Commentary Magazine


Topic: paint

Don’t Tell Me Why I Hate Woodrow Wilson

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me. Read More

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me.

Back to the Slate piece. The first several paragraphs can be skimmed, as the author bizarrely points out commonalities between Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush and faults Glenn Beck for once not knowing something before he learned it. In the fifth paragraph, Greenberg makes a minor concession to the “nub of truth amid the distortion of the right’s Wilson-bashing.” He acknowledges that Woodrow Wilson expanded the power of the presidency, a Tea Party complaint.

But in actuality, that is only a secondary reason why conservatives dislike Wilsonian liberalism. In a nutshell, Wilson introduced the idea of a “living” Constitution, opening up infinite opportunities for revisionists to throw off the delicate balances within government so thoughtfully established in the original text. Wilson’s scholarly background taught him to embrace big government as the solution to the problems of the citizenry. He saw himself as a philosopher-king, much like the one we have today. And inherent in that perception was a condescending elitism. He became the patriarch of American paternalism, justifying his behavior with appeals to “history” as he perceived it.

The Tea Party movement argues that because of their academic snobbery, those who follow in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson have lost touch with liberty-loving Americans. As evidence of this, I defer to Greenberg, who writes:

For Wilson, [presidential activism] involved regulating finance and the money supply, limiting the corporations’ demands on their laborers, aiding farmers, preventing monopolistic practices, and making the new federal income tax a graduated one. Just three months ago, I wrote in Slate that over the last century, almost no one has questioned these achievements; clearly, I hadn’t been watching enough Fox.

It is little surprise, then, that Greenberg defends Wilson in the ex-president’s own language. “Of course, even those who happily admit to wanting to repeal a century’s worth of regulation have to reckon with a fundamental flaw in today’s Wilson hatred: It’s completely ahistorical,” he writes. He goes on to paint Woodrow Wilson as the man of his times, a leader fearlessly responding to the pulse of his era, a president whose choices are only fathomable when history is properly considered. The problem with this argument is that the existence of “history” as a moving, authoritative force is questionable at best, and Woodrow Wilson made history as much as he responded to it. And it is a bit presumptuous of Greenberg, in any case, to claim a superior understanding of history’s motives and pathways.

But in the interest of dialogue, let’s grant Greenberg the generous assumption that Wilson really was the man of his time and that all his actions were justifiable as such. Toward the end of his article, he asserts:

Properly situated in this context, Wilson and other progressives emerge not as proto-fascists or wild renegades but as tempered, moderate reformers. They implemented major changes, but those changes were in tune with the mainstream of public sentiment.

In today’s electoral climate, this is precisely the last argument the author should be making – especially if the role of the president is to follow public opinion. But instead, today’s liberals take another cue from Wilson, who believed that a political leader must remain one step ahead of public opinion, pulling it along and shaping it without ever straying too far.

But Americans sense when they’re being dragged along by the ear. This, too, makes them resentful of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential example.

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Dealing Dangerous Drugs

Last Tuesday, the United States and China signed an accord on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, one of fourteen agreements inked in Beijing during the eighteenth meeting of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. The pact will require Chinese companies that export certain products to America to register with their nation’s regulators. The general concept is that Washington can ensure the safety of items before they ever reach our shores.

Who can argue with this cooperative approach? For starters, I will. As an initial matter, we cannot trust the lives of Americans to Chinese regulators, who have shown a blatant disregard for the well-being of foreigners, not to mention their own people. Unfortunately, regulation in China does not work well. On July 10, the Chinese government hurriedly executed Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, for taking bribes to approve defective drugs that resulted in at least ten deaths in 2006. This drastic penalty followed the July 6 imposition of a death sentence on Cao Wenzhuang, a former senior official in the agency, for the same offense. Zheng and Cao were only the unfortunate ones because many, if not most, SFDA approvals are tainted by some form of bribery.

