Russ Smith

Friday afternoon at the office and the news from Washington was depressing. Outside, on 7th Ave., it was just as gray: drizzly, smoke pouring out of Healthy Choice and a guy grumbling about Rudy Giuliani's "shop till you drop" gimmick, claiming that the only items for tax-free purchase are pawed-over, outsized pieces of clothing. Sean Hannity, the meathead conservative talk-show host on WABC who sounds like he's never read a book, had given up on the impeachment trial after the news bulletin that Sen. Robert Byrd, that cranky "conscience of the Senate," called for an up-or-down vote on continuing the process. I'm in full agreement with Byrd that President Clinton acted shamelessly with his pep rally on the day of his impeachment, but the old buzzard's canonization is a little hard to stomach. Later that night, on a cable tv show, Ann Coulter ranted that Byrd's merely a pork senator who's had "every building in West Virginia more than two stories tall named after him."
Hannity can get hysterical (although his screaming match with Clinton lackey Alan Dershowitz several weeks ago was pure radio theater) at times but Friday's show wasn't one of them. He took comfort in sports nostalgia: Ah, where are the New York Knickerbockers of my youth, the Walt Fraziers, the Willis Reeds and Dave DeBusscheres. Hannity, about to weep, was in a fetal position, at 4:16 in the afternoon, after months of battling against shills like Sid Blumenthal, "Upchuck" Schumer, Terry Lenzner, James Carville and Hillary Rodham; it's sad to listen to a grown man melt down on the air. Minutes later, a less downcast Matt Drudge joined Hannity and agreed it's all over.
Could be they're right. Alex Cockburn called with a cackle on Thursday, asking if I'd like to boost our wager on whether Clinton will finish his term. "Not this week, Mr. Las Vegas," I said with a sneer in my normally cheery voice. "This is the week for Clinton, with his phony-baloney grab bag of socialist goodies that will never come to pass. But the tide will turn when witnesses are paraded in front of the somnambulant senators." Alex laughed, I told him to go smoke a joint, you smelly hippie, and we chatted amiably about the journalistic atrocities of the week. My bravado is now in question.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter was in Friday morning for an interview?he's a remarkably good sport, considering that I've called him a scumbag in print; then again, as a member of impeccable standing of the "chattering class," who's on tv every other night, I suppose he's inured to the odd sucker punch?and didn't have a clue about Byrd's upcoming statement. Who did? In fact, Alter's in favor of witnesses, and made for an estimable sparring partner. And now that I think of it, he got the best of me in a pointless but amusing prediction we both made about the presidential tickets for 2000. Something stuck in my head from reading the papers that morning and I ventured that Kathleen Kennedy (sorry, forgot the Townsend) would be Al Gore's veep choice, an impulsive pick considering that despite the magical name it's not as if Gore will need Democratic Maryland in the general election. Then again, Alter went with John McCain for the top Republican slot, a candidate I think will be out of the running?if Beltway reporters do their homework, no sure bet?even before the California primary that he's counting on to catapult him past George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, Andrey Slivka paced around his office, complaining about putting more meat in his "Skillet" column, now located in the broadsheet section of NYPress.

As I said, not the sunniest way to end a week of work.

It even put my ebullient buddy Al From Baltimore in a foul mood. He wrote the following note: "Republican prospects have never seemed as low as they do this week. I say that, fully aware of the roller coaster ride we've been on since January of '98. It's clear to me today that Republicans really may lose power in 2000. It's depressing enough that someone like Clinton is going to skate, and will be universally hailed for that sleight of hand; and that honorable men like Ken Starr and Henry Hyde will be vilified for trying to do their duty. Maybe they didn't do it perfectly, or even well, but they performed diligently and with integrity against the political tide, and now are viewed as creepy. Unbelievable.

"What's more, a few weeks ago we could take comfort from the notion that, even if Clinton walks, he'd serve out his term as the lamest of lame ducks. It doesn't look that way today at all.

"What's truly depressing is that Republicans are spent. They've got nothing left; impeachment has used them up. After Clinton is acquitted in the Senate, the Republicans have no standing to challenge Clinton. Borderline Democrats and Republicans will vote with Clinton, not the Republicans, with their eyes firmly fixed on 2000. Republican hopes now rest solely on the emergence of a major financial or military crisis, and who wants to root for that? By the way, if something bad does happen, look for the media to blame the far-right for distracting Clinton.

