November 15, 2004

William Safire Off the Op-Ed Page

Joshua Micah Marshall writes that William Safire is retiring from the New York Times op-ed page:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: November 14, 2004 - November 20, 2004 Archives:Safire to exit OpEd page early next year. It's not a day for criticism, I guess There were many good days in the past, no doubt. But in the last year the mendacity has just been overwhelming. There's no other way to put it. Who will replace him? Hopefully, someone smart and outside the box. If I had my druthers I'd pick Chris Caldwell. But perhaps there are others I'm not thinking of. Who has other suggestions?

Well, how about Joshua Micah Marshall. Far superior to Chris Caldwell along every dimension...

And it is too a day for criticism. It is important to remember that, as far as Safire is concerned, the mendacity was always there--there from the beginning. Consider this passage from this passage from William Safire's Before the Fall :

...The motorcade rolled into San Jose with the advance car of photographers shooting back at the President's limousine.... I was in the next to last bus, and could hardly believe what I saw. Obscene signs were nothing new, and the chant of "One, two, three, four, we don't want your fuckin' war" had long since lost its shock value; demonstrators had plagued both parties since the late 1960s.... Ordinarily, they worked their disruptive schtick in groups of 20 or 30, popping up in an otherwise friendly crowd, but that night in San Jose was different.

Slowing down as we approached the civic auditorium, we were teated to the screams, howls, and roars of the representatives of the outer fringes of the counterculture. A screamer would look in our windows, lock onto one person's gaze, yell an oath, and make a gesture with arm or middle finger. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, faces contorted, worked up into a froth of hatred, doing everything a body can do with voice and gesture to express loathing and disgust. This was a lynch mob, no cause or ideology involved, only an orgy of generalized hate....

Their plan was to throw only epithets on our way in; a more serious onslaught was reserved for later. Inside the hall, five thousand tense and worried supporters made up the auditorium "rally"; Senator George Murphy and Governor Ronald Reagan spoke to warm them up, but even before the President came on, the sound of a battering ram was heard. The hall was actually, not figuratively, besieged; the demonstrators outside envisioned it as a drum to beat upon; the staff, after a few nervous self-assurances that this kind of thing only helped our cause, began to worry about getting out safely with the President. The people in that hall, ourselves included, were at once defiant and fearful, a state which is at the least a tribute to the success of the mob's attempted intimidation. The Secret Servic emen, who always had seemed too numerous and too officious before, now seemed to us like a too-small band of too-mortal men.

Let the President describe the scene, from the reading copy of the speech he gave on the subject a few days later....

Thursday night in San Jose, I spoke to a crowd of 5,000 fine Americans. They were exercising their right to assemble peaceably, to listen to political speakers, to weigh the issues in the campaign of 1970.

Outside the hall, a mob of about a thousand haters gathered. We could see the hate in their faces as we drove into the hall, and in the obscene signs they waved. We could hear the hate in their voices as they chanted their obscenities. Inside the hall, we could hear them pounding on the doors as if they could not bear the thought of people listening respectfully to the Governor of the State of California, the Senior Senator from California, and the President of the United States.

Along the campaign trail we have seen and heard demonstrators. But never before in this campaign was there such an atmosphere of hatred. As we came out of the hall and entered the motorcade, the haters surged past the barricades and began throwing rocks. Not small stones--large rocks, heavy enough to smash windows. And not just directed at me, though some hit the Presidential car--most of the rocks hit the buses carrying the Press and my staff, as well as the police vehicles....

Some say that the violent dissent is caused by the war in Vietnam. It is about time we branded this line of thinking--this alibi for violence, for what it is--pure nonsense. There is no greater hypocrisy than a man carrying a banner that says "peace" in one hand while hurling a rock or a bomb with the other hand....

The San Jose police had driven the demonstrators away from the doors of the auditorium and out of the official parking place. The motorcade was parked in a circle, much like that of a wagon train under siege, with the inside of the circle secured by motorcycle cavalry and the outside left to the savages.... The President came out and did his usual thing--climbed atop the car and wiggled the V sign to his cheering supporters and the cameras behind them.

The Nixon people ringing the car... were not the only ones who hollered at his signal. A reaction of fury and spleen was heard from outside the ring of buses in the parking lot. One reporter, Martin Schram of Newsday, said he heard the candidate "in a low, angry voice to a nearby confidant" say, "That's what they hate to see." This murmured remark, overheard by one reporter and by no other reporter or aide there at the time, amid shouts and jeering and cheering, became the basis of a point of view of many of those covering the event: that the President taunted the demonstrators into violence. The reponsibility for the attack, under this theory, was not so much the antiwar militants', but that of the President, who led them into rock-throwing in order to cast himself in a sympathetic role, and to focus public anger on the youthful dissidents...

