Monday, November 26, 2007

Does Mark Halperin Have What It Takes to Be a Pundit?

An op-ed piece in Sunday's New York Times by former ABC political director Mark Halperin has stunned the punditocracy. Many are wondering what the strategy could possibly be behind Halperin's writing a piece that claims that presidential campaigns should no longer be covered like a horse race, which is how he and other pundits have been covering them for the last 20 years. Claiming that he was overly influenced by Richard Ben Cramer's 1992 book What It Takes (which I have not actually read), Halperin wrote, "For most of my time covering presidential elections, I shared the view that there was a direct correlation between the skills needed to be a great candidate and a great president. But now I think I was wrong." Some pundits are saying privately that Halperin's admission that practically everything he has said and done for the last 20 years has been a colossal error echoes what many are thinking, while others question his motives and wonder whether he really has what it takes to be a pundit. It remains to be seen whether Halperin's piece is a bold move that will cause him to break out from the ranks of other pundits or whether it is a career-ending gaffe.

Halperin says he came to this realization after examining the last two presidencies, which after 15 years of careful consideration he now characterizes as equally "failed." "Being all things to all people worked wonderfully well for Bill Clinton the candidate, but when his presidency ran into trouble, this trait was disastrous," he says, elegantly reducing Clinton's personality to an evocative pop psychology catchphrase, while he claims that George Bush's "assuredness became stubbornness" and his "once-appealing life outside of government and public affairs became a far-less appealing lack of experience," though he doesn't specify when this transformation supposedly took place. Some immediately criticized Halperin for lumping together two presidencies that are so different. Indeed, how can you compare a President who didn't even fight one war with one who fought two or one who had an easy eight years of economic prosperity with one who has presided over a few little economic hiccups so skillfully? How can he possibly compare a President like Clinton who was so unpopular among the chatterati with one who is so beloved? Has Halperin lost his touch at reflexively making strained yet seemingly apt comparisons that are supposed to illustrate his even-handedness and lack of partisanship?

There was a time when Mark Halperin was the golden boy of the chattering classes. As the writer of ABC's The Note he was celebrated for his uncanny ability to repeat what everyone else in Washington was saying in a way that confirmed it to be true. The Note fused the cynical, inside baseball journalism of reporters like Theodore White with the in-depth analysis and psychological insight of celebrity journalism. It was like Wonkette for people who thought Wonkette was too wonkish. DC's talking heads could read The Note every morning and feel reassured that they could safely repeat on TV what they had said at a cocktail party when they were falling-down drunk the night before. The Note showed them, for example, that Terry Schiavo really was a boon for the Republicans even if every poll mistakenly showed otherwise and then they could safely reiterate that in their columns and on TV. It was a fresh, edgy take on the conventional wisdom that didn't require reporters to learn too much about boring and difficult issues and left more time for eating, drinking and schmoozing. When Halperin finally left The Note to strike out on his own the sky seemed to be the limit.

Halperin's casual masculinity and dashing good looks made him the kind of alpha male pundit you would like to have a beer with. But some of his friends, who are unwilling to speak on the record, see another side to him that leaves them troubled. They believe Halperin's career can be summed up as an epoch Oedipal struggle with his father, Mort Halperin, who once worked for Nixon but eventually ended up on Nixon's Enemies List. Mark Halperin seems to be consciously avoiding the mistakes of his father, making sure he doesn't end up on anyone's enemies list no matter what power brokers he has to suck up to, even if it means begging Hugh Hewitt to be his friend. Maureen Dowd could probably write a whole book reducing Halperin's life to an Oedipal struggle and exploring all the permutations of that simple psychological observation for pages and pages and pages.

Although we don't know a lot about how Halperin stands on the issues (and, frankly, the prospect of listening to him go on about social security or health care, which he probably doesn't know much about anyway, has us bored to tears), we do know something about his hair. His hair is youthful, thick and dark like the helmet of a warrior, saved from being too perfect by a whispy lock that falls gently on the center of his forehead, hinting that behind his remarkable poise and control beats the heart of a man who occasionally takes risks but is not reckless. In short, it is a man's hair. Considering how great and manly his hair is, it is surprising that Halperin has not done as well as a freelance pundit as many thought he would. Perhaps his New York Times op-ed is a Hail Mary pass on fourth down or a sacrifice bunt with bases loaded or some equally evocative sports metaphor from soccer, a game that as a red-blooded American I know nothing about, which just makes me seem even more like one of the boys.

