LETTER TO NEW YORK TIMES: [Marse] Geffens description of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as ambitious is not intended as a commendation but rather as an insult.Yep! Ole Massah sees things a whole nother way when a womans ambition is involved. And dont forget—Geffen didnt devote 25 years to a partners ambition before he embarked on his own.
I assume Mr. Geffen has no problem with his own ambition, which earned him a spot on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world and bought him a house that God would have built. Then why the double standard for Senator Clinton?
Two-thirds of voters now say America is finally ready for a woman president; lets not fall back on tired techniques for cutting down a woman leader.
The second letter brings us back to the other question we talked about yesterday. A staunch Democrat from California explains why he doesnt back Clinton:
LETTER TO NEW YORK TIMES: For months now, my Bill Clinton-loving friends have been asking me: As a staunch Democrat and an avowed feminist, how can you possibly not support Hillary?The writer is troubled by all of Clintons political baggage— but doesnt explain what that baggage is. We cant say what the writer has in mind, of course. But in large part, when writers talk about Clintons polarizing nature or baggage, theyre referring to the lies that were told about her all through the 90's. Rush Limbaugh implied that she murdered her friend, Vince Foster. So we cant vote her her now.
[Boss] Geffens comments in Maureen Dowds Feb. 21 column succinctly sum up my reasons.
With all of Senator Clintons political baggage, her overcautious nature and her zero tolerance for criticism, how can any forward-looking Democrat back her?
ROBINSON (2/23/07): Hillary Clinton's rivals would love to paint her as inflexible, programmed, focus-grouped within an inch of her life and intent on bringing nothing less than a full-fledged Clinton Restoration to the White House. So why is she sitting for the portrait?In other words, Robinson says, Clinton opposes the war but defends her vote to enable it. Its his use of that first phrase—in other words—that makes his piece so delish.
We'll get to her campaign's delicious quarrel with Hollywood mogul David Geffen in a moment. Less entertaining, but ultimately more important, is the rhetorical line that Clinton drew in the Iraqi quicksand Wednesday at the Democratic candidates' forum in Nevada: no apology for her vote to authorize the war, no admission that she made a mistake. In other words, Clinton opposes the war but defends her vote to enable it.
MARANTO (2/9/92): During his 15-year tenure in Congress, Senator Al Gore, Democrat of Tennessee, has made an intensive study of environmental issues. The results, as displayed in "Earth in the Balance, a comprehensive assessment of the forces of planetary destruction—including overpopulation, deforestation, soil erosion and air and water pollution—are impressive.At the Washington Post, reviewer Dennis Drabelle voiced a similar judgment. I can't judge how well the junior senator from Tennessee serves his constituents, he wrote, but if there lives a member of Congress who knows more about the environment, he or she isn't talking, much less writing. But then, except for the kooks at the Washington Times, no one really doubted the service Gore had provided by his display of erudition. Earth in the Balance contains a great deal of valuable, clearly explained scientific information on issues as diverse as atmospheric chemistry, demographics, rain forest hydrology and chaos theory, Phillip Shabecoff wrote in Greenwire. It is no insult to other national politicians, bedeviled as they are by the almost endless range of issues with which they
KNICKERBOCKER (2/27/92): Whenever a politician writes a book, watch out for the hidden hand of a ghost writer. Or a sermonette designed to scare or pacify the voters rather than inspire or fully inform them. Or a cleverly timed election agenda. Usually all three.Driven along by review like these, Gores book was soon a surprise best-seller. In March, Roll Call reported the books emergence—and reporter Marc Horwitz quoted Gore, who spoke of his whole heart and soul:
Happily, you will find none of these in Sen. Al Gore's remarkable book on the global environment. "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit" is fact-filled and well-written, providing a sobering view of problems such as climate change and the loss of species as well as an outline for solutions that is both thoughtful and practical. And just as important (probably more so), woven throughout is a strong thread of values and ethics.
HORWITZ (3/16/92): While it's not unusual for a sitting Member of Congress to have a book published, it is unusual for a Member's book to hit the New York Times Book Review's best-seller list. That's what Earth in the Balance, Sen. Al Gore's first book, has done.In those days, the political culture of the 1990s hadnt gotten underway yet. Gore could still discuss his heart and soul without being subject to endless ridicule from the vast collection of vampires and harpies who would soon descend on our lives and our interests. "My greatest hope for this book is that it will help to accelerate the formation of a political consensus in favor of solving this ecological crisis," Gore was quoted saying by Horwitz. "In order to address this crisis, we have to address some ultimate questions."
