H.L. Mencken on William Jennings Bryant and fundamentalism. A.J. Liebling on Graham Greene and anti-Americanism. Tom Wolfe on Leonard Bernstein and radical chic. Hunter S. Thompson on Nixon and Vietnam. Gore Vidal on Norman Podhoretz and seminal neo-conservatism. Connoisseurs of scathing, witty political prose cherish these brutal one-sided literary bloodlettings the way boxing fans do legendary bouts between the unevenly matched. As armchair sadists go, we're pretty comfortable with our darker impulses. We're not looking for a fair fight--or a long one. We want to see someone big take a horrific beating, go down hard and then lie there without moving. We want a sickening thud upon impact--the sense that the victim will somehow never again be quite the same person.
Matt LaBash may soon be capable of delivering that kind of damage. His work with The Weekly Standard has earned him the reputation as a talent worth watching. But whether our boy will actually stay the course and fulfill his dark destiny remains to be seen. Much is at play. For one, the forces of D.C.-shlock chat-show punditry won't leave him alone. So far he's managed to resist the siren call of the blowhards, but for how long can any American hold out when constantly offered the chance to appear on television? For another, LaBash hopes to do longer, deeper, more serious work. As admirers of the early Martin Amis will tell you, that could spell trouble for malicious-wit aficionados.
In Boston last week for the Democratic National Convention, LaBash proved a model of graciousness--not a trait invariably associated with high-IQ put-down artists, mind you. Perhaps it was their presence on hostile soil, perhaps it was the continuing horrors in Iraq and the ongoing failure of their president to grip the reins or articulate a strategy, but his fellow Republican males seemed oddly touchy-feely and maudlin as they staggered drunk through the streets of Boston in their blue blazers and khaki pants. LaBash met their solicitations of friendship ("You drink whiskey, right? Next year you got to come to the Preakness with us!") and alcoholic non sequiturs ("My wife, she's Chinese. She loves The Standard. She's Chinese, my wife") with masterful patience. That generosity of spirit extended to possible Democrats and the slovenly attired as well. When approached by a potentially belligerent stranger to do a Q&A for an alternative weekly, he smiled and changed the topic. When pressed again he sighed, nodded assent, picked up his drink and submitted to an interview at a nearby table.
What are you here for?
Uh... I got convention fever.
That like dance fever?
I'm sort of swimming round the edges. We've [The Weekly Standard] got a lot of people up here so I've managed to dodge the bullet of having to actually go to the convention each evening and talk to delegates. Instead I have to sit through these endurance tests like the Hip Hop Summit. I just did a piece this morning, "Getting Thrown Out of 'Emily's List.'"
What was involved in getting thrown out of 'Emily's List'?
Well, having a penis was, actually. I had one, and anyone with one was not permitted entry.
You have a great quote about how you're fortunate to have been in a profession where you get to be subjective about the failure of others to be objective: "We bring the pain to the liberal media. I say that mockingly, but it's true somewhat. We come with a strong point of view and people like point of view journalism. While all these hand-wringing Freedom Forum types talk about objectivity, the conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it actually."
Oh, God. That thing. That has haunted me. I basically became the whipping boy for every lefty-blogger moron in the world. It was sort of intended as a slight send up of my own side. It was from some JournalismJobs.com interview, and they asked the question, "What accounts for The Weekly Standard and Fox News' ascendance?" And one thing that sort of irritates me is-- it's not that I think liberal media bias doesn't exist--I just think a lot of conservatives use it as a crutch. Whenever the news doesn't go their way they claim bias; they claim liberal-media bias. Sometimes it's true. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It just means, you know, if the war's not going quite as you'd like it to go that doesn't mean that the liberal media is thumbing the scale. I mean, most of the guys were pulling for war--prior to war--because war was the good story.
I'm friends with lots of journalists from all walks, and very few of them [are noticeably biased]--most of them have a sort of vaguely fuzzy sort of liberal leaning. Very few of them are hardcore ideologues. Most of them, most of their ideology is geared toward: What's the good story? So when I say that about being subjective: We can rap them on the knuckles for not being objective. We can be as subjective as we want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it. Everybody, all these lefty-moron bloggers were saying, "Ah!" Like [it was] this great big a-ha moment. Like I let something slip. Well, I didn't let it slip. It was very deliberate. I probably didn't state clearly enough that I was just getting a little tired of hearing that critique [of bias] all the time. It's tiresome after a while.
