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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Break out the bubbly, for it is time for another Katherine Kersten's Korner! Today's kolumn answers the age-old question of how crazy you have to be to connect failed Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke to the outrage over cartoons in the Middle East. The answer, of course, is Katherine Kersten Krazy!

Wingnuttia level: 10 (She's gonna blow!)

Frankly, this kolumn is so bat guano crazy it is hard to know where to start. Kersten reminds us of Yecke and the battle over the Profile of Learning, stating that Yecke "engineered" the repeal of the Profile of Learning, but paid with her job. In reality, the repeal was a bipartisan effort that had been around for a long time before finally getting enough support to do away with the standards, and Yecke was run out of the state because she was an ineffective Republican hack. But Kersten sheds a tear for this wonderful, misunderstood martyr.

Not worried in the least about reality, however, Kersten drives forward: "Radical Muslim protests over Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed now remind us why the battle in St. Paul was so important." With bated breath we await what must be a mind-blowingly stunning connection that Kersten is going to draw for us.

What is it? Why, it's because the Profile of Learning was a tool of something called "cultural relativism", that's why. Taking another reality break, I seem to remember that lots of people were against the Profile of Learning because of the paperwork and overhead involved, not to mention the fact that many people thought that it was not effective in improving student achievement. But for Kersten, the only thing that was important, is "cultural relativism".

Cultural relativism is one of those bugaboos that far-right conservatives dream up to attack liberals with, even though just about nobody outside of their circle knows what the heck it means. Think "homosexual agenda". And like the homosexual agenda, the very liberal that are purported to be big supporters of cultural relativism usually don't know what it means. They certainly aren't holding secret cultural relativist meetings where they plan to take over the world.

Fortunately for us who don't hold Republican decoder rings, Kersten tells us what cultural relativism is: "That we in the West mustn't judge other cultures, or view our beliefs and institutions as superior to theirs. The cure for cultural misunderstandings, it suggests, is tolerance."

Yecke was no cultural relativist, according to Kersten. No sir. In fact, she was just the opposite. According to Kersten, "She insisted that America and the West, home of liberal democracy, are superior in important ways." So superior, in fact, that Yecke said that Columbus' arrival in the New World did not lead to the genocide of Native people. Gee, all of those smallpox-infected blankets must have been misunderstood housewarming presents. Kersten says that the unfair critics of Yecke wanted her to pay more attention to racism and sexism; actually, I think critics such as myself wanted an education commissioner who wasn't fantastically ignorant. Let's not even start on her support of creationism.

Unfortunately for Kersten, Yecke wasn't able to purge the republic of cultural relativism. The evidence of how horrible this cultural relativism can be is, of course, 9/11, where we learned that radical Muslim fundamentalists don't like to play nice.

It is here that I have to say that perhaps Kersten would consider me to be one of those cultural relativists. See, I don't think that America is the number one country in the world. It's by and large a great place and is one of the freest countries in the world, but I can't honestly say it is superior. And I do have tolerance for other cultures. If French people want to call a Big Mac a Royale with Cheese, or the rest of the world gets excited over a football that's not the same as football in this country, no problem. Different strokes and all of that. Thinking that this country is superior has led to some of the more unpleasant incidents in our nation's history. White man's burden and all of that, the already-mentioned genocide of indigenous people, imperialism abroad, and other stuff that Americans should not be proud of. There's enough freedom in this world for us to say that other countries can have their own fates and freedoms too.

However, tolerance of other cultures does not extend to practices and beliefs that go against fundamental rights. I don't think there are many liberals who think that it is just fine to tolerate societies that give almost no freedom to women, for example, or don't allow for freedom of religious worship. And there are definitely no liberals who think that we need to tolerate terrorism or murder. This does make a good strawman argument for Kersten, however.

In fact, if you think about it, it is Republicans who are more deserving of the charge of tolerating cultures that have no regard for human rights. Did Democrats or Republicans oppose sanctions against South Africa over apartheid (here's a hint: the current Vice President voted against imposing sanctions). Was it a Republican or a Democrat who had no problem with sweatshop conditions on the Marianas Islands? Hey, we have to tolerate these different cultures who, ah, insist on treating their workers like slaves. Even when it is U.S. territory, I guess.

Kersten asks a couple of "urgent questions": "How should we respond when other cultures insist on tolerance from us but refuse to extend it in return?" and "Which Western principles and institutions, if any, are we willing to risk our personal safety to defend?" Well, in answer to the first, ignore them unless they try to hurt us, in which case we take whatever action is necessary to prevent that, including the use of force. In answer to the second, I think the answer is "all of them". Do I get extra credit for answering these urgent questions so quickly.

Kersten doesn't seem to think all that much of those governments, including the Bush administration, that are apologizing for the cartoons. I fail to see why this is. The cartoons are incredibly offensive and serve no real public purpose. I, too, would probably apologize to the world for the ignorant hateful people that live here. They do, however, have a right to print their stupid cartoons, and we can't apologize for freedom of speech.

Kersten is right to take the Star Tribune to task for not printing the cartoons. But merely printing the cartoons does not make a newspaper a hero. Kersten makes it sound like a truly righteous act, talking about those papers that have "boldly reprinted the cartoons in solidarity with the Danes." That's like saying we should be proud of a newspaper for boldly printing the latest anti-Semitic graffiti from members of the Aryan Nation. The cartoons were crap and only meant to incite; the only reason to print them now is because the reaction to them is such a huge story. There is nothing to be proud of here, especially since people are dying as a result.

Kersten brings it on home by tinkling on people's graves, pointing out that standing up for freedom of the press can lead to physical harm, and saying that this is the first time in decades that people have realized this. Oh really, Kersten? Why don't you tell that to all of the journalists who have gone to Iraq in the name of freedom of the press and been killed. I guess they don't count. She can't end without one more dig at cultural relativism, saying that Europe has almost given in to this horror without any evidence at all. Again, simplistic Kersten reasoning is coming into play: "Old Europe" is liberal, decadent, secular, and therefore bad.

This one ranks up there with her rant against Wellstone in terms of sheer insanity and partisan screeching. I'm embarrassed for the Star Tribune.


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