THE BUILDING IS YELLOW, OUR FACES ARE RED

empire-state-building-2Those condemned to live somewhere other than Manhattan may not know this, but we have this enormous skyscraper right in the middle of the island that we’re all rather proud of called the Empire State Building. Not content enough to allow the building to speak for itself and project an image of strength, power, sophistication, and confidence, the hucksters who own the thing often bathe the building in light to convey some other message. Typically the message is some kind of civic boosterism, like using blue and red lights to celebrate the Giants’ victory in the Super Bowl, or green lights on March 17th to signal a day of public inebriation.

Usually it’s all rather harmless. But according to a story on google news from AFB, on Wednesday of this week–tonight!–the building will be lit up red and yellow Wednesday in honor of the 60th anniversary of communist China. Yes, the People’s Republic of China, that big, repressive, violent totalitarian regime that takes up such a huge chunk of Asia. They own a great big chunk of America’s debt, and I guess when a country has your balls in a vise like that, they can pretty much do what they want, including make everyone pretend that none of us remembers the day the tanks rolled into Tiannamen Square. According to reports, the Chinese consul, Peng Keyu, will be among the officials who will take part in the lighting ceremony. I wonder if Peng is aware that the Empire State Building is just a couple of blocks from Herald Square, because, you know, if he wanted to make a day of it, I’m sure somebody would be happy to kiss his ass in Macy’s window, too.

You know, the students at Tiannamen Square made a paper mache model of the Statue of Liberty. Now the real one will have a ringside view of Wednesday’s lighting.

Welcome to the Chinese century.

MAD MEN ON MY STREET

dscn1033 dscn1032I’m pretty sure I would have been a fan of Mad Men in any event, but the fact that Don and Betty Draper make their home in Ossining–one mere town over from Briarcliff Manor, where I have lived for twenty years–always made the show especially appealing to me. Last Sunday, however, when Betty and her Junior League pals began discussing the Ossining Reservoir on Pleasantville Road, and their opposition to building water tanks there, well, my heart went boom, boom, boom. Hey, that’s my Pleasantville Road, kids–the street where I live (about 2 miles away, I’d guess.) Later in the show, when Betty meets Henry, the handsome aide to Governor Rockefeller, he informs her that the water tank project was pretty much unstoppable. Well, no kidding. Above left, see the very tanks that Betty only dreamed of preventing in 1963, still in use this very afternoon. On the right, the reservoir, which, I gather from this blog written by my (unknown) neighbor J. Philip Faranda, used to be in pretty bad shape, but which has since been turned into a lovely park. Meanwhile, my buddy Ken Smith has sent me this interest feature from the Journal News, Westchester’s newspaper, discussing local landmarks that have appeared on Mad Men.

PRESIDENT SCARBOROUGH?

scarborough-tiller-vl-verticalI don’t know if Joe Scarborough is running for president, but he is sure doing all the things he would need to do if he were. Over the last few years, Scarborough has taken some cues from the Ronald Reagan playbook. Like Reagan, Scarborough has maximized his best natural asset–his amiability–to position himself as a true conservative who is everyone’s friend and no one’s enemy. And like Reagan in the early seventies, Scarborough has stood aside from the political hurleyburley, with its exhausting fundraising and inconvenient votes, and taken up residency in the soft pastures of media punditry. Just as Reagan was able to forge his political identity with his radio program, Scarborough is building his brand on MSNBC, where every morning, an audience of tastemakers sees him as friendly, self-mocking, staunch about defense, ardent about fiscal control, someone who admires the president without being smitten by him, someone who agrees with a lot of Republican values without being impressed with their tactics. The bestselling book he published at the beginning of the summer, rather melodramatically called The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America’s Promise, puts Scarborough in a fairly interesting place: squarely in the flow of mainstream values, but far, far, far from the fringes.

