Friday, November 16, 2007

Hillary bosses around the boys

Hillary Clinton triumphed in last night's Democratic presidential debate - big time, as Dick Cheney might put it.

She abandoned her longstanding pose of regal detachment; instead, she waded into the fray, took on her assailants, and basically took them apart. She didn't go after them on character, she did it on the issues. She fought cleanly, and it put her chief rivals back on their heels.

Referring to Barack Obama, she said at the start of the debate: "He talks a lot about stepping up and taking responsibility and taking strong positions. But when it came time to step up and decide whether or not he would support universal health care coverage, he chose not to do that. His plan would leave 15 million Americans out. That's about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. I have a universal health care plan that covers everyone. I've been fighting this battle against the special interests for more than 15 years, and I am proud to fight this battle....You know, the most important thing here is to level with the American people. Senator Obama's health care plan does not cover everyone."

Obama disputed her, of course, but the fact is that a number of health experts agree with Hillary on this. The point is, within the frame of the debate, she had quickly signaled her intention to counterattack, using policy to mock the criticisms that are usually flung her way (such as Obama's charge that she doesn't level with the American people).

She went after John Edwards, in similar fashion: "I don't mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook. Because what I believe is important is that we put forth what we stand for....Senator Edwards raised health care again -- when Senator Edwards ran (for president) in 2004, he wasn't for universal health care. I'm glad he is now."

OK, the "mud" line might have been a tad strong - my idea of "mud" is the stuff that lands in my email box, from right-wingers who paint her as a lesbian murderer - but she was accurate about Edwards changing his stance on health care. She was also greatly aided, shortly thereafter, by CNN questioner John Roberts, who suggested to Edwards that it was unfair to assail Hillary for flip-flopping on issues, when in fact he has done the same. As Roberts noted, "You were for the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository before you were against it. You were for the Iraq war before you were against it." (This debate took place in Nevada, where the big local issue is whether nuclear wastes should be stored inside that mountain. Edwards once said yes, now he says no.)

Perhaps it's sheer coincidence, but, after taking these hits from Hillary and Roberts, Edwards was fairly tame for the rest of the debate. Much later, when the questioners virtually invited him to attack Hillary for a recent hawkish vote on Iran, he demurred. Perhaps he didn't want to get booed again. Shortly before the Iran issue resurfaced, he had taken a drive-by swipe at Hillary, basically calling her a corporate Democrat, and the audience loudly voiced its disapproval. He was reduced to pleading, "No, wait a minute..." Clearly, the Democrats in the seats didn't want to see their candidates fight among themselves; that, by definition, helped the frontrunner.

Obama learned the same lesson late in the debate. While he and Hillary were fencing over the future of Social Security, and whether the cap on the Social Security tax should be raised, Obama cut loose with a line that sounded like it had been cooked up in advance. After Hillary voiced reluctance on raising the cap, Obama said, "You know, this is the kind of thing that I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani," and the crowd didn't go for that, either. Hearing the boos, he was forced to plead, "no, no, no, this is important."

By that point in the debate, however, Obama had already ceded some valuable ground to Hillary. Early on, he was asked to explain his stance on the issue that had tripped her up at the Philadelphia debate two weeks ago: whether illegal immigrants should be given drivers' licenses. She has since honed her stance down to one word - "No" - whereas Obama, who always zaps her for not talking straight, proceeded last night to talk in circles.

At first he said, "When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention." But moments later he said, "I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I'm saying is that we can't" - now the audience was laughing - "No, no, no, no. Look, I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the same level can make that happen. But what I also know is that if we keep on getting distracted by this problem, then we are not solving it."

Say, what? Hillary won that round simply by standing aside.

She even managed to have it both ways on the "gender" factor. When asked whether she has been portraying herself as a girl being unfairly beaten up by the boys, she said: "I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm just trying to play the winning card. And I understand, very well, that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman; they're attacking me because I'm ahead." (She may not have been playing the gender card "here in Las Vegas," but she dealt it often, pre-Vegas. Anyway, the audience loved the "because I'm ahead" line.)

But then, seizing on an invitation from CNN questioner Campbell Brown, she proceeded to fly the banner of sisterhood: "Well, it is clear, I think, from women's experiences that from time to time, there may be some impediments. (Laughter from the appreciate women in the hall.) And it has been my goal over the course of my lifetime to be part of this great movement of progress that includes all of us, but has particularly been significant to me as a woman. And to be able to aim toward the highest, hardest glass ceiling is history-making. Now, I'm not running because I'm a woman. I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified and experienced person to hit the ground running, but it's humbling. (Applause from the women in the hall.) It's been inspiring. And I have to tell you, as I travel around the country, you know, fathers drive hours to bring their daughters to my events. And so many women in their 90s wait to shake my hand. And they say something like: I'm 95 years old, I was born before women could vote, and I want to live long enough to see a woman in the White House."

None of her rivals dented her after that. The two booing incidents occurred after that. I got the sense that Obama and Edwards are back in their old rut: They can't rise in the Democratic polls without attacking Hillary and creating doubt about her credentials, yet Democratic audiences are not receptive to seeing her under attack. And now that she is defending herself - rather than acting as if she was cruising toward her convention coronation - the audiences might support her even more.

As time ran out, a college student playfully inquired, "This is a fun question for you. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?" And Hillary replied, "Now, I know I'm sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice. I want both."

Hey, it's that gender card again! But thanks to her performance last night, finishing with that dash of self deprecation, her candidacy is probably stronger this morning. And that's probably the gift she wanted most.


There's news on the conservative "family values" hypocrisy front. No, this isn't about Larry Craig, the anti-gay senator who got busted in the Minneapolis bathroom. And no, this isn't about Richard Curtis, the anti-gay legislator in Washington state who was caught wearing women's clothing in a gay porn store. And no, this isn't about
Glenn Murphy Jr., the (now departed) GOP chairman in Clark County, Indiana, and (now departed) chair of the Young Republican National Federation, who was recently being investigated for criminal deviate conduct, after a young associate told police that the GOP chairman had sought to perform an X-rated act upon his person.

This entry is actually about the other "family values" conservative, Florida state legislator Bob Allen, who, notwithstanding his consistent anti-gay voting record, was caught at a highway rest stop in July while offering to perform a sex act on a male cop for $20.

Yesterday, a county judge put Allen on six-months probation, ordered him to take an HIV-awareness course, and told him to stay away from the rest stop. My favorite line in today's Florida newspaper story: "Allen's future in politics remains uncertain." Apparently the Florida Republicans have yet to decide whether the chasm between Allen's voting record and his personal behavior warrants a call for his ouster.

And this is the party that claims to hold the moral high ground?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lost pages from the Hillary script

Now that the control freaks in the Hillary Clinton campaign have been busted for planting questions at the candidate's "town hall" meetings, and have vowed to never ever do it again, perhaps a new era of spontaneity is at hand. If the Hillary people really do junk their scripts, here are the YouTube moments that you'll probably never get to see:

1. "I'm honored that you are calling on me, Senator Clinton, and picking me out of the crowd at random. My question is about your husband, who was such a wonderful president and inspiration to so many Americans. Some members of the vast right-wing conspiracy seem to insist that he has flaws - and that even you do, as well. (Spontaneous laughter.) Do you think that these conspirators are willfully delusional, or simply motivated by their envy of your demonstrable success, ever since your middle-class childhood, in working your heart out for middle-class Americans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue?"

2. "Yes, hi, and welcome to our community. I want to ask about your 2002 vote on Iraq, when you specifically authorized President Bush to pursue a course of peace rather than war. Some of your pile-on male Democratic rivals claim that you did something 'political,' like maybe you were just thinking of some future election. As if. Isn't it true that your decision to vote Yes was actually a laudable profile in courage, the product of countless hours of wise reflection, and a testament to your seasoned leadership and experience at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue?"

3. "OhmyGod, like, thanks so much for letting me ask you something. Some media pile-on-ers, and I won't mention Tim Russert by name, seem to believe that your husband's decision to safeguard your First Lady papers, and keep them away from the public 'til after the election, is, like, a bad thing or something, like we might actually care what's in them. Like, aren't these pile-on-ers mostly men who would rather sit around watching football and Fox News instead of standing up and fighting each and every day for Americans who work hard and play by the rules?"

4. "Yes, oh wow, this is great, thanks for calling on me. As a woman, I am heartened by your courageous insistence that there's no need to talk in specifics about the future of the Social Security program. Thank you for using your experience at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to come up with the idea of forming a brand-new bipartisan commission to study the issue further. One of my gym friends this morning - she was on the Stairmaster right next to me - she said, 'Hey, how about that wonderful bipartisan commission idea?' So I know it's catching on. My question is, aren't your Democratic rivals, by clinging to their specific reform proposals, and by refusing to see the wisdom of bipartisan commissions, demonstrating that their cognitive skills are sorely limited by their male gender?"

