SATIRE: YEARS AHEAD OF SCHOLARSHIP

The other day on Slate, Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar proposed this novel idea: Not only could Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton share the Democratic ticket, but they could have a kind of alternating co-presidency, where one would serve as president, then resign in favor of the other, who would appoint the just resigned president as vice president. At some suitable point, they would repeat the process, although with reversed roles.

“Here’s how it would work,” writes Amar. “In August at the Democratic National Convention, the party would nominate one candidate for president and the other for vice president in the time-honored way. In their acceptance speeches, the nominees would announce that they intend to alternate. For example, they could tell the voters that the person heading the Democratic ticket would, if elected, take office in January 2009 but would serve as president for only the first three years of the four-year term. In January 2012, the teammates would use the 25th Amendment to switch places, and the person elected vice president would assume the presidency for the final year of the term.” Amar points out that nothing would prevent the ticket from running for reelection in 2012–and possibly beyond. “Here’s the icing on the constitutional cake: Nothing in the 25th Amendment or elsewhere in the founding document would prevent this team from presenting themselves to the electorate in similar fashion in 2016. . . . but the other teammate would in fact remain fully eligible to run in 2020. With the result that, if voters so chose, the teammates could, between themselves, share power for a total of four full terms.”

Professor Amar can hardly be blamed for not remembering a minor satirical novel from 1992, but what he suggests was in fact one of the plot points of my novel Mr. Stupid Goes to Washington. I’m sure you all vividly remember the point in the story I’m talking about: Vice President Brent Bibby has been kidnapped; and President Ross and the vice president’s wife, Lucinda Bibby, who have been having an affair, contemplate what would happen if Brent dies.

“Well, she finally said, “I suppose you could appoint me.”
“Appoint you?” Ross said. “I could do that?”
“Sure,” she said. “Why couldn’t you do it? Wives of dead elected officals are forever getting picked to fill out their husbands’ terms. It’s the American way.”
“I suppose,” he said suspiciously, thinking it was all too good to be true.
“And then, darling, you and I could get married.”
“We could?” he said in excitement and amazement.
“Of course we could,” she said, putting her arm around his neck. “And then we could run for reelection together.”
This is getting better and better, he thought. “Okay, we’ll do that.”
“And then about a year before your term expires, you could resign, and I could become president.”
Suddenly the happy Ross faded, leaving room for the suspicious Ross to return. “Oh, I don’t know that I’d want to give up the presidency, Lucinda. What would I do?”
“Silly,” She said. “Do you think I’d forget about you? I’d appoint you to be my vice president. And then we’ll run for reelection and we’d win; and then just before my term was up, I’d resign, and you’d step up and become president again; and then you could appoint me vice president again, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Ross mulled the plan over. “I suppose we could go on for years,” he said at last.
“Yes! Like a king and queen.”
“All we need is for Brent to be dead.

YOU GOTTA KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM

It’s true that Hillary Clinton could still win the Democratic nomination this year, but it’s also true that I could be elected Pope. Any Catholic male over the age of 7 is eligible, and I’ve got that covered. But to be the democratic nominee, you need to have a majority of the delegates, and Hillary is nowhere near reaching that numbers. Nor is she likely to. The polls don’t favor her, the slate of remaining primaries doesn’t favor her, there’s not going to be do-overs in Michigan and Florida, and her opponent keeps turning hay (Jeremiah Wright) into gold (a pitch-perfect speech on race), while she keeps stumbling into unforced errors like claiming she was shot at in Bosnia. At this point, her path to victory would require Obama to melt down in almost a Spitzer-like way. It’s just not likely—not even remotely likely. Right now, the smartest move she could make for herself and for her party is to suspend her campaign, if not actually throw in the towel. Here’s why:

First, everybody admires a gracious loser. Ask Al Gore.

Second, by leaving now, she preserves all the good will she acquired this past year. Clinton ran an awfully good campaign, and showed herself to be presidential material. She was great in the debates. She lost to a phenomenon, and there’s no shame in that. The longer she hangs on, however, the more she becomes the object of jibes and jokes. Continue reading “YOU GOTTA KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM”

LIBERAL, AND PROUD OF IT

liberals.jpgColumnist and historian Eric Alterman has written a new book entitled Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, which came out this week. Here’s an interview I did with him that appeared on playboy.com.

