Politics

The Most #ThisTown Moment of 2015

Playing Catch With Mario: On New Year’s Day Politico published a list of “The Most ‘This Town’ Moments of 2014.” It was pretty lame (e.g., Eric Cantor getting a job at an investment firm, David Gregory getting fired, etc.) and didn’t capture the mix of downscale chumminess, crude status-seeking and semi-subtle corruption you’d want in such a list. The real winner came in Politico a few days later, when Mike Allen highlighted this passage from Mike Barnicle’s tribute to Mario Cuomo:

[I]t is a warm June day in 1992. Tim Russert and I are driving back to the Albany airport after taking our kids to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. We call the governor to see if he’s got time for a visit.

 Our kids were seven and eight years old and were without a clue that only months before a whole political party had clamored for Cuomo to run for president. The governor’s office looked larger than a football field to the little boys, but when they walked in, it wasn’t Governor Mario Cuomo who was there to greet them. Instead, it was Mario Cuomo, father, baseball guy, who was there for them with his smile, his laughter, his warmth and a flood of baseball trivia questions.

One of the kids had a ball in his hand, and Cuomo took it and tossed it back and forth to an eight year old. The kids had a gift for him too, a tee shirt with ‘Baseball Spoken Here’ stenciled across the front. … Across all the years, whenever I’d bump into him in New York City or speak with him on the phone, he’d always inquire about those boys, where were they in school, how were they doing in life

What can you say? That Barnicle at least pretends to be clueless about the ability of ordinary Americans, passing through the state capital, to just pop in on the governor without notice? (‘Hey, let’s stop by Mario’s!’)

That the warm sentiments between Barnicle, Russert and Cuomo were probably genuine, at some level, but this doesn’t save the anecdote from an undercurrent of fakery and corruption: Gee, could Barnicle and Russert have had their own reasons for sucking up to Cuomo, using their kids as ice-breakers, even bringing him gifts, while Cuomo — no idiot — knew it couldn’t hurt to charm and compromise two prominent and ambitious journalists? Surely everyone in this encounter, knew exactly what was going on. (It’s all about the kids, right?) The level of artifice probably made it more fun, not less.

That the symbolism surrounding all this smug bonding was democratic (baseball! Cooperstown! — it’s not like they met at Jean Georges) and this doesn’t save it from being snobby. Maybe makes it worse — the hijacking of democratic iconage for undemocratic ends.

What’s creepiest, of course, is that Barnicle publishes all this with a straight face, as if there’s no chance that any of his readers will resent it for the giant in-crowd brag (“eulobragging”?) that it is.  If that’s true, if we’ve really had all the anti-celebrity resentment zapped out of us, chances for the long-rumored Great American Populist Revolt may be lower than I hoped.

P.S.: Yes, Russert had been a New York Democratic aide (on Cuomo’s staff as well as Sen. Moynihan’s) and had an organic reason for knowing Cuomo. But that also makes it harder to imagine Russert, in his everyday capacity as journalist, embarrassing his Albany drop-by buddy. #thattown