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  • Lance Mannion
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Mike Schilling

[Obama] was the lanky, mysterious transfer student[who] was way too cool to carry more than one book at a time. Who would be leader of the pack?

Obama's *written* more than one book. Having rejected "inane", "hallucinatory", and "moronic", I cannot find a word to express how divorced Fineman's column is from reality or sense of any sort.


Maybe we should impeach the media as well.


Klein's a jerk and a dope, but the real problem is the foolishness of the American people who keep buying the obvious garbage that Klein and his ilk are peddling.

Actually, we're not buying them, we're buying the publications they work for. Problem is, they're bundled with the product that people actually value. Can you imagine how fast Joe Klein would fade away if his writing were sold seperately?


lance, great points, although if I remember you had a post several months ago about other high school analogies.

A couple things:

1. Brian has a very interesting point about bundling.

2. Certain politicans (see HRC) are more exposed to this sort of characterization. I think you're right that a lot of it is baby boomer's playing with their tummy buttons, but I never saw that comparsion with Reagan, Carter or Bush I.

3. I think Republians do a better job of aligning their candidates to fit these media steretypes than Democrats -- the democratic response is, well, Obama wrote a bunch of books so this is sily. Picking a candidate is a lot like buying a box of ceral -- red box or blue box, and the sooner you admit that the better. Bush/Gore, Bush/Kerry were all about high school popularity contests.

4. It says something for the socialization of journalists that they resort to high school analogies. They must have been such losers in college that they didn't get invited to a lot of parties. A very wise high school teacher told me that your friends/collegues will end up at the LAST place you went to school -- either high school, college, or grad school, and that is largely true for me.



You are on fire lately.


You are indeed on a roll... I found myself holding a lighter up to my computer screen while reading this today. :)

The Heretik

Oy dat.

Mike Schilling

reached for the smelling salts like a gaggle of spinster aunts in a story by PG Wodehouse

Eh? Wodehouse aunts are tough cookies. In fact, the climax of the book you link to (The Mating Season) shows Esmond Haddock, a sort of Greek God who looks like a cross between a poet and an all-in wrestler, winning the love of Corky Pirbright by finally standing up to his.

I don't know if you've seen this, but Dick Cheney has nothing on Aunt Agatha.


All Bossy knows is that in high school George Bush was the ass in the cafeteria who'd pull some kid's chair out from under him scattering peas everywhere. Good job Lance.

Chris the Cop

It does sound like a silly column, but keep in mind that dozens of newspapers-rightly or wrongly--came out for President Clinton to resign during the Lewinsky affair, including the San Jose Mercury News, the Des Moines Register, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, all of which have their main offices outside the Beltway.

Not to openly fawn, but the point you make about the Media writing as if they are NOT part of the process is absolutely brilliant, articulating in a simple, crsytal-clear way something I've thought about for years. It really is amazing how bi-partisan the Elite Media outlets are when doing this.

Bill Altreuter

The high school simile was amusing when it was coined, sometime in the mid-70's (I think) to describe Hollywood ("High school with money"). It lost its descriptive power pretty quickly, but that hasn't prevented the intellectually lazy from trotting it out steadily. It seems to me that doing so amounts to an admission that the person is still emotionally trapped in adolescence. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that. I'm not sure why so many of them seem to be journalists-- with national audiences-- but writing is like any other entertainment, I suppose.

Interestingly, tripe like Fineman's piece may be a dying form. He is a Serious Journalist, and although he is trying to be funny, the fact is that more and more people are getting their news from people who are actually funny. This is bad news for hacks like Fineman, or Maureen Dowd, but may be good news for us. In order to be funny about something-- really funny-- it is necessary to understand it. I'd say that The Colbert Report is much more informative than watching Tim Russert licking Dick Cheney's ear.

Where does this take us? What does it mean when The Onion is more thoughtful than the New York Times' OpEd? I'm not sure I know, but one of the places a world like that leaves us is where we are now, with an electorate that couldn't tell the difference between Bush and Gore-- and, in a coin toss, called it wrong.


I'm Hilary's age and probably Fineman's by your estimate. In the 6th grade I wore a yellow skirt with a gray felt poodle appliqued on it, with a crinoline under the skirt, and a matching blouse. I'm 60 and that outfit is one of maybe ten from my childhood that I remember clearly. We wanted to look like the high-school kids and I felt very "mature."

So, the girls Fineman grew up wore poodle skirts as children, not in high school.

Also, in Hilary's college pictures, she doesn't look like Mrs. Perfect--she was quite the rebel, not too into fashion; perhaps she was leaning that way in high school, too?

As usual, once you start thinking about what HF is writing, you wonder, "Can he get anything right?"

Elayne Riggs

Lance, I'm pretty sure Fineman was referring to the atmosphere of the movie Grease, rather than any real high school. He was trying to evoke a common experience, and pretty much everyone has seen that movie at the cinema or on TV. Sure, stereotypes and pop culture references can be lazy shorthand, but they're not necessarily indicative of a writer being out of touch.



