Monday, September 25, 2006

"Lewis Lapham and Sidney Blumenthal really, really dislike George W. Bush."

That's the snide, sarcastic deck copy that runs under the title, "Taking Aim," of Jennifer Senior's review of the collected columns of the two men (Lapham's Pretensions to Empire and Blumenthal's How Bush Rules) in the print version of the New York Times Sunday Book Review -- as if such antipathy were laughable on its face.

The "really, really" crack is dropped from the online version of the review, but just so you don't miss the point, the table of contents states, "George W. Bush, like his predecessor, has an impressive gift for bringing out the yawping worst in those who disagree with him."

Who's really doing the "yawping" around here?

Senior's main criticism of both writers' collected works of opinion seems to be that they're not objective enough. Seems an odd way to critique works of opinion. She also thinks they're not funny enough.
It’s hard to trust a narrator who only and always assumes the worst. There’s a story Blumenthal tells about George W. Bush’s private tour of the brand-new Clinton library in Little Rock, during which the president apparently told his guide, “A submarine could take this place out.” (The structure juts out over the Arkansas River.) The observation sends Blumenthal into a reverie: “Was this a wishful paranoid fantasy of ubiquitous terrorism destroying Clinton’s legacy with one blow?” he asks. “Or a projection of menace and messianism, with only Bush grasping the true danger, standing between submerged threat and civilization?” Either is possible. But it’s also possible that the president was making a joke.

The left has often complained that what it needs isn’t polite speech, but voices as pungent as those on the right. Maybe so. But even the angriest people on the right tend to be funny. Books like this one are a depressing reminder of how important it is for writers to have a slight sense of humor about themselves, if they want to be taken at all seriously.
Earth to Jennifer: As you note of Bush, "it's also possible" Blumenthal was making a joke.

I haven't read either collection in its entirety, but I've read and enjoyed many of their columns by both Lewis Lapham and Sidney Blumenthal. The review, by a writer who never really engages the subject matter of the books she is reviewing, seems to be about writers I've never heard of. Both writers offer penetrating, insightful criticism of the Bush administration, which Senior scarcely addresses, preferring to portray them as monomaniacal, humorless cranks.

Second Note from Earth to Jennifer: They're both funny -- unlike those "funny" people on the angry right, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Lapham has a dry, urbane wit, while Blumenthal leans more toward outright sarcasm when warranted (which seems understandable for somebody who has been the victim of a wingnut character assassination attempt in the form of Matt Drudge's totally unfounded charge of spousal abuse when Blumenthal was in the Clinton administration).

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