Whatever the real reason behind Halperin's mea culpa, it is sure to be a hot topic of conversation inside the Beltway. Many pundits will question Halperin's fitness to be a pundit and will see this as an opportunity to take him out. Joe Klein will no doubt issue an even more damning apology for all of the mistakes he has made, arguing that they are even worse than Halperin's. Maureen Dowd will cattily question Halperin's masculinity. David Broder will take a vacation in Beaver Island, Michigan, and find a voter who will tell him that he disagrees with Halperin and that voters actually appreciate journalists' writing about the campaign as a horse race. Chris Matthews will start yelling something about Halperin so loudly that I will have to turn down the television and miss what he is saying. William Kristol will say that Halperin's piece just makes it that much more imperative that we invade Iran as soon as possible. Whatever the impact of Halperin's piece, it is sure to give them all something talk about that is a lot more interesting than whatever the candidates actually plan to do as President.

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30 comments:

Carl said...

Sir,

What I found most annoying about Halperin's piece was his defense that, because everyone read that book and everyone came to the same conclusion, that his errors should be forgiven.

Imagine, sir, if everyone ate babies in response to your famous book, A Modest Proposal? Where would the world be today?

A damn finer place without all those smelly, noisy rugrats, I tell YOU what!

Anonymous said...

Jon,

Line after line of waspish, envy driven ad hominem, and you forgot your voice to boot.

Jon Swift said...

Mr Halperin, your inimitable style shows through despite your attempt to hide behind Anonymous' moniker.

Mo MoDo said...

The whole "We shouldn't cover campaigns like a horse race" chestnut is just as tired as the annual "They sure are playing Christmas carols earlier and earlier." It's been that way for a long, long time and Halperin's ride back from Damascus whining isn't going to change a thing.

liquiddaddy said...

Jon,

It is interesting you mentioned Joe Klein in all of this, because I was thinking how aroused Joe must get when standing near Mark at the parties they frequent together. Much like Joe's documented discomfort around alpha male Bill Clinton.

LD

WomanHonorThyself said...

Halperin's casual masculinity and dashing good looks made him the kind of alpha male pundit you would like to have a beer with. ...well..thats an honest appraisal if ever there was one..Carl makes a fine point as well.fascinating info as always Jon...~!

Anonymous said...

Jon Swift said...
Mr Halperin, your inimitable style shows through despite your attempt to hide behind Anonymous' moniker.

11/26/2007 10:20 AM >>>




Ah, the pseudonymous Jon Swift speaks insultingly of hiding behind anonymity? Too precious of you altogether, Jon.

And Jon, not with the intention of deflating your sense of significance; but rather in the spirit of accuracy, and in order to allow you to more precisely gauge your readership: I am not Halperin, nor Coulter, nor Alex Rawls, and most certainly, "I am still not Michael Fumento".

I am,

Anonymous; an occasional reader of your blog, an infrequent commentator, and a "fellow" reasonable conservative.


Well, as regards the latter ... that is I would be, if you were either conservative or reasonable.

Chuck Butcher said...

Anon 444
what utter slander to call into question the conservative and reasonable credentials of the honorable Dr Swift.

Your cloak of non-halperincoulterrawlsfumentoism is insufficient to hide your agenda...

sorry I really just cannot go on this way

Carl said...

Anonymous said...
I am,

Anonymous; an occasional reader of your blog, an infrequent commentator, and a "fellow" reasonable conservative.


...and chicken, clearly. This is a place where it is SAFE to be conservative, free from the ravages of liberal thought and mainstream media influence, like Fox News.

YOu may come out of your closet, or toilet stall, if that's your preference.

Anonymous said...

Chuck Butcher said...
Anon 444
what utter slander to call into question the conservative and reasonable credentials of the honorable Dr Swift. >>>

Did you mean "libel"? And why would it be libel, since Jon is neither conservative nor especially reasonable; nor even honorable or Doctor Swift?

Is there something sacred about this gag "Jon" is running?


<< Your cloak of non-halperincoulterrawlsfumentoism is insufficient to hide your agenda...>>


Your rather obvious agenda (speaking of Jon and coterie)is to avoid the heavy lifting of close reasoning by substituting strained mockery for argument, and then celebrating your frivolity by communally cackling over your cleverness.

Well, so be it. Knock yourselves out.

My agenda if I have one, is to get a good laugh: at you idiotically simpering over your own threadbare affectations.

Jon provides the venue for both.


<<< sorry I really just cannot go on this way >>>

Did someone ask you to, or are you just "sharing"?

Baldie McEagle said...

Anon, you may as well cut off your own head, stuff it, and mount it on Jon's wall. You don't come here to laugh. You come here because you can't resist the salt lick.

And you have no sense of humor whatsoever.

Carl said...

Oh look! Anonymous has morphed into a "concern troll," thus exposing his hidden liberal agenda.

Better zip up, Anon. People have been arrested in airport bathrooms for less...

Anonymous said...

(This is a second Anonymous posting now. No relation.)

