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Why I Have Less Than No Use For Frank Rich

[ 6 ] March 20, 2007 |

As a follow-up to my post about Al Gore allegedly “squandering” the 2000 campaign, I thought it would be useful to take a look at Frank Rich’s analysis of the first debate (where Gore’s victory among viewers was esclipsed by Bush’s wins among the army of morons who covered it.) As Rich’s colleague Paul Krugman–who, unfashionably enough for a media pundit, actually cares about policy outcomes–was pointing out, it was also where Gore laid out a serious policy agenda while Bush systematically dissembled about his plan to piss away the surplus on upper-class tax cuts. How did Rich cover it?

Still, I wouldn’t have missed the debate for anything. Though it added exactly zero to our knowledge of either Al Gore or George W. Bush, it is a keeper for any time capsule of America 2000. At a cultural moment when many voters are forced constantly to make that hard choice between the Gap and Banana Republic, what is more apt than the spectacle of two princely boomers in identical outfits hypothesizing about how to spend a surplus of infinitely elastic trillions that both assume will last indefinitely?

Ha-ha, Gap and the Banana Republic, very droll! But did you hear the one about “Gush and Bore”? That’s a real knee-slapper! Anyway, I take the point; there’s really no difference between an accomplished center-left vice president and a not-very-bright guy who governed to the right of the Texas legislatures–after all, they both wear suits!

…what is more apt than the spectacle of two princely boomers in identical outfits hypothesizing about how to spend a surplus of infinitely elastic trillions that both assume will last indefinitely? Now that branding and marketing are the national ideology — and focus groups have a clout unmatched by labor unions or the religious right — what could be more fitting than a debate in which not a single word is uttered that hasn’t been pre-tested more rigorously than a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich rollout?

Jesus Christ, the whole goddamned point of the “lockbox” phrase you reliably make fun of later is that Gore doesn’t assume that the surplus will last forever. Almost as if, unlike his opponent, he actually knows what he’s talking about.

Though Mr. Bush is fond of boasting that he’s a man of principle, not ”polling and focus groups,” he was just as scripted as his opponent — no small feat. Mr. Gore’s hit parade of tested buzz words and phrases — ”middle class” (10 mentions), ”wealthiest 1 percent” (10), ”lockbox” (7) — was nearly matched by Mr. Bush’s Pavlovian references to bringing ”Republicans and Democrats” together (9) and ”fuzzy” math (4).

Wow, people actually prepare for debates and reiterate key themes in modern presidential campaigns. No kidding! But good that you repeated the narrative about Gore being “scripted.” Good boy.

OK, he does say something about Bush’s lies:

The moment came when Mr. Bush told a Gore-like whopper, fudging his previous stand in favor of trying to thwart the F.D.A.’s approval of RU-486, the abortion pill.

Bush told him one lie–which made him for a second just like that evil Al Gore, whose entirely fictious lies Rich has been hyping (and sometimes making up himself) for months!

And, the inevitable punchline:

Mr. Bush is still an entitled, hail-fellow-well-met American blueblood who has coasted through life with the right name and its attendant connections. Mr. Gore is still the overcalculating child of the expediencies of Washington, where no principle is written in stone for longer than a polling cycle.

Because you can recite cliched personality narratives about both candidates, see, what difference does it make who becomes president?

What a disgrace that people like this are hired to analyze politics in this country’s most presigious newspapers. (I think you can see why the Times thought it was a great idea to hire Ann Althouse for 5 columns.) Nothing rings hollower than the anti-war posturing of people like Rich and Dowd–few people worked harder to make it happen. Not out of principle, but because they’re vapid, self-satified clowns.