It may be the first Congressional work since Sen. John F. Kennedy's (D-Mass) Profiles in Courage (1956) to make the important list.
Gore's book made its debut in 13th place on the hardcover non-fiction list in the popular tabloid book review that has gone to press and will be distributed in the March 22 issue of the Times. Publisher Houghton Mifflin began distributing Earth in the Balance to bookstores around the nation two months ago, and it's already being touted as the biggest-selling book on the environment since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), from the same publisher.
"It is a surprise. I won't say that I didn't harbor that hope in my wildest dreams," Gore told Roll Call. "I put my whole heart and soul into this."
Everyone knew about Earth in the Balance. Everyone knew that Earth contain[ed] a great deal of valuable, clearly explained scientific information combined with a strong thread of values and ethics. But soon thereafter, the 90s began—and as Hemingway self-pityingly said, the rich came into our lives. Their interests were driven along by their simpering tribunes—and by their hatred for the Clintons. By 1999, they were using their loathsome TV news programs to say that the Clintons were multiple murderers. And they were using their vicious book reviewers to say that Al Gore was a nut. At the Times, Gores results were no longer impressive. Their most damaged concubine, Maureen Dowd, was in the midst of her series of columns in which she portrayed Gore (a little crazy) conducting conversations with his bald spot. (There were six such crackpot columns in all.) And then, in December, Michiko Kakutani took over. My, how different Gores book now seemed—on page one of the debauched New York Times.
Kakutanis lengthy, front-page report concerned the books written by five White House hopefuls. She devoted roughly 800 words to Earth in the Balance. Her message? Al Gore is a nut.
Sorry. As far as we can tell, Kakutanis report isnt available on-line, except behind the New York Times wall. But then again, if we were the Times, wed want to hide this nasty hit-piece too. Kakutanis treatment of Gore is a grisly reminder of the political culture of the late 1990s, as played out by the fatuous class which we still were describing as a press corps. It explains how George Bush ended up in the White House; it explains why the U.S. is now in Iraq. The Times set out to massacre Gore; it massacred your nations interests instead. We think you should remember Kakutanis remarkable work if you see Gore on stage Sunday night.
IT CAN BE HARD TO REMEMBER HOW HARD THEY were working to make you think Al Gore was a nut. Back in March, the RNC had sent the word delusional forth; starting that day, the nations legions of mainstream press Clinton-haters began to tell the American public that Gore was, perhaps, not quite there. We have written about this theme many times; indeed, the theme was already present in Dowds first, inane column from 1997 (a little crazy). But by the fall of 1999, the theme of Gore as a delusional man who doesnt know who he is had taken the nations press corps by storm. Millionaire pundits pimped it hard, bringing joy to their multimillionaire owners. And now, it hit the front page of the Times, courtesy of Kakutani. Indeed, the notion that Gore had major issues suffused almost every word she wrote about his book—the book which had once been so impressive. She began by suggesting—inaccurately—that she was reviewing a set of autobiographical books. This freed her from having to tell her readers about Gores book. As we noted in real time, it was quite hard to tell, from Kakutanis report, what Gores book was about, or what it said—but then, thats the nature of crackpot agendas.
What did Kakutani write about Gores book this day—on page one of the New York Times? After briefly discussing Bill Bradleys four books, she offered her first description of Earth in the Balance. As she introduced Gores book, her dishonesty approached the point of pure pathology. Here are Kakutanis first three paragraphs about Gores once-brilliant book:
KAKUTANI (11/22/99): Vice President Al Gore emerges from "Earth in the Balance" (Plume), his 1992 book about the environment, as the quintessential A-student who has belatedly discovered New Age psychobabble. Like his speeches, his book veers between detailed policy assessments (predictably illustrated with lots of charts and graphs) and high-decibel outbursts of passion, between energetically researched historical disquisitions and loony asides about "inner ecology" and "spiritual triangulation"—asides that may help explain his curious affinity with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf.Bizarre. At that point, Kakutani moved on to John McCains Faith of Our Fathers. Its style...is decidedly more free-wheeling and heartfelt, she instantly said.
One of his book's main themes concerns the mind-body dichotomy and the perils of a "disembodied intellect," and yet strangely mechanistic images repeatedly surface in its pages. In one chapter, he describes the Constitution as "a blueprint for an ingenious machine that uses pressure valves and compensating forces to achieve a dynamic balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community." In another, he argues that people divide most tasks into "two conceptual halves" and "assign each half to opposite sides of the machine our body resembles."
