Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
|•||Belief in Deity |
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
|•||Origin of Universe and Life |
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
|•||After Death |
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
|•||Why Evil? |
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.
Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.
|•||Undeserved Suffering |
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
|•||Contemporary Issues |
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
January 14, 2008 Issue
Copyright © 2007 The American Conservative
Giuliani has surrounded himself with advisors who think the Bush Doctrine didn’t go nearly far enough.
by Michael C. Desch
Like most Americans, I knew little about Rudolph Giuliani, save that he had been the very successful mayor of New York City catapulted to iconic status for his cool-headed demeanor after the Sept. 11 attacks. I was curious about where he stood as a presidential candidate, so in April 2007, I joined nearly 3,000 other Texas A&M faculty and students to hear him speak.
After saying some nice things about his host, President George H.W. Bush, Rudy launched into a stemwinder about the “war on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism” that basically repudiated everything the former president stood for in his foreign policy. Moreover, in the space of 40 minutes, Giuliani never once mentioned Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the attack on his city.
I was so appalled by the mayor’s simplistic message that terrorists were attacking us because they “oppose our freedom and ... want to impose their ideology on us” that I ignored protocol and challenged him during the Q&A. To the accompaniment of hisses from the rabidly pro-Rudy students, I reminded the mayor that Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East have taken our side against al-Qaeda at various times. Like the students, Hizzonor was not amused, and I got five minutes of unvarnished Rudy chiding me for just not getting it.
To the cheers of the partisan crowd, Giuliani argued that my “failure to see the connection between Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups [was] a recipe for disaster.” In his view, the campaign of radical Islamic terrorism began back in the 1960s and 1970s and included things like the Black September attack upon Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich in 1972. He ridiculed my call to disaggregate the terrorist threat, saying it ignored the fact that Yasir Arafat, whom, he lamented, we helped win the Nobel Prize, was responsible for “slaughtering 29 Americans” over the years. I learned later that Giuliani was so annoyed by my hectoring that he complained about it at the reception after the talk. He was reportedly shocked to learn that I was not some lefty professor but a member of the faculty at the Bush School.
After this disheartening experience, I decided to look more closely at what Giuliani was saying about foreign policy and who was advising him. What I found alarmed me: Rudy’s performance here was no aberration. Those who thought George W. Bush was too timid in the conduct of his foreign policy will find a champion in Rudy.
The Giuliani campaign was slow to articulate a detailed foreign policy. Through the summer of 2007, it was content to offer platitudes among the mayor’s “Twelve Commitments” such as, “I will keep America on the offense in the Terrorists’ War on Us.” But by the fall, the candidate published a major piece in Foreign Affairs that outlined his agenda. Explicitly rejecting realism, he instead sounded the tocsin: “Civilization itself, and the international system, had come under attack by a ruthless and radical Islamist enemy.” Giuliani warned, “the terrorists’ war on us was encouraged by unrealistic and inconsistent actions taken in response to terrorist attacks in the past. A realistic peace can only be achieved through strength.”
Had I been more attentive over the years, I might have been less surprised by the mayor’s hard-line neoconservative stance. I had forgotten that while U.S. attorney in New York, Giuliani tried to close the PLO’s New York office. As mayor, he made headlines in 1995, when he had Arafat ejected from a concert at Lincoln Center. In a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition this fall, Rudy pointed to this incident as emblematic of his leadership style: “I didn’t hesitate, like Hillary Clinton hesitates to answer questions on what she’s going to do about Iran. I didn’t seek to negotiate with him, like Barack Obama would do or says he’d do with these people. I didn’t call for a team of lawyers to help me. … I just made a decision. See, I lead. That’s what [being a] leader is about.”
To the extent that a mayor of New York has a foreign policy, it needs to be loudly supportive of Israel. In a speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, Giuliani struck the “Israel’s war is our war” note by claiming that the war on terror began in Munich in 1972. His September 2007 proposal to expand NATO to include Israel is part and parcel of this approach. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Giuliani is “the clear favorite of the party’s top Jewish activists.”
Giuliani holds up his résumé as mayor to buttress his claim that he is ready to be president. “I know from personal experience,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs, “that when security is reliably established in a troubled part of a city, normal life rapidly reestablishes itself: shops open, people move back in, children start playing ball on the sidewalks again, and soon a decent and law-abiding community returns to life. The same is true in world affairs.” Alas, his New York record is not so reassuring. Recall such pre-9/11 missteps as his decision to locate the city’s counterterrorism center in the World Trade Center, which had already been the target of an al-Qaeda terrorist attack in 1993; his failure to integrate the fire and police communications systems; his penchant for surrounding himself with sketchy characters like Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Giuliani would later recommend to train Iraqi security forces and as secretary of the department of homeland security. He dropped out of the blue-ribbon Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group because it cut into his paid speechmaking. Giuliani apparently thinks his years in Gracie Mansion sufficed to school him in high politics.
In one sense, his campaign is a big tent: it has by some estimates between 60 and 70 advisors. Some—British Soviet expert Robert Conquest and Reagan campaign defense advisor William Van Cleave—are clearly window-dressing. The core of senior advisors includes former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, Martin Kramer (Middle East), Stephen Rosen (defense), S. Enders Wimbush (diplomacy), Peter Berkowitz (statecraft, human rights, and freedom), Kim Holmes (foreign policy), and perhaps Daniel Pipes. Giuliani’s chief foreign-policy advisor is retired diplomat and Yale instructor Charles Hill. In the face of controversy about how many neoconservatives were playing prominent roles, Podhoretz bragged to the New York Observer,“Giuliani doesn’t think that this is a liability.”
Podhoretz is the person whose presence has done the most to set in concrete the notion that Team Rudy is all neocon all the time. Famous for arguing that we are in the midst of “World War IV,” Podhoretz is scathing in his criticism of those he suspects of not waging the war with enough vigor. He even charges that many senior military officers show insufficient stomach for the fight, singling out former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid and his successor, Adm. William Fallon. Podhoretz is also an assiduous peddler of the new neocon myth that the antiwar camp stabbed President Bush in the back.
And he doesn’t stop at Iraq: Podhoretz constantly beats the drum for bombing Iran to halt its nascent nuclear program. Air Marshal Podhoretz assured The Telegraph that the air campaign “would take five minutes.” His optimism that attacking Iran would be another cakewalk combines with pessimism about the prospects of multilateral sanctions preventing Iran from getting the bomb. “Yet for all their retrospective remorse over the wholesale slaughter of the Jews back then,” Podhoretz sneers, “the Europeans seem no readier to lift a finger to prevent a second Holocaust than they were the first time around.”
There are areas where Podhoretz is out of synch with the rest of the Giuliani team. One is his steadfast commitment to the Bush administration’s efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, which he applies equally to American enemies like Iran and Syria and friends like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Other Giuliani advisors are more restrained about democracy promotion. Another point of departure is Podhoretz’s long-standing critique of the Clinton administration for treating terrorism as simply a “crime problem,” a charge somewhat discordant with the mayor’s claim that his successful campaign against crime in New York City justifies electing him global sheriff.
The biggest problem Podhoretz poses for the Giuliani campaign is that he has some particularly far-fetched beliefs that even in these fevered times most Americans do not share. As Ian Buruma noted in a recent review of World War IV, Podhoretz “expresses a weird longing for the state of war, for the clarity it brings, and for the chance to divide one’s fellow citizens, or indeed the whole world, neatly into friends and foes, comrades and traitors, warriors and appeasers, those who are with us and those who are against.”
Another neocon stalwart in Rudy’s camp is Martin Kramer, a long-time think-tanker in Israel and the United States, who specializes in exposing the “biases” in academic studies of the Middle East. These wrong-headed ideas need to be challenged, in Kramer’s view, because they undermine U.S. policy. Among them, the faulty notion of “Arabists” in academia and government that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow related to America’s problems in the Middle East. In Kramer’s view, the U.S. should stand firmly with Israel because only then will the Arabs respect us. In 2001, he told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) that the United States’ key problem in the region is “its perceived lack of resolve; its quickness to forgive, or at least forget; its penchant for creating categorical boxes, like the state sponsors of terrorism list, and then ignoring them altogether. This is perceived as weakness, and when you are perceived as weak in the Middle East, you become a tempting target and the vultures begin to circle.” Kramer’s lack of confidence that America will show the necessary mettle persuades him that Podhoretz is too sanguine about our chances in World War IV.
Kramer is representative of the Giuliani team’s more cautious view of nation building. Challenging the Bush administration’s faith in democracy as a panacea for our problems in the Middle East, he reminded a WINEP audience in 2002, “from the vantage point of Israel, things look precisely the opposite. Israel has five immediate neighbors: Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority. Syria, Jordan, and Egypt are ruled without even a pretense of democracy. … And witness: Islamist movements are no great threat to order in any of these three autocratic states.” Conversely, he observed, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority both have some measure of “pluralism” and are rife with Islamicism. Like most other members of the Giuliani varsity foreign-policy team, Kramer takes a more Jeane Kirpatrick-type line on democracy promotion than neocons in the Bush administration did.
Giuliani’s senior defense advisor is my old colleague from Harvard’s Olin Institute of Strategic Studies, Stephen Peter Rosen. He qualifies as a movement neocon, having signed many of the Project for a New American Century’s ukases, such as the Sept. 21, 2001 letter arguing, “even if the evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq” and the April 3, 2002 letter baldly declaring, “Israel’s fight against terrorism is our fight.” Not surprisingly, given his experience on the National Security Council during the early years of the Reagan military build-up, Rosen supports increased defense spending and the expansion of our ground forces. He is also an unabashed advocate of American primacy, arguing in a recent piece in The National Interest, “successful imperial governance must focus on maintaining and increasing, if possible, the initial advantage in the ability to generate military power.”
But Rosen’s view of international politics goes beyond renascent Reagan-era hawkishness and embraces a social Darwinistic framework for understanding hegemonic America’s challenges. Rejecting Bush’s pre-9/11 argument that America needed a “humble foreign policy,” Rosen wrote:
Humility is always a virtue, but the dominant male atop any social hierarchy, human or otherwise, never managed to rule simply by being nice. Human evolutionary history has produced a species that both creates hierarchies and harbors the desire among subordinates to challenge its dominant member. Those challenges never disappear. The dominant member can never do everything that subordinates desire, and so it is blamed for what it does not do as much as for what it does.
Giuliani’s senior team has another Harvard connection through Peter Berkowitz, a former political theory professor in the Government Department who now holds a joint appointment at George Mason Law School and Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Berkowitz is extremely critical of academia, issuing jeremiads like the one that appeared in April 2005 in the Washington Post charging that many Middle East studies programs are in thrall to the “poisonous political proposition that Israel is the root source of all the ills that beset the Muslim world.” In a summer 2007 piece in Policy Review, he dismissed academia as “unaccountable to outside authority, largely sheltered from opposing points of view, given to seeing themselves as a saving remnant both unappreciated by the broader public and besieged by an evil government, professors at our leading universities have created an intellectual environment that has undermined the conditions that foster free and unbiased exploration of the great issues of the day.” To be sure, academia has its biases, but these are counterbalanced by other intellectual forces in society. If Berkowitz and other neoconservatives had their way, they would impose their own orthodoxy on campus, thereby removing a check on themselves.
S. Enders Wimbush, a former Radio Liberty director and currently a Hudson Institute senior fellow, apparently aspires to be President Giuliani’s Karen Hughes. One of his major strategic planks is to establish a “Radio Free Iran” to undermine the mullocracy. He epitomizes the ambivalence about Iran among the Giuliani crowd: on the one hand, they envision a major role for the captive Iranian masses yearning for freedom; on the other, they treat Iran as a monolith. In January 2007, for example, Wimbush despaired that Iran is undeterrable because the regime is willing to “‘martyr’ the entire Iranian nation, and it has even expressed the desirability of doing so in a way to accelerate the inevitable, apocalyptic collision between Islam and the West that will result in Islam’s final worldwide triumph.” Like Berkowitz, Wimbush complains that American universities are not doing their part by producing graduates with the skills necessary to wage the global war on terror, so he is an advocate of the philanthropic community using its resources to prompt reform.
Kim Holmes, a defense analyst for the Heritage Foundation, recently served as assistant secretary of state for international organization in the second Bush administration. Like most of the rest of the team, he is cautious about depending too much on democracy promotion, arguing in an August 2006 lecture: “We must distinguish between elections and democracy, and between populism and freedom. Frankly, there may be times when supporting overseas elections may not be advisable. And not every populist movement desires liberty. Even despots and terrorists can get elected in some circumstances. We have only to look at Belarus or the Palestinian elections.” Holmes still maintains that we went to war in Iraq exclusively to prevent Saddam from developing weapons of mass destruction and to disrupt his links with al-Qaeda. He blames most of our troubles today in Iraq on Iran, arguing that the Islamic Republic is “acting as if it’s on a roll.” Holmes is also critical of European politicians he thinks are insufficiently supportive of the United States. The strangest example was his March 2007 broadside against the British Conservative Party, which he suggested was going wobbly.
Daniel Pipes is the crazy uncle of the Giuliani campaign. In some places he is listed as a senior advisor, but the chair of the senior advisory team went to great lengths to minimize his influence. This is not surprising because even among this group, Pipes stands out as an extremist. His day job is as director of The Middle East Forum, a think tank that focuses on U.S. interests in the Middle East and includes Campus Watch, a group that monitors Middle Eastern studies on campus for evidence of anti-Israel bias. He gave this over-the-top assessment of the situation to the New York Sun in December 2006: “Self-hating Westerners have an out-sized importance due to their prominent role as shapers of opinion in universities, the media, religious institutions, and the arts. They serve as the Islamists’ auxiliary mujahideen.” Pipes’s appointment to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace by President Bush sparked controversy because, among other things, he urged Congress to pass legislation to establish a board to monitor federally funded area studies programs in universities for anti-American sentiments.
That alarmism also colors his view of Israel’s security situation: in an October 2007 article in the Jerusalem Post, Pipes portrayed the Jewish state as besieged from all sides: “Count the ways Israel is under siege: from Iranians building a nuclear bomb, Syrians stockpiling chemical weapons, Egyptians and Saudis developing serious conventional forces, Hezbullah attacking from Lebanon, Fatah from the West Bank, Hamas from Gaza, and Israel’s Muslim citizens becoming politically restive and more violent.” No one denies that Israel faces a challenging security environment, but few serious analysts would endorse this apocalyptic view. In the New York Sun, he dismissed the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s conclusion that many of our problems in Iraq are linked to the unresolved Israel-Palestine conflict as the product of “small minds.”
Pipes’s uncompromisingly pro-Israel line has at times gotten him into trouble. For example, he was a major supporter of From Time Immemorial author Joan Peters’s discredited thesis that the Arabs had no claim to Palestine because most of them did not arrive there until shortly before 1948. Pipes, like neoconservative hawk Laurie Mylroie, has also flip-flopped wildly on how to treat Saddam Hussein. Both advocated closer ties with Saddam when he was fighting Iran in the 1980s. After that war ended, both suddenly discovered his horrendous human-rights record and support of Palestinian terrorism. But nothing better demonstrates how far out of the post-Annapolis mainstream Pipes is than his association with extremist groups, such as Jerusalem Summit, which oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and advocates that Palestinians settle in other Arab countries.
Finally, Giuliani enlisted former Foreign Service officer Charles Hill to chair his senior advisory team. Many reports imply that Hill, a previously rather obscure figure, was chosen to counter the widespread perception that Giuliani’s team was a wholly owned neoconservative subsidiary. In an October 2007 interview in the New York Sun, Hill expressed dismay about a recent New York Times piece because “the subtext seems to be war crazy neocons have captured the campaign and that is a distortion.” Hill countered, “this is a non-ideological approach that we take. … It is a center right group of people with a wide range of thoughts and ideas.”
Hill describes himself as an “Edmund Burke conservative,” but as one former Yale International Security Studies Fellow explained to me, “There’s not much if any daylight between Charlie and the neocons, except on the degree to which is Charlie is more of a multilateralist than them. ... I suppose the only difference is that Charlie is more like Cheney, who dovetails with the neocons on most issues of the last 6.5 years, rather than strictly being a neocon. And like Cheney, I think 9/11 had a massive effect on Charlie. You can’t underestimate just how much it galvanized him.”
A brief review of Hill’s career reveals how he has moved steadily closer to the neocon camp. As his former Yale student Molly Worthen recounts in her treacly biography, The Man On Whom Nothing Was Lost, Hill began his Foreign Service career in Switzerland. While he was watching the young Red Guards in the vanguard of the Cultural Revolution from across the bamboo curtain in Hong Kong, Hill realized the double-edged nature of youth: he appreciated their dynamism, but feared their disregard for established order. This lesson was reinforced during a sabbatical he took at Harvard in 1970, where he experienced American youth rebellion firsthand. Worthen reports that Hill flirted with the antiwar movement, writing articles in the campus newspaper and even contributing a chapter to a book edited by Noam Chomsky. But after his next assignment in Vietnam, which he initially resisted, Hill came to believe that the antiwar movement had undercut the American effort just as it was beginning to succeed.
Hill’s assignment to the Israel desk at Foggy Bottom and then to the embassy in Tel Aviv edged him closer to the neoconservative camp. According to Worthen, Hill “was very informed by his experience in Israel and has deep, deep sympathy for the Israelis, not based on their political situation, but a very existential empathy for their national philosophy and their culture, which he perceives as honest and manly, really standing for something that is good and true about the human race.” Hill found the Israelis he met to be “intrepid,” in contrast to the effete Americans he encountered in Cambridge. During his posting in Israel, Hill was introduced to Menachem Begin and was so taken that he asked the Likud prime minister for an autographed picture. Later, when he was Secretary of State George Schultz’s executive assistant, Hill would develop a close relationship with Israel’s United Nations representative Benyamin Netanyahu.
Hill’s government service ended abruptly with Schultz’s departure during the transition to the first Bush administration. While Bush and Reagan’s personal relations were cordial, a fact historian Douglas Brinkley tells me is amply evident in Reagan’s soon to be published diaries, there was little love lost among lower-level officials in the two administrations. Hill went with Schultz to the Hoover Institution for a year, but was forced to resign from the Foreign Service after it became clear that he had concealed evidence of Schultz’s extensive knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal from federal agents. Hill moved to New Haven and commuted for a time to New York while he worked for UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali. With Boutros Ghali’s retirement, Hill began to teach in 1997 in Yale’s Freshman Directed Studies in the Humanities program.
It was there that he met historians Paul Kennedy and John Lewis Gaddis and came to play a role in the development of Yale’s Studies in Grand Strategy program. From the beginning, the program was a lightning rod for controversy. Some Yalies objected to its elitism—the former ISS fellow says the program “very much views itself as elite and cultivates that reputation”—others to its right-of-center political orientation (probably unfair to Kennedy, though he has of late started signing Project for a New American Century manifestos), still others to its pretentiousness. On this last count, Worthen admits, “sometimes it can seem like students in the grand strategy course are laboring under the delusion that they will be appointed secretary of state or find themselves nominated to the Supreme Court just a few months after they graduate.” Another former fellow described how Kennedy and Gaddis convened an “emergency dinner” of the grand-strategy faculty and ISS fellows after 9/11 and had the transcript of the evening’s discussions sealed in Yale’s archives for posterity. Worthen’s biography of Hill itself grew out of a paper she wrote for Gaddis, which is the sort of self-referential assignment that one would only get in a program that thought so well of itself.