Ah, that's better.

Tom D.

There are two obvious ironies inherent in the metaphor that Fineman uses. One: take a look at the picture of Fineman on the Newsweek page. His face is oddly unmarked by adulthood; the touches of gray at the temples looks almost artificial. He looks like the deadly-earnest kid who read The Fountainhead as a sophomore and campaigned hard for the editor-in-chief position of the school newspaper, only to lose out to that girl in the poodle skirt. And, of course, he never quite got over that.

The other is that, even though people like Fineman like to portray the Republicans as the Strong Dads as opposed to the immature Democrats, W is the most obviously immature politician of recent memory at almost any level. He comes off as a kid who got brought to Dad's office on a Take Your Kid To Work day, and inexplicably left there.


I think they are actually regressing. Last Sunday on the Chris Mathews Show (as documented by The Daily Howler Andy Sullivan and Fineman talked about Clinton "having cooties"

These people need to grow the eff up.


Chris the Cop, that's true. However, if the 'insiders' among the press corps weren't heading up the pack, there might not have been such a pack.


Fineman's "puffed-up Miss Perfect" dig made me think he was trying to evoke the image of Reese Witherspoon's character in "Election" -- the prissy, self-absorbed, eternally perky but ruthlessly manipulative Tracey Flick. Even though the setting of the movie is contemporary, Tracey looks as though she should be wearing a poodle skirt.


The most interesting to me was he just had to get the "Indonesia" reference in there? Anyone that reference that fact of Mr Obama's life is doing it with the sole purpose of the subliminal message that the right is overtly saying "foreign, muslim, fear".

It is so obvious.


Preach on, Brother Lance...Fineman is a tool. I wish very much that Keith Olbermann would just dump him. Besides, while we're going all 'high school' here, what's up with his hair?


Preach on, Brother Lance...Fineman is a tool. I wish very much that Keith Olbermann would just dump him. Besides, while we're going all 'high school' here, what's up with his hair?


Oh, my serious bad...I was thinking of Dana Milbank, another tool. My question about *his* hair still stands.


Great column that for some reason made me think of the Simpsons episode where Homer went to his high school reunion.

Homer: It'll be great to see the old gang again. Potsie, Ralph Malph, the Fonz.
Marge: That wasn't you, that was "Happy Days"!
Homer: No, they weren't all happy days. Like the time Pinky Tuscadero crashed her motorcycle, or the night I lost all my money to those card sharks and my dad Tom Bosley had to get it back.
Marge: [groan]

al dole

This is just another manifestation of the well-established device of depicting the democrats as hopelessly juvenile and naive, while the republicans are the grown-ups who know the real world. Dems are simply products of the entertainment culture, typified by movies like Grease. They never apply this device to Bush, Cheney or other republicans cause they were conceived as grown ups. But your insight about the lack of self consciousness of political writers like Fineman is quite accurate.


@ Elayne: "Lance, I'm pretty sure Fineman was referring to the atmosphere of the movie Grease, rather than any real high school."

Fineman: "You knew Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in high school. At least I did."

I agree with you, he's being lazy. He's also appropriating pop culture as his personal biography, as Lance pointed out.


It seems to me that "poodle skirts" are essentially a stand-in for all the fashions of times gone by; maybe he thought he had to refer to something so old that everyone would understand what he was apparently trying to evoke. After all, it's easy to imagine that high-school sociology is as old as poodle skirts, even for those who actually wore parachute pants.

For about thirty years (I'm looking at you, Elvis Costello), the language of cultural signification with regard to The Good Old Days has been centered on the period from 1945 to 1965, and poodle skirts fall in that range. Over the past few years I've seen some updating of that, but not much. Not that it justifies Fineman's article, but there you go.


Time's Michael Scherer uses the same high school theme.

Keep in mind that these pundits show remarkably little interest in the actual personal character of any politician.

What they do instead is create scripts, storylines, and force every account to adhere to those pre-ordained plots.

Thus in 2000, no matter that Bush lied whenever he managed not to mangle whatever he was saying beyond comprehensibility, and no matter that Gore was stating simple and verifiable facts -- Bush was the "straight shooter" you'd like to have a beer with, and Gore was the prissy "prevaricator", and that's the only theme that got wide coverage. See for extensive details.

What you're seeing now are the early script notes for the rest of 2008.

hoi polloi

You left out in the lede quote the singular most salient item in Fineman's piece "Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course..."

Of course; needless to say; goes without saying; clear as the log in your eye. Why hadn't I realized it until now? Thanks, Howard. I'm going back to sleep now.


how about a class action?

can we sue all these stupid f#(ks for LIBEL?!

they are destroying our country.

Joe the Dog Lover

The whole process is frustrating.

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