Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Elaine Chao: Unlikely star," Nov. 3, 2001

HIGH ANXIETY: America's anthrax panic revealed a country unprepared for serious health scares. John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post that much of the fear is due to past "neurotic obsessions" about pollutants and carcinogens: "We have spent so many years imagining that the most immediate threats to our health were coming from inside this country-from the water, air and food that are by leagues safer and purer and better for you than the water, air, and food anywhere else in the world." Mr. Podhoretz fumes that instead of protecting national security, "we stared at our own navels, blamed our own businesses and demanded of our politicians that they protect" our health. Columnist Mona Charen takes another approach to talk of America's unpreparedness. She says the downpour of coverage has stirred up anxiety and helped our enemies discover America's vulnerabilities. The WWII motto "loose lips sink ships" has been cast aside. "All of these stories about potential soft spots in our defenses may be giving new and potentially devastating ideas to terrorists who are not necessarily all Rhodes scholars," she writes. "I heard a so-called expert on bioterrorism on C-SPAN one morning discussing exactly in which buildings we keep our remaining vials of smallpox virus. An American caller from China had to phone in to say, in effect, 'shut up.'" TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: The 9/11 terrorist attacks have provoked a flurry of moral relativism from some in the chattering classes. This point of view criticizes President Bush because he casts America as the hero fighting villainous terrorists. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby blames a too-cheerful view of human nature, that people are basically virtuous and only a few plot evil. Mr. Jacoby points to Harvard biologist and Darwinian apologist Stephen Jay Gould's claim in The New York Times that "good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one." Postmodernism popularizer Stanley Fish wrote in the same paper that "we have grounds enough for action" against terrorists "without grasping for the empty rhetoric of universal absolutes." Mr. Jacoby calls this relativism wishful thinking. The world is full of examples, from chattel slavery to the Holocaust, that give harsh lessons about human nature. HOME-GROWN OIL: As war heats up in the Middle East, calls for more Alaska oil drilling are bubbling up again. The Washington Times' Audrey Hudson reports that Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton has enraged environmentalists by urging Congress to support exploration of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. "Nearly 60 percent of America's oil comes from overseas, and 700,000 barrels of oil per day are imported from Iraq at an annual cost of $4 billion," Ms. Hudson writes. "Drilling supporters say the amount of oil drilled from ANWR could replace the supply purchased from Iraq." The plan Secretary Norton backs would leave much of the ANWR as it is, only exploring 1.5 million of the area's 19 million acres. MAKING A SLIGHT RIGHT: Christopher Hitchens, one of the Left's most literate pundits, has abandoned socialism. He's going libertarian, according to an interview with Reason. "There is no longer a general socialist critique of capitalism-certainly not the sort of critique that proposes an alternative or a replacement," said the writer, who remains a columnist for the hard-left tabloid The Nation. (His brother Peter Hitchens is a traditional Anglican and a conservative columnist in England.) Mr. Hitchens said that his shift was prodded by his unconscious sympathy for the Thatcherite revolution in his homeland. "The revolutionary, radical forces in British life were being led by the conservatives," he said. "That was something that almost nobody, with the very slight exception of myself, had foreseen." Mr. Hitchens remains a social liberal (and apparently still an atheist), but his writing has taken some turns to the right in recent years, slamming Bill Clinton, defending smokers, and critiquing leftist critics of the current war against terrorism.

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