PETER JENNINGS HAS LONG HAD A grating tendency to demonstrate his intellectualism, often using his anchor's desk as a platform to showcase his supposed erudition. And at no time during the presidential primaries has that pompous proclivity been on clearer display than during Jennings's questioning of the candidates at the January 22 New Hampshire debate.
Of John Edwards, ABC's “World News Tonight” host asked, “[C]ould you take a minute to tell us what you know about the practice of Islam that would reassure Muslims throughout the world who will be listening to you that President Edwards understands their religion and how you might use that knowledge to avoid a confrontation, which ... might indeed end up sending sons and daughters from New Hampshire to war?” However important an appreciation of Islam will be to U.S. foreign policy in the coming years, the question would seem to have little bearing on Edwards's performance in office. After all, it's unlikely that having a Methodist American president explain the meaning of Mohammed's teachings to Muslim fundamentalists would dilute their hatred for the United States, nor, conversely, would his ignorance get the sons and daughters of New Hampshire killed, as Jennings suggested. But, when Edwards, in the course of his understandably rambling answer, conceded, “I would never claim to be an expert on Islam. I am not,” Jennings twisted the knife with his follow-up: “Do you think that we suffer and will suffer at the policy level because we do not know enough about the practice of Islam?”
Having dispatched the North Carolina senator, Jennings set his sights on Al Sharpton, asking him what kind of person a President Sharpton would nominate to chair the Federal Reserve Board and then requesting that Sharpton “maybe just take a minute or so to give us a little bit about your views on monetary policy.” The first part of Jennings's question was fair, and Sharpton flubbed it, going off on a tangent about the International Monetary Fund before being reminded by Jennings that his question had been about the Fed. But the second part of Jennings's question, about Sharpton's views on monetary policy, was beside the point: After all, the last time we checked, the president doesn't set monetary policy.
Finally, Jennings got in a dig at Wesley Clark, asking the general why he did not object when filmmaker Michael Moore, in the course of endorsing Clark at a rally in New Hampshire, accused President Bush of being a “deserter,” which was, Jennings lectured, “a reckless charge not supported by the facts.” But the charge isn't exactly reckless. Bush, as The Boston Globe has established—and as we note in “AWOL,” on page 10—apparently did not show up for a year of his service in the Texas Air National Guard in 1972-1973. And, while Bush's absence probably doesn't earn him the label of “deserter”—which is traditionally applied to someone who flees his post during combat—his spotty attendance would seem to merit Bush a designation of “awol.” Perhaps Jennings should be a little less reckless himself—it's hard to look erudite while showcasing your own ignorance.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF INTIFADA
IDEOLOGY IS NOTORIOUSLY INCAPABLE of describing reality truthfully, which is why its career is regularly marked by disappointment; but sometimes the description is so false that it seems not so much a mistake as a willful misrepresentation based on a dogma or a desire. The recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has provided a textbook lesson in the confounding of progressivism by the particulars of history. How, after all, can the Palestinians, so hallowed on the left, allow their noble anti-Zionist cause, their magnificent road to statehood, to be advanced by such means as suicide bombing—worse, by suicide bombing animated by the supremely regressive spirit of militant Islam? This is not exactly what Fanon had in mind. But it gets worse. Consider the recent horror of Reem Salah Al Reyashi, the 22-year-old mother of two small children, who blew herself and four Israelis to bits at a border crossing in Gaza on January 14. Is this how Palestinian women are supposed to discover their historical agency? (Hamas is turning increasingly to terrorist women because terrorist men are more easily spotted by the Israeli police.) Where is the wrath of the feminists? Then the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot reported that this twisted woman's action had nothing whatsoever to do with historical agency: She was forced to do the deed as penance for an extramarital affair. Strictly speaking, those four Israelis died not in a suicide bombing but in an honor killing. The details are breathtaking. The woman's lover strapped the bomb around her waist, and the woman's husband drove her to the scene. Her family did not set up the customary tent of mourning for her, since her religious and political glory was born of sexual and familial disgrace. Her husband subsequently denied the story of his wife's adultery, praising her as “an honorable woman who sacrificed her life for the sake of Islam and Palestine.” Oh, and as a good mother. Who are these “activists” for whom adultery is more heinous than murder? Is such a mentality not as repulsive, not as much of an obstacle to peace, as an “outpost” on a hill near Nablus? But the progressives of the day, the peace-processors and the road-mappers, the diabolizers of Israel (or—this is the more measured view—of Ariel Sharon), have somehow managed to stifle their disgust.
VERNON ROBINSON HAD A PROBLEM. A black Republican who sits on the city council in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Robinson is running for an open seat in the United States House of Representatives. And, with the campaign slogan, “Jesse Helms is back. And, this time, he's black!” Robinson's candidacy has received a fair amount of attention, garnering endorsements from such conservative luminaries as Bob Barr, Jack Kemp, and Alan Keyes. But, in a crowded, seven-candidate GOP primary, those endorsements only go so far, especially when the man Robinson is battling for the title of most conservative Christian in the race, a Republican businessman named Nathan Tabor, has received endorsements from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell; and Tabor has Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who became the darling of the Christian Right when he erected a two-and-a-half-ton marble monument of the Ten Commandments in the court building's rotunda, campaigning for him.
But Robinson had an ingenious solution. Taking a page from Moore's playbook, he shelled out $2,000 and commissioned his own Ten Commandments monument—this one made of granite and weighing one ton. And, last week, on Martin Luther King Day, Robinson placed the monument—which, in addition to the Ten Commandments, bore the handy label, A PROJECT OF COUNCILMAN VERNON L. ROBINSON—on a walkway in front of the deserted Winston-Salem City Hall. What happened next was entirely predictable: The Winston-Salem city manager, Bill Stuart, had the monument removed; the national press— including NBC's “Today,” National Public Radio, and The New York Times— did stories on the controversy; and Robinson took a step toward becoming a Christian-conservative folk hero. “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS DEBATE MOVES FROM ALABAMA TO NORTH CAROLINA,” reads the headline at the top of the Robinson campaign's website. The only good news came when Stuart decided he would not ask Robinson to reimburse the city the $530 it took to remove the monument. ”I concluded I wasn't going to press the case for the money and instead just let it die,” he said. Stuart obviously hasn't visited Alabama.
This article appeared in the February 9, 2004 issue of the magazine.