"In 1994 Republicans supported term-limits to help clear out a lot of the entrenched Democrats. We need it more than ever to clear out people like Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert, who clearly care more about their jobs than the principles and issues for which their party stands. Republican political strategy for the last few months has been this: be likable. Republicans are never going to beat Clinton at this.

"The Republicans are no longer the party of ideas. They used them all up and can't come up with any new ones. Unless they do, there's really no point in supporting them other than they're not Democrats, which is not particularly compelling. I hope Prozac becomes a government entitlement because a lot of us out there are going to need it.

"I say, time to start laying the groundwork for the counterrevolution in '04 or '08."

Not to be contrary, but I'd say Al ought to lighten up, have a glass of champagne and read Portrait of the Artist As a Young Dog to his precocious eight-year-old son. And I double that advice to Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, who, according to The Washington Post's Lloyd Grove, seemed downright miserable at the end of last week. Attending the 26th annual Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Arlington, Kristol was ornery as he discussed the current political climate. "The Founders were right to have a certain distrust of democracy," Kristol said. "The job for Republicans is to change public opinion, not to bow and scrape to it... The Republican Party is a stupid party. I like liberal Democrats more than I like mushy Republicans." Get a grip, Bill: I mean, I agree, I'd much rather have a beer with Charlie Rangel or Teddy Kennedy than the weasely Gary Bauer, but if I locked you in a room with Maxine Waters, Barbara Boxer, Robert Torricelli, Henry Waxman, Chuck Schumer and the dim Patrick Kennedy for just 24 hours, I think you'd snap out of it. Not that I think the reelection of GOP national chairman Jim Nicholson is an encouraging omen for Republican prospects in 2000, but this isn't the time for Kristol, surely the party's intellectual leader, to take his ball (and influential magazine) and go sulk at home.

Gary Bauer: This schmuck is an irritant. He's just as sanctimonious as David Bonior, is full of that family values crap, has never been elected to any office and now he's sounding off about other candidates in an effort to buoy his feeble run for president. He told anyone who'd listen last week, "I think George W. Bush would describe himself as a Bush Republican. I think Elizabeth Dole is in many ways a Dole Republican. If I run, I'll run as a Reagan Republican." Well, fuck you, Gary. Shame on you for denigrating former President Bush, an honorable, loyal man, and trying to pit a son against his father. If Ronald Reagan were in decent health, he'd smash this little bug of a man and tell him to go back to whatever church he uses as a shield for his petty, bigoted views.

And on the subject of spirits, I don't risk the sin of hyperbole when I say that the oily Pat Robertson must've polished off a case of near-beer before issuing his praise of Clinton's Happy Trails State of the Union speech and suggesting that Republicans close down the impeachment trial and let the felonious President go about his plan of letting the government pick its citizens' pockets even more egregiously than it already does. Robertson, who tried to muck up the '88 GOP primaries, said Wednesday night on his 700 Club show that Clinton "hit a home run" with his speech and "From a public relations standpoint, he's won. They might as well dismiss the impeachment hearing and get on with something else, because it's over as far as I'm concerned."

Just a month ago, Robertson, in a Dec. 27 appearance on Meet the Press, seemed made of sterner stuff. He said: "I think we're going to have a lame-duck president. I don't believe he'll have the moral authority that's necessary to lead and there'll be suspicion about every single thing he does, whether it's political gain or himself... There's deep suspicion about these bombings in Sudan; they seem to have been a mistake. So to put the lives of American servicemen in harm's way for the possible political gain of a presidency is shocking, and that's what's going on... So we're talking about the future moral status of this nation. It's a very important thing, and to me, censure is nothing more than a slap on the wrist."

