A Trip to the Eye Doctor There are 127 stories in nearly gentrified Tribeca and this one just burned across the wires. It's 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and I'm on the way back from Morgan's Market with two cups of coffee. While I'm waving to our concierge, a Swiss tourist runs into the lobby. "I must be quick," she says in excellent English, "but I found this wallet in a taxi?it has a lot of American currency in it?and a bank receipt listed this address. I stopped so that you could give it to the owner." And off she went, to a splendid lunch, I hoped, after such an extraordinary good deed.
This lifted my spirits considerably but did nothing to help resolve our household mystery of the month: why MUGGER III refuses to wear long pants, even in the frigid November air. I'm especially confused as we dress in the morning, and I don a turtleneck with heavy wool pants and a sweater while my younger son slips into the flimsiest shorts?sometimes even seersucker?the kind that are usually worn in the midst of a grand heat wave. He'll accept socks with his sandals or sneakers, and even a parka over his Red Sox or Pokemon t-shirt, but never trousers. I ask why and MUGGER III simply explains, "Not until it snows. But next year, Dad, when I have to wear a uniform like my brother, I'll wear long pants every day. Okay?" As if that puts him in the clear, immunizing the boy from an unnecessary cough or skinned knee, but for now Mrs. M and I are resigned to this very mysterious eccentricity.
Moving on, Junior and I scored twice last week on matters of importance both trivial and significant. First, as the lad had the sniffles and a sore throat, I promised him I'd find the famous Smith Brothers cough drops, that wonderful "medicine" that my brothers and I preferred over Luden's in our own youth for very obvious reasons. Smith Bros. are an almost extinct brand of lozenges, and I had a devil of a time finding a box; in fact, I never did, even after scouring six or seven pharmacies. But last Friday, Junior called me at work and said that he and Mrs. M discovered the treasure at King's, just a few blocks from our apartment, on the bottom row. "I looked there the other day," I told him, "and couldn't find them." He was generous: "Well, they were kind of hidden, Dad. On the bottom row. Anyway, they're great! But Mom says I can have only one an hour."
Last Tuesday, in the middle of that windy rainstorm, I picked Junior up early from school and we traveled down to 40th St. for a long-scheduled eye exam. The traffic was horrendous, naturally, even when the rain subsided to a drizzle, which is another mystery of New York: why people let a few drops of precipitation turn them all into what we called derisively back in Huntington "Sunday drivers."
Anyway, this was a doctor's appointment neither of us was looking forward to. The pediatrician had noticed something slightly amiss with Junior's peepers and so now we're in this factory of an ophthalmologist's office, with 15 kids ahead of us, half of them, sadly, wearing thick glasses. My children aren't likely to escape a similar fate: Everyone in my rather large family wears glasses, and at least half of those in Mrs. M's do, or ought to. But there's a huge difference in donning specs when you're a teenager as compared to the sensitive age of seven, when classmates are more liable to toss off time-proven taunts.
The fact that Junior's cousin Quinn, at 12, just got his first pair, didn't help at all. Now, Quinn's a big dude for his age, and can take care of himself in his London school, but even he was mighty pissed when the lenses were prescribed. At the doctor's office it was a four-part process and Junior was protesting every minute. Not that I blamed him: the room was a wreck, with kids' toys taking up every square inch of the floor and a very stupid video on the screen up above. There was a particularly obnoxious mother with a cellphone conducting business in a loud voice, so much so that clear across this temporary prison I got the gist of the deal she was transacting, knew she was blowing it and was about to snarl some advice when Junior's name was called.
A kind nurse ran through the basics, with the standard eye chart and figuring out puzzles from different angles. That went fine and then we waited another 15 minutes before the doctor motioned us into his lair, Junior a little bit nervous about the formality of it all. He's an absolute angel when confronted with an adult authority figure, especially a stranger, and so he whipped through the exam without a contrary word. The doc pronounced my son's vision just dandy and I thought it was all over until another nurse arrived to dilate his pupils. She said have a seat and then we'll call you in 45 minutes.
