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Daily Howler: A sensitive reader can't imagine why her tribe shouldn't swoon for Frank Rich
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ANOTHER RICH MESS! A sensitive reader can’t imagine why her tribe shouldn’t swoon for Frank Rich: // link // print // previous // next //

ANOTHER RICH MESS: Some were appalled when we suggested that Frank Rich’s new book was less than a masterful triumph (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/06). One sensitive e-mailer had such a reaction. Her trembling hands barely could type:
E-MAIL: As for the Frank Rich shots, sorry. I can barely read the words you produce for the subtext: sheer jealousy. Unless, of course, you’re not the liberal you purport to be.
As we humans all do till we train ourselves not to, the e-mailer ran to the safest of soil. Instantly, she discerned the motive for our troubling judgments. Then she drew the inevitable conclusion, programmed by millions of years of prehistory: You don’t seem to be one of the tribe! Since I don’t like the things you’ve said, you must be one of “them.” Not us.

As noted, we “humans” all tend to think that way—except to the extent that we have managed to train ourselves not to. But let’s adopt the mailer’s implied challenge. Why on earth would a good liberal/progressive/moderate/Democrat be less than thrilled when a giant like Rich is kind enough to give us a book?

Quick example: Rich’s early, vapid analysis of the way “the Clinton-Bush boomer generation” viewed the world in the days before 9/11. This vacuous portrait appears right at the start of Chapter One. It’s worth the price of the volume.

We’ll leave it to you to fight your way through Rich’s thoughts about the deeper meanings of Jerry Bruckheimer’s film, Pearl Harbor. You can also watch as he mind-reads Tom Brokaw’s reasons for writing The Greatest Generation. But why would a liberal or Dem be less than thrilled with Rich? Frankly, because of his endless, absurd denigration of Dems! Quickly, Rich pens this absurd analysis (the chapter begins on page 7):
RICH (pages 10-11): For all the differences between the Clinton-Gore and Bush-Cheney administrations, together they formed a boomer continuum. Each was ruled by narcissists who wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and were convinced of their own righteousness. Clinton and Bush were masters at using the sweet-talking language of “compassion,” “feeling your pain,” and “faith” as rhetorical substitute for, say, expending political capital to bring medical insurance to poor children. If the Republicans offered greater tax cuts instead of more New Deal-Great Society entitlement programs, neither political party wanted voters to give up anything for any common good larger than feathering their own immediate nests. “Both parties have reversed J.F.K. Their mantra is ‘Ask not what you can do for your country, but rather what your country can do for your stock portfolio/benefits package,’ ” said Marshall Wittmann, then of Washington’s conservative Hudson Institute.
That passage is astounding—but it’s typically Rich. Bush-Cheney, Clinton-Gore? What’s the difference, he strangely asks—just as, during Campaign 2000, he spent a year convincing the world that Bush and Gore were two peas in a pod (links below).Why would a liberal/progressive/moderate/Democrat be less than thrilled with Rich’s work? Perhaps because he’s just this side of a nut. Let’s consider what he says in that passage.

According to Rich, the Clinton-Gore administration—like Bush-Cheney—was “ruled by narcissists” (plural). For the record, if this language means what it says, that means that Rich is calling Gore a “narcissist,” along with the big boss-man, Clinton. Meanwhile, how does Rich know that Clinton’s “sweet talk” was indistinct from that of Bush? Simple! Each man used his “sweet-talking language” as a rhetorical substitute “for, say, expending political capital to bring medical insurance to poor children.” Could there be a stranger example to seize on? And yet, speaking frankly, this is Rich.

What makes this example so wondrously strange? As everyone knows, Clinton instantly risked his political capital by his (poorly managed) attempt to do national health care in his first two years as president. Did he ask voters “to give up anything for any common good?” In fact, he asked upper-income voters to give up a large chunk of their money in his 1993 tax package—an offense for which he was hounded, assailed and lied about down through the annals of time. And what was Bush doing, at roughly the same time, while Clinton was staking his career on health care? He was actively working, as Texas governor, to deny health care to low-income children! Just last week, we recommended Lou Dubose’s report on Bush’s Texas record—a detailed report published by The Nation way back in April 1999. Here’s an excerpt about Bush’s work on children’s heath care while he was governor of Texas:
DUBOSE (4/26/99): While Bush and his staff were pushing the oil-and-gas tax bill through the legislature, they were also fighting to hold the line on health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase private health insurance. There are 1.4 million children in Texas who have no health insurance. If eligibility were set at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, more than 500,000 of them would qualify to purchase low-cost insurance policies. Bush insisted, however, that the line be set at 150 percent, eliminating 200,000 children in a state second to California in the number of uninsured children and second to Arizona in the percentage of uninsured children. “It shouldn’t even be a fight,” said Austin Democratic Representative Glen Maxey, adding that Republican governors in Michigan, California, Florida and New Jersey all agreed to their states' participation in the program. "Christine Whitman is even going to 300 percent," he noted.

That is how the 76th Legislature began in Texas, with the governor flogging a tax break for oil-well owners while limiting a children's health insurance program that brings the state a three-to-one match in federal funds. The two bills illustrate Bush's dual welfare policies: expanding benefits for clients of the corporate welfare state while imposing harsh restrictions on people in need of help. They are also consistent with most of what Bush has set out to achieve since he was elected in 1994.
These events were happening at roughly the same time. In Washington, Clinton was raising taxes on the top two percent—and fighting (yes, somewhat ineptly) for national health care. In Austin, Bush was “flogging a tax break for oil-well owners” while working to limit the number of low-income kids who would be covered by a health care plan which was largely financed by the feds. (This program was available to the states because of Clinton’s work in Washington.) But somehow, to Rich, there is no difference here. Weirdly, this is the issue he chooses to show how similar Bush and Clinton really are! They’re both narcissistic boomers, he says. Neither man was willing to “expend political capital to bring medical insurance to poor children.”

As noted, Rich’s record in the past decade has been a virtual political obscenity—if you’re troubled by the fact that Bush ended up in the White House. He seems like a perfectly decent guy when we see him on TV—and we assume that he is a nice person. But Democrats should be very unhappy with his work—unless they’re too much in love with the way he beats up on hicks from the red states. Rich’s record? In 1997, he invented the screaming Love Story nonsense—a slander which was used to trash Gore all though Campaign 2000. For himself, all through that painful campaign, Rich used his column to tell his readers that Bush and Gore were two peas in a pod—just alike, just two privileged boomers. This spring, when Gore’s vital new film appeared, Rich micro-mind-read each minuscule part of the film to help us see what a Big Phony Gore really is. And on the third page of this hopeless new book, he tells us that Clinton and Gore are big psychos, just like Bush and Cheney—and he weirdly uses children’s health care as the issue that proves his great point!

As a political writer, Rich is a marginal crackpot—just this side of a flat-out shelled nut. And yes—he’s done gigantic harm to liberal interests over the course of the past dozen years. And yet, sensitive liberals cry and complain when someone dares to notice the problem. Why would a Democrat dislike Rich’s work? Frankly, because he has read it.

TOMORROW: Rich hands libs a pleasing cartoon (page 13). How cheaply our souls are now purchased!

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Even by his own weird standards, Rich’s column on Gore’s new film was an absolute dilly. We used the occasion to review Rich’s work from Campaign 2000 (and before). Bush and Gore? They were just alike—and now, he says the same thing about Clinton and Bush. As a political writer, Rich is just this side of a raisin-strewn fruitcake—and he’s done major harm to Democrats in the past decade. Yes—he helped send Bush to the White House through his absurd and sustained misjudgments. To read each part of our six-part review, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/06.