Front-page follies continue: In this morning’s New York Times, Gail Collins is killing time by chuckling about a bunch of non-candidates in a non-campaign.
At this point, can you think of a reason to spend any time discussing George Pataki? Neither can we! But Collins goes there, knocking off one more column.
In fairness, Collins’ chuckling is Rhodes Scholar work compared to Rachel Maddow’s clown car performances in recent weeks. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen anyone degrade her own intelligence, or talk down to her cable viewers, any more than Maddow has done as she has pretended to discuss the Republican “candidates.”
Regarding Pataki, Maddow has gone Collins one better, pretending to fall asleep and snore whenever she mentions his (utterly irrelevant) name.
Presumably, research has shown than Maddow’s viewers enjoy this sort of low-IQ porridge. In these ways, we liberals keep our favorites swimming in cash, even as we engineer our own dumbness and defeat.
That said, the most remarkable performance today appears on page one of the Washington Post, where the paper presents a ridiculous, 2636-word profile of Candidate Rick Perry.
We’ve seen this ridiculous movie before. We’ve also seen its opposite.
The profile is written by Stephanie McCrummen, a fact which adds to the curiousness of the piece. Four years ago, McCrummen wrote an even longer front-page profile of Candidate Perry. That profile, which became controversial, was designed to paint the hopeful as a good old boy who grew up within a racist sub-culture in rural Paint Creek, Texas.
That piece was highly unflattering and not overwhelmingly fair. For whatever reason, McCrummen’s new profile of Candidate Perry goes wildly overboard in the opposite direction.
The new profile is highly inane. According to the hard-copy Post, the profile is part of “Make or Break,” an occasional series in which the Post “is exploring key characteristics of the leading contenders that could help make one of them the country’s next commander in chief—or sink their presidential ambitions.”
What is Perry’s key characteristic? His ability to wink at you in such a way that you can’t help liking him!
We know—you think we’re making that up. Below, you see the first twenty paragraphs of this profile, exactly as it appears on the front page of today’s hard-copy Post.
Remember: Four years ago, this same McCrummen was helping us see that that Perry was some species of good ole boy racist. Four years later, he’s impossible to dislike, because of the way he winks!
No, we really aren’t making this up. Here's how the profile starts:
MCCRUMMEN (6/6/15): When it happens, Rick Perry is speaking to a friendly crowd in a plaid-and-paisley living room in Greenville, S.C. He appears relaxed. His suit fits perfectly. Hair: just great. Glasses: starting to seem more natural.According to McCrummen, the quality of the wink “isn’t strained.” It drops from Candidate Perry in a natural-seeming way.
He’s gotten nods talking about jobs in Texas, laughs with the line about flunking organic chemistry and claps when he says a brighter future “starts right here . . . today!”
Then a man poses a question about the importance of speaking plainly, and Perry pauses a moment before he answers by asking rhetorically, which is to say confidently: “Did I say anything today you couldn’t understand?”
People laugh, and this is when it happens: Rick Perry winks.
Because Rick Perry is a winker, and has been for a long time.
“It’s something he’s always done,” said a friend who has known Perry since he was a Texas state legislator in the 1980s. “I’ve seen him do it at an inaugural, from a podium. It’s a way he communicates. He’s very good at it, and it’s very disarming. It’s real natural to him. Like some people can whistle with their fingers? Actually, he can do that, too.”
It could be argued that the Perry persona comes down to the wink, which friends and supporters describe as part of a broader repertoire of natural-born gifts that makes the 65-year-old former Texas governor one of the most instinctive retail politicians in the 2016 GOP field.
Other notable political winkers: George W. Bush, who winked at Queen Elizabeth II after he accidentally suggested she helped America celebrate its birthday in 1776 rather than 1976; Sarah Palin, who winked during 2008 vice-presidential debates; President Obama, who winked in his State of the Union speech earlier this year, after dressing down the congressmen who clapped when he alluded to the end of his term.
More recently, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott apologized for winking at the host of a call-in radio show as a retiree explained that she was surviving by working for an adult sex line, an incident that came to be called “winkgate.”
The Rick Perry wink, though, comes with its own set of associations.
On one hand, it evokes his bona fide country upbringing, Texas swagger and ability to say things such as “I’m gonna love on you,” meaning flatter you, without sounding as though he is laying it on thick. Only a winker could sell T-shirts with his own grinning mug shot, as Perry did after being indicted last year on felony abuse-of-power charges that he has dismissed as politically motivated.
More fundamentally, the wink can seem to reveal a certain sensitivity—an ability to read a room, to feel for the right moment to reach in for the handshake, touch an elbow or a shoulder and close the deal.
On the other hand, a wink can evoke the overconfidence and cheap tricks of the used-car salesman, the sort of character that Perry’s critics have often cast him as, especially after his performance in the 2012 Republican primary. The infamous debate when Perry froze—trying for 45 seconds to remember the third federal agency he would abolish, before he finally gave up with an "oops"—has been read not just as a human fumble but the moment he was exposed as a lightweight.
All of which leads to the question: Which is it?
Is the wink the mark of Perry’s essential authenticity, possibly his greatest asset? Or does it represent his biggest challenge—overcoming the perception that he’s all flash and little substance? Or is it something more complicated?
What is the meaning of the Rick Perry wink?
The Perry appeal
Part of the answer lies in Greenville, where the wink is playing well in a friendly room.