That blew my anticipated-departure buzz, but it was nothing compared to Junior's disappointment; he thought the whole ordeal was complete. He suggested we just split and head down to Game Park where I told him he could buy a new Game Boy after this afternoon of relative torture. Nothing doing, sport, I told him, just suck it in and enjoy the surroundings. He didn't appreciate my sarcasm, but I diverted his attention with baseball chatter and soon enough the doctor appeared for the final session. Junior sat in the big chair, his pupils as large as a kid's on dope, and his tormentor asked him to look at the carousel in the distance and make a wish. Without hesitation, he said, "I want to go home." The doc laughed, said I don't blame you, assured both of us that glasses were indeed unnecessary and said we were free to get out of his hair. Junior wouldn't admit it right then, but before bed, when he was sleepy, he told me, "Dad, man am I happy I don't have to wear glasses." I kissed him goodnight and muttered to myself that he'd bought himself a few years, but the inevitable was just around the corner.
There was a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal last Friday that was a hit in our home: ketchup has taken the lead over salsa in U.S. sales for the first time in three years. Most of this can be attributed to a new, pro-ketchup attitude from Heinz, which accounts for almost half the tomato condiment purchases in the country. And, of course, just as Gulden's mustard will always beat queer brands like Grey Poupon, Heinz is the sauce of choice in our household. I remember as a kid when my mother, trying to save a nickel here, a nickel there, would experiment with bottles of "catsup," and they'd be left in the refrigerator for three years or so, all green and crusty, because of inferior quality. Since french fries and chicken nuggets are Junior's favorite edibles (he subsists on a Gandhi diet, and once had the nerve, when confronted with a glass of milk, to claim he's "lactose intolerant" except for ice cream) we go through bottles of the stuff.
It seems the former CEO of Heinz, the Irishman Tony O'Reilly, looked down his nose at the humble staple of his company; his successor, William Johnson, a Midwesterner, is much more enthusiastic, claiming, "I put it on everything?eggs, mashed potatoes, rice, green beans, peas" and even the Thanksgiving turkey. That's a touch parochial, but I'm glad someone's minding the Heinz ketchup franchise. But. There are signs that the quirky Johnson might be going too far: Noting that in Sweden, where, according to the Journal piece, "the average Swede consumes twice as much ketchup as the average American," and puts it on top of pasta, the CEO is preparing a kids' advertising campaign suggesting the same culinary travesty in the United States.
Although not quite the Italophile as John Strausbaugh (he just rang me from Milan: it was Campari & olives hour there) I draw the line there: ketchup is for burgers, fries, and maybe a squirt on the occasional hot dog (although Gulden's is much preferred). Ruining spaghetti, macaroni or any kind of noodle with anything but marinara has nothing do with, as John's once-favorite group sang, teaching your children well.
Wake Up: The 80s Are Over I was riffling through the November issue of the Tribeca Trib the other day?a decent community newspaper, if tilting to the left-wing view of life?and was just appalled to read two stories that demonstrated the anticommercial tinge of a vocal minority of the neighborhood's residents. As usual, Councilwoman Kathryn Freed was in the thick of things: she posed in a picture with three other activists who were instrumental in blocking the development of a 19-story, 340-room hotel at Laight and West Sts. Why anyone would prefer a dilapidated building, where bums can piss and rats roam at will, over an ongoing business is beyond me; but as I've written before, I'm not fluent in the language of those who impede progress down in these parts. Now the owners are pressing on with plans for a residential building, but are sure to face the same crew of protesters. One, Carole De Saram, of the Tribeca Community Association, said of the proposed building, "It's got to fit in with Tribeca... We don't want a 105 Duane St. [the 49-story building near Broadway] looming over our historic district."
Oh, brother. These are the same kind of residents who stopped the multiplex theater at N. Moore and Varick a couple of years ago. I bet if the neighborhood was polled, there would be at least a two-to-one preference for the convenience of a nearby film center.