All of a sudden, after Clinton's P.T. Barnum routine, and the mainstream press hailing Charlie Ruff's dubious defense of the President, Robertson is ready to pack it all in. Henry Hyde, unfairly maligned by Clinton's sycophants, didn't buy in: "We don't necessarily always agree with everything that Pat Robertson says," he told The New York Times. More interesting, however, was the sentiment expressed to reporter Richard L. Berke by Hazel Staloff of Brooklyn: "If Pat Robertson said, in fact, it's time for the Republicans to give up?and give in?to Clinton, my membership in the Christian Coalition is over. I don't think the party can be hurt when it stands for what is right. It can only be hurt when it compromises with evil." Well put, Hazel, and I hope you, and every other sucker who's been lured in by the hateful Christian Coalition, give up your membership. That would be a way for the Republicans to regroup, forget about trivial issues like gay rights and abortion and recapture the swing voters that can win the presidency and keep Congress under their control. Stay out of the bedroom, let a woman make her own choice and keep your grubby government hands out of our pockets and businesses: That's a slogan Republicans can win on.

The Boston Globe's David Nyhan was as giddy as a teenage girl getting her first kiss after hearing Clinton's speech, all but claiming that the United States now has just one political party and it starts with a "D." Read the words of the loopy Nyhan, who conveniently ignores every single act of perfidy that Clinton has committed in the past six years, and tell me that Robert Kennedy Jr. shouldn't be dispatched to New England to check the water supply there.

Nyhan writes: "Hammerin' Henry Hyde had to be throwing up on his recliner at home. Representative Dick Armey looked as if he'd just scarfed down a platter of bad clams. Rookie Speaker Dennis Hastert didn't know whether to sit or go blind and ignore the Prez when Clinton surprised him with a let's-bury-the-hatchet handshake before unloading his boffo speech." Excuse me for a moment of sobriety, but isn't Nyhan's cheerleading more appropriate for an afternoon's delight at Wrigley Field, watching Hillary's friend-for-hire Sammy Sosa smack a couple of homers over those ivy-covered walls?

I prefer my friend Phyllis Orrick's analysis of the speech: "I was stupefied and in awe. Every time there was a pause, there'd be a cut to another noble citizen. Where do these people come from? It was like watching a Rosie O'Donnell show or the Academy Awards. Rosa Parks! Clinton is a show biz genius. He was having a ball. I think we should have a pecker-meter installed in every presidential podium. I would bet Clinton's was bobbing that night. It was like watching a crack addict on a rush."

Last Thursday, an editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal was on fire, brimming with anger at Clinton's hypocritical, selfish campaign rally aimed at saving his remaining two years in office. The speech, the editorial read, "was not meant so much as serious policy, but as a kind of therapy for the Presidential persona, making him feel good during his 77 minutes before the camera. The speech was intended as a fire bell, calling on every imaginable constituency in the Democratic village to rally toward the burning barn of his presidency. Appealing to these old-style Democrats whose votes he needs to stay in office, he proposed that the government buy up the stock market (Jesse Jackson's dream come true), federalizing even more education policy (the NEA's dream come true), a buck increase for the minimum wage (for John Sweeney), adding prescription drugs to Medicare (an idea too expensive even for LBJ), a redundant lawsuit on tobacco (more billions for the trial lawyers)."

And Clinton is the man who said, with a straight face, that the era of big government was over.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, was dead-on in his reaction to Clinton's performance last Tuesday night: "Every time Clinton gets into hot water, he returns to his liberal roots. It is more than a coincidence. Clinton's big-spending allies in Congress have been the biggest defenders of his perjury and obstruction of justice. The new tax-and-spend proposals in his State of the Union address are a direct payoff to his spending interest allies so that they won't be tempted to remove him from office. If Al Capone did this it would be considered bribing the jury."

I've heard worse speeches from Clinton?his '92 acceptance speech at Madison Square Garden comes to mind?but I won't argue with the opening lines of the Journal's editorial: "It was the most shameless State of the Union speech any President has ever delivered." Nyhan chortled in his Friday column: "You can always tell how well Clinton is doing by how viperish gets the Journal. Get the ice buckets and hose down the editorial pen, fellas..." One writer at the Journal told me: "Nyhan's is not a rational argument. I'm ignoring him."

But Nyhan doesn't stop at the paper he ridicules for "sell[ing] itself as 'the daily diary of the American dream.'" He moves on to the Times' William Safire: "Veteran Republican water-carriers like William Safire have been through GOP capsizings before. Brother Safire's postspeech column retreated to the relative safety of linguistic esoterica. Brother Bill, like any prudent passenger on the runaway GOP train, moves away from the locomotive as it draws near the derailment."