And you really think people were pulling for a war because it would be a better story?
I think people were ambivalent about it. I don't-- No, no: I don't think people generally speaking--
I'm talking about a lot of sort of neo-lib-type reporters who would ordinarily bring a healthy dose of skepticism to anything the administration said. Look, the guys I work with at my magazine, you know, theirs was a deeply held belief and still is. I mean, they stick to their guns. [I've] got to hand it to them. I disagree with them. I disagreed with them on our own pages. But you know they're operating in good faith. They actually think it was necessary, and I think the jury's still out.
I guess the central neo-conservative argument, if you wanted to reduce it, was: 9/11 showed there was a pathology in the region.
A cultural pathology. It wasn't going to change. And in the global age with immigration and technology eradicating distance, everyone on top of each other, all these dangerous weapons and technology out there, this pathology made for a real problem. As was demonstrated by 9/11.
And we were going to go in and change Iraq. There'd be Democracy.
It would serve as an example and influence on the rest of the region. Help them democratize, come to terms with modernity, stop hating us, get things going. Calm down. Things had to change. They couldn't do it themselves. It [the war, forcing positive change from outside] was necessary to do. You think that was misguided?
Well, I think the security issues in question were legitimate issues. I mean there was every reason to believe that Saddam had been operating in bad faith. If he wasn't guilty, he was acting guilty. He had acted guilty in the past, and plenty of Clinton administration officials talked about the necessity of wiping him out, deposing him, well before the Bush administration got this idea. They did that prior to 9/11, so I mean you can't necessarily fault the administration for coming to these conclusions. My critique of it has been more of a rightist one, which is to say I didn't think we had the military to get the job done. I didn't think the objective was clearly stated. I didn't think that we had a very good chance of success. What are the chances of success of this brilliant gleaming democracy flourishing and flowering in Iraq? Probably not much. I mean if you read the stories, the small stories every day, which have largely gotten blown off page-one, it's still chaos. It's still pandemonium. You know, the good guys--the Shiites--are starting to buckle down and threaten and kill liquor-store owners. Never an encouraging sign for your democracy. You know: First they come for the liquor-store owners, then they come for you and me.
So it was oblivious to the Powell Doctrine we'd all learned: clearly defined objective, military overkill, support of the American people?
A lot of things Bush talked about during the 2000 election, he just sort of forsook those in the name of the war on terror. I'm as committed to the war on terror as anybody, but I just don't think that turning Iraq into a terrorist tree-house is necessarily the way to get the job done. You know if there wasn't a strong terrorist presence there before, there certainly is a large body of evidence to suggest there was footsie being played. My friend wrote an entire book on it, but lot of these connections were sort of incidental and it's just flat-out warfare. It's a blood-house. And I don't understand how we're ever going to beef up, or the Iraqis themselves are going to beef up counter-terrorism measures to flush these influences out of the country. Which means what? How does it end? I don't know. People say "What is the answer?" I don't know what the answer is. That's why I was reluctant to endorse it in the first place. I never thought there was a quick answer or would be a quick answer.
Does it become a question of competence? When you look at securing the borders, how many troop were deployed...
Oh, yes. I mean it's easy to fight that fight in retrospect. And there were all kinds of reasons to believe the Iraqi army would roll over. Because they did the first time, so why wouldn't they again? However they [the Bush administration] didn't do any of the things that would seem to logically follow their premises. They didn't. The Bush administration didn't appear to take their own rhetoric seriously. They expected us to, but they didn't themselves. If they did, why didn't they put people in greater numbers? Why didn't they secure the borders? Why didn't they do the things that suggested they thought there was an actual terrorist threat? You know, Bart Gelman in the Washington Post wrote an excellent piece where he went out with the weapons inspection teams, the people who were supposed to secure the high suspect sites. I forget how many of them there were, but we sent out teams that didn't have enough people to provide security so that they weren't working alongside looters at the same time they were trying to find these weapon caches. I mean that's preposterous. If you actually believed Saddam had these weapons and they could fall into the wrong hands, why wouldn't that be priorities one through 10?
