Comments: February 11, 2008

1. The reaction on to The Test (February 4), John Heilemann’s cover story about the Clinton-Obama race, is an index of popular sentiment about the election. The tone was passionate and for the most part civil, with much praise for Obama (“Transformational”) and for the story itself (“Dead on”; “The most insightful, least simpleminded analysis of the current dynamic”), and even some for Clinton (“A pragmatic optimist”). Any sourness was directed at the news media for biased coverage, and occasionally at the candidates. Obama was criticized for his voting “goofs” in the Illinois State Senate as well as for his wife’s corporate-board duties (not much different from those of Hillary Clinton’s, which he has attacked). And of course, the Hillary haters piled on: “Her strategies,” said one, “are just like Bush’s—opaque and obtuse. Do we really want another obfuscator-in-chief?” A couple of Clinton supporters made the electability case—“The Republicans WOULD MAKE MINCEMEAT out of Obama!!!”—while the arguments against Obama centered on his inexperience and, in one case, his habit of de-emphasizing his white mother in recounting his upbringing. But the debate was remarkable for its well-reasoned posts in support of both candidates. One termed Clinton “the smartest candidate on either ticket,” and another contended, “Politics has been and always will be the art of the possible. Obama’s life, his rhetoric, and his campaign attempt to illuminate this point.” An amazing race, indeed.

2. Clay Aiken has a lot of fans out there, and apparently many of them don’t sleep. The Happy Hickster (February 4), Ariel Levy’s profile of Aiken, was posted on the home page at approximately 11:15 P.M. on Sunday, January 27, and within seven minutes, the first of 227 comments (and counting) rolled in. The commentary raged throughout the night and for days afterward, as readers debated one another in terms that were not always cordial. Did the article make “Clay seem human. Flawed but human,” or was it “character assassination”? Had Levy played Aiken by seeing through his “hick” routine—or was it she who had been played? “I believe the author of this article has been had,” went one post. “Did she even know it? Sounds to me like she came into the interview with an agenda and that Clay, smart guy that he is, saw right through it. Ms. Levy got frustrated because Clay wouldn’t dish the dirt with her, and decided instead to call him a fake.” Commenters traded boasts over who among them knows Aiken best, including one who registered under the name CLAYSBF and stated flatly that Clay “is sexually active and continues to be. He is not nor will he ever be attracted to the opposite sex.” Amid the uproar, a few readers simply called the article “brilliant” and “very entertaining.”

3. The other story lighting up the comments board was James J. Cramer’s shock therapy for the U.S. economy (The Bottom Line: The Phony Stimulus,” February 4), which recommended halving the federal-funds rate. The real bone of contention boiled down to whether a recession is, in fact, necessary to burn off the excess real-estate speculation, or whether it could be averted with proper government policy (as Cramer argued). The word “Keynesian” got thrown around, and both political parties took a pounding. As did Cramer. “Lowering rates will punish the 90 percent of homeowners who pay their mortgages on time by greatly reducing the value of their dollars,” went one comment. “Thanks a lot, Cramer.” Another stated, “What the government needs to do is nothing.” But Cramer has his loyalists, including one who said, “The only thing wrong with all the hot air in these comments is that the individuals making them have no plan of their own other than to beat up on Cramer for his.”

Correction: “The Agenda” (February 4) should have listed February 24 as the closing date for A Bronx Tale.

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Comments: February 11, 2008