Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sotomayor, North Korea, and All the News that the New York Times Deems Fit to Print

by Norman Markowitz

I read the New York Times, the newspaper of historical record in the U.S. even though I was red-baited by one of its real ancien regime "critics" (the comical Hilton Kramer, long gone from the paper,) in the 1970s.

I also had in the pre Internet era wrote many letters to the editor which were never publish (except for an anti-horse racing pro animal right response that I once wrote to the Jersey section). But these comments really aren't personal.

The Times has a reputation as a "liberal"newspaper and it has since 1960 endorsed every Democratic candidate for President (before that it endorsed Eisenhower, Thomas E. Dewey against Truman, and FDR, as I remember twice. A very long time ago a Communist with a sense of humor called its editorial policy "democracy without profit sharing." While it has had truly outstanding progressive journalist like Tom Wicker and Bob Herbert and, today, the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman (who Obama would be wise to appoint to a high position in the government to advance a policy of "change we can believe in" its "liberalism" is on most issues closer to Nelson Rockefeller than Franklin Roosevelt, and it always has one foot in the past while pretending to offer practical solutions to the problems of the present.

Over the last few days the Times has published a number of news stories about Sonia Sotomayor and the North Korean missile tests. One story about Sotomayor contended that her appointment would not change the "philosophical balance" on the Supreme Court(in terms of the five to four vote, that is true, but not in terms of philosophy since Sotomayor is no David Souter, the center-right Republican she is replacing who moved to much more to the center on the court in opposition to the ulta-right). She is also more not less likely to defend the rights of labor and support the regulation of business than Souter was or for that matter Clinton appointee Stephen Breyer is. Another story criticized her lack of a "judicial temperament," quoting lawyers to the effect that she often interrupted them from the bench with sharp and pointed questions and comments.

I got a whiff of old fashioned sexism in that, i.e, Sotomayor as an "uppity woman." That Antonin Scalia, the most upfront of the the present right-wing majority on the court has always done that without any style criticism seems to be lost on the Times reporters, who, as they write about Sotomayor's intelligence and achievements, in their usual "schizo" way say that she will not be a militant voice against Scalia and his comrades in robes and warn that she will too militant, at least for a woman.

Reading between the lines, which I learned to do a long time ago with all capitalist media, I would conclude from this that Sotomayor is the kind of Justice that progressives should want but the NYT doesn't (although they will give her a pro forma endorsement) someone who will stand up and fight back intellectually against Scalia and also someone who won't be snowed by the slick country club right-wing Chief Justice, Roberts, into moderating her opinions. In short, a Justice who will be a harbinger of a progressive majority in the court's future, one in which Breyer and even Ginsberg will probably, if they are still around, become centrists or relatively even conservatives in the way that Nixon appointees Powell and Blackmun became centrists or relatively even liberals in response to the Reagan appointees. (I am not saying history will repeat itself exactly, but as real progressives are added to the court, that is a very likely development).

But the Times coverage of events in North Korea is more sinister. Stories about "Gates re-assuring allies" and most of all an account of the "devastating effects" of a North Korean land attack read straight out of 1950, as if a second Korean War can break out and President Obama may have to play the role of Harry Truman (who, once he was out of office, criticized civil rights campaigns as Communist inspired and would I am sure turn over in his grave if he saw Obama sitting in the Oval office) in defense of the "free world" and the UN.

Without endorsing North Korean policies, (which I don't) responsible journalistic analysis should make it clear that 2009 is not 1950, that China, which has criticized North Korea's test, is not an ally of North Korea ready to defend it and the Chinese revolution itself from invasion which it was and did in 1950 against what it saw as the machinations of U.S. imperialism against all revolutionary and national liberation movements.

Nor is the Soviet Union in existence to either aid North Korea or influence its policies. Finally, responsible journalistic analysis might mention that what is happening today in Korea is the result of nearly sixty years of U.S. led policies, the bloody war, the armed truce, the militarization of the South as a U.S. base and frontline state in Asia, and, more recently both the provocative policies of the Bush administration and the deterioration of South Korean-North Korean relations, which were the hopeful development of recent years, which the Bush administration directly opposed. All of this is much more relevant to an understand of what is happening in Korea than guns and bombs along the 38th parallel.

As he reads the Times, President Obama should take this into account, moving forward confidently with the Sotomayor nomination and also responding cautiously to the events in Korea, seeking to find ways to improve North Korean-South Korean relations and de-emphasize back to the future cold war posturing and military interventionism.

He might also remember that however cold war policy makers and their journalistic and academic allies made Harry Truman into a "great president," his cold war policies at home and abroad destroyed his attempt to expand the New Deal through his Fair Deal program, consolidated the power of the military industrial complex, and was the direct cause of the rise of Joe McCarthy, which, against the background of the Korean War, intensified quantitatively and qualitatively the anti-CPUSA, anti-left policies his administration inaugurated, transforming them into national hysteria.

Harry Truman left the White House in 1953 deeply discredited across the political spectrum, whatever would be said about him later in establishment circles. Franklin Roosevelt, while despised by all reactionary forces, was genuinely loved by working class people, progressive people and all who made up the majority New Deal coalition, because of his administration's accomplishments when he died in 1945.

The American people need President Obama to emulate Franklin Roosevelt in the midst of this global crisis of the capitalist system, not to emulate Harry Truman in Korea or Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam in a new Korean war that could only discredit his administration and strengthen its enemies on the right.