Kausfiles Special

Eine Klein Critique

Kausfiles.com went away for a few days, and missed a Joe Klein swoon. This time over Bill Bradley. Actually, it was more of a swoonlet; as Klein makes clear in a contribution to Slate’s Fray, he’s just really happy with several of the candidates this year, including Bush and McCain. (Is he allowed to swoon for more than one at a time? Isn’t that some sort of antitrust violation?)

Klein’s piece is perfectly OK. But one expects a lot of him, since he was once (and may again be) the best in the business. So:

1) Why discover Bradley so late? Most of the press told us weeks ago about the ex-senator’s “artful languor,” his “aloof anti-charismatic messianism,” his emphasis on “substance, not style.” You can see Klein’s failure to obey the media’s quasi-menstraul cycle (which dictates that this is a Gore Comeback moment) as stubborn, heroic individualism. Or you can say The New Yorker seems to think its high-income readers aren’t very well informed–doctors, maybe, with no time to read the papers–and they can use a sort of remedial course on what’s been happening in politics over the past months. They need a classy analyst to tell them that Bradley has “run an extremely effective campaign” but that “The race is about to intensify.” Did Klein write sentences like that when he was at Newsweek? I don’t remember them. (A third theory: Maybe it’s New Yorker editors who are isolated and not very well-informed.)

2) In the course of mildly hyping Bradley’s substance, Klein says Bradley proposed an “extremely controversial” solution to each of the problems he has tackled, including child poverty. But Bradley’s child poverty speech was a bunch of sensible incremental proposals that practically everyone to the left of the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector might endorse (and Rector might go for some of them). To show Bradley’s extreme controversiality on poverty, Klein notes that Bradley “has remained opposed to Clinton’s 1996 welfare initiative.” But it is hardly controversial if Bradley doesn’t renounce his own recorded vote against the bill. What’s significant is that Bradley doesn’t call for repealing any significant part of the law–which would be controversial. What seems to have happened is that after Bradley got burned by the press’ sniping at the cost of his health plan, he got a bit cautious, and hasn’t proposed anything dramatic since. But that’s not the sort of complication you can get into if you’re giving a remedial lecture to time-pressed MDs.

3) Klein’s other generalities are sometimes a little off. He says Bradley’s antipoverty plan had a “big price tag–$9.8 billion.” If that’s a big price tag, we really have gone a long way down the incrementalist road. Klein also praises Bradley for giving “speeches on issues that are less prominent on most pollsters’ radar screens,” citing, as his first example, Bradley’s speech on “gun control.” But if ever there was a “hot button” issue that is big on Democratic pollsters’ radar screens but relatively unimportant in reality, it’s gun control. As others have said: The New Yorker has fact-checkers; it needs some thought-checkers.

4) Maybe Klein is just spending his time doing something else, like writing his next novel. … Alas, Kausfiles doesn’t have that excuse!

So he had a Caucasian guilt thing going, is that it?

“Ickes, a White deputy chief of staff and architect of Clinton’s 1996 re-election, steadfastly has denied breaking any fund-raising laws.”

 –Associated Press story of Wednesday, Oct. 27, describing the efforts of Clinton aide Harold Ickes on behalf of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s campaign for Congress.