Gerard’s on his way to Detroit to check on whatever business he has there — off the top of my head, I’d guess he’s either finalizing his part-ownership of the Stroh’s brewery or trying to sign Dan Orlovsky to Matador — which means that me and the other CSTB role-players have more or less the run of the place. I already got grape soda on the couch. And now I’m going to write what will probably be a longish post that’s not really about sports. Anarchy.
Although if I stretch — and I’ll attempt that — it kind of is about sports. At its less factual and more factitious pundit-oriented end, sports journalism is just as subject to the pull of bigger narratives as political journalism. Columnists, or at least the lamer ones, tend to pile on en masse not so much because A-Rod or whoever really deserves such mob-justice opprobrium as because it’s just easy. For all the talk about liberal bias in the political media, the bigger bias, to me, has always seemed to be to (frequently bunky and terrible) narrative trends. That it was the McCain campaign that was caught on the wrong side of this argument in the last election cycle fits well with the permanent-victimization thing that seems to power the pseudo-con resentment machine, but honestly it was nothing compared to the pathological, fact-resistant media whupping Al Gore got in 2000.
Gore is living proof that if you get caught on the wrong side of a strong enough narrative, it’s near-impossible to get out — the guy has been right about just about everything over the last eight years en route to a Nobel Prize, and pretty much everyone wishes he’d been President, but Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd and a bunch of other opinion-setting doofs still think of him as the nerdy kid waving his hand around before the teacher even finishes asking a question. A six-homer World Series for Alex Rodriguez, by the same token, would probably do little-to-nothing to shake the idea that he is, at some basic and immutable level, a fraud. That A-Rod’s a better player by every metric than Derek Jeter, or that there isn’t a GM in the world who’d willingly put David Eckstein out there at shortstop ahead of Jose Reyes, never really makes it past the narrative filter into the discourse. As a consequence, patently and obviously ridiculous BS hangs around the media like decade-old space garbage, destined to bob along forever and ever in the dim vacuum of Mike Francesa’s brain, where no one can hear you scream.
At the same time, there are the sensible narratives that never quite take hold. Stephon Marbury may be a selfish player and at least half-insane, but there’s clearly some rampant if ADD-afflicted social consciousness at work in that tatooed domepiece of his. It doesn’t matter, though: read the papers in New York and all you’ll learn is how vain and poisonous he is. His is a narrative that should be more complicated, but won’t be. So there’s your long-winded primer on how the media works from a guy who publishes a freelance piece thrice yearly.
And now the ostensible point: the painfulness and obvious unviability of truly stupid manufactured narratives. Before us at present we have a really good example: what appears to be a coordinated rollout — in the wake of Tuesday’s election — to hype our lame-duck sitting president as a decent and sorely underrated figure.
On Wednesday, GC sent around an astonishingly tone-deaf and amateurish piece from the Wall Street Journal by a freelance kooky-con goof named Jeffrey Shapiro — his CV is here, and it is Zelig-like in the persistence of its anti-prescience and stunning in its consistent wrongheadedness and disposibility. Shapiro’s article is here, and if you think you can handle a tour through the mind of someone who would write something entitled “The Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace” (subhead, really: “What Must Our Enemies Be Thinking?”), by all means check it out. Here’s a taste:
Mr. Bush has endured relentless attacks from the left while facing abandonment from the right. This is the price (he) is paying for trying to work with both Democrats and Republicans. During his 2004 victory speech, the president reached out to voters who supported his opponent, John Kerry, and said, “Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust.”
Those bipartisan efforts have been met with crushing resistance from both political parties.
The president’s original Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers alarmed Republicans, while his final nomination of Samuel Alito angered Democrats. His solutions to reform the immigration system alienated traditional conservatives, while his refusal to retreat in Iraq has enraged liberals who have unrealistic expectations about the challenges we face there.
It seems that no matter what Mr. Bush does, he is blamed for everything. He remains despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right. Yet it should seem obvious that many of our country’s current problems either existed long before Mr. Bush ever came to office, or are beyond his control. Perhaps if Americans stopped being so divisive, and congressional leaders came together to work with the president on some of these problems, he would actually have had a fighting chance of solving them.
Ah, perhaps so. Shapiro’s defense was followed today, in the Washington Post, by “The Decency of George W. Bush,” a more high-flown piece by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. Which is to say, Gerson’s piece is less based in middle school compare/contrast argumentation (That Miers/Alito contrast is priceless — remember how much Congressional Democrats loved Harriet Miers?), richer in alliteration and contains less jarring Harry Truman comparisons than Shapiro’s. Gerson declares Iraq to be “on the verge of a miraculous peace,” and credits Bush with a few did-you-know successes (fourth grade reading scores are up! To 1993 levels!), as well as “loyalty” and “buoyancy.” Which are also things that could be said about collies, but whatever.
Anyway, Gerson’s point is that you’d never know about any of these good things because Americans have, for whatever reason, written his guy off. “Even success brings no praise,” Gerson sighs. Good luck selling this one, dudes. I have a feeling Wally Matthews will be hailing the Mets’ heart and hustle, in Spanglish, long before anyone ever believes Bush is Harry Truman.