In the Florida Debacle, Gore Took Fall for Clinton

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

the vermin. In the Florida Debacle, Gore Took Fall for Clinton