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Standing by her man


I'm, neither a New Yorker nor Hillary Clintons biggest fan, but I found something troubling in Michelle Cottle's article ("The Wrong Race," June 7). Doubtless it's true that Hillary Clinton's conversion from controversial politician to traditional first lady made her more palatable to some, but do we really want to discourage her from running for the Senate on the grounds that her new supporters "would be less than impressed if she left her man alone in the White House in order to stump around the New York countryside"?

Such arguments are frequently used against strong and controversial female politicians everywhere. Likewise, shunting Hillary aside is not going to make Al Gore or the Democratic Party any more popular, but it will represent a victory for the Republican right, which, however irrationally, has lavished its hatred on her and her husband.


Frederick, Maryland 


Recently, Barbara Boxer--a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton's senatorial run-was asked to name something important that the first lady had accomplished. The clearly befuddled senator managed to do what all good politicians do: she seemed to answer the question without really answering the question.

Similarly, Michelle Cottle's article has numerous complimentary quotes by the first lady's supporters and fans but not one single quote about an important accomplishment. Cottle informs us that the first lady's "favorable ratings didn't skyrocket until she stopped being a strong, independent feminist and became a devoted wife." I know Hillary has managed to hold her marriage together despite her husband's cheating, his lying to her about his cheating, and his duping her into lying for him before a worldwide audience. But just what has she accomplished?


Yorktown Heights, New York 

Conservatism and its discontents


Alan Wolfe's "The Revolution That Never Was" could hardly be more wrong (June 7). Let me count the ways: American conservatism, contrary to what Wolfe suggests, has no significant roots in European conservatism. Most American conservatives, I suspect, have not read and would not recognize Michael Oakeshott or Leo Strauss. For most of American politics is a debate within liberalism--bounded by the perspectives of the French and Scottish Enlightenment.

What Wolfe calls the "near complete collapse of conservative government in the United States" seems inconsistent with a Republican majority in Congress and among the state governors. 

Wolfe writes that "conservatives seemed congenitally unable to write significant books" but he overlooks the contributions by James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell and marginalizes those by Friedrich yon Hayek and James Q. Wilson.

Wolfe writes that "conservatives in America have been unable to come up with any sustained and significant ideas," but the broad and growing support for constitutional government, school choice, Social Security privatization, sound money, and welfare reform all developed from a conservative base.

Wolfe writes that "conservative think tanks destroyed any possibility of serious intellectual work" but he has this story backward; conservative think tanks have thrived, in part, because the hegemony of the left in American universities has reduced their potential for serious intellectual work on many issues. On a per scholar basis, the output of many conservative think tanks compares favorably with that of most universities. 

Finally, as the (aging) chairman of a libertarian think tank, I find the most irritating of Wolfe's broadsides is that "[l]ibertarianism is a political philosophy for Peter Pans, an outlook on the world premised on never growing up" Libertarianism is a political philosophy, not a comprehensive philosophy, and it is fully compatible with a mature conservatism in one's personal life.


Cato Institute

Washington, D.C.


Although Alan Wolfe may be correct that mine are the politics of "hopeless rage" the examples given prove nothing of the kind. Contrary to what is suggested, I do not swoon over the "authors of The Bell Curve" but object to the pathologization of dissent practiced by its critics, in TNR and elsewhere. Unlike Wolfe, I do not writhe squeamishly at the mention of Murray and Herrnstein but have expressed methodological reservations (see Society, December 1998) about the value of IQ test results. I do not "explain away the anti-Semitism of Jean-Marie Le Pen" but note the role of his opponents in exaggerating both his distaste for Jews and his radical rightist agenda.

Moreover, the National Front includes Jews among its voters and in leadership positions. Le Pen's tactless outbursts, most often made after being mercilessly baited by representatives of the French media, have also been ominously used by the French left to introduce harsh penalties against the expression of insensitive thoughts. Proponents of the Loi Gayssot, passed against "crimes of opinion" by the French Assembly in 1990, invoked raging frontistes to make it a crime to engage in "illiberal" writings and speech. Most important, in drawing necessary historical distinctions, National Front politicians are not interchangeable with interwar European extreme nationalists, who called for stripping Jews of their civil rights.

