Dispatches > The Buzz

Flash Traffic

Political buzz from Washington

Issue: "Fighting words," Jan. 12, 2002

Keep your eye on Stephen L. Carter. He may be the fastest rising conservative communicator in America. And he's black. Like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, Carter is sharply critical of racial quotas and the liberal demonization of religious faith in the public square. Unlike the radio and TV stars, however, he is far from a household name. But Carter now has a rocket strapped to his back. Knopf Publishing has bought the rights to publish Carter's first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, for $4 million, after an intense bidding war. Over Christmas vacation, Warner Brothers cut a seven-figure deal with Carter to purchase the film rights, in hopes of making his novel a major motion picture. Galleys aren't available, but The New York Times described the novel-due out in May-as "the story of an African-American law professor who finds himself investigating the death of his father, a conservative judge, and retracing his father's life." Could this be Clarence Thomas meets Tom Clancy? If Carter becomes the John Grisham of race and religion-capable of writing best-selling thrillers using black characters wrestling with distinctly conservative moral and spiritual themes-he could find himself in the political crosshairs of the entire liberal civil-rights establishment. What's new is Carter's decision to try fiction as a way to connect with a larger audience and drive his message. In the past he has written critically acclaimed but hardly best-selling nonfiction books such as Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby and The Culture of Disbelief. In his most recent work, God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics (Basic Books, 2001), Carter warns that "the fortunes of the black clergy's leadership (and of black people generally) have become so bound up with the fortunes of the Democratic Party that it is no longer possible for the leaders to press ideas that their religious understanding of the world might demand." He specifically singles out the Rev. Jesse Jackson for criticism, noting that Jackson was once "passionately pro-life" but was forced to become pro-choice in order to get the Democratic Party "to take him seriously." Explosive stuff, especially for a black writer. But as of Jan. 1, the book's Amazon sales rank was a mere 91,047. Can Carter's novel (and movie) do what his other works haven't done-break out? If he lands on Oprah, look out. Robert Reich, the former Clinton Labor Secretary, will likely run for governor of Massachusetts and should announce his decision by February. Reich, now a professor at Brandeis University, says his state is suffering from the recession, but President Bush's across-the-board tax cuts-modeled after similar rate cuts by John F. Kennedy-are "irresponsible," "unwise," "unfair," and are putting the United States "in economic jeopardy." Scott Armey, the 32-year old son of retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey, will run to take over his father's seat in the House. Scott, currently a Texas county judge, announced his campaign on Jan. 2 and will soon travel to Washington to meet with GOP and conservative leaders. Secretary of State Colin Powell is more popular than Pope John Paul II, finds a new poll by John Zogby. Ninety percent view Powell favorably, while 75 percent view the pope favorably. Still, Gallup finds President Bush far and away the most admired man in the country. Thirty-nine percent of Americans cite Bush, while only 5 percent cite Powell, and only 4 percent cite Rudy Guiliani, Time magazine's "Person of the Year."

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Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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