Thursday, April 24, 2008

More of a note to self

It was during a San Francisco private fundraiser that Barack Obama made his 'elitist' comment about rural voters clinging to guns and religion which prompted Bill Kristol to write this op-ed piece in NewYork Times calling him a Marxist. It was aptly titled The Mask Slips.

Kristol cited the famous Marxist dictum "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes," to rub it in. It expectedly got the goat of Obama supporters followed by the usual coarse ad hominem, but of course some better pieces too. (Aside, Arthur Schulzberger must be happy that he's got a "lightning rod" that he wanted, watching how each of Kristol's piece gets the liberals riled up and sputter in rage.)

Andrew Sullivan, the Atlantic editor and blogger of Daily Dish, who has vociferously backed Obama for a while now, and is a fixture on Bill Maher show sort of, responded promptly.

Now, Andrew Sullivan is anything but an antisemite, yet he slipped in this perplexing line in his blogpiece:
A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith.
Yet, the first impression that this reader got was of the reference here being to Kristol's Jewish identity.

The New Republic's literary editor and critic, Leon Wieseltier, too saw it the same way. He wrote his own piece responding to Kristol and, Andrew Sullivan. He was particularly caustic about Sullivan's remark and responded acerbically:
And now for the grossly undialectical bit. The ink on the Times was not yet dry when Andrew Sullivan rushed to the defense of his idol, I mean Obama. When one types all the time, sooner or later everything will be typed, and so Sullivan, in his fury against Kristol, typed this: "A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his faith." Ponder that early adjective. It is Jew baiting. I was not aware that only Christians can judge Christians, or that there are things about which a Jew cannot call a Christian a liar. If Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew. So this fills me with a certain paschal wrath. Nice little blog you have there, Obama boy. Pity if frogs or locusts should happen to it. Let my people be!
TNR is a highbrow, fortnightly magazine with mostly liberal elite leadership-- and a dwindling subscription.

For a long time it was owned by Martin Peretz, a Harvard man, and has had illustrious writers livening its pages. Among them: Michael Kinsley, Jacob Weisberg, Irving Howe, Charles Krauthammer, and even Andrew Sullivan.

Anyway, Wieseltier's commentary forced Sullivan to put up a riposte countering the serious 'Jew baiting' charge leveled at him by Leon Wieseltier, with a certain standing in the intellectual circle of his own, and whose words carry weight amongst the cultural elites.

Sullivan's response is here. Sullivan particularly takes umbrage at Wieseltier calling him an "Obama boy," a reference to him being gay, among other things. In his own words:
Little? Boy? African-Americans and gay men have had one thing in common over the decades and centuries. When we are being put in our place by our superiors, we are called "boys." What do you call an openly gay man who actually manages to have a career in mainstream journalism? A boy. Obama is not a boy, and neither am I. And breaking through those barriers is one thing this election has come to be about.
Sullivan's anguish is understandable, so is his explanation of the "Jew baiting" charge. Perhaps this is a Kinsley gaffe where deep seated true resentments are being voiced with uncharacteristic discombobulation, except that the two guys aren't politicians. Mostly, both appear right in their own regard sans any regnant bitterness.

I cite this back-and-forth purely because it gives remarkable insight into verbal jostling between peers of their profession. A view from top is always incisive, and rare. Though the two parties have their quibbles about the conversation and level of discourse, it still is fascinating to me.

To recite my perennial refrain, we almost never see this in India. Perhaps it is because we don't have real freedom of speech and are overly weighed down by fake respect that seals our lips when we shouldn't be keeping quiet.

I suspect it is a carryover from our long excruciating encounter with foreign rule when shutting up your mouth was the only pragmatic recourse to preserving one's life.

1 comment:

Dirt Digger said...

The consistency of candidates allows the writers to verbally spar at each other. However the amount of flip flopping Indian politicians do and their serious lack for any objectivity makes it difficult for any writer to take a stand.