The Communist Party may one day solve the problem of corruption, but we should not risk the life of anyone on the hope that it can accomplish something that it has not been able to do after more than five decades of rule. Beijing sometimes resorts to high-profile executions when it wants to make a point, but exacting the ultimate penalty has rarely, if ever, solved underlying conditions.

The United States devoted seven months of discussions to come up with Tuesday’s pact, which covers just a small number of items. The time and effort would have been better spent expanding the testing of imports as they reach our ports and airports. Beefing up inspections at our borders is something that we are going to have to do anyway as drug companies expand their activities in China. According to the November 26 issue of Time, pharmaceutical manufacturers are shifting their research and development and testing to China, where costs are lower. “The price tag for drug trials in China can be one-tenth that in the U.S. or Europe,” the magazine reports, based on the comments of Chen Li, medical director of Shanghai-based KendleWits, which facilitates testing for major pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceuticals, of course, pose a special problem. An anxious parent can avoid buying a Chinese-made Thomas the Tank Engine toy if he does not want his child to suck on lead paint, but a sick person who needs a certain drug usually has no such freedom of action. The risk to Americans from imported products is about to get worse, not better, because of the agreement we just signed with Beijing.

Last Tuesday, the United States and China signed an accord on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, one of fourteen agreements inked in Beijing during the eighteenth meeting of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. The pact will require Chinese companies that export certain products to America to register with their nation’s regulators. The general concept is that Washington can ensure the safety of items before they ever reach our shores.

Who can argue with this cooperative approach? For starters, I will. As an initial matter, we cannot trust the lives of Americans to Chinese regulators, who have shown a blatant disregard for the well-being of foreigners, not to mention their own people. Unfortunately, regulation in China does not work well. On July 10, the Chinese government hurriedly executed Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, for taking bribes to approve defective drugs that resulted in at least ten deaths in 2006. This drastic penalty followed the July 6 imposition of a death sentence on Cao Wenzhuang, a former senior official in the agency, for the same offense. Zheng and Cao were only the unfortunate ones because many, if not most, SFDA approvals are tainted by some form of bribery.

The Communist Party may one day solve the problem of corruption, but we should not risk the life of anyone on the hope that it can accomplish something that it has not been able to do after more than five decades of rule. Beijing sometimes resorts to high-profile executions when it wants to make a point, but exacting the ultimate penalty has rarely, if ever, solved underlying conditions.

The United States devoted seven months of discussions to come up with Tuesday’s pact, which covers just a small number of items. The time and effort would have been better spent expanding the testing of imports as they reach our ports and airports. Beefing up inspections at our borders is something that we are going to have to do anyway as drug companies expand their activities in China. According to the November 26 issue of Time, pharmaceutical manufacturers are shifting their research and development and testing to China, where costs are lower. “The price tag for drug trials in China can be one-tenth that in the U.S. or Europe,” the magazine reports, based on the comments of Chen Li, medical director of Shanghai-based KendleWits, which facilitates testing for major pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceuticals, of course, pose a special problem. An anxious parent can avoid buying a Chinese-made Thomas the Tank Engine toy if he does not want his child to suck on lead paint, but a sick person who needs a certain drug usually has no such freedom of action. The risk to Americans from imported products is about to get worse, not better, because of the agreement we just signed with Beijing.

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Bookshelf

• I like shoptalk, even when I don’t completely understand it, and I like it best of all when the shop is the studio of a working artist. To be sure, a lifetime in journalism has taught me that some artists are incapable of talking about their work—or anything else—but it’s surprising how often a skillfully edited interview can shed useful light on the myriad mysteries of creation. Moreover, I’ve also discovered that I don’t necessarily have to like the work of the artist in question in order for me to take a respectful interest in his working methods. Whenever I teach a course in criticism, I tell my students, “Always treat artists with respect. Most of them know how to do something you can’t do.”

