He's King Midas in reverse ...


One thing few people have noticed about George W. Bush is not only does he destroy countries and centuries-old constitutional guarantees, but he also destroys almost everyone who tries to trust him. Look at Tony Blair. Bush promised him to seriously address Israel/Palestine in return for his incredibly costly support for Bush's stupid war. Bush not only did zip, he deliberately thwarted other people's efforts to try to help. Bush was at a summit in Scotland when the London subway was bombed, but he couldn't even be bothered to stop by London as a solidarity call on the way home. Now look at John McCain. The Bush campaign spread rumors that he had a bunch of "colored" love children and had gone nutso in captivity in the South Carolina primary in order to undermine his presidential candidacy. Not only does McCain spend the next seven years -- literally hugging and kissing the guy -- he purposely trashes his own lifelong accomplishments, going so far as to sign onto a torture regime he knows to be illegal, immoral, and ultimately purposeless. What does he get for it? His own political emasculation. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy ...

"Because Bush is insane, the Democrats must be attacked until they compromise with him." -- The Onion's version of David Broder. (Oh, wait....)

Alter-social diary:

God punished me for pushing back my bloggingheads with Garance Franke-Ruta until four yesterday by giving the Mets seven -- count 'em, seven -- barely, if at all, earned runs in the eighth inning. (One thing I find fascinating about the sports pages is how low the bar is for what gets in the paper. That's due, of course, to the fact that sports is where advertisers want to be and so they get the pages whether they have anything to say or not, but take a look at this column ($). Maybe you can't because it's Times Select, which is just as well. I could not make it to the end of the column, but not only could I not find a point anywhere in it, I couldn't even find a single statement supported by any evidence.) Anyway, I don't have time to read all the books I'd like to -- especially if they're not on audio yet -- but I do have time to go to their parties, at least usually. Last night there was one for Joe Conason's new book, called It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush. I'm sure it's great.

On my way out the door, I ran into Sam Seder and learned that Mark Green had dumped his daily show on Air America and moved him to just Sundays. Not that anyone cares what I think, but to me, that's crazy stuff. Sam is perhaps Air America's greatest discovery and one of the smartest radio hosts I've ever heard. Maybe "smart" is his problem. He is being replaced by someone named "Lionel" who apparently has no last name.

Anyway, I hopped a cab across town for a party at Jim Kelly's and Lisa Henrickson's for Walter Isaacson's new biography of Albert Einstein, which I'm guessing is already making its way toward No. 1 on Amazon. Walter is the king of writing books that are respected by people in the field even though he's a) not in their field and b) has a day job and I'll be damned if I know how he does it. (In the case of this book, he says he relied a great deal on Brian Greene.)

As Walter and Jim were both MEs of Time, it was a Time-heavy party, and Joe Klein was there. As I said in this space recently, I don't remember ever speaking to Klein before and I've tended to avoid it on purpose. I shook his hand walking in and then avoided him for the rest of the party. But on my way out, as I went to thank my hosts, Klein accosted me and demanded to know why I only wrote mean things about him and never nice things. I tried to explain that I felt it was my jobs to defend liberals against unfair abuse in the MSM and that I didn't really care about him otherwise. He insisted I should be writing nice things about him, in part, he seemed to be arguing, because Springsteen liked his book about Woody Guthrie and also because he had had lunch with Omar Minaya that day. I kept trying to explain that Klein, per se, was uninteresting to me; I had a job to do and I did it. He should stop worrying so much about what I wrote and said and did and do the same. Soon, however, he started screaming and backing me into a corner of the living room as if he wanted to fight about it. I did not think this was such a hot idea, given the location, and so I tried to make a joke of it, making the sign of a cross in front of my chest as I backed into the corner. Thinking fast of how to save his party from disaster, Jim ran into the other room to get his camera and perhaps capture the moment for posterity. I dunno.

Still, it's weird. I am loathe to speculate publicly about what Klein's problem may be, but as I mentioned above, I had just done this bloggingheads with Garance that afternoon and in it, I had occasion to mention that in New York, we don't take politics too seriously when the day is over and that evening I expected to see someone at a book party for a mutual friend and we would behave as if no problem existed between us, or something. I was actually thinking of Klein. In other words, this kind of thing is rarely if ever done, and I'm rather amazed by Klein's intense personalization of my criticism of his work, but you would think a guy who dishes out such nasty stuff would be able to take it with a little more grace -- especially since, as I keep pointing out, I stick to the work, not the person, at least until something crazy like last night takes place. Coincidentally, my last Nation column, "The Politics of Pundit Prestige," is, in part, a take on just this phenomenon ...

Anyway, I could not make it through the last Einstein bio I tried, and so I am really looking forward to Walter's ... I'm also hoping Joe calms down by the time Walter finishes another one of these.

Finally, you may have heard that Jonathan Cohn has written a terrific book about America's crazy health care system. Read all about it here. If health care books are your thing, then this is surely the book for you. He's reading at the Strand on Thursday night.