But the most frequent criticism of the program involves Hill’s pedagogical approach. Worthen observes, “Hill’s teaching style dazzles and offends in the same way that religious indoctrination does.” His demeanor in the classroom, along with its extracurricular manifestations, turned Worthen from an acolyte who scrawled “Charles Hill is God” in her freshman notebook into a skeptical biographer, who confessed that “each time I packed up my notebook and left his office, I could not help feeling a bit brainwashed.” Worthen fretted, “something about Professor Hill made us wildly anxious to prove ourselves, evidently to the point of self ruin.” She recounts how Hill encouraged one undergraduate to enlist in the Marines and another to forego a lucrative corporate job for a U.S. government post in Kuwait, much to her parents’ chagrin.
What do we know of Hill’s own foreign-policy agenda? In an interview broadcast over a conservative website called Captain’s Quarters in July 2007, Hill focused on three issues. First, he argued that the American Diplomatic Corps was badly in need of reform because of a “lack of professional dedication came into the Foreign Service.” He explained that this problem was “related to the 1968 generation of young people coming into the Service and essentially not wanting to put loyalty to the President or American foreign policy first. They were putting their own employee rights first, as if they were unionized workers.” Hill promised that Rudy will “get rid of the people not on the team” and suggested the mayor will do for the Foreign Service what he did to the New York Police Department.
Second, Hill argued that a Giuliani administration would give high priority to combating anti-Americanism. This is urgent, in his view, because many of our problems in the Middle East are the result of the “propaganda pumped out by Arab regimes” rather than any specific U.S. policies.
Finally, Hill offered what he considered a more nuanced and effective policy for promoting human rights and democracy than the Bush administration’s. Under Giuliani, the emphasis would be on supporting dissidents “bravely resisting tyranny” rather than on reforming friendly governments. Hill further promised to focus on the more limited goal of spreading “decent government.” He explained to The American Spectator that the United States “has to stand for democracy. We can’t turn away from that, but we have to do it in a way that’s realistic and Rudy Giuliani has talked about the realistic piece.”
Otherwise, Hill is squarely in the neoconservative camp. He maintains, “If we pull out of Iraq now, it’s just going to break the dam and there will be flood waters of chaos and murder across the region.” He evidently buys into Podhoretz’s World War IV mindset, writing in The Yale Israel Journal, “if the Islamists can defeat the Middle Eastern states that seek reform and work with the international system, we will be faced with another world war.” It’s as if Hill believes radical Islamic terrorists constitute a greater danger to the United States than the Soviet Union did.
In State of Denial—the third installment of his Bush at War trilogy—Bob Woodward recounted a conversation between then-Texas governor George W. Bush and Saudi Prince Bandar bin-Sultan before the 2000 election in which the candidate confessed, “I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about foreign policy.” To fill that empty vessel, the Bush campaign assembled a diverse group of advisors—“the Vulcans”—who represented a broad range of opinion within the Republican Party, from neoconservatives (Paul Wolfowitz) to traditional hawks (Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) to realists (Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and Condoleezza Rice). That Bush eventually threw his lot in with the neoconservatives is a function of the dramatic events of 9/11 combined with the weaknesses of his other advisors. But at least this was not a foregone conclusion.
Rudolph Giuliani, in contrast, is no empty vessel. He knows exactly where he stands. His spokesman told the New York Observer: “Mayor Giuliani has a range of advisors to provide him information on foreign policy issues and at the end of the day Mayor Giuliani’s viewpoints regarding foreign policy are his own.” Hill confirmed to Captain’s Quarters that Giuliani has a “really fully formed foreign policy approach, a comprehensive vision. ... not something where he needs to turn to somebody and say ‘what do I do, or what do I think about this?’ He already has it in mind.”
Unfortunately, he is of one mind with some of the most unrepentant, unreconstructed neoconservatives around. Podhoretz told the New York Observer that “as far as I can tell, there is very little difference in how he sees the war and how I see it.” If anyone thinks that neoconservativism is on the outs after the debacle in Iraq, they need look no further than the Republican frontrunner’s brain-trust.
To be sure, neoconservatives do not all think alike on every issue, as evidenced by the Giuliani team’s skepticism about social engineering. But the continuities far outnumber the divergences. Even allegedly non-neocon members of the team like Charles Hill turn out, upon closer inspection, to be solidly of the familiar persuasion.
Some hope that all of this is just posturing to secure the Republican nomination, which will be delivered by a base troubled by Giuliani’s multiple marriages, occasional cross-dressing, and support for abortion, civil unions, and immigrants’ rights. A post on Matthew Yglesias’s Atlantic Monthly blog offered a theory: “Giuliani is stocking up on these stock characters not for real advice—he’s not that insane—but rather to get out a sort of dogwhistle message to the true rightwing nuts, who are willing to forgive a guy anything if he will only pledge to nuke significant parts of the Middle East.” Yglesias himself is not so sure: he thinks Rudy is “bat-s - - t insane.”
Giuliani’s tendency to conflate all terrorist groups—whether Islamist or not and whether they attack the United States or just allies like Israel—led Fred Kaplan of Slate to dub him the “anti-statesman.” Sending him and his team to the White House might actually ignite World War IV.
Friday December 21, 2007
Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose alleged accumulated wealth of $40bn would make him Europe's richest man. Photograph: Maxim Marmur/AP
Rival clans inside the Kremlin are embroiled in a struggle for the control of assets as Putin prepares to transfer power to his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in May, well-placed political observers and other sources have revealed.
At stake are billions of dollars in assets belonging to Russian state-run corporations. Additionally, details of Putin's own personal fortune, reportedly hidden in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, are being discussed for the first time.
Citing sources inside the president's administration, Belkovsky claims that after eight years in power Putin has secretly accumulated more than $40bn (£20bn). The sum would make him Russia's - and Europe's - richest man.
In an interview with the Guardian, Belkovsky repeated his claims that Putin owns vast holdings in three Russian oil and gas companies, concealed behind a "non-transparent network of offshore trusts".
Putin "effectively" controls 37% of the shares of Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company and Russia's third biggest oil producer, worth $20bn, he says. He also owns 4.5% of Gazprom, and "at least 75%" of Gunvor, a mysterious Swiss-based oil trader, founded by Gennady Timchenko, a friend of the president's, Belkovsky alleges.
Asked how much Putin was worth, Belkovsky said: "At least $40bn. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about." He added: "It may be more. It may be much more.
"Putin's name doesn't appear on any shareholders' register, of course. There is a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of offshore companies and funds. The final point is in Zug [in Switzerland] and Liechtenstein. Vladimir Putin should be the beneficiary owner."
Putin has not commented on Belkovsky's claims. The Guardian put the allegations to the Kremlin but was told Putin's chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was not available.
Discussion of Putin's wealth has previously been taboo. But the claims have leaked out against the backdrop of a fight inside the Kremlin between a group led by Igor Sechin, Putin's influential deputy chief of staff, and a "liberal" clan that includes Medvedev.
The Sechin group is made up of siloviki - Kremlin officials with security/military backgrounds. It is said to include Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's KGB successor agency, his deputy Alexander Bortnikov, and Putin's aide Viktor Ivanov.
Those associated with the liberal camp include Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea football club who is close to Putin and the Yeltsin family. Other members are Viktor Cherkesov, the head of the federal drug control service, and Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek-born billionaire.
Insiders say the struggle has little to do with ideology. They characterise it as a war between business competitors. Putin's decision to endorse as president Medvedev - who has no links with the secret services - dealt a severe blow to the hardline Sechin clan, they add.
Some analysts have said Putin would like to retire but has been forced to carry on to shield Medvedev from siloviki plotting. Others disagree and say Putin wants to stay in power. On Monday Putin confirmed he intends next year to become Russia's prime minister.
"The siloviki are not at all nice," Yulia Latynina, a Russian political commentator said. Latynina, who hosts a political talkshow on the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, was one of the first journalists to draw attention last month to Putin's reported links with Gunvor.
The company is based in Zug, a picturesque Swiss canton known as a bolthole for publicity-shy international businessmen. Gunvor has neither a website nor a Moscow office - but in 2007 posted profits of $8bn on a turnover of $43bn, an astronomic figure, according to industry experts. Like Putin, its reclusive owner, Timchenko, worked in the KGB's foreign affairs directorate. He is said to have met Russia's president in the late 1980s through KGB circles.
Gunvor, which has its head office in Geneva, failed to comment.
Critics say the wave of renationalisations under Putin has transformed Putin's associates into multimillionaires. The dilemma now facing the Kremlin's elite is how to hang on to its wealth if Putin leaves power, experts say. Most of its money is located in the west, they add. The pressing problem is how to protect these funds from any future administration that may seek to reclaim them.
"There's no point in having all this money if you can't travel to the Maldives or Paris and spend it," Elena Panfilova, the director of Transparency International in Russia said.
The first hints of the intra-clan warfare gripping the Kremlin emerged last month, when the FSB arrested General Alexander Bulbov, the deputy head of the federal drug agency, and part of the liberal group. His arrest saw a surreal standoff, with his bodyguards and FSB agents pointing machine guns at each other.
Earlier this month Russia's deputy finance minister, Sergei Storchak - another "liberal" - was also arrested and charged with embezzling $43.4m. He is currently in prison. His boss, Russia's finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, part of the liberal clan, says he is innocent.
But the liberal group - one of several competing factions inside the Kremlin - has struck back. Earlier this month Oleg Shvartsman, a previously obscure businessman, gave an interview to Kommersant newspaper claiming he secretly managed the finances of a group of FSB officers. Their assets were worth £1.6bn, he revealed.
