Politics & Policy

Yearning for normal, &c.

Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live

Near the end of 2011, I believe, the press had a round of nastiness toward Mitt Romney. (It would not be the last, of course.) I thought, “This is interesting. If Romney is elected president — or any other Republican is elected president — we will see the return of the adversarial press. The adversarial press has been absent during the Obama years. The press has been amazingly tender toward the president. A Republican victory would mark the return of normality.”

The other day, I was looking at some press about Hillary Clinton — pretty tough press, or normal press. And comedians have been joking about her, some of them. I thought, “No matter who is elected next year, we will again have a president whom people treat normally. Even if it’s Hillary, we will be able to criticize the president without the worst of accusations, probably. She will not have the holy aura of Obama.”

Let me explain further what I mean. On the eve of the midterm elections of 2010, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” (In that same interview, McConnell said, “I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.”)

The entire world, or much of the world, freaked out. They acted like McConnell was some dangerous Klansman. Never mind that what he had said was perfectly normal — perfectly normal politics.

The Democrats wanted George W. Bush to be a one-term president — very much so. They worked extremely hard against him. The Republicans wanted Bill Clinton to be a one-term president. The Democrats wanted Bush the Elder to be a one-term president (and succeeded). The Democrats sure as hell wanted Reagan to be a one-term president. They worked extremely hard at it.

This is politics, this is democracy, in a sense. But Barack Obama is treated as a holy object, by the media-academia-entertainment complex (as I term it). Obama himself gives the impression that all criticism of him, and all opposition to him, is illegitimate. Lots of influential people are happy to go along.

I will be glad to see the end of this. After January 2017, we will have something more like good ol’ normality. And Obama, I believe, even if Iran blows up the world, will be canonized.

‐Reading this headline, I didn’t know whether to laugh or sputter: “Diplomacy out, blunt talk in as Obama gets tough on GOP.” (Article here.)

Yup, there’s one group in the world that President Obama is prepared to “get tough” on — not the Castro dictatorship, not the Iranian dictatorship, but the Republican party. (And the Israeli government.)

‐Did you see this? “US senator says it’s time to put a woman on the $20 bill.” (For the article under this headline, go here.) In all my years, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the intrusion of racial and sexual politics on the currency. That’s over.

‐In a recent issue of the magazine — National Review, of course! — I had a piece called “Majoring in Anthro: A lament for a field.” Let me give you the first paragraph, please:

Not long ago, Eric Owens of the Daily Caller wrote an article about the latest antics of the American Anthropological Association. (They were threatening to boycott Israel.) He described anthropology as “the most pathetic college major” whose name “doesn’t end in the word ‘studies.’” This made me grin and wince simultaneously (if such a thing is possible). I thought the remark was funny. I also thought it might be true, and this pained me — for I myself was an anthro major, and I once had great respect, even love, for the field. I still do, in a way. But I know that the field was long ago captured by the flaky Left, to use a shorthand.

I don’t intend to quote, or even recapitulate, the whole piece. If you would like to read it, go here. I just want to add a little, in the following items, or “impromptus” . . .

‐Do you know that Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer, is an anthropologist? He is indeed (Ph.D. from Harvard). So is Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, that conservative organization dedicated to rescuing academia from partisan politics and relentless ideology. Peter taught anthro at Boston U.

In a sense, he and Stanley are refugees from anthropology. They love this field, and excelled in it. But they saw it wrecked before their eyes.

In my piece, I write, “What has happened to anthropology can’t be separated from what has happened to academia as a whole. But anthro may have pride of place, when it comes to political correctness and the corruption of scholarship.”

Stanley told me, “I’ve always bragged that anthropology is the worst of all the disciplines, much worse than English,” despite what Roger Kimball and some other of our conservative friends may say.

I took this up with Roger (the editor of The New Criterion, and the president of Encounter Books). He said he would hate to choose between disciplines. “I’m not sure we have instruments fine enough to discriminate.” He also cited the Samuel Johnson line about “settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.”

‐For my piece, I spoke with Napoleon Chagnon, the “most controversial” anthropologist in the world, as everyone says, and possibly the most famous. He was a legend when I was in college, the author of a monograph called “The Yanomamö: The Fierce People.”

If you would like to get to know Chagnon better, I recommend an interview conducted by my friend Carol Iannone for Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars: Go here.

‐In that interview, Chagnon slams the AAA — the American Anthropological Association — as “an unprofessional and reprehensible organization.” I do some slamming myself, or certainly some describing of that organization. And I definitely slam the AAA’s newsletter, Anthropology News, or AN: “A perusal of Anthropology News . . . is not much different from a perusal of Mother Jones or any other left-wing publication, except that there are extra helpings of self-importance and academic gobbledygook.”

