In case you didn’t notice U.S. 1 ran a pro-Trump op ed piece in last week’s issue. Titled “The First 100 Days: A Trump Report Card,” the piece by College of New Jersey senior Kristen Borowski gave the president seven A’s, two B’s, and one C for his out-of-the-gate performance. A few people here at the office groused that we were allowing a relatively unqualified and highly partisan person space in our papers. But I encouraged the writer and urged her to be as critical as she wanted to be.
To me the end result was illuminating. Despite the many flip flops on campaign promises by the new president, his supporters remain steadfast. The C grade came on healthcare, and only because Congress did not go along with Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare. Our college senior’s view, incidentally, is in line with national polls that show Trump to be even less popular now than he was on election day. But, those polls also show, support among those who voted for him has barely dipped.
We were happy to print Borowski’s column (and are hopeful that she will find work after college with a caring employer who provides healthcare). No big deal.
But given the way things are going in the media these days maybe it is a big deal. It certainly was a big deal for the New York Times last week when it introduced to its opinion pages a new columnist, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens.
It wasn’t the Pulitzer or the Journal connection that the Times crowed about. It was Stephens’ political point of view: “Particularly during this turbulent and searching time in America and around the world,” wrote Times editorial page editor James Bennet in a letter to readers, “we should have the humility to recognize we may not be right about everything and the courage to test our own assumptions and arguments. In the opinion pages of the Times, I believe the best way to do that, and to serve you, is to foster collegial debate among brave, honest journalists with very different points of view.”
In other words, the Times seems to have felt the criticism that it and other left-leaning media have tilted into a narrow-minded position. But, the Times wants to assure us, it’s not true: Some of the Times’ best friends are conservatives. They’re practically like family.
That was the introduction to Stephens’ work. Then came his inaugural column in which — to put the most generous spin on it — Stephens argued that advocates for climate legislation have hurt their cause by twisting scientific data to advance their agenda. Who could argue with that? And who needs to twist data when you can look at a satellite image of the polar ice cap now and a similar photo from 25 years ago?
But Stephens carried it a step further. Aren’t all these “models and simulations” used to “peer into the climate future” just a matter of probability? And who could say that any probability is a 100 percent guarantee? Stephens charges that a cabal of self-proclaimed morally superior climate scientists are “demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy.”
The outpouring of criticism and rebuttals of Stephens’ position has been overwhelming. I’ll just add one I haven’t heard anyone else mention yet. Climate scientists are asking for expensive changes? I would argue that the old carbon-based approach is expensive, and that we can’t afford it anymore. Case in point: The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum last month began to convert to solar energy for its electricity needs. Other models and simulations notwithstanding, solar is just cheaper.
All the blowback caused the Times editorial page editor to issue another statement:
“If all of our columnists and all of our contributors and all of our editorials agreed all of the time, we wouldn’t be promoting the free exchange of ideas, and we wouldn’t be serving our readers very well.
“. . . He’s contributing to a vitally important debate, and engaging that debate directly helps each of us clarify what we think.”
Maybe I also need to explain myself a little. Admittedly I have drifted to the left since I started this newspaper in 1984. Some of the columns written during presidential elections make me seem like a member of the Democratic National Committee (even though I am not registered with either party).
But it is also true that in 1990, when everyone else was dismissing Christie Whitman as a serious challenger to Senator Bill Bradley, we put Whitman on the cover. She lost by less than three points.
The one person who could really vouch for me as a fair-minded editor is — sadly — no longer with us. Let me use this opportunity to pay tribute to Pete Weale, my frequent pen pal during my days as editor of the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, who died March 25 at the age of 66.
Weale’s obituary described him as “a father, educator, entrepreneur who enjoyed challenging the status quo. In his 33 years residing in the Princeton/West Windsor area, his commitment to the community resulted in years of involvement with the school district and community organizations like West Windsor Little League, well after his children were able to reap the benefits of his efforts. He had an affinity for collecting antique furniture, cars, bars, and pretty much anything that was older than he.”
Weale was a resolute champion of the idea that government by the people sometimes meant just that — the people had to be ready to do it by themselves. As his obituary noted: “Residents of West Windsor and Princeton Junction fondly recall memories of Peter driving his Ford Model T pickup with a lawn mower as he took the initiative to mow and maintain areas such as the Penns Neck Circle, not only for esthetics but for the safety of complete strangers.”
Officials in town dismissed Weale as a guy who had too much time on his hands. And Weale was clearly out of line for injecting an ethnic slur into his criticism of longtime West Windsor mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh (referring to him as “Tofu Hsueh”). And some of his ideas were far-fetched.
While I never hesitated to disagree with him, Weale never took it personally (and he never hid his opinions behind anonymous posts as many people in small towns do) . In reading Weale’s steady stream of e-mails I always reminded myself of the adage: Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
An alumnus of Cornell and its MBA program, Weale was probably just as proud of his Marine Corps service. His gung ho approach in West Windsor included raising money to buy lights for the high school football field. His plan was turned down, but the district later relented and allowed the Booster Club to follow through.
Fed up with the presence of boarded up buildings that made Princeton Junction look like, in his phrase, Plywood Junction, Weale gathered paint and brushes and painted the plywood over.
Weale lobbied incessantly for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education to videotape its meetings, as almost every other area school board and municipality did. After years of complaining, the district finally caved in.
One of Weale’s better ideas, at least in my mind, was to transform the small, and now neglected, pond and grassy area enclosed by the circular drive from Wallace Road leading to the Princeton Junction train station into a mini-park. He called it the “Oasis at Princeton Junction.” The oasis won’t be created anytime soon — multiple state entities control the land around it. But at least Weale planted the seed.
In his last letter to the WW-P News, in October of last year, Weale decried the public sector bureaucrats “simply collecting paychecks while getting closer to retirement.” But, he added, “we also have some excellent personnel trying to make a difference. If you don’t know the history, we are doomed to repeat it. Please get involved.”
If I were grading Pete Weale I wouldn’t hand out the A’s as generously as the college senior did for Trump (and Weale wouldn’t expect me to). But I would certainly give Weale an A for effort and dedication.