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The Axis of Concern: For Dems, passionate intensity is the measure of political worth.
National Review Online ^ | June 25, 2000 | Jonah Goldberg

Posted on 06/25/2002 5:55:34 PM PDT by xsysmgr

I say this with near-metaphysical certitude. If Martha Stewart had made her name in the 1980s, she would have been more reviled than Nancy Reagan, Pic Botha, Kurt Waldheim, and Michael Milken by those eager to portray the Reagan years as a dimension of Hell straight from Dante's Inferno. Think about it. Not only is Stewart a rich go-go businesswoman, but she makes her money from encouraging women to bake, knit, and sew! Who cannot see that she would have been denounced regularly by the Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and the Anna Quindlen crowd. "She's an Aunt Tom to the Patriarchy!" they would declare. "She masks the stink of multinational capitalist male oppression with pleasingly arranged bowls of potpourri!"

But, Martha Stewart rose to fame in the 1990s and therefore, it seems to me, whatever Stewart added to feminists' and the economic Left's constant state of dyspepsia went largely unnoticed.

Why is that?

Well, because the 1980s was the Decade of Greed, silly. Ivan Boesky even said so. Or as Regardie's magazine put it, "Ivan Boesky, seemingly single-handedly, yanked greed from the gutter and made it the dominant behavioral motive of the 1980s."

Now, I don't want to defend Boesky for defending greed, even though there was considerably more subtlety in his defense of greed than liberals were willing to see. I say "willing" rather than "able" because so much about 1980s journalism — from the coverage of the homeless "epidemic," to income inequality, to the family farm, to "Star Wars," to pretty much anything else which could be pinned on Ronald Reagan — required active, purposeful, intentional obtuseness on the part of childish elite liberal journalists.

I also don't want to wade into another argument about media bias, because the topic has become so boring. So let me use an analysis which actually passes liberal muster. Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, I think it's fair to say, thinks Republicans are wrong about two things: economics and media bias. In a recent cover story, Chait pooh-poohed Bernard Goldberg's book on the latter, claiming complaints about media bias are really the product of conservatives' persecution complex. Chait doesn't necessarily think that the media always does a good and fair job, mind you, he just thinks the notion of a straight liberal slant is silly.

In some respects he's right. For example he suggests that the media tends to pursue prepackaged "story-lines" which shape coverage unfairly for liberals and conservatives both. Liberals are mushy-headed and soft and conservatives are mean-spirited and hard. "This sort of media bias is maddeningly insipid, but in an equal-opportunity way," Chait writes. "It is the reason we invariably see more stories about poverty and environmental despoliation during Republican administrations, and more stories about government bloat and military unpreparedness during Democratic ones."

Fair enough. In fact, I've made this same argument many times myself. But, ask yourself what the prevailing storylines have in common and you learn something interesting. The stereotypes about conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, are connected by what I've decided to call an "axis of concern." The yardstick of political analysis invariably boils down to emotions, particularly ones like empathy and sympathy. Republicans don't care enough about poor people, blacks, hermaphrodites, spotted owls, gay teens, fat children, trees, old ladies, Asian children with testicular elephantiasis, Mexican housepainters, whales, or the historic preservation of Mongolian Urts. Meanwhile Democrats care too much about the self-esteem of children who don't do their homework, the self-esteem of convicted criminals, puppies with sore paws, lesbians without parking spaces, and — oh, you get it.

In the eyes of the media — and, sadly, much of America — the Democrats' problems come from being too nice and good, Republicans from being too mean and bad. When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate from New York she insisted that the contest shouldn't be decided on whether or not she was from New York, or even on who had the better ideas or better qualifications in any conventional sense. Rather, she insisted in stump speech after stump speech that the race should go to the candidate who was the "most concerned about the issues New Yorkers care about." This is the concentrated core of the Democratic party's message: Concern matters more than anything else. Passionate intensity, as Yeats would say, is the measure of political worth. (Quick question: Would you pick the most concerned person in the room to remove your prostate or the surgeon who actually knows how to do the job?).

Okay, well, I've gone far afield here. So let's get back to Martha Stewart and the 1990s. When it comes to economics and large social trends — with the notable exception of deficit politics — there was very little about the 1980s we couldn't say about the 1990s and there was a lot about the 1990s which was — according to liberal standards — "worse" than 1980s. Income inequality was pretty much the same "problem" under Bill Clinton that it was under Ronald Reagan (I don't really understand why inequality in and of itself is so bad so long as everyone's getting richer).