Well, there was this idea that once we got rid of the evil leadership the people would greet us as saviors and cooperate.
But even if you thought that was the case, a lot of these same people thought there were nefarious influences in Iraq. And if those nefarious influences were in Iraq and they had the war telegraphed to them six months in advance and they knew where the weapons were located, they would certainly know how to lay hands on them and move them out of the country. I'm saying that's one of many things. The porous borders. Not having enough troops. Completely low-balling the trouble until last fall. Bombarding us with moronic cliches about how you would rather fight the war in Bosra than Buffalo. You know this cheap rhetoric is just annoying. If you're going to do the job, then do it. And quit selling it.
What about Bush and finance? You say "our side," the Republican side. What about Bush and spending: the idea that, at the very least, the Republicans of old balanced the books?
Well, I mean that's run away. But, listen, I cut them a lot of slack on [that] front. The entire agenda's changed. He's doing things that he never thought he would have to do. My critique is more, if you're going to write the check make sure that it can be cashed. I just don't think he's done that. I think he's committed us to this way without having any sort of end strategy
But you support Bush? You're going to vote for Bush?
I'm on the fence this year. I've voted Republican every year since I could vote.
When was that?
Eighty-eight. First election. I mean I've always been sort of reflexively [Republican]. But, you know, I, I have no dog in this fight one way or the other. I just don't. I'm completely ambivalent. Material-wise it might be better for Kerry to win. More fodder you suppose in an ideological magazine. However, you know, Kerry's no Al Gore as far as dealing out material either, comically speaking.
Despite your doubts and without intending to, you've, also, benefited from appearing in what's since Iraq been a very high-profile publication. I mean, if you had to pick the magazine that summed up the neoconservative argument it would be [William] Kristol's Weekly Standard.
Right. Yeah. And as I said, I think they make a lot of legitimate arguments. And they make tougher arguments. My masthead mates and--I'm not just saying that because I'm worried that Kristol will shitcan me--they make their arguments not only intelligently but consistently. And Kristol was out there very early talking about the need for more troops and saying things that the administration seemed scared to even consider until late fall, early spring of this year. They were very slow to identify the problems, and the problems were all sort of self-perpetuating after that. Security was sort of the one issue from which all good blessings flowed or didn't. And, you know, once they didn't have security, the Iraqi people lost the trust in us, and once they lost trust in us they weren't willing to flush out these nefarious influences that were in their midst. Where are all the stories on the retribution killings for the people who killed their liberators? I've read maybe one or two of those in a year and a half, and I've looked for them hard. They're not there. It's not happening. If it is happening it's happening on the Q.T. and no one knows about it. Why isn't that happening?
Why isn't it?
Good question. I don't know why it's not happening. I thought they were supposed to welcome democracy with open arms. One would think they would want to help step up and protect the people that are trying to get their electricity back on.
The Standard's Murdoch-owned. Murdoch paid-for.
So what do you think when you watch Fox News? Is there ever any fear?
Fear of what?
The Standard becoming more Fox News-ish.
Oh, no! No, no. Murdoch has not to my knowledge ever interfered in the editorial product whatsoever. I've never heard of Bill, of anyone complain of getting micromanaged by him. And, in fact, I know on several issues, at least, one or two they've sort of openly hit heads with him. There's been no repercussions to the best I can tell.
China. And stuff. But, you know, it's not like there's a red phone in the Weekly Standard: The Rupert phone rings and he tells us we crossed the line. He gives us real free rein. I think he probably subscribes to most of what we write actually anyway, and when he doesn't, maybe someone above my pay-rate's heard of it, but I certainly haven't.
Is it tough looking for comic material when the biggest news, the daily news story is soldiers being blown up?
Yeah. It actually is. Very much so.
So what do you end up doing?
Well, my biggest regret is that I didn't get to spend a lot of the time there. I was there in sort of the preliminary stage when the war had just taken off. We were in like the last flight that went into Kuwait that night before they basically shut down all air traffic. And we were not embeds, so we were sort of hugging the border and sneaking in and doing little stingers, and I had this complex family situation. My wife was really not keen on me going. I just told her, "Look, I'm going to be like a caged animal if I don't get somewhere in the vicinity. I'm willing to not take the embed." I got an embed draw. I didn't take it for that reason. And I--you know, you feel like you're missing a piece of it. I mean a part of you wants to be where that is.
