The Breakfast Table


Dear Susan:

Your tale of the picketing of Paramount for racial incorrectness is reminiscent of the periodic efforts–which for all I know have been successful by now–to purge The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from all school reading lists. The complaint seems to be that Jim, Huck’s black friend and traveling companion, who is the most admirable figure in the book, is referred to by various racist whites in an epithet that has taken on such a hateful connotation that I dare not spell it lest I be picketed too. The message of the book, and its quality as literature, don’t matter to the PC censors; That Word is forbidden, so the book has to go. Perhaps it has been replaced in school curricula by the works of people like Toni Morrison, explaining stuff like how President Clinton is being persecuted for being black.

Huck himself had a line at the beginning of the book (a first-person narrative), describing his creator Mark Twain, that I have adopted as the highest standard of honesty that a cockeyed optimist in today’s America might ever hope to find in a viable presidential candidate: “There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.”

How about the old cartoon classic Dumbo? It was one of my favorites as a kid, much as I tired of people comparing my ears to those that enabled the elephant to fly. But it’s got some scenes that seem racially insensitive (remember those singing crows?), scenes that I would be uncomfortable showing to my kids’ friends. Maybe they could do a remake without the crows. Maybe they already have.

As to the high price of National Journal, I suspect it has something to do with the facts that much of our circulation is concentrated within about a one-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol, that few of our subscribers pay out of their own pockets, and that some of them are the same people who appropriated other people’s money to buy those $600 toilet seats and the B-1 Bomber. What was the old Econ 101 concept of inelastic demand? More seriously, National Journal has a long tradition of something increasingly hard to find in any other publication that comes to mind: in-depth analysis of tough national policy issues, like how to save Social Security, that can be trusted to be fact-based, nonpartisan, and not slanted by ideological agendas. (Unfortunately, some of our readers think that new arrivals including me have detracted from that quality by writing columns of opinion with which they disagree.) No mass-circulation publication I can think of comes close to doing that, presumably because there’s not a mass market for what National Journal does. The smaller the market, the higher the price has to be to pay the people who write the stuff.

Sorry I can’t shed any light on today’s Monica document dump. At this stage, it’s easier to let the newspapers filter out the most interesting new stuff–THAT they do pretty well–than to comb through it all myself. In general, I think that 98 percent of the most important evidence Starr had on the whole Monica business–both inculpatory and exculpatory–was probably in the main body of his report, which was made public Sept. 11 and published verbatim by major newspapers next day. The buzzing about each new document dump, and the leaking in advance, reflect some combination of media pretense that what’s new is what’s important and of interested parties spinning. This doesn’t mean that the public already knows the evidence well enough to reach an informed judgment on the impeachment issue. Very few people have read the most important parts of Starr’s report: the evidence of the scope of the lying and witness-tampering and other coverup activity, not the cigar stuff). Even fewer have read it closely enough to understand how it all fits together. In this, as in many things, the most important evidence is hidden in plain view, while the media are off chasing titillating trivia and other matters of marginal relevance. And, of course, we have not heard much yet from the defense, other than diversionary attacks on Starr and on Republican partisanship. But I imagine that if the president had a decent defense on the merits, we’d have heard it by now.

Alas, I can’t seem to entice you into proposing our first female president. Maybe I can goad you. How about Phyllis Schlafly?

Best, Stuart