PLAYBOY: Okay, Eric—why are we liberals?
ALTERMAN: Depends on what you mean by “we,” Kimosabe. On the one hand, those of us who already know we’re liberals are liberals because we believe in the Enlightenment. We having open minds and allowing the truth take us anywhere it leads us, irrespective of what is allegedly commanded by God, the Dialectic of History, the Fatherland, George Bush’s sense of filial outrage, or whatever. We believe in giving everybody a fair shot at success, prosperity, self-fulfillment, etc, and if necessary, using the power of the government to make sure that everybody gets that chance, regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth.

For everybody else it means, you’re probably already a liberal. You just don’t know it, yet because the word has been so demonized by right-wing lunatics and a compliant, spineless media. But if you look at what you, in all likelihood, believe about protecting the environment, taxing the wealthy, keeping corporations under control, providing health care to everybody, supporting smart science, and only invading countries that actually mean you harm, well then, by today’s standards, you’re a liberal. Continue reading “LIBERAL, AND PROUD OF IT”

CHEERS FOR MY PALS

Nominations for the 2008 National Magazine Awards were announced yesterday, and I’m happy to say that a number of my friends and former colleagues are among the nominees. Popular Mechanics, which is edited by Jim Meigs, my former boss at Us, was nominated for Best Magazine with a circulation between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000, and also received two nominations in the Personal Service category. Time, which is edited by my former Notebook section chief Rick Stengel, was nominated for Best Magazine with a circulation over 2,000,000. The Autumn of the Multitaskers, by Walter Kirn, my onetime cubicle neighbor at Spy, earned a Best Essay nomination for The Atlantic. Three pieces by Kurt Andersen, my boss at Spy, earned a nomination for New York in the Columns and Commentary category. And Amid Capeci, who was an art director at Esquire when I was there and is now the assistant managing editor for design at Newsweek, was named in that magazine’s nomination in the Photo Portfolio category. Congratulations, guys! I’ll be rooting for you all.

GETTING’ WIGGY WIT’ IT

ohnadams.jpgBeing the world’s most reliable consumer of historical dramas, I obligingly clicked on HBO for the first two episodes of its seven part series on John Adams, which was titled, with no-frills certitude, John Adams. The show was as dutiful, as earnest and as joyless (and ultimately less moving) as a big bowl of All-Bran.

And I think I know why.

Eight years ago, when the Mel Gibson blockbuster The Patriot came out, I wrote an article for The New York Times wondering why there weren’t more movies about the Revolutionary War. One person I asked to comment was the historian David McCullough, who was still a year away from publishing his masterful biography of John Adams, which he titled, with no-frills certitude, John Adams. He said ‘A lot of us have trouble at first perceiving those people as real, because of their clothing, and the wigs, and their mannered way of speaking, they are like characters in a costume pageant.’’ Continue reading “GETTING’ WIGGY WIT’ IT”

THE VILLAGE ELIOT

So Governor Eliot Spitzer has acknowledged importing a prostitute from New York to Washington DC. This certainly seems like the 21st century, service economy version of carrying coals to Newcastle. One would think it would be possible to find a prostitute in Washington, but maybe Jack Abramoff‘s experience had a more salutary effect than we imagined.

Perhaps the governor was merely trying to build a strong record of supporting the small businesses of New York. It’s like making sure that New York State champagne is served at official functions–however good the quality is, it is secondary to the desire to be seen supporting local industry. Had Spitzer a little more time to frame his response, he might have tried to explain this transaction as a prototype for a new economic development initiative that soon he would bring to Utica and Schenectady, the Finger Lakes and Buffalo, anywhere the local small businesswomen would appreciate some special attention from Albany.