Then there was the story about Maryse Robinson, who hopes, probably in vain, to open a lounge (with no live music) at the corner of Hudson and N. Moore Sts., diagonal to the popular Bubby's restaurant. Again, this would mean transforming a vacant building into a business, a crime in these parts. Tim Lannan, yet another Big Brother-type orchestrating dissent, told the Trib: "We should learn, and the city should learn, from what has been a fairly negative experience in Soho. There's a density that becomes unhealthy for the neighborhood." I'm on Robinson's side and hope that reason prevails. If people like De Saram, Lannan and Freed had their way, Tribeca would still be semi-deserted, without a grocery store, banks, the scores of restaurants that have made the neighborhood a citywide destination, and the smattering of retail shops and galleries. But it would be pure. Phooey on that is my opinion: let the bulldozing begin and get rid of all the eyesore buildings that belong to another era.
Pop Quizzes Are for Naomi Wolf Wonks Last week was, without doubt, the worst of Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign. Not only is Sen. John McCain still snowing the Beltway press and gaining in New Hampshire polls?although the most recent, Newsweek's, shows a reversal of the Senator's gains, and puts the contest at 44-27 percent?but Bush got tripped up by Boston television game show host Andy Hiller (WHDH) with a pop quiz on foreign leaders. Quick: Who's Finland's head of state? I don't know either. I'd also like to know which brilliant Bush campaign staffer allowed the candidate to be interviewed by Hiller, known for his "gotcha" style. Whoever it was ought to be exiled to head up the Wyoming headquarters.
But it wasn't the sleazy tactic used by Hiller?Bill Bradley, given the tip-off of Bush's goof two days earlier, refused to play the tv reporter's game?that caused the most serious Bush stumble since the rash of baseless cocaine stories. As an isolated incident, it wouldn't mean much, and would probably actually run to Bush's favor, since almost no one, except maybe Al Gore, could answer Hiller's questions. It's just that Bush has a history of making foreign relations gaffes (can you say Grecian?). There's also the impression, even among the Governor's supporters, that his Austin cabal is cocky and doesn't understand, or project, the necessity of "earning" the nomination. That's why the Times' Maureen Dowd can get away with the silly and stupid jabs she took last Sunday.
Dowd wrote, referring to the Hiller interview: "The encounter was reminiscent of that famous Roger Mudd interview with an utterly inarticulate Teddy Kennedy. Men who are running largely because of their last name sometimes trip over their entitlement. The Texas governor had the cornered look of a man who has been winging it too long, and hiding behind his advisers' skirts too long."
This is nonsense and I suspect Dowd knows it. When Kennedy foolishly granted an interview to Mudd in the fall of 1979, as he was an all-but-announced candidate against the incumbent president of his own party, he was woefully unprepared and couldn't answer Mudd's key question: Why do you want to be president?
Bush's unfortunate experience last week bore no such resemblance to Kennedy's frequent inarticulate statements. Unlike Teddy in '79, Bush has raised a record amount of money for his campaign; unlike Bob Dole in '96 or his own father in '92, he's essentially silenced the Christian Coalition, enlisting its former chief Ralph Reed in tamping down the explosive abortion issue; he's directly challenged his own party, which controls Congress; he's delivered well-received speeches on education and defense; he's traveled all over the country to overwhelming crowds who favor his candidacy; and finally, he's enlisted the support of the GOP machine, something Kennedy never mastered with this party against the hapless Jimmy Carter.
Ultimately, I don't think this incident will mean much, since the Governor has the uncanny ability to bounce back quickly after a mistake. After all the gas he took on missing that silly town meeting in Hanover, Bush was up in New Hampshire almost immediately, drawing huge crowds and retail politicking with the gusto that no other candidate can match this election cycle. While he defended a decision to skip the "debate" to be by his wife's side as she received an honor at Southern Methodist University, he also told reporters, including the Times' Frank Bruni: "[T]his is a state where you have to ask for the vote, and I'm asking, and I've been asking since mid-June, and I'm going to keep asking up until election time."
He also gave another well-received education speech on Nov. 2 in New Hampshire, in which he proved he owns that issue in the Republican contest. "I want to make a case for moral education," Bush told a Chamber of Commerce crowd. "Teaching is more than training, and learning is more than literacy. Our children must be educated in reading and writing?but also in right and wrong."