One thing I'm not reading. I've read a lot of good journalism, a lot of ballsy journalism. There's a lot of guys out there taking amazing risks, but the one thing that's sort of frustrating in reading the coverage, especially if you grew up reading a lot of Vietnam books--Michael Herr and such--and this may be partly a function of it not being a draft army: You don't [read] pieces that give you that certain perspective. You got a volunteer army and they talk more like soldiers. They don't talk like... you know, they don't let it fly. Or you have to hang around longer until they let it fly. We're starting to see a little of it now. But I'm just not seeing, you know, good language pieces. Pieces where, you know, you got voice in there and you got their perspective. It always seems like everybody's sort of maneuvering and doing someone else's bidding. And I would've liked to have gotten out there simply to have done that, just to be able to really mix it up and camp out with the unit for a long time and really tell that story. Do something a little bit more large scale. And it's just--[laughing] I've floated the idea to my wife several more times since the war looked like it was going to go on a bit longer and, no dice, unfortunately. So if I leave her that's probably the first call I'll make, to my travel agent.
Esquire didn't have Michael Herr embedded. Maybe that's the difference.
That was the beauty, too, about that time. You didn't have these P.A.O.s [Public Affairs Officers] constantly breathing down your neck. I mean, everyone could sit around and make fun of the Five O'Clock Follies and have a good yuck and everything else, but, you know, these guys just got to basically hitch rides on chopters like they were taxis and see the war however they wanted to see it. I don't recall journalists being targets the way they are now either. You know, if [the New York Times'] John Burns, who is as balls-out as you can get as a reporter, says it's too dangerous to leave your hotel, that's an entirely different climate than war reporters operated in in prior conflicts. It's just not the same game anymore.
You spent time with Christopher Hitchens in Kuwait.
And Hitchens makes a very good case for the war. Okay, yeah, I realize a lot of this is attributable to the idea that if you're anti-Clinton all is forgiven, but there's something really interesting in the right-wing or Republican embrace of a professed Marxist.
Which is Hitchens. And one of the interesting things about that is, sometimes it seems there's an attitude, almost a postmodernism fantasy thing on the right. Like Hitchens is some bold Brit Marxist in 1937 who's been plucked out of history and is now on their side. Like this is some sort time travel movie. When, in fact, this is a guy who was a Marxist after the Khmer Rouge. After Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland. After Stalin and Mao and everything. He outlasted the Soviet Politburo. And these Republicans are pretending he's Orwell being outspoken in '49.
Who says he's being outspoken? I mean what's your take on Hitchens?
He's great on the war, but I always thought that Hitchens was a bit of a self-promoter.
Well, from spending time over there with him, I can assure you he comes by his positions honestly on the war. I've tried to shake him off the spot, and he's indulged me by probably not arguing me down as readily as he could. Since, let's face it, I'm giving him probably thirty I.Q. points at the very least. [Laughing] Probably a lot more. He'll sit there and let me yammer on and not come back too hard, but, you know, you can't shake him. He really thinks this was a moral way, and that's part of the reason I've been conflicted about it. I'm not willing to impute negative motives to the administration. I don't think this is some sort of politically self-serving thing. In fact, it very well might, and maybe even should, cost Bush the presidency. There were no guarantees. Even though they thought it was going to be a walkover, there were no guarantees. And they had [to] know there was [a] precedent to suggest there were no guarantees. A million things can go wrong when you engage in something like this--and they have. I think the administration thought they were doing not only the right thing security-wise, but the right thing morally. And it's just amazing to me how the liberals will give them absolutely no rhetorical cover on that. It's undisputed that Saddam Hussein murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people.
He gassed 200,000 Kurds.
