To: John Fund, The Wall Street Journal
From: Jim Sleeper
Dear John Fund,
You called me at home this morning, Saturday, March 4, seeking information or a comment on the enrollment of the former Talibani spin doctor Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi as a non-degree student at Yale. You told me, as you tell readers in this, your second column in a row on the subject, that you are shocked, shocked that no one in authority at Yale would say anything about it to you. When I asked if you'd tried Charles Hill, a neoconservative Diplomat in Residence there, a Vulcan on the Iraq War and a scourge of terrorism, or the historian John Gaddis, who supports Hill as his colleague in their Grand Strategy seminar for bright students drawn to the national-security state, you said that even they weren't talking.
What? Not even Hill, who, writing in your own Journal in 2004, blamed inadequate intelligence performance mainly on a decline in the quality of personnel, brought about by pressures for diversity that bypass broad-based historical and area-studies gained at elite colleges and universities? Gosh, John, I could almost feel the pain in your false ingenuous wonderment on the phone: Could it be that Yale, for which you have the highest regard, has something to hide here and that even its truth-tellers have been muzzled?
A journalist's and an editorial page's reputation is an accretion of many actions, encounters, and omissions over a number of years, John. It's time once again for someone to tell you, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page editors, and the online OpinionJournal that your reputations, even as journalists with a license to commit punditry, have gone the way of Robert Whitewater-Bartley, who, no less than The New York Times' Howell Raines in his editorial-page phase, lashed himself to the mast of the U.S.S. Whitewater and went down with it some time ago. And maybe the one who ought to tell you this time is me, bearing as I do so proudly the body scars of one who has excoriated the liberal-left for many of its sins, yet is not a conservative, but a civic republican in the old-fashioned, disinterested sense of the term.
It's as a civic republican, not a liberal or a leftist, that I was disappointed by your call to me this morning. In a backhanded way, you reminded me of my second cousin James Wechsler, who was editorial-page editor of the New York Post at the height of its left-liberal, McCarthy-bashing, pro-labor-and-civil-rights days. Wechsler wrote a book, The Age of Suspicion, that recounted his early years as a young Communist and then as a militantly anti-Communist liberal. He gives an unforgettable description of the mental morphology and mannerisms of Party functionaries and journalists at The Daily Worker -- how they kept up appearances as serious journalists while sinuously bending the craft toward ever-reliable service to the Party line.
That lilting, gentlemanly, faux-ingenuous tone of yours on the phone this morning, John -- opening with your ingratiating reminder that your Journal editorial pages had published me a few times (the last time a decade ago) brought back to me some of the characters in Wechsler's book. Your manner doesn't quite equal Whitewater-Bartley's memorably crusty, civic-republican mien, but in every respect, down to the nicest detail, it sure does resurrect the best of the old pros at The Daily Worker.
Perhaps the saddest characteristic of minds like yours and of your predecessors in the other Party, John, is your apparent confidence that you're resourceful, clever, and brave in what is actually a rather sadly obvious towing of the predictable Con-intern line.
And what is the Con-intern line these days? The more it founders on its own yawning contradictions and blunders, the more desperate it becomes to fix blame on liberals, whom it portrays relentlessly as cowering and pusillanimous, yet somehow amazingly powerful.
So, John, you blame ditzy post-modernist professors and aging militants for doing to young minds what everyone knows a few trips to the Internet or the mall do, because torrents of corporate mass-marketed decadence are more powerful in student life than ten thousand "transgressive" academics (if there are that many). You blame liberals, from Cindy Sheehan to James Fallows, for the ignominious, wholly self-induced failure of American warmakers and policymakers in Iraq. You blame liberals for forcing out Harvard's globally gross Larry Summers, who has no small-r republican wisdom.
I don't know if you had any role in writing a Journal editorial attacking James Fallows' Atlantic essay on the problems of "standing up" a national Iraqi police and defense force, but that editorial required a retraction the next day and was discredited again in the comeuppance suffered by a credulous reader who cited it believingly in The Atlantic's letters pages, where Fallows dispatched him and the Journal.