The officers were involved in "velvet reprivatisations", Shvartsman, a fund manager, said - in effect forcibly acquiring private companies at below-market value and transforming them into state-owned firms. These assets were redistributed via offshore companies, he said.
According to Panfilova, the "randomised" corruption of the 1990s has given way to the "systemic and institutionalised corruption" of the Putin era. Members of Putin's cabinet personally control the most important sectors of the economy - oil, gas and defence. Medvedev is chairman of Gazprom; Sechin runs Rosneft; other ministers are chairmen of Russian railways, Aeroflot, a nuclear fuel giant and an energy transport enterprise.
Putin has created a new, more streamlined oligarchy, his critics say. "The crown jewels of the country's wealth have ended up in the hands of Putin's inner circle," Vladimir Rzyhkov - a former independent MP - wrote in Monday's Moscow Times.
Belkovsky - who published a book about Putin's finances last year, and who is the director of the National Strategic Institute, a Moscow thinktank - claims he is confident of his assessment of Putin's hidden wealth. "It's not a secret among the elites,' he said. "But please pay attention that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] has never sued me."
Belkovsky adds that the west has misunderstood Putin and has been distracted by his "neo-Soviet" image. Putin, Belkovsky claims, is ultimately a "classic" businessman who believes money can solve any problem, and whose psychology was shaped by his experiences working in the St Petersburg mayor's office in Russia's crime-ridden early 1990s.
"He is quite sure of this. A problem that can't be resolved with $1bn can be resolved with $10bn, and if not with $10bn then $20bn, and so on," Belkovsky said.
In an interview on Wednesday with Time magazine, which named Putin its person of the year, the president vehemently denied that those inside the Kremlin were corrupt.
Asked whether "some of the people closest to you are getting rich", Putin said: "Then you know who and how. Write to us, to the foreign ministry, if you are so confident. I presume you know the names, you know the systems and the tools.
"I can assure you and everyone who would listen to us, watch us and read us, that the reaction would be swift, immediate, [and] within the prevailing law."
Yesterday the London Times reported central questions about Senator Obama's shocking dearth of international experience: "Fresh doubts over Barack Obama's foreign policy credentials were expressed on both sides of the Atlantic last night, after it emerged that he had made only one brief official visit to London - and none elsewhere in Western Europe or Latin America." It also reported: "Mr. Obama had failed to convene a single policy meeting of the Senate European subcommittee, of which he is chairman."
These basic facts, coming from a major foreign newspaper, are a sobering counterpoint to a gushing Boston Globe editorial that endorsed Obama for having "an intuitive sense of the wider world with all its perils and opportunities." Intuition may be a laudable quality among psychics and palm readers, but for a professional American diplomat like myself, who have spent a career toiling in the vineyards of national security, it has no relevance to serious discussion of foreign policy. In fact, Obama's supposed "intuitive sense" is no different from George W. Bush's "instincts" and "gut feeling" describing his own foreign policy decision-making. We have been down this road before.
During my tenure as Senior Director for African Affairs in the Clinton Administration, I had the responsibility for helping to plan and execute President Clinton's historic trip to that continent. It was a trip that forever changed the way American administrations think about Africa. I spent eleven days with President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton traveling to six countries and meeting with leaders from many more. She was a full participant in all of our activities and a key adviser--and for good reason. Hillary had previously traveled to Africa, leading a prominent U.S. delegation to several countries. On her return she was instrumental in persuading the president that he should invest that most precious of presidential assets--time--in his own trip. People who are now senior advisers to Senator Obama were involved in both of those trips. So it is mystifying to me that they have allowed themselves to "forget" the key role Hillary played in such a major shift in approach to that part of the world and have participated in a negative campaign tactic on the part of the Obama campaign to demean her significant contributions to foreign policy of which they are well aware.
Barack Obama attended elementary school in Indonesia before the age of 10, his chief period of time abroad. I, too, spent years overseas in my formative school years. While the experience certainly whetted my appetite for international relations, it did not provide me either with "intuition" or expertise in the conduct of my nation's foreign policy. My understanding of international affairs came from twenty-three years of professional diplomacy, much of it spent overseas dealing at senior levels on crises such as serving as the acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq stationed in Baghdad during the first Gulf War.
In the Spring, 2003, I happened to debate William Kristol, one of the architects of the neoconservative agenda and an enthusiastic supporter for Bush's invasion of Iraq and subsequent policy. He blurted out his judgment that "on the ground experience was highly overrated." That arrogant assertion of ideology and preconceived ideas over practical experience has precisely led to the quagmire we find ourselves in today in Iraq and the Middle East.
Now, Senator Obama echoes and reflects the same attitude of contempt for "on the ground experience." Acting on his superior "intuition" he has proposed unilateral bombing of Pakistan and unstructured summits without preconditions with adversaries such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il. As we have learned, the march of folly is paved with good but naïve intentions.
A number of us, like then Illinois state senator Obama, opposed the second Gulf War. My own opposition from the beginning has been well documented. I fought the fight in the arena itself, Washington DC, against a ruthless administration and its supporters while the senator's opposition came from a far distance and carried no risk, given that he represented in Springfield, Illinois the district encompassing the University of Chicago. As an obscure but safe provincial political figure, he never was granted access to the distorted intelligence that was used to drive the Congress and the media. When I looked to the left or to the right for support, I never saw the state senator. In fact, I never heard of Barack Obama until he announced his intention to run for the Senate in the 2006 election.
After he came to Washington, Obama's views were thoroughly conventional and even timid. In 2004, he said about the 2002 congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force: "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don't know." On Iraq-related votes in the Senate, Obama's record identically matches Senator Clinton's--with the exception that Senator Clinton voted against the confirmation of General George Casey as Army chief of staff. Obama's vote was typically passive.
In the run up to the war and thereafter, I was in frequent discussions with senior Democrats in Washington, including Senator Clinton, and I was keenly aware of her demand for the full exercise of international diplomacy and allowing the weapons inspectors to complete their mission. Many of the most prominent early opponents of the war, including former General Wes Clark and former ambassador to the United National Richard Holbrooke support Senator Clinton for President, as do I. We do so because we know that she has the experience and the judgment that comes from having been in the arena for her entire adult life--and from close personal participation with her in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. And we have trust in her to end the war in Iraq in the most responsible way, consistent with our national security interests.
We know that she has won and lost but always fought for her beliefs, which are widely shared within the Democratic Party. The battles she had been in have been fierce--and the battles in the future will be no less intense--and she has proven her steadfastness and is still standing. She does not have a cowardly record of voting "present" when confronted with difficult issues. She does not claim "intuition" as the basis of the most dangerous and serious decision-making. What she has is deep and vital experience, more important than ever in restoring our country's place in the world.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Sunday December 16, 2007
The AH Trust, a charity set up last year by a group of businessmen alarmed by the direction in which they see society heading, has identified a number of potential sites in the north west of England to build the £3.5m Christian theme park.
The 5,000-capacity park will be the first of its kind in Britain, but not in the world. In Orlando, Florida, hundreds of thousands of visitors make pilgrimages to the Holy Land Experience, where they can see a bloodied Jesus forced to carry his cross by snarling Roman soldiers.
Peter Jones, one of the Lancashire theme park's trustees, said the emphasis would be on multimedia rather than the costume re-enactments of famous biblical scenes favoured at Holy Land. 'It will be a halfway house for youngsters,' Jones said. 'Today all they do is binge drink. We will be able to offer them an alternative.'
By producing its own films, the trust believes it will be able to provide an antidote to modern culture. It says on its website: 'On television today there is so much sex and violence, it is no wonder our youth are binge drinking ... This is a revolutionary scheme requiring innovative people with the vision to bring about change and a new direction.'
It declined to say who the backers were, but admitted it is talking to a number of businessmen who have invested in city academies, leading to speculation that it may have approached Sir Peter Vardy, who has given millions of pounds to advance the claims of creationism - the belief that God created the world and that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong.
While the plans for the park are still in their infancy, the trust has big ambitions. A business plan available to prospective investors suggests the park could bring in £4.8m a year - apparently 10 times its estimated overhead costs.
The trust also says it plans to apply for government grants and European funding to help it realise its dream of turning the television studio into 'an international leader in promoting family-oriented Christian programmes'.
Although concerns about the direction of modern society are the trust's main motivation for building the theme park, it is also in response to what the trustees identify as a sense of drift within the Church of England.
'The church in this country is in crisis and many church leaders living in Australia, America and Canada have openly proclaimed that God has left the church in England,' the trust states on its website.
'Evolution has falsely become the foundation of our society and we need the television studio to advocate Genesis across this land in order to remove this falsehood, which presently is destroying the church foundation.'
The theme park's anti-evolution bias and its emphasis on Genesis has raised eyebrows among planning officials, according to Jones, who originally wanted to build the park at the site of an old B&Q store but was refused permission by the council.
'Wigan council slammed the door in our faces. You mention the C [Christian] word, and people don't want to know,' Jones said.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
by Caitlin Flanagan
Are You There God? It's Me, Monica
The first time I heard a mother of girls talk about the teenage oral-sex craze, I made her cry. The story she told me—about a bar mitzvah dinner dance on the North Shore of Chicago, where the girls serviced all the boys on the chartered bus from the temple to the reception hall—was so preposterous that I burst out laughing. The thought of thirteen-year-old girls in party dresses performing a sex act once considered the province of prostitutes (we are talking here about the on-your-knees variety given to a series of near strangers) was so ludicrous that all I could do was giggle.
It was as though I had taken lightly the news that a pedophile had moved into my friend's neighborhood. It was as though I had laughed about a leukemia cluster or a lethal stretch of freeway. I apologized profusely; I told her I hadn't known.
