Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
August 15, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section 6; Page 42; Column 1; Magazine Desk
LENGTH: 3438 words
HEADLINE: All the Presidents Stink
BYLINE: By Frank Rich; Frank Rich is a Times Op-Ed columnist and a senior writer for the magazine.
A couple bits. There's a certain irony in this given recent events
Woodward's official thesis, culled from what he calls overwhelming evidence, is that the "five presidents after Nixon didn't understand" the lessons of Watergate -- the prime lesson being, in his view, that they must "release the facts, whatever they are, as early and completely as possible" about any "questionable activity," preferably (one assumes) to Woodward himself.
While Woodward's point of view may sound smug or elitist, the Beltway establishment sees itself as patriotic, pious and selfless. In her article last fall, Quinn pointedly described how Washington insiders show up like any villagers for charity events (or at least for the one she cited, for a disease that struck the family of a power couple); in a follow-up this summer, she named names of regular churchgoers in the in-crowd. In a comparable aside in "Shadow," Woodward sermonizes that the octogenarian Gerald Ford spends so much time on private jets and playing golf that he has become woefully out of touch with "millions in poverty, children hungry, the wrenching despair and horror of life for many." (Woodward, apparently, is in touch with these impoverished millions, though as yet his only non-Washington book was about John Belushi, who flamed out amid the wrenching despair of West Hollywood.) There's a desperation to this faux-populist defensiveness, as if Woodward and Quinn know they are out of touch with the country and hope to convince us of their jus' folks credentials.
A decade ago, the Washington Post columnist David Broder, speaking at the National Press Club, had presciently decried "a new hybrid creature, an androgynous binding of politician and journalist called the Washington Insider." He warned that if "the people . . . see us as part of a power-wielding clique of insiders, they're going to be resentful as hell that they have no way to call us to account." That was 1988, and by 1998, his prediction came true -- with Broder himself, now a regular pontificator on CNN and NBC, as proof of the syndrome. Woodward, who used to be scarce on TV, sometimes appeared twice a week on "Larry King Live" at the height of Monicagate, serving as an honorary cohost interviewing other Washington insiders. Throw in all the others gassing day and night, whether politicians or reporters or pundits or indeterminate hyphenates of these callings, and it's clear why '98 was the year that the people became, to use a phrase from the old Broder, "resentful as hell." Had Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Joseph Alsop, James Reston, Betty Beale, Clark Clifford and Bob Woodward all been on TV moralizing about politicians and "the American people" all the time during Watergate, maybe a backlash of resentment against them could have saved Nixon too.