If recent stories about Summers in Institutional Investor and by Sara Ivry in the Times are right, the Harvard Corporation's loss of patience with Lawrence Summers had far less to do with his supposed truth-telling against enraged and sclerotically defensive academics than it did with his indulgence, indeed, protection, of a corrupt strain of capitalism whose depradations both in Russia and here you, too, finesse, rationalize and/or shield. The Summers story is not moving in your liberal-blaming, liberal-baiting direction -- any more than have the Whitewater or the Fallows hits and so many others in between. And, now, you're out to blame "diversity"-peddling liberals at Yale for enrolling this one-time 22-year-old Taliban spokesman.
You can't help yourself, though. You believe yourself, and let me be the first to acknowledge that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. You'll always be there, pointing at liberal perfidy, even at your polite best on the Diane Rehm Show. But, like your spiritual comrades at the old Daily Worker, you'll keep on digging your own and your movement's moral and intellectual grave, without knowing how unfairly damaging this is to honorable conservatives who never signed on for this.
Maybe you should take a page instead from Jimmy Wechsler, who learned in the 1930s that while both left and right have credible claims on certain truths, each tends to cling to its own so tightly that they become half-truths that can curdle into lies, leaving each side right only about how the other is wrong. At any historical moment, the insurgent side's truths seem the more liberating on the upswing against the other's institutionalized carapaces and cant. But both sides tend to get stuck in their imagined upswings and to disappoint in the end.
That is what lies just ahead for you, John. Before you endorse the idea of the Taliban being as much at home at Yale, or of the Harvard faculty being an equivalent of a People's Congress in Pyongyang, do what you'd do if you were truly loyal to the American republic: Consider and air the possibility that here, as in the other cases, the liberal-blaming and baiting impulse may be too empty for us all to live on much longer, because, like a healthy individual, a society walks on both a left foot of social provision and outreach to the benighted as well as a right foot of irreducibly personal responsibility and freedom.
Without the right foot, even the best-intentioned social-engineering and diversity mongering can turn people into clients, cogs, or worse; but without the left foot, John, the foot that walks in the village that raises the child, individual dignity and the moral values conservatives claim to cherish become stunted and die.
Intrepid, two-footed truth-teller that you claim to be, admit that it was slimy of you to identify as "a liberal Democrat" a Yale student whom you interviewed but whom you have to know has been celebrated and defended by conservatives for years for his work with Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz outing liberal anti-war professors and for his work for the neoconservative newspaper The New York Sun. And why don't you look a little more deeply than you did into the provenance and motives of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi's patron Mike Hoover, who commended him to Yale's admissions office? Why don't you ask if Rahmatullah's enrollment was facilitated less by the "diversity" ethos than by yet another of Yale conservatives' recent, bumbling efforts to revive the university's old conduit to national intelligence and to framing grandiose "grand strategies"?
Because I myself don't know the answers to the two questions I've just posed, I wish I could rely on you to be "on the trail," as your column moniker puts it, of the truth rather than of the enemies du jour of your predictable Party line. I couldn't have called anyone for an interview, as you did me, intending only to tease out of me some quotable defense of Rahmatullah's enrollment that could become Exhibit A for the commentary you'd already written a week earlier and were looking to amplify for today, no matter whether it has any more basis in truth than the Fallows editorial or the Summers editorial.
You wrote last week that there are many poor, bright students -- American and foreign alike -- who would jump at the opportunity to attend Yale. Why should Mr. Rahmatullah go to the head of the line? That's a question Yale alumni should ask when their alma mater comes looking for contributions. But if it's individual merit and national security we should weigh, why not ask why George W. Bush, Yale '68, and Dick Cheney, Yale dropout '61, got to the head of the line at Yale, whose offerings were wasted on both of them?
Bush said openly that he didn't learn a thing at Yale, and I can testify that he didn't try, having taken several of the same courses with him and lived in the same Yale residential college with him for two years. If ever a Yale education was wasted on someone whose ignorance and insecurity made him a serious national security risk, it was wasted on Bush, who, like Cheney, became a draft-dodger -- as defined by every conservative since 1965. When Yale gave Bush an honorary doctorate three months before 9/11, maybe you should have written an outraged column about our way of elevating the ignorant and impassioned.
Seriously, John: Honest journalists -- and Journal readers who aren't as credulous as the one who made a fool of himself by citing the editorial about Fallows in a letter to The Atlantic -- haven't expected any better from the Journal's opinion pages since midway through Whitewater-Bartley's career there. So your pages and online columns have the readers they deserve. But what a drag you've all become on honorable conservatism's prospects. The way you do business would break Clinton Rossiter's and Russell Kirk's hearts.
Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale.