Politics & Policy

Taking The Fat With The Lean; All


I’m filing today from the local coffee house. The most horrifying thing about hanging out here is that to the objective observer, I am probably indistinguishable from the various poseurs. Right in front of me is a guy — a veritable lawn sprinkler of attitude — who’s listening to his Walkman so loud people across the room can hear. Sporting his mature Jon Bon Jovi haircut and his even-sensitive-souls can have big pecs black T-shirt, he’s reading a slender volume of poetry with convenient big print. He keeps looking at me with an air of jock-poet ennui — “Not only have I read Proust, but I can also kick your ass.” Immediately to my right are two — well, now three — local social-worker types going over a draft of some AIDS advocacy report. They seem pretty cool but the conversation is sufficiently easy to hear as to make the file considerably difficult to write.

Anyway, I will not bore you with the details of my surroundings — though the AIDS advocate conversation is fascinating. I’m just still new to this whole laptop thing. I came here all the time to read the papers before I filed, but writing among my fellow under-employed is quite different. My couch never intruded in upon my muse the way Rock-Me-Amadeus over there with his Walkman is right now. But if my couch bit its . . . tongue(?) while I worked, there were of course the siren songs of cold pizza and television which often lured me to the comfy shoals of my couch.

This brings me to the most disturbing news of the morning papers. Here, I’ve got to write a piece about Robert Rubin for another publication, and all I can do is read about the new study on liposuction. The New England Journal of Medicine announced that there may be serious, even fatal, risks to liposuction. This is like telling me there is no Jerusalem, or to be less melodramatic and more mellow-dramatic, it’s like finding out that there are flaws with my master-plan.

When I gave up the go-go, billion-dollar, who’s-up, who’s-down rat race of public-affairs television and think-tank wonkery (typical outburst: “Good God, man! I’ve been waiting for this copy of the American Prospect all morning! Now get me the data on the CPI from 1969 by Wednesday of next week or we’ll never make the deadline!”), my master plan was to see if I could make a go at the ink-stained wretch business (or in my case the carpal-tunneled bloviator business) all the while catching up on beer-drinking, TV-watching, food-eating, bed-, couch-, chair-, and floor-sleeping. At the end of my run I’d head over to a cheap Mexican lipo man and have a little, all right a lot, taken off the top, er, sides.

So far my plan has been working pretty well. I can balance a bowl of peanuts and a can of beer on my belly while I’m sitting at a 90 degree angle. In other words, the money’s not very good but the benefits are great. Now I find out that the lipo could kill me.

Well, nobody said suffering for my art was going to be easy.


Boris Yeltsin has been impeached, or they’re debating impeaching him — I’m not sure if the separate impeachment and trial distinction is applicable east of the Urals — and since I’m in a coffee house I don’t have my staff to research the question.

But here’s a prediction: Assuming the debate goes on for a while, at some point President Clinton or his cronies will start making direct comparisons between Yeltsin’s travails with the Communists in parliament and Clinton’s with the impeachment-Republicans in Congress.

The comparison is contingent on the emergence of a slow news day. It will probably percolate up from an MSNBC late-afternoon scream-fest, and become a sort of sub rosa conventional wisdom until the war in Yugoslavia goes quiet and the blame game in Littleton subsides.

The argument will go something like this: “Boris Yeltsin has been a champion of reform and change. Bill Clinton has been a champion of reform and change. Both are victims of reactionary and corrupt forces who want to keep their nations from entering the sunny uplands of the 21st century.”

Why do I think this? Because usually most stupid things that will infuriate me are eventually articulated on MSNBC. Okay, a less gloomy and solipsistic rationale for this prediction is that the media have long since established that the only operative definition of “conservative” in foreign lands is “opposed to reform.”

The chicanery of journalists and intellectuals with the terms “Left” and “Right” is well-documented and settled. Even though “liberals” in the former Soviet Union want low taxes, freer trade, a market economy, and property rights; even though most of them learned to think by reading Solzhenitsyn and von Hayek rather than Ralph Nader and Richard Rorty; even though they have been finding common cause with the conservative movement for over a generation, they are called “liberals.”

Meanwhile, even though American conservatives were ridiculed by the elite media in this country for their “inordinate fear of Communism”; even though the liberal ruling class of today’s academic culture is rotted through with men and women who thought America was on the wrong side of the Cold War; even though the Democratic party is replete with men and women who thought Communist dictatorships were regimes “America could deal with”; even though the conservative movement was founded with people who loved freedom and hated Marxism so much they were willing to entertain nuclear war rather then submit to slavery, the reactionary Communist thugs and Stalinist retreads in Russia get the label “conservative.” This may be loyal to some extent to the etymology of the words, but it does not explain why the Communists are situated on the “right,” and by elimination the people who agree with Newt Gingrich get the “left.”

It is an extremely old gripe (along with the devil-may-care willingness of journalists to use Ultra, Hard, Far, Extreme, and Radical as modifiers for “Right-Wing” when discussing U.S. politics, but their reluctance to use the unadorned adjective “Left” for anybody including the Unabomber, Ralph Nader, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Paul Wellstone, Richard Gephardt, etc.). It is probably a battle that cannot be won. The mainstream media think it is perfectly reasonable to put black hats on the Right and the white hats on the Left, no matter how the ideas are distributed along those lines. If you try to redistribute the hats to their rightful owners you are considered an ideological crank or loony haberdasher.

So silly parallels will be drawn. Al Gore will probably say something like that during an interview: “Mr. Vice President, is there any similarity between Mr. Yeltsin’s and Mr. Clinton’s predicaments?”

“Well, yes. [Nod] I think we can see how the twenty- [nod] first [nod] century [nod] can be very frightening [shake] to some groups [shake]. Just as in this country [nod, blink, nod] we can see champions of change being brought down by the dark forces of reaction [shake, nod, shake]. I can promise you now [nod] that I will not bow to these negative forces.”

Just wait.


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