Time’s interview with Obama, in the same issue, is also worth reading. It includes this heartening answer when Obama is asked to list some of the benchmarks on which he should be judged two years from now: “On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution?”
Sinner: Dennis Lim, for rhapsodizing about director David Fincher in The New York Times, immediately after the filmmaker had released The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is easily one of the worst movies of the season. Lim specializes in observations like this one (about Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club): “this adrenalized jolt of designer nihilism tapped right into late-capitalist disaffection and premillennial anxiety”—thus proving one of the enduring truths of George Orwell’s greatest essay, Politics and the English Language: “In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.”
Winner: Dan Klaidman, former Jerusalem bureau chief and current managing editor of Newsweek, for an excellent explainer on the cover of this week’s magazine, laying out how peace might still be possible in the Middle East—especially if President Obama is willing to show some genuinely tough love towards the Israelis.
Winner: Harper’s blogger Scott Horton, who excoriated sinner Eric Lichtblau for referring to to the interrogation techniques authorized at the highest level of the Bush Administraton as “near torture.” Horton wrote:
Dear Times editors: read your own pages. When Russia used the practice of stoika in the Stalin era, you called it “torture.” It is. Why does it become “bordering on torture” when the Bush Administration uses it? When the Nazis used the practice of Pfahlbinden during World War II, you called it “torture.” So when Bush uses it, suddenly it becomes “bordering on torture”? By consciously softening your language, you are allowing those who introduced torture to escape the opprobrium that is their due. Moreover, you are enabling torture. Your readers deserve better.
And as FCP has repeatedly pointed out, at least 160 prisoners have died in U.S. custody since the beginning of the Bush administration, including “more than 70” whose deaths “were linked to gross recklessness, abuse, or torture,” according to the ACLU. Amazing how lethal “near torture” can be when practiced by Americans.
Winner: Frank Rich for doing what he does best: cutting through everyone else’s blurry rhetoric to provide exactly the right take on Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at his inauguration: “there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope.”
In this instance, Obama would have done better to follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who chose Peter Gomes, the conservative, African-American chaplain of Harvard, to deliver the benediction at his second inauguration. In The New Yorker, Robert Boynton reported what Gomes said seven years later, after a campus magazine had described gay life as “immoral” and “pitiable”:
“Gay people are victims not of the Bible, not of religion, and not of the church, but of people who use religion as a way to devalue and deform those whom they can neither ignore nor convert,” [Gomes] said. He let the audience know that he spoke about this issue with ample theological authority: as the minister of Memorial Church, as the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, and, finally, as “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.” The explosion of cheers and applause at Gomes’s revelation lasted well over a minute. He continued: “These realities, which are irreconcilable to some are reconciled in me by a loving God, a living Saviour, a moving, breathing, healthy Holy Spirit whom I know intimately and who knows me.”
It’s hard to imagine that Rick Warren will ever say anything as intelligent as that.