"Ah, the pseudonymous Jon Swift speaks insultingly of hiding behind anonymity? Too precious of you altogether, Jon."

How exactly was calling you "inimitable" insulting, anyway?

liquiddaddy said...

That anonymous guy talks really good. He is real smart.

LD

Anonymous said...

Golly, the whole not-so-swift Swiftian clutch is clearly stirred up, and cackling out challenges and demands for answers.

Since this is Jon's web site, and since I am just riding on his bandwidth as a guest, I'll try and be as economical and direct with my replies as the principles of reasonable conservativism will allow.


Carl,

You're getting kind of intense there little buddy, and I think the emotion is warping your judgment as to what is, and what is not, ultimately helpful to Jon.

If you insist on flying squawking to Jon's aid with formulaic sarcasm, you might want to go easy on the "faggot" insinuations.

We all know that Jon has had his fun with Larry Craig, but if you read enough of Jon's posts, you'll soon come to recognize that it's Jon's dog you are kicking with that homo-bashing stuff.

Maybe it's a price Jon is willing to pay for his allies.

If so, Carl, please continue to kick away.


Baldie,

How can you so baldly assert that I have no sense of humor? Certainly I demonstrated an appreciation for unintended irony when I noted that Jon's mockery of Halperin's masculinity and status, was as good evidence of envy (or perhaps a bittery frustrated homo-erotic urge) as it was of any character deficiency in Halperin.

I also thought it was funny that Jon was so wound up that he forgot to speak through his reasonable conservative persona.

And you must admit that under my prodding, Jon added to the general levity by immediately assuming that it was Halperin who posted that observation.

Jon knew this to be Halperin you see, because Halperin's style is inimitable; and if Jon Swift gibes Fumento, or Coulter or Halperin, they are bound to notice and REPLY!

All in all Baldie, I'm quite happy to be among the first to point out that you folks are doing plenty of truly comical things.

It's just that most of them are probably unintentional.

To the other Anonymous,

May I suggest that if you are going to be deliberately obtuse, that you not include a quote immediately prior to your question that dissolves away any possible rationale or reason for the misunderstanding?

Other than your stupidity, that is.


Finally, Jon

Did you mean to say "... epochal Oedipal..."? Although pretentious and overreaching, its use would seem to make more sense that "epoch Oedipal"; while still fitting quite well with your own, not quite inimitable, style.

Then again, maybe you did mean to say "epoch Oedipal".

Either way it's funny.

Chuck Butcher said...

Anon 821
It was a joke on a joke, since I run a lefty blog that is real clear that it is, I get to deal with your point of view from time to time and I can.

Sure, I recognize Jon's schtick for what it is and he's pretty good at it, obviously I gave it up after a couple sentences.

Since this is Jon's blog I don't see it to be my place to tell you what Jon meant at any particular point. Do I think Halperin deserves mocking? He's real late to the idea that issues and policy count. Would you like to take up the issue of whether newspaper neutrality is a good idea, if it is even possible?

You accuse Dr Jon of making "waspish, envy driven ad hominem" statements without any more illumination of your point than "forgot your voice." I would pretty easily make the point that your one liner is just exactly what you accuse Jon of.

You want to come over to my place and play, you knock yourself out. You've got the link and my actual name, versus your ballsy use of Anon. Do give yourself a tag at my place, I don't like trying to sort you Anons out.

Your relentlessly insulting voice is almost rescued by your vocabulary, I say almost, because there really are more clever words with superior connotations available, Thesaurus could be your friend, though OED would work better. No, you didn't live up to libel, just slander.

a said...

It should learn better how to use semicolons, too. There's nothing more obvious than trying and failing to use them.

Mr. Swift's response to it was a joke, something it sadly seems to have missed in its big rush to appear intelligent.

old hack said...

new tune up on my blog

oldhacks.blogspot.com

called "just shoot me in the head" its sorta about jesse james

hope you like it

willy

Anonymous said...

not that other anonymous - I just couldn't be buggered logging in

I can't believe the joke was so completely missed. It wasn't that difficult - after a dozen years of agressively playing the "politics as horse-race" shtick, Halperin comes over all noble and decries what he delighted in. All without apology for what he had done.

As we all know, political commentators regularly complain about the shallow, personality-driven modern political world. HOw they so devoutly wish for a Lincoln or a Churchill! And when a non-bland policy or statement is made, the universal response is to round on the sucker and condemn them six ways to Sunday for not being "professional".

So Halperin's piece is not so much a heart-felt begging for a changing of ways - more a honey-trap for the unwary politician.

The masculine stuff was to play up the stupidity of the "image analysis" content of (so many) media outlets.

There.

Also "inimitable" means not able to be imitated. Not an insult.

