The Breakfast Table

New Jacobin City


Let me lump together a few of the local news themes of our dialogue and offer up a proposal. Call it district jujitsu. So, Congress will defend the archdiocese against any attack by godless D.C. elected officials. And your Metro is threatened by both water and fire; and my bus routes are shrinking. The solution, for a shrewd hometown politician, is clear. First, entice a local bishop to declare the decline in local public transit to be an abomination. Then, have a D.C. official–preferably one with a history of things like AIDS activism that will make him seem especially vile to Oklahomans–decry with appropriate Jacobin anti-clerical bluster any church meddling in transit issues. Voila! Our righteous, righteous friends on the hill will load up the next transit budget with enough money to keep the Orange Line dry and establish bus routes from my front door all the way to San Diego. We’re all happy: The locals get to commute faster, the Oklahomans get to hear how their congressman put a bunch of Washington atheists in their place, and Midwestern voters get to hear George W. Bush tell them how GOP anti-Catholicism is a thing of the past. Bully for all of us!

If your colleagues are having fun with the Fray comments, they should come uptown to have a glance through our letters. I don’t know if you felt the same way during your alt-press tenure, but the mail might be my favorite thing about City Paper. As with the rest of the press, people want to castrate us. Unlike with the rest of the press, they say so, and we print it. And it’s not just goofy charm and blatant vulgarity that makes me like the in-box bile. It’s what it says about our paper. I don’t have a lot of illusions that the contemporary alternative press has The Man shaking in his boots, but the fact that people feel close enough to us to sound hurt and hateful when they disagree with us–or, God forbid, when we make a mistake–makes me want to come in here and make a paper every week. (It also makes me want to never make a mistake again.) Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe you guys just get enough letters so that you don’t have to print the ones, say, where someone compares David Broder’s latest column to a specific autoerotic act, or conjectures about the relationship between George Will’s intestinal anatomy and his political views. What’s the real story? Will you forward me some appropriately hysterical samples?

One of the things we have been getting furious spam mail about lately was a review that trashed The Patriot and suggested that its constituency was the “disgruntled, home-schooling, SUV-buying, pro-militia-but-cautious-suburban-family-values working man.” It just keeps coming: from Minneapolis, from Atlanta, the magic of the Internet. And sifting through the fury, I am fascinated, as ever, by the nexus between pop culture and American history. There’s nothing unusual–dishonest, maybe, but not unusual–about an American revolution for our conservative era. With every generation, we remake our Abraham Lincoln (from Great Plains naif to full-throated defender of liberty to wily pol) and even our Martin Luther King (from attacker of American apartheid to Jeb Bush-style foe of “special privilege”).

With movies, though, at least people notice. Your paper had a smart essaythis morning about how Strom Thurmond, while nobody was watching, re-emerged as America’s charming old uncle. The piece went on to list Uncle Strom’s various acts of infamy: pushing an anti-integration pledge on voters, quitting the “socialistic” Democrats when his segregationist colleagues lost out, etc. Nowadays I think folks think him just another conservative–true enough, since his views are pretty much in the GOP mainstream today, because he’s evolved and so has his party. But if the young’uns (you know, the ones in their 70s) have Strom’s policy views, they sure don’t have his history. It’s worth remembering that.

On the other hand, it took the National Review Onlineto point out the weird thing about a Post storyon George W. Bush’s NAACP speech, where the Texas governor was described as having avoided “explicitly acknowledging his party’s failure to support much of the 1960s-era civil rights agenda”: Republicans supported the major civil rights bills in greater numbers than Democrats.

By the way, did you see the story about the Bombay slum-dwellers, crushed in a mudslide? Every day, a new piece of small-print senseless death. But I don’t think this one backed up traffic.

Hey, Liza, thanks for chatting. I’ve had a really good time doing it. Maybe I’ll ride out and meet you at Ballston station sometime and we can discuss the world further. I’ll bring the galoshes.