Liberal critics of the Philadelphia Inquirer have watched in amazement while the newspaper's management outsourced much its international and national news gathering responsibilities and promoted the famously incompetent conservative ideologue, Kevin Ferris, to the post of Editor of the Commentary Page. And when we thought things couldn't get much worse, the paper added Rick Santorum - yes, THAT Rick Santorum - to a bullpen of columnists already overstaffed with right-wing warmongers, who had gotten it so wrong on Iraq.
Representative of this sorry situation is the latest piece of claptrap written by Ferris: "An Iraq campaign for hope." There, he gushes like a child and waxes euphoric about the "passion and enthusiasm" of President Bush - as if Bush has ever been anything but passionate and enthusiastic, even as he has subjected the United States and the world to the most evil and error prone presidency in U.S. history. Remember "Mission Accomplished"? How about: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"? Such examples speak volumes about the merits of "passion and enthusiasm."
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Anyone who has paid serious attention to the disaster that has befallen Iraq knows that Ferris is either patently dishonest or willfully ignorant when he touts the situation there as "the central front in the campaign for hope." "Campaign for hope?" Even a majority of military families now believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. What possible outcome could justify the horrors and evil of Bush's war?
"Campaign for hope?" Consider that, according to Robert Dreyfuss and Tom Engelhardt, "There are, by now, perhaps a million dead Iraqis, give or take a few hundred thousand. If a typical wounded-to-dead ratio of 3:1 holds, then you're talking about up to 4 million war, occupation, and civil-war casualties. Now, add in the estimated 2-2.5 million who went into exile, fleeing the country, and another estimated 2.3 million who have had to leave their homes and go into internal exile as Iraqi communities hand neighborhoods were 'cleansed.'"
"Campaign for hope?" Consider how often events in Iraq have compelled President Bush to ratchet down his criteria for success there: Repeatedly! Mr. Ferris, I sincerely "hope" that neither you nor your family is ever situated in such a "central front in the campaign for hope."
Unfortunately, Kevin Ferris doesn't have a lock on the rank stupidity infecting right-wingers at the Inquirer. Simply consider Michael Smerconish's latest piece on immigration, "What we lose now that newcomers don't assimilate." Like Ferris, Mr. Smerconish has no qualms about spouting nonsense about subjects he knows nothing about.
Take his reliance on "the often cited image of the United States as a melting pot." Assuming the "melting pot" to be a fact, Smerconish then criticizes America's Hispanic immigrants for "not assimilating the way my [his] forefathers did when they arrived." Predictably, Smerconish's "Head Strong" column is wrong on both counts.
Consider the opposite conclusions reached by an expert on immigration, Roger Daniels. Writing in his book, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, Daniels quotes a prominent 1963 study by Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan (Beyond the Melting Pot) to assert the melting pot "simply did not happen."
Worse, according to Daniels, "Not only have ethnic groups and, even more important, awareness of ethnicity, persisted, but in the United States and Canada (as opposed to Latin America) relatively little amalgamation has taken place." [p. 18] In a word, the melting pot is a "myth." Thus, Smerconish's criticism of Hispanics reeks of know-nothing nativism. Like Ferris, Smerconish writes unadulterated claptrap.
I have a recommendation for both. Try reading books. Here's how it works. A serious author or scholar often spends years, perhaps a decade, researching a topic or question that has puzzled him. If you read his book carefully, you can digest in a matter of hours much of what it took him years to discover. It's amazingly efficient!
Of course, the scholar's conclusions might be mistaken or biased. But that's nothing but an argument for reading even more books on that particular topic. Unfortunately, having obviously failed to do this, Ferris (on Iraq) and Smerconish (on immigration) have fallen into the trap that Walter Lippmann warned against decades ago: "No moral code, as such, will enable [a person] to know whether he is exercising his moral faculties on a real and an important event. For effective virtue, as Socrates pointed out long ago, is knowledge; and a code of right and wrong must wait upon a perception of the true and false." (Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public, p. 20)
Does such pandering to the lowest common denominator by Ferris and Smerconish explain the newspaper's recent gains in daily circulation? Well, how does the National Enquirer increase its circulation? Better yet, perhaps the best way to explain the Inquirer's increased circulation is by analogy. Consider the assertion made by H.L. Mencken in 1920:
"As democracy is perfected, the office [of the President] represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
Having fulfilled Mencken's dire prediction with the election of President Bush, consider how his analogy might apply to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"As readership demographics are perfected, the management of the INKY panders more and more closely to the inner soul of its Philadelphia readers. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain readers of the INKY will reach their heart's desire at last, and the INKY's Commentary Page will be edited and staffed by downright morons."
Are we there yet?
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA)
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