Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Tragically Missed Allusions

Maureen Dowd reports she once took one of the "top political strategists" of the "first President Bush" (as she calls him) to dinner, where

After a couple of martinis, he blurted out that the president was having a hard time with the idea that I was the White House reporter for The New York Times.

Dumbfounded, I asked why.

"We just picture you someplace else — at The Chicago Tribune maybe," he said.

Growing up in a Victorian mansion in Greenwich, the son of a Connecticut senator and Wall Street banker, the president had conjured up a certain image of what the Times White House reporter would be like. Someone less ethnic and working-class, with a byline like Chatsworth Farnsworth III.

But, alas, Big Mo has it all wrong. Irish Americans have been "passing" for too many decades to be considered seriously ethic. In fact, at just about the time she recounts in this passage there was one of those entertaining New York municipal corruption scandals going on - the kind in which the feds haul away the local politicians by the truckload. And I distinctly recall that there was nary an Irish name to go in the paddywagon blotter! Sad, really, when you think about it, that Irish Americans have to settle for Irish names appearing in reports of financial scandals nowadays - like Scott Sullivan, the disgraced CFO at Worldcom. How "ethnic" is Jack Welch in modern American argot? Please. Big Mo, the bad Mr. Sullivan, the good Mr. Welch and all the other Irish Americans got where they are without need of any program to "redress a historic racial injustice by giving some advantage based on race" like the one the University of Michigan maintains which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. And some kind soul at the Times really should point out to Ms. Dowd that Adolph Ochs, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, bought the bankrupt New York Times in 1896 - and that Big Mo's suggestion that they kept it staffed and stuffed with Anglo-Saxon Yalies until she arrived is hilarious.

No, maybe Big Mo's vestigally-ethnic, working-class loathing of the then-President was tragically causing her to miss the then-President's understated, droll, dry, aristocratic New England comparision of her to Professor Venkman, the character played by Bill Murray in the first Ghostbusters movie, as is evident from this scene from the movie:

You play the cello! It's my favorite

Really? Do you have a favorite piece?

I'd have to say Prokofiev's third concerto.

That's a violin concerto.

Yeah, but it's got a great cello break.

He grabs the cello and starts playing it like a stand-up base. Dana takes
the instrument out of his hands and gently puts it back in the case.

You really don't act like a scientist.

No? What do I act like?

Like a used car salesman.


Big Mo also notes that the two Georges Bush were once told by an interviewer that "families like the Bushes often send their kids to expensive private schools to ensure their leg up." Well, the Man Without Qualities and spouse send their kids to expensive private schools because the public school system in Los Angeles where we live is a big holding tank of students who mostly just get shouted at by their teachers and administrators - who don't deliver much in the way of education to said tankees in exchange for expensive middle class sinecures. But, for Big Mo, maybe that's OK. Maybe the teachers and administrators are ethnic.

Naturally, Big Mo thinks the proposed Bush tax cut is nasty, nasty, nasty - and a boon to his "class." It seems she does not mean this term to include the lower 50% of the nation's income earners who together pay less than 4% of all federal income taxes. But it's never clear what she does mean with her use of the term "class," although the whole column seems to be about "class." Indeed, she seems so ticked off about the President's Yale and Harvard connections that one could almost think that when she says that his loyalties are to his "class" she is referring to his college graduating class (or, maybe, business school). She never mentions that the programs at Harvard, Yale, Michigan and the like that dole out benefits on the basis of race are well-known to mostly end up benefitting middle-class students who have no identifiable "disadvantages." Maybe that's related to her apparent trouble understanding that the President is not opposed to helping people who have been disadvantaged - he is opposed to aiding people on the basis of their race.

Nor can Big Mo pass on using the Bush slur de jour, as she recounts:

And, as Time notes this week, he quietly reinstituted the practice — which lapsed under his father in 1990 — of sending a floral wreath on Memorial Day from the White House to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, where those nostalgic for the Old South celebrate Jefferson Davis. Why on earth would the president of the U.S. in the year 2003 take the trouble to do that?

Of course, Tom Maguire - oops, one of those Irish names again popping up on the wrong side of the class war lines - has already busted TIME on their "Bush honors Jefferson Davis" frolic. The frenzy within the liberal media blob to "get" Bush seems to have especially deranged TIME. First, Sandy Berger's discredited al Qaeda reprisal fairy tale - now this. Not that Big Mo cares about any of that. She's too busy positioning herself as an ethnic champion!

But Big Mo shouldn't feel too bad just because she doesn't know that she's not really "ethnic," reveals her insensitivity to why many parents have to send their kids to expensive private schools, fell for another TIME howler, misunderstands the structure of the proposed tax cut, misunderstands the difference between "race" and "disadvantage," and missed some understated Presidential allusion (this last one a tongue-in-cheek addition of my own, of course). No. She should save those bad feelings for the day she experiences a recapitulation of an entirely different Ghostbusters scene, which is probably only a matter of time:


No, we're moving you OFF CAMPUS. The Board
of Regents has decided to terminate your
grant. You are to vacate these premises

This is preposterous! I demand an

Fine. This University will no longer
continue any funding of any kind for your
group's activities.

But why? The students love us!

Dr. Venkman, we believe that the purpose of
science is to serve mankind. You, however,
seem to regard science as some kind of
"dodge" or "hustle." Your theories are the
worst kind of popular tripe, your methods
are sloppy and your conclusions are highly
questionable. You're a poor scientist, Dr.
Venkman, and you have no place in this
department or in this University.

I see.

Of course, the good Dean was talking about scientists, where we're apparently to believe that Big Mo is supposed to be some kind of journalist. It just goes to show that some things in real life are less plausible than anything in Ghostbusters.

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