The moms in my set are convinced—they're certain; they know for a fact—that all over the city, in the very best schools, in the nicest families, in the leafiest neighborhoods, twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are performing oral sex on as many boys as they can. They're ducking into janitors' closets between classes to do it; they're doing it on school buses, and in bathrooms, libraries, and stairwells. They're making bar mitzvah presents of the act, and performing it at "train parties": boys lined up on one side of the room, girls working their way down the row. The circle jerk of old—shivering Boy Scouts huddled together in the forest primeval, desperately trying to spank out the first few drops of their own manhood—has apparently moved indoors, and now (death knell of the Eagle Scout?) there's a bevy of willing girls to do the work.
When I first began hearing these stories, I was convinced that we were in the grips of a nationwide urban legend, and the prevalence of stories centered on bar mitzvahs seemed to me suspicious, possibly even anti-Semitic in origin. But sure enough, in 2003 a feminist Jewish quarterly called Lilith addressed the story—not to debunk it but to come to terms with it as a recognized problem within the Jewish community: "No one is suggesting, even for a moment, that Jewish teens are leading the oral sex revolution. But they may have earlier and more frequent opportunities for sexual contact in a supercharged social milieu than their non-Jewish peers." The authors observe that the oral sex is "almost always unilateral (girls on boys)."
In talking with people, I found only one verifiable account of a girl servicing more than one boy at a party. But the army of school administrators and teachers and parents and girls I spoke with convincingly reported an astonishing change in the sexual behavior of middle- and upper-middle-class girls. Fellatio, which was once a part of the sexual repertoire only of experienced women, is now commonly performed by very young girls outside of romantic relationships, casually and without any expectation of reciprocation. It used to be that a hopeful recipient of fellatio had a lot of talking to do—to persuade, and very often to instruct, his partner. (The Sensuous Woman, published in 1969, was shocking for a number of reasons, but most of all because it gave to its audience of middle-class woman explicit instructions on how to perform oral sex. "Now don't turn up your nose and make that ugly face!" says the anonymous author, "J." Oral sex is the "preferred way with many movie stars, artists, titled Europeans and jet setters.")
Nowadays girls don't consider oral sex in the least exotic—nor do they even consider it to be sex. It's just "something to do." A friend who attended a leadership conference for girls from some of the country's top schools told me, "Friendships haven't changed a bit since our day. But sex has changed a lot." One of the teachers, from an eastern boarding school, told the students that when she was young, in the 1960s, oral sex was considered far more intimate than intercourse. The kids hooted at the notion. "It's like licking a lollipop," one pretty girl from a prestigious girls' school said, flipping her hair in the ancient gesture of teenage certainty. "It's no big deal."
Somehow these girls have developed the indifferent attitude toward performing oral sex that one would associate with bitter, long-married women or streetwalkers. But they think of themselves as normal teenagers, version 2005. For a while, whenever I passed groups of young girls, I looked at them anew. Were these nice kids—the ones playing AYSO soccer and doing their homework and shopping with their moms—behaving like little whores whenever they got the chance? It was like some weird search for communists—was the sweet, well-spoken daughter of a friend actually a blowjobber? I looked at the small girls in my children's schoolyard—as cosseted and protected and beloved a group of children as you will find anywhere on the planet—and tried to convince myself that in a matter of five or six years they would be performing oral sex on virtual strangers.
It was crazy! It simply couldn't be true.
Last spring there were glimmers of hope. Ruth Padawer, a senior writer for The (Bergen, New Jersey) Record, wrote an editorial that was widely syndicated because of its balm of good news. Apparently there was word around town that eighth-graders were having oral sex behind the dugout during recess. (One thing to note about the oral-sex panic is the insistently wholesome locations in which the sex is said to occur.) But readers should dismiss the gossip: "According to several well-respected national surveys, the chatter apparently far surpasses action among young adolescents." A month later David Brooks wrote a very reasonable New York Times editorial about teen sex, called "Public Hedonism and Private Restraint," in which he said, "Reports of an epidemic of teenage oral sex are … greatly exaggerated. There's very little evidence to suggest it is really happening."
However, the axe came down in September. A huge report was issued by the National Center for Health Statistics. It covered the topic of teenage oral sex more extensively than any previous study, and the news was devastating: A quarter of girls aged fifteen had engaged in it, and more than half aged seventeen. Obviously, there was no previous data to compare this with, but millions of suburban dads were quite adamant that they had been born too soon.
The moms were traumatized anew. "It's like there's a bogeyman in the next room, and we keep praying for him to go away," a friend who has a seventh-grade daughter told me. "But he won't."
The conviction that nice girls are engaging in no-strings-attached, semi-anonymous fellatio is based on a genuine and puzzling change in teen sexual behavior. It is manifested in a group hysteria in which terrified adults have projected onto their children superhuman sexual capabilities and technical prowess. And it is reflective of the fact that the dominant culture in this country—one forged by the apparently opposed forces of male sexual desire and female empowerment—has abandoned girls in every possible respect. These three factors worked their way into literature this summer with a book that historians may someday regard as the single biggest clue to the cultural anxieties surrounding the American teenage girl circa 2005: The Rainbow Party, by Paul Ruditis.
The Rainbow Party, an offering from Simon Pulse, a young-adult division of Simon & Schuster, takes place on a single day, in which a tough little sophomore named Gin issues invitations to a party at which she and five of her friends will perform oral sex on the lucky guests, a group of popular boys. The girls will each wear a different color of lipstick, so that when a boy has completed the circuit, his penis will bear the colors of the rainbow. The party is to take place after school, to last about an hour and a half—including time for chitchat—and to conclude before Gin's father returns home from work.
In addition to the predictable, outraged criticism that this vile book has received, there is a question of veracity: as many readers have noted, wouldn't the different colors of lipstick smear together, destroying the desired rainbow effect? Not once, however, has another question been posed: How many boys could successfully receive seven blowjobs in an hour? Surely even the adolescent male at the peak of his sexual prime needs at least a few minutes to reload. One would assume that the first transaction would be completed at light speed, that the second might take a bit longer—and that by the fourth or fifth even the horniest tenth-grader might display some real staying power. But asking questions like these will automatically preclude you from entering the current oral-sex hysteria, which presupposes not only that a limitless number of young American girls have taken on the sexual practices of porn queens but also that American boys are capable of having an infinite number of sexual experiences in rapid succession. It requires believing that a boy could be serviced at the school-bus train party—receiving oral sex from ten or fifteen girls, one after another—and then zip his fly and head off to homeroom, first stopping in the stairwell for a quickie to tide him over until math.
The Rainbow Party has the feeling of true pornography. In particular, it has the feeling of homosexual-male pornography. The school is called Harding High, and the prose takes a quickening, vivid leap forward when two boys, Hunter and Perry, duck into the school bathroom, where Perry services his pal and then wonders if they might be gay. Otherwise the book is inert, obscene without being erotic, its slim narrative structure insufficient for the gimmickry of its premise. The party is eventually undermined by a series of debacles, leaving Gin and her pal Sandy alone to service the crowd—and then the boys can't even be bothered to show up. This is clearly a high school humiliation of an entirely new and apocalyptic order. What if you gave a blowjob party but nobody came? Injury to insult, Gin gets the clap, victim and catalyst of a school-wide gonorrhea outbreak.
The book's sole effective literary technique is achieved unintentionally: The Rainbow Party is so leaden and formulaic, so completely deadened to any of the possibilities of fiction, that it mirrors the way girls are said to feel about fellatio—jaded and shockproof. (It's not just Hunter and Perry's high jinks in the restroom that put one in mind of bathhouse culture. Almost everything about the current blowjob craze—the randomness of the sexual encounters; the fact that they're apparently devoid of meaning beyond the immediate gratification of male desire, that neither party is inclined to say "no," that little consideration is given to female desire, or even female anatomy—suggests a strain of gay male sex more than it does traditional male-female relationships.) It is hard to imagine that a person could read a novel like that and feel genuine emotion of any kind. In this way it is the exact opposite of the novel that was for me, and many of my high school friends, the most powerful book of our young lives. Not since Uncle Tom's Cabin has a single novel by an American woman prompted so many readers into such radical action. I speak, of course, about Judy Blume's Forever.
Judy Blume, who has sold more than 75 million books, been awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and been called one of the most banned writers in America, began writing for children in the 1960s. She married young, established housekeeping in suburban New Jersey, and promptly had two children. She loved the kids but loathed the housewifery, and as a creative outlet took a class in children's literature.
Blume describes her childhood as one in which she was "dying with curiosity" about sex, but there was nowhere in the 1940s and 1950s for a nice girl to get any information. The memory of that burning curiosity led her to write a novel about a twelve-year-old waiting to get her period, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Before the publication of this seminal work, a bookish girl interested in the emotions and practicalities surrounding menstruation would be nudged by a sympathetic teacher toward the diary of Anne Frank, which sure enough addresses the subject with candor, but the general mood of the book—what with the Holocaust and all—did not generate much enthusiasm for the menses. The dearest book of my childhood, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, includes Francie's first period, but again, the novel's no upper: shortly after first blood Francie is assaulted by a pervert in a tenement hallway. I was in seventh grade when The Exorcist was released. No one my age was allowed anywhere near it, but we were well versed in the plot (the implications of which were clear, if unspoken, to all of my friends): a prepubescent girl—a girl our age, on the cusp of the same event we were—was overtaken body and soul not by the Kotex cartel but by the devil himself. At twelve I knew a few basic facts about menstruation—it somehow involved babies and shedding a lining and blood everywhere—and was possessed by an unholy fear of it.
And then I went to Naomi Zimmerman's birthday party, and while the other girls slumbered through the night, I stayed up and read one of the presents, a brand-new copy of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. By dawn I was a new girl. Here was a character on the brink of getting her first period, but she wasn't being hunted by sex fiends or Nazis or Beelzebub. She wasn't frightened by what was about to happen—she couldn't wait. And her wonderful family couldn't wait either.
Reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret for the first time in thirty years meant realizing anew that the world of my childhood is as distant and unrecoverable as that of the Etruscans. Margaret and I were young during a time when little girls dreamed of getting the courage to ask their mothers for training bras, attended carefully supervised dances, eagerly wore clothes that the modern preteen would sooner die than put on. ("Should I wear my velvet?" Margaret asks her mother when she learns she's been invited to a boy-girl supper party. "It's your best," her mother replies.) In Margaret's world the boys can't be counted on to maintain a grown-up demeanor for these events: they disappoint the girls by stomping on their toes during a PTA-sponsored square dance; at the supper party they throw their sports coats in a pile and shoot mustard at the ceiling through drinking straws. But it is also the boys who are responsible for introducing the first glimmerings of sex to the group. When a boy suggests that they turn off the light and play Guess Who—"the boys line up on one side and the girls on the other and then when I yell Go the boys run to the girls' side and try to guess who's who by the way they feel"—the girls put on the brakes immediately. ("'No, thank you,' Gretchen said. 'That's disgusting!'") The girls agree to a game of Spin the Bottle, however, and that night Margaret gets her first thrilling, fleeting kiss. The novel ends in triumph: three drops of blood on Margaret's underpants, discovered the day of the sixth-grade farewell party, mean that she has left childhood behind.
Through all of these events Margaret's parents are by her side, helping her to negotiate her excitement and her fears, congratulating her on each of the steps she makes toward womanhood. And if they give her plenty of support when she gets her first period, by the time she's ready—at age seventeen—to have her first sexual experience, they practically stand by the bed and take photographs to put in the family scrapbook. For despite the fact that the protagonist in Forever is named Katherine, she is really Margaret a few years older, still living in suburban New Jersey, still a good girl with good parents. Forever is the first mainstream novel written for American teenage girls that is not only sexually explicit but also intentionally erotic, and that gives them the exact information—practical as well as emotional—to initiate a satisfying sex life.
Again, consider what had come before. As a teenage girl in the early 1970s who was as desperately curious about sex as Judy Blume had been in the fifties, I read everything I could lay my hands on. I turned to novels for information about sex not because I'm a reader but because when I was young they were among the few places a nice girl could find any. (Love, American Style was risqué, but it was hardly explicit.) To my parents' dismay I read Valley of the Dolls more times than I could count, but Jacqueline Susann's attitude toward human sexuality was of a piece with her prose: whorish and dirty. Goodbye, Columbus commanded my attention, but you don't turn to Philip Roth if you want to learn how to go all the way with a really nice boyfriend.
Adults were quick to stick you with The Bell Jar, which you were supposed to lap up with zesty gratitude because of its racy subject matter, but I smelled a rat from the get-go. Even at sixteen I could tell that the book was overpraised, a stealth weapon of grownups eager to appear progressive in their literary suggestions for teenagers but secretly dying for you to get an eyeful of Esther's first sexual experience: recovering from a suicide attempt, on furlough from a psychiatric ward, she does the deed with an older man and almost hemorrhages to death.
The only books I'd seen that placed sex where I wanted to find it—in the middle of a committed relationship, with the boy treating the girl as if she were a fragile piece of glass, and their love so powerful that it threatened to blot them both out—were the pregnancy-scare books that had been passed from hand to hand among the girls at my Catholic junior high. Written in the 1960s, they invariably involved a supersmart girl (family: respectable, middle-class) and a really neat, ambitious boy (his people would be working-class; their great dream would be for their son to become a college boy). Always they would make a terrible mistake one night; always it would turn out to have been one shot with a bullet: dead rabbit and hell to pay. They would grapple with the most serious kinds of decision-making, and always (this is why we devoured these books and dreamed about them) the couple ended up married at sixteen, living in garage apartments or guesthouses. Books like Too Bad About the Haines Girl and Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones were supposed to frighten us away from sex, lest we become tragic girls ourselves. But they were so clearly built upon a commonly accepted and deeply stirring code of male honor—an almost chivalric set of principles, handed down through the centuries, and still in practice in the American suburbs of the 1960s—that we were dazzled by them, and regarded them as the greatest love stories ever told. Which, in a sense, they were.
And then: Forever. If Hollywood movies of the 1930s taught my parents how to kiss, Forever taught me how to have sex. This was sex the way girls wanted to read about it, the way they wanted to experience it: immersed in romance. Katherine and Michael are college-bound high school seniors from nice families. Katherine's parents are so exquisitely in tune with the physical and emotional progress of her relationship that one wonders if they've planted a wire on her. The grandmother who in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret? sent sweaters with labels that read made expressly for you … by grandma now sends Planned Parenthood brochures with a note reading, "I don't judge, I just advise." Katherine's mother leaves a New York Times article about teen sex on her daughter's pillow one night, and they rap about it the next morning. "A person shouldn't ever feel pushed into sex," Katherine tells her mom. "Or that she has to do it to please someone else …" "I'm glad you feel that way," Mom says approvingly. Was Mom, Katherine asks, a virgin when she got married? No, but she's had sex only with Dad, and she waited until they were engaged.
Where Margaret offered highly specific information about sanitary pads and belts, Forever takes us straight to the birth-control clinic, and it doesn't flinch. ("Then he slipped this cold thing into my vagina and explained, 'This is a vaginal speculum. It holds the walls of the vagina open so that the inside is easily seen. Would you like to see your cervix?'")
Armed with birth-control pills, with a code of sexual ethics that center on a girl's cautious willingness and a boy's patient and full commitment to her, and with a final health clearance (Michael admits that the previous summer he contracted VD from his only other sexual partner, but he's fine now), Katherine and Michael are off to the races. Anyone who rereads Forever and expects to find it much tamer than she remembers is in for a shock: "This time Michael made it last much, much longer and I got so carried away I grabbed his backside with both hands, trying to push him deeper and deeper into me—and I spread my legs as far apart as I could—and I raised my hips off the bed—and I moved with him, again and again and again—and at last I came."
The question is this: How, exactly, in the course of thirty years, did we get from Katherine to Gin? How did we go from a middle-class teenage girl (fictional but broadly accurate) who will have sex only if it's with her boyfriend, and only if her pleasure is equal to his, to a middle-class teenage girl (a gross media caricature reflective of an admittedly disturbing trend) who wants to kneel down and service a series of boys? Katherine and her mother (who still enjoys a pleasurable sex life with her husband) represent two points on a continuum. In the mother's generation sex was contained by marriage; in the daughter's it was contained by love and relationships. The next point on this progression ought to be a girl who feels that nothing save her own desire should control her choice of sexual partners. Instead we see a group of young girls who have in effect turned away from their own desire altogether and have made of their sexuality something that fulfills all sorts of goals, but not the one paramount to Katherine and her mother: that it be sexually gratifying to themselves.
Tracing the story of the writing and publication of The Rainbow Party requires an examination of two forces: the genuine and perplexing rise of oral sex among teenagers—specifically of oral sex performed by young girls on boys—and the media-fueled hysteria of girls' parents, which has prompted tales of orgiastic tween encounters suggesting that every ninth-grade noodlehead is leading an erotic life worthy of the NBA all-stars. The story does not begin with a million moms opening their coat closets as one, only to watch in horror as their pre-teen daughters tumble out alongside tumescent chums from chess club. It begins—is nowhere safe?—with PBS. In 1999 the network broadcast an episode of Frontline that became legendary. Called "The Lost Children of Rockdale County," it centered on a teen syphilis outbreak in Conyers, Georgia, an exurb of Atlanta where vast acres of farmland have been converted into subdivisions of large, handsome houses, and where the three local high schools, flush with tax dollars, are among the best in the state. The show became a sensation, was repeatedly rebroadcast, and was featured on Oprah, where it was called a "must see for all parents."
"The Lost Children of Rockdale County" is a bizarre program that takes isolated teen depravity, anxious adult voyeurism, and an ever important dash of venereal disease and blends them into a vividly yellow piece of public-service journalism—one that typically exaggerates the what, and in so doing just as typically overlooks the why behind a less sensational but far more pervasive concern. The tale is told largely by middle-aged women who are at turns clinically matter-of-fact about and pruriently fascinated by what happened in Conyers. A small group of white girls from stupendously troubled families (the kids are described as "cherubic" for maximum effect) began meeting in one of the girls' houses after school—and sometimes in a motel room—to do drugs and service two groups of rough trade, one of local white boys, the other of African-American boys (a recent prison inmate among them) who commuted from a different part of the county to avail themselves of the girls. Oral sex wasn't the half of it—what these kids allegedly engaged in combined the degeneracy of a satanic cult with the agility of a Cirque du Soleil troupe. We are told that a common after-school activity in Conyers was "the sandwich," in which a girl would be simultaneously penetrated by as many as four boys (the fourth, apparently a Johnny-come-lately, would somehow shoehorn himself into an orifice already occupied by one of his pals). With the kids in Conyers exploiting virtually every known opening for sexual transmission, an outbreak was not unlikely. It spread to seventeen kids, who were treated and who recovered fully.
But the show also contains interviews with kids who had nothing to do with this horrifying and aberrant episode, kids who seem adrift in the increasingly isolating family culture that was being born in the nineties. They speak of family members who have televisions in their own rooms, who never eat dinner together, who live with one another in the sepulchral McMansions of Conyers the way people live together in hotels: nodding politely as they pass on the stairs, aware of one another's schedules and routines but only in a vague, indifferent manner. These are kids—girls especially—who have developed a dull, curiously passionless relationship to their own sexuality, which they give of freely. The girls seem sad that their easily granted sexual favors (including oral sex) have not earned them boyfriends, and completely unaware of how they could have negotiated the transactions differently.