Whether the League of the South is "racist" or not, a charge denied repeatedly on its website and in its newsletter, has nothing to do with the validity of designating it as a "regionalist populist movement." My point in discussing the league, in any case, was not to justify its unproved racism but to underscore the weakness in the United States of regionally based populist movements.

Wolfe creates a misleading impression when he accuses me of misrepresenting Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and himself as "socialists" Professor Fox-Genovese was in all likelihood a social democrat at the time she made the comments to which I refer. She has since modified her views and wrote a long, gracious blurb for my book. The same time-and-circumstance qualification applies likewise to my references to Elshtain and Wolfe. In the last case, the judgment was an unflattering characterization taken from Christopher Lasch. It is also disconcerting, in view of the subject of more than half my book, to learn that I make "no attempt to apply the tools of analytic philosophy to an examination of liberalism's incoherence." From the opening chapter on, I apply precisely those tools to demonstrate my central argument: that twentieth-century liberalism has expanding agendas but no real continuity with that older bourgeois movement it replaced and whose name it took.

Wolfe likes his liberalism better than mine. Indeed, he sees his worldview as firmly "embedded" in our way of life and "progressing" all around us. While he is entitled to his tastes, never does he explain why his ill-defined liberalism is more "liberal" than the political view of James Fitz-James Stephen. Nor does he let on why an explicit preference for an older liberalism betrays a general hostility to liberal thinking. And I've no idea how my book "feasts off the liberalism it denounces." If that liberalism is that of our current custodians of hate-free opinions and depathologized thoughts, whether inside or outside the White House, I can only shout back: "Let my worst enemies enjoy such a feast!" Wolfe's attribution to me of an elegantly crafted critical comment on John Stuart Mill is highly appreciated but comes from that crusty English scholar Maurice Cowling. Would that I wrote as well as Cowling, another sympathetic interpreter of the real liberal article!


Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania


Paul Gottfried writes this of Le Pen: "It is far from clear that he is the ferocious anti-Semite denounced in Le Monde." He then goes on to say that stories about Le Pen's nasty jokes about Jews were bandied about by his enemies and offers the guess that they "were not entirely accurate." Le Pen, we are also told, promotes an agenda of "Christian humanist classical liberalism." If that is not an effort to explain away this man's vile anti-Semitism, I have no idea what would qualify.

Gottfried could have described Fox-Genovese et al. as "former" socialists or social democrats. He does not. That he relied on Christopher Lasch to characterize my own views incorrectly could have been avoided by reading my book instead of relying on Lasch's treatment of it. 

I never claim that Gottfried "swoons" all over The Bell Curve, merely that he defends it, which he does by attacking the book's critics without ever indicating that he has any methodological reservations about the book itself. By the way, he characterizes the views of the book's critics as "argumenta ad Hitlerum."

Gottfried is correct that the source for the description of Mill's views that I admired was Maurice Cowling.

Bimbroglio coda


"After Virtue" by Katha Pollitt is a winner (June 7). Thanks to Pollitt and TNR for publishing it. It is great not because we are told something new but because we are told it so well--something your magazine seems to do more than most.


New Orleans, Louisiana


In her review of Monica Lewinsky's book, why does Katha Pollitt state that Clinton was impeached because of sex rather than perjury? Does she really believe that Clinton would not have been impeached if his lies under oath had been about some other subject, such as his finances or the suicide of Vince Foster? Does she really believe Clinton would have been impeached for having an affair with Lewinsky even if he had never lied under oath? If she believes either idea, she's nuts.


Columbus, Ohio


I had to express how much I enjoyed Katha Pollitt's article about the Lewinsky and Stephanopoulos books. Such intelligent writing and absolutely hilarious! I can't remember when I've laughed so often and so hard over an article. I read it over dinner and "MSNBC endless natterfest" "monomaniacal blather," and "she's a slob" practically choked me. The waitress couldn't believe I was getting all this enjoyment out of a magazine article.


Hollywood, Florida


Go away, Bimbroglio. Go away, Ken Starr. Go away, Katha Pollitt. We're sick and tired of you.


Staten Island, New York

This article originally ran in the July 12, 1999, issue of the magazine.