The Frank Rich Syndrome

Sunday, September 12, 2010 10:59 PM

Thank God for air conditioning. A scorching Labor Day weekend found me homebound, doing research on New York Times columnist, Mr. Frank Rich. Unlike most of my conservative acquaintances, I love the New York Times. Just stay off the op-ed pages. The newspaper is full of informative articles and interesting features. We all know that. Simply put, I don't let the op-ed pages spoil my day. In truth, sometimes a guest op-ed makes my day. Great thinkers are delighted to share their ideas. An interesting book might be compiled, devoted strictly to those guest op-eds.

The in-house crew is another matter, with the exception of Maureen Dowd, for whom I have a soft spot. Some of her columns ridiculing and satirizing the Cheney-Bush co-presidency are priceless, over-the-top. The dauphin, Rummy, Wolfie, the Neocons and the dark-sided Regent, the madman Cheney, and that unfortunate nonentity, Condi Rice. What a cast of malfeasant, misfeasant, mendacious characters. What material to work with! To her credit, Dowd made the most of this unseemly spectacle while it lasted, and did not take herself too seriously. 

Alas, then came the inevitable blowback, when folks were desperate to escape the horror of war, arrogance, and a mismanaged economy. So desperate in fact that they voted for the mystery man and boy wonder, Barack Obama, who has turned out to be a dud. It was either that, or the Cheney-Bush surrogate, crackbrain McCain. Anyway, I am not familiar with Frank Rich, because I never read him until now. 

It appears that Frank Rich infuriates many people on the Right. He targets any moving object on their side of the political divide. This seems to be his life's work. At the moment, anyway. He used to be the chief theatre and film critic for The Times. He has since been given the role of in-house "progressive" Democrat. He's there to provide a warm bath for readers who think progressively. 

Let's take a central issue of contention. Was Frank Rich for or against the launching of the war in Iraq? To his credit, he was against it. Or at least skeptical, as this pre-war column of September 14th, 2002 entitled "Never Forget What?" demonstrates. (Down the hall, the notorious Judy Miller was conspiring with the Neocon cabal at the Pentagon known as The Lie Factory to make sure that the war was launched on schedule.) In the run-up to the invasion, Rich was on the radar screen, asking the right questions. But why? Was it simply that Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney were for him loathsome Republicans? Was that it? 

In view of Rich's subsequent, well-suited career as the in-house Lefty, one wonders if Rich would have given an establishment Democratic warmonger-enabler, say like Hillary Clinton, more slack and less scrutiny. Rich went on to write a book about Bush Jr. and "Operation Iraqi Freedom", which was published in 2006. The theatrical aspects of the whole dishonest affair were highlighted. Of course, it does not take a genius to recognize a debacle. 

In certain ways, Frank Rich reminds me of my old friend, Professor Stephen Graubard, who was the erudite editor of Daedalus for many years. Daedalus is the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Stephen wrote an excellent but forgotten book about George Sr., entitled Mr. Bush's War, in which Bush Sr. is lambasted for resorting to war in response to Saddam Hussein's 1990 annexation of Kuwait. Remember that episode? 

The fake-state of Kuwait was a lost province of Iraq; a hectoring, unctuous Margret Thatcher demanded that George "not go wobbly" because the world might spin off its axis. The British Empire borders of the Middle East had to remain sacrosanct. Bush and his major-domo/Secretary of State, James Baker III, ran with it. I certainly shared Professor Graubard's anti-war outlook at that time, but it was not clear to me why he felt so strongly. His opposition to war did not seem grounded on history, but on personalities. 

We exchanged letters on this topic and others, and I sent him a preliminary draft of my book, which he wrote he found "immensely interesting" although he disagreed with much of it. I concluded in the end that Stephen, as a "progressive" Democrat, just could not stomach George H.W. Bush. Fine. I always said that Reagan's biggest mistake was his very first one, picking  H.W. as his running mate. 

Professor Graubard is a consummate intellectual, a Harvard graduate like Frank Rich, and a wonderful writer. All right. If Bush Sr. wanted to go to war against Iraq, Stephen figured something had to be wrong. It turned out that Stephen was correct. The Bush-Baker-Thatcher war was a slaughterhouse for the Iraqis and self-defeating for the Americans. It opened the door to the trap we find ourselves in today, and it led directly to the 9/11 terrorist attacks a decade later. 

Mr. Bush's War did a fine job of chronicling that particular chapter of interventionist folly in 1991. (More recently in 2008, Stephen Graubard interviewed Henry Kissinger for the Financial Times.) Perhaps in a similar way, Frank Rich, a fellow "progressive", could not stomach George Bush Jr. in 2001. Understandable. Ergo, the second American attack on Iraq had to be a mistake. Right again. But this begs the big question: if both Iraq wars--Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom--were so ill-advised and irresponsible, then why did most of the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill roll over and vote to authorize hostilities in both instances?   

Which brings me to Frank Rich's recent broadside on the the Tea Party phenomenon entitled "The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party". I'm not sure what to make of the Tea Party, but Rich naturally detests it. He regards it as a threat to his "progressive" agenda. For him, the Tea Party represents an outbreak of right-wing know-nothingism. In the latter category, Rich cites specifically the American Liberty League of the 1930's and the John Birch Society of the 1950's and 60's. To me, these organizations appear like spontaneous outbreaks of populist patriotism. Who knows where they might have led? Rich is genuinely alarmed. The natives are restless.

