Just when you thought there was absolutely nothing
worthwhile left to say about the election, two of my colleagues went out of
their way (in last week’s Observer )
to prove it. Of course, rubbish is as rubbish does, and there is absolute
rubbish and proportional rubbish. The notion that W. and his partisans are
somehow responsible for the death from a stroke of the much-respected
journalist Lars-Erik Nelson strikes me as absolute rubbish.
This is not to say that I didn’t admire Nelson. His politics
weren’t mine, but then again I don’t really have any politics. What I have are
principles-and these days, both among politicians and among journalists,
politics and principle have precious little to do with one another. That said,
I always found Nelson’s work in Newsday
(where I started reading him), in the Daily
News and in The New York Review of
Books thoughtful, well-expressed and-yes!-principled, and my condolences go
out to his family, his colleagues and his readers. If I may paraphrase the
Bard: “He should have died hereafter; there would have been a time for such a
word”-if there is ever a time for death. He deserves better than to be turned,
posthumously, by others in his profession into a kind of journalistic Princess
But such is to be expected as, inevitably, chattering-class
reactions to the election of 2000 escalate to Stage 3: hysteria. The pressure
has simply been too great over too long a time (the absolute outer limit of
punditical rationality is perhaps two weeks; there is no known measurable
half-life to punditical objectivity, since the very idea is like those
sub-atomic particles whose existence physicists suspect-in order to explain
weird natural phenomena-but have so far been unable to confirm in the
Needless to say, the gergen count is off the charts and the
walls. For readers to whom the term is unfamiliar, a “gergen” is the punditical
equivalent of a traffic-ticket point, and is “earned” for uttering
self-serving, portentous, pointless crap whose principal if not sole purpose is
to enhance the utterer’s talk-show potential. In my system, however (as opposed
to the traffic laws), it is impossible to plead the gergen equivalent of D.W.I.
down to a mere D.U.I. and thus keep alive one’s hopes for a Capital Gang stint, even though a shot
at a Charlie Rose or a MacNeil-Lehrer or a Hardball (sacred names that ring in the ears of a Howard Fineman
with the same resonance that “Maidstone” has for a social climber with a new
East Hampton house) is no longer in the realm of possibility. Too many gergens
and one is condemned to the punditical equivalent of having to use mass
As a rule of thumb, those wishing to stay out of the path of
gergen-accumulating pundits are well advised to watch out-the way one keeps a
wary eye on a driver who weaves uncertainly from one lane to the next-for the
use of the word “thuggish,” if the Election 2000 commentator is leftish by
inclination, or of the phrase “the rule of law,” if the writer is one still
alert, after 40 years, to the Commie-pinko menace. In other cases, it will be
apparent from the first sentence that Election 2000 has caused the writer to go
bonkers. This appears to be the case with Maureen Dowd, although in her case,
W.-anaphylaxis may have been
complicated by the sight of former squeeze Michael Douglas waltzing down the
aisle with Catherine Zeta-Jones, which would make the word “bonkers” doubly
applicable, you might say.
How intensely Al Gore carries the hopes of the Bill
Clinton–loving chattering classes ( The
Wall Street Journal excepted) is now apparent, which is a very good reason
for preferring W.’s ascendancy. I continue to see resemblances in the present
situation to Truman-Dewey in 1948. What is said about W. was said about Harry,
although in fairness, the (Kansas City) Prendergast machine with which Truman
was associated by his revilers at least got the job done, which is more than
can be said of Jeb Bush’s Florida gang-that-can’t-shoot-straight. Mr. Gore, on
the other hand, definitely reminds one of Dewey. In fact, Mr. Gore’s
“uncle-in-law” happens to be Dewey’s son. Al Gore is the little man on the
wedding cake (as Alice Roosevelt Longworth was said to have called the 1948 G.O.P.
candidate), blown up to Damien Hirst proportions. He’s similarly hampered by a
stiff public demeanor that gives the lie to what intimates claim to be a
pleasing off-camera personality and a high degree of competence, a public
manner that all but cancels out a breathtaking C.V.