This week he further staked out his territory by taking on Glenn Beck for El Blubbero’s hatesister speech. In kind of a Sister Souljah moment, he challenged the GOP’s 2012 hopefuls to follow suit. “We’re going to have a conservatives’ honor roll on this show…,” Scarborough said. “I’m talking to you, Mitt Romney, and I’m talking about anyone who wants to be president in 2012. … You need to call out this type of hatred.” When The Daily Beast phoned potential candidates to see how they glennwould respond, most ducked the question; only Mitt Romney’s spokesman saying that while he didn’t want to get in between Scarborough and Beck, he didn’t agree with the substance of what Beck said.

What a brilliant move: if Romney disagreed with Scarborough, he’s aligning himself with the crazies. And if he agrees with Scarborough, well, he’s just agreeing with Scarborough.
Apparently Scarborough has not only studied Reagan’s playbook, he’s studied Bill Clinton‘s. And Barack Obama‘s. There’s a reason Obama keeps making nice to Republicans, and it has nothing to do with actual Republican support. Obama is trying to impress independents with his openness and reasonableness, which he believes will help him hold the middle against whatever wild-eyed tub-thumper the right throws his way in 2012. But what if the GOP throws up a genial good ol’ boy from Florida who has made a comfortable home for himself on the upper west side of Manhattan?

Scarborough isn’t even leaving Romney any room in the Looking Presidential battle. Early in the summer, Scarborough would do his show in an open-neck shirt, often wearing a fleece vest that looks like it spent many a weekend running errands. Since Labor Day, Scarborough’s been logging time in a suit and tie. Maybe he’s not running for president, but if he isn’t–what’s behind the suit and tie?

RES IPSA LOQUITUR

cheerfulTad Friend, once upon a time my colleague at Spy, has written a family memoir called Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor. It’s elegantly written, with many beautiful and touching passages, and the affection for his family really shows through. One very personal reaction it engendered from me was a churlish sort of envy: the sprawling family headquarters in Vermont and Long Island, the timely five and six figure inheritances. Well, good for him. It will not surprise you that my favorite passage, which I’ll quote here at length, was about his days at Spy in 1986 and 1987. “I was crazy about working at Spy as a writer and then a senior editor; it was thrilling to be part of a young underpaid underclass and throwing spitballs at the city’s old overpaid overclass. We spent our days together in laughter, nights discussing stories and headlines we could never do–“The Yellow Peril,” say, about moguls and their Asian wives–over rounds of stingers ordered up by the co-editors, Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen, old friends from Time. “More hooker drinks!” Kurt would call. and Graydon would cry “Drink up, Taderino!”’ Later, Tad tad2prevaricates a bit. “But I was beginning to wonder about our targets. The first three people I profiled at the editors’ suggestion, an intellectual [Edward Schossberg], a judge, and a tycoon, were all Jewish. We weren’t pillorying them for their religion, but for their hypocrisy, megalomania, stupidity, cupidity, vulgarity, pretention, sexual peccadilloes, and self-glorifying excess: all satire’s usual pinatas. But we didn’t know what we ddn’t know. . . .At one of Spy‘s many parties, a friend who wrote for the magazine, Melik Kaylan, issued a challenge: “Tad, for God’s sake, say something controversial about someone powerful.”’

EXCITING NEWS

From an article in Editor & Publisher: “Since the financial meltdown began a year ago, journalism jobs have gone away at almost three times the rate jobs have disappeared in the general economy, according to a report by Unity: Journalists of Color. Unity’s 2009 Layoff Tracker Report shows an average 22% increase from month to month in journalism jobs lost from September 2008 through August 2009. The general economy lost jobs at an average monthly pace of about 8% during that time, according to Unity. . . .News media, including newspapers, broadcast and digital, have shed 35,885 jobs since Sept. 15, 2008, according to Unity’s tracking report. The great majority of jobs lost — 24,511 — were in newspaper and other print journalism, Unity said. Since Unity began tracking job losses on Jan. 1, 2008, the news industry has shed 46,599 jobs, it said.”