Let's forget the '88 thing. Let's just talk about all the mass graves that really aren't reported all that much. I mean this guy was hideous. And, you know, while I have a critique of the war from a selfish perspective--was it in our best national interest?--I'm certainly not prepared to sit here and say there was no net gain to removing Saddam Hussein. And I don't understand why people think the greatest evil in the world is George W. Bush removing an evil man. It might suck for us. It might suck for us [budget-wise]. It might suck for us [in terms of] national security. But what concern is it of the Europeans that are grousing in this mass protest when they're not losing people on the ground? We basically took this on for the world as we do constantly. We gave them a gift and they're spitting on George Bush for it. Did I support it? No. But I didn't support it for different reasons, and I'm not proud of it for that because morally I think it was probably the right thing to do.
And the reason you're not proud of it--
I'm not proud of my sort of cynical objections to it. But I come to those cynical objections to it as a pragmatist. As an idealist you like to think a great thing happened. I don't happen to be much of an idealist.
Neoconservatism might be, despite all its vilification, idealistic conservatism.
Yeah. Very much so.
Well intentioned, proactive.
I think very much so. Absolutely. In some ways they've sort of replaced that idealism you saw on the left. Certainly in foreign policy. There's no doubt about it. The left right now [is] so wrapped around the Halliburton axel, as if we would wage a war to give some company sweetheart deals. Try to find another fucking company that wants in to Iraq. You know, who wants the job? Nobody. There's no barriers to foreign investment at the moment.
Let's get back to the convention. 6000 delegates. 15,000 members of the press. The results pre-ordained. Is it a bit of an anachronism? Is it just ridiculous now?
I think so. A friend of mine the other day said it was like a cooking show, and we're all here to make wordloaf. It's completely and utterly pointless.
Is that one of the reasons you're trying to go for peripheral stories?
Oh, yeah. I fully believe in cherishing and relishing and celebrating the pointlessness of it. There's absolutely no reason to take it seriously. I don't get people who sit there and sort of deconstruct the entire dog and pony show. I'm not saying it doesn't mean anything, but it doesn't mean enough that it's worth subjecting yourself to that for six, seven hours a night.
You're a spy in the house of love. What's your impression of the Democrats at the convention? Being around them. Where is the Democratic party right now?
That's a good question. I don't think they know where they are. Everybody who showed a hint of backbone or spine pretty much got flushed down the crapper this year. Howard Dean--boy, he was an amusing, interesting guy to watch. I would have loved to have seen a Dean nomination for obvious reasons. Besides his general tendency to appear unhinged, which is also good by the way. I like unhinged people. I like unhinged politicians. One of the reasons I don't like writing straight political stories is because these guys are just so practiced and paid to conceal rather than reveal. That's why it's kind of dull. It takes so much effort to get the kind of access you need to ever find any human there that I'd actually rather go find actual humans on the periphery, on the outside, who aren't as guarded. You might actually arrive at something. I'm not even talking about cheap pratfall, one-liner riffy pieces. It's just more interesting. It's more interesting that I can ask you a question and expect something approximating an honest answer regardless of your point of view.
How about the Republicans? They seem sort of surprised, which is maybe ironic after their years of attacking Clinton, by the animosity the Democrats have.
I think the Republican mascot right now ought to be just a man in a corner in a defensive crouch. Just trying not to get his ribs kicked in at the point. Waiting it out, hoping that the Dems don't really come up with an articulate strategy. And the Dems seem to be playing along. They're playing teamball with the Republicans in that sense. You know, you can't say that Bush doesn't know what he's about and what he's for. It's just that what he's for--the rest of the country seems to have turned on him, at least in significant numbers. So we'll see what happens.
Assuming Kerry comes across as a patrician stiff.
That makes him a bad candidate, but maybe it makes being vague and laying low a smart strategy. I know lots of committed hardcore social conservatives that are just not entirely happy with Bush. And it's not going to cause them any great heartburn if he drops this one. And Kerry doesn't have the scary gene that Al Gore had, that Bill Clinton had to some degree. There's going to be plenty of things to pop him for, obviously. There already [are], but I just don't think he raises the same hatred in conservatives. I haven't seen it this time around. I mean, you remember the identical cycle in 2000. Gore was a gaffe-a-week man--big serious honkey. "Oh, my God: Al Gore's doing this, this or that again!" From slumlord to lying about his prized heifer in the livestock show back when he was a kid. His little fashion makeovers. There was something every week. You know, just plain goofy. Kerry doesn't shake your confidence that way. He just seems like a milquetoast, not very interesting, autopilot candidate.
