Thursday, May 25, 2006

DWM Flashback

This time last year; still true:

Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote an odd, ranting Memorial Day column; or rather, an odd rant disguised as a Memorial Day column but in fact having nothing to do with Memorial Day after the first sentence: "This Memorial Day is not a good one for the country that was once the world's most brilliant beacon of freedom and justice."

State Department officials know better than anyone that the image of the United States has deteriorated around the world. The United States is now widely viewed as a brutal, bullying nation that countenances torture and ...

and so on, through all the grand catalogue of mishandled holy books and wounded enemies finished off before they got up and shot back, and treating foreign irregular POWs the way foreign irregular POWs are allowed to be treated by Geneva, and the fact that Amnesty International has a bee in its bonnet about us. This seems to be the point of the column; some writers will expound America's crimes at the drop of a hat, even if it's a VFW cap on Memorial Day.

He writes that the "Bush crowd" (It's not an "administration" any more on the NYT editorial pages) is attempting to solve the problem of "America's image."

This is much more than an image problem. The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake.

What's odd is that this whole column is based on the premise that America enjoyed a lost golden age of purity at home and respect and adoration in the world community, until the "Bush crowd" seized power in 2001. If the U.S. does what Herbert demands, "The U.S. would regain some of its own lost dignity." He mentions the outpouring of sympathy after 9/11 as though this was the typical situation from, say 1776 to Sept. 12, 2001.

In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance.

Odd, because Herbet himself is right at the center of one of the two institutions -- the New York Times, lynchpin of the big media -- that has been relentlessly reminding us since about 1965 or so that America is a terrible, corrupt place, founded on genocide and racism and a nation that long ago sold its soul to religious stupidity and militarism. [The other institution is the academic world.]

"World opinion" about the United States has been in the toilet since Vietnam; it was even worse in the 1970s than in the 1960s in most places. America managed to get blamed -- and to blame itself, in many cases -- for everything from the failed economic polices of the so-called "Third World" to the greed of Arab oil sheiks.

And why shouldn't the rest of the world feel affirmed in this contempt, when it appears daily in the domestic press? It's been a long and complicated evolution for American media, but after the Tonkin incident, they turned sharply against the Johnson administration and essentially broke it. That power seems to have got into the blood of the press, so that every administration since 1968 has had to deal with an actively hostile media doing its best to break the president, as though that were its job. A weak pre-1968 administration like Jack Kennedy's survived and is lionized, while a much stronger one, like Clinton's, barely got out in one piece.

So let's see what Bob Herbert had to say about this once-brilliant "beacon of freedom and justice." Let's see what he did to project that essential "image" into the world, the loss of which he so loudly now laments.

Here's a "New York Times" abstract of some of his columns from early 2000 and late 1999 -- before the evil "Bush crowd" rose to power and sullied our beacon. It's a typical sampling; to give the whole list from any given month would be repetitive, because he comes back to these same topics over and over:

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column criticizes National Rifle Association for opposing gun control; assails NRA exec vice pres Wayne LaPierre for asserting that Pres Clinton is willing to accept certain amount of violence and killing to further interests of gun control

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column on problems with criminal justice system nationwide; says 'gruesome' problems that have been overlooked for many years are starting to burst into public view, and system is beginning to break down in some parts of country

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column examines'ancient attitudes' that govern why Americans are so unwilling to elect women to high public office

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column scores Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for inflicting 'further torment' on city's homeless by ordering police raids on New York City's homeless shelters during recent cold wave to arrest those with outstanding warrants

  • Bob Herbert column on Southern Poverity Law Center report on inroads hate groups are making among white youths whose families have missed out on nation's economic boom

  • Op-ed column by Bob Herbert on Legal Aid Society's class action suit against New York State's mental health system, charging that children known to be severely mentally ill are being denied treatment because state refuses to provide mental health facilities they require, leaving many of them to languish in hospitals, foster care or jail; describes plight of several such tormented children; notes that suit asks court to compel state to place children in residential treatment facilities within 30 days of determination that they are eligible for such services

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column on poll for Council for Excellence in Government that found large majority of Americans feel disconnected from government; expresses concern at finding that gulf between citizens and government grows larger with each successive generation

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column describes visit with Andrew Cuomo, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to poverty-racked town of Guadalupe, Ariz, where people live in rickety shacks, plumbing is outdoors, and residents, mostly Yaqui Indians and Mexican-Americans, go to bed hungry; says there are many such pockets of extreme poverty across country, even as Dow reaches 10,000 and millionaires are being created every day; says Cuomo is trying to spread word that country as whole has obligation to do what it can to assist those in danger of being left behind economically

Ah, what a wonderful world it used to be, eh, Bob Herbert?

The belief in the media, which I can testify to first-hand, that the sole purpose of a printing press or a television camera is to shine a light on every fault and failure of American authority, has its uses. It may at times be what saves democracy. But too steady application of it can be a water torture that can drive a nation to suicidal madness.

And many Americans feel, with Rabindranath Tagore, that "He alone may chastise who loves."

And Bob Herbert fails that test.