5. "First of all, Hillary, thank you for giving us hope again. I say that because of the inspiring way you have handled the issue of giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. How rare it is to find a candidate who can be so consistent - seemingly saying yes to the concept one week, then seemingly saying no to the concept another week, but, in truth, demonstrating the kind of brilliant intellectual flexibility that we have yearned for these past seven years. So my question is about the people out there who claim you're a calculating flip-flopper. Besides the fact they never worked at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, why is it true that they all have the same morals as the Swift Boaters?"

6. "I do have a question for you, Mrs. Clinton, but since I can't seem to remember it, I'll have to read it to you. I forgot my glasses this morning, so please bear with me. It says right here: 'Dear senior citizen. When the senator begins to turn in your direction, raise right hand precisely six inches above right shoulder. Keep hand vertical, at 90-degree angle to the ceiling, fingers close together, do not bend wrist, nod head once, keep face in friendly mode' -- WAIT, WHERE ARE YOU FELLOWS TAKING ME? LET ME GO, I STILL HAVE A QUESTION FOR MRS. CLINTON, IT SAYS RIGHT HERE THAT......."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Bernie, you're a good man"

The Rudy Giuliani campaign would dearly love to see the Bernie Kerik story go away. After all, it's tougher to make a case for Rudy's alleged post-9/11 leadership prowess if people are focusing on the fact that Rudy promoted his former chauffeur all the way to city police commissioner and to a brief nomination as federal Homeland Security director - all the while ignoring evidence that his underqualified pal was (among many other things) mixed up with a Jersey "waste management" company suspected of having ties to the mob.

Late last week, meanwhile, Kerik was indicted by the feds on 16 counts of tax evasion (allegedly hiding half a million bucks worth of income) and other crimes (including taking bribes while in public office). Kerik has pleaded not guilty to all charges. But Kerik and his indictment remain in the news, because yesterday one of his former lovers, the deposed book publisher Judith Regan, filed a lawsuit against her former employer, HarperCollins, and its parent company, the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation, alleging that the media conglomerate had urged her to lie to federal sleuths about her recent affair with Kerik in order to protect the prospective potential candidacy of Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy skeptics will love that allegation - Murdoch's News Corporation also owns Fox News, which is headed by Roger Ailes, a longtime Rudy buddy who ran Rudy's first mayoral campaign - but...I digress. Kerik has the potential to stay in the news simply because of one largely-overlooked episode in his checkered career:

His failed, truncated stint as a top American official in post-invasion Iraq.

In May 2003, President Bush asked Kerik to journey to the newly liberated land, and train the Iraqi police force. (The indictment alleges that Kerik filed false statements about his suspicious personal finances while applying for that job.) Anyway, Kerik proved to be a disaster. He's a virtual metaphor for the Bush administration's well-documented incompetence in Iraq.

He is Rudy's gift to the Bush track record - which doesn't reflect too well on Rudy, who has been trying to sell voters on the notion that he has the best credentials and leadership skills to fight the war on terror.

Thumbing through my copy of George Packer's fine work on the American occupation, entitled The Assassin's Gate, I found only one passage about Kerik. That's because he was so inconsequential. American officials in Iraq were anticipating that Kerik would announce his national plan for training the Iraqi police, but, Packer writes, "instead, Kerik spent his time in Baghdad going on raids with South African mercenaries while his house in New Jersey underwent renovation. He went home after just three months, leaving almost nothing behind."

But Kerik gets close scrutiny in Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran's 2006 book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City. It's not a pretty picture. Kerik was barely off the plane, in that spring of 2003, when he told a State Department official that "the situation (in Iraq) is probably not as bad as people think it is."

The author recounts: "Kerik wasn't a details guy...Kerik's first order of business, less than a week after he arrived, was to give a slew of interviews saying the situation was improving. He told the Associated Press that security in Baghdad 'is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes.' He went on NBC's Today show to pronounce the situation 'better than I expected.'"

Kerik was so busy going out on late-night raids (which was not part of his job) that he couldn't function in daylight (when he was supposed to do his job). As the author writes, "the all nighters meant Kerik wasn't around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping."

