The Right Coast

June 11, 2004
Times Book Review's Tantrum
By Maimon Schwarzschild

You can't be surprised, but you can still be a little shocked at the hatred that now pervades the New York Times, and seems to pervade many of the circles the Times speaks for and to. Here is a review, in the Times Sunday Book Review, of a book about ex-President Ulysses S. Grant, and how Grant wrote his memoirs with fatal cancer gaining on him, and how Mark Twain helped Grant in dealing with his publishers. The review is by one Douglas McGrath, co-author with Woody Allen of "Bullets Over Broadway" and screenwriter and director of "Emma" and "Nicholas Nickleby". (Why is Douglas McGrath qualified to review a history of U.S. Grant's memoirs? Don't ask; don't ask...)

The review opens, as perhaps a review dealing with U.S. Grant and Mark Twain ought to, with what you could call casual assurances of the reviewer's hatred for George Bush:
    When people speak of the "weight of history" I am not moved. The McGrath head has never been bowed with worry as President Kennedy's must have been during the Cuban Missile Crisis or as President George W. Bush's surely was when gas prices dropped below $2 a gallon, weakening key stocks in his trust fund.
Irrelevant and stupid, but no doubt reassuring to New York Times readers who might object to any Times article, on any subject, which fails to express contempt for the President.

But here are the two concluding sentences of the book review:
    If Perry's lovely book inspires us today it is not only because of Grant's heroism, but because of the shaming contrast his life offers with the people who guard and guide us now. They use the words he lived by -- patriotism, honor and responsibility -- as masks for their dark mischief, and they twist the language in a way that is a cancer all its own.
"Masks" for "dark mischief"? "Cancer"? This is the language of the paranoid style. It goes beyond political partisanship, even the level of partisanship that is now de rigueur at the New York Times and in the social worlds for whom, and to whom, the Times speaks.

It does seem that there is a tantrum quality to much of this hatred of Bush (and of "those who guard and guide us now"). There is an air of thwarted entitlement about many in the "Baby Boom" generation in particular, especially among those who were in college in the 60s and early 70s and who joined in the various protests. It is as though they expected to be in charge now. To "reshape the world", as they might say; or to bully and preach at the rest of us, and to feather their nests, as we might think.

And instead the country, oh so narrowly, chose George W. Bush. The Gore Campaign, especially the post-election Gore Campaign, which is the only one that anyone remembers, surely made this feeling exponentially stronger. (The Gore Campaign itself had a strong tantrum quality to it.)

Perhaps all this passionate intensity will now succeed in electing Senator Kerry. If so, there will surely be a lot more angry conviction against a President Kerry than there would be if the lead-in had been less toxic. But if it doesn't succeed, how and when will the poison and the paranoia dissipate?