You’ll want to trust me on this. Or, by all means, check it out yourself.

In one issue of AN, the editors published four pieces on the much-debated death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., at the hands of a police officer. But AN is not much for debate, apparently.

One anthropologist wrote of “a violence that is critical in maintaining the privilege that accompanies whiteness.” Another wrote, “We must be critical of how discourses of black violence, chaos and criminality are mobilized to delegitimize black resistance while conferring carte blanche [on] police repression.” Two other anthropologists, writing jointly, said, “Ferguson can be used for our anthropology students as a way to analyze the relationship between contemporary power structures and the trajectories of sociopolitical mobilizations over time.”

And so it went.

Peter Wood took to the pages of Minding the Campus to write of “Ferguson and the Decline in Anthropology.” He said that the pieces published in AN showed what his field “has sunk to.” He lamented “a profound misappropriation of an intellectual discipline,” namely anthropology.

To its great credit, AN republished Wood’s piece. By the time I saw the piece — meaning, on AN’s website — it was accompanied by a most curious editor’s note. Get a load of this:

Peter Wood’s essay generated questions about how and why AN came to re-post it. Dr. Wood is a longstanding member whose essay is highly critical of the discipline of anthropology, of AN, and AN’s decision to publish four articles on Ferguson, racism, and extrajudicial killing; we chose to share that critique. Our use of the term “thanks” was a pro forma recognition that the essay had originally been posted elsewhere.

Did AAA folk object to the word “thanks”? They must have. Amazing.

‐In my piece, I write,

Academia is a minefield in which it is increasingly difficult to say anything without causing an explosion. Recently, a professor unburdened himself of his fears in a piece online, published anonymously, of course. “Personally, liberal students scare the sh** out of me.” If a conservative student complained about him to administration or on social media, he could swat that student away like a fly. “The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip,” and “that’s it,” you’re finished. Anthropology is about human and cultural differences, as well as similarities. It is absolutely studded with mines. How the subject can still be taught at all is semi-miraculous. The pressures of political correctness are intense.

I think of a friend of mine, Arthur Waldron, the China scholar at Penn. Years ago, he offended propriety when he was teaching at Princeton. What happened, what’d he do?

He said that the Korean War started when the North invaded the South — which is like saying that Wednesday follows Tuesday. But our campuses are screwy.

Stephan Thernstrom, the famed historian at Harvard, got into hot water for assigning his students the diaries of slaveowners. He wanted to teach them American history, you see. But they apparently did not want to be taught, or some of them didn’t.

If teaching history is hard, teaching anthropology (properly) is well nigh impossible.

‐I will leave this topic, but one more thing: At the most recent annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, hundreds of members staged a “die-in.” Ah, die-ins! They were popular when I was in college. I thought they may have gone the way of the pet rock and the lava lamp. But, evidently, they endure.

Anyway, hundreds of AAA members lay down on the floor of a hotel lobby — the lobby of the hotel in which their meeting was being held. They were pretending to be dead, in protest of what they regard as a police and broader national war on black Americans.

A statement of the Association of Black Anthropologists begins, “The [ABA] condemns, in no uncertain terms, the ongoing terrorism waged against Black U.S. communities by the state, police, and White vigilantes.” It goes on to say, “These are state-sponsored massacres of our people, massacres enabled by a long history of national and global anti-Blackness.” In short, “we charge genocide.”

Let me quote from my magazine piece:

The charge of genocide — the wholesale murder of a people — is one I heard on my campus in the 1980s. Protesters were incensed by the attempts of the Reagan administration to slow the rate of growth of social-welfare spending. They chanted, “Reagan, Bush, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

Would you like to see a picture of the AAA die-in? Here. Metaphors can be overdone, but the picture is fitting, in that it shows a field flat on its back.

‐Let’s have a little language. As you know, the word “sex” was dropped for “gender” a long time ago. Those of us who favored sex (so to speak) lost out, big-time. That debate is over, I’m afraid.

But . . . I was pleased to see something in this obit of Thelma Coyne Long, an Australian tennis player who died at 96. “She earned the Australian doubles title 12 times, still the record for a player of either sex . . .”

Oh, happiness. Sex is back, baby!

‐A little music? I have two mezzos for you. To read a review of Karen Cargill, a Scotswoman, go here. For a review of Sarah Connolly, an Englishwoman, go here. They both sang Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. And they both sang items from their home Island.

I’ll see you later, and thanks a ton.