The producers ingeniously and dishonorably encourage the viewer to meld these two different stories together, that of the diseased, freaky girls and their multi-pronged campaign of self-destruction, and that of the sad, sexually precocious normal kids—in short, to link the activities of the latter with the outcomes of the former. And thus the oral-sex hysteria was officially born. The belief that casual oral sex in a middle-class school community was an invitation to a teenage public-health threat of epidemic proportions gave the media license to talk about it endlessly and in the most graphic terms imaginable—following the silence = death formulation created during the height of the American AIDS crisis, which encouraged frank public sexual discourse in the hope of saving lives. It's a no-miss formula: descriptions of young girls performing oral sex that are so luridly specific as to seem pedophilic in the adults' retelling, coupled with stern warnings to parents that their daughters are in harm's way. All of which misses a less alarming but more poignant fact. What's most worrisome about this age of blasé blowjobs isn't what the girls might catch (one can contract an STD through oral sex alone; however, the risk is lower than for most other forms of sexual transmission), it's what the girls are almost certainly losing: a healthy emotional connection to their own sexuality and their own desire. In this context all the unflinching medico-sexual naughty talk is but a cowardly evasion of a more insidious problem—one resistant to penicillin.
Four months after the Frontline documentary aired, Talk magazine published an essay called "The Sex Lives of Your Children." Its author, Lucinda Franks, described an upper-middle-class white world in which oral sex began at age twelve, and said—in perhaps the first published use of the term—that train parties abounded. For the sake of journalistic accuracy she reported a twelve-year-old girl's description of the taste of sperm, and during an NPR radio interview about her essay she referred to the Conyers incident in the wildly inaccurate way in which the episode had quickly passed into the national consciousness: in Rockdale County, Georgia, "a whole town—the kids came down with syphilis."
Two years later Oprah invited Dr. Phil to her television show to address the topic. "There's an oral-sex epidemic," Oprah told the audience point-blank. Teary mothers related their horrifying stories: "A year or two ago she was playing with Barbies and collecting Beanie Babies. And then now all of a sudden she's into casual oral sex!" Wide-eyed young girls spilled the beans on their slutty classmates, and intimated that they themselves weren't so different. That the entire subject is ugly and fraught was underscored when Dr. Phil decided to confront a young blowjobber about the error of her ways. She was sitting in the front row next to her mother, who was apparently hoping that public humiliation on a global scale might reform her daughter.
Dr. Phil, who has the vast, impenetrable physique of a pachyderm and the calculated folksiness of a country-music promoter, employs a psychotherapeutic cloak of respectability to legitimize his many prurient obsessions. "When you're saying 'It's just friends,' let me tell you," he raged at the poor girl, "a friend doesn't ask you to go in the bathroom, get on your knees in a urine-splattered tile floor, and stick their penis in your mouth. That's not what I call a friend." (Poor Howard Stern has spent years alternately outraged and heartbroken about the FCC's refusal to sanction women's talk shows the way it does his morning show, and episodes like this make you realize he has a point.)
As the audience roared its approval (whether for chastity or obscenity was unclear), the girl looked stricken and angry. "That's not what happened to me," she whispered audibly to her mother, who whispered back, "Tell him." But the girl was understandably cowed by the specter of Dr. Phil on one of his verbal stampedes, and she said nothing, leaving him clueless about a major aspect of the oral-sex craze. No boy had forced the girl anywhere. In all likelihood she herself had been the initiator, the location scout, the one who had decided that this was indeed an activity that could take place between two "friends." (The oral-sex hysteria has attributed to American boys not only superhuman virility but also wanton emotional cruelty. The one is laughable; the other in the main is just not the case. Like the medical dodge, the demonization of boys oversimplifies the problem and spares one the arguably sadder truth.)
In 2003 Oprah addressed the topic again: in an article in O magazine that she also featured on her television show. "Parents, brace yourselves," Oprah said. Teenagers are leading "double lives"—and we all need to get hip to the code words they use. The journalist who wrote the article got right to the point: A "tossed salad," for example, was "oral sex to the anus." A "dirty" girl was a diseased one. And a "rainbow party" was a blowjob party where the girls wore different-colored lipstick.
Apparently taking a break from her toil in the vineyard of belles lettres—relaxing, in fact, by watching Oprah—was Bethany Buck, a Simon & Schuster editrix who smelled a winner. She contacted Ruditis (one of whose previous books was The Brady Bunch Guide to Life); they created characters and an outline; and he was sent off to type the thing up.
The oral-sex craze—and in particular girls' insistence that blowjobs "aren't sex"—has often been blamed on Bill Clinton and his semantic calisthenics during the Kenneth Starr investigation. But even if teen girls were looking to the White House for personal guidance, was it really Bubba they were trying to emulate? Girls' private lives are always much more influenced by First Daughters, or even First Ladies, than they are by any pasty politico. Furthermore, and more damning to the blame-Clinton argument, the events chronicled in "The Lost Children of Rockdale County" occurred two years before it was revealed that Monica Lewinsky (hardly an aspirational figure to the young girls of America, who wanted neither to fellate middle-aged men nor to wear beastly Gap suit-dresses) had flashed her XXL thong at him and got out her "presidential kneepads." And anyway, what culture had Monica emerged from that she was eager merely to give the great man a blowjob—that her highest sexual ambition was not to become his Mrs. Bo Jo Jones but simply (read the federally funded Starr report, if you must) to have him ejaculate in her mouth? Indeed, to hear Monica tell it, the meanest thing Bill did to her wasn't to refuse her phone calls and give her a dorky book of poems. No, in Monica's world Bill was a big creep because at the critical moment he withdrew the presidential organ and jacked off over the sink—a sexual decision that might once have been considered sort of thoughtful (remember the three biggest lies, anyone?) but in the new order is somehow a mark of disrespect.
Blowjob nation has also been blamed on "abstinence only" sex-education programs. In this line of thinking the evil Republicans have made such a fetish of the intact hymen that teenagers—parsing the term "sexual abstinence" with Jesuitical precision—have decided to substitute oral sex for intercourse, thereby preserving their technical virginity. I'm no fan of these programs. In light of advances in birth control and the economic advisability of delaying marriage until after the college years, sexual purity seems a goal best advanced by those religions that advocate it, not by our public schools. But even if "abstinence" is at stake, why would girls voluntarily turn to giving blowjobs? Whatever happened to the hand job? Whither the dry hump? Why do girls prefer the far more debasing, uncomfortable, and messy blowjob? And why are they apparently giving them out so indiscriminately? These are questions that none of the usual suspects can answer.
Wherever there's a girl gone wild, there's a gender-studies professor not far behind, eager to blame her actions on the patriarchy. One of these is NYU's Julian Carter, who says that oral sex among young teen girls is part of a complex power dynamic, one that is familiar to people who know how Carol Gilligan's influential book In a Different Voice has dominated feminist thinking. Says Carter: "It's precisely at this age of early adolescence that … girls' sense of self-worth changes dramatically … this is when they are finding out they have less power within a patriarchal system …" According to Carter's theory, the girls are apparently suffering from a severe form of Stockholm syndrome, and have reacted by performing oral sex on their wily captors.
The problem with this idea is that surely the patriarchy was far stronger and more oppressive in the 1950s. But you don't find Betty—or even Veronica—cravenly servicing Archie and Jughead. Indeed, during the very years that the patriarchy has been most seriously eroded, we have seen a cult of mortification of the flesh take root among teenage girls. The anorexia and bulimia that swept the teen population in the eighties, the "cutting" fad of the nineties, and now this strange new preference for unreciprocated oral sex all evolved as the patriarchy was being crippled, as new and untested roles were being offered to the country's girls.
One might expect that Planned Parenthood would have nothing to say on this subject; oral sex may have many risks, but parenthood isn't one of them. When I recently logged on, I learned a lot. The organization—which receives 32 percent of its funding from the federal government—had on its home page a lengthy description of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's "Strategy to Gut Roe," but I quickly drilled past that, straight down to the Teen Wire department, where the "experts" have helpfully answered all sorts of teen questions, from "Can I lose my virginity if my boyfriend fingers me?" to whether the insertion of "objects" during masturbation is recommended. (The experts said it was all in good fun, but as a nervous mom I couldn't help wondering what kind of objects.) Leaving behind reproductive matters entirely, the site also indulged in unabashed sexual advocacy, offering a 411 on oral sex. For example: "Oral sex—using one's mouth on a partner's sex organs—feels good to many people. There's nothing wrong or nasty about having oral sex whether a person is receiving or giving it. Both girls and guys may want to perform oral sex on their partners because they enjoy giving it." And "Some people enjoy giving oral sex whether or not they are being stimulated at the same time. Some people can only enjoy giving oral sex when they are being stimulated at the same time. And some people [frigid cranky Mormons? Laura Bush? Total losers?] do not enjoy providing or receiving oral sex at all."
Parents could click on a helpful report from Rutgers University's "Oral Sex Lady," Nora Gelperin. She digs her job, which involves providing teenagers with information about oral sex, an activity for which she's sort of a booster. She does offer some tips for those who want to curb the oral-sex trend: they should have bull sessions with groups of kids to "illuminate the variety of teens' opinions about oral sex," in order to "more accurately reflect the range of opinions instead of continuing to propagate the stereotype that 'all teens are having oral sex.'" In other words, instead of the adult instructing kids in what is right and wrong and telling them what is expected of them, the kids themselves should seek direction from each other. A mother concerned that her daughter has turned to performing oral sex on strangers at age twelve should bear this in mind: "We must not forget that the desire of early adolescents to feel sexual pleasure is normal and natural and should be celebrated, not censored." (DAD: Geez I had a rough day at the office. MOM: Put it out of your mind, honey. Trudy just told me that we have something very special to celebrate!)
