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New York Magazine essayist Frank Rich is one of the most recognizable figures in American journalism. In his monthly essays, Rich brings his keen insight to bear on political and cultural issues, offering unique and compelling perspectives on a variety of subjects. The esteemed former New York Times columnist is truly an American original, and his essays are must-reads.
Frank Rich Samples
Even those who loathe Karl Rove's every word may be hard-pressed to dispute his pre-Christmas summation of the Republican circus so far: "the most unpredictable, rapidly shifting, and often downright inexplicable primary race I've ever witnessed." And all this, as he adds, before a single vote has been cast. The amazing GOP race has also been indisputably entertaining, spawning a new television genre, the debate as reality show. Installment No. 12, broadcast by ABC in the prime-time ghetto of a Saturday night in early December, drew more viewers (7.6 million) than that week's episode of "The Biggest Loser." It's escapist fun for the entire family (Hispanic and gay families excluded). Or it would be were it not for the possibility that one of the contestants could end up as president of the United States.
Rove does have one thing wrong, however. His party's primary contest, while unpredictable, is not inexplicable. It is entirely explicable. The old Republican elites simply prefer to be in denial about what the explanation is. You can't blame them. To parse this spectacle is to face the prospect that, for all the GOP's triumphal declarations that Barack Obama is doomed to a one-term presidency, the winner of the Republican nomination may not reclaim the White House after all.
Thanksgiving week is a milestone for Barack Obama, but not one that many are likely to commemorate. The president who seemed poised to inherit John F. Kennedy's mantle--in the eyes of Kennedy's last surviving child and brother as well as many optimistic onlookers (me included) in 2008--will now have served longer than his historical antecedent. Obama, surely, does not want to be judged against any JFK yardstick, longevity included. It's his rotten luck that he incited such comparisons at the start by being a young and undistinguished legislator before seeking the presidency; by giving great speeches; by breaking a once-insurmountable barrier for African-Americans, as Kennedy did for Roman Catholics; and by arriving in the White House with his own glamorous wife and two adorable young children in tow. He has usually shrugged off these parallels gracefully. These days, with his honeymoon long over, it's particularly in his interest to do so. But Obama can't escape JFK's long shadow, and neither can we. Another wave of Kennedyiana has arrived just in time for the holidays: three major new books, all three already best sellers. But in the second decade of the 21st century, what, exactly, are the customers buying?
Camelot would seem one of the last go-to articles of national faith for Americans at a time when three quarters of them believe the country is on the wrong track. The Kennedy enterprise still perennially engages the imaginations of high-end artists as various as Don DeLillo, James Ellroy and Stephen Sondheim--not to mention an irrepressible parade of television-mini-series hucksters who come up with such ideas as casting Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy. The assassination alone has generated more books than there were days in the Kennedy presidency. And the Kennedy cult, as Gore Vidal called it in 1967 when he waded through an early bumper crop of New Frontier memoirs, generally gets a waiver on reality checks.
The Class War Has Begun: And the very classlessness of our society makes the conflict more volatile, not less
During the death throes of Herbert Hoover's presidency in June 1932, desperate bands of men traveled to Washington and set up camp within view of the Capitol. The first contingent journeyed all the way from Portland, Oregon, but others soon converged from all over--alone, in groups, with families--until their main Hooverville on the Anacostia River's fetid mudflats swelled to a population as high as 20,000. The men, World War I veterans who could not find jobs, became known as the Bonus Army--for the modest government bonus they were owed for their service. Under a law passed in 1924, they had been awarded roughly $1,000 each, to be collected in 1945 or at death, whichever came first. But they didn't want to wait any longer for their pre–New Deal entitlement--especially given that Congress had bailed out big business with the creation of a Reconstruction Finance Corporation earlier in its session. Father Charles Coughlin, the populist "Radio Priest" who became a phenomenon for railing against "greedy bankers and financiers," framed Washington's double standard this way: "If the government can pay $2 billion to the bankers and the railroads, why cannot it pay the $2 billion to the soldiers?"
The echoes of our own Great Recession do not end there. Both parties were alarmed by this motley assemblage and its political rallies; the Secret Service infiltrated its ranks to root out radicals. But a good Communist was hard to find. The men were mostly middle-class, patriotic Americans. They kept their improvised hovels clean and maintained small gardens. Even so, good behavior by the Bonus Army did not prevent the U.S. Army's hotheaded chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, from summoning an overwhelming force to evict it from Pennsylvania Avenue late that July. After assaulting the veterans and thousands of onlookers with tear gas, MacArthur's troops crossed the bridge and burned down the encampment. The general had acted against Hoover's wishes, but the president expressed satisfaction afterward that the government had dispatched "a mob"--albeit at the cost of killing two of the demonstrators. The public had another take. When graphic newsreels of the riotous melee fanned out to the nation's movie theaters, audiences booed MacArthur and his troops, not the men down on their luck. Even the mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, the owner of the Hope diamond and wife of the proprietor of the Washington Post, professed solidarity with the "mob" that had occupied the nation's capital.
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