On the morning after the Iowa caucuses, certain parts of Los Angeles-or, to be more precise, certain blocks in Brentwood, Bel Air and the Pacific Palisades-awoke in a brief but palpable panic. No, it wasn’t that these home owners had missed the latest “style advisory,” warning that black automobiles were now outré, and that the new palette for socially prominent Los Angelenos runs to shades of silver.
Glancing out in the driveway-for reassurance-one could see Dad’s Porsche (Arctic silver), Mom’s Benz (the G500 S.U.V., in desert silver), Little Tommy’s 18th-birthday BMW (a 325i, in titanium silver), Consuela’s pick-up (the Nissan Frontier, in radiant silver) and the hybrid Toyota Prius (in millennium silver, offset by a navy blue “Dump Bush” bumper sticker), all shimmering in the golden California sunlight.
Yes, all was well in the immediate environs. We were at one with the world: in harmony with nature, and with the current prejudices of the valet attendants at Morton’s, where they park the silver cars in front of the restaurant.
Still, there was something vexing in the air:
Damn! We’d given money to Howard Dean! Damn! Rob Reiner had gone to Iowa and campaigned for the man! Double damn! Martin Sheen, yes, Martin Sheen -he plays the President on TV, damn it-Martin Sheen himself had gone to Iowa for the candidate, and somehow-unbelievably-Dean didn’t win by a landslide!
Damn, damn, damn. Between that howling concession speech, the fumble about what to do with Osama (turn him over to The Hague, damn it) and Dean’s “interesting theory” that Bush knew about 9/11 beforehand (which, of course, he did), maybe the worst was true:
Howard Dean belongs to the Grassy Knoll Wing of the Democratic Party.
Damn, damn, damn. Why can’t running for President be as simple as the Oscars, where Harvey Weinstein just picks the nominees? (In fact, we’d already put in our call to Armani for something to wear to the Cold Mountain Best Picture party).
And with this, the panic passed. For just as quickly as it took a CBS official to say “Sure, Michael, no problem-we’ll give you an extra million for the music special if you’ll do 60 Minutes ,” we realized Dean would be O.K.
As the Internet sage Mickey Kaus points out, everything happens faster today. Spin cycles are compressed. There is no shame. There is no purgatory. Comebacks are all but instantaneous.
After all, wasn’t it just a month ago-in mid-December-that we ran into Jayson Blair at the Bel Air Hotel, backslapping his way through the book party for Variety editor Peter Bart’s Dangerous Company -not 10 feet away from Sherry Lansing, Michael Eisner, Bill Maher and Harvey Weinstein?
Damn right, it was Blair-with a book deal and a movie contract.
So, yes, there was still hope for Howard Dean. The road to redemption is about one block long today. It’s proscribed and codified, and everyone knows their roles.
Luckily, we had the road map-which is reprinted here, in an easy-to-use, four-point, clip-‘n’-save form:
THE MODERN MEDIA WASH, RINSE AND SPIN CYCLE
Step One: The Mea Culpa. The morning after you commit a career-ending gaffe-anything from insider trading to genocide-tell the world that you recognize your mistake and you’re going to change. Soften your image. Put on a sweater. Stage a photo op with a child, a guitar or-in the worst-case scenario-paid supporters, carrying posters with sound-bite messages of adulation. You don’t really have to change, of course. Or truly believe that you’ve done anything wrong. But the key here is to let Howard Rubenstein, or Dan Klores, or Bob Marston, put out the message that you have changed-and then let the pundits on the 24-hour news channels do the rest.
Step Two: Convene with the High Countesses of Contrition. By 10 a.m. on the day following your career-ending gaffe-or live-broadcast arraignment-you will have heard from both Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. (Yes, even after Babs has retired.) Don’t be frightened. Because you are no longer just a struggling candidate, or a common criminal-you’ve been elevated to a higher role. You’ve become “The Get.” The key is to remember that you hold the high cards here. You want a comeback. They want ratings-especially in retirement. So play ’em off against each other. Cut the best deal you can-questions in advance, topics that are off-limits; demand the Barbra Streisand lighting package, with Bill Clinton’s fireplace roaring in the background. Your tone should be tense but contrite. And remember, it doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to influence voters or the jury pool: The goal here is to humanize you. Consider how Diane Sawyer might handle the following interview: “Tell me, Osama. How did you feel when you saw the planes crash into the towers?” Osama: “Diane …of course I felt for the people. I’m only human. But you have to understand the cause …. ” If all else fails, you can drag in your abusive parents, racism, bipolar depression or drug addiction. And if none of this is applicable, blame the press, or arch right-wing conservatives, for everything.
Step Three. Turn Tragedy into Farce. Time for the obligatory stop at the Letterman show. You use it-and it uses you-to diffuse the situation and “put it behind you,” by being a good sport and making fun of your own foibles. Osama, again: “The Top 10 Things to Do While Living in a Cave, Waiting for the Americans to Find You …. No. 7: Floss. No. 6: Edit those home videos. No. 5: Day-trade Halliburton on the New York Stock Exchange. No. 4: Piss Jack Valenti off and download the director’s cut of Gigli . No. 3: Redecorate the cave. No. 2: Get to the ‘expert’ level on Microsoft Flight Simulator. And … No. 1: Add Dick Cheney and George Bush to your personal network on Friendster!”
Step Four: Schmooze with the Sinecure of Sufferance: Kick back, let your hair down and spend some quality time with Larry King. You’re practically part of the family at this point-and here’s where you let it all hang out and admit what you’ve learned from this awful experience. Larry King: “And we’re back with Osama bin Laden-father, terrorist, one of the most hunted men on earth. So tell me, O-man: What’s next for you?” Osama: “Well, Larry … I was thinking about going to Disneyland.” Perfect.
Yes, sitting in Brentwood on the morning after Iowa, we knew Howard Dean would survive. He’d do the shows. He’d tell the jokes. He’d make the necessary course corrections. And short of coming in sixth-behind Dennis Kucinich-in New Hampshire, he’d be all right.
We love him. We believe in him. He’s got the money-our money-to compete in all 50 states.
And with this in mind, we fired up a silver car and drove into town to have lunch at the Ivy, where we fell in line behind a dozen other silver cars, waiting for the car valet ….
…. All of us, dialing madly on cell phones, trying to find a Hollywood contact in the Kerry campaign.