More from the book: "Kerik held only two staff meetings while in Iraq, one when he arrived and the other when he was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter...Despite his White House connections, Kerik did not secure funding for the desperately needed police advisers...'He was the wrong guy at the wrong time,' (an American official) said later. 'Bernie didn't have the skills.'"

Bernie didn't have the skills...That kind of assessment sounds familiar. Think of Michael Brown, who didn't have the skills to run FEMA because he'd previously been a lawyer for the International Arabian Horse Association. Or George Deutsch, a kid with no science background who was handed the job of supervising NASA's top scientists, despite the fact that his skills consisted of working as an intern on the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.

We're all familiar with the Bush credo of favoring loyalty over competence. It's worth noting that Rudy shares that credo, with Bernie as Exhibit A.

By the way, there's a fitting epilogue to the Bernie adventure in Iraq. Upon his return to America after only three months, having done little to train anybody, he was warmly welcomed at the White House, on Oct. 3, 2003, with these words of presidential praise: "He showed up (in Iraq) at times of chaos and confusion. Because of his leadership, his knowledge, and his experience, he was able to stand up a police force in Baghdad in a very quick period of time...Bernie went there and made a big difference. And for that our nation is very grateful...We're making great progress...Bernie, you're a good man."

Or, as Bush might just as easily have put it, "Heckuva job, Bernie."


I see that Mike Huckabee continues to rise in Iowa. The latest CBS News-New York Times poll has the underdog Republican candidate nipping at Mitt Romney's heels, just 50 days before the GOP caucuses. He's up to 21 percent of likely caucus-goers; Romney sits at 27.

No wonder Rudy's spinners, in their Monday conference call with reporters, were talking up Huckabee ("He's been putting together, I think, a reasonably good campaign, with the resources they have and the start they had. They've really, kind of, put things together in the last weeks, I think, very well"). They'd love it if Huckabee and Romney split the religious conservative vote.

But, as I indicated recently, a Huckabee boomlet might merely prompt the press to look more closely at Huckabee, who is more than merely a folksy, silver-tongued, guitar-playing ex-governor from Arkansas. A conservative commentator has already warned that if political reporters "only did a little homework, they would discover a guy with a thin skin, a nasty vindictive streak, and a long history of imbroglios about questionable ethics."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can Rudy spin losses into a win?

With a mere 51 days remaining before the Iowa caucuses, we have entered a new phase in the election spin cycle.

During this sprint to Jan. 3, various candidates will try to finesse expectations about the impending horserace. Those who seem destined to do poorly in the earliest key contests - Iowa and New Hampshire - will seek to persuade the media, far in advance of the actual voting, that any stumbles out of the starting gate are no big deal. Indeed, regardless of the realities on the ground, the candidate's spinners will invoke variations of this time-honored cliche: "We feel very good about where we are."

And so it went yesterday with the spinners for Rudy Giuliani, during a conference call with reporters. They basically signaled that Rudy was going to lose both Iowa and New Hampshire to Mitt Romney - a somewhat startling admission, given the fact that no Republican during the presidential primary era has won the nomination without first winning at least one of those early states - but they hastened to add that, even if Rudy does lose to Romney, it would be no big deal anyway.

And, of course, we had these lines: "We feel extraordinarily good about where we are...we feel very good about where we are positioned right now...I think we feel good about where we're at in Iowa...We feel like we're in a pretty good place. We're comfortable about where we're at....So right now, I feel very good about where we are..."

Can a national frontrunner (Rudy leads the GOP field in the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, with 33 percent of likely primary voters) win the nomination even while losing the traditional gatekeeper states? The essence of the Rudy argument, from campaign manager Michael DuHaime, is that "there are multiple paths to victory," that Rudy can win the nomination by racking up delegates in the big states that vote on Jan. 29 (Florida) and Feb. 5 (notably New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois), even if he whiffs in the early-January voting in Iowa and New Hampshire.

DuHaime basically argued that because Rudy is so strong in these big states, and that because these big states are holding their contests so early in the calendar for the first time, there's little chance that a rival will get much momentum from winning Iowa and New Hampshire. He said that Rudy's advantage in these big states is "momentum-proof."

In his words, "We certainly recognize the ability for a candidate or candidates to get momentum or to be hurt by the early states. But we also recognize that this (primary season) is not the same as, say, 2000 or 1996 or '92 or '88 or '80."

