Reviewing the Review: June 15 2008

Politics
Not William F. Buckley again.

Please, not another love letter to the late intellectual conservative hero in another New York Times Book Review. I thought I already made it clear how I felt about this. But here goes Jacob Heilbrunn's review of George Will's One Man's America:

When William F. Buckley Jr. died a few months ago, George F. Will, who dedicates "One Man's America" to him, became, perhaps, the right's most enduring elder statesman.

I think I recently made it clear to the NYTBR's editors how I feel about George Will too. But do they listen?

Folks, I do understand that for many modern conservatives William F. Buckley's droll and charismatic visage shines like the signal from a distant lighthouse on a foggy day. I understand that Republican true believers need something to cling to following the wreckage of the Bush/Cheney administration, and I can see why Buckley's witty toughness makes him an attractive beacon. But still, by indulging this William F. Buckley man-crush so often and so relentlessly, the NYTBR editors ignore the concerns and tastes of a large portion of their constituency. Many NYTBR readers, myself included, do not care whether or not America's intellectual conservative/Republican base manages to find its bearings again. I am pretty sure it will, but those of us who are as devoted to liberal and progressive principles as William F. Buckley and George F. Will and Sam Tanenhaus are devoted to conservative principles simply feel left out by this hyperbole.

It's like a few months ago when a conservative friend of mine (with whom I have an ongoing two-year-plus debate on various topics) tried to explain to me the vast, intricate differences between the John McCain wing of the Republican party and the anti-John McCain (say, pro Mitt-Romney) wing of the Republican party, a gulf big enough, he tried to explain to me, to drive an aircraft carrier through. But, I explained to him, I don't care about the difference between the John McCain wing of the Republican party and the Mitt Romney wing of the Republican party because I hope and believe Barack Obama will be our next president. Likewise, I don't care if George F. Will has inherited William F. Buckley's role as "the right's most enduring elder statesman" because I don't think either of these thinkers offer much for America's future.

A large portion of the NYTBR readership would like better representation of political commentators like Noam Chomsky, or Harold Pinter, or Michael Moore, or Samantha Power, or Philip Gourevitch, or Howard Zinn. We don't begrudge any Buckley fans their pleasure in whatever positive message the drawling Yalie offers them, but we wish this influence were not so relentlessly dominant in this important publication. We are also part of the NYTBR's constituency and we are underrepresented in the publication, week after week.

Now ... I'm off to father's day festivities. I promise it's NOT because I'm having a snit-fit about Jacob Heilbrunn's (otherwise good) article about George Will and William F. Buckley that I'm going to skip reviewing the bulk of today's NYTBR. There are some excellent reviews here, and I'm highly satisfied by Robert Macfarlane on Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Will Blythe on a new edition of James Agee's A Death in the Family. A tennis game and a backyard barbecue calls, so I just have to take a summer half-day here. I'll be back in full force next week, I promise!
This article is part of the series Reviewing the New York Times Book Review. The next post in the series is Reviewing the Review: June 22 2008. The previous post in the series is Reviewing the Review: June 1 2008.
10 Responses to "Reviewing the Review: June 15 2008"

by jennifer cuddy on

I hope Barack Obama wins too! But I fear the large dispersion of red states on the map will remain loyal to the right. It is critical that he chooses a strong running mate. Unfortunately, that mate just might be Hillary. Its got to be a tough decision on his part.

I wanted so much for Kerry to win, and even became active in his campaign. I still support his endeavors in the senate. It was a devastating loss.

I beg any Republican Bush supporters out there to view the documentary called 'No End in Sight'.

You wonder…how brilliant people could be so wrong. Then you realize, they’re not wrong; they actually believe what they believe. Reagan, Will, Buckley, Carnegie - it’s not that they oppose union workers, not that they think working-class people don’t serve a purpose. It’s that they don’t think of the working class as human at all. They consider us to be slaves, field animals, of little or no importance except as how we can serve the upper class.

To Reagan, Will, Buckley, Carnegie, the unrefined peasantry has no rights, no humanity, no god-given soul. We are not anything like the blue blood aristocracy. The very rich should have substantial tax cuts so that they can provide jobs for the peasantry. Building multi-million dollar yachts for the wealthy is a good and productive way to spend one’s life, if you’re of the servant class. It’s our function, our reason to be.

If you’re the owner of the media - television, journalism, text books - like the blue bloods are, then it’s easy to keep the peasantry doped with nationalism to the point where they’ll readily die in wars that the rich make huge profits on. Doesn’t matter that some working- class kid died in Iraq for Halliburton (which relocated its financial empire to Dubai). We simply don’t count for much. Oxen die, but you don’t mourn very long if you’re the plantation owner, simply get another ox. Yeah, its money outta yer pocket, but not like one of your kids died, not like something that really matters.

To put this to the test, simply ask one of your Republican friends or relatives what the salary of a public school teacher should be. I.e., why waste tax dollars trying to educate the working class? That same money could’ve been spent on a new suit of clothes, or a luxury booth at the ball park. That’s what we’re worth to the aristocracy.

The right has had political control of our fair nation for 8 long years. What do we have to show for it? War, massive debt and recession. Bring on Obama!

Richard and others -- of course my point here isn't to squelch positive coverage of conservative or Republican points of view in the NYTBR, but just to ask for a similar emphasis of liberal/progressive points of view.

It'd be tempting to discuss the Obama/McCain election here, but that's way beyond the scope of this post. I'm just wishing for the New York Times to live up to its legacy as an important progressive newspaper, a legacy that has been languishing since the build-up to the Iraq War.

by TKG on

NY Times sells its paper. They must know something about the demographics of the readers.

It's ironic that this bastion of the 20th Century left/liberal establishment feels it has to pander to an audience they loathe to keep solvent.

by rubiao on

You should start a new web site dedicated to William Buckley and see which gets more hits. Maybe you could even get George Will to contribute, especially if you sent him your book about baseball.

Levi, perhaps I took my eye off the ball a long time ago, but did the New York Times cease to be a liberal paper at the end of the Mayor Wagner era? Or did it linger on, as a liberal icon, into the '70s? Methinks the '80s took their toll...

Michael, I'm not sure of the answer to that question. I'm sure the editorial board has never been monolithic, even during the Nixon/Vietnam era. But in my opinion the first real disgrace at the NY Times was the failure to critique the justification for the Iraq War in 2003. I have no idea whether or not the politics of the NYTBR are related to this larger problem, though. As I've written before, I tend to think the two things are unrelated. I think Tanenhaus was named the NYTBR editor for his "Vanity Fair cachet", and I think Tanenhaus's nostalgic political tastes were an unintended consequence of the package deal. But I have no inside info here -- I really don't know anything beyond what I see in print.