Often-however-the only way to get rid of the parasites is to
slay the host, even if the latter is otherwise without fault, even if a
somewhat noble animal. When Mr. Clinton came into office, he carried with him
the hopes of an entire generation (his own) of journalists whose faith in
process over substance and principle matched his. People for whom manipulation
of the system-i.e., “the media media” (sic)-is what it’s all about. People to
whom “access” is everything, which our corrupt President understood and played
to the hilt (please note that, with the addition of Wired , the number of exclusive Clinton “exit” interviews is now
past counting.) People to whom noise equals content.
When Mr. Clinton turned out to be a rotten pig who degraded
the office of President, these journalists-rather than admit they had been
wrong, as some of us did-chose to attack his attackers. Now, in the manner of
such vermin, wherever found in Nature, they have leapt deftly from Mr. Clinton
to Mr. Gore. May it please God to disappoint their hopes, notwithstanding that
it won’t matter much who is President.
Why any intelligent man would want to come into the Oval
Office at this juncture beats me. I look around the world and see nothing but
trouble, including anti-Americanism of a rare virulence. Africa dying, the
Mideast in flames, the Caribbean and Latin America tending toward sub-Saharan
crisis, corruption and anarchy. China crouches opposite Taiwan. India and
Pakistan test nuclear weapons. The euro is building strength. Men in skiffs
bring the U.S. Navy to its knees. The aforementioned are what makes life
different from The West Wing .
I look inside this country and see trouble, too. It’s not
just the economy, although the great boom seems to be over, as it had to be
someday. People have bought too much, borrowed too much, invested too
speculatively. Future historians seeking to plot what happened and why may be
better advised to study Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ants than any
tracts by Adam Smith or Joseph (“Creative Destruction”) Schumpeter.
What I truly find ominous is that David Boies has superseded
Alan Greenspan as the paradigmatic figure of the day. Mr. Boies is a superb
lawyer and a decent man (I recommend the interview with him in Wired ), but a polity that finds its hero
in a class-action litigator is in deep, deep doodoo.
Rule by lawyers is not the same as “rule of law,” because
most of what lawyers do is find ways around the laws, man-made and otherwise.
To help their clients attain in court what those clients cannot attain by their
competitive exertions in the market, to make others pay for their clients’
failings of judgment and resolution (as in the tobacco settlements), to
exponentiate the advantages of the already comparatively advantaged. And, above
all, to help their clients escape the consequences of their own actions. Decide
you overpaid at Christie’s? Sue Christie’s. Or, if you’re a record company, sue
Napster, to protect a copyright domain that-by the admission of its participants,
including yourself-has monopolistically overcharged CD-buyers by $500 million.
Done a transaction whose outcome isn’t what you expected, or wanted, or boasted
to your friends it would be? Sue the counterparty. Want another example? A
superb dissection of how a rule of lawyers works in one vital area of our
collective life is to be found in the current issue of the Manhattan
Institute’s absolutely indispensable City
Journal : “Why Gotham’s Developers Don’t Develop” by William J. Stern.
And of course, if you’re called to account for dragging the
highest office in the land through the muck, tie the proceedings up in lawsuits
while your lickspittles in the media repaint the picture.
A rule of lawyers proceeds from the assumption that “it”
must be someone else’s fault. A rule of lawyers presupposes that an “out”
always exists. That the guilty can go free, the indebted not pay, that actions
can circumvent their consequences. At the risk of committing an excessive leap
of moral imagination, let me hazard the guess that the rule of lawyers may be
as sure a path to anarchy, to rule by mob, as any other form of social or
political revolution. A revolution whose watchword is as old as this republic:
You don’t like it? So sue me!
Which is why, at this holiday season, the best I can muster
in the way of greeting for Al and W. and all that sail in them is: A plague on
both your houses. It’s un-Christian, but it may be the only way to get rid of
Follow Michael M. Thomas via RSS.