WHY WOULD BUSH LOYALISTS WANT TO KILL THIS BOOK?

speechMatthew Latimer, a former Bush 43 speechwriter, just published a memoir of his couple of years serving in the White House, and apparently it’s kicking up a small cloud of criticism from his former colleagues. “Without having read a single word, they’ve been on this mission against me—and it’s disappointing,” Latimer told The Daily Beast‘s Lloyd Grove yesterday. “What they’re basically saying is: ‘Here is the book the Bush administration doesn’t want you to read!’” He doesn’t bother to suppress a giggle.” Latimer went on to tell Grove that such Bush associates as Ed Gillespie, Dana Perino, and Bill McGurn have been trying to keep Latimer off of radio and TV talk shows.

Why, one wonders, would they bother to do that? It’s not as though one more staff memoir would have the power to change anyone’s view of the late, unlamented Bush administration in any vital way. In fact, although Latimer laments Bush’s lack of oratorical skills, the memoir is kind to George W. Bush. The sharp asides and witty wisecracks about Hilary Clinton, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are vivid reminders of the lively, relaxed, likable George W. Bush who was captured by Alexandra Pelosi during the 2000 campaign in her documentary Journeys with George.

It’s true that Latimer reserves most of his criticism for his fellow staffers, including the aforementioned Gillespie. Latimer bemoans the lack of coherent communications strategy, snipes at his nominal superiors in the speechwriting office, and snottily labels (okay, cleverly) Robert Gatespulp, Josh Bolton and other Washington veterans “cleaners,” like Winston Wolfe, the character Harvey Keitel played in Pulp Fiction. Latimer’s very harshest criticisms are leveled at Karl Rove, the reputed genius behind Bush’s success. “He had promised a golden age of Republican domination, but the truth is that while Karl was running political affairs, the Republican president’s approval rating had plummeted to an improbable low. The truth is that after Karl was promoted to run domestic policy in the second term, not a single major bill proposed by the White House was passed by a Republican Congress. And the truth is that Karl oversaw an army of personnel directors who hired hacks. . . ” Good points all. Still, there’s nothing in Latimer’s book that won’t keep stacks of copies spending the spring of 2010 comfortably adorning the remainder table at Barnes & Noble.

To whatever degree old Bushies are trying to kill this book, I suspect it’s because they just don’t like young Latimer. In The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Bill McGurn attacked the book by bush_turkeysaying that Latimer just wasn’t very good at his job. Latimer counters by revealing an email in which McGurn praises the remarks Latimer wrote for the president to deliver on Thanksgiving. Well, the email does contain words of praise, there’s no denying it. But take it from someone who has written more than a few encouraging messages to failing subordinates, this brief note seems to be a pat on the back, not a recommendation for promotion.

But one of the things that’s clear from the book is that if Latimer’s colleagues were surprised by his views, then they weren’t paying much attention (as indeed they may not have been, given Latimer’s lowly status); the generally disgruntled Latimer seems to have made no secret of the fact that he didn’t like or very much respect the people he was working with. He admits when he writes “We [speechwriters] didn’t have a boss like a Kennedy or a Reagan whose oratorical gifts might burn our words into history. . . Mediocrity was the highest level our words would reach. We were the RC Cola of speechwriters, the Hyundais, the socks you get as Christmas rc1presents.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such narcissistic self-pity, and I’ve been the father of teenage girls. In another scene, Latimer recounts a speech that went through prolonged and painful bouts of editing, some by the president himself. Having been on the receiving end of some close editing by people whose tempers were up, I can sympathize with the feelings of wounded pride which Latimer must have been feeling. But as Latimer describes, the process ended with Bush saying “I know this speech wasn’t your fault. . .You just got bad guidance from the NSC. . . .But we finally made it through, didn’t we, Matty?”

And here is what Latimer writes next: “There was a brief silence everyone turned to me. They looked terrified about what I’d say. `I suppose so,’ I replied, as quietly and as coldly as I could possibly get away with in the Oval Office of the White House before the president of the United States. The president smiled uncomfortably.”

All I can say is that that it takes an Achilles-class sulker to write proudly of the day he gave a chilly reception to a conciliatory gesture offered by the president. I don’t know if Bush associates out to get Latimer, but if they are, they should just get out of the way: by demonstrating that he had no concept of the role he was there to play, the kid commits professional suicide in every chapter.

