Part 2—According to Comey, Comey was just being honest: Reading Comey may not be easy this week.
If you literally want to read his book, you may have to do so on Kindle.
Meanwhile, "reading Comey" in the more figurative sense—interpreting his personality, his character and his motivations in recent years—may perhaps never be a simple task.
Comey—for years, he was known as Comey the God—strikes us as both human and odd, which isn't the same thing as evil. Despite the years of lionization, he doesn't strike us as a person whose songs of himself will necessarily make sense.
The gentleman has been widely criticized for his snarky, "mean [teenagers]" comments regarding Donald J. Trump's skin color, his well-coiffed hair and the size of his hands. The comments about the size of Trump's hands has struck much of the world as especially low-brow and strange. Even stranger is the explanation he gave to George Stephanopoulos concerning his mots on the hands:
STEPHANOPOULOS (4/15/18): It was the first time you met Donald Trump. What was your impression?Comey didn't say that in his book because he was trying to be snarky or venal. Inevitably, Comey said it in his book because he was "trying to be honest!"
COMEY: My impression was he looked exactly like he did on television, except he looked shorter to me than he did on television, but otherwise exactly the same. And the reason I say that is most people look slightly different in person. I don't know whether that's bad or good, but he looked the way I'd seen him look on television.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which was?
COMEY: He had impressively coiffed hair, it looks to be all his. I confess, I stared at it pretty closely and my reaction was, "It most take a heck of a lot of time in the morning, but it's impressively coiffed." He looked—his tie was too long, as it always is. He looked slightly orange up close with small white—half moons under his eyes, which I assume are from tanning googles. And otherwise looked as I had expected him to look from—as I thought he looked on television.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You even clocked the size of his hands?
COMEY: Yeah. I— I say that in my book 'cause I'm trying to be honest, 'cause that's the truth. There had been all this controversy and mocking about hand size, I can't remember the details. But as I shook his hand I made a note to check the size and it seemed like he had average-sized hands.
(For the transcript of Comey's full interview, you can just click here.)
According to Comey, Comey is always trying to be honest. This particular personality tic doesn't make him evil or demonic, but in our view, the extreme extent of his moral self-praise makes him perhaps a bit unformed and strange.
Beyond that, it suggests one possible problem with the press corps' childish practice of taking people like James B. Comey and anointing them, for political and journalistic purposes, as moral gods.
"Judge Starr" was known for his moral greatness until the story broke down. Almost everyone running against someone named Clinton or Gore has been cast in this tired old role in the past twenty-six years, as has "flimflam man" Paul Ryan and of course General Powell, who ended up at the U.N. pimping that other flimflam around.
People the pundits have lionized in this way have frequently seemed to take advantage. Way back in Campaign 2000, Candidate McCain began rolling around on a bus which was literally called The Straight-Talk Express, a tribute to his massive and uncontrollable honesty.
Childish pundits battled for a spot on the bus, exhibiting behavior so unprofessional and foolish that the idiocy of their conduct was even cited by some of their mainstream colleagues.
We'll let the psychiatrists try to explain why the children behave this way. Whatever the answer may be, Comey came to be one of the people they anointed as The World's Most Honest. Hence his famous sobriquet, James B. Comey the God.
As with all the others, this designation fit the story the fellow tells about himself. In the past few weeks, some liberal observers have been drifting back toward that pleasing narrative structure, even after all the bullsh*t Comey performed during Campaign 2016.
Michiko Kakutani has read Comey's book. Her review in the New York Times strikes us as a masterwork of throwback true belief.
(Headline: "James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive.")
Michelle Goldberg has apparently read the book too. In this morning's New York Times, she reads Comey the person in something like the traditional manner.
Goldberg describes Comey' book as an "earnest tome, in which he comes off as a somewhat tragic figure who, in striving for decency, makes errors of judgment that helped put the singularly indecent Trump in the White House." Alas, poor Comey! He strived to do right, sometimes failed!
Goldberg's nugget assessment isn't necessarily "wrong," of course. But was Comey really striving for decency when he put Trump's hands in his book, or when he told Stephanopoulos that he did so just to be honest?
And how about the remarkable, now convoluted way he has continued to trash Loretta Lynch, both in his book and in his five-hour session with Stephanopoulos? Was Comey really "striving for decency" in the convoluted explanation he gave to Stephanopoulos, who finally had to abandon further questioning?
It doesn't seem quite that simple to us. Who knows? Maybe to Goldberg, in the end, people like Lynch don't count!
Reading Comey is hard. He strikes us as very human; he also seems exorbitantly flawed. But to a range of liberal observers, it almost seems that it may be time to restore the gentleman's luster. He's now caught in a mano a mano with Donald J. Trump, and the press corps reflexively creates tribal angels and demons at such junctures as this.
It's a clear press corps pattern! Candidate Bradley was a saint; Candidate Gore was the world's biggest liar. This is still the type of construct we humans are strongly inclined to impose on such situations. Consider this letter, which shares a page with Goldberg's column today:
LETTERS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (4/17/18): Re “Comey, in Interview, Launches All-Out War Against President” (front page, April 16):According to this letter writer, Comey comes across exactly as Comey presents himself—"as a very credible human trying, and failing sometimes, to do what is incontrovertibly morally right."
Exactly the same mental process applies here as with the Stormy Daniels interview. All you have to do is listen and then consider which of the two claimants— James Comey or President Trump—is telling the truth. In simplest terms, in this case are you going to believe a man who has undoubtedly told a few lies here and there? Or one who tells, on average, five easily disprovable lies every day of his presidential life?
In sum, Mr. Comey comes across as a very credible human trying, and failing sometimes, to do what is incontrovertibly morally right.
P— N—, NEW YORK
The letter creates an angel and a demon. It doesn't imagine the possibility that, in a matter like this, neither of the two warring figures may be "telling the truth."
We humans! We love our moral dichotomies—and we love discussing The Sex. So it goes in Goldberg's column, which is all about "the pee tape."
Loretta Lynch can go jump in the lake! Goldberg wants to talk about a range of "evidence that the tape might be real"—and, as tribal warriors will do, she uses the key term rather loosely. She even finds such "evidence" in Comey's book, a book in which Comey comes off as a somewhat tragic figure who, in striving for decency, makes errors of judgment.
We'll admit to something resembling a bias against Goldberg. Among the many possibilities, we tend to view her as one of the many people who, in striving for career advantage, threw Candidate Clinton under the bus during the last election, sending a fellow who may be stark raving mad to his current address, where the nuclear warheads are.
On the brighter side, she got her position at the Times! Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the way she used that platform in this morning's column.
Reading Comey, a human, is hard. Reading the press corps may help explain how we all got to this place.
Tomorrow: "The book’s most significant new information is about Trump’s obsession with the rumored tape"