The Veep's No VIP The release of the photograph showing a grinning Gov. Christine Todd Whitman frisking a black man was without doubt a glorious event. It served finally to end the persistent inane speculation that George W. Bush will select her as his runningmate.
Whitman is, and has always been, a bore. Though her accomplishments have been meager to say the least, she has enjoyed adulatory media coverage that at times bordered on the hysterical. Now that the hacks can no longer waste space gushing about her, they are reviving old standbys. The other day, George W. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer announced that Sen. John McCain "endorsed the governor on May 8 in Pittsburgh and has had very nice things to say and, actually, the Governor and the Senator have been in frequent touch on the telephone talking about various issues, particularly saving Social Security. So we're working shoulder to shoulder, and the Vice President, of course, is going to be featured prominently at the Republican Convention in a prime time speaking role."
The Republicans have promised to be super-conciliatory this year. But surely giving Al Gore prime time at the convention is taking niceness a little far. Perhaps Fleischer was referring to McCain as the vice president. Or perhaps that was just a slip of the tongue and he meant "runningmate." Either way, the slip?if that is what it was?created the kind of mad media frenzy that is completely forgotten by the next news cycle. Bush claims he has not yet decided on a runningmate. Only three people?Dick Cheney, Bush's wife and Bush himself?know who is even on the shortlist. A recent wire service report claims the list includes Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Elizabeth Dole and Gov. George Pataki. George Pataki! Here is an unlikely story if there was one. A Bush-Pataki ticket is even less likely than a Bush-McCain ticket. Not only will Bush not carry New York, about the last person who would be of any help to him here is Gov. Pataki, having failed so miserably to be of any help to his friend and patron Al D'Amato in 1998.
Meanwhile, Al Gore is said to be seriously looking at House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt as runningmate. Gephardt has the unique distinction in American politics of being an even less appealing figure than Al Gore. Gephardt and Gore were both easily trounced in 1988 by that charismatic dynamo Michael Dukakis. Having Gephardt on the ticket, we are told, will help shore up Al Gore's base, for Gephardt is a favorite of organized labor. But Gore hardly needs to worry on that score now. Though there has never in U.S. history been an administration as fanatically committed to free trade as that of Bill Clinton, the AFL-CIO could not wait to lavish its millions on Al Gore, from whom it can only expect much the same. Gore, like Bush, is a creature of the corporations who will do very little to improve the lives of working Americans. Vice President Gephardt will spend his days much as his predecessor did: shaking down corporations for cash.
Gephardt has now displaced Florida Sen. Bob Graham as frontrunner. That was not hard to do. No one outside Florida has ever heard of Graham. And Graham or no Graham, Gore has no hope of carrying Florida.
Who cares anyway? There is one thing worse than an issueless election and that is artificially stimulated excitement over nonevents. There is not a single voter in America who bases his choice of president on who the vice president is likely to be. In 1988, for reasons that have never been explained, George Bush chose Dan Quayle as runningmate. Michael Dukakis chose Lloyd Bentsen?a textbook example of an ideal choice: a conservative Southerner balancing a liberal Northerner. Bentsen knocked Quayle out in the debate. And Dukakis got a drubbing, failing even to carry Bentsen's home state of Texas. None of this year's prospective vice-presidential nominees will serve their respective tickets any better.
Gov. Tom Ridge? Though he is famous outside Pennsylvania chiefly for being Catholic and "pro-choice," inside Pennsylvania he is largely known for funneling taxpayer money into football and baseball stadiums. Ridge secured $300 million worth of bonds to build four new stadiums, two in Philadelphia and two in Pittsburgh. But it is the state's taxpayers who paid for them, thereby subsidizing the corporations who eventually will rake in millions on the stadiums. Bush may still carry Pennsylvania, but no thanks to Ridge.
The time has come to pass a constitutional amendment to establish an elected vice presidency. There is no reason why a president should choose who his successor will be. For one thing, a candidate usually has no idea what he will do once he is in the White House. Secondly, he has no reason to believe that his vice president will not abandon his policies the first chance he gets. With an elected vice president the public will at least have some say as to who should succeed the incumbent. As it is, we are stuck with Gore for no other reason than Bill Clinton picked him as runningmate eight years ago.
Toby Young The London Desk
Drifting Eye One of the things I was looking forward to the most after returning to London after living in New York for five years was reading Private Eye, Britain's leading satirical magazine.
