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Sore Winners

From the Scrapbook

Apr 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 28
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The publication of Karl Rove’s memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, inspired the Washington Post in a curious​—although not unexpected—​direction the other day: A feature in which the Post’s book editor invited six writers to choose “the least accurate political memoirs ever written.” Get it? We’re not claiming that Rove’s memoirs are an affront to decent people everywhere, says the Post, but isn’t this a clever device? And true to form, the Post recruited a fair and balanced panel—four leftists (James K. Galbraith, Ted Sorensen, Mike McCurry, Douglas Brinkley), one conservative (Steven F. Hayward), and Christopher Buckley—for the purpose.

In some respects, the panelists’ choices were predictable. Jamie Galbraith singled out Richard Nixon’s memoir, which gave him the opportunity to resurrect a quotation from his late father, John Kenneth Galbraith. Christopher Buckley made a brief, jokey mention of Gandhi’s auto-biography. Douglas Brinkley burnished his scholarly reputation by bravely condemning James Buchanan’s post-presidential apologia (1866). 

The only one to rise fully to the bait, however, was Sorensen, who chose Karl Rove’s memoir. And here The Scrapbook switches to its literary-critic homburg; for say what you will about Messrs. Brinkley, Buckley, Galbraith, Hayward, and McCurry, they are competent writers whose prose is clear and whose meaning is unmistakable. Not so with the author of Kennedy and The Kennedy Legacy. Ted Sorensen’s entry, which is rambling, incoherent, and incomprehensible​—full of puzzling asides and mysterious non sequiturs—may well be, in The Scrapbook’s considered judgment, the worst essay on the least accurate political memoirs ever written.

Here’s one quasi-readable example: “He doesn’t reveal why or at whose direction the waterboarding tapes were destroyed, feels entitled to castigate Teddy Kennedy’s criticism of the Bush Iraq war policy but makes no mention of President Bush’s avoidance of service in Vietnam.” And here’s another: “It is not surprising that Karl Rove’s memoirs .  .  . is a candidate for the least accurate of all political memoirs, in view of his pride at being known as the ‘architect’ of a presidency known for prevarication and two presidential campaigns featuring the charges (from which he distances himself) that Bush’s principal opponent in 2000, John McCain, had fathered a black child and that his principal 2004 opponent, John Kerry, had been a ‘swift boat coward.’ ”

Got that? Alas, it would seem that, after a half-century-plus of loyal partisan hackery and adulation of the Kennedy clan, Ted Sorensen’s principal opponent these days is the English language. And to think that this should have happened to the author of Profiles in Courage.


In Arms Control We Trust

The Washington Post refers in passing, in an article on U.S.-Russian arms talks, to “the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the global pact that contained the spread of nuclear weapons for decades.” Really? The Scrapbook is reminded of the observation by Norman Podhoretz in the mid-1980s that modern, secular liberals, despite frequent self-congratulation for throwing off irrational faith, are in fact believers in arms control, the most widely held superstition since the Middle Ages.


Sentences We Didn’t Finish

‘I now how the ‘tea party’ people feel, the anger, venom and bile that many of them showed during the recent House vote on health-care reform. I know because I want to spit on them, take one of their ‘Obama Plan White Slavery’ signs and knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads. I am sick of these people .  .  . ” (Courtland Milloy, “Congressmen Show Grace, Restraint in the Face of Disrespect,” Washington Post, March 24).

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