The Breakfast Table

Nattering Nabob of Solipsism


Hmmph. And I feared the whole subject of children’s books was a little lowbrow for the Breakfast Table. Maybe better for the Book Club (“Today in Slate, Bob Herbert and Susan Sarandon on whether the felonious monkeys in Caps for Sale should be put to death.”). One final word on George and Martha, courtesy of my wife: James Marshall, the author of the series, lived for a while in far West Texas, and he’s buried in the tiny town of Marathon. So we’re not all bad.

Didja see Safire today? Another one of his sommelier numbers, in which he removes a candidate’s cork and sniffs it in full view of the electorate. Who died and made him the judge of a pol’s worthiness? (For that matter, Tucker, who died and made us judge?) I don’t mind his taking Bradley’s foreign policy speech apart: I appreciate his listening to it and analyzing it so I don’t have to (I would have had to find toothpicks to keep my eyes open), but the whole “oracle of wisdom” aspect to his approach is beginning to tick me off. When you read one of his columns these days, or at least when I do, you get the sense that it’s more about him than it is about it or them; the phrase “nattering nabob of solipsism” suddenly springs to mind. There’s a great story about his self-importance circulating down here in Austin. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when Safire wrote in two consecutive columns about coming to see Bush? As I understand it, he called Karen Hughes, Bush’s communications director, on, like, a Thursday, and said, “I’m coming Tuesday.” Not “Can I come?” but “I’m coming.” Karen supposedly said, “Well, the governor’s going to be out of town,” to which Safire responded, “No, you don’t understand, I’m coming Tuesday.” P.S., Bush changed his schedule. Can you imagine David Broder pulling that crap? If the story’s true, it lends credence to a theory I have about Safire. My daughter and I were watching The Wizard of Oz over the holidays (which I’m sure Team Carlson wasn’t, since it was on TV), and it occurred to me that there’s a bit of Oz in Safire: He seems all-powerful and scary, someone you have to bow before to curry favor, but when you pull the curtain back he’s just a nebbishy guy who used to write speeches for Nixon. If things had gone differently, he could be the Reform Party frontrunner and Pat Buchanan could be doing a twice-weekly column called–what? “Heil Everybody”?

If Safire were Oz, what would he give the various Republican candidates before tonight’s debate? A brain for Bush. (Sorry, Karen, couldn’t resist.) A heart for Alan Keyes. A chill pill for McCain, since he obviously doesn’t need courage. And how’s about self-awareness for Orrin Hatch, who’s at least pretending that he has a chance in hell of breaking the 1 percent threshold in a state other than Utah? I thought, actually, we might spend some time today talking about the debate, which I fear is going to be unnatural and unrevealing. It’s not like we’re going to learn anything about these guys other than who prepped well and who’s prone to flop sweat under the klieg lights. I know I sound like Nick Lemann, but it’s about as accurate a measure of true intelligence as the SAT; idiots make the Ivy League, so why not the White House? In a real crisis–say, a nuclear conflict with Russia–no president will have spent four days debating a stand-in for Yelstin. Rather than test the candidates in such a formal setting, we ought to catch them off-guard. Life is off-guard, right? But then we’re getting dangerously close to the realm of the pop quiz, and we all know where that got us last time.

Before I go, I want to revise and extend my remarks about Drudge: This morning he has not one but two links to stories about the Clintons’ personal lives. One says Hillary’s going to use her maiden name in her Senate bid, and the other says Hillary and Bill are going to divorce the minute he’s out of office. Drudge teases each by saying they come from a “paper,” but when you click on the link, you learn they come from a supermarket tab Star and National Enquirer, respectively. Next he’ll be linking us to the Weekly World News. The Hartford Courant was right: Drudge is toast.