"At breakfast this morning," Mr. Gore writes, "I consolidated my grapefruit with my left hand to keep it from moving on the plate and then manipulated it with my right hand, first by cutting portions away from the whole with a knife, then by eating them with a spoon."
DID THINGS GET BETTER AS KAKUTANI PROCEEDED? CURIOUSLY, no, they did not. After discussing other candidates books, she returned to Earth in the Balance. And once again, in her very first clause, she set out to make you think Gore was a nut. What follows is the longest section she devoted to Gores widely-praised book—a book which closely tracks the science we hope to see honored this Sunday:
KAKUTANI: Mr. Gore writes of undergoing a midlife crisis around the same time [1990-91]. He says that in 1989, having just turned 40, lost a presidential campaign and seen his son, Albert, nearly die in an automobile accident, he became "impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously."In the penultimate of those paragraphs, Kakutani stoops to describing something Gore says about the environment in his book about the environment; her paraphrase is a bit murky, but it isnt actually wrong. But plainly, that isnt the point of this passage—a passage which Kakutani begins with a nasty and baldly misleading statement. Mr. Gore writes of undergoing a midlife crisis around the same time, Kakutani writes. From that sentence, a reader might actually get the impression that Mr. Gore actually writes, in Earth in the Balance, of undergoing a midlife crisis. But that is Kakutanis amateur (and inexcusable) diagnosis, another attempt to sell you her story, to get you to think that Gore must have some sort of mental health issues; in fact, Gore never uses the term mid-life crisis in his book, and he spends almost no time writing about himself at all. This is not an autobiographical book, despite Kakutanis early insinuation to the contrary. In his 16-page Introduction, Gore does discuss the ways he became interested in the environment (going back to lessons learned from his parents in childhood and his college education), and he describes how he decided to write his book; all the self-referential passages Kakutani is quoting come from the handful of pages in the books Introduction where Gore discusses such topics, not from the body of Earth itself. (Ironically, Gore notes, in the Introduction, that he couldnt get journalists—people like Kakutani—to discuss the substance of his speeches on the environment when he ran for the White House in 1988.) And of course, Kakutani picks-and-chooses from Gores briefly autobiographical Introduction, only including grim-sounding material which suggests Gore has a hole in his soul. Gore does not write directly about his parents in this book, she oddly writes, already having quoted him doing just that; but when she quotes Gore, she omits his recollection of the way his father taught him to respect the land when he was a child on the Tennessee farm, and she doesnt mention his recollection of the way his mother read Silent Spring to him and his sister as they sat at the family dinner table. (Perhaps luckily. Under the rules of late-90s journalism, if Kakutani had mentioned these passages, shed have suggested that Gore must be making them up.) Instead, Kakutani, leaving Gores text altogether, tells us that [r]eporters who have covered Mr. Gore have written that his genteel upbringing lacked only unconditional love; this is another attempt to suggest a hole in his soul, but a Nexis search finds only one reporter (Alex Jones) who had ever used the term unconditional love while playing the unlicensed shrink about Gore. (By the 90s, many journalists had convinced themselves that they had these powers.) The previous year, at his fathers funeral, Gore had described this remarkable man as the greatest man I ever knew in my life. Kakutani doesnt leave the text of Gores book to say that, preferring the image of the sad boy with a hole in his soul—the sad little boy who lacked parental love. Needless to say, were quickly told that Gore became involved in family therapy after his sons near-fatal accident. But then, lets revisit that sentence:
As a boy, he explains, he "learned many political skills simply by observing my parents"—his father, Albert Gore Sr., was a congressman and senator from Tennessee for 32 years; his mother, a devoted campaign veteran. Later, he found himself "unconsciously practicing a new set of 'personality skills,' " based on the visual rhetoric of television. Although Mr. Gore writes that he became increasingly aware of how "easy it is for every politician—myself included—to get lost in the forms of personality traits designed to please and rhetoric designed to convey a tactical impression," this awareness does not seem to have dampened his enthusiasm for the sort of image-spinning represented by his recent efforts to act more relaxed and wear more casual, earth-toned clothes.
Reporters who have covered Mr. Gore have written that his genteel upbringing lacked only unconditional love: his father was frequently away from home, and was, by his own admission "an insistent taskmaster." And while Mr. Gore, who became involved in family therapy after his son's car accident, does not write directly about his parents in this book, he does talk in impersonal terms about dysfunctional families and psychological wounds, authentic and inauthentic selves.
