Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 8, 2005

Carl Bernstein

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:08 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about Condi lately, when I haven’t been thinking about Hillary. They both make me feel bad, but for different reasons. I feel bad about Condi because in spite of her deliciously humiliating European adventure, she still seems to be enjoying this rock-star-slash-dominatrix thing; just last night, in the Ukraine, she coyly dismissed the suggestion that she might be a presidential candidate and giggled over the numerous references to herself as a warrior princess. Meanwhile, I feel bad about Hillary for all the obvious reasons, including this week’s position on flag-burning and last week’s position on Iraq (you can find it on her website).

Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley College a few years after I did, and I’ve always thought that the key to Hillary lay in understanding what Wellesley wanted in those days from its alumnae: you were meant to graduate, marry a powerful man, and preside over dinner parties in the following manner — when the two men on either side of you disagreed violently, you were to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their diametrically-opposed positions. You were meant to make nice. You were meant to find the middle. (If you actually went into politics, you were meant to work for the League of Women Voters, an organization that had no actual politics but was simply in favor of getting everyone to vote.) Condi Rice is seven years younger than Hillary and went to Stanford, but no question she caught the same disease, and it was doubtless aggravated by her years as a university provost, a job that consists entirely of smoothing things over. Most of Rice’s career has been spent saying nothing whatsoever; some days I’m almost nostalgic for the moment when she waxed her way into that famous mushroom cloud quote, even if it too was hypothetical.

The above is an excerpt from a Nora Ephron article on Ariana Huffington’s blog.

This reminded me that I wanted to say a thing or two about Carl Bernstein, who is just as reprehensible as his former writing partner Bob Woodward but a lot less successful.
Ephron was married to Bernstein from 1976 to 1980 until she divorced him for cheating on her once too often. In her novel “Heartburn” that was based on their marriage, she said that he was the only man she knew that could figure out a way to have sex with Venetian blinds. A piss-poor movie was based on the novel, with Jack Nicholson playing Bernstein. He is the only American journalist to have had two of the most successful actors playing him in film, Dustin Hoffman and Nicholson.
Bernstein was the son of CP’ers who were redbaited in the pages of the Washington Post when he was a child. His father was a trade unionist. Perhaps in defiance of his parent’s values, he embraced anti-Communism and Judaism. He studied Hebrew in order to be bar mitzvahed against his parent’s wishes. Sigh. Why couldn’t we have traded parents?
Martin Duberman, who wrote a fine biography of Paul Robeson, was critical of Bernstein’s memoir “Loyalties” in the pages of the March 2, 1989 Washington Post:
“As valuable as Carl Bernstein’s story is in reminding us of the terrible human toll of the McCarthy years, and in personalizing it through the experiences of his own parents, his book falls uncomfortably between impersonal history and personal recollection. In the end, the history is too shallow and fragmentary, the recollections too tame and episodic. Moreover, the personal and the public sections do not cohere…
“Bernstein’s choices about what to include are often so inapt as to appear random — the product simply of what he happens to recall about a particular episode, all of which he then includes in what seems a desperate effort to fill out the skeleton frame left by his parents’ apparent reluctance to contribute many details of their own. The book stops dead, for example, while Bernstein recounts a youthful window-breaking rampage, and then again for a long description of his participation as a teen-ager in a spur-of-the-moment sit-in against segregation at the Greensboro, N.C., railroad station. But if he has any larger point to make about these anecdotes — that they reflected, say, either his rebellion against or his embracing of his parents’ politics — the point is not drawn.”
As it turned out, Bernstein’s recollections of the Greensboro incident is as embellished as “All the President’s Men.” In his joint bio of Bernstein and Woodward titled “Deep Truth,” Adrian Havill reveals that Bernstein essentially lied about participating in the sit-in.
After collaborating with Woodward on “Final Days,” about Nixon’s resignation, Bernstein failed to produce anything of substance except for the 1996 “His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time,” whose thesis is that a secret plot between Reagan, the CIA and the Vatican resulted in the fall of communism. The late Jonathan Kwitny, who also wrote a biography of the pope and who was one of the finest investigative journalists in the business, dismissed the idea of a conspiracy. For a side-by-side comparison of the Bernstein and Kwitny books, read this.
For most of the last 30 years, Bernstein has suffered from writer’s block. It took him 12 years to write “Loyalties,” a 260 page book, for example. In attempt to escape the tyranny of the keyboard, he took a job as a commentator for ABC News between 1979 and 1981.
But his real avocation seemed to be for screwing as many women as he could get his hands on and partying. Bernstein divided his time between the Hamptons and drinking holes like Elaine’s on the Upper East Side (three blocks from my building.) He has dated Bianca Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor–but not at the same time.

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