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IN SEARCH OF THE SIMPERING DEBUTANTE! Who’s the actual debutante here? Our vote is in—Michael Kinsley! // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2006

WHY NOT THE BEST: Unlike Kevin Drum, we weren’t real surprised when Southern Cal fell to the Bruins on Saturday. Yes, the Trojans had trampled the best of the rest, beating Arkansas, Nebraska and Notre Dame by an average of 25 points. But they struggled within the potent PAC-10—they went 7-2, with several close calls—and UCLA was always capable of beating them. The real pain of this weekend’s games? Being forced to hear all that tired old pap about the SEC’s manifest greatness.

That’s right—the nation’s most self-pitying region never surrenders its victimhood claims. But now, even Kevin, a USC fan, has been driven mad by their blubbering! He wrote the following after a weekend of listening to Florida cry:
DRUM: Since college football is fundamentally a conference-based system, with most teams playing only three non-league games each year, I've always figured the BCS should match the two best teams from different conferences. So putting USC's last minute meltdown to one side, the BCS turned out just the way it should have this year, matching Ohio State against Florida rather than mounting an all-Big 10 rematch. It’s the only way we'll ever know if Ohio State and the Big 10 are really as good as everyone thinks.
Omigod! Such west coast self-loathing! Charlie Pierce kisses the SEC’s garments too. But Kevin even pimped the Big 10!

Let’s start with a small-but-significant error. Kevin! The members of our mighty PAC-10 play nine league games and three out-of-conference. But other circuits are a bit slicker. In particular, SEC and Big 10 teams play eight league games and four out-of-conference. (Ditto the ACC and Big 12.) Why does the SEC do such a thing? Of course! This lets them schedule four non-league cupcakes, as opposed to just three. And the SEC’s fearless teams take advantage. This was Florida’s non-conference schedule:
Southern Mississippi (8-5 in the second-tier Conference USA)
Central Florida (4-8, also Conference USA)
Western Carolina (pathetic—not even Division 1-A)
Florida State (6-6, ACC—only 3-5 in the conference.)
You can see how they used those four games to just load up their schedule. It wasn’t Florida’s fault that Florida State was so weak this year, but that’s an unexciting slate. But so what? The country is full of scribes who will praise the SEC, no questions asked. For example, here was Michael Wilbon’s summary in Monday’s Post:
WILBON (11/4/06): Florida played nine conference games [this included the SEC championship game] in the toughest conference in the country. There’s no question the SEC is the best league, and Florida won at Tennessee, and also defeated Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina. Out of conference, Florida defeated legit big boys in Southern Mississippi and rival Florida State. They played only one patsy, Western Carolina. And of course, Florida's only loss was at Auburn.
Of course, Southern Mississippi isn’t a “big boy;” Florida State was barely mediocre; and unmentioned Central Florida was a big cream puff too. But so what? Wilbon was discussing the SEC, and “there’s no question” that it’s “the best league,” he says. Indeed, he says this every year, even when it’s obviously bogus.

Was the SEC the best conference this year? Quite possibly, although several of the BCS computers have the mighty PAC-10 on top. But the Big 10? Kevin! Stop the madness! By now, the major conferences play so few games against each other that it’s hard to judge their relative strength. But tomorrow, we’ll reveal how they did this year, using our own helpful system.

Was the SEC best? We’re not sure. But leaving four slots for cupcakes, instead of just three, does boost the circuit’s won-loss records. Their fans see more lousy games, of course. But they’ll never realize—they’re SEC fans!—and our sportswriters won’t catch on either.

TOMORROW: Perhaps you recall when the SEC’s wailing began. Warning! A comical tale!

SAGARIN RANKS THE CIRCUITS: Jeff Sagarin runs one of the six computer systems the BCS uses in making its rankings. Because his work runs in USA Today, his is likely the most high-profile system. How does Sagarin’s computer rank the major conferences this year? Sorry, Wilbon; PAC-10 first, SEC second. (Big 10 fourth.) Last year, when the season was done, he ranked the PAC-10 fourth—and the SEC fifth. Remember, this includes every team in a conference—not just those in the Top 25. And of course, your opinion may differ.

If you click here, you can access Sagarin’s conference ratings back to 1998. You’ll have to go back to 2001 to find the SEC ranked first. Tomorrow, a comical tale.


IN SEARCH OF THE SIMPERING DEBUTANTE: As we’ve long told you, it’s the type of story the corps just adores—the type of story where they get to imagine. Neither Michael Kinsley nor Richard Cohen saw the recent, not-worth-discussing exchange between George Bush and Jim Webb. They don’t know what the two men really said. They have no way to judge tone of voice. But when has that ever stopped our “press corps” from offering its thoughts to the peons?

Let’s think back. In 1997, Al Gore made a fleeting remark about Love Story to a pair of major reporters. Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich weren’t present, of course. They didn’t know what Gore really said. (As it turned out, he’d been slightly misquoted.) They had no way to judge tone of voice. But so what? They had a story they wanted to type—and so the twin savants started typing. Two years later, Time’s Karen Tumulty—she had been present to hear Gore’s remark—said that she was “sort of appalled” by the “very unfair” way the press corps had played it. But by then, the pointless remark that no one observed had been used, for two solid years, to turn Gore into a delusional crackpot. It fit the tale the “press corps” wanted to tell—and so, for two years, they took turns telling it. And yes, it helped send Bush to the White House. Today, Cohen and Kinsley are in the Post, explaining another pointless incident—another event they didn’t witness, for which they have no tape. (For Cohen’s column, click here.)

Is there a way to get dumber than this? If so, these twin pundits will find it.

