Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 2004 / 29 Elul 5764

Paul Greenberg

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Provocation a minute | When a car bomb blew up in the Iraqi town of Baqouba, turning a market into a charnel house, with twisted metal and burned bodies everywhere, wounding 56 and overwhelming the local hospital, angry bystanders cursed the attackers. But one man in the crowd seemed genuinely mystified: "These were all innocent Iraqis. There were no Americans. What was their guilt?"

What is the Americans'-that we've overthrown a murderous tyrant and now are trying to build a free and stable Iraq?

There's always one guy in every outfit who never gets the word: Terrorists aren't interested in guilt or innocence, or whether it's Iraqi or American blood they spill. . They're just out to kill, maim and destroy. Anybody. The purpose is to instill fear and create the kind of chaos in which their kind prospers-a power vacuum they can fill.

Lest we feel superior to this Iraqi man in the street, who seemed able to feel human sympathy only when his own countrymen were killed, there are those of us who know that American deaths in that war now have passed a thousand-but have no idea how many innocent Iraqis have been blown away. Does anybody even count them?

It's the human condition. G-d forgive us and help us remember: We're all in this together.

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Max Cleland is the fellow veteran who introduced John Kerry at the Democrats' Vietnam-centric national convention. He's been waging a vendetta against Republicans ever since he lost his seat in the U.S. Senate to one a couple of years ago.

The former senator from Georgia showed up at the president's ranch deep in the heart of Texas a while back to protest the Swift Boat Veterans' attack on Senator Kerry's war record. He said he was there to deliver a letter of protest to George W. Bush. Hadn't he ever heard of the post office?

Mail delivery, of course, had nothing to do with it. In his wheelchair, the press in tow, his missing limbs speaking more eloquently than anything he could say, Max Cleland was there to display his own wounds in a political cause.

In an earlier and more candid century, there was a term for this tactic: waving the bloody shirt. It became an American political tradition-employed every election by Republicans, the party of the Union, against Democrats, the party of the defeated South.

This is supposed to be a time of brass-knuckled political rhetoric, at least on talk radio and the cable shout shows. But did anyone call this spectacle the tasteless publicity stunt it was?

It's revealing to note where the presidential candidates are buying television time. Because where they put their money says something not only about the candidates but about the general culture, as in Kulturkampf. Need a handy guide to the culture war of 2004? Just note where the campaigns advertise:

The Bush campaign has bought hundreds of spots on the History channel, doubtless to get its own voters revved up or, as they say in the poli-sci business, to energize the base.

It makes sense. Conservatives have a way of trusting experience more than theory, the lessons of the past more than promises about the future. In short, history more than political science-a term that always struck some of us as an oxymoron. Politics a science? It's more an art, sport, and free-for-all. Like kick boxing. But not, as Mister Dooley famously noted, beanbag.

A senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, Ted Devine, described the History channel to the Wall Street Journal as "one of the most Republican of channels."

That figures, though its Democratic viewers might be surprised to learn it. Maybe the fair labeling laws ought to require the channel to post a warning label: "Beware: Watching this channel may turn you into a Republican."

As for the Kerry campaign, it doesn't seem big on investing in cable television commercials. Why should it? It's got NPR, the New York Times, the major TV networks, and a big do its campaigning for it.

Like the Bush campaign, the Kerry campaign has bought time on the various cable news channels, plus one spot on BET, Black Entertainment Television. Which makes sense, considering the Democrats' by now traditional hold on black voters. (Mr. Lincoln is long gone.)

But the Kerry campaign may be missing a good bet in not running commercials on Bravo or MTV, where something tells me Democrats would also do well. (They re-run episodes of "West Wing" on Bravo, don't they?)

Politics a science? In this country, it's more a branch of sociology or ethnography. Doubt it? Well, the GOP also invests heavily in the Golf channel. Q.E.D.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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