Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Noam Scheiber Is Annoying Me

In case anyone is interested, Noam Scheiber's blog on TNR has now annoyed me for two days in a row.

First, Scheiber posted a piece stating that although he had earlier apologized for providing a false example of the alleged White House efforts to portray the Iraqi threat to the US as "imminent," no one should assume that the absense of evidence was evidence of absence, as Donald Rumsfeld would say. To the contrary, according to Scheiber, everyone knows that the White House "lie[d] about its characterization of the imminence of the Iraqi threat." The sole evidence about these "lies about . . . characterization" appears to be a press conference in which Ari Fleisher, in response to a question at a daily press briefing, did not challenge a reporter's use of the term "imminent." What a fiendish lie! No wonder the American people supported the president!

Second, Scheiber now has a piece arguing that Bush deserves to get harassed about his decision to volunteer for the National Guard because the White House "deployed these tactics so effectively" against Max Cleland in 2002.

What irks me is the way that Scheiber takes issues that are very much open to debate and publishes them as accepted truth.

First, there is a very interesting debate to be had about whether the White House characterized the Iraqi threat as imminent. I happen to think Scheiber is wrong,{*} so it would be nice if he identified what he thinks "imminent" means and provided some meaningful examples of the White House selling that meaning, or at least a link to a reasonable discussion of the topic.

Second, Scheiber's received wisdom on Cleland is exactly backward. I'm preparing a more detailed post on this, but here's the short version of why Scheiber is wrong - Cleland and Chambliss were in an ugly campaign, and both politicians were running negative ads. However, the ad that's made Cleland into the sainted martyr of the Democratic party was an issue ad, not a personal attack. Chambliss made the factual statement that although Cleland had stated that he "supported Bush at every opportunity" in the war on terror, he had in fact voted against Bush's homeland security efforts eleven time.

It was Cleland who thought that he should be immune to criticism on his homeland security votes, because he fought in Vietnam, and particularly because he lost three limbs in a grenade accident.

There's no turnabout here at all. Instead, Cleland and Kerry are masterminding the same line of ad hominem attack that Cleland used (unsuccessfully) in his senate campaign - that because Kerry, like Cleland, distinguished himself in Vietnam, he should be immune from criticism on domestic security.

{*} (On the "imminent threat" issue, I don't think you can have an honest discussion from the left without addressing two important facts. First, Bush clearly stated in his pre-war state of the union address that he did not believe it was necessary to wait for an imminent threat to attack. Second, the September 2002 National Security Strategy stated that the whole concept of "imminent threat" as used by the left was no longer essential to the theory of preemption, and that preemption was now an option for countries that presented "emerging theats," even if those countries would not present a classic example of "imminent threat."

Bad Art and Bad Audiences

Steven Den Beste notes an exhibit at someplace called LeHigh University. Apparently, some anti-Bush artist has a bunch of angry essays and angrier photographs. In one, the artist has posed a Bush look-a-like fondling a woman's breast. Den Beste writes:

I actually don't mind that they're doing this. I just wonder whether they would have displayed such a "satirical" exhibit if the target-of-skewerance were a person of color or a person of gender?

Would Viera [the exhibit curator] have been as enthusiastic and supportive if the skeweree had been Hillary Clinton or Jesse Jackson? Would that also have been an example of "diverse ideas", and an "intellectual challenge"?

Luckily, history provides an example. Back in 1988, David K. Nelson created a painting called "Mirth and Girth," which portrayed Harold Washington in a bra, panties, hose and garters. He exhibited the piece at the University of Chicago Art Institute. According to The File Room, the piece started a controversy within an hour of its exhibition. The curators contacted Nelson to ask for his permission to take the piece down, but before they were able to resolve the issue, two city Aldermen and three policemen showed up, got in a fracas with students over whether to take the piece down, and ended up "arresting" the painting by force, tearing it in the process. Years later, they were ruled to be in violation of Nelson's first amendment rights, and, according to The File Room, faced potentially huge damages as a result.

So I guess the answer to Den Beste's question is mixed. The University of Chicago staff stood by Nelson, although they did ask him to remove the piece voluntarily, which seems to be lot more than LeHigh University has done. (This may be one reason why the University of Chicago typically gets more respect than LeHigh University.) On the other hand, the Chicago police did tear the painting off the wall, which is a very lot more than the police of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania have done.

(And, of course, if you get angry at an exhibit featuring a photograph of a Palestinian terrorist sailing on a sea of blood, don't expect anyone to remove it, but that goes without saying).

Ultimately, though, I'm not sure Den Beste is right. Photographs of a Martin Luther King look-a-like fondling women wouldn't get posted, although I suspect Hillary Clinton probably would, if an artist put together something good enough. The point of this kind of "art" is to schock, and you can shock just as easily by mocking up a Ralph Nader-Howard Dean orgy as by mocking Bush.

What I am sure of, though, is that the artist at the core of this thing will be able to dine out on this for months, explaining how the "chilling wave of Ashcroft repression" came for him, all because he "spoke his mind."