We'll soon see whether this theory has any merit. It might not. The Rudy people are assuming that the enormous free publicity benefits of winning Iowa and New Hampshire will have no impact on the GOP voters in subsequent contests. Romney, who has outspent and out-organized Rudy in both those early states, also has the financial resources (personal and otherwise) to compete strongly with Rudy in the big states. Is it credible to assume that Rudy will remain "momentum-proof" if he scores lower than Romney and Mike Huckabee in Iowa (a very real possibility) and scores lower than Romney, John McCain, and Ron Paul in New Hampshire (also a real possibility)?

Two new polls show Romney widening his lead in New Hampshire. Not so coincidentally yesterday, the Rudy team's spin to lower the bar for Rudy in New Hampshire was truly creative. DuHaime said, "I mean, this is Governor Romney's backyard, and people should recognize that...If you live in New Hampshire, you know who Governor Romney is and you've seen him as (Massachusetts) governor, you've seen his campaigns for governor (in Boston TV ads)...So he should have an institutional advantage there." And as for Rudy, "this is his first political campaign in New Hampshire."

But are we really supposed to believe that, in terms of media exposure, Romney's four years as Massachusetts governor trump Rudy's eight years as "America's mayor" in the city that suffered 9/11?

And if we leave the Northeast and journey to the South, we see other potential flaws in Rudy's spin. Another key early GOP contest, on Jan. 19, is South Carolina. Rudy is by no means a lock on winning there, either. He is competing there with Romney (who is reportedly picking up religious conservative support), and Fred Thompson (a southern home boy who yesterday won the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee, the largest anti-abortion group, which has grassroots clout in states such as South Carolina). Also, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll reports that the South is Rudy's weakest region. Is it plausible to think that Florida on Jan. 29 would rescue Rudy if he first loses Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina?

Actually, it might be worse than that. It's possible that the Michigan Republicans will vote on Jan. 15, and that too could be rough for Rudy. The Romney family has ties to Michigan - Mitt's dad was governor there - and John McCain has a track record in Michigan, having won the 2000 GOP primary. So I'll amend the question: Is it plausible that big-state GOP voters will still see Rudy as the most viable candidate if he starts the primary season with an 0-4 record? As GOP strategist Scott Reed, who is not affiliated with any candidate, reportedly remarked the other day, the Rudy team "can't just have a Florida strategy and lose four straight races before then."

One other caveat that potentially undercuts the Rudy spin: He has largely coasted thus far, benefiting from his universal name ID, but he will be increasingly attacked by his rivals as voting time draws near. For instance, we'll see whether Republican voters remain besotted by Rudy's alleged 9/11 leadership credentials, when they learn more about how Rudy turned a blind eye to his police chief's mob affiliations and championed the guy to become director of Homeland Security...the same guy who was tapped by President Bush to train the Iraqi police in 2003, only to return as a failure within three months.

I'll look at the latter episode in detail tomorrow. Although I assume that the Rudy team's spin would be, "We're comfortable where we are right now with Bernie Kerik."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Norman Mailer, political blogger emeritus

I had not somehow divined that literary lion Norman Mailer was near death when, several weeks ago, I bought a 50th-anniversary edition of his World War II novel, The Naked and the Dead. I had only intended to reacquaint myself with a book that I had devoured as a college student, and to read the new introduction, penned by the elderly Mailer, offering a wry assessment of his auspicious debut. Now that he’s gone, of course, his words seem to carry extra weight. “Life,” he writes in the introduction, “is like a gladiator’s arena for the soul” - a line that evokes his trademark pugilism and feels true besides.

Yesterday, every obituary and sidebar "appraisal" invoked The Naked and the Dead, deservedly so. But few mentioned that Mailer had written a seminal piece of political journalism for Esquire magazine, way back in November 1960 - an article stuffed with edgy and prophetic commentary about politics and the postwar celebrity culture. It was entitled “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” and, for many aspiring scribes, reading the piece (in the words of the late New York journalist Jack Newfield) “was like the first time I heard Bob Dylan and Charlie Parker.”

Mailer’s piece has resonated down the decades. He bypassed the he-said/she-said “objectivity” paradigm and basically signaled that it was OK for a reporter to exercise the intellect rather than simply collect quotes, that it was OK to have a point of view (albeit well argued) at the expense of artificial balance. And at a time when much political reporting was two-dimensional, he offered sight and sound. His piece was as long as a novella, but I prefer to think of it as an extended post on the world’s first blog.

