Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:



Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
  bobsomerby@hotmail.com
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.
 

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector



NUT JOB! Kerry has “character flaws,” TNR said. Evidence? He likes to play show tunes!!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2002

WHILE HIS GUITAR GENTLY WEPT: We learned it in the last election: When our press corps evaluates White House hopefuls, they seem to pattern themselves on the mentally ill. Forget Bill Keller’s worthless jibes about John Kerry’s Vietnam service (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/9/02). In June, Michael Crowley profiled Kerry for the New Republic, perhaps our brightest political periodical. Incredibly, the following passage appeared in the piece—typed up by a TNR scribe, put into print by its editor. Because the passage is so utterly strange, we reprint it here at some length:

CROWLEY: The very fact that Kerry is so obviously running for president is, to some, a perfect illustration of the character flaws that make it impossible for him to become president: a degree of personal manifest destiny and self-love rare even among politicians. Indeed, his biography suggests an almost lifelong grooming for power. A descendant of the plutocratic Forbes clan (Forbes is his middle name), he is the son of a diplomat who was stationed in Europe for much of Kerry’s boyhood. He was schooled in Switzerland before going on to the elite prep school St. Paul’s and then Yale. Even as a young man he had a reputation for intense ambition; in 1971 he was devastatingly lampooned in a “Doonesbury” comic that depicted him singing to strangers the virtues of a man named John Kerry—without revealing that he was John Kerry himself. Wealthy for most of his life, in 1995 Kerry married Teresa Heinz, the widow of Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz and heiress to a fortune of nearly half a billion dollars. And he evinces a distinctly self-indulgent streak. Kerry speeds around on a motorcycle and in a convertible, Rollerblades and wind surfs, and plays classical pieces and Broadway show tunes on his guitar. Feeling introspective two years ago, he told The Boston Globe that he might like to become an artist someday.
We are told two things in this passage, which begins with a note about “character flaws.” According to Crowley, “[Kerry’s] biography suggests an almost lifelong grooming for power.” And Kerry “evinces a distinctly self-indulgent streak.” The evidence for these claims is so strange that it deserves to be limned in detail.

Does Kerry’s biography “suggest an almost lifelong grooming for power?” This claim was routinely made about Al Gore in Campaign 2000—generally backed by the kinds of “evidence” which Crowley brings forth about Kerry. What is the evidence suggesting Kerry’s “lifelong grooming?” Kerry went to private schools, we’re told, and after that he went to Yale! And his father was stationed in Europe! Of course, George W. Bush also went to private schools and to Yale—does this mean that Bush had “an almost lifelong grooming for power?” Does Crowley think that every Yale student has had such a “grooming?” Crowley’s presentation is simply bizarre. He is typing a novel, not history.

But Crowley’s second statement is stranger still. According to Crowley, Kerry “evinces a distinctly self-indulgent streak.” And the evidence? According to Crowley, Kerry “evinces a distinctly self-indulgent streak” because he sometimes drives a convertible and because he plays the guitar! And not only that—he wind surfs! On the basis of these unremarkable facts, Crowley draws his bizarre (and unflattering) judgment. Let’s say it again, as it deserves repeating: Because Kerry plays show tunes on his guitar, he is described as “distinctly self-indulgent.”

Is “mental illness” too harsh a term to apply to such deeply bizarre statements? Nowhere else—except in the press corps—could such inanity be so routine and expected. Could high school students pass in work in which they made such ludicrous judgments? Sorry. Only in our press corps—and in mental homes—do people make such oddball statements.

But then, we learned it all in Campaign 2000: When we conduct our modern White House elections, our press corps will showcase its puzzling dysfunction. It will draw bizarre conclusions about candidates’ character from utterly oddball pieces of “evidence;” usually, the “evidence” on which they base those “judgments” will involve utterly trivial biographical detail. Nowhere else do we find such weird thought patterns, except among the mentally ill. But in our press corps, it’s now standard practice. As we continue to limn Keller’s column this week, we’ll continue to ask you: Why is that?

WATCHING OUR LANGUAGE: Is “mental illness” too strong a metaphor? Consider Crowley’s opening sentence:

CROWLEY: The very fact that Kerry is so obviously running for president is, to some, a perfect illustration of the character flaws that make it impossible for him to become president: a degree of personal manifest destiny and self-love rare even among politicians.
Granted, Crowley hides behind the phrase “to some.” The thinking here belongs to others, unlike the judgments in the rest of the paragraph, where Crowley speaks in his own voice.

But consider the view which Crowley records. What do Crowley’s sources say? They say this: The fact that Kerry is running for president illustrates his character flaws—the flaws that “make it impossible for him to become president.” But of course, every pol who ends up being president starts the process by running for president. If running for president shows a disturbing “self-love,” then every recent hopeful has had it. Kerry is weirdly singled out.

Kerry is singled out for a trait which is shared by all of his rivals. Yet this weird sentence appeared in the New Republic, perhaps our brightest periodical. A TNR writer typed this nonsense; a TNR editor put it in print. All of us, as American citizens, need to understand the strange press culture in which our most important political events—our White House elections—are reported in such bizarre ways.

All through Campaign 2000, our press corps produced such oddball writing. Indeed, pundits regularly quoted old Doonesbury strips about Gore just as Crowley does about Kerry. Literally, we live in a time when our brightest periodicals routinely quote thirty-year-old comic strips! As we limn Keller’s statements about Kerry’s war record, we must attempt to figure out why we’re in the throes of such endless dysfunction.

WEDNESDAY: The Boston Globe is “usually dependable” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/9/02). Given the paper’s odd past performance, why would Bill Keller think that?