David Nyhan is clearly relishing the current turn of events so lustily that it seems churlish to throw water in his face and tell him to wake up, but is it folly to ask why a grown man could be so supportive of a president who's been such a destructive chameleon? I assume Nyhan is a Bonior/Gephardt liberal: In that case, why is he stumping for a man who presided over the execution of a retarded black man in 1992 as political cover; who distorted the record of Paul Tsongas, the former senator of Nyhan's home state; who passed a welfare bill that was anathema to liberals; expressed allegiance to gays in the military, but has done nothing to help them (in fact, more gays were discharged from the military in the last fiscal year than any since 1987); and who schmoozed with GOP fatcats in Texas several years ago, telling them that he, too, wanted to cut taxes? This speech was meant to shore up Clinton's liberal base. Is Nyhan stupid enough to believe that the President, until recently an admitted liar, will ever pass any of the legislation he proposed in his Coney Island State of the Union address? Sure, it's a pleasure to defeat the supposed GOP demons, but to what end? To protect a man who lied to his family, staff and country? I suspect and hope Nyhan will have one whopping hangover in just a few months.
Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit The New York Times' editors are happy. Or were. In the bulldog edition of the Sunday paper that I read on Saturday night?even though the news section had a long outtake on Monica Lewinsky's sudden summons to testify before the House managers in Washington?the lead editorial was smug, delighted that its opinions had been justified. Sen. Robert Byrd, he the man! The conclusion to its editorial read: "Once the case is dismissed, the trial is adjourned or Mr. Clinton is acquitted, the Senate can and should draft a resolution condemning Mr. Clinton. The time to conclude this case is surely at hand." But we'll just see what Henry Hyde and Ken Starr have to say about that.
Maureen Dowd, the Times columnist who kicked Clinton almost every week in the early stages of Oralgate, but then found love in Hollywood and not-so-subtly changed her tone, is happy too. She was writing on deadline, so, reasonably convinced that the trial was near its end, she felt free to blast the President again, although with her Michael Douglas-tinted prose. Although the premise of her "Liberties" column on Sunday is almost a direct lift from the conclusion of Primal Fear?a forgettable courtroom drama save Edward Norton's dynamic performance?it was still pretty funny.

Under the headline "King of the World," Dowd gave Clinton's reaction to the trial's sudden conclusion. Sure, she employs the cliche of bongo drums and Cohiba cigars that every pundit will in the next two weeks, but read on.

"The celebration began the instant the Senate dropped impeachment charges against Mr. Clinton and took up a censure resolution against Henry Hyde and his House managers, condemning them as bozos who dared to waste the upper chamber's valuable time with a persecution based on the bogus premise that low sex is a high crime.

"Mr. Clinton strode through the revelers to say a few words, 'Now we know what the definition of "is" is,' he roared with a grin. 'I is off the hook.' Let me begin by expressing heartfelt thanks to my friends and co-conspirators here?Geraldo, Whoopi, Barney, Betty, Vernon, Dale, Quintus Robertus Byrdus, Larry Flynt and all you Baldwin brothers...

"'And I'm so happy I don't have to fake remorse anymore. Now I can concentrate on real remorse?feeling sorry for myself... Starr was obsessed with me. But who isn't? To tell the truth, he wasn't completely off-base. I lied. Hey, that wasn't so hard. I lied! I lied! Even spending $50 million, though, he did miss a few things. First, I did inhale. Second, I did evade the draft. I flat out didn't want to be marching around some courtyard in Fayetteville when I could be up at Yale. And Gennifer Flowers? Yup, lots of times...

"'My good friend Sidney Blumenthal is working on repealing the 22nd Amendment so I can have a third term. I not only want to build that bridge to the 21st century. I want to walk over it. It's the least I deserve, after all the time those Republican meanies have stolen from me. I want my four years back.'"

And so on. Sadly, Dowd is right on the mark. The Luckiest Man Alive has probably done it again. Let's just see if Hyde's latest wrinkle can at least stall the inevitable and cause Clinton some pain to share with his pod Democrats.

