Jewish World Review June 15, 2005/ 8 Sivan 5765


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Things Go Better With Alka-Seltzer: Inflated Rhetoric Isn't Red or Blue | Like many Americans who read newspapers, I first turn to the sports section, skipping the front page, op-ed columnists, funnies and business news. This is either a pleasing or irritating expenditure of 10 minutes, depending on how the Red Sox and Yankees played the day before; unlike even 15 years ago the result of the games aren't revelations, not in an ESPN world. Still, reading the commentary of sportswriters (The Daily News' Mike Lupica, in the midst of a career renaissance, is the best in New York) about the pennant race gets me started. The Sox and Yanks are playing poorly, but in mid-June, does anyone really believe that one of those teams won't muscle out the over-achieving Orioles to win the A.L. East? Maybe that's a jinx, but Baltimore's Birds are saddled with a screwy owner and co-general managers who are more indecisive than Mario Cuomo was in deciding whether to run for president a long, long time ago.

Last Monday morning was a rare jackpot for Sox fans: Tim Wakefield, who'd lost five straight starts, tamed the Cubs, the Yanks blew another game and the O's were hammered by the Reds. I also found out that Boston's utility player Kevin Youkilis—who might get traded in a month or so for a decent pitcher—is apparently a pacifist, a rarity on a club that's littered with born-again Christians who also like to rumble on the field. Youk told The Boston Globe's beat report Gordon Edes that he had a swell time at Wrigley Field. "I like it even better than Red Sox-Yankees. These fans get along," he said. "These fans get along. For me, I can't stand to look up into the stands and see people fighting each other during a baseball game. These fans just had fun. They embrace each other. They were nice to each other. It was fun to participate in a game of baseball that didn't incite violence."

The future Pittsburgh Pirate or Kansas City Royal was probably on a natural high since he rapped out three hits, including a homer, but despite all the hype about Boston playing at Wrigley for the first time, it didn't compare to a game at Fenway or the Stadium.

Coincidentally, I next turned to The Wall Street Journal, delivered to the doorstep at about 6 a.m. each weekday, and read a horrifying story that probably lifted Youk's (not to mention Phoebe Snow discographers) spirits even more, assuming, as I do, that he reads the Journal. According to reporter Chad Terhune, Coca-Cola Co. is reprising its awful jingle from the 70s, set on an Italian hilltop in which a rainbow coalition of fresh-scrubbed youngsters sang "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony/I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company." Granted, I was a proud member of the Pepsi Generation, but that gooey commercial was so nauseating that I'd immediately block it out by repeating "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" over and over.

The retrofitted Coke spot, called "Chilltop," shows a bunch of demographically correct young adults on a rooftop in Philly, promoting the forthcoming diet beverage Coke Zero. The new lyrics: "I'd like to teach the world to chill, take time to stop and smile/I'd like to buy the world a Coke and chill with it awhile." A company veep, Katie Bayne, justifies this intrusion upon the psyches of reasonably intelligent citizens by saying: "There are a lot of cultural parallels to where we were in 1971 [when the "Hilltop" ad polluted the environment far more than the then-undiscovered second-hand cigarette smoke]. There is a seemingly divided world that confronts this consumer every day. There is a war that some people support and some don't support. There are red states and blue states. Hilltop offered a note of harmony for that time."

No, it didn't, Ms. Bayne. It was an insufferable commercial that simply tried to exploit a popular culture that was high on the vapors of "Earth Day" and college students (who abandoned campus Vietnam protests after the Kent State killings) suddenly expressing an enthusiasm for in growing organic carrots and living in communes.

On the topic of life changes, I'm smelling a new phase for Michael Wolff, the Vanity Fair columnist who once rode astride the world of media moguls and is now writing in exile for the anti-Bush monthly whose editor Graydon Carter—I'm convinced he's the ghost-writer for Howard Dean—finds no contradiction in imitating Eric Alterman's paranoid ramblings about the White House while also printing obsequious celebrity profiles and an excerpt of Edward Klein's gossipy book that trashes dear Hillary Clinton.

July's VF, of course, features former FBI official Mark Felt coming out as "Deep Throat," a legitimate scoop that Carter plays up in his "Editor's Letter." He writes: "Deep Throat, it almost goes without saying, was a man who chose the national interest over the politically charged motives of the [Nixon] administration. He chose conscience over coercion, and country over expediency. One can only hope for the sake of the democracy, we have more Deep Throats in our immediate future."

Carter ignores the inconvenient reality that Felt was cheesed off at Nixon for not giving him J. Edgar Hoover's job, sort of like you didn't hear a word of praise for liberal boogeyman Clarence Thomas, who dissented from the Supreme Court's dumb decision to let Congress decide whether medical marijuana ought to be legal. Of course it should; in fact, the drug (less dangerous than alcohol) should be completely taken off the black market, which would not only free cops from trivial arrests but also make a fortune for the government in "sin" taxes. In addition, like others who've called Felt a "hero," Carter finds it untidy to remind readers that Felt was convicted in 1980 of ordering burglaries on the homes of friends and relatives of suspected Weather Underground minutemen. When Ronald Reagan pardoned him the following year Felt was hardly considered a man who "chose conscience over coercion."

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In the current New York, Carter's former co-editor at Spy, Kurt Andersen, writes, "Anonymous sources could be graphed on a bell curve from dime-dropping scumbags to heroes, with the vast majority (including W. Mark Feltů) somewhere in the big, fat middle."

Oh, but back to Wolff. I think he might be in the process of drifting toward the Republican Party, or at least sitting out elections, refusing to vote for candidates like Al Gore and John Kerry. Wolff's column in July's VF—the same issue as the Nicole Kidman hummer, Deep Throat Revealed and Klein's Hillary attack—is about a tired topic, the career of Karl Rove, but as opposed to his luncheon companions who consider Bush's "architect" a "dime-dropping scumbag," Wolff is at least halfway admiring. Especially in comparison to millionaire blowhard/populist Robert Shrum.

Writing that Rove is "a much more canny and commercial image-maker" than Shrum, Wolff goes on to make this pedestrian but original observation. "Liberal marketers went into politics because it seemed to be a finer, elevated use of marketing. Unlike Rove, they forgot it's still just marketing."

Next thing you know, Wolff will do conservatives a favor by replacing John Podhoretz as a participant in National Review Online's daily blog "The Corner."

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- was the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2005, Russ Smith