That's the kind of imperative that voters remember far more than the names of Third World leaders; it's also the sentiment that Elizabeth Dole, who'll soon endorse Bush and stump for him in New Hampshire, will ram home in that Oprah-style that might seem less automated now that she's relieved herself of actually running for president herself.
In addition, my sources say that Steve Forbes may quit his quest for the nomination by the end of the year?relinquishing his majority share of Forbes stock was fairly sobering for his family, I'd imagine?and also cast his lot with Bush. McCain's tobacco tax hike and "maverick" campaign finance reform stands are poison to a rigid economic conservative like Forbes (and let's remember that the publisher only embraced this religious baloney in the last two years) and Forbes would probably like a post in Bush's administration. (As would McCain: until this recent groundswell, which has pumped up his ego, it was clear the Arizonan was running for secretary of defense. If he doesn't piss off Bush too severely, I'll bet he gets his wish.)
And as far as the American voter is concerned, foreign affairs ranks very low. In David Broder's Washington Post article last Sunday, these were the top three concerns of Republicans and Democrats, respectively: HMOs, school violence, and sex and violence on tv; HMOs, the elderly not getting medicine and losing medical benefits.
Finally, in the believe-it-or-not category comes The New York Times' slant on the pop quiz Bush failed, in a Nov. 6 editorial. The paper said: "Mr. Bush, whose alpha-male instincts clearly made him consider throttling the reporter, probably fared no better than most ordinary [itals mine] Americans would have... Mr. Bush...despite his poll ratings, is still a newcomer to high-level campaigning. He has time?and a clear need?to master his foreign policy briefings."
Granted, irony is out of fashion now, but I doubt the man or woman who wrote this stupid editorial even realized the absurdity of the phrase "alpha-male instincts." Shit, maybe it was the Times who steered Naomi Wolf to Bill Clinton and then Al Gore. I haven't the time or inclination right now to discuss Gore's alpha-male moments. I do wonder, however, why Wolf, a perfectly legitimate adviser for a Democratic candidate, was kept under wraps (and compensated in a circuitous manner) while Tony Coelho and Carter Eskew were shown off to the media like they were on a model runway. For a more thorough reading of Wolf and Gore?which symbolizes, I think, the failure of the Veep's campaign?I recommend my colleague Chris Caldwell's piece in the Nov. 15 Weekly Standard.
As far as "the John McCain Moment" that the Beltway media is nattering about, he sort of got screwed this week. Not only did he have to share Newsweek's cover this Monday with Bill Bradley, but the shocking, and dangerous, ruling against Microsoft Friday night bumped him from Time's cover. (At least that's what the snipe on the top right corner with McCain's picture would imply.) In Newsweek, Jonathan Alter gives the Senator his gooey due, writing, "Honor is almost a quaint notion now, associated with a different time. McCain gives it a charming twinkle, and the hope of living on as something more than a platitude."
McCain's gotten a lot of mileage out of his "honor" shtick, but Alter, if he were more fair-minded, could've written the same about Bush, with this substitution: "Family loyalty is almost a quaint notion now, associated with a different time." Alter might consider that Bush's unabashed love of his large family is one of the reasons Americans are rallying behind his candidacy.
The Water Rat Is Now Pure Entertainment Now that Pat Buchanan has quickly slipped into obscurity?not literally, of course, but as an active participant in the 2000 election, whether or not he receives the Reform Party nod?it's once again humorous to read his many screeds and appreciate them for his unparalleled ability to turn a phrase. No one on the political scene comes close to his oratory; Jesse Jackson had the booming voice but his words were nursery-rhyme dumb, and Alan Keyes, also a gifted speaker, has wandered too far off this planet's reservation to hear without cringing.
So Buchanan was in the city last week and took in the sights, specifically the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum. After putting a down payment on the elephant dung masterpiece?that Buke's a nutty son of a gun?he issued the following statement last Friday. "It is dispirited, degrading, disgusting, sacrilegious, blasphemous and an insult to the mother of God. I am astonished that the people of New York are being required to pay for an exhibit by some decadent British artists whose objective is clearly to insult, wound and offend."
