Bush, Barnes, Brains and Beauty

Not much noteworthy political reporting in the major newsmagazines this week, though both Time and Newsweek have good coverage of the story surrounding Jim McGreevey’s resignation. (The cover stories: Cats, Fat, and Oceans (still).) There’s good stuff to be found in the Atlantic, however, where Eric Alterman decrees that there’s “gold in them that hills” — Beverly Hills, that is — for Democrats looking for the money they need to win national office. During the 2000 election cycle, the denizens of zip code 90210, who apparently don’t spend all their money at the Peach Pit, gave more than $6.2 million, the vast majority to Democrats. The entertainment industry has joined organized labor and the trial bar as “one of the three pillars of the Democrats’ financial structure,” Alterman writes. But, for the most part, the stars don’t pay: “they show up, look pretty, and on occasion even demand a check themselves.”

A different kind of politically active Hollywood type is featured in The New Yorker. Errol Morris, who has directed a number of documentaries, including the Oscar-winning “The Fog of War,” a portrait of Robert McNamara, is now producing a series of political ads featuring Republicans who have switched their allegiance from George W. Bush to John Kerry. Using the “Interrotron,” which he invented and “uses two-way mirrors to project his face across the lens of the camera as he interviews people,” Morris shot the spots without props or music against a sheer white backdrop, in an effort to make central the “unscripted ‘eloquence of ordinary citizens.’” After Kerry’s people dragged their feet on the project, Morris took the idea to MoveOn, which will air one of the ads during the Republican Convention, and may spend millions on them in the coming months. One possible spot features Texan Deborah Wood, clad in a red flannel shirt, saying, “I don’t like to be lied to. I can handle the truth. Where are these mobile labs? Where’s the W.M.D.s? Where’s the smallpox? If I were a mother of one of those people that were killed—the soldiers that were killed over there—I’d want to know. My kid has died because of you, my kid is dead in the ground because of you. I feel very betrayed. I feel like this whole country is betrayed.”

If Bush does lose, argues the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, there won’t be a silver lining for conservatives. Bill Clinton’s presidency, he writes, allowed conservatives to earn victories on three policy measures: welfare reform, NAFTA, and a balanced budget. But while Clinton was a “new” Democrat centrist, Kerry “is a conventional liberal who buys almost none” of the conservative agenda. And while “Clinton prompted a Republican landslide [in 1994],” Barnes argues, “Kerry won’t.”

Finally, Matt Yglesias of the liberal American Prospect says its time we learn from our mistakes. We’ve found out that Bush is unintelligent, he argues, and we now know, if we didn’t in 2000, that intelligence matters. “The job of the president of the United States is not to love his wife; it’s to manage a wide range of complicated issues,” Yglesias writes. “That requires character, yes, but not the kind of character measured by private virtues like fidelity to spouse and frequency of quotations from Scripture. Yet it also requires intelligence. It requires intellectual curiosity, an ability to familiarize oneself with a broad range of views, the capacity — yes — to grasp nuances, to foresee the potential ramifications of one’s decisions, and, simply, to think things through. Four years ago, these were not considered necessary pieces of presidential equipment. Today, they have to be.”

Pretty grim stuff. Bring back the cats and the fat.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.