- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Bush’s mess

If you want a perfect example of how the Bush administration’s communications policy is a mess, check out the recent completely avoidable kerfuffle over job growth. Last week, the administration had to face embarrassing stories about how it was distancing itself from earlier claims that jobs would grow by 300,000 a month this year. That number was in the Feb. 9 Council of Economic Advisers Report.

Democrats pounced on the discrepancy; the White House spokesman was left twirling on the media spit; the president and Treasury secretary had to distance themselves. And all this on an extremely politically sensitive topic — job growth.

The administration needn’t be too worried.Joblessclaimsdroppedsharply Thursday. The economy is moving forward. So why trip themselves up with suchanobvious clunker? Is anyone coordinating the messages coming out of the administration? KarenHughesis missed. If the current communications team is in charge of the re-election campaign, God help the president.

Self-censorship

On my Web site, www.andrewsullivan.com, I’ve been receiving e-mail after e-mail about anti-conservative bias on American campuses. Some of the complaints seem overblown, but the most worrying facet, to my mind, is the fact than many non-left professors feel the need to keep quiet or self-censor to get tenure or avoid controversy. Here’s a classic example:

“I survived, and have become moderately successful, in academia by keeping silent about my political opinions,somethingI learned early in my graduate career at the University of Michigan. Most of my criticisms of Democrats or veiled praise of Republicans are couched in terms that suggest personal distance from conservative points of view. Last year, I came up for tenure, and I realized then how thoroughly I self-censor. I was in the car with a close long-time friend and fellow academic (at another institution), and I told her how difficult it was for me to overcome this compulsion not to speak. I then spent half an hour telling her what I’d bottled up for thirteen years — that I voted for Bush, that I watch Fox News, etc. At the end of it, she said, ‘I knew your husband was a conservative, but I never realized you are, too.’ In fact, I’m fairly confident that this self-censorship is not necessary; my department has a live-and-let-live attitude on many things. But I continue to self-censor, largely out of habit, but partly because there are a few people in the department who could never get over it.”

I hear very similar stories from many academics when I’m on lecture tours of colleges. It just strikes measaterrible shame that at universities of all places, people are censoring themselves from expressing their actual opinions.It’snot healthy for anyone.

Affirmative action

Here’s an insightful letter to Michigan State University’s campus newspaper on racial preferences in academia:

“I have two younger brothers. One is white, related to me by blood, and the other is Guatemalan, related to me by adoption. Both were raised in the same house, by the same parents, taught the same morals and values, and both are exceptionally bright. They have always been treated equally. However, when they try to get into college, my Guatemalan brother will have a leg up over my white brother because his skin is brown.”

Striking home, no? What if the white kid was given the advantage? Would any “liberal” hackles rise?

Face it

New research on the ways inwhichmonogamous mammals form their bonds is beginning to reveal dopamine-related addictions triggered by various odors in the selected mate. Throw away that deodorant. In other words, monogamy is a form of chemical addiction, and that might have lessons for humans. One experiment, reported in the Economist magazine, analyzed the brains of students who described themselves as madly in love:

“The results were surprising. For a start, a relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say, ordinary friendship. ‘It is fascinating to reflect’, the pair [of researchers] conclude, ‘that the face that launched a thousand ships should have done so through such a limited expanse of cortex.’ The second surprise was that the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke. Love, in other words, uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. ‘We are literally addicted to love,’ Dr. Young observes.”

Fascinating. And depending on your particular chemical make-up, monogamy might be easier or harder. What the ancient philosophers understood — that lust, romantic love and friendship are very different states of being — is being slowly borne out by science. Friendship or long-term bonding is the most complex and important for social stability. But as humans, we are bound to screw it up - or at least be tempted to.

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