Michael Auping, chief curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, has been interviewing artists ever since he was a graduate student, and now he’s spun 34 of those interviews into a book called 30 Years: Interviews and Outtakes. As an art collector, I have strong and well-defined tastes in painting and sculpture, and insofar as Auping’s choice of interview subjects reflects his own taste, I’d say we don’t have much in common. Only one of the artists represented in 30 Years, Martin Puryear, is also to be found on my own list of personal favorites, while several of the others make my teeth itch. Yet I still read 30 Years with close and consistent attention and learned much from it—though not all the lessons were intentional.

It didn’t exactly surprise me to find, for instance, that the conceptual and politically-oriented artists questioned by Auping are inclined as a rule to emit great clouds of blather (“The kind of art we have today is really just a throw-off of the maximized profit, a function of the capital which is poured into it”). Conversely, the most interesting artists are usually—though not always—the ones with the most interesting things to say. Asked about the art of Fernand Léger, Louise Bourgeois replied, “He was very rigid, very limited. But he could find emotion in that geometry. Léger could be hard and intimate at the same time.”

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• I like shoptalk, even when I don’t completely understand it, and I like it best of all when the shop is the studio of a working artist. To be sure, a lifetime in journalism has taught me that some artists are incapable of talking about their work—or anything else—but it’s surprising how often a skillfully edited interview can shed useful light on the myriad mysteries of creation. Moreover, I’ve also discovered that I don’t necessarily have to like the work of the artist in question in order for me to take a respectful interest in his working methods. Whenever I teach a course in criticism, I tell my students, “Always treat artists with respect. Most of them know how to do something you can’t do.”

Michael Auping, chief curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, has been interviewing artists ever since he was a graduate student, and now he’s spun 34 of those interviews into a book called 30 Years: Interviews and Outtakes. As an art collector, I have strong and well-defined tastes in painting and sculpture, and insofar as Auping’s choice of interview subjects reflects his own taste, I’d say we don’t have much in common. Only one of the artists represented in 30 Years, Martin Puryear, is also to be found on my own list of personal favorites, while several of the others make my teeth itch. Yet I still read 30 Years with close and consistent attention and learned much from it—though not all the lessons were intentional.

It didn’t exactly surprise me to find, for instance, that the conceptual and politically-oriented artists questioned by Auping are inclined as a rule to emit great clouds of blather (“The kind of art we have today is really just a throw-off of the maximized profit, a function of the capital which is poured into it”). Conversely, the most interesting artists are usually—though not always—the ones with the most interesting things to say. Asked about the art of Fernand Léger, Louise Bourgeois replied, “He was very rigid, very limited. But he could find emotion in that geometry. Léger could be hard and intimate at the same time.”

Nor was I greatly surprised to find that minimalists tend to be brief. Like, say, Ellsworth Kelly:

I will say that at a very early age I felt that I saw things abstractly. The more carefully I looked, the more abstract they became.

Again, not always: Agnes Martin’s reply when asked what she tells her students was both lengthy and worth quoting at length.

You have to be careful with the intellect as an artist. The intellectual struggles with the facts. That’s not inspirational. If you are an intellectual and you are going to buy a house, you would think about the cost, check on the taxes, look at the survey, and go through a whole list of things that make you feel better about buying the house. If you couldn’t rationalize it, you wouldn’t buy it. If the house genuinely inspired you, you wouldn’t worry about the list. You would find a way to buy it. You have to deal with the practical matters, but you wouldn’t worry about them because you would be involved with your inspiration. That’s what artists have to do. They have to stay involved with their inspiration. They can’t be constantly worried about the cost of paint.

As for Puryear, he mostly talks about matters of technique, and his comments are very specific. Asked about the genesis of Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1966), the best-known of his wooden sculptures, he tells you just what you want to know:

It was made from an ash sapling—a very tall, young ash tree that I cut on my property and brought into the studio. I kept it for quite a while and I knew I wanted to do something with it because it was such an interesting form. Most samplings that grow in the woods grow ramrod straight. This one had a lot of very interesting undulations in its stem . . . the undulations were fascinating to me, and I kept it for quite some time just in that shape, with a kind of broad trunk with the bark on it. Eventually I peeled the bark off, and began thinking about it in relation to the ladder.