For me, the most shocking moment in "The Lost Children of Rockdale County"—more shocking even than "the sandwich"—involves three giggly blonde best friends forever who give an extensive, girly interview while sitting in one of their bedrooms, surrounded by stuffed animals. At a certain point one of the producers asks them what kind of music they like, and they all squeal, "Rap!" "Give me an example," the coaxing producer says to them. The girls decide to sing for her, and their sweet, piping voices flow easily over the lyrics, which they all know by heart—three teenyboppers sitting in a suburban bedroom, singing their favorite song, "Love in Ya Mouth":
I take 3 little bitches and I put 'em
in a line
I take 4, 5, 6 and blow 'dem hos
It'll take 1 more before I go for
7 bitches get fucked at the same
She eats me, sun she, she can suck
a ding dong
All day all night all evenin long
She said she neva done it, she said
she neva tried
Shes sittin there tellin a motha-
Now, how many licks does it take to
make my dick split
Well, not many licks if the bitch is
a good trick
Now, any nigga can talk to a bitch
and get the bitch to fuck
But how many niggaz can talk to a
bitch and get they dick sucked
Like me a pimp that you neva saw
Now how do you say "manger et
trois" [uh, sic]
One of the most astonishing things to happen during the 1990s was that rap music that included some of the most violent, sexually explicit, and misogynistic lyrics ever recorded slipped seamlessly and virtually unnoticed into the households of so many apparently responsible American families. Boomer parents, remembering their own struggles with their square parents over rock-and-roll, were lenient about their kids' music. Tipper Gore's heroic campaign to get explicit music rated and labeled was born after she decided to do something few parents had even attempted: actually listen to the albums her kids had bought. She was ridiculed by many factions, including those forces on the American left who cry censorship whenever anyone attempts to protect the public, including children, from smut (and in the case of rap, smut emanating from a source the left valorizes: black urban America). In the summer of 2004 Bill Cosby brought down a hail of criticism when he lambasted the hip-hop culture as a shameful squandering of the civil-rights gains that his generation had fought for and won.
But the protests of white senators' wives and African-American senior citizens have not had much effect on music sales, and have not prevented a large number of poor and middle-class kids alike from becoming saturated by the world of spoken-word, hard-core pornography that is rap music. Add to this the countless other products of our increasingly sexualized teen culture, in which male sexual fantasy of the type once reserved for prison-yard posturing has been adopted and championed by very young girls who stand only to be brutalized by it—emotionally, if not physically.
Ironically, many of the objectives stated in rap lyrics are the same as those of contemporary American feminism: to encourage girls not to be shackled by the double standard and to abandon modesty as a goal, to erode patriarchal notions of how men ought to treat women, and to champion aggressiveness in girls. It was very possible for a girl in the nineties to have her well-intentioned parents buy her a CD in which she was urged to suck dick and get fucked, and to have a well-intentioned teacher (I was one such) tell her to be as intellectually and verbally aggressive as she could—that aggression for its own sake was a good thing, because it leveled the playing field in a male-dominated world.
At the same time, actual pornography—once the province of the most marginalized and criminally suspect performers and businessmen; once a slice of illicit commerce entirely beyond the purview of decent society—was entering the mainstream. It became possible to find porn star Jenna Jameson discussing her trade with the likes of Anderson Cooper on CNN. It was possible, furthermore, to discover that she was being interviewed not as a fallen woman but as a successful businessperson. Simultaneously, feminists were turning themselves into pretzels trying to get together a coherent policy on pornography. Obviously it was exploitative—unless it wasn't. Because if it was explicit sexual material made for the arousal of women, then it was somehow … empowering? And how to deal with the Jenna Jamesons of the world, who were proving themselves to be feminist powerhouses, keeping the government out of private decisions about their own bodies (thank you, abortion rhetoric!) and profiting handsomely from the results?
W hen I was in eleventh grade, I invited a new boyfriend to come to my house after school one day. My mother was outside gardening, or maybe she was on the telephone, or reading—she was around, but through a glass. The boy and I made Top Ramen at the stove, and afterward I invited him to come up to my bedroom. I had never been told not to do such a thing; I seemed then to be lacking a lot of clear information about what I could and could not do. My parents were preoccupied at the time with other things. I was the youngest girl in a daughter-raising project that they appeared to think had gone terribly wrong. They were no longer giving the enterprise their full oomph.
In the bedroom the atmosphere was charged. I remember that he sat on my Pier 1 wicker chair, and that I showed him my wall calendar, which had a different, adorable kitten for each month. And then, abruptly, I said that we should go back downstairs, and he stood—immediately—and followed me. At the foot of the stairs we found my mother, looking as though she had been close to charging up.
"Never bring a boy to your bedroom," she told me afterward.
There was a fumbling for words, and then an answer: "Because he might go to school and tell other boys what your comforter looks like."
It was a white Dior comforter with yellow rosebuds and matching sheets. The bed was a Sears four-poster princess bed, a little-girl's bed, but we had taken off the canopy and added the Dior linens to dress it up for a teenager. I had wanted pink roses, but the pink had not unexpectedly gone on sale at the El Cerrito Capwell's. The yellow had.
"That's so stupid," I yelled at my mother. "Just so completely stupid!" She sighed wearily—the raising-girls sigh, the sigh of bottomless despair. Why hadn't she thrown herself off the Golden Gate Bridge at last opportunity? Why had she ever been so foolish as to think it was good news each time the obstetrician told her she had been delivered of a girl?
But even in my teenage snit I understood what she was talking about: not the comforter but my reputation. Not the boy himself (who was a very nice person—anyone could tell it just from meeting him) but the immutable truth about boys: They want most what we keep private. When it's known, it's lessened.
At the time of my adolescence my mother was too distracted to give me everything I needed to turn out well. But 20 percent of her attention was enough, because the whole culture was supporting her. The notion that a girl should not give her sexuality away too freely was so solidly built into the national consciousness that my mother didn't have to snap out of her depression and give me a comprehensive lecture on boys for me to understand what she meant. It was a period when artists and entertainers and commercial America in general did not have untrammeled access to the country's youth. Television shows were heavily censored, as were radio stations. George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" was hilarious not just for its string of bad words but because of the context in which he invited us to imagine their use: think of turning on the TV and hearing the word "fuck"! Sex ed in those days was a little like driver's ed: a grimly delivered set of facts, copiously illustrated with hideous examples of what could go wrong if you were foolhardy enough to operate the machinery. ("Is there going to be a test?" a girl asked about the contraception unit. "Your life is the test," she was told.) At the time, feminists were distracted by the vast project of American womanhood; they had not yet turned their attention to the country's girls.
As a parent, I am horrified by the changes that have taken place in the common culture over the past thirty years. I believe that we are raising children in a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape in which no forces beyond individual households—individual mothers and fathers—are protecting children from pornography and violent entertainment. The "it takes a village" philosophy is a joke, because the village is now so polluted and so desolate of commonly held, child-appropriate moral values that my job as a mother is not to rely on the village but to protect my children from it.
I'm not, however, terrified by the oral-sex craze. If I were to learn that my children had engaged in oral sex—outside a romantic relationship, and as young adolescents—I would be sad. But I wouldn't think that they had been damaged by the experience; I wouldn't think I had failed catastrophically as a mother, or that they would need therapy. Because I don't have daughters, I have sons.
I am old-fashioned enough to believe that men and boys are not as likely to be wounded, emotionally and spiritually, by early sexual experience, or by sexual experience entered into without romantic commitment, as are women and girls. I think that girls are vulnerable to great damage through the kind of sex in which they are, as individuals, as valueless and unrecognizable as chattel. Society has let its girls down in every possible way. It has refused to assert—or even to acknowledge—that female sexuality is as intricately connected to kindness and trust as it is to gratification and pleasure. It's in the nature of who we are.
But perhaps the girls themselves understand this essential truth.
As myriad forces were combining to reshape our notions of public decency and propriety, to ridicule the concept that privacy and dignity are valuable and allied qualities of character and that exhibitionism as an end in itself might not be beneficial for a young girl, at the exact moment when girls were encouraged to think of themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy and to act on an imperative of default aggression—at this very time a significant number of young girls were beginning to form an entirely new code of sexual ethics and expectations. It was a code in which their own physical pleasure was of no consequence—was in fact so entirely beside the point that their preferred mode of sexual activity was performing unrequited oral sex. Deep Throat lingers in the popular imagination because it was one of the few porn movies to trade on an original and inspired premise: what a perfect world it would be if the clitoris were located in a woman's throat. In a world like that a man wouldn't have to cajole a woman to perform fellatio on him; she would be just as eager to get it on as he was. But this was a fantasy; a girl may derive a variety of consequences, intended and otherwise, from servicing boys in this manner, but her own sexual gratification is not one of them. The modern girl's casual willingness to perform oral sex may—as some cool-headed observers of the phenomenon like to propose—be her way of maintaining a post-feminist power in her sexual dealings, by being fully in control of the sexual act and of the pleasure a boy receives from it. Or it may be her desperate attempt to do something that the culture refuses to encourage: to keep her own sexuality—the emotions and the desires, as well as the anatomical real estate itself—private, secret, unviolated. It may not be her technical virginity that she is trying to preserve; it may be her own sexual awakening—which is all she really has left to protect anymore.
We've made a world for our girls in which the pornography industry has become increasingly mainstream, in which Planned Parenthood's response to the oral-sex craze has been to set up a help line, in which the forces of feminism have worked relentlessly to erode the patriarchy—which, despite its manifold evils, held that providing for the sexual safety of young girls was among its primary reasons for existence. And here are America's girls: experienced beyond their years, lacking any clear message from the adult community about the importance of protecting their modesty, adrift in one of the most explicitly sexualized cultures in the history of the world. Here are America's girls: on their knees.