An Interview with Hendrik Hertzberg

Paul Morton in Bookslut:

Perhaps because his columns appear one to two weeks after the events they discuss, well after the pundits’ talking points have solidified into the boring, usually half-true conventional wisdom, Hendrik Hertzberg may be better equipped to maintain an interesting voice. Consider this assessment of the 2006 midterm election:

HhAmericans have had enough, and their disgust with the Administration and its congressional enablers turned out to be so powerful that even the battered, rusty, sound-bit, TV-spotted, Die-bolded old seismograph of an American midterm election was able to register it. Thanks to the computer-aided gerrymandering that is the only truly modern feature of our electoral machinery, the number of seats that changed hands was not particularly high by historical standards. Voters — actual people — are a truer measure of the swing’s magnitude. In 2000, the last time this year’s thirty-three Senate seats were up for grabs, the popular-vote totals in those races, like the popular-vote totals for President, were essentially a tie. Democrats got forty-eight per cent of the vote, Republicans slightly more than forty-seven per cent. This time, in those same thirty-three states, Democrats got fifty-five per cent of the vote, Republicans not quite forty-three per cent. In raw numbers, the national Democratic plurality in the 2000 senatorial races was the same as Al Gore’s: around half a million. This time, despite the inevitably smaller off-year turnout and the fact that there were Senate races in only two-thirds of the states, it was more than seven million. 

In that first sentence, with six well-chosen adjectives and a sure metaphor, Hertzberg brings up his signature talking point — our 200-year-old electoral system needs a serious rewrite — and then with a careful tabulation of the numbers, he points out the bleeding obvious: Bush suffered a brutal blow last November. This isn’t the finest paragraph Hertzberg has written, but there’s more wisdom, let alone information, packed into those eight sentences than in a 15-minute discussion on CNN. In an era in which op-ed columnists seem to be throwing out lame notes for their talks with George Stephanopoulos, Hertzberg shows us the value of the written word in political debate.

More here.  [Thanks to Wilson McBee.]