THE GOLDBERG PROPHECY I have no idea where I will be or what I will be doing in Y2K. If the cyber- paranoids are right, I will be using rag torches for light and my fellow man for food. But one thing I am willing to bet right now is that Al Gore will not be elected President of the United States (the only caveat is that the Republicans can’t nominate a pod person like Gary Bauer). I don’t say this out of rank partisanship. Indeed, I think if Kerry or Bradley or Kerrey were to get the nomination, they would have a very good shot at beating a Republican candidate, including George W. Bush. Chris Matthews was on C-SPAN this morning, and many, many words came out of his mouth (but very few punctuation marks).
He argued that the Clinton scandal will hurt Gore in 2000. I think he’s right, but that is only part of the reason why Gore will take it in the neck. The other reason is that the VicePresidency is an albatross. Just like when you get tired of the coolest kid in the class by the end of high school, you get tired of his nodding sidekick too. From 1836 to 1988 not a single sitting Vice President was elected straight to the presidency. Prior to 1836, only John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were elected directly from the Vice Presidency, and back then the rules and political circumstances were pretty different. In 1988, Bush managed to do it for two reasons. One, Michael Dukakis was a pod-person, conceivably the dullest man with a pulse in post-WWII America. Hymie the Robot from Get Smart had more personality. Second, George Bush was a decent guy, riding the coattails of the Man Who Won the Cold War. Van Buren managed it 1836 because Andrew Jackson pretty much had carte blanche to pick his successor (and Jackson wanted to stick his thumb in the eye of his first VP, John Calhoun).
Gore, tragically, will carry the most weight for Clinton’s mistakes. He is a profoundly arrogant man, but a decent one. His stiffness is a derivative of his condescension. He believes he has to explain things slowly and carefully to the little people. He cannot accept wrongdoing and he will not be able to take the heat that incumbent Vice Presidents get during campaigns. Newt Gingrich was the great ironic victim of Monica Lewinsky in 1998. Al Gore will be the next one.
HAVING HER CAKE AND EATING IT Maureen Dowd is an excellent writer. Her voice is among the most distinctive of the major columnists, and she certainly is the most forceful elite-media female columnist.
And it is her tone, rather than her ideas, that really makes her fascinating. Week after week, she writes like she’s been cooped-up in an airport lounge drinking just enough teeny-bottle Scotch to mitigate her frustration of having to re-watch the same episode of Airport CNN over and over again. Just when she reaches the point of nudging a bleary-eyed widget salesman from El Paso in order to vent her disgust with Elsa Klench and everything and everybody else, she phones it in to the New York Times. Most media writers simply satisfy themselves with calling Dowd “snarky.” But there’s something more. She writes like she’s been stuck in a coach world when she had every assurance she’d be flying first class. Nobody’s ever good enough or smart enough or honest enough. The peanuts are too salty and she’s seen the in-flight movie before. Everything and everyone disappoints. If so and so is bad, then the guy over there must be worse, and only she can see it.
Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s great, and if someone were to kill the bug that’s causing her dyspepsia she’d be as dull as Bob Herbert. But she’s spent a year or two tearing Bill Clinton to pieces. Then that Grey Lady on her shoulder whispered in her ear that by implication she was endorsing Ken Starr. Can’t have that. Musn’t say someone is doing good, no no.
So she started reading over the shoulder of colleagues Frank Rich and Tony Lewis and started calling Starr a Puritan sex fanatic. Fine. But let us not forget that she has been in the mosh pit with the rest of the media. She’s as responsible for turning up the moral thermostat on Bill Clinton as much as anybody in America. Last spring, Don Imus started every morning saying hysterically viscious things about Bill Clinton. He did that in part because Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich has issued cultural fatwahs saying it was okay. Now that it’s gotten too hot, she’s claiming that somebody else is to blame. In yesterday’s Times she wrote a very solemn piece explaining (along with everyone else on the page) that the President and the Republicans both stink. But, surprise! the Republicans stink worse. She is following Yogi Berra’s adage. She has come to a fork in the road and she is taking it. That’s her schtick. But she should take her fair share of responsibility along with the rest of us.
TREKKIES ONLY I saw the latest Star Trek movie yesterday. It was fine, though nothing special. The effects were not all that more impressive than the TV version. Insurrection is more character-driven than some of the other movies, which is to say that the cast should thank their agents for getting them more lines. To be honest, with the exception of Wrath of Kahn, I pretty much disliked all of the Trek movies, especially the ones most popular with the public.
What is disturbing is that Insurrection exacerbates a growing trend in the Star Trek Universe: Luddism. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was a breakthrough figure in American popular culture. At the core of his philosophy was a positive view of the future. The driving engine of that optimism was a faith in the ingenuity of human beings. Technology can solve our problems and will not necessarily lead to calamity in the future. His was a powerfully American vision. Unfortunately it runs counter to the attitudes of the contemporary Hollywood community, which is increasingly swept up in environmentalism.
Roddenberry died a few years ago and his successors are more and more willing to deviate from their mentor’s vision. Increasingly, story lines aping contemporary environmental issues are popping up. The gist is often that technology is a problem and a more simple, low-tech life would be preferable. Call it Captain Thoreau in the 24th Century. Insurrection makes this case in spades. A Walden Pond planet is being taken over by a misguided federation working with an evil race. The inhabitants must be moved for silly reasons I won’t get into. (But that introduces the other PC theme to make its way into Star Trek — American Indians. This one bothers me less, and I need to save some rantings for another file). The long and short of it is that this race has beaten their warp cores into plowshares and we are to admire them for it. Contemporary politics always leaked into the series. The 1960s version is chock-a-block with Cold War themes. While that sometimes went too far as well, the moral underneath was more laudable: An American vision of freedom would prevail in contests with alien civilizations, too. Today’s Star Trek is far more dismissive of “American” values. And that’s a shame.