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Comments: Week of July 18, 2011


1. Frank Rich’s inaugural article in New York, in which he castigated President Obama for failing to hold the authors of the financial crisis accountable (Obama’s Original Sin,” July 11), elicited a voluminous, and predictably polarizing, response from readers and commenters. “One of the best pieces of his career as a political commentator and, to my mind, the definitive examination of the Obama presidency as it stands today,” wrote Elias Isquith at the blog The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. At Daily Kos, Bob Swern called the portrait of Obama’s cozy relationship with Wall Street “the inconvenient truth,” and at Rolling Stone’s Taibblog, Matt Taibbi praised Rich for his “savage” language—in particular his line that Obama “falls hard for the best and brightest white guys.” “That line is truly brutal and I imagine will not be forgotten inside the White House, which once must have viewed Rich as one of Obama’s great supporters.” “The ‘values of Harvard’ sums it up,” wrote one commenter. “From the corrupt physicians raking in the dough from their pharma-directed ­‘studies’ to the big, mean Harvard corporate machine, the killing of America has got to be stopped. I’m ecstatic that you’re once again armed to the teeth and back in action, Frank. Your voice is critical.” But not everyone agreed that the morality play holds up as political critique. “Frank Rich is a wonderful writer—colorful, telescopic, and insightful. But this is a classic case of a bias against the obvious,” wrote Derek Thompson on The Atlantic’s website. “Money rules Washington, and Wall Street has lots of it, and Congress will not soon pass a law that would fundamentally declaw the financial system. This might or might not turn out to be a tragedy someday, but it is not the tragedy right now. Unemployment suffers today not because of, but independent of, Wall Street’s success. That is the simple, boring truth.” “No one pillories hypocrisy like the savvy Mr. Rich,” agreed another commenter. “That said, his articulate slice and dice of the moneyed class is no foundation for sound policy. Sure, our president needs to push back harder against his opponents who, left to their own devices, would turn the federal government into naught but a corporate-welfare, missile-building hall of mirrors. But the president needs to keep the economy going, and that means accommodating businesses large and small.”

2. Steve Fishman’s profile of Private Bradley Manning, the lonely WikiLeaks hero (Bradley Manning’s Army of One,” July 11), “breaks new ground in exploring some of the experiences that may have shaped Manning’s life, and some of what might have been happening for the soldier internally before the alleged leaks,” wrote Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing. The chat logs at the center of the story “add depth to the picture that’s emerged of Manning as a psychologically damaged ‘mess of a child,’” Adrian Chen added on Gawker. But others felt the profile, which dealt extensively with Manning’s gender-questioning, focused on the personal at the expense of the political. “If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear—from chat logs that have been attributed to him—that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency,” writes Ethan McCord, a former Army specialist whose unit was depicted in WikiLeaks’s first big scoop, the video “Collateral Murder.” “Unfortunately, Steve Fishman’s article erases Manning’s political agency. By focusing so heavily on Manning’s personal life, Fishman removes politics from a story that has everything to do with politics.” “Though the article focuses on a variety of Manning’s emotional struggles in a way that—as is typical for whistle-blowers or anyone who engages in acts of meaningful dissent—is supposed to make you believe his alleged actions were the by-product of psychological afflictions, it actually achieves the opposite,” agrees Glenn Greenwald at Salon. “What Fishman’s article actually does is bolster the previous view of Manning’s alleged leaks as motivated by noble and understandable horror.”

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