At her National Press Club event yesterday, we heard this from CBS News anchor Katie Couric:
The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying “we” when referring to the United States and, even the “shock and awe” of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the “Today” show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, “Will anybody put the brakes on this?” And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.
There is a lot to unpack in these few sentences. For one thing, Couric’s aversion to using the word “we” when referring to her own country is both weird and revealing. After all, she is part of the United States, a citizen of America, and so she is part of “we.” Hers is an example of a certain journalistic sensibility that feels as if members of the media are compromising their objectivity by referring to their country as if they were a part of it. And I suppose in The World According To Katie, it would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics to hope for America to prevail in a war to depose Saddam Hussein and bring liberty to his broken land. Hence, I suppose, her discomfort with how well the initial stages of the Iraq war went.
Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.
But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.
But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.
Yesterday, just moments after President Bush finished his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Bill Kristol called the speech a “nothingburger.” The Weekly Standard editor, appearing on the Fox News Channel, was complaining that the Commander-in-Chief had said virtually nothing about Iran at a time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was lounging in the audience and Iranians were helping to kill Americans in Iraq.
The President’s silence on Iran was indeed troubling. But he nonetheless delivered an important message. “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma,” the President declared. He announced that the United States would tighten economic sanctions, expand a visa ban, and continue to support humanitarian groups. He called on the U.N. and its member nations to help the Burmese people “reclaim their freedom” and put an end to a “nineteen-year reign of fear.”
Ruth R. Wisse is a longtime COMMENTARY contributor (and a contentions blogger) and the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard. Her newest book, Jews and Power, was reviewed in the September issue of COMMENTARY by the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens. He wrote:
Jews and Power can . . . serve as a basis for pondering the broader self-doubt, often cloaked in pretensions of superior morality, that today infects much of the liberal democratic West. For providing that lesson, and for doing so with passion, eloquence, and peerless intellectual verve, Ruth Wisse deserves all honor and gratitude.
Last week, Wisse sat with contentions to discuss her new book. She then appeared before a standing-room only audience at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side for a reading and book signing. You can watch the interview below.
Higher education deeply cherishes the notion of skeptical and unsparing critical inquiry—just not about itself. Last year, the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) drew up a Student Bill of Rights, a carefully worded manifesto about the importance of intellectual freedom for teachers and students. Insisting that students not be subjected to political indoctrination in the guise of instruction, the document invoked the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, drawn up by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
According to it, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The AAUP is evidently unhappy at having its own words quoted back to it. It has just issued a lengthy committee report, suggesting that those words don’t exactly mean what they say:
Modern critics of the university seek to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of “balance,” “diversity, and “respect.” We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.
The AAUP considers four specific charges leveled against the modern university: that many professors routinely practice political indoctrination, fail to present alternative points of view, are hostile to students’ political or religious views, and introduce irrelevant political digressions into class. In each instance, the charge is not so much as considered but explained away.
What is the difference between the Daily Bugle and the New York Times? In the Daily Bugle, the fictional newspaper in the Spider-Man franchise, the superhero is smeared as a danger to the public weal with headlines like “Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?”
The headline in Monday’s New York Times, “Post-9/11 Cases Fuel Criticism for Nominee,” was more subtle than that. But the contents that followed were not. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy demonstrates today in an exceptionally well-informed analysis, the Times was performing nothing less than a hatchet job on Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush’s choice for the position of Attorney General.
Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)
The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.
Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of anotherdictator’svisit.