You can see what he did next by going to the Museum of Modern Art’s Martin Puryear retrospective, which is up through January 14, after which it travels to Fort Worth, Washington’s National Gallery, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. If you can’t catch it in any of those places, pick up a copy of the catalogue. It contains, among other good things, a fine essay by Michael Auping, and the 165 illustrations will give you some idea of why I recently praised Puryear as “the American Brancusi, a master woodworker whose elegantly crafted creations, by turns playful and mysterious, allude subtly to political matters without once bowing to the tyranny of the idea.”

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Welcoming Trojan Horses

Are our enemies writing our military’s software? Unfortunately, that’s more than just a possibility. The Defense Science Board Task Force, a committee advising the Secretary of Defense, issued a report warning the Pentagon about its vulnerability to software produced by outside contractors. The 92-page document, released in September, received virtually no attention until yesterday, when CNN’s Bill Tucker discussed the subject on Lou Dobbs Tonight.

Code is now being written in countries “that may have interests inimical to those of the United States,” the report diplomatically notes. “The combination of DoD’s profound and growing dependence upon software and the expanding opportunity for adversaries to introduce malicious code into this software has led to a growing risk to the nation’s defense.” Defense contractors naturally have sought the lowest cost software. And as Tucker notes, “In seeking that lowest cost, we’ve lost track of who has written what and where, trusting the intentions of those writing the computer software that ultimately guards our country.”

It’s a mother’s sorrow when a child is sickened due to lead paint on a Chinese-made toy. It’s a nation’s tragedy when multi-billion dollar weapons systems stop working in battle because of malware inserted by a foreign programmer. “The problem is we have a strategy now for net-centric warfare—everything is connected,” said Robert Lucky, chairman of the task force, last year. “And if the adversary is inside your network, you are totally vulnerable.” It only makes sense, as the task force recommends, that only American citizens with security clearances be allowed to write software for “critical system components.”

At this moment, the United States is fighting insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and unseen adversaries elsewhere. Electronic warfare occurs every day, waged against us by China and perhaps other countries as well. We can’t stop others from trying to attack our networks, but we don’t have to let them place trapdoors and Trojan Horses into our weapons. The time to stop outsourcing our security is now.

Are our enemies writing our military’s software? Unfortunately, that’s more than just a possibility. The Defense Science Board Task Force, a committee advising the Secretary of Defense, issued a report warning the Pentagon about its vulnerability to software produced by outside contractors. The 92-page document, released in September, received virtually no attention until yesterday, when CNN’s Bill Tucker discussed the subject on Lou Dobbs Tonight.

Code is now being written in countries “that may have interests inimical to those of the United States,” the report diplomatically notes. “The combination of DoD’s profound and growing dependence upon software and the expanding opportunity for adversaries to introduce malicious code into this software has led to a growing risk to the nation’s defense.” Defense contractors naturally have sought the lowest cost software. And as Tucker notes, “In seeking that lowest cost, we’ve lost track of who has written what and where, trusting the intentions of those writing the computer software that ultimately guards our country.”

It’s a mother’s sorrow when a child is sickened due to lead paint on a Chinese-made toy. It’s a nation’s tragedy when multi-billion dollar weapons systems stop working in battle because of malware inserted by a foreign programmer. “The problem is we have a strategy now for net-centric warfare—everything is connected,” said Robert Lucky, chairman of the task force, last year. “And if the adversary is inside your network, you are totally vulnerable.” It only makes sense, as the task force recommends, that only American citizens with security clearances be allowed to write software for “critical system components.”