Conspicuous consumption and get-rich-quick schemes were much more prevalent in the 1990s than in the 1980s. The explosion of "New Economy" billionaires and millionaires and the subsequent revelations about the Ponzi-like secrets of their success dwarfed the excesses of the 1980s. Entrepreneurs, MBAs, and anybody else dedicated to making a buck were far more deified in the 1990s than in the 1980s. Indeed, if Reagan was responsible for setting a "greed is good tone" (which, for the most part is a lie), it wasn't until the 1990s when that message trickled down to average folks in America. Millions of Americans checked their online stock portfolios like chimpanzees pounding the bar for one more cocaine pellet in a lab drug study.

In the 1980s "junk" bonds were denounced as little better than counterfeit money. The accumulation of wealth through junk bonds was linked directly to the social "evils" of the Reagan years. For example, Steven Reed, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, wrote in 1992, "Wall Street stock manipulator Michael Milken earned $550 million in 1987, and ghetto teens unable to find jobs joined gangs instead."

Well, in 1993 alone — the first year of Clinton's term — junk bonds raised more than $68 billion, which equals the total raised from 1982 to 1986, the years of Milken's greatest junk bond "excesses."

But for some reason, Bill Clinton was never held responsible for a Decade of Even Greater Greed. In 1991 — three years after Reagan left office — David A. Vise and Steve Coll wrote a nearly 8,000-word polemic about how the decade of greed was attributable to Reagan policies. "That the SEC failed to stop Boesky and Milken early on," they wrote, "also reflects the ideological imperatives — and the economic successes — of the Reagan administration."

How is it that Bill Clinton's name barely comes up in the current firestorms over Enron, Tyco, Kmart, Arthur Anderson, etc., etc.? All of these companies' problems didn't develop overnight. They grew out of those turbulent years of Clinton Greed. But, for some reason it was obvious to everyone that Enron was Bush's fault, even though the company's problems developed under Clinton and merely metastasized under Bush. It is flatly inconceivable that if similar business upheavals occurred in the wake of Reagan's tenure that the media wouldn't have made a huge deal about it. Indeed, Michael Milken was humiliated and publicly destroyed (by a Republican named Rudy Giuliani by the way) for "crimes" not one pundit in a hundred can explain — because someone had to pay for the decade of greed.

Now, I don't think the 1980s or the 1990s were about greed. Similarly, I don't think inequality, "junk" bonds, or getting hyper-rich are bad things in any decade. But what bothers me is the selective application of outrage. The excesses of the 1980s were unfair and cruel because a lot of people in New York, L.A., and D.C. thought the president was unfair and cruel. The excesses of the 1990s were simply excesses because the president cared about midnight-basketball programs. And therein lies all the difference in the world.

Which gets me back, I guess, to Martha Stewart. It certainly sounds like Stewart behaved badly, cashing in on personal connections that the women she tutors on doily-making don't have. And, she certainly won't enjoy the next few months. But at the end of the day, she'll be fine. She won't be destroyed or humiliated and she'll get to keep hawking $30 knives designed solely for circumcising gingerbread men. When she's back on top, she'll be grateful to her friends in the media and her lawyers, no doubt. But she really owes her thanks to the fact she got rich while we had a "concerned" president in the White House.

TOPICS: Culture/Society

1 posted on 06/25/2002 5:55:34 PM PDT by xsysmgr
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To: xsysmgr
How is it that Bill Clinton's name barely comes up in the current firestorms over Enron, Tyco, Kmart, Arthur Anderson, etc., etc.?

For the same reason his name barely comes up when discussing what led up to 9-11 or any other scandal/negligence/incompetence/corruption in his eight years of desecration; he has a sycophantic media covering his butt, who want to make sure nothing gets blamed on him and his harridan wife, who they want back ASAP.

2 posted on 06/25/2002 6:17:34 PM PDT by Paul Atreides
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To: Paul Atreides
"...he has a sycophantic media covering his butt, who want to make sure nothing gets blamed on him and his harridan wife."

The media elected him. And, if they didn't protect him, who would...???

See, it's all an exercise in accepting responsibility for one's own actions...

3 posted on 06/25/2002 6:33:04 PM PDT by okie01
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4 posted on 06/25/2002 6:51:48 PM PDT by DoughtyOne
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To: xsysmgr
For Dems, passionate intensity is the measure of political worth...the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity... - Yeats nailed it.....
5 posted on 06/25/2002 9:15:23 PM PDT by Intolerant in NJ
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