This is the week for reading about vice presidents and vice presidential hopefuls. In The New Yorker, there’s “Biden’s Brief” (Oct. 20, $4.50), Ryan Lizza’s long, friendly account of Joe Biden’s journey to the bottom half of the Obama ticket. Mr. Lizza registers a curious Biden tic: During the course of their interview, the senator from Delaware repeated five times some variation of the phrase “presumptuous for me to say.…”
Two terms of that could be a bit much, but consider the alternative.
In the London Review of Books, there’s Jonathan Raban’s “Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill” (www.lrb.co.uk), a long, unfriendly profile of Sarah Palin written with the kind of panicky resolve that’s born of a frankly confessed fear: Mr. Raban’s own “stark terror of what further harm the United States might inflict on itself and the world under a third consecutive Republican administration.”
Though he concedes that “underestimating Palin nearly always turns out to be a fatal error,” he harbors some hope that we’ve seen the end of her rocketlike rise:
“The most likely cause of her undoing will—strangely—be the McCain campaign. In St. Paul, unveiled as the goose who could lay for the Republicans the golden egg of the presidency, she brimmed with the inflated self-assurance of the small-world conqueror, and held a national audience in the palm of her hand as she recited the same confident platitudes that served her so well in Alaska. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and McCain and his advisers should have left well alone, left ‘Sarah’ to be her vote-winning self. Instead, they seem to be no less alarmed by her than liberals are, and have taken to force-feeding her, stuffing her gullet with ‘talking points’ on foreign and domestic policy. Under their frantic tuition, Palin has recently looked less likely to lay the golden egg than to produce inferior goose-liver pâté.”
Maybe pork-liver pâté.
Thinking about Sarah Palin, and thinking about Dick Cheney, the subject of Barton Gellman’s fascinating, appalling, compulsively readable Angler (The Penguin Press, $27.95), you have to wonder where one would apply the lipstick. The book confirms what a nasty, nasty piece of work our vice president is. Cunning, implacable, seemingly invulnerable, armed with a prodigious intellect and projecting a very spooky aura, Mr. Cheney is not exactly a Sarah Palin look-alike. And yet in the first chapter of Angler, Mr. Gellman reveals something they have in common besides hard-right instincts and a zest for killing wild animals: Like Ms. Palin, Mr. Cheney was never properly vetted as a vice presidential pick. “[N]o one had access to Cheney’s tax or corporate records, and no one but his doctor read a word of his medical files.” Mr. Cheney simply refused to open Halliburton’s books. As a result, the Bush campaign was “utterly unprepared” for media queries and Democratic attacks. A shame that intransigence didn’t sink the ticket.
MEANWHILE, AS WALL STREET zigs and zags, James Buchan, author of Frozen Desire: The Meaning of Money, reviews for The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) three studies of past and present financial crises. His brilliance is on display from the first paragraphs:
“In rising financial markets, the world is forever new. The bull … has no eyes for past or present, but only for the future, where streams of revenue play in his imagination. In falling markets, there is nothing that has not happened before. The bear … sees only the past, which imprisons the wretched financial soul in eternal circles of boom and bust and boom again.
“Bulls don’t read. Bears read financial history. As markets fall to bits, the bears dust off the Dutch tulip mania of 1637, the Banque Royale of 1719-20, the railway speculation of the 1840s, the great crash of 1929. Leering phantoms emerge from the historical dark, like the parade of ghostly Scottish kings in Macbeth: … [Bears] trace in Alan Greenspan the indulgence of Andrew Mellon, and descry in George W. Bush the weakness of Herbert Hoover.”