Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Our Friend Thomas Frank

I was as surprised as the next conservative when Thomas Frank became a columnist for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. The Journal editorial page is conservatism’s most prominent platform, while Frank’s criticisms of conservatives – in many articles and his books, What’s the Matter With Kansas? and Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule – are among the most strident on the Left. As I’ve slogged through one predictable essay after another I’ve kept thinking, “Why does the Journal give so much valuable real estate to this guy?”

Now I get it – and I’m embarrassed it took me so long. A house lefty who writes an article on “My Friend Bill Ayers” does more to remind conservatives why they’re conservatives than a Fox News marathon. What’s hard to understand is why Frank, in every other instance hypersensitive to the way conservatives and capitalists exploit the worker, would be complicit in advancing the WSJ editorial agenda by turning in copy indistinguishable from a right-wing parody of left-wing obtuseness.

Frank could have titled his piece, “My Hero Bill Ayers.” Ayers is not only “a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself” and “unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help.” He is a “kind and affable and even humble” man, who “has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything.” Saint Francis has no right to polish this guy’s halo.

There was, of course, some vaguely unpleasant business involving Ayers a very, very long time ago. Frank skips past the Weathermen trivia quickly, describing it as a group that “planted bombs and issued preposterous statements in the Vietnam era.” How does Frank feel about all that? “I do not defend the things Mr. Ayers did in his Weatherman days.” (But neither does he criticize them.) “Nor will I quibble with those who find Mr. Ayers wanting in contrition.” Those who make this accusation might be right, but the point is too insignificant to argue about.

Frank, however, immediately does go on to quibble, saying that Ayers’ critics have it wrong, and their criticism reveals their own shortcomings, not his: “His 2001 memoir is shot through with regret, but it lacks the abject style our culture prefers.” As several critics have shown, the “shot through with regret” summary is a howler.

Contrast these mild and carefully measured criticisms with how Frank assesses Republicans’ attacks on Barack Obama for associating with Ayers. “This is their vilest hour,” he says evenly. “The McCain campaign . . . has chosen to mount its greatest attack against a man who poses no conceivable threat to the country, who has nothing to do with this year’s issues, and who cannot or will not defend himself.” (Really? Why can’t he, or won’t he?) The Republican efforts to criticize Ayers, and criticize Obama for associating with him, are “desperate and grotesque.”

So. Denouncing a guy who tried to set off bombs in police stations and military bases? A crime against humanity. Being a guy who tried to set off bombs in police stations and military bases? The moral equivalent of jaywalking.

There’s an interesting ambivalence/hypocrisy/dishonesty about the attitude of the American Left in 2008 to the American Left of 1968. “We don’t go in for that sort of thing anymore,” the modern leftist insists, but can’t refrain from adding, “When you think about it, though, the ‘excesses’ committed in those days were understandable, defensible and really quite noble.”

The voting is less than three weeks away, and Obama is ahead in all the polls. The one thing that might yet turn the election in the Republicans’ favor would be for Thomas Frank to write a Journal article every day until November 4th.

Discussions - 8 Comments

In 2006, in Caracus, Venezuela, Ayers opined on how Venezuela was the model for the world regarding how education can defeat capitalim and the education of capitalism.

His only mention in that speech regarding his past was an arrest that happened at a sit-in; which was before he decided bombing, terrorizing, and killing was the action needed to be taken.

Ayers is no model citizen, long ago or today.

He is a radical leftist dedicated to the destruction of American values any way he can. If not by bombs, then by stealing the minds of the young.

Sounds, harsh? We have his own words and actions to judge him, don't you think?

I had concluded that the WSJ had been printing Thomas Frank's stuff for comic relief. I did not know who he was nor his cast of thought when I began reading his articles. I do not remember what he wrote in the first one I read, but I do recall thinking, "Conservatism is doomed with fatheads like this writing in the WSJ." So I read him, always hoping he was offering something useful, but knowing he was not by the end of the article. I thought they were going for the appearance of "fair and balanced" opinions. Who needs that? I read liberal thought and mentally boggle at it just about everywhere I read about politics, except these few places that have been such a comfort over the years. Your take "to remind conservatives why they’re conservatives" is a good one. Yet, given the way of the world, who can forget?

