A motley collection that illustrates both the obsessions and the daffiness of Right and Left during the ’90s.
Ubiquitous journalists Hitchens (Why Orwell Matters, p. 1195) and Caldwell (Senior Editor, The Weekly Standard), representing, respectively, the Left and the Right, selected the pieces to represent their own camps, and each wrote the introduction to the other’s selections (both are feather-light and forgettable). Not much for surprises here. From the Left come criticisms of our country’s support of friendly dictators, of intolerance (“An American society without liberalism,” writes Philip Green, “would be a sinkhole of racism, sexism and every form of unabashed bigotry”), of private militias, of child labor, of companies that mistreat workers, of capital punishment. From the Right come attacks on the Clintons and Kennedys (Peter Collier’s comments on the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. permit him to scourge the rest of the family, living and otherwise), on Janet Reno (she returned Elian to Communism), on anti-smokers and feminists. Occasionally, there is some overlap. Both sides take on The Bell Curve—Adolph Reed Jr., with skill and erudition; Andrew Sullivan, with surprising and surpassing ignorance. There are also some gems in both segments. On the Left: Susan Sontag’s poignant piece about Bosnia (1995); Christopher D. Cook’s hard look at “workfare” (1998); Ruth Conniff’s discoveries about the feckless “drug war” in Colombia (1992). On the Right: Francis X. Bacon’s Shakespearean satire of the Clintons (1994); William Monahan’s hilarious rant about the loss of his Right to Smoke (1999); Thomas Fleming’s piquant comments on a new edition of Strunk and White (1999). The award for Most Paranoid, Racist, and Sexist Piece goes to Kenneth Minogue (2001), who argues that “the radical feminist revolution is nothing less than a destruction of our civilization” and that women and people of color lack the “capacity to innovate.”
Good bedside reading, with pieces that are short, digestible, and sometimes soporific.