Has the far-right become so bereft of ideas and spokespersons to generate its ill-tempered discussions that it now has to turn to institutionalized felons like Conrad Black for its inspiration?
Among the more puzzling of the commentaries prompted by the passing of Edward M. Kennedy, the long-sitting senior Senator from Massachusetts, is surely the one penned at Coleman Correctional Facility in Florida by Inmate No.18330-424, otherwise known as Conrad M. Black. His comments appeared in the National Post the day Mr. Kennedy lost his final battle with brain cancer at the age of 77.
Mr. Black wasted no time in pronouncing the late Senator to be a man of mediocre achievements who will be remembered for nothing outstanding. He also felt it necessary to point out the womanizing proclivities of the Kennedy men, opined that the Senator was probably drinking when his car left the bridge at Chappaquiddick, and rated John F. Kennedy’s presidency as unspectacular –all this before the first head count of the warm prison morning.
Both Mr. Black and Mr. Kennedy enjoyed favored childhoods and private educations, which, along with some early career accomplishments, came courtesy of their families’ wealth and power. Both were trained as lawyers. Both were caught cheating at school and paid a price for it. The Senator made his share of uniquely personal mistakes which saw tragedy strike with an even sharper blow than a more prudent man might tempt. But the difference is that while Mr. Kennedy devoted himself significantly to championing the cause of the less fortunate throughout most of his professional life, and certainly with a fevered pitch in the past two or three decades, the titled, honored and enormously wealthy Mr. Black tended to see himself as a victim ¾of the media, of a Prime Minster who did not think Canadians should be called “lord,” of the U.S. justice system, of overly demanding shareholders and of employees and customers who were regularly given to epidemics of shoplifting, as he was prone to point out in connection with his fabled Dominion grocery store empire. Mr. Kennedy, for most of the past number of decades, sought to atone for his shortcomings and his sins by living a responsible life and in the work he pursued for the benefit of others. Mr. Black has yet to show the slightest remorse for anything he has done, expect perhaps for not fleecing shareholders –whom he dubbed a cheap source of capital– more.
While Mr. Kennedy carved out legislative compromises that helped millions of children, the poor and the elderly, Mr. Black was obsessed with chiseling out a few million more for himself, even if it meant defrauding investors in the process. While Mr. Kennedy gained admiration for carrying the responsibilities of several extended families on his shoulders and was known for his unstinting generosity toward those he did not even know, Mr. Black became infamous for carrying out boxes of evidence in an obstruction of justice spectacle that led him to his current confines in Florida.
It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Black, even before the Senator was buried, would use the opportunity to strike the low blow, to find a chance to snarl at a man who uplifted so many, and to pronounce himself unimpressed with an historic figure who exemplified liberal values people like Mr. Black detest. Mr. Black’s world is never quite secure when there are those who champion a better minimum wage, struggle relentlessly for more accessible heath care or oppose a war that does not need to be waged and should not be fought, as Mr. Kennedy did with a passion few could rival. Mr. Black, of course, was an early supporter the war in Iraq. As to the idea of a more level playing field so that others might have a shot at the American dream, Mr. Black’s world rests on the idea of privilege and private gain and, above all, never having to “reenact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility,” as he so famously declared.
Mr. Black, as both the verdict of the courts and public opinion has decreed, has a few problems in the judgment department. One does not need to be a great lover of the sea, as Mr. Kennedy was, to know the consequences that can befall when one is separated from a compass, either of the moral or the magnetic kind. Mr. Black has been bobbing along unmoored and unguided for some time.
As the object himself of great speculation about his culpability in a much larger fraud against the Hollinger companies (see Breeden Report) and having made a loud and persistent case for prosecutorial overreach in connection with the charges that saw his criminal conviction, Mr. Black, one might have thought, would be disinclined to conjecture about Mr. Kennedy’s “driving under the influence of alcohol” while operating the car that went off the bridge and led to the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne. That he would engage in such gossip without evidence or fact in a way that just gives his adversaries more standing to do the same about him, suggests that Mr. Black is no longer –if he ever was– in possession of the strategic horsepower enjoyed by the diminutive French Emperor, whom he tended to idolize.
What is most staggering about all of this is that, of the countless candidates at its disposal to render meaningful comments about the life and times of Mr. Kennedy, the National Post and its publishers thought that they should turn to Mr. Black. Has the far-right become so bereft of ideas and spokespersons to generate its ill-tempered discussions that it now has to turn to institutionalized felons for its inspiration? Nor does it betray nothing less than an astonishing lack of journalistic judgment that they would permit an incarcerated and discredited business figure to rate the Kennedy family’s accomplishments when Mr. Black has shown such a peculiar gift for losing the empire he effectively inherited while so many of the other corporate jewels he touched, not to mention his Canadian citizenship and his freedom, turned to ashes in his own hands.
The only explanation for this singularly low contribution to the discussion about the passing of a major figure in American life is that the National Post’s publishers, principally the Asper brothers, also began their lives from a predicate of inherited privilege and wealth. They obviously prefer Mr. Black’s narrowly self-serving, Darwinian view as to how one conducts oneself in the face of such fortune, and not Mr. Kennedy’s more universally ennobling vision of what can be done to help make the lives of the less favored more enriched.
Our thoughts about the rise and fall of Conrad Black can be viewed here.