Here's what Nixon Chief-of-Staff H.R. Haldeman's campaign diary says about the event:

Haldeman:Thursday, October 29, 1970

The rough one [campaign trip]--Chicago, Rockford, Rochester, Omaha, and San Jose, with an added speech at his [President Nixon's] initiative in Chicago for the Junior League at breakfast.

San Jose turned into the real blockbuster. Very tough demonstrators shouting "1-2-3-4-etc." on the way into auditorium. Tried to storm the doors after we were in, and then really hit the motorcade on the way out. We wanted some confrontation and there were no hecklers in the hall, so we stalled departure a little so they could zero in outside, and they sure did. Before getting in car, P[resident Nixon] stood up and gave the V signs, which made them mad. They threw rocks, flags, candles, etc. as we drove out, after a terrifying flying wedge of cops opened up the road. Rock hit my car, driver hit brakes, car stalled, car behind hit us, rather scary as rocks were flying, etc., but we caught up and all got out. Bus windows smashed, etc. Made a huge incident and we worked hard to crank it up, should make really major story and might be effective.

After arrival in San Clemente, P[resident Nixon] went home, then kept calling with ideas about how to push the line. Then called and asked, "How are things at your place?" I said fine and started to talk. He interrupted and said we're having a fire here. Laughed and said house had caught fire from his den fireplace. Told me to come on over. Place full of smoke, hoses, firemen, and water. Not too much damage. P[resident Nixon] took me in his bedroom (he was padding around the patio in pajamas, slippers, and weird bathrobe when I arrived), said there was no problem. it was full of smoke. I could hardly breathe. He said he loved smoke and would sleep there. I talked him into the guest house. We went over there, had a beer, and talked about the day. Finally to bed about 1:00.

A really weird day, especially the last parts of it. He was very tired, but in great humor. Pulled down his pajamas and showed me horrible bruise on his thigh from motorcade in Rochester.

"wanted some confrontation." "no hecklers in the hall, "stalled departure... so they could zero in outside," "rather scary... a huge incident and we worked hard to crank it up, should make really major story and might be effective." Afterwards Haldeman and Nixon are happy because they had successfully taunted the demonstrators into violence and led them into rock-throwing in order to cast Nixon in a sympathetic role.

Safire, meanwhile, is outraged, outraged! that some of the press called it as they saw it--and as Nixon and Haldeman did it. Safire insinuates that Martin Schram of Newsday is a liar: Schram "said he heard the candidate" but "no other reporter or aide there at the time, amid shouts and jeering and cheering" did so.

Never forget that the mendacity was there at the beginning.

Posted by DeLong at November 15, 2004 11:26 AM | TrackBack

It is becoming a Third Man, Graham Greene kind of world. I can here the music and wonder if they will waltz in bombed out Fallujah after this war...

Posted by: AllenM at November 15, 2004 11:33 AM

Turmoil in Ivory Coast: Once Again, Things Fall Apart

Long after the precolonial gold city of Timbuktu faded from glory and Dakar's status as the capital of French West Africa expired, even after Monrovia's cosmopolitanism crumbled and the lights went out of Lomé's once thriving nightlife, there was Abidjan.

Ivory Coast's largest city and commercial center, Abidjan was a port and a destination for millions of West African strivers. For more than 30 years after independence, Ivory Coast's autocratic founding president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, kept the doors wide open to French business interests and turned the country into the world's largest cocoa exporter. The towering Hôtel Ivoire, overlooking the steamy lagoons that course through the city, was a symbol of the aspirations of a modern West African republic.

Today, just over a week after clashes erupted between pro-government protesters and French troops, French citizens continue to leave Abidjan by the thousands, at a cost of more than $5.9 million to their government, according to Paris. Incinerated remains of shops and houses dot the city. A jailbreak in the city's main prison let loose as many as 4,000 hardened criminals. The failure of a peace accord reached last year has left the door open to a new round of war between the government of President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebels who control the country's northern half.

Perhaps most worrying of all, ethnic tensions between the peoples of north and south make the country's reunification a daunting challenge.

More and more, Abidjan looks as though it is going the way of Kinshasa, Congo's onetime boomtown, whose tree-lined boulevards and hulking skyscrapers have lately surrendered to the tropical mold.

