Tunku Varadarajan, the editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal, interviewed Bernard-Henri Lévy, right, about his new book, “American Vertigo,” over a dinner of raw clams and rare steak at a fancy Manhattan hotel. But what really caught our attention in all of Varadarajan’s scene-setting details is his lip-smacking description of the author speaking with “an upward tilt of a nose so aquiline one might hang a hat on it.”
Given the fact that Lévy is Jewish, and mindful of the historically anti-Semitic caricature of hook-nosed Jews, we’d say Varadarajan’s insinuating description — the only actual physical detail offered about the author, by the way, amid a ton of color on his French accent, inherited money and patrician style — is not ironic, which is probably what Varadarajan would say it is, so much as:
4) All of the above
We’ve written about Lévy before and hold no special brief for him. When his previous book, “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?,” came out, we called it “maddening, egotistical, convoluted but ultimately brave and useful.” We do hold Varadarajan in special contempt, however, for the obvious reasons and also for being stupid enough to think that playing on the caricature is a form of wit. He’s hanged himself and his hat.
— Tireless Staff of Thousands
Postscript: At least one reader agrees with us, not that we’ve heard from many. He writes: “It’s like talking about African-Americans and commenting about big lips or flat noses or something. The ‘hang your hat on it’ remark is completely over the top. Now that I think of it, it sounds like something out of Der Stürmer.”
The reference is to Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, the semi-official Nazi rag that was published from 1923 to 1945. It had a peak circulation of 486,000 in 1935, but its readership was much greater, and theme issues had print runs of as many as two million copies, according to Randall Bytwerk. “For 22 years every issue denounced Jews in crude, vicious, and vivid ways,” Bytwerk writes in an excerpt from his Streicher biography. The front page of Feb. 23, 1943, above right, shows a cartoon photo of a Jew, captioned “Satan,” and a headline that says: “The Mobilization of the People.”
PPS: “With its contrived anti-French attitude and polemic, the Varadarajan article is the usual rightwinger idiocy,” Straight Up regular William Osborne writes. “The French are not anti-American. They just think Bush and the neocons are a bunch of assholes. That does nothing more than put them in league with a huge number of Americans. As the article notes, ‘Mr. Lévy
regards his own criticism of America not as anti-Americanism, but as tough love.’ It’s true. Any decent friend of America at this point would definitely speak frankly to us about the dismal state of our political life and foreign policy. Good friends let you know when you have totally screwed up.”
How could the Europeans not be exasperated with America? Just turn the tables for a moment. What would Americans think if the Europeans had established a bunch of secret torture camps spread around America — and by necessity, without even the courtesy of consulting with our government? Our government’s behavior could not be more boorish, stupid, and offensive. In reality, I marvel at the European’s restraint and composure.
As our last two presidential elections illustrate, our country is deeply divided. The Republicans, through the machinations of people like Karl Rove, knew that drumming up hatred and contempt for “The Other” is an effective, time-tested method of creating an artificial unity. Arabs and the French became their scapegoats. Anyone with the least knowledge of 20th-century history remembers how effectively, and extremely, Hitler used this same technique. One thing is sure, the vast majority of the international community, both right and left, is waiting for this administration’s last day.
Speaking of technique, we are reminded again of the Bullshitter-in-Chief‘s all-purpose 911 game plan — this time to defend his illegal domestic spy program. As reported today (Monday, Jan. 23) in The New York Times:
[T]he White House has effectively declared that it views its controversial secret surveillance program not as a political liability but as an asset, a way to attack Democrats and re-establish President Bush’s standing after a difficult year. …
Applying the campaign lessons of simplicity and repetition, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove, his chief political adviser, have systematically presented arguments in accessible if sometimes exaggerated terms, and they have regularly returned to the theme of terrorism since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Sometimes exaggerated”? Oh, never mind.