I hoped someone here would write about this article. These whitewashes of Ayers by the left is all a matter of self-justification. “When you think about it, though, the ‘excesses’ committed in those days were understandable, defensible and really quite noble.” is that any different from I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. What's the difference? Goldwater wasn't telling anyone to kill the neighborhood cop or murder their parents to advance liberty.

God save us from Utopians. The Ayers/Wright/Obama dream is a nightmare. How awful America will be if that side of the 1960's culture war gets to win, 40 years later. Diversity as the watchword for conformity wins? Perhaps Frank, or others like him, will be writing articles every day for the WSJ. Who needs reeducation more than the regular followers of the editorial page of the WSJ?

Iraqi civilian death toll since 2005: 50,506. A crime against humanity. Being the war machine republican party that initiated the deaths: the moral equivalent of jaywalking.

Never mind the child prisons, the rape rooms, the gassing of his own people, the support of international terrorists, the continual flippin-the-finger to the UN resolutions, the Oil-For-Food scandal, the dual use program abuse, the attempt on a US president's life, the almost universal agreement that he had WMD, etc, etc, etc ...

Oh, nevermind, he was a Stalin style dictator, so he must not have been that bad. Down with America!

I could not get my comment past Captcha this morning. I am happy that it approves me now.

ren, you're right. No one wanted us to go to Iraq and kill civilians. That Saddam Hussein insisted and then denied that he had WMD, waffling and bluffing until no one knew what was true, brought us to do something that we would rather not have done. Who do you think is actually happy about any of it? What it has cost conservatives, politically, is a great expense. What it has cost Iraq is an open question, because of those things that Dale mentions. Is life better for the Iraqi's? I hope so. Is the world better off without Saddam Hussein? What do you think?

Simplest rhetorical questions ruin your otherwise sensitive post, Kate. Is the world better off without X (insert favorite foreign tyrant)? is a ridiculous question. The list of evils committed by Than Shwe was greater than Hussein. Rumsfeld did not even mention Saddam's gassing people when he want to visit him in March 1984. It is oil-induced moral selectivity that led us into the war. There are dozens of Husseins out there, two-bit thugs propped up by the U.S., the Soviets, and China in our global games. The fact that there are so many allow us to conveniently pick and choose whomever is in our strategic interest at the time for a nice short and sweet elective war. We justify it afterward by cliches like the world is better off without them and posture about our values. Just Mr. Voegoeli spare us the 'moral outrage' over the weathermen - no one trusts conservatives 'moral outrage' about anything anymore. It is all moral outrage strategery.

We took on Hussein on WMD grounds. Than Shwe does not look to be a threat to all of southeast Asia. Still, yes, the world would be better off without him.

The world better without X, Y, Z, tyrants is absolutely true, but we can't be everywhere, can we? We are overextended and I guess our values might be at fault. We deal with problems, but can't do so effectively enough to leave the area, so we just stay, indefinitely, trying to make the world safe for democracy and even just decent human life. We prop up thugs in "lesser of evils" type situations, but are never comfortable and even help overthrow those guys when they make us too uncomfortable about their practices. Apparently, there is only so much evil we can stand in the world.

Wouldn't we do more if we could? I grant you Than Shwe and offer the situation in Darfur, and starvation and other horrors in North Korea, can say look to Viet Nam and then keep looking around the world. Even if we could go take on all those various evils, civilians would be killed and we would have that blood to account for and we would not like it.

ren, you exhibit plenty of moral outrage. Don't you know that? The radical left, that I supported in my youth, used moral outrage to vicious effect. It is the logical next step of the sort of politics that you often propose. I hope you grow out of it.

The problem I have with ren is his use of this topic to not just slam our going into Iraq, but to damn Republicans for doing something that traditional was left up to Democrats (that is, getting us into wars).

Republican war machine? No sense of history, at the very least.

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