OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – November 12, 2007

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Best of the Web Today – November 12, 2007

    By JAMES TARANTO



    Today’s Video on WSJ.com: Mary O’Grady on Venezuela’s student opposition and Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners on the high cost of Sarbanes-Oxley.

    Lord of the Flies–II
    What’s black and white and red all over? A New York Times blood feud! On Friday David Brooks of the Times devoted his column to debunking a “distortion” that “has spread like a weed over the past few months”:

    An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia [Miss.] to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side.

    “The truth,” Brooks notes, is more complicated. Reagan had planned to spend the week after the 1980 GOP convention courting black voters:

    But there was another event going on that week, the Neshoba County Fair, seven miles southwest of Philadelphia. . . . Mississippi was a state that Republican strategists hoped to pick up. . . . So the decision was made to go to Neshoba. . . . Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin urged him not to go, but Reagan angrily countered that once the commitment had been made, he couldn’t back out.

    The Reaganites then had an internal debate over whether to do the Urban League speech and then go to the fair, or to do the fair first. They decided to do the fair first, believing it would send the wrong message to go straight from the Urban League to Philadelphia, Miss.

    At Philadelphia, Reagan “spoke mostly about inflation and the economy.” His “states’ rights” comment, in context, is utterly benign: “Programs like education and others should be turned back to the states and local communities with the tax sources to fund them. I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can at the community level and the private level.”

    Brooks concedes that it was “callous, at least, to use the phrase ‘states’ rights’ in any context in Philadelphia,” and that Reagan failed to do “something wonderful” by mentioning civil rights in his speech there. “Still,” argues Brooks, “the agitprop version . . .–that Reagan opened his campaign with an appeal to racism–is a distortion”:

    It’s spread by people who, before making one of the most heinous charges imaginable, couldn’t even take 10 minutes to look at the evidence. It posits that there was a master conspiracy to play on the alleged Klan-like prejudices of American voters, when there is no evidence of that conspiracy.

    And who are those people? As we noted last week, the Times’s op-ed columnists have been at each other’s throats lately. Brooks is too discreet to name names, but it’s obvious that he has in mind former Enron adviser Paul Krugman, who has employed the Reagan-in-Philadelphia trope at least four times:

  • Sept. 19, 2005: “And he launched his 1980 campaign with a pro-states’-rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., a small town whose only claim to fame was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers.”
  • July 24, 2006: “Don’t forget that in 1980, the sainted Ronald Reagan began his presidential campaign with a speech on states’ rights in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.”
  • Aug. 24, 2007: “Reagan didn’t begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it–at the urging of a young Trent Lott–with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.”
  • Sept. 24, 2007: “Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered.”

In fairness, we should note that Krugman is nothing if not unoriginal. His colleague Bob Herbert scooped him by more than eight years, citing this slur way back on June 20, 1997, and then again on Feb. 10, 2000, May 1, 2000, Dec. 12, 2002, July 18, 2005, Oct. 6, 2005, Sept. 28, 2006, and Sept. 25, 2007.

But whereas even his fellow liberals disdain the dreary Herbert, Krugman, whose insufferable sanctimony is enlivened by a feral rage, is a hero of today’s liberal-left. Almost certainly it was he whom Brooks had in mind. And it was Krugman who donned pajamas on Saturday in response to the “campaign on to exonerate Ronald Reagan.”

Krugman’s blog post, which doesn’t mention Brooks by name, is not a rebuttal but an effort to change the subject. It says nothing about the Philadelphia speech, instead listing other Reagan statements and actions that Krugman finds objectionable, and sarcastically ending every paragraph with “It was all just an innocent mistake.”

This columnist came of age during the Reagan presidency, and although we didn’t follow politics then as closely as we do now, we don’t remember the Philadelphia speech being a big deal at the time. We wondered if a previous generation of liberal Times columnists had been as preoccupied with it, and as uncharitable toward Reagan, as their progeny.

The answer turns out to be no on both counts. Anthony Lewis wrote about the speech once, on Sept. 22, 1980. Lewis was highly critical of Reagan, but unlike Krugman, he was willing to allow that the candidate’s motives might not have been invidious:

Now there are two ways of looking at Reagan’s decision to go to Philadelphia, Miss., and speak about states’ rights. He may have done it to court the votes of whites not yet reconciled to the changes in the Southern way of life. Or he may have done it in ignorance of the symbol.

Neither interpretation can commend Reagan to anyone who cares about civil rights. For a man prominent in public life for many years not to know what happened in Philadelphia, Miss., would not be a plus.

Tom Wicker wrote that when the candidate “spoke early in his campaign at Philadelphia, Miss., without mentioning the names of three civil rights workers murdered there a quarter-century ago, it was clear that his campaign appeal would not be to blacks or liberals.” But Wicker, whose column appeared Nov. 18, 1988, was referring not to Reagan but to Michael Dukakis. The Reagan speech seemed to have escaped Wicker’s notice.