It was a delight to see that other newspaper columnists, writing before the GOP's surprise Monica card, were almost unanimously exulting in the prospect of the trial's speedy conclusion. The Boston Globe's Thomas Oliphant, toasting former Sen. Dale Bumpers' cornpone-filled speech to the Senate last Sunday, quoted Clinton's colleague from Arkansas. "'I'll tell you what [perjury] is: It's wanting to win too badly.' Bull's eye."

Mary McGrory, in The Washington Post, was no less enthusiastic about Bumpers, who appeared after Clinton said, "You gotta do it, Dale." She wrote: "He scolded them about their lack of compassion for Clinton and his family... He talked about Hamilton and Madison as if he knew them well." McGrory says Bumpers humbly noted that it was "The most gratifying moment of my life."

Also in Sunday's Post, a dissenting voice, that of David Broder. The veteran journalist believes that Byrd's motion of an up-or-down vote is premature and will divide the Senate, and country, with party-line rancor. He wants to hear at least one witness: Betty Currie. "Everyone who knows Betty Currie knows she is honorable and upright to her core. Appearing before the Senate would be an ordeal for her. But she has the opportunity?and maybe even an obligation?to help her country end this mess with something other than a partisan vote."

The Baltimore Sun's lead editorial on Sunday was perplexing, as usual, urging the Senate to dismiss the House impeachment the following day. It goes on to say: "Senators should do what is right, not what is popular. But House managers have been urging Senate Republicans to do what is wrong, inviting voter retribution in the next election." I agree that the Senate should do what is right, which means bringing the trial to a fair conclusion; if it were following popular opinion, which inexplicably favors President Clinton, the trial would've been short-circuited by now. As for "voter retribution," c'mon: This exercise won't be remembered a year from now, even if another Clinton scandal doesn't explode, which is unlikely.

In Mort Zuckerman's Daily News, the owner got his money's worth in protecting his Hamptons pal Clinton. Stanley Crouch, a sillier and sillier writer, called the Republicans "dinosaurs," and Lars-Erik Nelson, who urged the President to resign just months ago, said that Henry Hyde was engaging in "suicidal zealotry." That commentary should ensure Mort a seat at Clinton's thank-you dinner for compliant publishers.

Also in the News, Michael Daly offered a different take. He wrote about Buffalo's Republican Rep. Jack Quinn, who watched the Super Bowl with Clinton in '97, "eating pizza and quesadillas as they laughed and talked football and politics." But Quinn voted for impeachment last November. At the State of the Union Address, as Clinton made his way to the podium, Quinn stuck out his hand: The First Liar snubbed him. According to Daly, Clinton was heard to say on the day of his impeachment: "Our friend Jack Quinn?let's see how he enjoys it when we go to Buffalo the day after the State of the Union." And indeed, Daly writes, local Democrats last week in Buffalo were handing out "Impeach Quinn" bumperstickers.

Bill Kristol had recovered his equilibrium by the time of his appearance on the Sam & Cokie show on Sunday, and made the obvious point that short-circuiting the impeachment process is a miscarriage of justice; whether or not Clinton is acquitted, the trial isn't a joke and shouldn't be treated that way. Al From Baltimore e-mailed me shortly after: "Kristol was brilliant. He articulated the reasons for my unease?that the Clinton way may endure beyond his Oval Office tenure through a combination of Wall Street-economics and left-wing identity politics. Republicans don't have a clue how to respond. Unlike Kristol, George Will, while making the point that the GOP has to learn to combat Democrats stealing their ideas, has all but thrown in the towel on impeachment. Too bad. As for Maureen Dowd's column in the Times, I read it and puked. She's everything that's wrong with pundits: on the one hand, but on the other... The column was shameless given what she's written in the past three months."

On Sunday's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked eight senators their reaction to the infamous tape of Clinton wagging his finger at his fellow Americans last year, claiming he didn't do it with Monica. Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, said: "He should resign. He should have resigned months ago, but he will never resign. He doesn't respect the presidency." Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, on the other hand, was more forgiving: "You know, Tim, I think the American people are so far ahead of us on this. It's been said the American people can abide sin but not hypocrisy, and I think the American people say, 'Look, don't focus on the sin, focus on repentance.'"

When George next gets around to one of its tired "10 Most Stupid Senators" roundups, if there's any justice Harkin will be number one. Clinton is the most hypocritical president this country has ever elected. Even Hillary would agree with that.

