Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fact Checking "The Point."

The upshot of two recent “Points” were fair enough: the U.S. invasion of Iraq received mixed reviews from the governments of Europe and race shouldn’t determine who represents us in Congress.

Okay, fair enough, Mark. But let’s make sure we’ve got our facts straight and our inferences on solid ground.

In his commentary citing a study by two German graduate students of the reaction of European governments to the U.S. unilateral invasion of Iraq, Hyman says that part of the reason eastern European governments were more likely to be supportive was the fact that “America had freed eastern Europe from Soviet domination.”


I guess I missed those victory parades with G.I.’s marching through the streets of Warsaw and Prague.

Certainly, the U.S. used diplomatic, military, and ideological resources to help end Communism in Europe. But to claim that the U.S. “freed” eastern Europe ignores so many other factors that it is beyond merely a distortion of history. It’s a flat out revision. A short list of those who Hyman ignores in this sweeping generalization includes Mikail Gobechev, Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, our NATO allies, Soviet and Eastern Bloc dissidents, and the people of the countries themselves (not to mention Hyman’s favorite “French convict,” George Soros, who literally spent a fortune of his own money to help foster democracy in the Eastern Bloc).

The study Hyman cites concludes that the main reason Eastern European governments voiced support for the U.S. invasion was the fact that they were weaker countries that were much more dependent on the U.S. for their military and economic wellbeing.

Whether Hyman’s addition of the gratitude for freedom is his own conclusion or one made by the researchers isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that it doesn’t make much sense. If gratitude were an important motivating factor, there’s no reason the governments of eastern Europe would feel such warm and fuzzy feelings for the U.S., but the citizens of those same countries not to. As Hyman admits, the U.S. invasion was derided throughout the entirety of Europe by the people of both eastern and western countries.

In his next editorial, Hyman starts off by decrying the racial tensions in New York’s 11th Congressional district, where several black candidates are vying for the seat, along with a white Jewish candidate. Hyman is particularly incensed by the idea that some have voiced concern that this traditionally black district might be represented by a white Congressman.

But in the end, Hyman veers into New York Times bashing. Saying that the story only received mention on page 5 of the Times, Hyman says that if the races were reversed and the state were Texas or Tennessee, the public talk of racially appropriate representation would be national news.

Now, the idea that a white Jewish candidate shouldn’t represent a heavily black district is certainly silly. And in any case, that’s why we have primaries and elections. If the man isn’t the right person, the people of the district will make the decision. After all, it should be their decision alone to make.

But Hyman’s race-reversal analogy is yet another case of ignoring relevant historical facts.

It’s understandable that many African Americans are sensitive about preserving their current seats in Congress. I think it has something to do with the whole chattel slavery thing, along with the systematic disenfranchisement of voting rights well into the 1960s, not to mention the continuing stealth disenfranchisement that still continues.

Add to this the fact that African Americans are still underrepresented in Congress (including only having a single member of the Senate), and you can understand why fears of losing a traditionally African American Congressional seat are both more understandable and excusable than the hypothetical situation Hyman conjures up of racist whites objecting to being represented by a black person.

Yes, the idea that a congressional district should be semi-officially sanctioned as a race specific seat is obscene, but the underlying concerns that have led some to embrace this bad idea are not.

And it’s not any more objectionable than the politically motivated redistricting (re: gerrymandering) that has gone on in Texas as a way of securing more GOP members of the House, a move so cynical and undemocratic that it makes Al Sharpton look positively Washingtonian by comparison.

Lastly, what is it with the ultra right and the New York Times? In the end, it’s the Gray Lady, not racial politics, that Hyman targets. And the events of the last week have shown what asinine levels of hyperbole conservatives can reach when it comes to attacking the Times. All this despite the fact that the New York Times coverage of the lead up to the Iraq invasion amounted to cheerleading for the Bush administration.

I’ve decided that finding a rational answer to this puzzle is a nonstarter. For those who’ve chosen to live beyond the borders of the reality-based community, there doesn’t need to be any logical reason for it. I’ve started to think of New York Times bashing as some sort of bizarro neo-con Apostle’s Creed—something that is voiced for the sake of reiterating membership in a particular community of believers.

And just as I mouthed the words to the Creed in church when I was a kid without really knowing or caring much about the exact content of what I was saying, I think a lot of conservatives just instinctively jabber away about the evil of the New York Times, not because they have any real argument against it, but simply because . . . well . . . that’s what they do.

At any rate, certainly the New York Times, along with the ACLU, academics, and John Kerry, takes its place among the Hyman’s repetitive litany of enemies he must denounce regularly and often to satisfy his dark neo-con gods.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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