Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Estrich Who Wouldn't Die!

In the movie Elektra, Jennifer Garner (who plays the title character) asks her protege if she is counting the exposed beams on the roof of the house she is renting. The implication in the film was to be a superskilled female assassin you also had to suffer from some kind of OCD. Which brings me to Susan Estrich.

Over a month ago, Susan Estrich sent out an email to influential Southern California Women complaining about the Los Angeles Times opinion page and its lack of female input:

Then there was two weeks ago, when I did a spot check of a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday... and counted TWENTY FOUR MEN AND ONE WOMAN IN A THREE DAY PERIOD.

Cathy Seipp covered the subject in great detail beginning on 2/15/05 continuing on : 2/18/05 2/21/05 3/11/05 and 3/18/05. Susan Estrich's battle against the LA Times and her dismissal of conservative women's voices in general and Cathy Seipp in particular, might be dismissed as a non-issue for most people. After all, this is real "inside baseball" stuff. Who cares if Susan and Cathy don't like one another? Or that Susan Estrich doesn't like the LA Times, or that they don't like her?

Well, in addition to me (I like Cathy), it appears the The Wall Street Journal cares as well. (The link may be for subscribers only, and if so I apologize). In an article which begins, "Like many women of a certain age, I have a bad habit, first learned in the 1960s and '70s. Whenever I am in a professional setting, I count the number of women in the room." And once again we are back to the Elektra scene mentioned above. "Professional" women must, it appears, suffer from OCD to be successful. I don't actually believe that, but there is a counting theme going on in the examples.

Melanie Kirkpatrick's article, the one in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (3/21/05, is a very good discussion of the relevant issues at hand in today's society and climate. Though the fact that an "inside baseball" problem that occured in early February is still news in late March, and worthy of one of the most respected opinion pages in the world, is a marvel in itself. Kirkpatrick, like Seipp, stresses the point that content matters more than who the content comes from. But unlike Seipp, doesn't begin to address the question of the possibility of a legitimate viewpoint which might only originate from the female perspective. For example, only a woman can write about the struggles of being a single mother. A man can write about the struggles of single parenthood generally, or fatherhood specifically, but not motherhood.

The second point, and the one that is actually most salient, that Kirkpatrick makes and that Seipp spends a great deal of time dealing with, is that Estrich's view of what "women's opinions" are is limited. What Estrich is really complaining about is that there aren't enough liberal women writing on the opinion pages of the LA Times. Though I would posit, she would extend her critique beyond the Times. Kirkpatrick argues that the Journal, who have a large number of women opinion columnists, would still fail to meet her standard. Because the likes of Dorothy Rabinowitz, Peggy Noonan, Ruth Wedgwood, Sally Satel or Heather Mac Donald, probably don't meet with Estrich's criteria that women writers must write with "women's voices" to be considered legitimate.

Now I have followed this issue for some time, and in fact am sick of reading it, and I have met (in the "really real world") two of the players. Specifically, I have met Cathy Seipp and Susan Estrich in person and talked with them about various subjects. Of the two, Seipp is probably the only one of the two who would remember.

On to the point, the time I met Susan Estrich, she said something I thought to be particularly peculiar. She said that she was proud of the fact that she stood by Bill Clinton through his impeachment proceedings even though she knew he was wrong and had treated Monica poorly. She stressed that it was loyalty to a friend, even when you knew they were wrong which was the sign of true friendship. She implied that this was the height of virtue.

If you want specifics on when she said this, it was at a Salvatore Center event where she and James Rogan were debating the issue. Personally, I found Rogan to be a nice guy, even though I had thought he was foolish in pursuing the impeachment of the President even unto ending his political career. It was professionally foolish and it was politically foolish. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think, as Rogan did, that impeachment is a legal process. It is a political process, if it were legal you would testify before the whole of the Supreme Court when in fact you can impeach Justices as well as Presidents. Needless to say, regardless of what I thought about Rogan as a person, I disagreed with him politically on the issue of impeachment.

Back to Estrich and her comments about friendship though. Aristotle says that, "we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends." So far he seems to agree with Susan and her opinion of friendship and loyalty to Bill Clinton, but on further examination we find that this isn't true. For Aristotle there are three kinds of friendship, as there are three kinds of love. The first "is a mutual and recognized love." The second is a love of "each other for their utility." The third is "for the sake of pleasure...men love ready-witted people...because they find them pleasant."

It appears to me that Susan's love for Clinton is primarily of the third kind, but probably also has some elements of the second kind. Even if she is lucky enough to experience the first kind with Clinton, her statement about what makes a good friend is negated by one of Aristotle's later comments on friendship, "Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in exellence; for these wish well alike to each other qua good." There is more to it, but to hold someone who is no longer excellent, or who you know is wrong (as Estrich stated in the conversation), must be rooted in some self-interest and not in a love of the excellent. That doesn't mean our friends can't have faults, Estrich could have defended Clinton on his moral excellence despite one failing. But she didn't do that, she implied that the best friendship was of even unworthy people and in further discussion seemed to imply that she did it for the pleasure it gave her to feel more loyal than those who abandoned Clinton. Not a very good reason for friendship.

What does this have to do with the Times story? At first glance, not much. But when you look at the character of her Clinton friendship, it was a selfish friendship. She was his friend because it made her feel good, and to be truthful as a talking head it has been very useful for her as well, the same is true of her arguments about the Times needing more "women's issues" writers. What she really seems to be saying is that the LA Times needs to hire her and that she doesn't really care about other women, especially if they disagree with her enlightened opinion.

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