Rick Perlstein is the author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America andBefore the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. He is a senior fellow and blogger at the Campaign for America's Future.
It may be a bit much to begin my remarks by putting pressure, like a deconstructionist, on a single word -- a word that may have been just a throwaway -- but I'll take the risk. Near the beginning of his thoughtful essay, Alan Brinkley writes, “[I]t's not hard to imagine centrist Democrats winning presidential elections in the future, even in four years.” The word that stuck out for me is “centrist.”
Earlier this month, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark gave the keynote address at the second annual convention of Military Reporters and Editors (MRE), the professional organization for journalists who cover the military. In his speech, Clark threw in his lot with those who believe that President Bush misled the nation in order to lay the groundwork for the Iraq War. Clark insisted, in his most striking formulation, that the war was "fundamentally elective, fundamentally our choice," and a distraction from the work of fighting terrorism at home.
The phone call made me nervous. I'd never been offered an all-expense-paid press junket before. Wasn't this the sort of thing you'd expect from a petroleum conglomerate, sponsoring a conference on debunking global warming? Instead, a humble scholarly organization, the Historical Society (THS), was proposing to fly me to Atlanta, Georgia, for its annual meeting. What's more, the group wanted to put me up in a nice hotel, where it would pay all the tabs I cared to charge them. What could these people possibly be up to?
I first delved into the reviews posted by readers on Amazon.com for utilitarian reasons. I will soon be publishing a serious nonfiction book; I wanted to know what kind of attention such a book could expect to get from this particular sample of the reading public. My case study, I decided, would be Susan Faludi's Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.
The morning after the first televised debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, I awoke to the voice of an earnestly boyish reporter on National Public Radio proclaiming that at long last America has been allowed to hear its candidates "without the filter of the news media." At which, in wearied frustration, I promptly fell back asleep.
I dreamed about an uncanny universe whose logic is slightly askew from our own. Its two most ostentatious planets orbit each other in binary symbiosis, but curiously, the astronomical charts call them adversarial entities.
I awoke. And suddenly I understood the relationship between the presidential candidates and the media that "cover" them.