Daniel Menaker

My son Will and I watched some of Larry King Live last night. It featured the usual gaggle of wonks–Bill Bennett (who would have put in time better spent if he had written The Outrage of Death instead of vice versa), Wolf Blitzer (“On, Blitzer,” I always say to myself when I hear his name), Senator Whitehair Combover, R-Louisipppi, Senator I. M. Woman, D-Orefornia, etc.–discussing what so sadly remains–in the face of Balkan massacres and devastating Colombian earthquakes, and even an evidently wonderful discovery of an antibiotic effective against six virulent strains of highly resistant bacteria–Topic A. It came to me then, with my fifteen-year-old son sitting there, that all the Dems and Republicans who are bemoaning what a bad example Clinton’s behavior has set for the children of America have themselves set an even worse example for the children of America, with their bloviation, self-importance, opining, self-righteousness, hair strategies, camera hunger, and truly titanic hypocrisy. Will kept looking at me in disbelief, as Bennett suggested that the White House, not Kenneth Starr’s office, might have leaked the material about Starr’s position that a sitting president might be subject to criminal indictment–my son looked at me as if I might be able to explain to him why these deranged and opportunistic blowhards in my generation (more or less) had been allowed to achieve positions of power and influence, as if I and all my middle-aged kind should account for how things had gotten to this absurd pass. And I had no answer for him. A brief taped interview with Robert Byrd, all rheum and pregnant rhetorical pauses so prolonged that I began to fear they might actually be transient ischemic accidents or petit mal seizures, was intercut into the live punditry, and the gravity of Byrd’s concern weighed so heavily upon him, evidently, that he leaned forward toward his interlocutor in a way that led me to think (hope?) that he would pitch forward out of his chair and fall flat on his face. I’ve read again and again that Byrd is deeply respected for his Constitutional expertise but next to ineffective as a legislator. Respected but ineffective rings some kind of sympathetic bell, but otherwise his elder-statesman moralizing left me cold and my son close to laughter. Also, can we talk about the “highly respected Henry Hyde” while we’re talking about modern-day American efforts at Homeric epithets? There are journalistic mantras like this that get repeated until they’re practically reflexive, and even in the face of evidence that screams to the contrary almost every day, they adhere to their host organisms like symbiotic parasites. Block that simile, but you know what I mean.

A fascinating and brilliant gloss on the issues of law and truth and lying and trials is Janet Malcolm’s The Crime of Sheila McGough, just published by Knopf–which I started reading over the weekend, on the ill-fated trip to Dover Plains, and have been getting back to every spare moment I can find. Her description of trials as competing narratives rather than searches for the truth has an amazing and serendipitous relevance to the impeachment travesty, and, as always with her writing, it would be brilliant even in a topical vacuum. (For more on Malcolm’s book, see “The Book Club.”)

Meanwhile, my dentist tells me I need six thousand dollars’ worth of work done on my pre-fluoride-style choppers. It will take only two appointments is the good news; the bad news is that the first appointment will be four hours and the second a mere three. And this is with the guy who in a brief pause in his dreadful ministrations a year or two back said to his assistant, “Ha ha–this guy thinks he’s finished.” I’d like to introduce him to my recent New Yorker Rejector Person and then to the colleague who said to me at lunch yesterday, after I’d said I’d learned to keep my mouth shut when working with a certain writer, “Now that I’d like to see.” Given the length of these dispatches so far, I bet you’d agree.