October 27, 2007

The Sartre of Tysons Corner

The most complicated question is why, as a rather serious-minded conservative, I am often found in bohemian coffeehouses, comfortable among the revolutionaries. Maybe it is because politics doesn't always predict lifestyle. Maybe because there is a bohemian impulse inside every writer, searching for a little quiet rebellion. Maybe I just like good soy lattes. Whatever the reason, and whatever the T-shirts say, I'll be back.

--Michael Gerson, posing in the Washington Post.

You know, it's funny. I was thinking of some of Bush's speechwriters recently, after watching an excellent Frontline documentary on Iran. It reminded me that the phrase 'Axis of Evil' (originally coined by David Frum as "Axis of Hatred", apparently, before getting tweaked, perhaps by Gerson) had very real world negative consequences vis-a-vis the Iranian reaction. Then you think of the men actually cobbling together these lines, perhaps from a coffee-shop near you, and can't help being staggered by the tawdry mediocrity of it all. In this vein, don't miss this golden oldie either, from back in the day, where the frissons of excitement at divining such a catchy turn of phrase seems really to have gotten the home fires burning. What desperately underwhelming times.

UPDATE: Related, Daniel Larison asks: "(W)hat does one make of statements like this"? I'm really not sure either. Perhaps Gerson might read this article for additional context about the so-called 'buzz-cut' set.

Posted by Gregory at October 27, 2007 05:55 PM


And are you saying that Saddam, the Mad Mullahs of Iran and the Communists of North Korea *aren't* evil? o_O

If not, then why should you object to a description that just happens to be completely accurate? :P

Posted by: Towering Barbarian at October 27, 2007 07:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If not, then why should you object to a description that just happens to be completely accurate?

have you ever heard the saying "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?"

Nothing get a nation in the mood to acquire nuclear weapons than the threat of an attack by a nation with its own nuclear arsenal....

Posted by: p_lukasiak at October 27, 2007 08:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Indeed, yes: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?"

And it's precisely the accuracy (forgetting that Iran was quite open to engagement with us after 9-11) that would suggest that blunderbuss rhetoric is also to be avoided. One of the ironies is that the man who wants to be remembered for behind-the-scenes subtlety -- Cheney -- turns out to have been coarse and ham-handed in his impact on foreign relations.

Posted by: David Sucher at October 27, 2007 11:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You would think Gerson would be hesitant to rhapsodize about his hours spent in coffeehouses when many people remember this section of Matthew Scully's attack on Gerson in the Atlantic Monthly:

"Perhaps you have read that Mike wrote some of the most memorable post-9/11 addresses in longhand, sitting by himself in a Starbucks. His colleagues heard that rumor as well, and in the profiles it became as much a part of the persona as Left Bank cafés to Sartre or London pubs to Shakespeare. The New Yorker’s profile came with a playful sketch of Mike dressed as Cyrano de Bergerac, quill in hand, Starbucks cup next to the ink bottle. Starbucks was 'where he frequently writes speeches,' noted the magazine. As USA Today captured the scene, 'He chews up uni-ball pens by the packet, scribbling out Bush’s most acclaimed speeches in longhand on a yellow legal pad. He sometimes takes days to produce a first draft. And he does some of his best writing in the nearest Starbucks.' In a Fox News 'Power Player of the Week' send-off after Mike had announced his resignation, Chris Wallace explained in the closing shot: 'If you’re wondering about all those legal pads on Gerson’s desk, in this age of computers, he liked to write the first draft of presidential speeches by longhand.'

"My most vivid memory of Mike at Starbucks is one I have labored in vain to shake. We were working on a State of the Union address in John’s office when suddenly Mike was called away for an unspecified appointment, leaving us to 'keep going.' We learned only later, from a chance conversation with his secretary, where he had gone, and it was a piece of Washington self-promotion for the ages: At the precise moment when the State of the Union address was being drafted at the White House by John and me, Mike was off pretending to craft the State of the Union in longhand for the benefit of a reporter.

"He yearned for escape sometimes and preferred the 'buzz' of the coffee shop to the “solitude” of his White House office, Mike explained in a 2002 ABC News Nightline segment, 'Up Close: Michael Gerson.' "

It goes on even longer here: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200709/michael-gerson

It sounds like Gerson is trying to present the same image he's been selling for years. The only new twist is that he's now bragging about being in a radical chic coffeehouse instead of a corporate starbucks, to suit the more anti-war spirit of 2007 compared to 2002.

Posted by: Dogtowner at October 28, 2007 02:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Towering Barbarian,

It depends on your definition of evil. The point is not whether they are evil or not. The point is; what is to be done? What is in the interests of the US? What actions should the US have been contemplating in 2002? What consequences arose from those actions? It's a cost/benefit analysis. The US, at times, has found so called evil men to be rather helpful to the US. So, the finding of evil, whether fanciful or not, is beside the point. It does not, assuming accurate in the first place, necessarily imply, or justify, an particular policy for the nation to adapt.

Stalin was evil. Then he was Uncle Joe. Then he was evil again. Mao was evil. Then he was, seemingly, ok, if not Uncle Mao. Deng was once a leading figure of evil. Then he was riding around the floor of the Astrodome, sitting a top a wagon, with a big cowboy hat on. In fact he was waving the hat like John Wayne. Arafat was evil. Then he got the Nobel Prize.

The guy in Libya was evil. Now he is fine. The guy who was suspected of blowing up the airplane over Lockerbie, with the Syracuse students was surely evil. A month after 9/11 he was meeting with US officials in London to 'help' us track down OBL. Then he got the Nobel Prize. Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau-Maus were evil. Then he danced with the Queen, while dressed in formal evening ware. John Adams was 'mad dog Adams' in the English press at the time. Then he was Ambassador to Court of St James.

On an entirely different note, since we are kicking around subjective definitions of evil, my vote for evil would be case for Bush. And Cheney.

And said evil is closer to my family, my home, and my nation. So they get my attention a lot more than the remaining members of the so called Axis of Evil. Hell, in a minor and highly subjective way, I think Frum is evil. The point is, how, if at all, do I act on that thought?

Posted by: jonst at October 28, 2007 02:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Brits have a perfect term for someone like Gerson: "wanker."

Posted by: Tom S at October 29, 2007 11:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gerson is the perfect candidate to receive a perpetual wedgie.

Posted by: hmm at October 29, 2007 11:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gerson is trying to get work in Hollywood.

Posted by: somedude at October 29, 2007 01:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When these various things by Gerson started coming out, after he left the White House, my feeling was simple. Gerson was Bush's chief liesmith. When Bush wanted some lies polished, arranged prettily and gilded to shine brightly, he called upon Gerson.
Everything that comes out of that man's mouth should be considered a lie until proven otherwise.

Posted by: Barry at November 1, 2007 10:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Having read the Atlantic takedown on that bullshit artist, I can agree whole heartedly with Barry. The man is a poseur. Even his prettily arranged lies (if he did the arranging) sound stilted. They were largely dog whistle phrases intended to appeal to his religious base and artful but obviously hollow attempts at eloquence.

Posted by: Gus at November 1, 2007 03:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think you can blame Bush's speechwriters for the real world consequences of the "Axis of Evil" phrase. The job of a speechwriter to write speeches. It's Bush's job to convey to his the speechwriters what he wants the speech to say, and to request a rewrite when a speechwriter gets it wrong.

Normally, a president would send the portion of the speech containing the "axis of evil" phrase to the State Department for review, and, based on the feedback from the Department, decide whether or not to delete the phrase from the speech. Of course, Bush isn't a normal president, but that's not really the fault of his speechwriters.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at November 2, 2007 12:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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