WHY IS OBAMA HARDER ON HIS FRIENDS THAN ON HIS ENEMIES?

obama2_650In The Washington Post today, Richard Cohen writes about Team Obama’s attempt to toss the inept New York Governor David Paterson out of the 2010 campaign. “The Defenestration of New York tells you nothing you did not know about Paterson. But it does tell you something about Obama and a toughness lurking behind that blazing smile. . . .[T]he lesson is clear: When you become a problem for Obama, don’t get too close to a window.”

We have seen this trick from President Obama before. The most famous case was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor and spiritual shepherd who became an embarrassment last spring and repudiated. Wright was a spectacular distraction, but candidate Obama has acted with equal swiftness to isolate those agents who might infect him with their problems. A few months after the Wright matter, nominee Obama bid a remoreseless goodbye to the head of his vice-presidential search team, former Fannie Mae Chairman James Johnson, after reports that he may have received preferential mortgage terms from Countrywide Financial. In February, President Obama allowed Tom Daschle, an early and loyal backer who had been chosen to head the Department of Health and Human Services because nobody was better qualified to reform America’s health care system, to step aside after his tax problems were revealed; Obama, you’ll recall, had used his “Get a Tax-Cheating Nominee Out of Jail Free” card on Timothy Geithner, and didn’t want to take on another fight. Just last month, Obama allowed Van Jones, his selection to become a special adviser on green jobs, to step down after Jones had come under attack for some dumb and insulting remarks he had made about Republicans that had nothing to do with green jobs.

All these ruthless moves make perfect sense, although it’s worth noting that some administrations in the past have fought tooth and nail for their compromised nominees, just to prove to their critics that once the president had made a selection, it didn’t matter if it was Vlad the Impaler, they had better shut up and play along. But here’s the question:

Why is President Obama harder on his friends than on his enemies? Why does he keep extending his hand to the Republicans in a spirit of cooperation, and allow himself to be ignored? Why has the president found it so difficult to come down hard on the financial fat cats who manipulated the economy into a recession?

Machiavelli said it was better to be loved than feared, but since it was hard to be loved, a prince should make himself feared. Well, here’s the thing: Obama’s enemies neither love him nor fear him. And his friends? They better watch their ass.

IRENE HELEN GLODEK MALANOWSKI (1921-2009)

momAll I can say is, if ever you had the opportunity to be a child (or grandchild) in the good graces of Irene Malanowski, take the job. In all my life, I never doubted my mother’s love, and I do not think it is at all a debatable proposition that for the first 15 or 16 years of my life–and what are we, if not the first 15 or 16 years of our life?–she was the most significant figure in my development. Loving, ambitious, striving, exacting–she invested a tremendous amount in the hopes and dreams she had for her children, and especially me. This came at some cost to her and to my father, but it worked. A lot of what I think is best about me was launched by my mom. Would I have become a writer if I hadn’t set close to her day after day, listening to her read about the heroes of the Civil War?

It no doubt came as a great surprise to her that after she sent her creation off to college, he never returned. When I thought about it years later, it came as a surprise to me as well. It might have been very nice if it had worked out otherwise, but it didn’t. I don’t feel guilty about that, but I am momdadsorry that it must have caused mom some hurt, and there were some years of awkwardness. Things improved tremendously after she became a grandmother. She was very good at that, and when I saw her with my kids, I saw what she must have been like as a young mother, and tried to live up to that ideal.

I miss my mom, but truth be told, I have been missing her for several years. The dementia that destroyed her personality and her mind was a progressive disease, and once it too hold of mom, she was never the same. Although we made many efforts in the last few years to show mom how much we loved her, and how much she meant to us, it seemed that this remorseless, insidious disease prevented those efforts from being recognized. My grief is lodged there, and I do not think it will soon dissipate.

As mom’s dying and death reminds us: there is only one day we have guaranteed. Make the best of it.

