Burned About Byrne 

To the Editor:

I was glad to read Michael Miner's and his correspondent David Peterson's characterization of Sun-Times columnist Dennis Byrne as a raving "right-wing lunatic" [Hot Type, January 6] because the increasing dominance of religious right editorial views at the Sun-Times is troubling. Amazingly, Byrne has written that he has "always thought [he] was pretty liberal," and as recently as November, of his resentment at being "called a conservative." This from a columnist who demanded punishment of a pregnant woman who refused to allow surgical delivery of her baby, who believes landlords should have the right to refuse tenants whom they consider sexually immoral, who favors the replacement of welfare payments with orphanages, who favors single-sex public schooling, who demands intolerance of promiscuity among teens, who urges parents to forbid masturbation, who urges adults to "correct" strange children whom they observe misbehaving in public, who defended Pat Buchanan's 1992 GOP convention speech, and who has himself written time and again of the manifest superiority of European cultural and religious traditions, which he thinks Native Americans and African Americans should consider more a deliverance than an imposition.

The thread of continuity in Byrne's right-wing ravings is his relentless zeal for paternal and patriarchal authority. Byrne has written that his recently deceased father was a superior parent, and that he in turn is a superior parent, and that this proves the superiority of Irish Catholic patriarchal traditions. It is therefore fascinating that Byrne's revered father was not a southwest suburban reactionary like Byrne, but instead a north shore suburban liberal, because the recent lunatic change in Byrne's columns noted by Peterson, from writing critically "about U.S. policy in the Middle East" to writing critically "about people who masturbate," seems to have been triggered by his father's death. One might speculate to what extent Byrne's emerging authoritarianism reflects an emancipation from piety to his father's liberal views and to what extent his authoritarianism is itself a reflection of filial piety; but the spectacle of the most intolerant and reactionary columnist in Chicago insistently calling himself "pretty liberal" is clearly beyond rational explanation.

Gary Sugar

N. Dearborn

Michael Miner replies:

I defer to Mr. Sugar in any attempt to interpret Dennis Byrne's columns by speculating on Byrne's relationship with his late father. Such an argument is beyond my competence, and, I'll add, speaking for my column, out of bounds. Much as I always appreciate a note of praise, and unhappy as I'm made by a number of Byrne's columns, I do not consider him a raving lunatic. If I seemed to say so, I apologize. I have too few of Byrne's old columns on hand to comment on the extreme positions he may have taken in some of them; except to say I would not want to check my own moral values at the door before doing business, especially before deciding who can live in a building I own.

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