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MCMURTRY SPEAKS (PART 1)! The D-word—dysfunctional—came to mind as Larry McMurtry limned Clinton:


REVENGE OF THE D-WORD: Larry McMurtry’s proper subject seems to be Larry McMurtry. In his review of the latest Clinton bio—a review in the current New York Review of Books—the scribe is quick to let you know that his station is higher than yours is:

MCMURTRY (pgh 2): Apropos of Bushes and language I remember a dinner in the 1980s at the home of Joe Alsop, the acerbic WASP columnist, who was railing about presidential euphemisms: Joe said no man deserved to be president of the United States who could be so prissy as to use the phrase “deep doo-doo,” a formulation the forty-first president, George H.W. Bush, occasionally employed. James Baker III, then probably secretary of state, was at the dinner but held aloof from the doo-doo debate; he was saving himself for Florida 2000, although he didn’t know it.
This scribe can be found in high places! But McMurtry is also eager to say that his station is lower than yours:
MCMURTRY: I feel I know something of Bill Clinton because I’ve spent a goodly number of nights in Hope, Arkansas, his home town—I myself grew up in just such a town, only four hundred miles farther west.

For many years I drove station wagons full of books from Washington, D.C., to Texas, and Hope, Arkansas, always seemed to be as far as I could get on my second day of travel…In the early 1970s, before convenience stores blossomed at every exit on the interstates, there was one big drawback for travelers reduced to spending the night in Hope: no food. All there was to eat was whatever could be coaxed out of the vending machines at the all-night garage near Prescott, a few miles back, which, if one happened to arrive late, was likely to be nothing, not even a bag of Fritos or a candy bar.

Why had McMurtry been driving his wagon toward the plains? Appropriately, he’d been driving to market. On these lonely drives, he’d been trudging back and forth “to the corner of 31st and M Street, in Georgetown, where my partner and I had our bookshop for thirty-two years.” By the way: Why didn’t he stop where they did have some food? That part is never made clear.

So McMurtry is humble—and McMurtry is high. But Larry McMurtry is something else too. He’s the kind of rough, real man who talks the crude talk of real men. “The question of sexually charged (or, it may be, uncharged) speech in our political culture is a delicate one,” he notes, in paragraph 3, “especially so in the matter of the F-word—fuck—long since ubiquitous in private discourse but rarely employed publicly by American politicians, not even by the easily unbuttoned Bill Clinton.” Regarding the use of the rough talk of men, McMurtry has advice for Clinton. “When cornered by his inquisitors in the matter of Monica Lewinsky he could have just said he didn’t fuck her, which would have spared him (and us) months of ridiculous hair-splitting,” the salty scribe is not ashamed to explain. And he shows us again, in his very next graf, how easy he is with the language of men. Why, he’s even at home with the P-word:

MCMURTRY: It’s interesting to consider what President Clinton’s two most famously dick-driven predecessors, JFK and LBJ, would have thought of this timidity or tepidity or chickenheartedness…Probably they would have laughed their heads off at Bill Clinton’s predicament, though the same thing could easily have happened to them had they not enjoyed the immense luxury of an acquiescent press, a press that would never have dared write about JFK’s hookers or LBJ’s White House pussy pool.
Wow! It isn’t your father’s New York Review when this high-stationed teamster starts typing! Had you realized before that “the F-word” is “fuck?” McMurtry comes right out and tells you!

But this piece couldn’t be all about himself, although we’d be better off if it had. In this piece, McMurtry claims to be reviewing Nigel Hamilton’s new biography of Clinton. For that reason, he occasionally stops talking about himself and addresses his putative subject. And when he does, McMurtry’s review becomes, we think, a perfect portrait of a deeply strange age. The D-word—dysfunctional—came to mind as McMurtry repeated the rough, pleasing tales he has heard for ten years at high tables.

TUESDAY: McMurtry seems to lack the first clue about his rough subject matter.

