ALA: Day 2
Today was a very eventful day at ALA. I attended several useful and interesting sessions. The "highlight", if you want to call it that, was Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s keynote address. When I went, I knew I would be witnessing an intellectual train wreck; a hysterical, dishonest orgy of Bush hatred. Still, I went expecting to be entertained, as befits someone who enjoys bad movies and reruns of Cops. Well, as the old cliche goes, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
Before I go any farther, I need to immediately and unreservedly apologize to Senator Bill Bradley for all criticisms I made of his remarks from Saturday. I have now seen what the standard for unhinged partisan attacks is, and Senator Bradley didn't even come within the same zip code.
Kennedy was supposed to address the topic of "why good environmental policy is good business policy, good economic policy, and good policy for posterity." Unfortunately, he said virtually nothing about libraries or how they can engage in sound environmental policies. Instead, the American Library Association's keynote speaker went off on a 75 minute rant against the Bush Administration, arguing that they are gleefully destroying the environment at the behest of moneyed corporate interests.
It is impossible to overstate just how unhinged Kennedy's comments were. I have not read his 2004 book Crimes Against Nature, but Walter Olson reviewed it for the New York Post. His review applies equally well to Kennedy's speech today:
There's a rich market for Bush-bashing books these days, but Kennedy's jackhammer style leaves one yearning for Michael Moore's suavity, Molly Ivins' balance and Paul Krugman's lightness of touch. If you find it novel and illuminating to compare today's highly placed Texans with Hitler and Mussolini, then RFK Jr.'s your man.
Here are just a few of the highlights from Kennedy's rant (all quotes are paraphrased as accurately as possible from my memory):
-George W. Bush is "the most environmentally destructive president ever".
-The media consists overwhelmingly of either "corporate" outlets obsessed with celebrity, or evil right wing propagandists. As you would expect, Fox News and talk radio were prominent on Kennedy's list of villains. In the bizarre alternate universe he inhabits, MSNBC is a "right wing" outlet, and there is no liberal counter to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. Do the names Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann ring a bell? Kennedy's universe is also a place where the same journalists who donate to Democrats by a 9-1 margin somehow slant their coverage to favor Republicans. Likewise, his complaint about the media's culture of celebrity rings exceedingly hollow coming from someone with the last name Kennedy. As Olson put it, "Kennedy's entire career, is nothing if not an artifact of that culture".
-Kennedy's speech was laden with thinly veiled contempt for the stupid rubes who vote Republican. At one point, he said that 80% of Republican voters would vote Democrat if only they knew the facts that evil Fox News and talk radio are hiding from them. In Kennedy's view, being a well informed citizen means that you believe exactly what he does. See this May 2005 piece by Jonathan Adler for more on this topic.
-As far as those "facts" that Kennedy cites, Olson and Adler have debunked a number of them. One topic that Kennedy did not go into today is his hysterical fear mongering over childhood vaccines. This was probably for the best, since his arguments have been refuted numerous times. Most disappointing, however, was Kennedy's refusal to repeat his 2002 claim that large hog farms are a greater threat to America than al Qaeda.
-My favorite laugh out loud moments came when Kennedy claimed that "I am not a partisan", and "there is no greater defender of free market capitalism than me".
-Kennedy's definition of fascism is thoroughly in keeping with his kindergarten worldview: "the dominance of government by business". Such an infantile definition would be laughed out of any freshman history class, let alone one taught by Walter Laqueur or Robert Paxton. However, it does suit Kennedy's goal of implying that the Bush Administration is fascist.
-One item Kennedy forgot to mention is his opposition to a plan to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. This despite the fact that most environmental organizations have endorsed the project. Of course, those organizations don't own Nantucket vacation houses whose beautiful vistas would be marred by those unsightly windmills. Such sacrifices are strictly for the little people.
As outrageous as all of this was, it was Kennedy's conclusion that most infuriated me. I knew something was up when Kennedy said "this next part might not be fair". Coming from someone who had just devoted the last 70 minutes to arguing that the Bush Administration is made up of corporate criminals and fascists, this was clearly a bad sign. No sooner did I think this than Kennedy unleashed the chickenhawk canard.
Now, I do not like to play the Absolute Moral Authority game. However, in the face of such a morally and intellectually repugnant argument as the chickenhawk slur, I think it's warranted. Just 15 months ago, I was busting my 38 year old ass in Basic Training. Now I have to listen to a spoiled rich boy and hypocritical environmental ambulance chaser who never spent a day in the military blast other people for not having served? I'll leave it to the reader's imagination as to what I think Mr. Kennedy can do with his chickenhawk argument.
BTW, George W. Bush did, in fact serve. Had he wanted merely to avoid Vietnam, there were far easier ways to do it than by flying the F-102 Delta Dagger, a plane with a less than stellar safety record.
Kennedy then ended his speech with a typically juvenile argument about how the entire world loved us before the days of the horrible Bushitler, and no wartime president ever did anything bad prior to the current conflict. At this point, I'll merely ask the reader to read what serious scholars of anti-Americanism such as the late Jean-Francois Revel have to say, and suggest that they look up Civil War prison camps and strategic bombing in World War II, among other topics.
The saddest part, though not surprising, was the reaction of the audience. The groupthink in the auditorium was too thick to cut with a knife; it would have required a chainsaw to penetrate. There were numerous applause lines, many in response to Kennedy's contemptuous slurs about Red Staters. Particularly disturbing was the reaction to Kennedy's bemoaning the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. When he declared that there would be no Rush Limbaugh or Fox News if the Fairness Doctrine was still in effect, there was enthusiastic applause. Yes, people who claim to support intellectual freedom and oppose censorship expressed delight at the thought of government being used to limit the spread of ideas they disagree with. The willingness of many of those in attendance to subordinate professional principles to partisan politics could not have been clearer. Of course, the end of Kennedy's rant was greeted by a standing ovation accompanied by whooping and hollering.
My decision to attend ALA Annual was predicated on a belief that there was at least the possibility of change in the association. I see now the absurdity of any such hopes. Leslie Burger chose to respond to the concerns expressed over the politicization of ALA by booking a leftist ideologue keynote speaker who makes Michael Moore look nuanced and sophisticated. Make no mistake: this was an upraised middle finger directed at everyone who wants partisan politics kept out of ALA.
When will I consider renewing my ALA membership? When hell freezes over.