I bought a two-year subscription to Rolling Stone last year from some kid who knocked on my door and promised that buying the magazine would help keep him off drugs and off the streets. It…might have happened.
Typically I skip over the political content and get right down to the psychoanalysis of the latest Eminem track and the write-ups of one hit wonders who are very rich today, and who will be very poor tomorrow. When the June 10 issue landed in my mailbox, however, the political dessert on display was just too delicious to resist.
The Ted Offensive, the dreamy piece of, um, journalism in question, comes with the action-movie tagline, “In 2002, George W. Bush stabbed Ted Kennedy in the back. Two years later, Teddy’s in John’s corner and they’re aiming for the White House.” The inference is that Kennedy is a one-time Bush supporter who has suddenly changed his mind.
The rest of the article is a piece of work. The famed drunkard, author Will Dana writes, “has aged into a grand old man, all wavy white hair and heavy jowls.” Like Santa Claus. But Kennedy’s heroism is more than skin deep.
From the Massachusetts Senator’s red-faced — sorry, rosy cheeked — rants against any proposal to the right of something Ralph Nader might offer up, you may not have realized that he “routinely” reaches right “across the partisan divide.” This included reaching out to President Bush in January 2001 to make the No Child Left Behind bill a reality.
His own benevolence should be no surprise, Kennedy says. After all, he worked closely with Presidents Reagan and Bush I. “You could believe what they said,” he explains. Not so with this Bush, who has ruined everything. He’s packed the courts with “right-wing ideologues,” polarized Congress, and committed the “greatest foreign disaster and blunder in the history of this nation” in Iraq. (The whole history of this nation? What about World War I? What about Vietnam? Oh, wait, that was Kennedy’s brother.)
Also, most painfully for Kennedy, Bush did not “fully fund” No Child Left Behind.
TO BACK THIS UP VISUALLY, Rolling Stone has a picture of Bush with his hands on Kennedy’s shoulders, both smiling. I’m not sure which political party this is supposed to embarrass more.
“Kennedy and Bush in better times,” the caption reads. A wronged man, Kennedy is now “sounding off like a fiery backbencher,” Dana explains. His attacks on the president contain “an edge of personal betrayal.”
In fact, Dana gives Kennedy a Louisville Slugger and then softly lobs question after question over the plate. There are no substantive queries about the situation in Iraq, about why John Kerry would be better than Bush on that issue, or even why he would be better on any policy issues, like, oh, Social Security.
“Bush has recently opened up on Kerry with an unprecedented negative attack,” Dana says, setting up a question. Apparently several long months of Democratic candidates lambasting and personally mocking Bush doesn’t quite make it all the way to “negative.”
Kennedy, it turns out, agrees. Asked about what kind of campaign Bush will run, bipartisan Ted says the president will take the low road and attempt to “destroy Senator Kerry” rather than campaign on his own merits. In fact, “This is the first president in my time, and my understanding of history, who runs away from his record.” Which is the part where someone behind the scenes should have held up a cue card for Dana reading: “But isn’t Kerry running away from his liberal voting record?”
Dana refuses to challenge Kennedy, and often decides to do the Massachusetts senator one better. To wit: “The key issue, it seems, comes back to the president’s credibility.” More Dana: “Of course, there is Bush’s record of appointing arch-conservative judges to the federal bench.” And again, on Iraq: “Are you surprised that they were able to pull it off, that they were able to get Congress and the American people to go along with it?”
I wonder if even Kennedy was surprised at the coddling he got from the magazine that once employed P.J. O’Rourke and a few decent journalists.
IT ISN’T THE FAWNING coverage of the Dean Martin of Liberalism that’s alarming. I’d understand a rickety, over the hill, faux hipster magazine celebrating the tenets of liberalism and embracing Kennedy as its standard bearer. But this distortion, this fallacy, of Kennedy as a middle-of-the-road dealmaker is, well, troubling.
As Eric Pfeiffer writes in the latest issue of Doublethink, no one expects Rolling Stone to warm up to Bush or other conservatives. But, in a magazine that clearly hopes to be taken seriously, there should be some semblance of fairness. “If not for its Republican subscribers or out of respect for the intelligence of other readers,” Pfeiffer writes, “than simply for the sake of having better writing to publish, Rolling Stone should exit the screaming section of the far left bleachers…”
Nor is the magazine unique in trying to fob off intractable liberalism as moderate temporizing. On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, I met teenagers and aging hippies who derided Joe Lieberman as a “religious fundamentalist” and, worse, a “Republican.” Foaming-at-the-mouth “moderates” routinely denounce that right-wing ideologue George W. Bush, who, incidentally, signed onto the farm bill, steel tariffs, the Medicare bill, and No Child Left Behind.
“We are paralyzed here in the Senate,” Kennedy laments. In this partisan paralysis, nothing is getting done. No meaningful legislation is being advanced. Congress might as well pack it up and go home early. We’ve arrived at a new era of gridlock and right-wing creep.
Oh, if only it were true!