It bears repeating for the umpteenth time that the impeachment trial is not just about sex or petty lying. It's a culmination of all the misdeeds, many criminal, that President Clinton has committed in his six-year administration. That the country in general, and Congress in particular, is anesthetized to his behavior is lamentable, but surely not a reason to jettison the process. It's about the law and how one president, accompanied by eager-to-please aides, has sullied it. No, Bill Clinton is not "below" the law, a line that a partisan media feeds to a bored public, but his criminal acts are so egregious he must be held accountable. Does it not matter anymore that Clinton traded missile technology to the Chinese for campaign funds in the 1996 election? Is it irrelevant that more than 900 FBI files were in the possession of a low-level government employee no one seems to remember hiring? Or that "missing" documents sought by prosecutors suddenly appear in the First Family's living quarters at the White House? Is it safe for the nation that a health-impaired attorney general has gone mute on investigating numerous allegations against her boss and his subordinates? These are all questions that must be examined before the country "gets it all over with."

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Monday: "Senator Byrd, like others, professes to believe that dismissal would 'promptly end this sad and sorry time for our country' and begin a 'process of healing.' What planet have such people been living on these past six years? This is not a matter of a President happening to fall for a 21-year-old temptress, but an ingrained habit of lying. Bill Clinton conducts politics at the level he does because it has never occurred to him to do otherwise... [T]he Senate will end nothing by sweeping the current mess under the rug. It has to go to the source of the problem, which is not the House managers or Kenneth Starr or a 'vast right-wing conspiracy.' The source lies in the psyche and personality of William Jefferson Clinton; there is only one way the Senate can promptly put 'it' behind us. To wit, render an impeachment conviction and hope that President Gore will take care that the laws be faithfully executed."
A Well-Earned Tonic So on the night that President Clinton was pondering his sudden good fortune, thanks to doddering old Sen. Byrd, Mrs. M and I celebrated Mike Gentile's 42nd birthday at Il Nido, a fine and fancy Italian restaurant in midtown. I don't imagine Al Gore was in such a good mood?incumbency would've given him a leg up in 2000?but for a few hours I put aside the squabbles in DC and concentrated on Il Nido's excellent food and Mike's stand-up routine at the table. He's looking for a new place to live?leaving Tribeca after 10 years?and is going through the horrific ordeal of deciphering the spin of snaky brokers and fraudulent real estate ads. "I can't believe the bullshit you have to put up with," Mike fairly spat out for everyone to hear. "Empire State view. Who cares? I look at the building all day," referring to his cozy lair in the art department at 333. "And cobblestone streets? That's a detraction to me. Like I want to hear the clippity-clop of horses outside my window as if it's 1860 or something?"
Il Nido's an old-school restaurant, still using hot plates to make theatric presentations of dishes before your table. It took five waiters, assembled like doctors performing open-heart surgery, to prepare my sausages with tomatoes and peppers, and a side dish of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce. It was a robust entree, and compensated for a stingy starter of hot antipasto?two clams oregano, two shrimp and a lone spiedini, a chintzy portion for $16?and I had no room, as usual, for dessert.

Mrs. M. was delighted with her rich Caesar salad, even as Mike described a scat video clip he'd seen on the Web that day?and bookmarked?while he downed layer upon layer of bresaola with arugula. Between courses he told stories of being force-fed castor oil as a kid, the skank cold, black coffee we all drank with relish at the old City Paper offices in Baltimore and the deplorable conditions of our overcrowded men's room at 333. Mike's veal chop met with his approval, even as he pushed aside the lettuce, tomato and onion salad atop the butterflied chop; and Mrs. M almost finished her grilled salmon, a sign that she, too, was ready to give Il Nido a thumbs up.

