Veteran political reporter Joe Klein reminds me a lot of George Stephanopoulos. Klein, who's examined the presidential horse race for New York and Newsweek, and who does so currently for The New Yorker, knows that he's lost his chops as a pundit. That's why the periodic, and brief, dispatches he's published in The New Yorker over the last two years have mostly been devoid of real content or scoops. It's a wonder editor David Remnick keeps him on. Then again, considering that Jane Mayer is still at the weekly, as well as the almost equally horrid Elizabeth Kolbert, it's hard to escape the feeling that the Democratic National Committee is giving Remnick a little on the side. (I'm being facetious. I respect Remnick and do believe he's improved The New Yorker. It's just that he has a Zabar's blind spot when it comes to politics.)
But unlike other beat political writers who've gone to seed?say hello to Mary McGrory, Jack Germond, David Yepsen, Richard Cohen and Albert Hunt, just for starters?Klein had the good sense, like Stephanopoulos, to cash in at the right time. His first novel, Primary Colors, was funny, perceptive and dead-on about the '92 campaign of Bill Clinton. Although Klein disgraced himself, much like a politician, by denying for too long that he wrote the book?it was attributed to "Anonymous," a clever gambit that made sales soar?you can't fault the guy for reviving a career that was sliding downhill. Now, Klein can toss off the occasional inconsequential essay, clip coupons from the profits of the book and movie versions of Primary Colors, and appear on talk shows. It's a swell life and I applaud his ingenuity.
Trouble is, if you're in Klein's position, how do you follow up such a buzz-worthy novel? Not very impressively, in his case, as The Running Mate, a book about Sen. Charlie Martin (based loosely on Nebraska's Sen. Bob Kerrey), is mostly a snooze. Sure, there's some decent inside political baseball?the sections on opposition research are hilarious; and the intertwining of Martin with Primary's Jack Stanton is entertaining?but mostly it falls flat. Klein can't write a love scene to save his life, and unfortunately fully half the book is about Martin's implausible infatuation with a Manhattan blueblood who doesn't give a hoot about politics. Nell, who lives with her children and gay ex-husband on the Lower West Side, hasn't the stomach for the pancake breakfasts, Kiwanis dinners and 100-degree picnics in Des Pointes that her Vietnam hero Charlie has to endure as a glad-handing pol. She especially doesn't like the Senator's own advisers digging into her past lives.
It's a drowsy read, so much so that it actually took me five weeks to finish the book. I'd knock off 10 or 15 pages at a time, but current magazines always interrupted my finishing it. That wasn't the case with Primary Colors: I put aside The Weekly Standard, National Review and even The Progressive and ripped through the book in two days.
And while Klein notably broke ranks with Clinton early in his administration?after, along with the despicable Sidney Blumenthal, hyping the Arkansas/Yale/Oxford hayseed shamelessly in the '92 campaign?in The Running Mate he proves that almost every political writer has a Democratic heart. For example, in Martin's Senate campaign of '94, he's defeated by a crass businessman, a hypocritical, God-fearing doofus who Klein implies is a composite of many of the men and women who were part of the Republican takeover of Congress in that year.
The reader knows that The Running Mate will be rough sledding from the very first paragraph, possibly the worst collection of words that Klein has ever written. Take a gander at the following and try not to wince:
"The event at the Elks club ended at dusk and they headed west, into the countryside. She was surprised by the drama of the terrain?the rolling hills were steeper than she'd expected, and perfectly proportionate; the chocolate soil fresh and fecund. The sun was setting between pilasters of clouds, which were less delicate than the casual coastal puffs she was used to; they were bigger, heavier, like the heroic thuds of mashed potato that had been deposited on their plates at the Elks. And yet, the sunset colors were as subtle as the clouds were dramatic; no pollution-induced fuchsias out here. There were streaks of canary and tangerine rising to a robin's-egg blue, then fading into a navy night."
Yes, Joe, there are "real" people who live somewhere between the two coasts; and damned if they don't say hello to strangers on the street, fix a tasty bbq sandwich and haven't the need to lock their doors at night. Salt of the earth, my friend.
Can you say "condescending"?
Anyway, despite this misfire follow-up to Primary Colors, Klein, like Stephanopoulos, knew the right time to get out of his racket and into a more lucrative profession. The future might not be so bright for Klein that he's gotta wear shades, but he's in a far better position than most of the grunts he used to ride campaign buses and planes with. He was smart enough to make some real money and not pretend, like Blumenthal, that he could actually have some power in government.
Even Pedro Doesn't Win Every Game
And one more point about National Review editor Rich Lowry's class-warfare comments about the bleacher bums at Yankee Stadium. You'll remember that he Boston Spark Plug Jeff Frye wrote that no "civilized" person would venture into that marvelous section of the Stadium because of the unruly behavior. I'm sure Rich meant no harm?just a slip at the keyboard while one of his writers was foaming at the mouth about Tom Ridge becoming the next vice president of the United States.
On June 14, Flag Day, Junior and I sat right behind home plate in box seats, perhaps 15 rows back, along with two of my brothers. The "civilized" seats, the "corporate" seats. Baloney. I'm ashamed to admit that the biggest loudmouth that day was not one of the dozens of men and women in our surrounding sections who wore "Boston Sucks!" t-shirts. No, it was a drunk decked out in a Bosox jersey and cap, just like Junior. Starting in the fourth inning of a game the Sox ultimately lost 2-1 (why Boston doesn't unload Tim Wakefield is beyond me), this jerk grew hoarse with his shouting at the visiting team's players. "Everett, you pussy, get some wood on the ball!"; "Nixon, show some balls for once, you asshole!" That kind of stuff and worse. Junior smiled at first, hearing what he still innocently calls the f-word used so frequently, but even he got sick of this guy's obnoxious antics.
It was a swell time at the ballpark, a close game that wasn't decided until Tino Martinez hit a homer off Wakefield in the bottom of the eighth. The Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens rematch never materialized. Clemens' pitches were all over the map in the first inning and after surviving a bases-loaded jam, he didn't come back in the second. Junior and I immediately thought Roger was faking, despite talk of a pulled groin. My son said: "Dad, I think Clemens is just afraid of Pedro. That's a chintzy injury; besides, he's not the brightest guy on two legs." Well, that's my boy. And he doesn't even have that swatch of green hair yet.
Mason for Mayor
The comedian Jackie Mason may look like he's AWOL from Madame Tussaud's, but he's as biting a political commentator as anyone who appears on television today. Read the following exchange from the June 12 O'Reilly Factor and tell me you wouldn't pay $500 to have dinner with this guy.
Bill O'Reilly: Here's a key question. Why do so many New York Jewish people support Hillary Clinton?
Jackie Mason: Because they're stupid. It's just plain stupidity. It's offensive, disgusting stupidity. That's what it really is.
BO: It has to be more than that.
JM: And I want to tell you something. Jews are like married to the Democratic Party just like certain people are married to the Republican Party. Jews still remember Roosevelt and they think?still think of the Republicans as the people that are undermining the poor, and Jews are always guilt-ridden for making a living. Jews are always guilt-ridden, they're raised with guilt?oh, my God, if I got so rich, it must be my own fault, I don't deserve it, so they have to apologize for making money. And every time they make an extra dollar, they say, I didn't mean to make it, it fell into my pocket, I don't know how it happened.
BO: Do they get mad at you because you don't like the Clintons?
JM: Of course they get mad when you don't like the Clintons.
BO: What do they say to you?
JM: They say to me, how could you dislike the person who cares so much about people, who does so much for the underdogs of America, who has such compassion, such heart, such soul. He has nothing but thievery, fraud, mayhem, destruction, murder. There is no crime he could commit?there is no crime, no matter how?first, they disliked him because?first of all, even the Democrats who love him, who want him to maintain his presidency, every one of them admits that he's a lowlife. You remember the impeachment proceedings?
BO: Yes, I do.
JM: Every Democrat said, let's be honest about it, the man is a low-life, a fraud, he ruined the office, he desecrated the office...
BO: But we still like him?
JM: ...And he desecrated and destroyed every?the man is the most vulgar, disgusting person. Should he stay as president? Positively.
BO: Right, you have to do it.
JM: One thing has nothing to do with the other... You could be the lowest degree of a character on this Earth, but it has nothing to do with the job. And the Jews are the same way; if he shot 12 people right now in the heart, you know what the Jews would say? Who lives forever? Nobody lives forever.