Rich and his fellow Manhattan liberals regard FDR as a sacred icon, beyond reproach and rational criticism. Since the Liberty League was formed by conservative Democrats in 1934 out of disgust with FDR and for the purpose of throttling his domestic policies, the Liberty League must be evil in the mind of Rich. He does not mention the America First Committee by name, but he certainly should have. It was a kind of mirror image of the Liberty League on the foreign policy front, but did not go into action until later. It opposed the inevitable transfer of FDR's big government ideas from the dreary home front to the august arena of foreign affairs. 

FDR's megalomania was multifaceted and far-reaching. He regarded the business of Europe and the Far East to be his own, the ultimate concern of the White House. At some point, he decided in the late 1930's that a world war was the most logical solution for the fiasco of the New Deal and for ending the Great Depression. Think of it as the great stimulus package of its day. Fortunately, such a dishonest agenda, at least back then, was unconstitutional or extra-constitutional. With the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941, FDR's behind-the-scenes machinations to promote an unnecessary war became not just dishonest, but treasonous. 

Thanks to Pearl Harbor, we are stuck with the Imperial Presidency, the warfare/welfare state, and the Israel Lobby. The Imperial Presidency has meant, as a practical matter, that the individual holding court in the Oval Office can do anything he pleases when it comes to foreign affairs. Anything. Rich found that out when Bush Jr. invaded Iraq. The warfare/welfare state, in conjunction with Wall Street, has bankrupted the country. Rich might agree. The Israel Lobby owns the legislature and the executive branch of the American government. Rich doesn't dare go there. In short, if the Liberty League and the America First Committee had succeeded in checkmating FDR, Uncle Sam would not be in a jam today. It is a jam that the Tea Party seems terribly aware of, but does not fully comprehend.

[As an aside, let me suggest that Ambassador Joe Kennedy was the one man in America who had the goods on FDR in 1940 and could have averted Pearl Harbor. Upon returning from his post in London, he could have joined forces with the newly-founded America First Committee, and challenged FDR for the Democratic nomination in 1940. Win or lose, Kennedy would have exposed Roosevelt's war-mongering mendacity to the anti-war American electorate, thereby preserving the peace in both Europe and the Far East.]  

In his Tea Party article, Rich sets up the amazingly successful Koch brothers from the Midwest. David and Charles Koch are industrialists purportedly bankrolling the Tea Party. Rich is fit to be tied. Why are they doing this? Are they crazy? Rich proclaims the brothers are doing it because they are "self-interested"--they are "fat cats" who hate taxes and regulation. That makes them unique? Are the rest of us suppose to love taxes and regulation? Rich further proclaims, "The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests." This is deplorable tripe.

We learn that the quixotic David Koch ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian ticket in 1980. Is that a crime? Apparently, it is. David Koch ran for Vice President, according to Frank Rich, because Koch wanted to abolish "any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes." Oh dear.

Rich gets most of his material from Jane Mayer's lengthy article in the New Yorker of August 30th, entitled "Covert Operations". Like Rich's effort, it is a hatchet job. Over this past weekend, Elaine Lafferty came to David Koch's defense in The Daily Beast. In an exclusive interview with the man himself, she produces a puff piece entitled "Tea Party Billionaire Fires Back". Koch tells his side of the story. By far the most balanced and informative article on David Koch is that by Andrew Goldman in New York Magazine of July 25th, entitled The Billionaire's Party.    

Contra Rich and Mayer, it seems more credible to me, after reading Goldman's piece, that David Koch was/is simply an idealist and a concerned citizen who wants to give back something to his country. The fact that he is a billionaire means that he can, without having to get involved in the details. He does not have time for public service anymore, so he bankrolls others who do. What is the problem? Concurrently, he has given many millions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, John Hopkins, Sloan-Kettering, and to his alma mater, MIT.

Whatever the motivation, David and Charles Koch have plenty of spare cash, and they are entitled to spend it as they please. David Koch is not coy. According to Goldman, "Koch concedes that he sympathizes with the tea party. 'It demonstrates a powerful visceral hostility in the body politic against the massive increase in government power, the massive efforts to socialize this country, which goes against the conservative grain of the average American.'" Who can disagree with that?

Equally entitled are plutocrats George Soros and Rupert Murdoch, whom Rich mentions in passing. An import from Australia, Murdoch has made a fortune out of promoting the Neocon agenda in Washington and in flag-waving its idiotic, ruinous foreign wars. Like Rush Limbaugh and frauds of lesser luminosity, Murdoch is a profiteer capitalizing on Americans' misguided patriotism and gullibility. The ramifications are endless. The Tea Party itself may be one such ramification, should it become a cheerleader for Neocon-inspired wars and a front for the Christian Zionists, which development appears to be underway. 

Incidentally, does Frank Rich think that George Soros, the self-made billionaire speculator from Hungary, bankrolls various Left-wing causes because Soros wants to put politicians in office who will raise his tax bill? That would be a logical deduction, if Rich actually believes, as he states, that the Koch brothers are bankrolling the Right in order to cut their taxes. Needless to say, Rich is chasing his tail on this one, and it is fun to watch.  

He attempts to get his fellow Lefty, the cerebral Mr. Soros, off the hook somewhat by proclaiming that this esteemed financier is "a publicity hound" who "supports causes that are unrelated to his business interests...." Oh sure. George Soros is probably motivated by the same honest idealism that motivates the Koch brothers. He is just headed in the opposite direction. Soros and Koch embrace a different political agenda, and inhabit divergent universes. Like the rest of us. Live and let live. As I am wont to tell anyone who will listen, there is no Left or Right. There is only right and wrong. That is what counts. We need to get down to brass tacks, to coin another phrase.

--Copyright 2010 Patrick Foy--