Then, according to a Nov. 6 New York Times article, Buchanan, who thought the Mayor was sort of wimp in the "Sensation" controversy, offered some advice to a capo of possible Senate candidate Rudy Giuliani. "You tell Giuliani, 'Look, Rudy, you've got to go all the way through with this.'" In a standard line, Buchanan then fantasized about one of his first actions as president of the United States: "When we get control of that National Endowment for the Arts, you shut it down, fumigate the building and put the I.R.S. in there." I'm in total agreement about shutting down the NEA, and I wish Bush and McCain would mention the same, at least in passing, but if you're talking fumigation, Herr Buchanan, I'd think the IRS is long overdue. (There's much to write about the Senate race in New York but I've mostly stalled so far, since I don't believe, ultimately, either the Mayor or Hillary Clinton will actually run. She'll drop out first. I'm being repetitive, but indulge me because this is the way it'll play out: Early next year, still down in the polls, she'll issue a mumbo jumbo statement about putting her own ambitions on hold to help the Democrats take back Congress and help her good friend Al Gore win the presidency. That will be very hard to stomach, but at least she'll be out of our state. Then Rudy will be free to govern the city for another year, with money in the bank to win the gubernatorial contest of 2002. Who will actually run for Moynihan's seat? I suppose Andrew Cuomo or Bobby Kennedy for the Democrats and either Pete King or Rick Lazio on the GOP side. And so one of the nation's most riveting elections becomes a yawn. I need more sleep anyway.)
And Chardonnay Buchanan hasn't gotten so lazy and rich that he can't land a quick and riotously nasty counterpunch. Reacting to Norman Podhoretz's article in the Oct. 25 The Wall Street Journal, "Buchanan and Anti-Semitism," Buchanan jabbed back almost by return mail, to use a phrase the out-of-time "populist" would appreciate. You can imagine what The Pod Sr. had to say about Buchanan; if not, go directly to Dirty Sanchez's column. Mr. America First wrote in the "Letters to the Editor" of the Journal last Friday: "While clearing up all the debris [Podhoretz] left on your page would require a small book, let me respond to a few of his charges." And he does, for some 20 paragraphs.
But my favorite part of the letter is the conclusion: "'Good riddance to bad rubbish,' Mr. Podhoretz says of my leaving the GOP. Decades ago, I was among those conservatives who urged that we throw open our doors and welcome to our ranks the 'neo-conservatives' fleeing the party of George McGovern. Now they have become our inquisitors, hurling anathemas at any who decline to embrace their revised dogmas. Non serviam, Norman.
"All my life I have labored in the vineyards of the Republican Party, and fought in more campaigns than ever did Mr. Podhoretz and his cohorts. But, today, I look upon that party the way a man looks on a beloved home in the old neighborhood where he grew up, as he sees squatters convert it into a crack house. You don't know whether to burn it down in rage, or just drive away and never look back. I have decided to leave; and the sentiment I feel most on reading such as Norman's 3,000-word rant against me, is liberation. Free at last."
Now that the Buke's dining with the likes of Lenora Fulani, Pat Choate and God knows what other political zealot for the laughingstock Reform Party, it's not so odd to read him evoking Martin Luther King. It wouldn't surprise me at all if next week Buchanan opens a speech on the prairie, or in a DC crack house, with the words of Al Sharpton. He's gone that loony.
The conservative writer David Horowitz uses the Buchanan candidacy as a vehicle to excoriate the Democratic Party's use of racial politics to energize their base of voters. Writing in the compromised Salon on Nov. 8, Horowitz goes through the motions on Buchanan?that although he's happy the pundit/pol left the GOP he could wind up electing a Democratic president and thus a liberal Supreme Court?and then segues into an important discussion of what Bill Clinton and Tom Daschle have been up to for the past two years.
