Tag Archives: WSJ

That WSJ Column…

There has been a very vigorous blowback triggered by a Wall Street Journal column by one Joseph Epstein, counseling Jill Biden (or, as he patronizingly referred to her, “kiddo”) to forego use of the title “Doctor.” (I am not linking to that column; if you want to read it in its sexist entirety, Google it.)

Now, there are legitimate issues about the use of titles. When I was married to a medical doctor, I was frequently embarrassed by his compulsion to insist on being called “Doctor” in venues where it was clearly unnecessary; I ultimately realized that it was a crutch–a way of reassuring himself of his superior status.

People in my generation did tend to reserve it for medical doctors, not those of us holding other types of doctorates.That convention has dissipated, however. My students either call me professor or doctor, and I answer to either. (Or sometimes, just to “hey”!)

No matter what your opinion about the social propriety of its use, the sneering, dismissive tone of the column made it abundantly clear–as many others have noted–that it wouldn’t have been written about a male with a doctorate. About Dr. Kissinger, for example.

I think the personality of Mr. Epstein–who holds a BA, and proudly reports that he doesn’t use “Doctor” despite the fact that he was once awarded an honorary doctorate–is pretty amply telegraphed by the self-satisfied tone of the column itself, but if we needed any confirmation, it came in a post from a FB friend of my sister:

I’ve briefly noted this on some friends’ threads, but it’s worth posting a full account: when I was a Northwestern undergraduate, I took a required class with Joseph Epstein. He constantly jingled the change and keys in his pockets, and told us not to bother complaining about it as all his students did. He didn’t care. He told us rather proudly that he never lay awake at night worrying about the future of the blue whale (?). He NEVER called on the women in class, and spent most class time talking about how amazing he is. I imagine he would use the verb ‘regale’, clearly thinking he would have been welcomed at the Algonquin Round Table. There was one brave woman who insisted on talking. He ignored her. He rang me in my apartment on a weekend, after we turned in our final essays, demanding to know who had written the essay for me. He asked me several questions about Joyce, about whom I’d written, and kept asking how I knew this or that. When I started to cry, he said I was getting hysterical and hung up. I asked a couple of professors who knew me and my work to intervene. He got back to me to say I seemed to have gotten my little boyfriends (??) to speak to him. I was younger than my years and terrified, ignorant of how to stand up for myself. I got the paper back, with a ‘C’, and a one-sentence comment: ‘This is an A paper, but you and I know why I can’t give you an A.

Apparently, he is also an “out and proud” homophobe.

When the offensive column triggered huge criticism, the Journal’s editor dismissed the blowback by insisting that it was part of “cancel culture” and a co-ordinated effort by Democratic Party strategists.

I beg to differ.

That highly critical response was the spontaneous voice of thousands of women (and men who aren’t threatened by them), telling entitled and clueless old White guys to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.


Self-Awareness Was Never Goldsmith’s Strong Suit

Former Indianapolis Mayor and current New York Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith has a letter in the Wall Street Journal, in which he explains why “progressive government” is obsolete. The letter is vintage Goldsmith.

The letter is a far more intellectual and polished version of the complaints we’ve heard from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels: government is broken because of the special interests. Those special interests–unions and civil service employees–have “stifled the creativity of public-sector workers and reduced the ability of public investments to create opportunities for citizens.”

Now, I’ll be the first to concede that many of the work rules that have resulted from collective bargaining agreements are unwieldy, and should be and could be revised and streamlined. But what are we to make of statements like this one: “State law mandates that over 1500 job titles must be filled through competitive written exams, specifically ignoring an employee’s actual performance or qualifications.”? If I were a suspicious sort, I might think that a public manager’s subjective evaluation of an employee’s performance (perhaps the willingness of that employee to support certain policies or even candidates for office) would be less reliable than an employee’s ability to demonstrate knowledge on an objective examination.

And in fact, it was for precisely that reason that the examination requirement was imposed. So it is ironic–and telling–that Goldsmith then says “We are even required to administer a civil service test for the head of our Police Department’s counter-terrorism unit! (We found a way around it.)

Those of us who lived in Indianapolis during the Goldsmith Administration will recall that he “found a way around” a number of rules he didn’t like. (We might also find the letter’s emphasis on transparency somewhat ironic, since transparency was hardly the hallmark of that administration.)

The letter also reinforces the complaints of Governors like Walker and Daniels about worker pensions; Goldsmith complains that New York City will have to pay 8.4 Billion to “fill a hole in its unfunded pension obligations.” Those “greedy” public workers, who chose to take some of their pay in the form of deferred compensation (i.e., pensions) were not the people who decided to divert those funds to other uses, rather than funding their pension obligations at the time. New York, like Indianapolis and many other cities, willfully ignored their pension obligations for years. Why should workers who relied upon those pensions be the ones who take the hit?

What is most striking about the letter is also what is most reminiscent of Goldsmith’s tenure in City Hall: his either-or approach.

Goldsmith is not a stupid man, and the problems he identifies are not all imaginary. But there is no nuance in his worldview. These problems are the result of rules, he tells us, and the rules are not working optimally, so they must go. He doesn’t tell us what, if anything, he would do to insure that public employees would not be subject to arbitrary dismissals, that political insiders wouldn’t be hired in lieu of nonpolitical professionals for jobs requiring expertise, or how he would handle the other evils these rules were intended to address.

Blowing things up was always Goldsmith’s style. But America’s cities need people who can fine-tune systems and fix problems–not bomb throwers.

We need snow removal–not snow jobs.