In the meantime, a man with a stay-at-home wife gets a nice premium—he will usually earn 30 percent more than the husband of a working wife because he has “zero-drag” at home. Just the same, a woman who works a 40-hour week still spends about 86 percent as much time with her children as a nonworking mom—not much of a difference at all—and she is still the primary parent, delegating tasks to the father, who needs a list of instructions before he doles out child care.

Women should be hired and promoted based on their professional abilities, Wurtzel argues: “Women who want to succeed pretty much have to work as long and as hard as men typically do, and that’s that. What does Kennedy know of this hellishness? She hasn’t held a paid position since her children were born, nor did she have a proper job even before that.”

Still, aside from the question of what constitutes a “proper job,” I find it interesting that Wurtzel’s books seem to get more attention from reviewers than warranted by their insights–perhaps less because of her own hard work or academic qualifications than because of her own looks (which allowed her to pose provocatively for the cover photos of her books, apparently topless in at least three cases).

The fact that physical appearance matters is, of course, one of many complicating issues in regard to feminism. One of the respondents to the Daily Beast article applied some of the contradictions to Palin:

The problem with embracing Palin as a latter day sufferer of sexism is that ignores the object in favor of the symbol. Palin is one who used her sex whenever should get away with it to get ahead. Unlike so many women who have worked so hard to be appreciated for their skills and intelligence, Palin has often been content to get by with a wink and smile. Palin is a tough as nails politician and very ambitious, but beyond that it is hard to see what her skills are. Palin’s image is a throw back to the frontier woman who could both wield a weapon and satisfy her man -and cook moose stew, too! This image is what all these (mostly) old Republicans love. How this fits into idea of feminism that most of us grew up with is less clear. So, was Palin skewered in the press for her shopping spree because she was a woman or because she set herself up as a woman who was thrifty and had little use for East Coast types would call ‘fashionable’?

In truth, Palin would not have been chosen as John McCain’s running mate (nor would I have recommended that McCain choose her) if she were not a woman. I also happen to agree with Geraldine Ferraro that Barack Obama would not have been where he is if not for his race.

But so what? None of our previous presidents would have won the White House if they had not been white men. We likely would never have heard of John McCain after 1973, had he not been a former POW who left his wife to marry an heiress who could help fund his political ambitions. George W. Bush would be just another failed businessman if not for his father’s political clout–which came mostly because George H.W. Bush had been Ronald Reagan’s VP, not because of his own abilities.

Gender and race matter, in different ways at different times. But they are not the sole factors for anyone’s success or failure. Palin also would not have been tabbed by McCain if she hadn’t already been elected governor of Alaska, and Obama would not have just moved his family to Washington if he had not been a U.S. senator who ran a brilliant presidential campaign.

 Back to Wurtzel and feminism: Some critics have voiced similar criticism of another pretty face of “third-wave feminism,” former Al Gore advisor Naomi Wolf. But Wolf  is a former Rhodes scholar, a mother, and a lifelong explorer of ideas that range far beyond self-aggrandizement or even feminism to civil rights and citizenship.

To Wurtzel’s credit, at least she apparently recognizes the egocentricity of her own work, telling ABC: “I’m in on the joke. I know that it’s self-indulgent. I’m amazed that people don’t realize that I know what’s going on.”

So now that we all know she knows, I don’t suppose it’s sexist to start ignoring Wurtzel, as we look to the kind of women–including Wolf, Clinton, Kennedy, and Palin–more likely to make a meaningful difference for both women and men in America.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hannity snubbed for man of the year, but named liar of the year

Posted by James McPherson on December 19, 2008

I tend to pay less attention to Sean Hannity than to Bill O’Reilly or Ann Coulter, in large part because I have trouble believing that anyone really pays any attention to Hannity.

Mind you, I don’t understand why anyone listens to O’Reilly or Coulter, either, but since they are regular guests on the so-called “liberal media” I have to assume that they do have some sort of deluded following. I occasionally check in on all of them because it’s my job as a media scholar–kind of like a doctor who has to occasionally check a patient for prostate cancer.

Still, even Hannity gets more attention than he deserves. I noted pretty much in passing in my last book that he was a liar, but this week Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group, named him its “Misinformer of the Year.”

