Roger’s Rules

Just how stupid does The New York Times think its readers are?

The New York Times really makes you think. Consider, for example, its editorial “The President Goes Negative.” It made me think, and think hard, that the editors of that formerly august organ must have a very low opinion indeed of their readers’ intelligence.

The piece opens with an attack on President’s Bush’s supposed “penchant for slash-and-burn politics.” Leave aside the question of whether the President exhibits any such penchant. Suppress the desire to point out the many ways in which the Bush administration has ostentatiously fulfilled the (to my mind dubious) promise of promulgating “compassionate conservatism.” For moment, simply take on board the Times‘s description of the President’s approach to politics as “unseemly” at home and “shameful” and “damaging for the country” when practiced abroad.

“Slash-and-burn politics,” “unseemly,” “shameful,” “damaging to the country”: Pretty bad, eh? And it’s all the more derogatory because the President is said to have learned his trade “at the feet of Karl Rove and the late Lee Atwater.” (Is that any worse, you might wonder, than learning from James Carville, Hendrick Hertzberg, or Sidney Blumenthal, conspicuous tutors of the Clintons?)

Exhibit A in the Times‘s indictment was President Bush’s warning, in a speech honoring Israel’s 60th anniversary, that dealing with “terrorists and radicals”–read Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria–was tantamount to “appeasement.” The Times was not alone in understanding this as a “barely veiled attack against Senator Barack Obama.” Maybe it was, since Obama has publicly declared his intention, as the Times put it in another piece, “to talk to Iran without preconditions.” (According to the Times, Obama believes that, even if Iran has been acting “irresponsibly,” its behavior “reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration’s policies in the region.” Got that? Iran helps kill American soliders in Iraq and is busy developing nuclear weapons and it’s our fault.)

But maybe, as spokesmen for the Bush administration suggested, the President meant us to think not of Obama but Jimmy Carter, who has just returned from a nice parley with Hamas and a side trip to lay a wreath at the grave of his fellow Nobel Peace-Prize laureate, the terrorist Yassir Arafat? Or maybe he meant for us to think of both, or neither? Maybe he was just making the general point that appeasing bullies is, as history has amply illustrated, a bad because a bootless policy. (“Britain and France,” Churchill observed “had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”)

This is exactly what the Times wants to distract you from thinking. They find it egregious that the President should mention “appeasement” when speaking before the Israeli Parliament because “there are few words more fraught than ‘appeasement’ and no place where they carry more emotional weight than in Israel.”

Well, yes. But why is that a reason to avoid the word or the reality behind the word–the reality that dealing with “terrorists and radicals” is generally a dangerous form of appeasement? Why should the President not say that in a speech honoring Israel’s 60th anniversary? Because it reflects poorly on Barrack Obama? We all know that the Times ♥ Obama. But should its infatuation with a left-wing, astonishingly inexperienced politician absolve it of an elementary respect for the facts?

Of course, the Times is only partly motivated by infatuation with Obama. It is also powerfully motivated by BDS–Bush Derangement Syndrome. It is axiomatic for those suffering from this malady that the President is simultaneously a hapless puppet (Rove, Atwater) and a sort of evil genius whose every action is fraught with malignancy.

My favorite part of “The President Goes Negative” is the end. The second to last paragraph is a splendid instance of PTS–Pompous Times Speech: “Diplomacy is simply good sense”–you don’t say. I am sure President Bush will read that and say to himself, “Gosh, I never thought of that!” I suspect the Times really believes something like. The editorial castigates the President’s “refusal to talk” to regimes like Iran, Syria, and North Korea. But a quick Google search will show that the Bush administration has made countless diplomatic initiatives to those regimes. It’s just that it has accompanied its carrots with the prudent stick of conditions and, where necessary, the threat of sanctions.

Was this wrong? Was it ineffective? Did that great diplomat Jimmy Carter do better in his handling of Iran? Did Bill Clinton do better in his handling of regimes friendly to terrorism? (Here’s an interesting parlor game: how many terrorist attacks against US interests occurred during the Clinton administration? How many have occurred since September 11, 2001?)

The very best part of “The President Goes Negative” is still to come. Remember how the piece opened: “Slash-and-burn politics” that are “unseemly,” “shameful,” and “damaging to the country.” Then we have a rhetorical peripeteia: “Diplomacy is simply good sense.” Now that we are on the high road, full of PTS, we can forget about “the politics of personal destruction“, accusing people of “slash-and-burn politics,” etc., and say instead that “We also yearn for a more civilized and respectful political dialogue. That is essential for a healthy democracy. It is also essential for regaining the world’s respect.”

Can you beat that? How stupid does the Times think you are? From “slash-and-burn politics” to calls for “a more civilized and respectful political dialogue” all in the space a few hundred words. And the concluding appoggiaturas are especially rich: that such exercises in civility are “essential to a healthy democracy” and necessary for “regaining the world’s respect.” Translation: 1) democracy is only “healthy” when it follows a left-liberal line; otherwise it is in extremis. 2) “The world’s respect” means pandering to left-liberal, anti-American interests the world over.

The Times, like so many “progressive” institutions, confuses “respect” with “being liked.” Dr. Spock thought that way, and helped blight child-rearing for a generation. Neville Chamberlain thought that way, too, and we all know what happened as a result of his diplomatic efforts.