So the scary gene then is duplicity? You can be boring, but you can't seem to be full of shit. That's the scary gene for Republicans?
I don't know. I think most people think Kerry's full of shit. I don't think that's the problem. I just think...I don't know if it's just his solemnity or what, but there's...ah, I just viscerally hated Al Gore. I can't quite verbalize it. There's just something about him. It was the cricket bat rule. Every time I saw Al Gore on tv, I wanted to smash him in the face with a cricket bat. It was a visceral reaction.
And did you have that reaction to Clinton?
Yeah, I did actually. And I just don't have that reaction personally to Kerry at all. I think he's generally probably an honorable guy who's a bit of a stiff and is sort of tiresome when he brags about himself. He doesn't arouse the same passion and hatred in me. Considering that he doesn't, you know, I don't really care one way or another how this election turns out.
Bush's position on stem-cell research seems to be looming as an issue that could further alienate a lot of Republicans.
Well, for Ron Reagan, Jr., it is anyway. I think the only issue that people really care about this year--and I think the polls are pretty much bearing it out--is Iraq. That's the big show, you know.
So it's going to be an election about Bush and Iraq and then the Democrats will lay low.
Basically, I think it's a referendum. I think it's a pure referendum. And it's a shame that it's a referendum election and the other side doesn't present a clear alternative. They just don't. All the conservatives I know who have to go on chat shows and don't necessarily believe that the war is the right thing to do: They can pick the Democrats apart all day. Because the Democrats voted for the war. For the most part, they didn't have the stones to stand up last fall when I'm sure a lot of them did harbor natural doubts. I'm pretty sure John Kerry did. But, you know, he didn't talk about it. He didn't articulate it. He wasn't a passionate advocate--he didn't pull a Doctor Dean and really try to slam on the parking-break. Everyone kind of went down the shoot together, so whatever they say now is a retroactive defense strategy.
Well, they have to cover a wider range. Bush has people who are pro-war. Kerry has to cover begrudging pro-war all the way to adamantly anti-war.
And that's Kerry's curse as a politician. He's always covering his bets. That's the thing you could thump him for the most. There is no sense of clear conviction with John Kerry. But that said, I think that's probably about the worst you can say about him. And that applies to over 70 percent of all politicians. I don't think that's the critique you make of George Bush.
Yet Kerry went to Vietnam. Bush was for the war and chose to do his tour of duty in the Texas National Guard. Doesn't that say something about Bush?
Yeah. Of course. Definitely. And I think like Saddam [Bush is] acting like he has something to hide. If he didn't--there could've been a completely legitimate reason for the pay-stubs going missing. The guy acted guilty. He acted like he was hiding something.
Is he still acting guilty?
I think he's just managed to ignore it. I just don't think the press is really taking him out on it.
Who do you think's going to win? Who would you bet on?
I waver on that an awful lot. If I had to bet I'd probably say Kerry just because there's such an animating influence on the Democratic voters this year. Besides, you know, [their] believing they were cheated last election, they just hate Bush. And there's going to be big Hate Bush caravans on election day. They're going to get out the vote if they've got to freaking take your I.V. out and crawl on all fours. They're going to show up at the polls. I don't see that sort of passion when talking to Bush's [supporters]. I'm almost positive at the Republican Convention they're going to be wearing red, white and blue with bad haircuts like they always are, but no one is talking "I love George Bush" the way they were even four years ago.
The irony is it's going to be in New York.
Which is biting them.
I see a sense of profound ambivalence with all my friends that generally lean that way.
Is that an exasperation that reflects Republicans in the Eastern-media Washington, D.C. and not necessarily the--
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And I can't say for sure that if I'd go to an American Legion hall they wouldn't think we really kicked a lot of ass over there and did what needed to be done. I get that too. My family is much more pro-Bush than I am. We're getting into political arguments in my house for the first time in a long time. And I do think the people that aren't journalists, that aren't completely submerged in the little AP wire stories from Iraq every day--people who make studied efforts not to follow all the stories from Iraq--they look at Bush as an embattled figure that's beaten up by the liberal media. Yeah, they tend to side with him. I'm still not sure that translates to passion, however. There's a difference.