When I did, though, I found the experience strangely disappointing. All the old dependables were still there?Lunchtime O'Booze, Glenda Slagg, E.J. Thribb?but the overall package wasn't quite as funny as I'd remembered. I was expecting to find a whole new cast of characters in the stocks?Tony Blair, Posh Spice, J.K. Rowling?yet it was largely the same old faces. Did anyone really care what Julie Burchill had written in her latest Guardian column?
In particular, there was virtually no mention of the dot-com entrepreneurs who've successfully duped the British public into buying shares in their worthless companies. (If you think Salon is doing badly, check out the share price of Lastminute.com.) Surely, no riper targets have ever presented themselves in Private Eye's history, yet it was as if the magazine had been written by people unaware of the Internet's existence. Could it be that Britain's most biting satirical magazine had lost its teeth?
Ever since I first started reading Private Eye back in the early 80s, old Fleet Street hands have been complaining that it isn't as good as it used to be. I've always taken their criticisms with a pinch of salt, largely because most of them are former contributors who've fallen out with the ruling clique and, as such, are frequent targets of the magazine's satire. Nearly everyone has a sense of humor-failure when they're the butt of the joke. On the few occasions when Private Eye has attacked me, I haven't found it at all funny.
Private Eye combined humor with integrity in a uniquely British way, managing to expose corruption without the faintest whiff of self-righteousness. (The nearest U.S. equivalent was Spy, which was modeled on Private Eye.) Reading it, you could be absolutely sure that the writers had never been got at, and this confidence was linked to the fact that they were so funny. Only people who were shocked to their cores by the moral depravity of mankind could produce such brilliant satire.
I'm not suggesting that current editor Ian Hislop is in any sense corrupt. True, he's a fully fledged media darling with a starring role on a hit primetime show called Have I Got News for You, but he's very scrupulous about not allowing his television career to interfere with his day job. I'm certain he'd never suppress a story because it might harm his extracurricular activities. But the fact that he's been so successful inevitably takes its toll. In its heyday, Private Eye left its readers in no doubt that it was on the side of the underdog, partly because it was produced by a group of outsiders. Men like Christopher Booker and Willy Rushton?among the magazine's founders in 1961?were hardly no-hopers, but they weren't exactly clubable types either. Richard Ingrams, in particular, who edited the magazine from 1963 to 1986, always retained his rural contempt for the metropolitan elite.
Hislop, by contrast, is a consummate insider. He owns a large house in Wandsworth, a country estate in Kent and writes a column for The Sunday Telegraph. In addition to his work on Have I Got News for You, for which he receives at least £12,100 an episode, he's written for a variety of successful television shows. He probably earns in the region of half a million pounds a year. How can such a success story hope to retain the sense of exclusion that's so necessary to attacking the Establishment week after week?
In a recent interview in thestranger.com, Harper's editor Lewis Lapham made a similar complaint about the current state of satire in America. "A show like Politically Incorrect to me is deeply unfunny?that doesn't strike me as really good satire because there's a shift: Now it's the haves making fun of the have-nots," he said. Private Eye is still making fun of "the haves," but, like satire in America, it's no longer produced by the "have-nots."
I'm not saying that Private Eye isn't funny. In some respects?the covers, the cartoons?it's as funny as ever. Yet its humor lacks the teeth that once gave it bite. Private Eye today is a highly polished, professional product, but it's not the labor of love it once was; it's a successful business, not a crusade. It used to be able to prick pomposity with laser-beam accuracy. Now it's more of a blunderbuss.
Hislop is fond of quoting the following lines written by that great British satirist Alexander Pope:
What outcrops of wit and honesty appear
From hate, obstinacy, spleen and fear.
Pope's message couldn't be clearer: to produce great satire you have to have fire in your belly. Hislop may have started out with a chip on his shoulder when he took over the magazine 14 years ago, but success has mellowed him. He's not the furious young man he was.
Some of the magazine's defenders deny that Hislop has lost his edge. "He suffers from short-man syndrome," claims one of his former colleagues, "so he'll always be chippy no matter how much money he earns." To my jaundiced eye, however, not even his diminutive height has saved him from the enervating effects of worldly success. It's time he took a leaf out of Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen's book and passed on the reins to someone younger and angrier.