Has anyone figured out exactly how much Spitzer paid Kristen? At one point, according to The New York Times, the agent for the Emperor’s Club VIP (“Who’s the Emperor? You’re the Emperor!’’) told Client 9 that he had a credit of $400 or $500 on his account. The next day, when the transaction took place, he was told that his bill was $2721.41. Round trip train fare would have been $198 (note that the frugal governor underwrote neither a $329 round trip ticket on the shuttle nor the $418 high speed Acela service) Assuming the credit was for $500, and that he reimbursed the train fare, that means it’s likely he paid $3000 for Kristen’s attendance. But what would the remaining $25.41 be for? Particularly the 41 cents? Can’t we round things off for the Emperor? And just out of curiosity, what does the reported top of the line $5000 package provide that the 5’5’’, 105 pound Kristen would not?

By the way, in 1993, Heidi Fleiss was charging her Hollywood clients $1500 for an interlude with one of her top shelf girls. According to the Consumer Price calculator of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, goods and services purchased for $1500 in 1993 should cost $2238.06 today. Apparently there’s been a bubble in something other than housing.

FROM HARRY LEE, ENTHUSIASTICALLY

Just received a note from Harry Lee of Crestwood, Kentucky. He writes “I just finished your book, The Coup, and I must say it was a very good read, in fact it was a page-turner. Your character development was masterful, the pace was enjoyably steady and your insight of the political process is, well, delightfully insightful. Thank you for the pleasure of a good story.” Well, Harry Lee, I gratefully, thankfully, appreciatively say `You’re welcome!”

THE WIRE, HAIL AND FAREWELL

Was The Wire the most existential drama in the history of television? Episode in and episode out, all those with dreams or standards, no matter which side of the law stood on, were brought low if not destroyed in a world in which cynicism, corruption and indifference governed human affairs the way gravity governs the physical universe. Again and again, The Wire emphasized that there is no escape, that whether you are Stringer Bell, trying to convert you narcotic millions into legitimate business, or Frank Sobotka, trying to build a new container port, or Lester Freemon, trying to roll up an insidious drug ring and all its tentacles, or Tommy Carcetti, trying to build a better city, or Bunny, trying to localize the damage of drugs, or anyone hoping to do anything great and ultimate, you will be thwarted, if not by man’s corrupt institutions, than by man’s corrupt nature. The only redemption that The Wire allows is individual (Bubbles, Damon) and the only enduring satisfaction is the quiet honor that can be taken by going out every day and stoically grinding out an honest day, like Bunk and Kima. There have been grimmer series on TV—Oz, for one—but none that so disdainfully dismissed our ideas about order, progress and virtue as naive and vain. All in all, the five seasons of this show constituted an incredible piece of art, but one that more than anything else makes me want to buy a gun.

DRAWINGS BY DREW

more-old-jewish.jpg

Congratulations to Drew Friedman, the distinctive and distinctively hilarious illustrator whose new book More Old Jewish Comedians which will be published in April, got a tremendous bookwarming at the Friars Club last night. Drew’s “Private Lives of Public Figures” was a fixture at Spy, where I was intermittently part of the delegation that helped think up the subjects of Drew’s devastating warts-and-then-some portraits, and in later years, Drew illustrated pieces that I wrote for Esquire, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide. And yet, until last night, we had never met! (Well, okay, he says we did meet once, years ago, and perhaps he is right. But ask yourself—what makes a better story?) A highlight of the evening was a bit of storytelling by one honored guest, the venerable Jerry Stiller, who amusingly reminisced about breaking into the theater on the lower east side, and who showed himself to be smooth and urbane in a way I have never seen in his performances. What a treat. Good luck, Drew! (By the way, this august convocatin yielded this amusing New Yorker casual by Lillian Ross.)

TAKING THE CAKE

mmc-3-5-08-5.jpgThe Writing Center of Marymount Manhattan College is marking its 15th anniversary, and I was very flattered that I was invited to the dinner celebrating this milestone that was held at Doubles in the Sherry Netherland Hotel on Wednesday night. I was delighted to see former Spy colleagues Roy Blount Jr. and Patty Marx, and Playboy stalwarts Bruce Jay Friedman and Dan Greenburg, and to meet so many writers whose work I have admired, including Mary Higgins Clark, Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt, Alan Furst and Meg Wolitzer. As a special treat, they had a cake made that had on it the names of all the writers present. Congratulations to director Lewis Burke Frumkes, a tireless advocate for writers and good writing, and honorees Susan Isaacs and Tina Flaherty. I had a lot of fun. (Additional photos from the event appear here.)