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Dr. Alterman, I Presume



There he goes again. Chomsky, Cockburn and Vidal. They’re the axis of evil of the Left, so says The Nation columnist and Stanford University PhD candidate in history Eric Alterman.

Writing in the current issue of The Nation (Dec. 9, 2002), Alterman says, “If Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky or Gore Vidal has ever had anything balanced or nuanced to say about America’s role in the world, I’ve missed it. … Perhaps their reflexive anti-Western views represent majority opinion among the 2.7 percent of voters who pulled the lever for Ralph Nader. I don’t know. But they enjoy no discernible resonance in policy debates or electoral contests.”

How does Alterman define balanced? Is it the oh-so courageous columnist who gives the U.S. government a free pass on running roughshod around the world but shows his liberal bona fides by going out on the proverbial political limb and pooh-poohing the Republicans’ plot to stack the Supreme Court with anti-choice justices?

Despite the absurdity of his prose, I do get some pleasure from reading Alterman’s Nation columns. It’s the same kind of pleasure I get from watching that moment in one of those teenybopper coming-of-age flicks when the female antagonist stomps in bratty disgust when her friends go turncoat by allying with the underdog ugly duckling who the assembled 16-year-olds finally recognize for the beauty of her mind and wit. I hear Alterman’s feet stomping in almost all of his columns and it’s typically in a rage against someone of the Left who’s left the reservation.

Alterman’s copy often reads like someone with an inferiority complex. He just can’t stomach his lack of star standing on the Left after all his years of ascending the liberal establishment’s ladder. That’s why he’s pursuing a PhD in history at Stanford. When he finally is handed that diploma, no one will be allowed to disrespect the newly minted doctor because he will be capable of waving his quackish wand to banish them “so deep into the anonymous masses” for crossing the line of acceptable Leftist discourse.

Despite his comment to the contrary, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alterman jump on the reformed liberal Gore’s bandwagon for the 2004 presidential race. Indeed, just try to feel Alterman’s unrequited love for Vidal’s cousin when you read this passage from his Oct. 21, 2002 column in The Nation:

“Personally, I never really liked Gore, and he’s not my choice for 2004. But he sure galvanized Tom Daschle and other Democrats to face up to a frightening juggernaut for war they would have preferred to duck for the sake of re-election. Naderites take note. It was not “smart” in the Washington sense. It was not strategic. But damn it, it was brave. The victim of a stolen presidency demonstrated why democracy matters. The more media chicken hawks sink their tiny beaks into his ass, the more–just this once–I admire his courage.”

MARK HAND is editor of He can be reached at


Mark Hand has reported on the energy industry for more than 25 years. He can be found on Twitter @MarkFHand.

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