At this moment, the United States is fighting insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and unseen adversaries elsewhere. Electronic warfare occurs every day, waged against us by China and perhaps other countries as well. We can’t stop others from trying to attack our networks, but we don’t have to let them place trapdoors and Trojan Horses into our weapons. The time to stop outsourcing our security is now.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #12: Expletive Deleted

I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

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I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

Readers can judge for themselves. For if The Jingoist is in Holocaust-denial territory, anti-war.com is not far behind. A good place to begin is the long series that anti-war.com has devoted to the many Israeli “art students” who in the run-up to September 11 came to our country ostensibly to sketch, draw, and paint, but were actually working deep under cover, spying on Americans.

Here is one entry by Justin Raimondo himself, entitled 9/11: What Did Israel Know –– And When Did They Tell Us?:

A secret government report (originating with the Drug Enforcement Agency) detailing the highly suspicious activities of these aspiring Israeli “artists” was . . . uncovered, and a series of stories appeared in the international media . . .

Those of us who identified the Israeli “art students” as part of a spy operation in the U.S. were absolutely correct, that the Israelis were not only conducting covert operations against U.S. government facilities but were also watching the hijackers very closely, and that some people will go to any lengths to avoid considering some very unpleasant and politically explosive possibilities . . .

Suffice to say here that the Israeli role in the events leading up to 9/11 is, at best, highly suspicious. Certainly the news that their agents were close neighbors of Mohammed Atta and an accomplice leads to some disturbing juxtapositions. Did the “art students” stand behind the terrorists in line at the local supermarket? Did they bump into each other in the street –– and what, pray tell, did these dedicated Al Qaeda cadre think of a group of Israelis living in such close proximity?

What happened to these art students? And how did they make their escape? Why did all the Jewish employees stay at home on the day that the Twin Towers were destroyed? Is anti-war.com fringe or mainstream? Connecting the Dots is eager to know.

Connecting the Dots also must briefly call attention to the language in which these would-be members of the mainstream media talk.

Yesterday, we saw Michael Scheuer write:

I forthrightly damn, and pray that God damns, any American –– Jew, Catholic, Evangelical, Irish, German, Hindu, hermaphrodite, thespian, or otherwise – who flogs the insane idea that American and Israeli interests are one and the same.

In Raimondo’s post today, he asks:  “How dumb is Gabriel Schoenfeld?” and answers “Pretty damned dumb.” As his argument unfolds, he speaks of my “dumb-ass peroration” and labels me “a vicious nut-bar.” All this appears in a post entitled Gabriel Schoenfeld is an Ass-hat.

A reader of Connecting the Dots, who happens to have a Ph.D. in child psychology, has already sent me a query and a comment: “What is an ‘ass hat’? My son’s favorite insult these days is ‘poop nose,’ which is far more evocative. The rhetorical level here seems to hover somewhere between second and third grade.”

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here

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Mattel in Hell

On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

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On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

It’s hard to create sympathy for a company that has just had to recall 19.6 million defective products intended for children, but the Chinese have done just that. For one thing, it was clear that Beijing was determined to humiliate Mattel. Debrowski was scheduled to meet with Li, but the Beijing official at the last moment said he would not get together unless reporters were present. Li, from his overstuffed chair, then administered a finger-wagging lecture to the obviously uncomfortable Debrowski as cameras rolled.

So the real story is not Mattel. It is China. China’s officials know they cannot solve the structural problems of Chinese manufacturing within the context of their one-party system, in which corruption runs rampant and central authorities have little control over local officials. Therefore, they are choosing to deal with a public relations nightmare by going on the attack against foreigners. Li Changjiang was angry because Mattel’s public comments in the United States did not always note that recalls involved products with defective designs—improperly secured magnets—when it talked about products with excessive levels of lead paint.

Yet Li’s tirade went well beyond this omission. He told Mattel in public that its stringent recall policy was “unacceptable.” Beijing may have the right to adopt whatever standards it wants for its own citizens, but it has no place telling American companies—and by implication the American government—what rules to apply to protect American consumers. Now that Chinese officials have used a public forum to try to dictate Washington’s products-safety policy, it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to demand publicly that China stop its interference in our efforts to look after the well-being of our own children.

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