Matthew Scully imbues his piece (“Present at the Creation,” September Atlantic) with a lighthearted, at times almost comic tone—a tone that has no place in anything written about the Bush administration. Was I supposed to chuckle when I read that speechwriter John McConnell would “favor” his fellow propagandists “with one of his impersonations”? This glibness serves no purpose other than to humanize three people—Scully, McConnell, and Michael J. Gerson—who contributed so eloquently to some of the greatest domestic- and foreign-policy disasters in our nation’s history.
Scully’s story is just one more example of the administration’s tone-deaf inability to understand that many people are as repulsed by their attempts at humor—like George W. Bush’s looking-for-weapons-of-mass-destruction skit performed at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in 2004, and “MC” Rove’s rap performance at this year’s dinner—as they are by hearing Bush utter phrases like axis of evil.
Scully seems unaware he’s clamoring to take credit for what any sensible person would hire a criminal attorney to deny: putting words in the mouth of a corrupt, discredited, and globally despised politician.
New York, N.Y.
Matthew Scully’s “Present at the Creation” quotes from the post-9/11 joint session speech by President George W. Bush, “We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail,” and adds, with admiration, “It was a case of presidential speechwriting working exactly as it should, with the words spoken by the very man who inspired them.”
Well, actually it was another man. I find it exceedingly odd for a senior presidential speechwriter not to have recognized those inimitable cadences from the most brilliant political speechwriter in all of history: Winston Churchill.
On February 9, 1941, the day after the House passed the Lend-Lease Act (which the Senate was to pass two days later), Churchill, in a radio broadcast beamed to the United States, said:
Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.
Apparently, while Mike Gerson was claiming exclusive credit for the joint efforts of the West Wing speechwriting staff, their boss was claiming credit for words spoken some five years before his birth.
El Cerrito, Calif.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Joshua Green’s insightful piece on Karl Rove (“The Rove Presidency,” September Atlantic), I was struck by an omission in the story. Green does a wonderful job of focusing on Rove’s penchant for sowing “interparty divisions as an electoral strategy,” but he curiously neglects to mention the Rove strategy’s effect on centrist Senator Jim Jeffords, who decided to switch from Republican to Democrat-leaning independent in the summer of 2001—a decision that cost the GOP control of the Senate. Having covered the Jeffords switch as a reporter for Congressional Quarterly, I recall that the senator’s decision was influenced in large part by the bare-knuckled and threatening posture Rove and the White House took on the president’s tax-cut plan earlier that year. One might argue that Jeffords’s switch represented the first big blunder of Rove’s tenure.
Given the Bush administration’s many shortcomings and errors of judgment, it is easy to see why Joshua Green has deemed this presidency a failure. But in awarding a final grade, he should take all aspects of performance into account. In examining these last seven years objectively, we should not disregard the fact that North Korea, a nuclear threat, has now all but agreed to disarm; that the economy is, and has been, humming along with low inflation; that crime is down nationwide; and that anyone owning real property has probably seen his asset double (or more) in value. And, most important, and not for want of trying, there has been no terrorist attack on American soil.
On balance, perhaps, the deserved grade is the ever-familiar “Gentleman’s C.”
Michael E. Zuller
Great Neck, N.Y.
Joshua Green writes that Karl Rove “is a great devotee of the historian Robert H. Wiebe,” who, like Rove, emphasized the pivotal quality of the 1896 McKinley election. This Rove-Wiebe bond can only be explained by careless reading. Wiebe’s history The Search for Order 1877–1920 tells of the gradual rise of the modern bureaucratic, expert-manager federal government. Theodore Roosevelt initiated it, Woodrow Wilson vastly enlarged it during World War I, and Herbert Hoover’s planning and banking initiatives completed the process.
Yes, 1896 provided a crucial realignment of farm and city voters, but that realignment was, as Wiebe tells it, secured by deeper and more-enduring social and economic processes. The new way of ordering American life began first in the business corporation and then spread to municipal governments, states, and the federal government. The federal institutions put in place by Republican businessmen and reformers are the very ones Rove and George W. Bush have set about destroying.
Sam Bass Warren
I appreciated B. R. Myers’s critique of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (“Hard to Swallow,” September Atlantic). But I have been torn between my admiration of Pollan’s ability to convey so effectively the absurd and troubling realities of the modern American food industry, and my dismay at his dismissal of ethical vegetarianism as a viable choice.
It’s not that Pollan doesn’t think in moral terms—the whole book is a moral, as well as practical, critique. It’s that he seems unwilling to seriously engage moral considerations that might interfere with the efficiency of the small, local-farming utopia he holds up.
B. R. Myers alleges that gastronomes are indifferent to the suffering of food animals. But who today plucks the tongues of larks or hummingbirds, or fattens ortolans in cages? Yes, Julie Powell and Michael Pollan, in odd and unfortunate paragraphs, do echo a version of Genesis 1:26, wherein flying, swimming, quadruped, and legless creatures are condemned to the dominion of humans. But most of us kill our lobsters swiftly and humanely, with the sharp point of a heavy chef’s knife at the juncture of head and body, then split and broil the creature or dismember him (preferably her) in a hot pan with a mirepoix. Our victims suffer nothing and taste better that way; Powell is merely late in getting the news. Our Wagyu steers are anesthetized before bleeding and pampered while alive; our chickens and pigs range free. We eschew bluefin tuna as too noble for the table (squid, herring, and mackerel, good enough for bluefin, are good enough for us), as well as any species deemed endangered or inhumanely raised or killed. Our salmon are wild and line-caught, our bivalves handled more humanely than by any other ostreophage, winged or pedalian.
To the end, Myers offers only a visceral, incoherent veganism in place of the serious ethical critique he leads us to expect.
West Plains, Mo.
It is easy to imagine a bruised and dazed Michael Pollan picking himself up off the floor and wondering how he managed to walk into B. R. Myers’s buzz saw of a book review. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma when it came out, and have sampled Pollan’s writings from both before and after the book’s release; I simply don’t recognize the amoral glutton portrayed in Myers’s jeremiad. In fact, the titular dilemma is spelled out as What should we eat? The word should defines distinctly moral questions, and Pollan doesn’t shy away from them. But Myers simply can’t tolerate the fact that Pollan arrives—rather tentatively—at a different answer than he does.
B. R. Myers replies:
I disagree with Rob Lewis; it is not easy to imagine a bruising buzz saw, nor to imagine a writer getting upset about a review that describes much of his book as a tour de force. If my article conveys the impression that Michael Pollan is amoral, it does so less through my own writing than through lengthy excerpts from The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Here I need only mention the passage in which the “journalist/philosopher,” as the back cover calls him, expresses pity for people who want to live more-virtuous lives. David Dunlap, for his part, employs a rhetorical strategy popular among letter-writing hunters, which is to demand that we judge a group not by its average representatives but by its “true”—i.e., ideal—ones. Or does Dunlap really believe that American foodies eat Wagyu beef, which can cost over $100 a pound, more often than they eat lobsters that have been boiled alive? In any case, the most highly prized form of the beef in question comes from cows who are kept indoors all day with nothing to do except eat and drink. I can see why a gourmet would regard such treatment as enviable “pampering,” but animals tend to want more from life.