The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, October 14, 2002  

What to Make of William Kristol’s Weekly?

It figures. I go public with a few comments on my sudden appreciation for the Weekly Standard and what happens? They go and screw the whole thing up.

In the three or four weeks since I posted my remarks about the Standard each issue has had at least one or two articles that were seriously disappointing. That’s fine, really. When I subscribed to the magazine I hardly expected to feel great comfort with its ideological bent. I like to read things from across the political spectrum, and the Standard continues to fit the bill in that respect. However, some of the material published in the Standard recently has been more than objectionable from an ideological standpoint, it has been of highly dubious quality. I know putting out a weekly magazine, even a small one, is no easy task, but the Standard is so uneven it’s almost impossible to make a definitive judgment about its value as a journal of opinion.

Let’s begin with Fred Barnes. A Weekly Standard reader can save himself some time by skipping every article Barnes writes, all the more so if the reader is on the mailing list of the Republican National Committee or if he generally keeps up with what Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove are telling, or leaking to, the media. Barnes has one of the easiest jobs in American journalism and he’s not ashamed to let it show. What’s amazing is that no matter how many times someone calls him on it, he keeps at it.

The Sept. 30 edition of the Standard includes a piece by Barnes entitled “Where Incumbents Tremble,” a discussion of the current congressional races in Iowa and the effect, or lack thereof, of the state’s stance against absurd geographical gerrymandering. It’s interesting--it even includes two cool maps--but it sounds spoon-fed.

In the same issue there’s a bilious take on New York gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano by James Higgins, “a partner in a private equity firm in New York.” It’s easily one of the meanest, nastiest, one-sided, and bitter articles I’ve read in years.

David Brooks, a senior editor at the magazine, takes top prize, however, for “The Fog of Peace,” subtitled, “The evasions, distractions, and miasma of the anti-war left.” It’s yet another of those, ahem, standard-issue articles in which the fringes of “the left” are spoken of in a manner that suggests they represent the opinion of mainstream liberals and the Democratic Party.

One surmises from reading this piece that Brooks dusted off his old bound copies of Commentary and applied all of its most shopworn diatribes to anyone to the left of Alan Keyes who has spoken in opposition to, or even skeptically of, waging war against Iraq. It’s not for Brooks to challenge the criticism put forward by a group of 33 first-class academicians. Why bother when there’s easy money to be made attacking the likes of Jane Fonda, Barbara Ehrenreich, Gore Vidal, and Ed Asner?

Brooks pretends to launch an assault against Frances FitzGerald, but he does so before even picking up his sword. His characterization of her article in the New York Review of Books is so reductive as to be insulting, not only to FitzGerald but to any thinking person who read her essay, regardless of whether they agreed with her or not. Brooks clearly is out of his league here.

Yes, Brooks takes a few shots at Noam Chomsky, but who hasn’t? Frankly, I’m no fan of Chomsky, and despite his reputed brilliance, I think he’s an easy mark.

According to Brooks, “the left” today isn’t engaging in a debate against Iraq or about anything else, for that matter. “They are just repeating the hatreds they cultivated in the 1960s, and during the Reagan years, and during the Florida imbroglio after the last presidential election. They are playing culture war, and they are disguising their eruptions as position-taking on Iraq, a country about which they haven’t even taken the trouble to inform themselves,” writes Brooks, who responds to these critics with the same sneering dismissal the neoconservatives have been tossing at their opponents since, oh, around 1973.

I’ve got to hand it to Brooks, though. He ends his article on a powerful note: “demolishing” such highly regarded military strategists as woman-about-town Susan Sontag and bon-vivant playwright Tony Kushner. Please, this is war. Can we be serious now?

The Standard’s next issue, that of Oct. 7, was not much better. The bulk of the magazine was taken up that week by “The Angry Adolescent of Europe,” by Christopher Caldwell, a piece dripping with animosity and parochialism. The descent continued a week later with “The Baghdad Democrats,” by Stephen F. Hayes and an unintentionally--at least I think it was unintentional--hilarious piece on marriage by Joseph Loconte.

Meanwhile, in the front of the book, the section before the feature well, the reader is subjected to, in reverse order, “Casual,” normally a non-political, slice-of-life essay, the latest of these featuring the perpetually grouchy Joseph Epstein mocking adult education and the aforementioned Brooks completely out of his element in South Beach, Miami Beach, Fla., and the “Scrapbook,” a cauldron of juvenile rants presumably directed at whomever that week has drawn the ire of the magazine’s interns, themselves obviously heavily influenced by the mindset on display at Free Republic and

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton make thoughtful statements about U.S. foreign policy, but according to the Standard’s “Scrapbook,” they are “ex-president[s] desperately seeking attention.” One wonders what the Scrapbook’s scribblers would have said about President Richard Nixon’s post-White House career, had they been cognitive adults at the time, of course. Throw in some cheap shots at such heavyweights as Jesse Jackson, Jesse Jackson Jr., Peter Jennings, and Barbra Streisand, and you have a section that reads like the Dartmouth Review, circa 1984.

I can’t help concluding that for those involved in producing this magazine, the entire project is something of an afterthought. I expect better. The Standard has delivered better. If they plan to continue calling it “The Nation’s Foremost Political Weekly,” and be taken seriously while doing so, these guys have a lot of work to do.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |