Kersten: I'll get you, my pretty, and your liberal dog too!

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I never had the privilege of reading the term papers that the late Jan Gangelhoff wrote for the Gophers men's basketball team, but they can't have been very different from Katherine Kersten's column in the Strib. Every Monday and Thursday and sometimes on Sunday, Kersten hands in some little essay that is primly, lifelessly composed and cheerfully free of specific facts, contentions, or, usually, people. Boilerplate, I think it's called. There is seemingly no subject under the sun about which Kersten does not have some facile, received squib of opinion in her. (True Kersten aficionados are still awaiting her column on the evils of affirmative action, for which she is now Exhibit 1.)


There's a ream of Kersten-authored papers at the Center of the American Experiment website that prove pro forma conservatism has always been her metier, but she has also received on-the-job reinforcement for her aversion to people and reportage.

On June 20, Kersten played the Pluck Card with a column about 10-year-old Ben Albert, a Little League pitcher who, Kersten informed her readers, "[has] only got one arm." Word from the Strib newsroom is that an editor noticed a discrepancy--the boy in the photo had two arms, though one was severely deformed--that was subsequently brought to Kersten's attention. "I guess she threw a fit about it," a denizen of Portland Avenue told me, "and so the column ran saying the boy had one arm." The next day, following irate calls from the boy's family and ridicule from readers, the paper ran this correction:


A Katherine Kersten column on Page B1 Monday about Ben Albert described the 10-year-old baseball player as having one arm. Albert was born with a less than fully developed left arm.


Well, she was only off by one. Since the flap over Kersten's single-arm theory, she has seemingly redoubled her commitment to the proposition that if you don't say anything, no one can yell at you. Only that hasn't proven to be the case: Kersten's very next column, on June 23, concerned the trials of Lillian Awan Anderson, an African hair-braider caught up in the state's fearsome hair-care regulatory bureaucracy. The blog Power Liberal then posted a link to Kersten's column (no longer available free online) and one to a Craig Westover Pioneer-Press column from April 27 that concerned the same hair-braider and extracted the same moral lesson.

Here she was only off by two--two months, in this case. A week later, in her July 4 ode to freedom, Kersten chose a safer port by writing a column about the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization that has probably not featured prominently in any American newspaper since DAR matrons barred Marion Anderson from singing on the steps of Constitution Hall in 1939, prompting Eleanor Roosevelt to renounce her membership. (Has Craig Westover written about them lately? We think not.)

In today's installment, Kersten pokes her muzzle into an Army recruiting station in Hopkins. By now a formula is becoming evident in Kersten's ledes. Start with some vague, tepid innuendo about what "they" of the enemy camp say or think:


Has U.S. military recruiting hit a brick wall? Common wisdom says yes. The war in Iraq is unpopular, the thinking goes, and daily "body count" reports are discouraging potential recruits.


Kersten wisely does not dwell on arguing the point; the numbers, from polls to post-Iraq-invasion enlistment figures to the incidence of National Guard call-up deserters and resisters, are pretty much all against her. Instead, as often, Kersten cites a counter-example, a factoid that seems to point the other way, and never looks back. In this case, her fact of the day is that each of the military's branches made their recruitment goals in the month of June. There you have it. Clearly, everything is jake with the US armed forces. (You can hardly blame Kersten for failing to mention they met recruiting goals by downsizing them; it would have laid waste to an already threadbare premise.)

But if Kersten really believes her own sunny rhetoric, why is so much of the remainder of her column (not to mention the headline) taken up with the fact that an unprecedented number of parents are begging their kids not to enlist in the military? Don't take my word for it; the Army recruiter quoted by Kersten avers that "Parents' opposition is often the biggest obstacle our potential recruits face." This sad fact prompts one of the sterner Chatty Kathy soliloquies in some time:


"Parental concerns about safety are understandable. But as I listen to Burns and the recruits, I begin to suspect that some parents still view the military through the prism of Vietnam and are skeptical about the value of any armed service. Others see Army life as rigid and restrictive, and want to protect their children from losing their individuality.

"The Hopkins recruits understand parental concerns about safety but don't want to be 'protected.' They see American power as a force for good in the world. Their advice for Mom and Dad? 'Parents should not baby their kids. Let kids do what they believe they have to do.'"


She goes on--always, always--but you get the gist. Kersten's point is that a) there is no military recruitment problem, b) it's the fault of liberal parents, and c) don't think of them as mortar rounds, think of them as tough love. This is my favorite Kersten column to date; my colleague Beth Hawkins prefers her belated June 27 Valentine to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay ("...the food is good... Most Americans would be surprised to learn that some detainees don't want to leave the base"). I wonder: Have the conservatives who applauded Kersten's hiring begun to feel a creeping dread that perhaps the fiendish and Machiavellian Red Star has put another one over on them by hiring a conservative columnist whose real purpose is to afford liberals an occasional laugh?



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