The Breakfast Table

Why the Left Isn’t Reliably Left

Dear Chris,

Where did the Washington Monthly put you? It’s a topsy-turvy world in pundit land. The hawks be doves; the doves, hawks. The biggest split on terrorism is a gender split. Most of the women I know are hawks. When I interviewed Laura Bush just before Christmas, she said that like all women she hoped the president wouldn’t have to bomb Afghanistan. Whoa, sister, I thought, speak for yourself. I wasn’t rattling any sabers, but I was rooting for a commensurate response. I hate to pile on Gore, but post-9/11, he would have been hammered if he’d waited to respond. Bush was given a pass by Democrats that the right just wouldn’t be capable of.

One other answer to the center-left question, although not a wise retort (what a setup), is that the right loves itself, feels that it has right (God, if you will) on its side, and is delighted to have a cable network to itself (still they feel they’re not heard). There are so many more identifiably right pundits and barely any identifiably left pundits. (Who can you think of? Only Sidney Blumenthal swooned over Clinton, and he quickly left The New Yorker for the administration.) There are also serious gender requirements for pundits. If I ever behaved like Bob Novak, I’d be booted off the air. It’s not in most women’s nature to be strident and doctrinaire, but if it were, we’d be drummed off television to become lawyers or accountants (the new, glitzy, on-the-edge profession).

Those labeled on the left are not reliably and consistently left the way those labeled as right are reliably and consistently on the right. They don’t crack. The left has more reason to go both ways, given how hard it was to defend Clinton (thank God for Ken Starr going too far himself) and how easy it now is to be on board with this president and his secretaries of state and defense. It’s hard to know whether Bush will get the same bye on matters domestic, since our attention is still primarily focused on terrorism. And impossible to know what it would be like for Bush had 9/11 not occurred. It’s interesting to watch how a president does when everyone is rooting for him (a honeymoon without the raised eyebrow). As a journalist, I’m not in favor of much giving too much benefit of the doubt to anyone, yet I’m aware that most people behave better when they are not being gratuitously attacked.

By the way, someone wrote me that Bush’s statement in Japan was that we’d been allies with Japan for a half-century, not a century and a half. I just checked with the official transcript and it says a century and a half, not to harp on it. With everything going on, who’s going to hold a world war against the president?

I’m reading Joe Klein’s new book, The Natural, although it’s hard to delve back into the Clinton presidency. It’s too early to feel nostalgia, if ever I will. Reading will conflict with my favorite TV program, 24 (I bet you never watch television, except for high-minded civic-affairs programs like Frontline). Sadly, my favorite TV detective John Thaw, aka Inspector Morse, died last week. He was on PBS Mystery for years and now, thankfully, A&E has picked up the reruns. Like Law & Order, Inspector Morse promises to run in perpetuity. Someday, I hope they rerun you.

See you in the morning,