Indeed, scenes from Abidjan over the past week looked uncomfortably familiar to Hervé Ludovic de Lys, a native of Mali who was working for an American-financed aid project in Kinshasa in 1991, when an army-led pillage of that city prompted evacuations of foreigners.

'In a matter of weeks, Kinshasa was emptied of all its expatriate community,' said Mr. de Lys, now the Dakar-based West Africa regional chief of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 'It's never fully recovered.'

The fires that engulf Abidjan today threaten not just Ivory Coast. In a region of porous borders, contested natural resources and a surplus of guns and gunmen, no conflicts are self-contained. Virtually all Ivory Coast's neighbors are vulnerable.

After more than a decade of bloodshed, Liberia and Sierra Leone have settled into a hard-won peace but still struggle with the problem that fueled conflict in the first place, namely a generation of frustrated young men to whom war signals economic opportunity. To the north, Guinea simmers with political and ethnic tensions. Former fighters in Liberia interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had been solicited to fight in Guinea both for and against the repressive government of President Lansana Conté.

It would surprise no one in the region if Liberian and Sierra Leonean veterans were lured now into Ivory Coast's conflict. Despite millions invested to demobilize child soldiers in Sierra Leone and Liberia, economic prospects remain dim for young men across the region.

The fighting in Ivory Coast 'could really pull in these roving combatants who, despite significant efforts to incorporate them back into society in Liberia and Sierra Leone, still feel there would be economic gain,' said Corinne Dufka, the West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch. 'They are lured by the short-term promise of whatever benefits they can get from looting.'

Last week, on the Liberia-Ivory Coast border, a new act opened in the long-running drama of West Africa's refugee crisis. The United Nations refugee agency reported that 6,000 to 10,000 Ivoirians, many of them women and children, had begun piling into flimsy fishing boats and crossing a narrow river into Liberia. Veterans of the region's unending conflict, they told United Nations workers that they did not want to wait until full-scale fighting broke out and the river became impassable.

Posted by: anne at November 15, 2004 11:45 AM

As Anne just reminded me, they don't tend to waltz much without decent music. Africa plus ca change...

I think Lawrence would recognize Iraq as the scene in Damascus upon winning the war in the Hejaz and Palestine...

Posted by: AllenM at November 15, 2004 11:54 AM

The title of the sad article on the Ivory Coast should bring to mind the excellent Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart.

Posted by: anne at November 15, 2004 12:05 PM

Too bad they are letting that creep safire keep his awful language colume- what a mix of idiocy and prigishness that is! It's as bad as his op-ed writing.

Posted by: Matt at November 15, 2004 12:12 PM

Will Safire teated to the screams. Yummy.

Posted by: Contrary Mary at November 15, 2004 12:15 PM

From this morning's "Sydney Morning Herald" coverage of Falluja: "The interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, has said he does not believe any civilians were killed in the offensive."

A Graham Greene kind of world indeed.

Posted by: Steve at November 15, 2004 12:27 PM

The French Are Snared, but This Struggle Is Ivoirian

DAKAR, Senegal - The news reports streaming out of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's once shining metropolis, seem like a throwback to a bygone era: white men and women cowering in their homes, black men and women rampaging through the streets, European soldiers swooping down in helicopters and plucking Europeans to safety.

It could have been Congo, circa 1964, when Belgian paratroopers swooped down on the Congo River town of Stanleyville, now Kisangani, to evacuate terrified Europeans during a nationalist rebellion.

There has never been any Algeria-like struggle against French colonialism in Ivory Coast, nothing even approaching the nationalist movements in Congo to shake off Belgian rule. In any case, the so-called Young Patriots who have led the violent demonstrations against the French in Abidjan this week were, for the most part, born well after independence from France was achieved more than 40 years ago.

Yet the weight of history is being used as a potent weapon to rally popular sentiment for the sitting president, Laurent Gbagbo, and against the former colonial ruler, which government supporters accuse of supporting Mr. Gbagbo's rebel foes. "Thank you for having brought failure to Jacques Chirac's coup d'état," the fiery pro-government leader, Charles Blé Goudé, announced on state television, according to Reuters, in a message directed at the pro-Gbagbo mobs that surrounded the president's house on Monday.

But the hostility toward the French obscures a greater issue: the real identity politics that is driving the conflict in Ivory Coast. That is a contest that pits African against African, ethnic groups from the north against ethnic groups from the south, landowners against migrant workers who want to be landowners.

Like so many conflicts in West Africa, the one in Ivory Coast is in large part a contest for the country's most valuable asset: the land on which cocoa is grown. Making it particularly entrenched are issues that were never fully resolved at independence: Who is a citizen of Ivory Coast, who can rule, who can own land?