LONG LIVE THE DYING LIGHT

dyingWhile researching what I’m happy to report will become an article in The Washington Monthly on the use of CCTV in Great Britain, I became an admirer of the work of Henry Porter. This means I come to the Porter fan club rather late, since Henry has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist and novelist. When we were at Spy, Graydon Carter often praised Henry–this was at a time when Graydon was the only person I knew who read British newspapers, and I’m sorry that an appreciation for them wasn’t among the things I learned from him at the time–and this it was no surprise that Graydon made Henry the London editor of Vanity Fair. Today, Henry writes frequently and passionately for The Guardian, mostly on the topic of the government’s encroachments on individual liberty, and his ardor and his dedication are a wonder to behold. One feels like one is reading Thomas Paine or another of the crusading pamphleteers we so seldom see anymore (you can read his blog here.). Anyway, Henry has just published in the UK a new novel called The Dying Light, which I enjoyed immensely. The book manages to be a very smart and fast-paced thriller, while at the same incorporating all of Henry’s concerns about the encroaching power and growing threat of the Surveillance State. He paints a disturbing and all-too-plausible picture of a very near future in which democratic peoples will have sleepwalked into a world in which their ancient liberties will have nullified. I don’t know if the book will be published here–it might be too British–but it’s provocative and useful and a darn good read.

OF COURSE THERE’S RACISM HERE

carter_1Having been an unsuccessful and rejected president long ago liberated Jimmy Carter from the illusion that he might have something to gain by making nice to his former colleagues in government. Carter–pious, a scold, and possessed of a blind spot when it comes to foreign despots–is that sort of person whose views are hard to swallow. This is not because they are often wrong, but because despite everything, they are so often right. Last night, he delivered some hard-to-hear news, about which he is absolutely right: “An overwhelming portion of the animosity directed against President Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.” (To see Carter’s comments, click here)

Carter’s reward for his blunt assessment has been a quick and easy dismissal. No no no no, said Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and Maria Bartiromo and Chuck Todd on MSNBC this morning. You can’t tar Obama’s critics with the racist label. It isn’t helpful. It lowers the tenor of the debate.

Nonsense. Telling the truth may not always be the best thing to do, but it’s never the wrong thing to do. So let’s look at the truth.

Not all of those who oppose health care reform are racists. But a lot of the people who are opposing the bill don’t have the first idea about what’s in the bill. They don’t know that personal choice is retained, they don’t know that Medicare is and always has been a government program, they don’t know that the government already provides health care to illegal immigrants in emergency rooms, and they think Washington wants to form death squads that will come gunning for grandma at the first sign of the sniffles. But as they have demonstrated in their rallies, their emails, their placards, they have a firm grasp on one fact: Barack Obama is black.

Now, let’s look at another fact: the elites of the Republican Party have a long record of playing race politics. Sometimes their message is coded, sometimes it’s direct, but seldom is it subtle. There was Richard Nixon‘s southern strategy in 1968; Ronald Reagan‘s decision to launch his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the murders of three civil rights workers, in 1980; the George H.W. Bush campaign’s use of the Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988; and the campaign of George W. Bush using “rumors” of John McCain being the father of a mixed-race baby in the South Carolina primary in 1980. And if they can’t play the race card, the elites are quite willing to employ mob tactics, like the Brooks Brothers riot during the recounts of the 2000 election in Florida. When things get desperate, count of the GOP to get ugly.

And not since the Great Depression has the GOP been this desperate. Repudiated in two consecutive elections, the authors of a war that has disgraced the nation, the evangelists of an economic ideology that caused a calamitous recession, the Republicans have nothing to offer the country right now except guerrilla warfare. Is it wrong to oppose the administration’s plans? Of course it isn’t. But the GOP is not mounting an opposition based on principle, or reason, or even facts. They are mounting an opposition that is based on inflaming animosity and bitterness and, yes, racism.

A summer that began with a debate about health care reform is ending with a challenge to the legitimacy of the first African American president. If you are a Democratic member of the House or Senate, no matter how you think the health care bill is flawed, you must as yourself this question: how can we let these people win?