No There There

>> Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The brutal truth is that even a political scientist can sometimes enjoy a gossipy account of public figures, and sometimes a focus on people can reveal useful things. The Brethren, for example. Take the story of Warren Burger having his aides bring out an elaborate silver tea service for a picnic, to the great amusement of Rehnquist and his clerks; funny in itself, but it also tells you something about why the much smarter and much less pompous Rehnquist would become a successful Chief Justice while Burger wasn't. It's not a great book, but it has actual insights in addition to being entertaining (if sometimes of dubious reliability.)

Based on the excerpts and summaries, though, the latest Mark Helperin book not only fails to be about politics for the most part but usually fails even as gossip. If you can find any alleged "revelations" about the Clintons here that are simultaneously 1)interesting, and 2)not known to anyone with an even passing knowledge of the campaign, you're one up on me. Apparently, Hillary Clinton is a...politician! Who wanted to win! Who sometimes hired less than competent people! And who uses language that wouldn't pass muster at David Broder Finishing School! And journalists remain obsessed with her husband's sex life although it's no longer even colarably relevant to an active candidate's fitness for office! This is almost as shocking as finding out that Mark McGwire used PEDs during a time in which there weren't any rules against them.

And perhaps I'm too jaded, but I felt the same way about these supposedly explosive revelations about the Edwardses. Most notable about the excerpt is the casual misogyny; for the most part, Edwards is seen as an admittedly megalomaniac (A politician! With an ego! That may be more shocking than an athlete using PEDs!) but near-passive cipher torn between his stalker mistress and his insane wife. And, frankly, I don't really see Elizabeth Edwards as unsympathetic here. The authors seem confident that people who admired Elizabeth Edwards will be stunned to see the mask pulled off "Saint Elizabeth," but since I'm not 12 years old I didn't like Elizabeth Edwards because I assumed that she never swore at campaign workers. And with the possible exception of the not-very-credible alleged scene from Damage ("As their aides tried to avert their eyes, she tore off her blouse, exposing herself. “Look at me!” she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground,") I'm also puzzled by the authors' repeated assertions and insinuations that Elizabeth's reactions to John's infidelity were somehow unusual or inappropriate. The Villager mindset is very strange; we're meant to assume that a political candidate's infidelity is so serious that it should presumptively disqualify (a Democrat) from office, but if the candidate's wife reacts to being betrayed with anything more emotional than an angrily arched eyebrow, she can be written off as totally crazy. (Although, of course, women are in a Catch-22 here; as Hillary Clinton can attest, not being emotional enough about your husband's infidelity is also supposed to be very troubling.)

For reasons I may or may not get into in another post, there's little reason to trust the authors, but even if you do there doesn't seem to be much of interest here.

UPDATE: Even worse, they've forced me to agree with -- nay, actively applaud -- Lee Siegel. [Via Dana Goldtsein.]


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