Those were the underlying issues when an 18-month cease-fire between northern rebels and the government in the south was quashed last Thursday after Mr. Gbagbo's military began bombing rebel-held towns. Matters took a sharp turn for the worse on Saturday when Ivoirian planes bombed a French base near the northern town of Bouake, killing nine soldiers and an American civilian. France retaliated by destroying much of the country's military air assets.

The attack on the French base swiftly altered the story line. French troops that had been in the country to monitor a buffer zone between government- and rebel-held territories now became ensnared in the war itself. French officials called the air raids on the French base deliberate.

Posted by: anne at November 15, 2004 01:11 PM

Steve - re the civilian casualties in Falluja, look at this article in Sunday's Guardian.,2763,1350926,00.html

Posted by: Andrea at November 15, 2004 01:19 PM

Safire: the smiling lying face of the Right wing noise machine.
Novack: the scowling lying face of the Right wing noise machine.
Brooks: the smirking lying face of the Right wing noise machine.

Message to Little Russ. It is ok to disapprove of your fathers vote for Nixon in 72. Until the nation does, America will no heal.

My only questions is, when are we going to Mars Mr President?

Posted by: Nemesis at November 15, 2004 01:21 PM

Safire: the smiling lying face of the Right wing noise machine.
Novack: the scowling lying face of the Right wing noise machine.
Brooks: the smirking lying face of the Right wing noise machine.

Message to Little Russ. It is ok to disapprove of your fathers vote for Nixon in 72. Until the nation does, America will not heal.

My only questions is, when are we going to Mars Mr President?

Posted by: Nemesis at November 15, 2004 01:22 PM

Safire: the smiling lying face of the Right wing noise machine.
Novack: the scowling lying face of the Right wing noise machine.
Brooks: the smirking lying face of the Right wing noise machine.

Message to Little Russ. It is ok to disapprove of your fathers vote for Nixon in 72. Until the nation does, America will not heal.

My only questions is, when are we going to Mars Mr President?

Posted by: Nemesis at November 15, 2004 01:22 PM

Safire, Novak, Will, and Buchanan were all Republican operatives before becoming pundits. They were, I suspect, all hired around 1980-2 in response to the need for "balance" in the SCLM. 24 years ago. They all have continued to function as operatives, all at a high level except Buchanan (since he fell out of favor with the Republicans). To my knowledge there are no Democratic operatives at that level; Estrich and Stephanopolous bend over more than backward to avoid accusations of bias.

This nightmare has been going on for a long time.

Posted by: John Emerson at November 15, 2004 01:40 PM

I've always liked Monica Crowley, if they are going to go with another conservative. I don't know THAT much about her, but when I have seen her, she's seemed smart (which she is; she has a PhD from Columbia) and reasonable, while also being personable. Besides that, it might be nice to have a more serious female voice on the page. I stopped reading Dowd's stuff regularly a while ago, but when I recently caught a column, I saw that little had changed. She's definitely smarter than most people give her credit for, but her style doesn't seem to mesh well with such a high level of shrillness, at least when dealing with such serious topics (e.g. war versus hummers in the Oval Office.)

As for my suggestion, why not Brad DeLong? I'm surprised you didn't get to replace Krugman for his two-month break. You'd match him in quality, no doubr, but you would also drive Don Luskin absolutely apeshit.

Posted by: Brian at November 15, 2004 01:46 PM

William Safier began writing for the New York Times in 1973.

Posted by: lise at November 15, 2004 01:47 PM

More proof the war is now lost.

Since we have re-taken the city of Fallujah (somewhat)

the "insurgency" or wide-spread revolution has now spread. By giving the enemy months to prepare...the revolt has now jumped-start and spread to:

MOSUL (armed bands of men patrol the city. It is now govermentless, see what happens when you move the Brit soldiers out?)
RAMADI (Armed men have now taken over, no US patrols, only revolutionaries)
SAMARRA (same)
TAL AFAR( A province near Syrian border)
BAGDAD (Pitched battles and many neighborhoods are overwhelmed)

*this is being reported on international news services. You won't hear that on US news shows, That is verboten. This is the Tet offensive a la 2nd term Bush. Please tell me how we 'win' this war now. It is a losing affair. Elections will not happen, except a 'Florida-style'... Not enough troops even to keep control of capital Bagdad - Powell jumps ship just in time.

