Gore on the couch; Einstein on the beach

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

This just in: Republicans still lying about 9-11.

This too: "Alterman is God."

One last thing: If you look at the Parody Page of The Weekly Standard this week, you'll see them making fun of Al Gore, and yuck-yuck accusing him of having remaindered copies of Earth in the Balance in his office. It reminded me of this priceless profile of John "Normanson" Podhoretz, which contained this gem, among many others: "In almost a month, he's made almost no effort to move into his vast new office; about the only thing in it is a kind of mini-shrine to himself -- two shelves full of his own book, Hell of a Ride, about the Bush administration, alongside a history of Casanova."

OK, back to work:

I spent this weekend at the beach with (my family and) three books: I read Al Gore's The Assault on Reason (Penguin), Neil Jumonville and Kevin Mattson's edited essays, Liberalism for a New Century (University of California) and went for long beach walks with the audio, unabridged version of Walter Isaacson's Einstein, which was published by Simon & Schuster, here, but on audio by Edward Herrmann, here, a terrific actor who always reminds me of Franklin Roosevelt.

Walter's book is so good in every way it's almost criminal. What a thrill it was to walk along the ocean and, on successive days discover that after 47 years of, um, relative ignorance, someone could finally explain not only relativity theory but also quantum mechanics to me in a way that made sense. (I took a semester of physics for poets so maybe I understood it once before, but I don't think so.) I also got the thing with that fellow's cat. The thing about Walter is that he writes the way Bill Clinton talks. His intellectual and emotional empathy for his subject is boundless, but he does not play favorites. I found this bending-over-backwards stance to be a little annoying when I read his Kissinger biography, but to be fair to that, with the exception of the Allende chapter, he gave you all the evidence to hang the guy even if he wanted to let him off. With Einstein, Walter's empathy is tested by the pretty awful way he treated his first wife and his various delinquencies as a dad. But again, if you want to hang the guy, it's all there. No less important, the prose just bubbles along, making the most abtruse subjects imaginable coherent to people like me who don't know from science at all. And while the author does not shrink from value judgments, I noticed none that offended my own personal and political sensibilities, which, given my many differences with the former managing editor of Time, president of CNN, and present president of the Aspen Institute, is a remarkable achievement. You can't help loving Einstein nearly a much as Walter does by the time you're done. I don't usually find myself agreeing with America on the number one nonfiction book at the time, but in this case, I finished the book in awe of Walter's achievement. And the fact that he did it while having a day job (and a well-deserved reputation as world-champion party-goer), as well as being a dad, husband, etc., well, I gotta say it's annoying, but there it is.

By the way, Walter also makes a better case for Einstein's involvement with his Jewish identity and peoplehood than I've seen before, and is also good on his politics, and this new collection offers plenty of opportunity for follow-up. And The New York Review published this, but I've not read it yet.

Listening to Einstein on the beach and reading Al Gore on the Bush administration's (media-aided and abetted) Assault on Reason, here, worked quite well together. I can't say I learned anything from Gore's book that I didn't feel I already knew. Still, I found it bracing -- and exhilarating -- that a man who won one popular election for president and could almost certainly win the next one-wrote an entire book in which he spoke unspeakable truth after unspeakable truth. Aside from Bill Moyers and possibly Paul Krugman, I can't think of any figure remotely of Gore's stature to give such unambivalent and unambiguous voice to the true extent of the crimes against virtually everything Americans hold dear by the men and women who hold our government hostage to their own ideological obsession -- to say nothing of their incompetence and corruption. Al Gore was clearly transformed by the theft of his election victory, even if many in the media tend to treat him as the same whiny fellow to whom they felt so morally superior seven years ago. Gore's book is, in many ways, an implicit indictment of the corruption of our elites, particularly our media elites, for pretending that what has been going on is just business as usual. (And they will likely read it as such, and attempt to smarm it away.) Sadly, to read this book is to realize that this is just not a man who is planning to run for president anytime soon. He is having too much fun to want to president. (And putative presidential candidates tend not to quote Habermas, for one.) It's going to take America a while to catch up to Al Gore, which is unfortunately, our problem -- and undoubtedly our children's -- but not his.

Alas, Alan Ehrenhalt's Washington Post Book World review, here, provides a near-perfect window into the "Al Gore is right about just about everything, but I just don't like him, and that's more important than these silly issues like global warming and the war in Iraq" school of thought that dominates the mindset of the MSM. Ehrenhalt is more honest than most about it, save the fact that he attributes his own prejudices to everyone, instead of primarily the residents of Quinn-Broderville. (That was my invention, by the way.) Ditto, alas, David Brooks ($). (Expect plenty more of this kind of thing, and maybe even pajama parties with Chris Matthews and Maureen Dowd complaining about what a fattie the guy is ...)