Alter-review by Sal, NYCD:

While brother Wynton is holding down the fort at J@LC, Branford Marsalis is taking an interest in musicians from his hometown of New Orleans. Branford's Marsalis Music label, distributed by Rounder, gives us two new releases from two New Orleans legends. The first is modern jazz clarinetist Alvin Batiste, who still teaches to this day but, unfortunately, records very little. Here is an opportunity to hear this amazing player, who once shared many stages with Ornette Coleman and Ellis Marsalis. The other new release is from Bob French, the legendary New Orleans drummer and radio personality who held court every Monday night at the famed Donna's Headquarters in New Orleans. He gets his unique band of traditional New Orleans jazz documented, with special guests Harry Connick Jr. and Branford sitting in for most of the album.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rick Kane
Hometown: Locust Grove, Virginia

Dr. Steveb's remarks about the Right's use of government to shift income to the well-to-do the last 25 years in connection with his comment on the difference between Wal-Mart and Target leads me to commend your readers Dean Baker's The Conservative Nanny State (free download available). The Right believes they are entitled to most of the wealth generated in the economy since they see themselves to be the "source of productivity" in society. Conservative Christians go back to a vulgar Calvinism for this justification and all, Christian and secular, are influenced by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Name: Frank Brockerman
Hometown: Honolulu, HI

Hey Dr. A.,

Two things: First, I'm a bit caught off guard with the whole Imus = racist rant going off throughout the media. Not that he's excused, but, to name a few, what about Michael Savage saying Arabs are "non-humans," that they "need to be forcibly converted to Christianity," and "when you hear 'human rights,' think only one thing: someone who wants to rape your son"? Why is no one calling for his ouster, let alone a media beatdown?

Second, in regards to recent comments about Olbermann and Countdown. As a 31-year-old, I happen to really take to his witty and humorous presentation of the day's "top" stories. However, especially with news that MSNBC will be airing a reality show on models from NYC, I get a disturbing picture of them becoming a "reality-news" channel all too soon.

Name: Bill Manson
Hometown: Guelph ON

There is a difference between Don Imus and the I-Man. The former is one of the best interviewers that I've ever heard. He's someone who can provide a sensitive contest for the black, gay Chaplain of Harvard to provide a perspective on his view of Christianity. He's someone who can shift out of a fun-poking interview with Boomer Esiason to help Esiason deal with a meeting with an ex-teammate who cost him a Super Bowl by being coked up at game time.

The I-Man is the character he created who's an ass.

I put up with the I-Man to listen to Don Imus. I even put up with Bernard and Imus's (as he would phrase it about anyone else) horrendously annoying wife. Imus is worth it. I hope that he decides that it's time to retire the I-Man and be a grown-up.

Name: Todd Plofker
Hometown: Cambridge, MA


In the mainstream media today, there is, finally, some tendency to criticize George W. Bush and the neoconservatives. But at the same time, the media is still showing considerable respect for Ronald Reagan and more traditional conservatives (Reagan with a Photoshopped tear on his face, for instance). They're missing the whole point. Reagan and Bush are very similar (as Paul Krugman has pointed out), and on most issues, there isn't much daylight between neocons and traditional conservatives. The whole conservative movement that sprang up during the Cold War is the problem.

There's a perfect illustration of this in George Will's latest column (on Fred Thompson and public financing of political campaigns, as it happens). Here's the key paragraph:

"One litmus test of conservatism is: Whom would you have supported for president in 1912? The candidates were a former president, Theodore 'I don't think that any harm comes from the concentration of powers in one man's hands' Roosevelt; the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, and the next president, Woodrow Wilson. Conservatism warns against overreaching, hence rejects the energetic Wilson, would-be fixer-upper of the whole wide world. And conservatism teaches distrust of hyperkinetic government, the engine of which is the modern presidency, of which TR was the pioneer. So: Steady, prudent Taft."

Yep, he came right out and said it: the hell with Wilson, the hell with TR, I'm voting for Big Bill Taft. (Taft came in third in 1912, of course; I guess our great-grandparents were unacceptably progressive.) If you're a conservative, you can make utterly ridiculous statements and not be laughed out of public life.

And there's the problem. You can purge William Kristol, and the conservative movement well may do that. (Of course Will himself has been picking a fight with the neocons lately.) But what remains will be just as bad: Will was strong for war with Iraq back in 2002, and as you document in Sound and Fury, he was a real warmonger back in the Reagan '80s, too. So, mainstream media, remember: the problem is not neoconservatism; it is conservatism, period.

Name: J DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY

So Imus's crackling witticism about Rutgers' girls basketball team was "the last straw"? Exactly where the hell has everybody been for the last 25 years? Sleeping late?

Name: Karl Steel
Hometown: Brooklyn

Re: Dani Schwartz's letter. I'll concede that Pinker is notable, but I'm likely not to budge an inch on his crackpottedness. Susan McKinnon's Neo-Liberal Genetics: The Myths and Moral Tales of Evolutionary Psychology would be a good place for Schwartz to start reevaluating.

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