But when you vote you--
But these [Democrats here at the convention] are passionately, passionately anti-Bush. The fact that they could rally around such a mediocrity like Kerry with something almost passing for fervor when they freely admit they don't really care for him as a candidate just shows the depths to which they hate Bush.
If you want to look at history--who was the last person the Democrats were passionately united against? Richard Nixon.
And they didn't win. They were crushed.
Look, it could happen. It could be a squeaker again. I'm not putting money on the election. You just asked me who I'd think would win. I don't think it's Kerry in a walk. I think it's going to be really tight. But the scales tip that way because of the passion on one side that I don't see on the other. In behind-closed-doors conversations with Republicans, you don't hear good things about Bush.
So you don't hear--
You don't hear good things. You just don't.
About his behavior, about him personally--
No, not personally. Just the way it's gone. The way they've mismanaged the postwar situation.
Okay, you're having these arguments with your parents. What state do they live in?
They live in Maryland, but they're originally from Pittsburgh.
Where in Pittsburgh?
My mom was born and raised in Ingram. My dad was born in Southside. And they grew up in the Green Tree/Crafton area. They went to Langley High School.
Do your parents enjoy your writing?
When they read it. When they catch it. I probably get more positive feedback from total strangers than my mom. My favorite compliment of all time [laughing] was my mom saying, "Hey, Matt, I really enjoyed your piece. It was very concise."
Okay, you gave me Bush and Kerry. What do you think of Edwards?
But does he come across as a car salesman?
To me he does. I was never impressed. There's this perceived Edwards surge with his [alleged] political gifts. I just don't find him that politically gifted. I've seen his stump speeches and I'm just underwhelmed every time. Florida faith-healer. I can watch Kerry longer than I can watch Edwards.
How about Clinton, who won twice? Did he give you that same impression?
Clinton is really impressive in interviews and one on one. I don't think he's a brilliant stumper by any stretch.
Hey, he works standing up. What can you say? He's got a podometer. He's a real man. I'm tired of him. Although he's sort of receded too. He's not cock-of-the-walk around the Pentagon like he used to be; he seems to more on the defensive, but he's a great war-time defense secretary. That kind of pugnacious jauntiness is an attractive thing when you're actually convinced of the rightness of your cause. When you're not, it just becomes annoying.
Okay, okay: That's interesting. Because that's a review. That's entirely a very cynical media critique.
Yeah, yeah. I'm part of the cynical media. Yeah. I mean, you know, [deep voice] 'Sorry, ma'am.'
Ah, Cheney, Cheney. You know, it's the same. It's more of the same.
It's a funny rumor. Or the rumor of a rumor. That he [Bush] would dump Cheney. It's not going to happen. I mean unless Cheney kicks between now and election. It would be fun to watch some sort of olive branch held out to McCain. He would actually be a tremendous boost to the ticket, but every--it's like the worst kept secret in America how much those two guys hate each other. I'm not even necessarily sure that it'd be a positive Bush-bounce with the media constantly, critiquing, accessing and deconstructing every McCain grimace when he's up there on the platform having to play second-banana
How about Bush/Giuliani?
It's all a silly media walkup parlor game. It's not going to happen.
Tell me about the hip-hop conference.
What about it?
What was it? Where'd you go?
It was a community college out in Roxbury. Had a lovely chat with Wycleff. I was asking him fairly innocuous questions. Me and another guy. Fugees reunion. Who does his hair... Whatever.
Howard Dean's favorite singer.
Yeah. I forgot. I knew I forgot something. Too bad you weren't there. And then I asked him about this necklace. He's got this sort of huge diamond-encrusted lion's head pendant and at this point I think he was tiring of the questions, he tended to ramble on a bit. Much like I'm doing now. I think we had come off how he intended to become the President of Haiti and I asked him "What's the story with the lion's head? Is there any significance? What does it "mean?" and he said something like "It means I'm going to eat your ass." That's just a real conversation stopper. Where do you go from there?
He meant it seriously?
I hope not. You know, I got my ass out of there in a hurry though. I certainly didn't want him eating it.