The Mattson/Jumonville collection, here, is recommended not only to all liberals, but to anyone who takes political ideas seriously. While raising plenty of problems, it represents a mini-renaissance in liberal intellectual thinking. Again, the proper word, I think is "bracing" that liberals are again demonstrating the necessary self-confidence and sense of ownership of their country to be able to assess their strengths and weaknesses and disagree with one another without inviting accusations of apostasy. I think the unarguable catastrophe of the Bush administration's eight years of misrule -- whether you attribute it to ideology, incompetence, corruption or deliberate malevolence -- coupled with the inability of its cheerleaders in the media to disassociate themselves from their acquiescence in helping to destroy, rather than defend the nation -- has opened up a space in millions of Americans' minds to rethink their attitude towards liberals and liberalism. This book won't reach these people, of course, but it will reach the people who do reach them, and we'll all be better for it. One quibble: The word "liberal" is so elastic that it can be used properly and applied to both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (though not to George W. Bush). Therefore, I suppose Peter Berkowitz qualifies under some definitions, but if you read today's piece on the WSJ op-ed page, you'll see he really does not belong in the company of Brinkley, Dionne, Kazin, Tomasky, etc, since he is obviously unsympathetic to the entire project, as well as wrong.

The McCain Suck-Up Watch continued, from our sponsors:

Fineman "can't blame" McCain for angry outbursts because "his courage forever is being tested by his bad luck"

In his May 23 online column, "The Upside of Anger," Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman wrote that he "can't blame" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his propensity toward angry outbursts because "his courage forever is being tested by his bad luck." Fineman lauded the 24-year Capitol Hill veteran as an "outsider" and furthered the baseless media narrative that McCain is a different type of candidate, writing that McCain "seems uncomfortable" pandering or "overcompensates by being too enthusiastic."

Media flacks for McCain's false "flak" attack on Obama's spelling

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin, and other media figures uncritically repeated Sen. John. McCain's (R-AZ) attack on Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) spelling of "flack jacket" with a "c" in "flack," without noting -- as MSNBC congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira did -- that "flack" is an "alternative to the spelling of 'flak.' " Indeed, the phrase "flack jacket" with a "c" appears on dozens of military websites.

NBC's Reid reported McCain's blast of Dems for "no" vote on troop funding, but not McCain's prior "no" vote

On the May 25 edition of MSNBC Live, NBC News congressional correspondent Chip Reid uncritically read a statement from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attacking Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for their May 24 votes against a war funding bill that did not include a binding timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In the statement, McCain said he was "disappointed to see" Obama and Clinton "embrace the policy of surrender by voting against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan." McCain continued: "This vote may win favor with MoveOn[.org] and liberal primary voters, but it's the equivalent of waving a white flag to Al Qaeda." Yet Reid did not mention that McCain himself has recently voted, in McCain's words, "against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan." On March 29, McCain voted against a war spending bill that funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 51-47 and was then merged with a similar House version. Bush ultimately vetoed it on May 2, citing the inclusion of a withdrawal timetable.

From TomDispatch:

Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains. We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; of more modern architectural wonders, we have a clearer idea. Even our vast $592 million "embassy" -- 20-odd buildings on 104 acres in Baghdad's Green Zone -- turns out to have a builder. The architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation's world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah's Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed this biggest ambassadorial wonder of all -- an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration's (now hopelessly dead) vision of an American-reordered Middle East.

Not only that, but it turns out that, at BDY's website, the firm offers a series of remarkable, if previously unnoticed, sketches of this wonder, scheduled to open in September.

After a little reminder tour of the previous ruler of Baghdad's Orientalist-kitsch-melting-into-Disneyesque-Arabian-Nights-melting-into-terror version of overheated palatial architecture, Tom Engelhardt takes readers at his TomDispatch.com website on a media first, a little blast-resistant spin in sketch form through BDY's Bush-inspired wonder, its particular colossus of the modern world -- from the Pool House (and tennis courts) to the Recreation Center and PX.

