Appearing on MSNBC’s New York Times Edition on Friday, the paper’s ‘Week in Review’ editor, Sam Tanenhaus, lamented one of Ted Kennedy’s flaws: "There’s a further paradox to this, which is we sometimes forget, I mean, all of the wonderful things being said about this extraordinary figure Edward Kennedy, that he was partly accountable for Ronald Reagan’s ascendency."
Previewing his latest New York Times column on Kennedy to host John Harwood in the 2:00PM ET hour, Tanenhaus went on to explain: "Ted Kennedy challenged the incumbent Democrat, Jimmy Carter, in 1980 and weakened him in that election and that brought Reagan into power."
Just prior to that declaration, Tanenhaus praised Kennedy for his "idea of governance [that] was really premised in the big vision of New Deal liberalism. That all the forces of government could be marshaled to improve the conditions for the greatest number of people, in particular, the excluded and the disadvantaged." In contrast, Tanenhaus claimed "the great Republican leaders, beginning with Barry Goldwater and really capped by Ronald Reagan, had no interest in governance. Ronald Reagan said government is not the solution, it’s the problem."
On MSNBC Friday, anchor John Harwood spoke with New York Times Week in Review editor Sam Tanenhaus about the health care debate, wondering: "...you know an awful lot about the patron saint of modern conservatism William F. Buckley. What do you suppose Bill Buckley would think of the nature of the arguments that are being made against the Obama health care plan right now, death panels and all the rest?"
Harwood, hosting the 2:00PM ET weekly New York Times Edition broadcast, was asking about Tanenhaus’s upcoming book, ‘The Death of Conservatism.’ Tanenhaus argued: "Well, you know, one of the great contributions Bill Buckley made to conservatism was to move it toward the center. And one way he did that was to repudiate in a very forceful way what was then called the lunatic fringe."
At that time, Harwood interjected: "The John Birch Society." Tanenhaus continued: "And they weren’t necessarily a dangerous group, but what they did was discredit serious conservative arguments." He then made the comparison to the current health care debate: "...and we may see in the days ahead where serious responsible Republicans and conservative thinkers say if they’re going to make a forceful argument the country can accept, they’ll have to cut themselves off from this more extreme view."
Harwood concluded: "Well, it’s an interesting point. It’s – I don’t see right now anybody cutting off that extreme view all that much."
When Sam Tanenhaus came on board the New York Times Book Review in 2004 he was accused of being conservative, but one would be hard-pressed to convict him based on the available evidence during his tenure -- "the emptiness of free-market liturgy," anyone?
Besides having a thin, forced, and familiar feel, Tanenhaus's latest essay for the Times Week in Review, "Sound of Silence: The Culture Wars Take a Break," managed to portray Obama's opposition to gay marriage (which would normally make him a villain or at least hypocritical in the Times's eyes) as a Clintonian-style tactical victory against conservatives, absent of any the usual anti-gay taint the paper brings to bear on the matter.
The culture wars may not have ended, but on some fronts the combat has gotten rather quiet. For instance, family values.
True, David Letterman's awkward joke about a daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska prompted denunciations of the "media elite" (though it also boosted Mr. Letterman's ratings).
"Conservatism Is Dead," blares the cover of the February 18 edition of The New Republic, heralding an article by Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review and Week in Review. Tanenhaus came to bury conservatism, arguing up front that today's GOP is too weak to resist Obama. (Perhaps a premature burial, given the GOP's stand against the "stimulus" package.)
Tanenhaus, who was advertised as some kind of conservative when he joined the Times as Book Review editor in 2004, has written nothing to justify that stance since. After Obama's election, he wrote in wonder that
Some 40 years later, there are conservatives who still inveigh against the perils of socialized medicine.
In his New Republic cover story, Tanenhaus sounded at best like a neo-liberal, making brief cursory criticism of liberal overreach while bearing down hard on conservative opposition to food stamps and the welfare state in general, with much discussion of Joe McCarthy, "the emptiness of free-market liturgy," and conservative malice toward the poor.