"You are dunderheaded dolt upon whom wit is as wasted as perfume on a pig". That's an insult.

Compare and contrast. 500 words by tomorrow morning.

OutOfContext said...

It seems an insurmountable task to stop treating presidential campaigns like a horse race. It may be easier to improve things by changing the way horse races are covered.

Carl said...

Anonymous said...
If you insist on flying squawking to Jon's aid with formulaic sarcasm, you might want to go easy on the "faggot" insinuations.


You're not cool enough to be gay. I called you a "Republican."

Wanna be a man and do something about it, Sandra?

Anonymous said...

Carl said...

Anonymous said...
"If you insist on flying squawking to Jon's aid with formulaic sarcasm, you might want to go easy on the "faggot" insinuations."

>>>You're not cool enough to be gay.<<<

And you are? Well good for you Carl.

You can add that interest to your apparent list of pleasures, such as torturing cats, and auto-eroticism.


>>>I called you a "Republican." <<<

There is probably some private meaning there, but what's the point of asking ...

>>>Wanna be a man and do something about it, Sandra?<<<

Seems you are a fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond", and the character of old man Barone.

You might have chosen a better role model.

See, Carl, Peter Boyle the actor was just playing an ignorant eastern seaboard asshole for laughs.

He was being intentionally funny.

Whereas in your case ...

Better calm down, Carl. You're about to stroke out.

And I am not referring to your self-love activites.

Anonymous said...

Chuck said

>>>Anon 821
It was a joke on a joke, since I run a lefty blog that is real clear that it is, I get to deal with your point of view from time to time and I can.

Sure, I recognize Jon's schtick for what it is and he's pretty good at it, obviously I gave it up after a couple sentences.

...

You accuse Dr Jon of making "waspish, envy driven ad hominem" statements without any more illumination of your point than "forgot your voice." I would pretty easily make the point that your one liner is just exactly what you accuse Jon of.

You want to come over to my place and play, you knock yourself out. You've got the link and my actual name, versus your ballsy use of Anon. Do give yourself a tag at my place, I don't like trying to sort you Anons out.

Your relentlessly insulting voice is almost rescued by your vocabulary, I say almost, because there really are more clever words with superior connotations available, Thesaurus could be your friend, though OED would work better. No, you didn't live up to libel, just slander.

11/27/2007 4:30 PM <<<


Chuck,

You have now informed me thoroughly and at length of your stylistic likes, and of your various dislikes. [As well as your ignorance of the legal difference between libel and slander]

You clearly approve of Jon's pseudonymity, and your cackling cohorts' anonymity, but don't like it if I use the same resource.

You note that you like people who provide examples and illustrations, but you are nonetheless content not to provide them yourself; merely suggesting that you could do so, if sufficiently motivated.

You also advise me, in both fractured and clumsy run-on sentences, that better words with superior connotations are available to me, and that Thesaurus and the OED might be my friends. You do this while showing no demonstrable evidence at all of your own familiarity with them ... beyond your making of the reference itself.

Yes, true to lefty form you have made clear your feelings and your desires while simultaneously venting your spleen.

I hope these affective demonstrations of yours have at least made you feel better.

Because for the life of me, I cannot see why I should care.

Sincerely,
Anonymous, a reasonable conservative.


By the way, I'll take a look at your blog. The fact that you claim to be a social justice pimp looks promising.


If there is anything worth commenting on, I'll comment with a tag you will recognize.

I do know how important that is to you.

Anonymous said...

>Does Mark Halperin Have What It Takes to Be a Pundit?

Bartkid sez,
Do you mean a bookmark to the Drudge Report? Then, yes.

This has been another edition of easy answers to rhetorical questions.

Kip W said...

I think Anonymous (the first one) protests too much. By that I mean that Anonymous goes on and on and on, and it's plain boring. I skipped it after a while, since it wasn't even amusing.

Chuck Butcher said...

Actually, Anon1029 is correct that legally slander is verbal -sometimes printed - and libel is printed.
I was using it as a less rigorous term, probably not quite correctly.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a genuine Anonymous, from a long line of Anonymous (It's actually Greco-Serbian by way of Gaelic), I must protest about the corrupt and offensive use of our venerable family name by this poser who is neither reasonable, conservative nor particularly convincing in his pretensions to non-halpercoulterfumentorawlishness. A true Anonymous would never use a word like squawkish (ancient gypsy curse involved) and would certainly know the proper use of the word 'hominem' or homonyms thereof.

I must challenge this fraud Anonymous to a duel, I will meet him at the usual place, at the appointed time. He'll have to bring his own lingerie.

Chuck Butcher said...

I issued a "challenge" to anon 821, he took it up and I have no complaints and since I issued it here, I acknowledge it here.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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