From “Superman,” here’s his description of John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, arriving at his hotel in Los Angeles, for the 1960 Democratic convention:

“He had the deep orange-brown suntan of a ski instructor, and when he smiled at the crowd his teeth were amazingly white and clearly visible at a distance of fifty yards. For one moment he saluted Pershing Square, and Pershing Square saluted him back, the prince and the beggars of glamour staring at one another across a city street….All the while the band kept playing the campaign tunes, sashaying circus music, and one had a moment of clarity, intense as a déjà vu, for the scene which had taken place had been glimpsed before in a dozen musical comedies; it was the scene where the hero, the matinee idol, the movie star comes to the palace to claim the princess, or what is the same, and more to our soil, the football hero, the campus king, arrives at the dean's home surrounded by a court of open-singing students to plead with the dean for his daughter's kiss and permission to put on the big musical that night. And suddenly I saw the convention, it came into focus for me…finally it was simple: the Democrats were going to nominate a man who, no matter how serious his political dedication might be, was indisputably and willy-nilly going to be seen as a great box-office actor, and the consequences of that were staggering and not at all easy to calculate.”

“The prince and the beggars of glamour”…Mailer was virtually the first to write about the influence of celebrity marketing in American postwar politics, and about how the Kennedy candidacy was built not on its policy stances (what Mailer dismissively called “housing projects of fact and issue”), but on its mastery of image. As Mailer saw it, Kennedy was being marketed as a dream hero for a citizenry that dreams of heroes. He explained this with a pop history riff:

“America was also the country in which the dynamic myth of the Renaissance—that every man was potentially extraordinary—knew its most passionate persistence. Simply, America was the land where people still believed in heroes: George Washington; Billy the Kid; Lincoln, Jefferson; Mark Twain, Jack London, Hemingway; Joe Louis, Dempsey, Gentleman Jim; America believed in athletes, rum-runners, aviators; even lovers, by the time Valentino died. It was a country which had grown by the leap of one hero past another…And when the West was filled, the expansion turned inward, became part of an agitated, overexcited, superheated dream life. The film studios threw up their searchlights as the frontier was finally sealed, and the romantic possibilities of the old conquest of land turned into a vertical myth, trapped within the skull, of a new kind of heroic life, each choosing his own archetype of a neo-renaissance man, be it Barrymore, Cagney, Flynn, Bogart, Brando or Sinatra, but it was almost as if there were no peace unless one could fight well, kill well (if always with honor), love well and love many, be cool, be daring, be dashing, be wild, be wily, be resourceful, be a brave gun.

“And this myth, that each of us was born to be free, to wander, to have adventure and to grow on the waves of the violent, the perfumed, and the unexpected, had a force which could not be tamed…The myth would not die.”

Mailer was ambivalent about Kennedy, whom he also described as “handsome as a prince in the unstated aristocracy of the American dream.” After watching Kennedy duel with the press and press the flesh, he decided that “there was an elusive detachment to everything he did…you were aware all the time that the role was one thing and the man another…the actor seemed a touch too aloof…one had little sense of whether to value this elusiveness, to be beware of it.”

More importantly, Mailer pondered whether the hunger for a celebrity president, for a leader invested with the glamorous trappings of heroism, might eventually hamper those who held the office. As he put it, “One could pause: it might be more difficult to be a President than it ever had before. Nothing less than greatness would do.”

I’ll willingly stipulate that hefty chunks of “Superman” are overwritten and pretentious, that Mailer sometimes strays into the thickets of his own verbiage and emerges with cuts and bruises, that he himself was a celebrity thirsting for attention and probably authored this piece with the expectation of gaining more. But he would have produced far less of value if he had merely followed conventional journalistic practices. Instead, he employed all his active senses and gave us indelible impressions (of Los Angeles itself, “one has the feeling it was built by television sets giving orders to men”), along with sharp character sketches, vivid visuals, and prescient analysis. He challenged journalists to think outside the box, long before Tom Wolfe got the credit.

His style and approach are tough to replicate. They are also easy to abuse. And I also acknowledge that political news consumers will always need the wire services, and similar outlets where the facts are served up straight. But Mailer, still early in his career, set a new standard for observation, for the strenuous exercise of the intellect, and something he said in 1974 still rings true today: “Journalism is bondage, unless you can see yourself as a private eye inquiring into the mysteries of a new phenomenon.”

Spoken like our first honorary blogger. Rest in peace.