Even if you consider the source of the “award,” however, that doesn’t explain Hannity’s actions later that same night, when he suggested that Time magazine had named Barack Obama its “Person of the Year” so that a writer for the magazine would get a job in the Obama administration.

Hannity’s report begins: “So as 2008 comes to a close, Time Magazine picks its Person of the Year, and to no one’s surprise, Time has chosen President-elect Barack Obama to grace the cover. This honor comes as the magazine’s Washington bureau chief, Jay Carney, leaves his post to become Joe Biden’s director of communication.”

When Fox News personality Kirsten Powers noted the obvious, that there was “no connection” and that Obama “would have been Man of the Year anyway,” Hannity offered this gem: “You know what? There have been a lot of great people over the years. I know this burst Obama of the ‘yes, we can’ chanting, Obama mania media, but there are other good leaders in the world besides a man who’s done nothing so far.”

Powers, no doubt used to Hannity’s unique combination of bluster and ignorance, did not embarrass him by asking which of those “good leaders” he thought Time should have picked.

Incidentally I agree that the mainstream media love Obama too much–but this year was there any other choice? And for the record,  Time has named a just-elected president more often than not every four years since 1964 (Lyndon Johnson), also tabbing Richard Nixon (shared with Henry Kissinger), Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. Apparently Time editors were as amazed as I was that Bush won twice.

Time also named Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and  Harry Truman in 1948, while picking John F. Kennedy 1961 because of his 1960 win. Presidents or future presidents named in non-election years were FDR (twice more), Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice), Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan (with Yuri Andropov), George H. W. Bush and Clinton (with Kenneth Starr). See all the “Person of the Year” covers here.

This year’s the runners-up were Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (also president of the European Union), Sarah Palin (if she had won, I’ll bet Hannity wouldn’t say she’d “done nothing”), and Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who produced the opening ceremony for the Olympics. Apparently, using Hannity’s logic, Jay Carney didn’t want a job in the EU or in the Chinese film industry.

Of course Hannity is right, in one respect: So far, Obama has “done nothing”: at least not much of anything other than coming from nowhere to inspire huge worldwide crowds, and then beating Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party to become the first African American to win the presidency.

On the other hand, Obama hasn’t cured cancer, stopped the Iraq War or saved the economy–or figured out a way to get Hannity to shut up.

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Don’t bother to ask; they won’t bother to tell: FOIA and other Bush-league presidential stats

Posted by James McPherson on December 8, 2008

A lot of people want answers from and about the Bush administration. Most of those question probably will go unanswered.

ProPublica’s Kristen Jones offers some numbers on the George W. Bush presidency, and invites readers to contribute other meaningful stats. One of the most depressing stats for me was that Freedom of Information Act requests increased almost tenfold, from 2.2 million in 2000 to 21.8 million in 2007, thanks largely to a combination of war, corruption and secrecy (my conclusion, not Jones’)–but the number of people available to respond to those requests actually dropped by nine, to 5,367.

Considering it took more than two years and the intervention of a U.S. Senator to get my FOIA request for information from the FBI about an anti-nuclear activist granted several years ago, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my later request for more information apparently disappeared altegether. (I decided to work on something else, instead–and maybe that was the point of the repeated delays, though I suspect it’s a combination of too much work and too little interest on the part of those in the bureaucracy.)

There are a number of non-surprising statistical lowlights. Bush has been bad for the economy and the environment. The number of federal contracts went up, but the percentage of contracts open to competitive bids dropped from 44 percent to 33 percent. Investigation of white-collar crimes dropped dramatically, as did FDA concerns about pharmaceutical advertising law violations. The number of illegal immigrants deported tripled, however.

In an apparent attempt to look more Reaganesque, Bush bought his Texas ranch just before running for president, so it also may be surprising that Bush has already managed to spend far more time on his ranch than Reagan did as president (483 days to 335). Think how much more damage he might have done if he hadn’t spent more than 15 percent of his presidency in Texas. Barack Obama wouldn’t have time to reverse it all–assuming he wants to do so, of course, which isn’t certain, considering his appointments and apparent war policy thus far.

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