THE CURSE OF THE JABBERWOCK: Kudos to the Times’ Frank Rich for noting the candidate’s oddest statement. He discussed what Arnold said to Tom about those groping allegations:

RICH: “I never grabbed anyone,” [Schwarzenegger] told Tom Brokaw on “Dateline NBC,” to which the newsman countered, “So you deny all those stories about grabbing?” Mr. Schwarzenegger’s answer: “No, not all. I’m just saying this is not—this is not me.” What was that again? The candidate was saying simultaneously that a) he never grabbed women; b) he grabbed some women; c) whoever grabbed those women was a mysterious interloper in his body.
But darn it! Rich spoils the moment by excusing his colleagues, as modern scribes reflexively do. “It’s hard to imagine how any journalist, indeed any sentient listener, could parse the candidate’s jabberwocky, an amalgam of denial, nondenial and nondenial denial all in the same thick mouthful,” he continues. For ourselves, we’re not sure why it would have been hard to challenge this oddball “denial” by Schwarzenegger. But Brokaw didn’t choose to do so. Faced with Arnold’s oddball statement, Brokaw did the natural thing. He pretended the statement made sense.

Meanwhile, there they go again! Yesterday’s Times—like last week’s Post—has finally begun exploring the issues which lay at the heart of the recall campaign (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/10/03). How bad is California’s economy? Not that bad, we’re finally told—now that the election is over. Writing from SoCal’s Riverside County, Andrew Pollack and David Leonhardt provide the belated critique:

POLLACK/LEONHARDT: The residents of this inland county east of Los Angeles voted overwhelmingly to oust Gov. Gray Davis and to replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Voters told pollsters they were concerned about California’s economy though the economy is doing relatively well.

In a way, it is the story of an entire state. Despite the political upheaval, growing budget deficit, the electrical power crisis and the bursting of Silicon Valley’s bubble—all of which have created the image of a state deep in recession—California’s economy, by many measures, has done better than the rest of the nation’s in the last few years.

Say what? During the campaign, Schwarzenegger went on and on about how bad the state’s economy was. Paul Krugman challenged the hopeful’s claims, but, as usual—you know how this works—little analysis followed. Now that the election is done, we’re told that the state’s A-OK:
POLLACK/LEONHARDT: “California has obvious problems,” said James Diffley, an economist at Global Insight, a consulting firm that follows regional trends, “but the economic performance has been surprisingly good.”
Would timely discussion have tipped this race? We know of no reason to think so. But now the Times, as well as the Post, has jumped on Big Issues after the fact. The stripper hopefuls have all gone home. Gary Coleman has stopped making speeches. The “circus” they hated so much is no more. At last, we can focus on issues.

Finally, here’s one more thing you didn’t know, even though you followed California’s election. You didn’t know what Nurith Aizenman reports in this morning’s Post:

AIZENMAN: More than 20 states, joined in the spring by Virginia, have laws explicitly prohibiting illegal immigrants from getting a [driver’s] license...Meanwhile, at least a dozen states, joined last month by California, have taken the opposite tack, adopting laws intended to allow illegal immigrants to obtain licenses. In these states, the prevailing argument is that most illegal immigrants are vital contributors to the economy, doing jobs that legal residents won’t accept, and that their presence is a fact of life that it is safer to acknowledge than to ignore.
When Davis signed the California bill, it was spun and spun as his latest vile antic. But did you know that a dozen states allow illegal immigrants to get licenses? And do you think they all have Democratic governors? We have no view on this issue’s merits. But the California bill was spun and spun—and, of course, like everything else, the merits and context went undiscussed.

They didn’t discuss the California budget. They didn’t discuss the California economy. They didn’t discuss the license issue. Instead, they interviewed stripper hopefuls, and loudly complained about the “circus.” That happened because your mainstream press corps is now a deeply dysfunctional elite. That—and not some “jabberwocky”—explains why Tom sat dumbly by as Arnold clowned hard about grabbing.