Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Dennis Can't Get No Respect

Poor Dennis. He barely registered a pulse even in his home state in yesterday's Democratic primary. And it'll only get worse for him, now that the nomination contest is over, with Edwards dropping out. There'll be no more reason for Kerry to even pretend to engage the two remaining challengers, Kucinich and Sharpton. Now he can put all his attention where it belongs, on beating the dreadful Bush.

The Free Times' David Eden got another 15 minutes of national fame (the last came when his thoughts were sought out after the infamous attempted closing of the paper by its then-owner, the Village Voice), with a quote in yesterday's Times story about Kucinich's lack of respect even in his hometown. Times readers can't be faulted for thinking that all things Cleveland are just a bit dreary, if Kucinich and Harvey Pekar are their only guides. Neither seems to have mustered even a weak smile since the Truman administration. In fact, the game of media pile-on has begun in earnest. The Washington Post's stylish feature writer Hank Stuever poked fun yesterday at the "Nobody's Listening to Dennis Kucinich Show," noting the "increase in snackage" among members of the media while its Kucinich's turn to talk in the debates.

I know I should probably be upset about this, but I can't pretend that I am. As you probably know if you've been a reader for awhile, I'm no big Dennis fan. I find him a little too (actually a lot too) humorless and just plain lacking in some form of recognizable human warmth, rather on the order of Ralph Nader. And a small but illuminating scene which just unfolded a few hours ago on the Case campus reminded me once again of what I don't like about the guy.

A ponytailed militant in a Kucinich campaign T-shirt tried his best this afternoon to disrupt an otherwise interesting informal author appearance by Nation columnist Katha Pollitt. Now, to most of the world, she's a conventionally doctrinaire liberal, a useful tool in throwing stones against the establishment. But she apparently wasn't militant enough in her political critique for this fool, who embarrassed himself with a series of outbursts, reading paranoid rants against the media and the political order from his notebook, interrupting her at every chance. When the audience piped up and insisted that he let her speak, he responded: "Now, don't get nasty!" Then he began muttering under his breath.

I became an instant Katha Pollitt fan after watching how she handled it all. Rather than cut him off or use her quick wit to make him seem the fool, she engaged him as best she could for as long as she could. But--and this was the real surprise for me--she reached a point after awhile where she decided not to be cowed by some unrealistic PC notion of freedom of speech, which might have called for her and the entire audience to just put up with this idiot no matter what. After awhile, sensing that the room had had enough, and that the guy was clearly abusing his privileges, she lit into him in a measured way, just enough to put him in his place without being too severe. Knowing that he was beat, he shut up. And the event came to a close soon thereafter.

Chalk one up for common sense. But as a representative of Kucinich supporters, this boorish dolt will be a hard image to erase from my memory in this lifetime.

Two Headlines Say It All. As a relatively new convert/reader, I've found Poets & Writers Magazine an increasingly tasty treat, full of much food for thought. This story, about the Portland, Oregon-based writer Chuck P., who has built something of a cult following of late, certainly got me thinking. But mostly, I just appreciate all the care and thought that goes into the pub. Among my favorite things in the new issue are two especially apt article titles, neither of which I think needs any additional comment: "Talent as Persistence" and "Talking on Paper." That's what it's all about...

Take This List With You. Planning any one-tank trips in the Great Lakes region this spring. The ever-bookish Ms. Suzanne D. of Coventry's Mac's Backs points out a group to which she belongs, the Great Lakes Booksellers Association. On its website, you'll find this comprehensive list of all the independent bookstores in the region. My goal is to visit each at least once before I die. It's a long list, but hell, I've got years, right?...

Tell Me a Story. A friend and reader of Working With Words recently pointed out something that I'd never thought of. He noted that mine is one of the few "narrative blogs," which for some, perhaps, is an oxmoron. Generally, to blog is to write in bursts of bite-sized, quick-read thoughts. But heck, I've always figured this is just plain old writing, carried to a new medium, and just left it at that. Besides, my friend may only have been calling attention to my wordiness.

But narrative is crucial, I think. And it arises from an elemental human hunger, to hear a story. I'm not generally a big fan of the conservative American Spectator Magazine, whose founder Emmett Tyrell, Jr., has been resourceful enough to keep it afloat since founding it as an undergrad at the University of Indiana more than 30 years ago. He's recently found a new sugar daddy to fund his magazine, millionaire publisher Alfred Regnery, whose publishing house as something of the vanity press of the hard right in America.

Anyway, I digress. What caught my eye in the current issue was a dazzling lead paragraph in an otherwise workmanlike piece by U.S. News & World Report's Michael Barone. It went like this: "Tell me a story. That is what a child asks at bedtime, and what voters ask at election time. The power of a story, a narrative, is compelling in politics. Votes want to know how we got where we are, and where we are heading in the future: narrative supplies answers, makes sense of the messiness of everyday life and events. A political party which has a convincing and compelling narrative has a great advantage over the competition." Well said, and utterly true. Isn't that what really set Bill Clinton apart as the class of his generation of pols, his dazzling abilities as the most polished and compelling crafter of political narrative perhaps since FDR? They tended to compensate for all of his other, well-documented shortcomings.

And now comes NYU law professor Stephen Gillers, normally a sober, go-to commentator in national reporters' Rolodexes when the subject is the law. In this morning's Times editorial page, he makes a simple, eye-opening suggestion: with Clinton barred from ever again seeking election as president, but with the Dems dead-set on retaking the White House whatever it takes, why not consider Clinton as a VP running mate for Kerry? It summons memories of the almost tag team of Reagan and former Prez Gerald Ford, who came close to teaming up for a run in 1980 before Ford chickened out. I think the piece opened many eyes to an interesting idea that has more than a little merit, if only Kerry is secure enough to take on a #2 who might well overshadow him, and Clinton is egoless enough not to be worried about taking a back seat in order to win a larger cause. In the end, though, what would probably prevent that dream team pairing is money: Clinton would have to foresake all the millions he's now making on the lecture circuit. But we can dream, can't we?


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