Taki LE MAÎTRE
Where Have You Gone, Mickey? The first baseball game I attended was in Yankee Stadium in June of 1949. One of my father's employees had the brilliant idea to skip work by purchasing two tickets (back then they were affordable) and telling my dad that it was my life's ambition to watch the Yankees. Old Dad had a soft spot for me, so off we went. The Yankees beat the Washington Senators, as I believe the Twins, or is it the Orioles, were then named, behind a rather wild left-hander called Tommy Byrne.
Now, you've got to trust me on this one (I do not know how to use electronical devices to check facts, and I'm much too lazy to do research): On one baseline was coach Bill Dickey; on the other Frank Crossetti. Tommy Henrich played first, Snuffy Stirnweiss second, Rizzuto was shortstop and Dr. Bobby Brown was on third. Berra was catching. Charlie Keller was in right, Johnny Lindell in left and Jolting Joe DiMaggio was not in center. I cannot remember who played in the middle, but it could have been Cliff Mapes. Joe Page relieved Byrne in the ninth and struck out the last batter. The Senators were not a good team, only slightly better than the lowly St. Louis Browns, perennial rear-enders.
Ah, those were the days. Each league had eight teams and Noo Yawk had three. Players wore flannel uniforms, and if they hit the Abe Stark sign with a homer they got a free suit. Ballplayers had winter jobs, wore hats and suits off the field and were freshly shaved at all times. The highest paid player in baseball that year I believe was DiMaggio, at $100,000. Charlie (King Kong) Keller, a particular favorite of mine because he had simian features and used to throw himself against the concrete walls, made something like $15,000. There were no helmets, players wore spikes and sharpened them before an important game, and trousers went just below the knee.
The fans, needless to say, dressed to go to the ballpark. It was a rare sight indeed to see a hatless man or lady. Only children wore baseball caps. Way out in the outfield, next to the bullpens, the bleacher crowd drank beer, took off their shirts but generally behaved. Cops would caution anyone swearing, not that there were ever any of them around. I went to about 50 games in my lifetime, all of them at Yankee Stadium, and never once saw a fight or loutish behavior. I stopped going to games in 1955, when I returned to Europe, and went only once since then, about 10 years ago, with Graydon Carter, his children and my son. To use a gross understatement, things had changed.
I did not become an immediate fan of the game, but when the Yankees won so handily in '49?and won the next four World Series?I was hooked. Youth is inspired by success, and the Yankees were young, good-looking and the best. Mickey Mantle came up in 1951; Billy Martin the year before. Martin made it on hustle, Mantle on talent. I also loved Hank Bauer because he was a tough ex-Marine.
Then, in 1956, at a Park Ave. cocktail party, I met Linda Christian. She was the estranged wife of Tyrone Power, later to marry actor Edmund Purdom, and had a reputation slightly better than Rasputin's, but not much. The reason for it was a young heir by the name of Schlesinger?or something like that?who had given her $2 million worth of jewels (something like $20 million today, perhaps more) until his mother found out and sued Linda. It was nonstop front-page stuff, and then one night Linda hit El Morocco and the town in general with a 20-year-old by the name of Taki.
Mind you, I don't know many 20-year-olds fresh out of school who meet one of the most beautiful and sexiest women of her time, and don't fall head over heels. The first thing I did was sell every gold Cartier lighter and cigarette case I had and blow it on Linda.
One night, following the Stork and El Morocco, Linda took me to the Little Club, a place in the 50s owned and run by a marvelous old queen, Billy Reed. He gave us the best table?after all, our picture appeared almost daily back then?and that is when I noticed Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle drinking in the very next one to us. Before I had a chance to tell Linda who they were, Martin got up, addressed me by my first name and asked if he and the Mick could buy us a drink. Although I knew what they were after, I gave in quicker than you can say hero worship.
Well, this is an old story, ergo it has a happy ending. (We know what would transpire today.) Both Mick and Billy not only acted like perfect gentlemen, but I think Mantle, to whom Linda came on a bit, made sure my feelings weren't hurt by paying me compliments. I invited them to come and dine with me at El Morocco the next day, and called my friend Aleko Goulandris, one of the greatest shipowners and greatest Yankee fan ever, without telling him who would be waiting for us there. They were both on time, charming and friendly and really, really nice, and we had an unforgettable evening.
But it was the last one. Linda ran off with the Marquis de Portago soon after?he was killed driving in the last Mille Miglia?Billy was traded, and I returned to the old continent for more fun and games.
So you can imagine what goes through my mind whenever I read about a pro athlete either shooting a woman or beating someone within an inch of their lives. Where have you gone, Mick and Billy?