A current theme among pundits concerns who is having the most fun in Blatherland: right wingers, or those who subscribe to the liberal orthodoxy. The argument, at least as advanced by the libs engaged in this revenue-raising scheme, is that right wingers are having more fun. Much more fun.
The Boston Globe‘s Alex Beam argues (I paraphrase, as all good hacks are required to do) that right wingers live in a fantasy world, where having fun is a cinch. They spend their days and nights cranking out books about the supposed left-wing bias in the media, for instance, or float public policies that don’t add up in reality.
Ann Coulter, the leggy raver and prominent wonk community lust object, is Exhibit A. She’s selling lots of books, gets on television all the time, yet continues to insist that bias exists. That she couldn’t shoot her way onto the staff of the Washington Post or the New York Times — or the Des Moines Register, for that matter — may suggest she’s on to something, especially since she certainly has enough talent to play in those theaters, and would clearly love to strut her stuff in Des Moines.
By comparison, Paul Krugman is held up as an example of the good guy, along with Mr. Beam himself (no kin to Jim, we can safely assume). Krugman clearly is not having much fun. Indeed it is clear that he has lead in his pencil, which shows up in his incredibly ponderous prose. Then again, as Mr. Beam argues, the task of the lib is to dutifully follow the winger parade with a scoop and bucket, not try to blind the yokels with dashing sophistry.
Some critics would point out that there’s a whiff of the puritan in this argument. It implies that only the frivolous have fun, while the truly valuable members of society — those who think correctly — are by nature serious and deeply reflective. And non-conservative, by definition. A touch of vanity and self-congratulation might also be detected.
That’s fair enough. Right wingers tend to think libs are stupid — or at least that they prefer to feel rather than think. Besides that, far be it from me to deny anyone the pleasure of patting their own back. For many of us, that’s as good as the praise is likely to get.
More to the point is a larger question: Do any pundits really have fun? And, if so, what does this tell us about the pundit?
It’s hard to imagine anyone in the business having real fun, no matter how crazed they are (and many are crazed). Look at the typical routine. The pundit rises in the morning, scans the relevant publications, and therein encounters a variation of the same stories he or she has written about several dozen times. This week, for instance, Janet Reno is front and center, along with yet more Florida voting irregularities. Try to work up a head of steam over that. The other news out of Florida is that the president’s niece was discovered carrying crack cocaine, yet that’s hazardous material. In a pinch one could point out that Governor Bush, the miscreant’s father, probably gets some votes from the religious right, which by this arrest is shown to be no holier than anyone else when it comes to backing candidates, blah blah, but anyone who’s that desperate is not only not having fun. They’re half a blink from full mental collapse.
There is an upcoming war, declared yesterday, yet this one looks a lot like the last one. We’ve got the same adversary, and our side will be led by the latest member of the Bush dynasty. If Dubya puts Saddam’s head on the wall, of course, the neo-cons can and will take credit, though as any sensible person knows it is the rare pundit who has any influence whatsoever. Most have a hard enough time running a family or even their own lives, much less the world.
That is a little discussed fact, to be sure. There is a deeply held institutional prejudice against mentioning that pundits are, with very rare exceptions, part of the entertainment industry. Instead, they like to believe they are guiding the earth through the stars, or at least goading Dubya to put Saddam’s head on the wall. This keeps them from going totally insane. After all, what would most Americans do if they were suddenly thrown into a job in which they had to write about Janet Reno? Or sit at a Washington desk advising the President what to do in Afghanistan, even though they haven’t been in a uniform since Cub Scout days? What about if they were told to write an entire book on what other pundits were saying about, for instance, press bias, or a book on the consuming habits of baby boomers?
They’d jump out the nearest window, and the higher the better.
The saving grace for most pundits is that they are easily amused. Some actually laugh at Art Buchwald, and the current source of mirth, according to Mr. Beam and a few others, is the Weekly Standard. The Standard is a fine magazine, but the only time it gets really funny is when editor Bill Kristol starts endorsing Republican presidential candidates. He might as well mow ’em down with a Gatling gun. Not that it hurts him. That’s the beauty of Pundit Land. Make bad calls, year after year, and it doesn’t matter. “Clinton will probably be gone in a week!” was one famous declaration. Indeed, as enviously mentioned in this space before, make enough bad calls and some corporation will put you on its board and pay you 50 grand every time you show up for a meeting.
Come to think of it, that is pretty funny.
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