The Breakfast Table

Coed Cricket and Faculty Fatwas

Dear Susan:

This morning’s papers bring welcome relief from you-know-what. The Washington Post reports that the Marlyebone Cricket Club finally voted to allow “ladies” to join, shattering 211 years of sexist tradition; enlightened sentiment apparently coalesced with a felt need for a few million pounds in otherwise-unavailable government and corporate grants to make improvements before World Cup championships come to Marlyebone. Once again, the magic of the marketplace comes to the rescue of human rights!

Less welcome news comes from Iran, where two senior Iranian clerics were quoted saying that “the fatwa against the apostate Rushdie … is irrevocable and cannot be changed at any time.” For some reason this reminded me of Hampshire College, where (as related in The Shadow University, a new book by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate) an assistant professor of leftist bent named Jeffrey Wallen almost lost his job in 1989 amid grousing by still-more-leftist colleagues that his teaching was weak on “the Third World Expectation,” and where a 1993 proposal to endorse “the freedom of expression” was voted down by the faculty (26 to 21) after after one professor objected to freedom for “objectionable” views and another (who is now a dean) reminded colleagues that “the First Amendment was written by a rich, white, male slaveowner.” I wonder if Hampshire, or one of our more prestigious politically-correct unversities, has thought of having a course on the multicultural wisdom of the fatwa tradition.

A Post editorial applauds a local government’s prudent decision to drop a proposal to outlaw free-ranging cats by requiring that they be leashed whenever wandering off the owner’s premises. The Post quotes the late, great Adlai Stevenson for the proposition that “it is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming.” Not just cats.

More serious stuff–starting on the front page and consuming two full inside pages–comes from New York Times reporter Jill Abramson, who is not exactly shocked, shocked to find that rich lobbyists are thriving in Washington, raking in big bucks for killing tobacco legislation, slicing up the tax code, funneling money to Democrats and Republicans with power, and other stuff that sounds a lot like old news. There are some worthwhile tidbits if you work your way to the end: Washington is now less the pure power town it used to be and more a money town like New York, experts say. Lobbyists are cluttering the once-peaceful Eastern Shore of Maryland with gaudy estates like the ones that have the old-timer nouveau riche in the Hamptons in a snit at the nouveau nouveau riche; political analyst Kevin Phillips contributes the thought that Washington has become what the Founding Fathers feared, “a capital so privileged and incestuous in its dealings that average citizens believe it is no longer accessible to the general public”; American University now has a course in lobbying; leading Democrats like Al Gore are at least as up-to-their-necks in lobbyist buddies as are the traditional tribunes of the rich, the Republicans (who recently signed up our sponsor, Microsoft Corporation, through one of its executives as a member of Team 100, the party’s $100,000-donor club). Former Congressman Tom Downey, a New York Democrat who came to Washington in 1974 as an idealistic “Watergate Baby,” heads a lobbying firm that brought in more than $2 million last year from the likes of Microsoft, Boeing, and Time Warner (my former sponsor). Rejecting the old you-sold-out guilt trip, Downey is quoted saying, “I do more interesting things now than I did as a member of Congress,” and joking that his large home with the hand-painted dining room mural “looks like one of my fund-raisers should be living in it.” Sort-of-sexually-harassing former Senator Bob Packwood is raking in decent bucks lobbying on tax and trade issue. One point that irate populists like Ralph Nader might ponder is that this phenomenon is fed in part by what the reporter calls the “lean salaries of congressional aides,” which (I would add) are lean in part due to the efforts of populists like Ralph Nader. While pure greed is no doubt the main motivator for some lobbyists, others–who might otherwise stay in the public sector to serve the public interest as they see it–are driven into the arms of the lobbying firms by the understandable desire to make enough money to send their kids to college.

The papers are full of sad stories, as always–Kosovo refugees facing the coming of winter; flood victims losing their homes on the Gulf Coast; a family wrestling on whether to pull the plug on a comatose father; partners at Goldman Sachs giving up the planned public offering that had been expected (back when the markets were hot) to bring them $50 to $125 million apiece–but I skimmed over them quickly to skirt the precipice of depression, and took refuge in my favorite newspaper item of the day: a magazine review by Peter Carlson of the Washington Post.

Carlson reports that Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, had unveiled in the New Yorker the true reason for the persecution of our President: Bill Clinton is black. Explains Morrison: “African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: this is our first black president. Blacker than any black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. [Colin Powell, I would infer, is white.] After all, Clinton displayed almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food loving boy from Arkansas.” Carlson wonders: “What would happen if a white writer published a piece suggesting that poverty, single parenthood and junk-food eating were uniquely black characteristics?” Back to you, Susan.

Best, Stuart