For one, Perry’s timing is impeccable. He deploys the wink at the moment the audience seems most with him, as they’re still laughing. Second, the wink isn’t strained; it seems natural, even through the lenses of his hipster glasses. Third, he aims it not at the man who asked the question but in the opposite direction—toward a cluster of women, including Racine Cooper, the bylaws chairwoman of the Greenville County Republican Women’s Club, who says later that he struck her as “a simple person who knows what it is to say something plainly. He’s not full of it.”
After the wink, Perry grins and shifts back into a more serious tone.
“Good,” he says as the laughs die down. “All right. Hey, listen. I’m telling ya. We’re on the verge of the greatest days in America’s history. That’s not rhetoric.”
From there, McCrummen explores the candidate’s background in rural Paint Creek before returning to the wink at the end of her piece. There are almost no discouraging words in this long, ridiculous, flattering piece.
McCrummen never mentions the racial backdrop which dominated her portrait of Perry and Paint Branch four years ago, in a longer piece on the front page of this same newspaper. Four years ago, it was the main thing. Today, it doesn’t exist.
Let’s be clear. Presumably, the decision to run this ludicrous profile was made by McCrummen’s editors, not by McCrummen herself. Conceivably, she may have been directed to come up with the manifest nonsense the Post is pimping today.
That said, it’s interesting to compare this flattering nonsense with earlier work in the Post. That would include McCrummen’s portrait of Perry from October 2011.
Beyond that, it’s interesting to compare this profile of Perry with the low-IQ poison which appeared on the Post’s front page just two days ago. In that tightly scripted front-page report, Rosalind Helderman created the latest puzzling attack on You Know Who and her greedy husband, what with their ravenous foundation which seeks to “feed the hungry” around the world.
Helderman’s piece made perfect sense if 1) you irrationally loathe the Clintons and 2) you only care about the feeding of people you see at your Harvard reunion. (Helderman’s fifteenth comes next year.) Given its flimsy logic and its naked scripted aggression, the Helderman piece stands in remarkable contrast with the flattering profile of Candidate Perry which adorns the front page today.
Finally, it’s important to compare this profile of Candidate Perry with the trio of ludicrous profiles which ran in the Post sixteen years ago this month.
Those profiles were designed to coincide with the formal launch of Candidate Gore’s campaign. As stupid as today’s profile is, those profiles went even lower.
That said, there was a giant difference. Those profiles were designed to take a candidate out! Kevin Merida started the parade with a front-page Style section profile which ran a full 2515 words.
The profiles worked a familiar, stock theme. Lengthy hard-copy headline included, Merida started like this:
MERIDA (6/7/99): After Six Years in Suspended Animation and With an Election Right Around the Corner, Al Gore Shows No Sign of Stirring From THE BIG SLEEPYMerida kept this up for the full 2500 words. In hard copy, the piece featured a prominent caption: “Maybe the nicest thing you can say about the vice president is that he’s remarkably lifelike.”
More than a description, it's a condition, an albatross, an image worth ditching. It speaks to something many people are but nobody wants to be. White paint, brown socks, plain yogurt, Lite beer.
To bore is to attack the senses with a fusillade of monotony, to weary the world with blandness. Boring is so boring that Webster's devotes little of its precious space to the adjective: "Dull, tiresome, etc." End of definition.
But let's take it further: Think high school chemistry class and a bouquet of carnations. Dockers slacks, K Street office buildings, the Chevy Lumina. Insurance adjusters and fiscal responsibility. Marshmallows, Martha Stewart and those fishing programs on cable TV.
Which brings us to Al Gore, the highest-ranking boring man in the land. Or so the polls say. He is, these surveys suggest, the vanilla pudding of the species. This doesn't have to be an absolute truth to be a problem. In America, when an impression takes root it multiplies until it becomes commonplace until it becomes parody until it becomes accepted fact. And then it's too late. It has become legend.
We don't have to speculate about this phenomenon. We have Al Gore.
Under the direction of Style section editor Gene Robinson, two additional profiles of Gore extended that theme that same month.
By June 23, it was Ceci Connolly’s turn to explain how deadly the candidate was. In another openly mocking profile, she described the struggle “to stay awake” as “the man best known for his statue imitation” joined his “blonde co-host (wife Tipper)” to conduct “a down-in-the-weeds policy summit that only a man with a steel-trap brain and a steel rear end would describe as ‘fun.’”
The candidate “even giggled like a girl” at one point, Connolly helpfully noted. This completed the Style section triptych of mocking profiles as the laughable Candidate Gore launched his absurd campaign.
We’ll take a guess:
This morning, the Post is playing make-up with Perry for some internal political reason. Back then, the Post was simply trying to take out Candidate Gore, and to signal its intention to the rest of the press corps.
The liberal world has accepted this conduct every step of the way. People are dead all over the world because of the jihad the Post engineered in that earlier campaign.
But so what? We liberals love us some Robinson on our brain-dead liberal channel. No one has ever asked him why he did the things he did.
Today, the pig they’re trying to kill is the pig named Candidate Clinton. We suggest you compare today’s ridiculous profile of Candidate Perry with the tightly-scripted, irrational attack which graced the Post’s front page just two days ago.
Maddow and Collins are clowning around as this next assassination transpires. On the brighter side, they’re keeping us liberals entertained and they’re both extremely well paid.