"A developing child in a dysfunctional family searches his parent's face for signals that he is whole and all is right with the world," Mr. Gore writes. "When he finds no such approval, he begins to feel that something is wrong inside. And because he doubts his worth and authenticity, he begins controlling his inner experience—smothering spontaneity, masking emotion, diverting creativity into robotic routine, and distracting an awareness of all he is missing with an unconvincing replica of what he might have been."
Mr. Gore, who has a penchant for extrapolating from the specific to the general, from the personal to the abstract, believes that such dysfunctional behavior is now being perpetuated on a global scale by cultures out of touch with the world of nature.
Relationships with their fathers—in most cases, powerful, high-profile fathers—figure so prominently in these candidates' careers that their biographies might well be taken as illustrations of the writer Susan Faludi's thesis about the primacy of the father-son bond. Mr. Gore's quest for the White House echoes his father's own unrealized dream of winning that prize, just as becoming president would represent his final emergence from the shadow of the two alpha males in his life, his father and Bill Clinton.
KAKUTANI: [W]hile Mr. Gore, who became involved in family therapy after his son's car accident, does not write directly about his parents in this book, he does talk in impersonal terms about dysfunctional families and psychological wounds, authentic and inauthentic selves.Gore does talk in impersonal terms about dysfunctional families and psychological wounds, she writes (our emphasis), obviously trying to suggest that Gore has such wounds (why else would she include this material). But what she should have written is this: Gore does talk, in ways that dont refer to his family at all, about dysfunctional families and psychological wounds. Indeed, the quotes she offers at this point come from the heart of Gores book; at this point, Gore is simply describing a well-known psychological text without referring to his own life at all. But all through this longest passage on Earth, Kakutani presents one sort of image only. Gore had a mid-life crisis; he went into therapy; and he didnt get unconditional love. And of course, he talks in impersonal terms about dysfunctional families and psychological wounds. Throughout, we learn next to nothing about what Earth really says—but we get Kakutanis relentless insinuations about loony Gores mental stresses. And, of course, two more references to Naomi Wolf, as Kakutani works in clownish references to earth tones and alpha males. We dont get to learn what Gores book really says. But we do get her cohorts prime bullsh*t.
KAKUTANI: So what else do these books tell us about the candidates? That Mr. McCain once contemplated joining the French Foreign Legion. That Mr. Bush, like a famous Seinfeld character, tends to violate other people's personal space, "leaning into them, touching, hugging, getting close." That Mr. Bradley used to listen to the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Honky Tonk Woman" to psyche himself up for Knicks games (before college games, the writer John McPhee has reported, the young Mr. Bradley would listen to "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music"). That Mr. Gore, sounding a lot like Naomi Wolf (who once tried to draw parallels between the Holocaust and anorexia), likes to compare the world's worsening environmental problems to Hitler's rise in the 1930's.Sounding a lot like Naomi Wolf! Like the rest of her kooky cohort, Kakutani was now seeing and hearing Naomi Wolf in every breeze through every tree. They just couldnt get Wolf off their brains. But then, for perfectly unknown reasons, she made them think of Monica Lewinsky. She made their sick minds think bl*w jobs.
As for books the candidates mention themselves: Mr. Bradley uses epigraphs from Fitzgerald, Eliot and Conrad, and refers to writers like Tolstoy, Brecht, John Updike, Richard Wright and Louise Erdrich along the way. Mr. McCain says he entertained his fellow P.O.W.'s in Vietnam with memorized renditions of stories by Kipling, Hemingway and Maugham. Mr. Gore seasons the text of "Earth in the Balance" with allusions to writers as disparate as Descartes and John Bradshaw, Sir Francis Bacon and Buckminster Fuller. Mr. Bush, who repeatedly says he loves books, discusses only one title in his memoir -- the Bible, which he says he reads through every other year. And Mr. Forbes refers, in passing, to "The Federalist Papers," Paine's "Common Sense" and the best-seller "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."
ALLEN (2/6/06): Dowd's acknowledgments contain a name-dropper's wish list of "infinitely creative and giving friends"—Leon Wieseltier, "Tom" Friedman, Michael Kinsley, Alec Baldwin, Chris Matthews, George Stephanopoulos, "Michi" Kakutani, Nora Ephron, Sally Quinn—without whom, she says, the book couldn't have been written. Couldn't one of those creative and giving souls—Leon or Michael or Michi or Nora—have sat down with Dowd and edited the darned thing for her?You can make of those names what you will. But its quite a collection of Heathers.