Paul Berman Turns the Tides of History

More in sorrow than in anger, Paul Berman has written in to deplore Chatterbox’s item characterizing as a “fiasco” the ad campaign undertaken by the Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000. Apparently, it was not a fiasco. It was a “smashing triumph.” The real message of the ads was not what the ads said–essentially nothing, in the case of the first ad, and something that many signatories disagreed with, in the case of the second. Rather, the real message was that Gore should not concede the election to Bush. The ads appeared. Gore didn’t concede to Bush. Ergo, the Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000 got its $125,795 worth.

Well, it’s their money. But Gore probably would have hung in there even if he hadn’t been instructed to by Berman, Sean Wilentz, Rosie O’Donnell, and assorted other worthies. Berman’s right that there was some loose sore-loser talk on the tube on the day after the election. Even then, however, Gore and Bush were clearly dug in for a long fight. Certainly the pundits and everyone else figured out that there were legitimate uncertainties about the Florida situation well before Friday, when the first of the ads appeared. They didn’t need a full-page ad in the New York Times to tell them, assuming they were able to tease out its subtle meaning.

Berman pronounces himself personally indifferent to the fact that the second ad made a straightforward argument for a revote in Palm Beach County (though he can understand why a fussbudget constitutional lawyer might quibble). “[M]any of us who signed the ad didn’t and don’t really care what the exact solution to the election crisis should be,” Berman writes. Indeed, the only glitch that seems to have genuinely mortified Berman was that Philip Roth’s name was misspelled. Perhaps the Emergency Committee should take out another ad stating, “PHILIP ROTH SPELLS HIS NAME WITH ONE ‘L.’ “

Berman ends his complaint by pointing out that Walter Shapiro, who previously alternated in this column with me, had some rude fun two years ago at the expense of Arthur Schlesinger, Caroline Kennedy, Elie Wiesel, Ronald Dworkin, and Toni Morrison, who held a teach-in decrying the Clinton impeachment at NYU. Chatterbox, naturally, is shocked to learn that anyone would fail to swoon at these titans of American political discourse (Alec Baldwin was there, too) but doesn’t see what it has to do with him.