Slate Goes Postal
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Wise Men and Wise Guys
Where are the Wise Men who could lead us out of the Flytrap morass? That is the mournful keening you hear these days from about half the folks in Washington. They lament the passing of an alleged era when figures of towering prestige and gravitas would swoop in like superheroes when democracy had tied itself in one too many knots. Gently but firmly, they would guide us to safety, then disappear back into their walnut-paneled clubs until needed once more. If only we had such Wise Men today (not excluding the possibility of a Wise Woman, of course), they would be able to broker a deal between the president and the Republican Congress, sparing the nation the prolonged agony of impeachment. (To hear the keening, check out this recent New York Times piece by R.W. Apple Jr.)
The other half of Washington finds the idea of Wise-Men-to-the-rescue pompous, patronizing, and undemocratic. This group includes both those who relish the prospect of impeachment and those who think President Clinton should hang tough. (Slate’s David Plotz falls into this category. See his recent “Dispatch.”)
In a recent New York Times op-ed essay titled “No Time for Partisans” (not available in the Times Web site free space, unfortunately) four distinguished Washington figures call for “responsible leaders on both sides” to make a deal. The authors are former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler, former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, former appellate Judge Abner Mikva, and former Watergate Committee counsel James Hamilton. Certainly if Flytrap is a job for Wise Men, these are the Wise Men for the job.
But is it, and are they? Next week (beginning Tuesday evening, we hope) we will conduct a Slate e-mail “Dialogue” on Wise Men to the Rescue. The doubter will be Bill Kristol, TV pundit and editor of the Weekly Standard. That makes Kristol, among more glorious attributes, Slate’s neighbor in a downtown D.C. office building–which may answer the question several distressed readers have asked: Why so many writers in Slate from the Weekly Standard? Answer: They’re just so … handy. In this case, though, Kristol and the Standard are the leading voices urging Republicans not to flinch or compromise on impeachment, so we’re especially delighted to have his participation. So delighted, in fact, that we’ll refrain from making any jokes tying Bill’s skepticism about Wise Men to his former employment as Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. (Actually, we couldn’t quite work out a good one. Suggestions welcome.)
Defending Wise Men as a concept and as a solution to Flytrap will be James Hamilton. As the youngest member of the Four Would-Be Wise Men, he probably has the thinnest patina of wisdom. That is no measure of relative actual wisdom, of course. But if we had to guess, it probably means he’s doing most of the work.
Poetry in Motion
When we imagine the life of the poet laureate, we see–through a dreamlike fog of sherry–a berobed figure lounging on a waterlily, floating gently through an Arcadian landscape, quill pen in hand but used more as a prop than for the actual production of poetry. But Robert Pinsky–also poetry editor of Slate–is a laureate who does not rest on his laurels, a Stakhanovite among poets. He has no fewer than three new books out at the moment. The Handbook of Heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow is an anthology published by Morrow. The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide is a short prose book about hearing poems, with no diagrams or jargon, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux. And Penguin Audiobooks has brought out an edition of Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno, read by Pinsky himself, Louise Glück, and Seamus Heaney. Pinsky queries if we count an audiobook as a book. As a card-carrying new medium ourselves, we sure as heck do.