Why does Reagan’s Philadelphia speech loom so much larger in today’s liberal imagination than it did when Reagan was alive and active in politics? Because today’s liberals yearn for their elders’ moral authority. Tony Lewis and Tom Wicker were civil rights advocates when it mattered. Paul Krugman was 11 when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. For someone Krugman’s age, it has never required any courage to be a man of the left, and there has never been a cause on which the liberal-left turned out to be clearly on the right side.

Krugman has no business browbeating anyone about civil rights, and his badmouthing of Reagan is especially rich. Reagan’s putative racism was not offensive enough to deter Krugman from taking a job in 1982 as a staff economist for the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. The former Enron adviser is a former Reagan aide too!

In the Garden, Growth Has Its Seasons
The Scarlet & Black, a student newspaper at Iowa’s Grinnell College, reports on Hillary Clinton’s latest campaign travail. It happened at a speech Mrs. Clinton gave last Tuesday in Newton, half an hour from Grinnell:

After her speech, Clinton accepted questions. But according to Grinnell College student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff ’10, some of the questions from the audience were planned in advance. “They were canned,” she said. Before the event began, a Clinton staff member approached Gallo-Chasanoff to ask a specific question after Clinton’s speech. “One of the senior staffers told me what [to ask],” she said.

The campaign’s explanation is classically Clintonian:

But the Clinton campaign also denied the practice of planting. “It’s not a practice of our campaign to ask people to ask specific questions,” said Mark Daley, Clinton’s Iowa Communications Director. Daley said that when an event is focusing on a specific topic, such as health care or Iraq, “people are encouraged to ask questions in these regards,” but denied that they are given specific questions.

But when directly asked if his statements meant that planting does not occur in the Hillary campaign, Daley could only say, “to the best of my knowledge.”

“[Planting] is not something that is encouraged in our campaign,” he said.

Reader Gerry McCracken translates this into English for us: “I can’t remember if we have ever planted questions, and we certainly don’t think we should plant questions, and if we do plant questions, we don’t do it all the time.”

Intelligence Failure
“In DNA Era, New Worries About Prejudice” reads the headline on an article in yesterday’s New York Times. The Times reports that some people are fretting about the implications of new discoveries about genetic differences between races:

The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal. . . .

Nonscientists are already beginning to stitch together highly speculative conclusions about the historically charged subject of race and intelligence from the new biological data. Last month, a blogger in Manhattan described a recently published study that linked several snippets of DNA to high I.Q. An online genetic database used by medical researchers, he told readers, showed that two of the snippets were found more often in Europeans and Asians than in Africans.

No matter that the link between I.Q. and those particular bits of DNA was unconfirmed, or that other high I.Q. snippets are more common in Africans, or that hundreds or thousands of others may also affect intelligence, or that their combined influence might be dwarfed by environmental factors. Just the existence of such genetic differences between races, proclaimed the author of the Half Sigma blog, a 40-year-old software developer, means “the egalitarian theory,” that all races are equal, “is proven false.”

Note that “the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal” is quite different from the notion “that all races are equal.” The former is a moral principle, a premise about the basic dignity of every individual; the latter is an empirical presumption about group averages in measurable traits. Someone with an IQ of 80 is as human as someone with an IQ of 120; and this is so regardless of whether the average IQ of one race is different from that of another.

What worries people like those in the Times story is that racial differences in IQ or other traits seem to lend empirical support to racist theories. But those theories are qualitatively wrong, so that no empirical evidence could make them right. If all individuals are of equal dignity and worth regardless of IQ, then a group is not fundamentally superior or inferior to another group by virtue of differences in average IQ.

It seems that some very smart people mistakenly think that intelligence is a measure of fundamental worth. Maybe they’re a little too impressed with their own brilliance.

Baaaad Memory
They say if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there, and the News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., has a case in point:

The crowd was light at lunch during the inaugural Peace Fair on Saturday and Jerry Tierney, 56, was not pleased with the apathy.

“I don’t think there is enough being done right now–we’re a bunch of sheep,” Tierney said.

Tierney said the 1960s brought a better response to both war and being gouged at the gas pump.

“We used to boycott the gas stations but now people just shrug and say ‘what can you do,’ ” Tierney said. “If it takes a grass roots effort like this, so be it.”

Tierney remembers being “gouged at the gas pump” in the 1960s? We’re not as old as he is, but we distinctly remember gasoline cost about a quarter a gallon until 1973, when the Arab embargo and OPEC production cuts caused prices to skyrocket. Maybe someone boycotted gas stations then, though it wouldn’t have done any good.

