Tuesday, December 28, 2004


I just recently finished reading Politics by Hendrik Hertzberg and now must endorse it so that all my readers (myself, and occasionally Rupert*) have the opportunity to pick that shit up like a bad habit. Most of the book was written over many decades as a reporter covering one of the Three P's (the politics P, obviously, though I wouldn't doubt he was interested in the early Washington DC punk scene either), from the days of Lyndon Johnson to the early years of George W. Bush.

His viewpoint is that of an unrepentant liberal, but he knows his shit, and his prose is witty as well as informative. Throughout this moderately priced handsomely crafted tome are a series of vignettes designed to delight the political geeks, especially those of us who are left of center. His chapter on Ronald Reagan in particular, titled "The Child Monarch" might rub some noses the wrong way. I found myself thinking of Reagan less of a jingoistic cowboy (as all the wits have taken to calling him) and more of a tragic (though decidedly less saintly) Henry VI figure, ruled by emotion and not logic, and to take the Henry VI allusion a step further, complete with his own Margaret of Anjou, the ruthless, cunning Nancy Reagan. In all fairness, she's seemed real swell recently, and to be honest, I was too young to have a "primary source" opinion on her. But really, that is neither here nor there.

What is here and also there is that this is a book worth having on your shelf, it is kind of heavy and is called POLITICS, girls will be either impressed or at least nonplussed, both of which are better than the average response I get from women, which is some strange mix of being repulsed and more repulsed. Even when I show them my complete collection of out of print SST 7 inches (Black Flag, Minutemen, Descendents, Dinosaur Jr, the whole nine yards) they still manage to be at least somewhat reserved, and I have to pull out the big guns. The big guns are of course my shotguns, which I affectionately call Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms. They both can't shoot for shit, by the by.

Hertzberg's memoir-article-retrospective is full of compulsively quotable anecdotes. There are chapters devoted to curious things that apparently seemed possible at the time. Like Dan Quayle one day becoming President. Good God, somebody dropped the ball on that one. There are thick sections devoted to election cycles, some of the more memorable being the Republican and Democrat primaries of 1988 that eventually became the battle between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis in a pitched struggle eerily similar to a certain recent election. It has become clear to me that in battles between Texas politicians and Massachusetts politicians I would always bet on the Lone Star contenders. And according to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's daddy, the aptly named Barr, Lyndon Johnson (Texas) was actually behind the murder of John F. Kennedy (Taxachussets), so hey, that fits the whole pattern of Texas fucking Massachusetts in the ass. Then again, I've made it a personal rule never to read books by people named Barr, for obvious, personal, and religious reasons.

There is a nice little section about the second debate between Michael Dukakis and George Bush that I'll type out with these swollen yet still remarkably beautiful and dainty fingers.

When Bush attacked Dukakis for being "a liberal" who takes positions that are "very liberal," Dukakis shot back. "If it's liberal to feed the hungry and house the homeless George, you can call me a liberal. If it's liberal to make sure a young mother can see a doctor when her baby's sick, call me a liberal"-that whole litany. And when asked to name some heroes of today he hesitated briefly but then warming to the subject, came up with a surprisingly interesting list: Henry Steel Commager, Leach Walsea, Andrei Sakharov, Robert Coles, Marian Wright Edelman, Evert Coop, Oscar Arias, Leonard Bernstein, Cory Aquino, "and two young men named for a county in Ireland, who fought valiantly in Vietnam who today fight for peace and justice at home-John Kerry, who was my lieutenant governor in Massachusetts and who now serves our State in the United States Senate and former Governor Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who will be joining John in the Senate next year."

Name dropping John Kerry like that, what a starfucker Dukakis is! It's amusing that Kerry would one day be slimed just like his buddy and would also make the same mistakes, proving once again, NO ONE EVER LEARNS ANYTHING. Lee Atwater, who led the slime machine against Dukakis apologized on his deathbed, I somehow doubt Karl Rove will ever find the urge to say sorry for poor John Kerry, who, last I heard, was trying to destroy America and still knows how to speak French.

And then there is the chapter devoted entirely to Bob Dole's wicked sense of humor, a much more serious and compelling study than one would imagine, though he is well renowned for his glibness. Similar character studies on such diverse fellows as Pat Robertson, Bill Clinton, and Bobby Kennedy are all fascinating, but perhaps, and this really was a shock, the most powerful was the chapter tucked away in the middle of the book, "A Moral Ideologue" about former President Jimmy Carter, for whom Hertzberg was the chief speech writer.

Well there goes objectivity. Nay, not so. Hertzberg clearly admires Jimmy Carter, but it is not blind hero worship, he examines his faults, the wrinkles in his record, some of the more embarrassing episodes of his presidency. He also freely admits that he can see why a lot of people despise Jimmy Carter. But he stands by his assessment of Carter as a good and decent man, and more importantly than that, a brave man who knew the difference between right and wrong. The most chilling passage describes Carter's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976.

On the stage, Carter and his running mate, Senator Walter Mondale, stood arm in arm and side by side with an extraordinary array of friends and former adversaries: Coretta King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., and King's civil rights comrades Ralph W. Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, and Andrew Young; the wheelchair-ridden George Wallace, the one-time racist firebrand; Mayor Richard Daley with former Senator Eugene McCarthy, whose youthful followers had been clubbed by Daley's police in the streets eight years before; Senators Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and Henry M. Jackson, who had struggled with each other over policy and power for over a decade; and many more. It was a political peaceable kingdom. The anthem of the evening was 'We Shall Overcome.' I had not yet joined the Carter team; I was there as a reporter. But I wept. Everyone in the room wept. Everyone-even the press section-linked arms and swayed and sang. The moment carried tremendous emotional power. It was as if the agonies of slavery and war and racial hatred and the fratricidal bitterness of Vietnam and the lies of Watergate-it was as if all this were being washed away, washed in the blood of the lamb; and at the center of it was this small, slight, soft spoken man from a tiny hamlet in the depths of the Deep South.

I wish I had been in the room. I need some inspiration. But I know it'll come. One day we really shall overcome. Probably not for a long while and even then not forever. But it'll happen. Howard Dean promised me we would be taking this country back back during the primaries. He better not have been lying.

Fuck that shit.

We SHALL overcome.


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