First, Horowitz knocks off the easy target, the hysterical witch Maxine Waters, congresswoman from California: "The left-wing caucus in the Democratic Party is more protected than its Republican cousin and consequently even more aggressive. The lopsided bias of the nation's media guarantees that a left-wing fanatic and all-weather race-hater like Rep. Maxine Waters?will have few restraints on her poison tongue... Waters, of course, lacks the innate good manners that have made Buchanan an effective combatant in the political wars and the potential leader of a third party."
Horowitz is correct that not enough media attention has been paid to the racial demagoguery of Clinton and Daschle, and that Republicans must be prepared for the dirtiest kind of politics in the 2000 election, in every contest in every state with minority voters, from dogcatcher to president. The thought that the GOP could actually retain Congress and win the White House has aligned a man like Senate Minority Leader Daschle, who's never displayed a liking for extreme dirty tricks and distortion (Clinton, of course, is another story), with a racist like Waters. This is going to be one hell of an ugly election.
One more word on Reform Party kooks. I'm not a fan of Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe's stand-in for Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, but she had an hilarious line in her column of Nov. 7. She describes Donald Trump as "The egotist with the comb-over who reminds every woman of the ghastly first date she had after getting divorced." I don't imagine Trump will be seeing Goodman's piece; no doubt the messenger would be ordered to clear out his (or, most likely, her) desk in 10 minutes flat.
Message to Abe: Talk Has a Job For You! By all accounts, former New York Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal was a real shit. In the December Vanity Fair he's quoted about his successor Max Frankel, who wrote a bestselling memoir this year: "Max Frankel has no significance in my life. I think he's left little of significance at the Times. I'm not saying zero, but he'll be remembered for little else besides his attacks on me."
Still, when Rosenthal, now 77 and a columnist at the paper, was fired at the end of last week, it was incredibly unseemly for a Times editorial to appear extolling his virtues. Especially when Rosenthal was coldcocked upon hearing that publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was letting him go. Granted, his column "On My Mind" should've been ditched long ago; one might've thought that Rosenthal would exhibit the same grace that Russell Baker did last year when it was clear he was no longer wanted at the Times. Not that Rosenthal's (or Baker's) column was any worse than Frank Rich's or Anthony Lewis', but I digress.
Last Friday, The Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz ran a story, headlined "Rosenthal Gets Pink Slip From N.Y.'s Gray Lady," in which the veteran Timesman says: "Sweetheart, you can use any word you want." He then told Kurtz that Sulzberger let him know "it was time. What that means, I don't know... I didn't expect it at all."
Under such circumstances a salutational editorial on the page opposite Rosenthal's last column was grossly inappropriate, but of a piece, I think, with the disintegration of all matters of taste and manners under Sulzberger Jr.'s regime. The edit concluded: "His strong, individualistic views and his bedrock journalistic convictions have informed his work as reporter, editor and columnist. His voice will continue to be a force on the issues that engage him. And his commitment to journalism as an essential element in a democratic society will abide as part of the living heritage of the newspaper he loved and served for more than 55 years."
Rosenthal's abrupt execution was so jarring that even Liz Smith came to his defense in her Sunday syndicated column. Talk about a loss of dignity; kind of like when you're a terminal cancer patient and don't particularly care who changes your bedpan. Liz wrote: "Can anybody ever dismiss the young [he's not that young, hon: late-40s is the shank of middle age] publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.? I guess not. I will miss Abe's columns [sure] and hope to find him writing elsewhere."
Who Is Eric Alterman? A Scumbag, I'd Say Regular readers know that my opinion of Nation columnist Eric Alterman is two or three notches below faux-populist Michael Moore. He's an arrogant, insufferable writer and, if you have occasion to see him on tv, a very rude guest. Just three weeks ago he savaged National Journal editor Michael Kelly, now also the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, because of his short and troubled tenure at Marty Peretz's New Republic. Kelly was unrelenting in his criticism of Bill Clinton, and occasionally Al Gore (Peretz' pet), with good reason, and so he was fired. Alterman sums up Kelly's lack of qualifications to edit a journal once known for the "brilliantly schizophrenic editorships of Mike Kinsley and Rick Hertzberg" by saying: "For the first time in its then-eighty-five-year history, TNR was edited by a man who hated liberalism... Kelly's hatred for Bill Clinton was so intense, it frequently spilled into hysteria."