The waiter turned comical when it was time for dessert, laughing when Mike asked for a cannoli or spumoni, like he was at a Carvel in the suburbs: "No sir, at Il Nido we serve gelato, like in Italy." He turned to me for an order and when I simply said, "Nothing for me," he winked and laughed, "We don't have that here, professor," a line I'm sure he uses 10 times a night. Don't know why, but we were seated in the Japanese room: Every table, save one where some May-December clandestine dinner was going on, was populated with our brothers and sisters from the Land of the Rising Sun, stopping in, no doubt, after a full three hours at Hermes. And who says the yen has run its course?
The Observer Comes of Age It's invigorating to be in commercial competition with a newspaper that I actually look forward to reading. This hasn't always been the case: The Voice has been a dud since the mid-70s, the community papers have never mattered and it's only recently that The New York Observer has broadened its scope beyond an embarrassing fascination with the internal bickering at the Conde Nast building, Donald Trump, Todd Oldham and Alan Greenspan to offer a compelling product nearly every week. Sure, there's the odious Conason?but you get the sense that that tarnished journalist has been muted in his own pages?and the sick-as-a-dog Anne Roiphe, but I'm sure that New Yorkers feel the same way about some of NYPress' writers, even the all-knowing, all-powerful MUGGER.
Seriously, one of last week's Observer editorials was a scorcher, carving up President Clinton and Jesse Jackson in six acid-rain paragraphs. The opinion begins: "On a day when the United States Senate was hearing evidence in the impeachment trial of William ('I Never...') Clinton, at the beginning of a weekend honoring the birthday of a man who dreamed of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character, the President and the Rev. Jesse ('Hymietown') Jackson came to the financial district to deliver lectures about ethics and morality and other such high-minded business. What a curious blend of hypocrisy."

This was written before Clinton's Buffalo bonanza of fans, who wanted to see the man who played Barney the Dinosaur the night before in his State of the Union address, but still, the following point is a good one. "Clearly, there are but two places in this nation where the President can continue to speak with any moral authority," namely, Hollywood and New York. Why people in this city are so enamored of the President is a mystery: After all, as the Post's Deborah Orin pointed out last week, the city always gets screwed by Clinton's economic proposals, tax-wise, while states like Arkansas (surprise!) reap a windfall, but New Yorkers are an eccentric lot.

As for the charlatan whom mainstream reporters like to condescend to by simply calling him "Jesse" (after all, some of their best friends are shvartzers), the Observer continued: "If anybody but a black minister who plays on white liberal guilt had voiced such out-and-out anti-Semitism, you can be sure that Wall Street would turn its collective back. But Mr. Jackson gets a pass, apparently because he's such a forceful spokesman for the politics of victimization. Mr. Jackson, an opportunist of astonishing versatility (he went from outcast to Presidential spiritual adviser with breath-taking speed), knows exactly how to play the Wall Street crowd?he takes them for suckers and, more often than not, they prove him right."

And it can now be revealed that some Observer writers have a sense of humor! Reacting to a recent column of mine, one of them wrote back: "Staid quarters? This place is cah-ray-zeee! What with the transvestite receptionist, Arthur Carter's velvet swing and downtown celebrities like Harmony Korine constantly dropping by to hang out at the titanium-wall cappuccino bar in the basement to talk turkey about the future of the paper, it's hard to get the younger staffers to concentrate on the Wednesday morning ritualistic reading of Todd Gitlin's column." Now that's Pulitzer material.

In last week's issue, Ron Rosenbaum, the "Edgy Enthusiast" columnist for the paper, wrote a brilliant piece on the impeachment trial, Watergate, his interruption of Henry Hyde's breakfast one morning to harass him about the racist CCC group and the monumental mistake New Hampshire voters made in '92 by choosing Bill Clinton over the noble Bob Kerrey. (The fact that near-favorite son Paul Tsongas actually won that primary is besides the point.) It's a spellbinding piece of journalism and even though I don't agree with fully half of it?Rosenbaum dismisses most Republicans as tools of the Christian Coalition?it's every bit as important as the long outtakes Phil Weiss has published in the Observer on the underbelly of corrupt Arkansas politics.

