We are at that delicious moment in a modern Democratic
presidential administration when the bizarre fantasticos who decorate
each chaotic regime make their painful appearance though this
administration is bringing a whiff of the ominous. Let me explain.
In the Carter administration, there was Midge Costanza, the White House
aide who sent crazy memos to the White House staff insisting that they
visit the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials to "reenergize." She did it
herself in the early hours, and at 4 a.m. at the Jefferson Memorial, The
Washington Post reported, she became characteristically hysterical:
"Every time I came across 'man' or 'men' I changed it mentally. I said
'IT WAS PERSON, TOM. IT WAS PERSON! OKAY, TOM. ISN'T IT IRONIC THAT IT
TOOK A WOMAN TO BE REENERGIZED RIGHT HERE?'" Then she lamented to the
Post that Mr. Jefferson was "brilliant," though "he wasn't fully
informed." Soon she resigned. Also in the Carter administration, there
was the delightful Dr. Peter Bourne, special assistant to the president
for health (!) issues, whose visit to a nocturnal cocaine party attended
by Hunter Thompson and David Kennedy (now dead of cocaine abuse) was
leaked to the press. Bourne survived that sticky wicket, but he did not
survive once it was reported that he was issuing bogus prescriptions for
controlled drugs. He resigned.
In the Clinton years, the list was longer, but my favorite was Dr.
Joycelyn Elders. Her indiscretions were many until her comic finale, the
very public espousal of her fellow sex educators' latest progressive
cause: masturbation! She was an expert on the subject and very eloquent.
Now we have environmental czar Van Jones, National Endowment for the
Arts spokesman Yosi Sergant and yet to resign White House
communications director Anita Dunn. Their eccentricities are beyond
masturbation, beyond shouting at stone monuments, beyond cocaine with
the famous. Jones joined the Communist Party in the 1990s, not the
1890s, and he implicated the Bush administration in 9/11 or at least
raised it as a possibility. Sergant exhorted artists on a conference
call to provide governmentally funded propaganda for the president. Dunn
extolled Mao Zedong as one of her two favorite "political philosophers,"
though neither was a philosopher. One was a saint, and Mao was a sadist.
He was also a bloodthirsty tyrant responsible for the death,
imprisonment and torture of at least 70 million people. In a fatuous
address to young people, she never mentioned any of this. Dunn's
outburst is a first. Of all the brutal murderers of the 20th century
say, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Castro none has been mentioned as an
exemplar by any other White House staffer, save today's White House
Allow me a prediction. This administration is going to turn out more
zanies than the past two Democratic administrations combined. Yet and
here is the ominous part they are going to present a real threat to
liberties that Americans take for granted, particularly freedom of
Dunn's other controversial outburst is her singling out Fox News as a
political enemy against whom the White House will push back. She is not
the only member of this administration to speak this way. Chief of staff
Rahm Emanuel has denied that Fox is a "legitimate news organization,"
and White House senior adviser David Axelrod has said Fox is "not really
a news organization." The threat here from these government officials is
to freedom of speech.
It is all of a piece with the assault on Rush Limbaugh during various
leading Democratic supporters' and amazingly journalists' efforts
to deny him part ownership of a professional football team. The charges
against Limbaugh that circulated freely through the media were false. He
never spoke approvingly or even jokingly about slavery. He never spoke
positively about James Earl Ray. He actually does not talk much about
race. Two of the improbable moral forces who spoke out against him, Al
Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, have made racist statements on the record,
particularly anti-Semitic statements, and been caught in scandals that
they never should have survived (Tawana Brawley and the Atlanta murders
that Jackson blamed on a nationwide racial conspiracy, to name but two).
Limbaugh was very perceptive in responding to the brouhaha by saying in
The Wall Street Journal that it represented a hatred of conservatives
and an attempt to keep them from "participating in the full array of
opportunities this nation otherwise affords each of us." But there is a
more general threat here. It is against the First Amendment. Journalists
had better take note. It was a surprising spectacle to see journalists
advancing the assault on Limbaugh. More surprisingly was how many of the
self-appointed journalistic monitors, for instance The Washington Post's
Howard Kurtz, took it all in stride.