- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

One of the great things about being a columnist for either newspapers or magazines is that when youve written enough columns you can bundle them into a book and sell them all over again.This is especially true if, one, you write well and, two, you write on subjects of interest to a significant number of persons. Whether they always agree with you doesnt seem to matter all that much.

John Leo is a columnist for U.S. News and World Report. In addition, some of his columns also appear in daily newspapers. He writes well and writes on topics of current interest. I suspect most of his readers are middle-aged or older, mainly because he tends less to cheer and more to criticize the goings-on in today´s society.

Taking advantage of his special appeal, Mr. Leo has bundled up a batch of his columns (again) and had them reprinted in a book, called more or less accurately, "Incorrect Thoughts" and subtitled "Notes on Our Wayward Culture." By the way, the publisher prefers to refer to these columns as essays, which, I guess, means they´re a little longer than the traditional newspaper column. I don´t see any other difference.

There are several good things about the book. Like just about any book of collected columns or essays you can pick it up and begin reading anywhere. You don´t have to start at the beginning, and reading the last column without first having read all the others isn´t cheating.To make it easy for the reader to find what he wants, Mr. Leo segregates his essays into seven sections: Media, Education, Family and Gender, Race and Minorities, Politics and Law, Culture and Language, and Society and Social Behavior. They all kind of overlap, however.

Despite the book´s title it is hard to find in these essays any thoughts that anyone except a postmodernist, a college professor or a radical feminist would call incorrect. Members of the last two or three generations might disagree with some of what Mr. Leo writes but much of it might actually force them to stop and think. Whether he can persuade any significant numbers to change their thinking is another matter. He is a little reminiscent of King Canute ordering the tide lashed with chains in order to hold it back or, if you prefer, Peter sticking his finger in the dike while all around him the wall is crumbling.

Mr. Leo is, if anything, a traditionalist. By that I mean he seems to prefer things the way they once were rather than the way they are. And because this is his attitude, our rapidly changing culture to him is "a wayward culture." Leafing through his essays one finds a great deal of common sense and at the same time a certain distress over the direction in which our culture is heading.

Those who like his common sense or share his distress will take delight in many of Mr. Leo´s conclusions. Take what he says about the importance in today´s schools of "self-esteem." The self-esteem movement, he alleges, (and who can disagree?) "is deeply implicated in the dumbing down of our schools, and in the spurious equality behind the idea that it´s a terrible psychic blow if one student does any better or worse than another."

And most folks, strident and aggressive feminists aside, if they stop to think about it, would probably agree with him that a double standard has emerged in the so-called "gender wars" with the result that there is a growing "anti-male 'ism´" running through our popular culture.

Where ever one looks one finds Mr. Leo wondering about our "wayward culture," whether it has to do with excessive Hollywood violence, or with the postmodernism movement "that says truth doesn´t exist," or with Karen Finley, the performer who takes off her clothes, smears herself with chocolate and talks dirty to audiences largely comprised of women.

Nor does Mr. Leo hesitate to take strong shots at things in today´s culture he thinks have gotten too far out of line. For instance he is more than merely critical of the ads run by Calvin Klein, ads that often seem more interested in breaking sexual taboos than in selling clothes. Consumers, Mr. Leo suggests, "should consider letting a boycott come between them and their Calvins." Like I noted earlier, you may not always agree with what John Leo writes but he almost always will give you something to think about.


Lyn Nofziger, a Washington writer, was a political adviser to President Ronald Reagan.


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