Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rich's Reruns

There was no new Maureen Dowd column today but Frank Rich asks the question “Haven’t We Heard This Voice Before?” and the answer is “Yes, we have, Frank. Twice a week in Maureen Dowd’s column.” At Dowd Report contributor yellojkt's blog, Foma*, he did a Pundits on Parade post which noted that Charles Krauthammer has a tendancy to echo themes touched on by George Will earlier and better. Frank Rich is Maureen Dowd’s Chuckie K. Critics of the liberal slant of the New York Times like to conflate Dowd and Rich into one double headed hydra and columns like his today don’t help that image.

I’ve always had a theory about Rich’s lateral move to the Opinion page. When he was the nations premiere theater critic, his scathing sarcastic reviews could close a show faster than any other voice. Since the Times gets a large advertising income stream from the full color Broadway show ads in the Sunday arts and style section, his constant naysaying must have annoyed the powers that be. By putting him out to pasture on the columnists’ page, he could have an outlet for his negativity and not annoy Great White Way advertisers.

One of the problems with only writing weekly is that when the news happens on Tuesday like it did with the New Hampshire primary, the ground has been pretty well plowed by the weekend. But this would be forgivable he brought any new context or slant on the week’s events, but he doesn’t. It’s a hackneyed replay of the conventional wisdom that has been expressed already by every pundit on the planet.

Even his opening movie allusion is perhaps the lamest ever not found in a high school newspaper:

She had me at “Well, that hurts my feelings.”
While Maureen Dowd is name-checking classic movies by Hepburn and Kubrick, Rich is using Tom Cruise as his cultural touchstone. And so much else that he writes is a pale imitation. On Tuesday, Dowd succinctly invoked the Lazio Effect in one sentence:
She won her Senate seat after being embarrassed by a man.
Rich with twice and many words to fill feels he has to spell it out for his slower readers:
To use family-newspaper language, [Obama] behaved like a jerk — or, to be more precise, like Rick Lazio, the now-forgotten adversary who cleared Mrs. Clinton’s path to the Senate by boorishly waving a paper in her face during a 2000 debate.
And that is part of his problem. With one super-sized column a week (and you are free to make your own extra large Rich remark, it’s too low hanging of a softball lob for me to take a swing at), he often wanders around or shoehorns more than one topic in each column. At the end of this week’s column, he runs out of steam and starts to mine old Dowd columns.
Every politician employs pollsters, but Mrs. Clinton, tellingly, has one, Mark Penn, as her top campaign strategist.
Dowd had an entire column about Penn’s role in the campaign back in October. Rich then rambles on for several paragraphs about Penn with this portion in the middle:
Add to this habitual triangulation the ugly campaigning of the men around her — Mr. Penn’s sleazy invocation of “cocaine” on MSNBC, Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” rant falsifying Mr. Obama’s record on Iraq — and you don’t have change.
Maureen did a hilarious skewering of the use of “cocaine” as a talking point by the Clinton campaign a month ago. Rich ends with this admonition:
It would be good for both her campaign and the presidential race in general if Mrs. Clinton does find her own voice. We’ll know she has done so when it doesn’t sound so uncannily like Bill Clinton and Mark Penn.
And when Rich doesn’t sound so uncannily like a longer-winded Maureen Dowd, maybe he can justify 1500 words every Sunday. I’d rather read reruns of Dowd’s columns. Even the old ones are funnier and fresher than Rich’s rehashes.

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