Rosenbaum writes about sitting in the Senate gallery two weeks ago, watching the boring proceedings (he must've missed Lindsey Graham's presentation) and recalls another visit, a few years ago. "But I don't want to sound like a knee-jerk cynic because the last time I was sitting here, in the Senate gallery, I witnessed a genuine?regrettably overlooked?profile in courage: Senator Bob Kerrey standing up, virtually alone, to oppose a craven, hysterical and hypocritical bill proposed by Senate liberals (led by the unctuous opportunist Joe Biden) to enact a ban on flag-burning into law... The Democrats supporting the Biden bill were supreme hypocrites who didn't believe in it for a minute but thought it might give them cover on the record so they could then take a stand against an even more noxious and demagogic constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. But Bob Kerrey didn't need political cover for his act of courage and dissent. He just stood up and did it. Stood up on one artificial and one flesh-and-bone foot, having lost a lower leg in the Navy Seal operation which won him the Congressional medal of honor for bravery under fire. Stood up and told the Joe Bidens and the other temporizers and equivocators with the First Amendment that when he took a hit, he wasn't taking it for a piece of cloth, he was fighting for his buddies, for his friends and his family, and for the kind of country that is not threatened by dissent, not 'frightened by flag-burning.'"

Rosenbaum meanders along, trashing Clinton, stomping on "that smug, meretricious suck-up 'documentary' called The War Room which made heroes out of the smarmy enablers who...gave credence to Mr. Clinton's lies while he raced home" to execute Rickey Ray Rector. "Bob Kerrey was the road not taken in the snowy New Hampshire woods." 

Rosenbaum's story, and prose, is so compelling that I forgive him for being behind in current events, not realizing when he wrote the following paragraph that Kerrey has stated he will not run for president in 2000 (a break for the GOP). "The candor and the courage, the willingness to call a jerk a jerk, however Supreme, made me think once again that the Democratic Party would be insane and self-destructive in the year 2000 if it passed Bob Kerrey by in favor of a passionless cold-fish stiff like Al Gore or Bill Bradley."

Carl Swanson, in his "Off the Record" column, was a bit naive, I thought, in recounting Spin editor Michael Hirschorn's abrupt firing last week. Describing Hirschorn as a "part-owner" is rather misleading, since it's doubtful the former editor had much equity in Spin at all; otherwise, he wouldn't have been fired without a fight. According to Swanson, Spin proprietor Robert Miller and "editorial director" Gilbert Rogin "didn't much go for the show Mr. Hirschorn and his merry band of discontented thirtysomethings were putting on. 'They're trying to make it more commercial and probably less sophisticated,' said one disappointed Hirschorn hire of the moves being made by Miller Publishing. 'Less quirky.'"

Swanson, a mere pup at 27 (and, I might add, a pal of Boy Genius Mike Wartella, which makes him a prince in my book), is probably more sympathetic to the job Hirschorn and his "merry band" performed at Spin. I don't get the "quirky" part. Spin was disappointedly mainstream?even though it might become more so under new editor Alan Light?and it seemed to me that Hirschorn, who was a valuable editor at Kurt Andersen's New York, was always a bad fit at the music magazine. To me, the end was clear when Hirschorn embarrassed himself and Spin by apologizing in print to Courtney Love for a cover headline that she found offensive. I hope, and assume, he'll find work soon at a magazine that's more fitting to his journalistic talents. For example, the front section of Newsweek, with its laughable "Periscope" section, could use a facelift that I'll bet Hirschorn could bring to it.

In Mary Huhn's Jan. 20 Post account of the editor's firing, she quoted Dave Moodie, Spin's features editor, as saying, "Everyone was shocked because Michael was doing the magazine he told them he was going to do... Michael is some kind of zen master. He's very calm and handling it better than the rest of the staff." According to Huhn, Hirschorn told his staff: "I am at peace with myself. Compared to the other stuff out there, we put out a first-class magazine, but we failed to convince the senior management of that." Self-delusion is understandable after such a sudden firing, but Spin wasn't a "first-class magazine." It had no direction, no edge, and certainly didn't measure up to Bob Guccione Jr.'s version of the monthly.

Nevertheless, Spin was at least marginally superior to Details, where editor Michael Caruso must be on his last legs. Rumors of his firing abound. They're deserved, just on the basis of his cliched conclusion to the "Editor's Letter" of the February issue: "Oh, and for those unlike me who actually are able to look past next Saturday night, we've included a very opinionated guide to planning your next New Year's Eve. I thought it would help me decide where to be when the world hits 2000, but I still haven't made up my mind. The only thing I know is that, wherever I am, I'm going to party like it's 1999."

Is Caruso forced to write shit like this? If it's part of his Details contract, that's one thing; but if he's actually coming up with it on his own, this guy should be canned immediately. And forced to do an internship with Sidney Blumenthal.