As well it might. Given Clinton's scandalous, immoral administration in the White House, one wouldn't be surprised that Kelly, who describes himself as an "LBJ-Hubert Humphrey liberal," might rev up the invective on occasion. But I suppose Alterman's famous friendship with former Clinton shill George Stephanopoulos clouded his vision about anything negative written about the crook in the Oval Office.
Kelly also writes a weekly column for The Washington Post, a job I fervently hope he won't give up with his added publishing responsibilities. Typical of Kelly's brilliance, as compared to the ho-hum conventional wisdom work of the overrated Kinsley and Hertzberg, was an Oct. 13 column that reacted to Gore's absurd charge that his opponent Bill Bradley was a quitter because he left the Senate in '96. Al stayed and "fought" the nasty GOP, "fought" against the evil of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. Never mind that it would've been rather unusual for a vice president to resign in the face of political opposition. (As I've written recently, however, had Gore resigned during the Lewinsky scandal, he'd doubtless be in much better shape to win the Democratic nomination today.)
Kelly wrote: "When the going got tough and the questions got nasty, did Al quit then? Not Al. He faced the American people and told them right to their faces that, no matter how much it all might smell, there was 'no controlling legal authority' against what he had done...
"And when Bill Clinton became the first elected president to be impeached... did Al quit then? No sir, not Al. Al stood tall with fellow partisans on the White House lawn, cheering the disgraced obstructer of justice, and he denounced the 'unworthy judgment' against 'a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.'? So, yes, by all means, let's make the Democratic race about who is a quitter and who is not."
Kelly's boss at the National Journal, David Bradley, recently bought The Atlantic from Mort Zuckerman at a fire-sale price of $10 million. There's no quarrel from these quarters that the 142-year-old monthly is an American jewel?as Alterman writes, any magazine still extant that once published Emerson on President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is worthy of awe?but currently it's a musty read, much like The New Yorker was before Tina Brown took over. Still, Alterman is nervous and concludes his vicious attack on Kelly: "The venerable old war horse has survived countless panics, depressions, world wars and even Mort Zuckerman. Perhaps it will also survive Michael Kelly. But those of us who retain an affection for the magazine and its role in American history might be forgiven for feeling afraid?very, very afraid."
Perhaps Alterman's nausea and fear over Kelly's new post prompted him to write such a sloppy column in the current issue of The Nation. His first topic is Bob Somerby's funny website The Daily Howler , an almost nonpartisan compendium of willful and unconscious distortions and lazy nods to conventional Beltway lore by the pundits who appear on political talk shows. Alterman, even as he praises Somerby for his hobby, can't help but show his condescension ("Somerby, who apparently has quite a bit of time on his hands, watches pundit TV and reads pundit analyses in his living room for no pay"), but that's not the main problem with this blurb. It's that Alterman leaves out crucial facts.
The Daily Howler is tilted favorably toward Gore, which is fair enough, given the animus sometimes aimed at the Vice President in the media. However, as Alterman closes, he writes: "Somerby says he is not a Gore man, and neither, for goodness' sake, am I." The latter statement is a sop to his Nation readers, I imagine, but more importantly, it's clear that Somerby is a Gore partisan. After all, they were roommates at Harvard, a pertinent tidbit that Alterman omits. In fact, in the Dec. '98 issue of Capital Style, Somerby wrote a long feature about his campus frolics with the future vice president and the actor Tommy Lee Jones.
In that article, Somerby writes: "I suppose you'd like me to say: I can't believe the kid who dropped all those water balloons is the same guy about to run for president. But that really isn't what I think. No, when I see Al now, for all the trappings, I think the same thing I think whenever I see any of my roommates: I wonder who has all my old record albums, and how I can get them back?... I think when you've all been friends for so long, you can overlook the little problems. You learn to see people for who they are. You learn not to sweat the small stuff."
Yeah, Eric, I'll bet Somerby, a comedian who lives in Baltimore, will be voting for Bill Bradley in the Maryland primary this coming spring.