By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Terry McAuliffe

A unified theory of Jan. 6, Glenn Youngkin and existential dread

Glenn Youngkin. Photo (cc) 2021 by Glenn Youngkin.

The Washington Post last week published a massive investigative report on the insurrection of Jan. 6 and its aftermath. The story is filled with horrifying details, but there’s little that we didn’t already know — that Donald Trump incited the deadly violence both before and during the attack, and that the people around him as well as nearly all Republican members of Congress didn’t dare to challenge him. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell comes off as deeply cynical, a soulless shell. His House counterpart, Kevin McCarthy, is depicted as a worthless tool. Again, nothing new.

Then came the elections this past Tuesday and the triumph of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in Virginia over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. We all sensed it might be coming, but it left me with a feeling of something approaching despair. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I don’t like McAuliffe, a Big Money ally of the Clintons who represents a lot of what’s wrong with his party. I’m not a Democrat. I don’t live in Virginia.

This post was part of last week’s Media Nation Member Newsletter. To become a member for just $5 a month, please click here.

As I thought about it, I concluded that my reaction was connected to Jan. 6. There’s been a lot of stupid talk about how Youngkin is charting a new course for the Republicans by showing that you can distance yourself from Trump and win. The problem, though, is that he didn’t distance himself from Trumpism. He appealed to racists with his false claims that critical race theory, an obsession on the right, is being taught in public schools and by running an ad in which a white supporter talks about how her precious child was so, so disturbed at having to read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” He also benefited from a story circulating in right-wing circles that a boy in a skirt sexually assaulted a girl in a school bathroom. The story was false, but it fanned the flames of hatred toward transgender people.

More to the point, Youngkin isn’t a Republican who’s trying to tear down Trumpism and build something new, like U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney. He’s a Trumper. And that wing of the party — which, let’s face it, is most of them — should be banished, shunned, defeated, consigned to the dustbin of history. Instead, voters are treating them as normal politicians, and the media can’t resist their primal urge to get back to business-as-usual, both-sides political coverage. It’s nauseating. As Jon Allsop wrote in his newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review:

Youngkin was too often characterized as a passive actor who deftly rode abstract culture-war forces rather than driving them himself, and hailed for his political savviness more than scrutinized for the substance of his message. As many media watchers have argued, that lens has failed much coverage of racial issues, in particular.

We all know that democracy is in crisis. Authoritarianism looms. It doesn’t matter whether you like the Democratic Party or not. At this point, it is the one major party that, for all its flaws, is dedicated to small-“d” democracy. The Republican Party, sadly, is seeking to tear everything down. The public should consider all but the  most anti-Trump Republicans to be disqualified from public office until further notice. Instead, they’re voting for them. And the media are more interested in what that means for the politics of the reconciliation bill and the midterms than for the future of the country.

Hold the uplift, and make that shower extra hot

9780399161308_custom-4ec8d3a4e862d4dbc42dedad106a97aecb8dda44-s2-c85Earlier this month my wife and I were watching the news when Patrick Leahy came on to talk about something or other — I don’t remember what.

Leahy, 73, has been a Democratic senator from Vermont for nearly four decades. Normally that stirs up feelings that, you know, maybe it’s time for the old man to go back to the dairy farm and watch his grandchildren milk the cows.

But I had been reading Mark Leibovich’s “This Town.” And so I felt a tiny measure of admiration for Leahy stirring up inside me. He hadn’t cashed in. (His net worth — somewhere between $49,000 and $210,000 — makes him among the poorer members of the Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.) He hasn’t become a lobbyist. He apparently intends to die with his boots on.

That amounts to honor of a sort in the vomitrocious Washington that Leibovich describes in revolting detail — a town of sellouts and suckups (“Suckup City” was one of his working titles), a place where the nation’s business isn’t just subordinate to the culture of money and access, but is, at best, an afterthought.

If you plan to review a book, you shouldn’t “read” the audio version. I have no notes, no dog-eared pages to refer to. So consider this not a review so much as a few disjointed impressions of “This Town,” subtitled “Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital.”

Mark is an old acquaintance. He and I worked together for a couple of years at The Boston Phoenix in the early 1990s before he moved on to the San Jose Mercury News, The Washington Post and, finally, The New York Times. (Other former Phoenicians who’ve reviewed “This Town”: Peter Kadzis in The Providence Phoenix and Marjorie Arons-Barron for her blog.)

There are many good things I could say about Mark and “This Town,” but I’ll start with this: I have never known anyone who worked harder to improve. It was not unusual for me to leave the Phoenix in the evening while Mark was working on an article — and to come back the next morning to find him still at it. The result of all that labor is a finely honed sense of craft that most of us can only aspire to.

As virtually every reviewer has pointed out, “This Town” begins with a masterful description of the funeral service for “Meet the Press” impresario Tim Russert, an ostensibly mournful occasion that provided the media and political classes in Washington with an opportunity to carry out the real business of their community: talking about themselves and checking their place in the pecking order.

There are so many loathsome characters in “This Town” that you’d need an index to keep track of them all. And Leibovich puckishly refused to provide one, though The Washington Post published an unofficial index here. For my money, though, the lowest of the low are former senator Evan Bayh and former congressman Dick Gephardt — Democrats who left office but stayed in Washington to become highly paid lobbyists. Bayh, with his unctuously insincere laments over how broken Washington had become, and Gephardt, who quickly sold out every pro-labor position he had ever held, rise above (or descend below) a common streetwalker like Chris Dodd, who flirted not very convincingly with becoming an entrepreneur before entering the warm embrace of the film industry.

Also: If you have never heard of Tammy Haddad, Leibovich will remove your innocence. You will be sadder but wiser.

Because Mark is such a fine writer, he operates with a scalpel; those of us who have only a baseball bat to work with can only stand back in awe at the way he carves up his subjects. Still, I found myself occasionally wishing he’d grab his bat and do to some of these scum-sucking leeches what David Ortiz did to that dugout phone in Baltimore.

Mike Allen of Politico, for instance, comes off as an oddly sympathetic character despite the damage he and his news organization have done to democracy with their focus on politics as a sport and their elevation of trivia and gossip. (To be sure, Leibovich describes that damage in great detail.) I could be wrong, but it seems to me that that Mark was tougher on Allen in a profile for the Times Magazine a few years ago.

Thus I was immensely pleased to hear Mark (or, rather, narrator Joe Barrett) administer an old-fashioned thrashing to Sidney Blumenthal. It seems that Blumenthal, yet another former Phoenix reporter, had lodged a bogus plagiarism complaint against Mark because Blumenthal had written a play several decades ago called “This Town,” which, inconveniently for Sid Vicious, no one had ever heard of. More, please.

I also found myself wondering what Leibovich makes of the Tea Party and the Republican Party’s ever-rightward drift into crazyland. The Washington of “This Town” is rather familiar, if rarely so-well described. The corruption is all-pervasive and bipartisan, defined by the unlikely (but not really) partnership of the despicable Republican operative Haley Barbour and the equally despicable Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe.

No doubt such relationships remain an important part of Washington. But it seems to me that people like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and their ilk — for instance, the crazies now talking about impeaching President Obama — don’t really fit into that world. And, increasingly, they’re calling the shots, making the sort of Old Guard Republicans Leibovich writes about (Republicans like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, for instance) all but irrelevant.

But that’s a quibble, and it would have shifted Mark away from what he does best: writing finely honed character studies of people who have very little character. “This Town” is an excellent book that says much about why we hate Washington — and why we’re right to keep on doing so. Hold the uplift. And make sure the shower you’ll need after reading it is extra hot.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén