Monday, February 04, 2008


Erica Jong makes a few reasonable points in her pro-Hillary Washington Post op-ed today, but I'm not sure what's up with this:

...when Bill rewarded [Hillary] by letting some tootsie do whatever it was they did in the Oval Office, she got really mad.

But she was wise enough to know what it did and did not mean. She did what smart European and Asian women have done through the ages: She kept her marriage but changed her focus to her own ambitions.

Just Europeans and Asians? Hello? Eleanor Roosevelt?

Er, why focus on ethnicity in this context at all? And since Jong brought it up, where do African and Latin-American women fit in all this?

I ask because there's a decidedly unpleasant undercurrent of ethnic stereotyping in Jong's piece. Elsewhere Jong says of Mrs. Clinton, "If she could win over the rednecks in upstate New York, she can win over any American." "Rednecks"? This isn't a slur in Jong's world? And while the jumping-off point for the piece is William Kristol's assertion that "the only people for Hillary Clinton are the Democratic establishment and white women," is it necessary for Jong to play the race card at the end of this paragraph?

Nothing she did was ever enough to stop her detractors. Supporting a politician husband by being a successful lawyer, raising a terrific daughter, saving her marriage when the love of her life publicly humiliated her -- these are things that would be considered enormously admirable in most politicians and public figures. But because she's a white woman, she's been pilloried for them.

Does Jong really think the press would have been kinder if the Clintons had been non-white? (I'll say right here that I think the press would have been kinder if they'd been Republican.)

And I think this is racially patronizing across party lines:

[Obama] was lucky enough not to be in the Senate when the Iraq war resolution was floated after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lied about WMDs. That was the true tragedy of race: a black man lying for a corrupt white administration that was using him as a token, much as they use Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice now.

Obama is also a token -- of our incomplete progress toward an interracial society. I have nothing against him except his inexperience. Many black voters agree. They understand tokenism and condescension.

In the second paragraph, Jong plays games with the word "token," as a roundabout way of saying that Obama's just a helpless victim. Then she insists that blacks would second her denial that he's capable of agency.

In the first paragraph, she's just flat wrong about Powell and Rice, in an equally condescending way -- it's quite obvious that Bush respects Rice's mind, and that he respected (and feared) Powell's status and credibility within the Washington establishment; to use LBJ's phrase, he wanted Powell inside the tent pissing out rather than outside pissing in.

Rice is no token -- she's clearly a willing, active participant in this administration's misadventures -- and Powell's problem was not that he was a token, it's that he might have been able to stop (or at least slow) the runaway Iraq train and didn't have the guts or a sufficient level of skepticism to do so. But to Jong it's still not time to take any of these people seriously.

Maybe I'm being unduly harsh to Jong because last week she had an idiotic piece at the Huffington Post arguing that Jewish men are attracted to non-Jewish women because they resent their circumcisions. If you think I'm reading Jong and seeing an obsession with ethnicity where this is none, go read that. Sample passage:

And Jewish women bear the brunt ever after. Either [Jewish men] marry you and run around with Diana Ross or Beyonce or Naomi Campbell -- or they marry Sandra Oh or Lucy Liu or Yoko Ono and she converts.

Oy. (And I say that as a circumcised Italian-American -- hey, Erica, would it kill you to learn the simple fact that large numbers of American gentiles, at least in my generation, were circumcised? And not by a mohel? Oh, and was John Lennon Jewish?)


The op-ed that accompanies Jong's in today's Post isn't much better. It's a pro-Obama piece by Michael Chabon, and it's basically The Political Secret.

You know The Secret, right? The hugely successful self-help book that says (in the words of Publishers Weekly) "that one's positive thoughts are powerful magnets that attract wealth, health, happiness... [and] that fleeting negative thoughts are powerful enough to create terminal illness, poverty and even widespread disasters"? Well, that's basically what Chabon says about politics:

The point of Obama's candidacy is that the damaged state of American democracy is not the fault of George W. Bush and his minions, the corporate-controlled media, the insurance industry, the oil industry, lobbyists, terrorists, illegal immigrants or Satan. The point is that this mess is our fault. We let in the serpents and liars, we exchanged shining ideals for a handful of nails and some two-by-fours, and we did it by resorting to the simplest, deepest-seated and readiest method we possess as human beings for trying to make sense of the world: through our fear. America has become a phobocracy.

...But the most pitiable fear of all is the fear of disappointment, of having our hearts broken and our hopes dashed by this radiant, humane politician...

... in the name of preserving hope do we disdain it. That is how a phobocracy maintains its grip on power.

...To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope... That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

This is precisely the argument made by the charlatans responsible for The Secret:

... Whatever is going on in your mind is what you are attracting

... People think about what they don't want and attract more of the same

...Those who speak most of illness have illness, those who speak most of prosperity have it....

...Thoughts that bring about good feelings mean you are on the right track. Thoughts that bring about bad feelings means you are not on the right track.

...Decide what you want ... believe you can have it, believe you deserve it, believe it's possible for you...

Sorry -- I need a non-New Age reason to vote for Obama. Is he more reliably opposed to imperialist adventurism than Hillary Clinton? Is the currently fractured Republican Party less likely to come together in opposition to him? Will he attract new voters and swing voters? Balanced against all those would be a more timid health-care plan, a relative lack of experience in back-alley fights with Republicans, and, yes, lack of experience.

I'm sorry, Michael -- that's how I decide how to vote. I don't do it on the basis of power-of-positive-thinking claptrap.


(Jong circumcision piece via dnA.)

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