Posted by: Dave S. at November 15, 2004 01:48 PM

Why do I have the feeling that some of you might have been in that parking lot back then.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan at November 15, 2004 02:21 PM

Safire, Buchanan, Colson; they were all tainted
by association with the evil Nixon.

Posted by: SEC Overreach at November 15, 2004 02:29 PM

To John Emerson: Novak and Will, at least, have been around as pundits for a very long time before "1980-82" Novak was cowriting a column with moderate Rowland Evans in the 1960s. (Thanks to Evans, the tone of their column was dinstinctly different then; I remember one 1970 "Esquire" article by them on Bill Buckley that described "three young YAF members lining up at a podium to denounce liberalism with all the individuality of Huey, Dewey and Louie.")

And Will first started writing for National Review in early 1973 (after working for Sen. Gordon Allott of Colorado, admittedly) -- and instantly made his reputation by devoting his NR column, from the very beginning, to fiery denunciations of Nixon's "clearly criminal" Watergate behavior and demands (in early 1973!) that he resign. (He also took a tolerant attitude toward the Democrats' insistence that we pull out of Vietnam completely by then.) He got fired from NR in late 1974 for that -- but that business established his nationwide image as a conservative who was not a mindless toady of the GOP, an image on which he's cashed in with enormous success ever since. (Newsweek hired him the moment NR fired him.) Nor should we forget that -- while he had dinner with the Reagans -- he frequently made pointed denunciations of Ron's deficit-spending spree. ("The public popularity of Reagan's brand of conservatism stems from the fact that he's offering the American people a dollar's worth of government for 75 cents worth of taxes, with the rest being borrowed... Reagan is frequently described as a 'Great Communicator'. Well, if I stand on my porch and yell to the neighborhood kids, 'Let's all go out for pizza!', I'll draw a big and enthusiastic crowd too, but it won't make me a great communicator."

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 15, 2004 02:33 PM

And to Patrick: why do I have the feeling that you might have been advising Haldeman?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 15, 2004 02:34 PM

Safire seems does seem to lend his master's voice to the Times column. His relentless insistence of the connections between Iraq and the terrorists for instance.

The Nixon story is consistent with what I have read other places, also shown in the movie The Weather Undrground- rentable. The movie vividly illustrates Nixon's successful use of the anti-war movements and his juxtaposition of them against his campaign- to his benefit. One of the take-aways I had from the movie is the increased sophistication of state sanctioned violence, now as well as the increased complicity of the media now. They all seemed relatively novice at the time, a member remarking that they all thought they would be caught in no time- since the cops on the TV shows always got their man....And an FBI agent remarking how elusive they were---couldn't be caught in the usual way- by staking out grandma's 50th birthday party and nabbing them as they walked fresh-faced up to the door with a present. (Though Frich's telling of the technical prowess of the FBI in the 911 hearings seemed as absurd). I think the movie comments are slightly uneven on the violence enacted by the group. It's interesting though.

Posted by: arlee at November 15, 2004 04:07 PM

While it's unclear whether to ascribe this to mendacity or simple stupidity, one should also note that one of Safire's first columns after going to work for the NY Times was a parody of "Gunga Din" in which he indignantly announced that there was no doubt whatsoever that John Dean's testimony was nothing but lying attempts to smear "a far finer man that you are, Johnny Dean."

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 15, 2004 04:27 PM

Split the column : one day by Taki, the next day by Abraham Foxman.

That was Safire in a nutshell, anyway.

Posted by: SoLongBillWeKnewYaToWell at November 15, 2004 04:53 PM

Yeah, I didn't get Josh's ingenuousness either. I guess he's too young to remember when Safire flacked for Nixon.

Now that we have Nixon redux he can retire...

Posted by: larry birnbaum at November 15, 2004 05:02 PM

Overall I find Safire despicable, but it should be noted that he can be pretty good on civil liberties. (Can't remember if he changed after 9-11, but at least before 9-11 he was good on that particular issue.)

Posted by: liberal at November 15, 2004 05:19 PM

liberal, on that one he remained steadfast. He is very anti-Patriot Act.

Posted by: Linkmeister at November 15, 2004 05:51 PM

"He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone ..."

Posted by: A. Zarkov at November 15, 2004 08:07 PM

Duck, Zarkov! Here comes Bush's first rock!

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 16, 2004 12:29 AM

Egads-- the rock of ages!

Posted by: A. Zarkov at November 16, 2004 12:47 AM

Patrick Sullivan wrote:

"Why do I have the feeling that some of you might have been in that parking lot back then[?]"

Uh, because you're an asshole, I suppose.

Posted by: Davis Leonardson at November 16, 2004 07:55 AM