But Kinsley’s column is especially dumb because of its focus on Bush’s twin daughters. Is there a way to get dumber than this, the ending to his column?
KINSLEY (11/5/06): [N]o amount of eloquence can overcome the bald contrast between [Bush’s] rhetoric and how his own family lives. His daughters are over 21, and he can't control them, but that doesn't let them off the hook. They are now independent moral actors, and their situation requires that they either publicly oppose their father's war or do something to support it. Is it unfair to expect Jenna and Barbara to shape their lives around their father's folly? Of course it’s unfair. If this is war, then unfairness comes with the territory.
But why does “unfairness” come with the territory? Don’t ask—and Michael won’t tell! Meanwhile, Kinsley, a man who has nothing to say, wants Bush’s daughters to say bold things for him. Of course, not long ago, Kinsley was calling you a blithering fool if you cared about those Downing Street memos (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/13/05). Now, he’s thinking long and hard about how these young women, whom he doesn’t know, should think, speak, act and live their lives. He knows all about how “morally serious” Webb was. And he knows all about Bush’s daughters.

But uh-oh! Kinsley’s column is especially dumb because of his thoughts about Jenna Bush. Early on, he lets us know that he and his kind are finer than Jenna Bush, finer by far:
KINSLEY: As for the twins, we actually know next to nothing about them...

From what little has leaked out, it seems that Jenna and Barbara are party girls who like to drink and dance until the wee hours with aristocrats and frat boys. Jenna is interning for UNICEF in Latin America (not actually teaching kids, as originally reported, but involved somehow in education). The twins recently took a trip to Argentina. Their first night there, partying in Buenos Aires, Barbara lost her purse to a thief.

So it would appear that George W. Bush's daughters are not Amy Carter or Chelsea Clinton or Karenna Gore. So what? Are you surprised?
Throughout that passage, Kinsley announces his vast superiority to Bush’s dumb-ass daughters. Meanwhile, he shows his own mind-rotting dumbness. “We know next to nothing about” the twins, Kinsley says—and then, he sets out to prove it. In the passage above, we see that Jenna Bush is interning for UNICEF in Latin America. But so what? Moments later, Kinsley somehow types this:
KINSLEY: No one thinks that the president should have to give up a child to prove that his family is as serious about freedom as these other families he praises. But it would be reassuring to see a little struggle here—some sign that the Bush family truly believes that American soldiers are dying for our freedom, and that it's worth it.

Who knows? Maybe they have had huge arguments about this. Maybe George and Laura wanted the girls to join the Red Cross, or the Peace Corps, or do something that would at least take them off the party circuit for a couple of years. And perhaps the girls said no. But I doubt this scenario, don't you?
In this passage, he wonders if Bush might have wanted his daughters “to join the Red Cross, or the Peace Corps,” or something like that. But he asks this immediately after reporting the fact that Jenna Bush has done something like that. In fact, she taught at a D.C. charter school for a year and a half, and now seems to be working for UNICEF in Panama. (We admire people who do things like this. For more information, click here.) None of this is Kinsley’s business, of course; in a world chock full of serious topics, none of this was worth discussing. But Kinsley has long had nothing to say, so he wastes his time with this—and, by now, he has grown so dumb that he can’t even seem to process info found right in his own column.

As chance would have it, we have a family member, slightly older than the Bush sisters, who interned for UNICEF in Latin America too (actually, in the DR), then worked for UNICEF there several years. Prior to that, when still in high school, she spent a summer at elevation in the Andes, showing indigenous kids how to brush their teeth; today, she’s finishing her public health doctorate. For the record, she met her husband while in the DR; he was there on loan from Cuba, coaching the Dominican track team. So yes, she and her globe-trotting friends conducted social lives all around the world too, a fact which may trouble poor peeping-tom Kinsley. They’ve also worked all over the world, engaging in various public health projects, some of which may occasionally work, although there’s no reason to think so. This seems to be like what Jenna Bush is doing—although Kinsley, too tired to read his own copy, doesn’t yet seem to have heard.

What is Jenna Bush really like? We—and Kinsley—don’t have any idea. Despite that, Kinsley knows and tells all! He knows about what Jim Webb did—in an exchange he didn’t observe. He wonders if Bush told his daughters to serve—while failing to notice that one of them does. None of this was worth discussing, but Kinsley seems to have reached the point where he doesn’t even read his own column. Ah yes, our celebrity press corps! Is any group on earth more empty? More driven by consummate air-heads?

Who’s the real simpering debutante here? Our vote is in—Michael Kinsley!

MORE SEMI-INFORMATION: For more semi-information, click here. We note that “Barbara [Bush] spent at least several weeks doing low-profile volunteer work at a hospital in South Africa last summer.”

IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE: We humans love to imagine. And when we do, our own tribes come out best. Here’s a letter in today’s New York Times about the Bush-Webb fandango:
LETTER TO THE EDITOR (12/5/06):

To the Editor:

Who was rude? Senator-elect James Webb or President Bush?

If my son were in Iraq and anyone asked how he was doing, I would say, “I worry about him every waking hour of my day.” That is basically what Mr. Webb said: “I’d like to get them out of Iraq.”

The president, instead of saying “I do, too!,” responded, “I didn’t ask you that!”

Who was rude here: the man who lives with the fear of his son’s safety, or the guy who lives in a bubble of fantasy?

P— S—
Shelter Island Heights, N.Y.
“Who was rude here?” There’s no way to know! (Maybe both men. Maybe neither.) But we humans love to imagine. Kinsley’s cohort imagined weird things for two solid years during Campaign 2000—and thereby doomed the U.S. to Iraq. Jim Webb’s son is in Iraq because of the things they imagined.

In the long run, progressives would be smart to say this: Hey, debutantes! Enough is enough! Debutantes, please! Don’t imagine!