All of this leads him to a question: What in the world does this monster citadel/base/outpost have in common with an "embassy"? In fact, he suggests, it reeks of only one thing: imperial impunity. Never meant to be an embassy from a democracy that had liberated an oppressed land -- from the first thought, the first sketch, it was to be the sort of imperial control center suitable for the planet's only "hyperpower," dropped into the middle of the oil heartlands of the globe. It was to be Washington's dream and Kansas City's idea of a palace fit for an embattled American proconsul -- or a khan. In the end, he suggests that it might best be thought of as "the imperial Mother Ship dropping into Baghdad."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John Stapleford
Hometown: New Castle, DE

My guess is that most people are misinterpreting your support of the fence concept. When I read the same pieces as the others, I did not see your point as supporting the fence. I would believe that you want to see anything that advances this nation toward a progressive society.

Therefore, we need to look at immigration the same as we do other sets of laws. Too many people believe that liberals and/or progressives are a bunch of lawbreaking drug users. It's good to see someone stating the truth.

I would state my interpretation of your opinion this way. The immigration laws are imperfect. Unfortunately, they are the law of the land. If they are not enforced effectively, they will continue to contribute to a society that ignores laws. That doesn't just lead to anarchy and violence. Just as seriously, it creates generations of citizens who believe that government is pointless.

All of my friends who are to my left on the traditional political scale seem to have given up on government. They use their energy to get around existing laws rather than trying to get the onerous laws changed. Until that changes, the best we can hope to see is current law enforced fairly and uniformly.

The fence is merely a means to an end. If the consensus of people more qualified than you or I decide that one would work, we'd support it. Otherwise, we'd support something else that would work better.

Name: Michaelm
Hometown: Rockville, MD

I like your solution for immigration. I would add that we should perp walk a few CEOs (Fortune 1000 only) for hiring illegal immigrants, that would reduce the demand. On the supply side, perhaps we could provide free birth control to Mexicans. I know, I know, racism, imperialism blah blah blah, but speaking as a father, if I had 5 mouths to feed at either $10 a day in Mexico or $6 an hour in California, no fence could keep me out.

Finally, be careful about suggesting a fence along our border; some sanctimonious former President might call it an "apartheid wall" and label you a racist.

Name: Peter Kerwin
Hometown: Lincoln, RI

Hope you're enjoying the latest example of the blogosphere biting Joe Klein in the tuchus again. Was he imagining that conversation with Congresswoman Harman? Did he not bother to confirm his claim that she voted "yes" on the supplemental? Did he think he could blithely toss off a GOP spin line -- "Voting against it means you're in favor of a precipitous departure from Iraq" -- without getting called out for it?

It was bad enough when he was peddling his nonsense in the pages of a major weekly magazine. Bringing his act to the Internet is only going to lead to pain and heartache for him, because he will find a universe of people who are unafraid to tell him he's an ass and who have the pesky facts to back it up.

There's a wonderful play by Tom Stoppard called "The Real Thing," which has a passage or two that I can't help but go back to whenever I think about Klein.

In this passage, the playwright Henry is talking about a ham-fisted protest play written by a convict named Brodie. It could easily describe Joe Klein's oeuvre:

"Words don't deserve that kind of malarkey. They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more, and Brodie knocks corners off without knowing he's doing it. So everything he builds is jerry-built. It's rubbish. An intelligent child could push it over. I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead."

Klein has built a nice little career disrespecting words and making some a host of arguments that even the dirty hippies of the internets can demolish without much effort. He should appreciate his good fortune in hoodwinking his employers and learn to be a little less touchy at parties.

Name: Jim Goydos
Hometown: East Brunswick, NJ

I haven't heard much about a very obvious way the Democrats could have turned the tables on President Bush in the recent war funding bill. Why not simply include provisions in the bill to pay for it with higher taxes? For every penny the president wants for the war, raise the capital gains tax, the estate tax, and the highest tax bracket to pay for it. He would have vetoed the bill but the Dems would have had the high ground -- we'll give you the money but you have to decide now how to pay for it. Why didn't we hear more about this approach?

Name: Bonnie Davis
Hometown: Fayetteville, AR

A standing ovation to Mr. Pierce! His translation of the nonsense spoken by our beloved President on Thursday, May 24, was the best I read.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I miss Stupid. I know you've put out calls before, but his economic perspective is needed here. I didn't always agree, but looked forward to his posts. As I do with Charlie Pierce's piercing wisdom. I'm grateful that Mark D gave us the Rosenthal-Pierce contrast on the silly exhibit of the creationists on this otherwise Pierce-less Slacker Friday, but I like Pierce-isms as fresh as they can be.

I gladly yield back the balance of my time to Stupid or Charlie or better yet both.

Name: Greg Hilliard
Hometown: Phoenix

My favorite part of Pierce's "Idiot America" piece for Esquire was this:

"And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and, in every real sense, sums it up: 'We've been attacked,' he says, 'by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture.' "

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