Anyway, if “we’re a bunch of sheep,” why do we need gasoline? Though come to think of it, perhaps Tierney’s ovine inclinations account for his interest in the “grass” roots.

Wannabe Pundits
“Bigger nets will likely bring, at most, a teeny-weeny uptick in scoring. Focusing on bigger nets, in many ways, is hockey’s version of cutting taxes–eye-catching, but ineffective.”–Kevin Paul Dupont, Boston Globe, Nov. 11

Metaphor Alert
“Playing the mother hen–[Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy] Reid’s description of his managing style — in a city known for its Chicken Little football fans is a demanding role, and it cut into the time he was used to carving out for his family.”–New York Times, Nov. 11

Life Imitates ‘The Simpsons’

  • “Homer seems to be the only survivor of a nuclear explosion. As the last living person on earth–literally, the Homega Man–Homer is free to do whatever he wants, specifically steal cars and crash them and dance naked in the Springfield Community Church. But Homer’s revelry is cut short by a band of angry, flesh-eating mutants who survived the blast and are now hungry for Homer. Speeding in a car to Evergreen Terrace, Homer hides in his old home and discovers that his family has also survived the blast, protected by the layers and layers of lead paint in the house. Marge and kids are elated to see Homer and it’s their pleasure to use their shotguns to blast holes in the mutants.”–episode summary, “Treehouse of Horror VIII,” originally aired Oct. 26, 1997
  • “Explosions and Fires Severely Damage Springfield Power Plant”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 11, 2007

Slow News Day in Boston
“Bush-Merkel Talks Span the Globe”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 11

We Blame George W. Bush
“Newly Discovered Planets Are Scorchingly Hot”–headline, FoxNews.com, Nov. 9

It Was Ladies Night
“Pakistan Bars Planned Protest by Bhutto”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 12

Bonfire of the VAN8Es

  • “When It Comes to Personalized Plates, Virginia Vainest of All”–headline, Richmond Times-Dispatch Web site, Nov. 11
  • “Montana Among Nation’s Most Vain, Say License Plates”–headline, Missoulian Web site, Nov. 11
  • “Ill. R8Z as a Top ST8 for Vanity Car PL8Z”–headline, Courier News Web site (Elgin, Ill.), Nov. 12

Sounds Like a Job for Evelyn Wood
“Paris Man Gets 20-Year Sentence”–headline, Paris (Texas) News, Nov. 9

Salsas Hot on the Trail
“Mexican Relishes Hunt for U.S. Fugitives”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 11

But Hold the Pickles
“Kids Want Eye on Subs”–headline, Flint (Mich.) Journal, Nov. 12

Better Makes Ours Black
“Creamer Increases Lead to Six Strokes”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 11

Move ‘ZIG’ for Great Justice
” ‘Regionals’ Deny Accusations of Bribe ‘Oranges’ “–headline, ForUm (Ukraine), Nov. 9

Breaking News From 1883
“Krakatoa, Other Volcanoes Keep Indonesians on Their Toes”–headline, FoxNews.com, Nov. 9

News You Can Use

  • “Enjoy a Refreshing Ham Soda”–headline, CNN.com, Nov. 10
  • “Jails Not Hotels, Judges Say”–headline, Times (Munster, Ind.), Nov. 12

Bottom Stories of the Day
“Bologna Among Items Found by Customs”–headline, El Paso Times, Nov. 11

The Correct Answer Is the ‘Moops’
Harvard students will soon be getting free copies of the New York Times in their dining halls, the Harvard Crimson reports. But “not all students on campus were enthusiastic about the new program”:

Kelly J. Peeler ’10 said she would not discontinue her subscription to The Wall Street Journal, even if she could get the Times in the dining hall.

Peeler said exclusive distribution of the Times would be “disappointing.”

“I think if they were to buy one newspaper, they should not necessarily provide them all, but at least provide the two opposite views, and I think of The Wall Street Journal and the Times as opposites,” she said.

This young lady is going places. But here’s someone who is happy:

“When I go by Annenberg [Hall] in the morning I’d like to take a glance at what’s happening in the world,” said Philipp W. Grimm ’11. “It lets me feel not so disconnected, stuck in the Harvard bubble.”

Imagine how isolated the place must be if people read the Times to get out of the bubble.

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Michael Segal, Monty Krieger, John Nernoff, Yehuda Spetner, Paul Dyck, Rob Slocum, Bruce Goldman, Chris Bergman, Sean Dougherty, Tom McMahon, Dennis Powell, Steve Feyer, Daniel Foty, Jeff Dobbs, Isaac Hecht, David Bricker, David Rosenberg, Greg Hunter, Dave Undis, George Sturve, Kyle Kyllan, Peter Krupa, Tim Willis, Holly Williams, Peter Iorio, Stewart Seman and Michele Schiesser. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

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