Nicholas Lemann, Washington correspondent for the New Yorker and author of The Big Test and The Promised Land, spoke about the politics and culture of the new Bush administration at the first workshop of the 2001 History/Literature series.
Professor of History Bruce Mazlish introduced Mr. Lemann, who spoke to a group of faculty, students and staff on February 13.
Mr. Lemann described President George W. Bush as "way to the right of his father -- better with the right wing than his father was, and a man who is trusted and liked by the conservatives in his party." He added President Bush has "tremendous message discipline, saying a few things well, over and over, and he's highly skilled at working a crowd."
Mr. Lemann suggested that his audience pay heed to the long-term impact of Mr. Bush's proposed tax cut, watching especially for its effects on the middle class' view of social programs. He also expressed surprise that Vice President Dick Cheney had swiftly become the co-presidential figure many expected Secretary of State Colin Powell to become, and he advised them to "look for swashbuckling adventures, hawkish foreign policy and an active, interventionist military."
In response to a question put by Professor of History Harriet Ritvo on the relatively kind attitude of the media towards the new Republican president, Mr. Lemann said, "Every president gets a honeymoon period, and people want access to him and his people to do their work. The Bush organization is intensely loyal; it's acquired a reputation that says you pay a real price for criticizing Bush.
"The anthropology of Washington is hard to get across. The press world there is very, very small, and the Clinton hatred is intense. It's like the court scenes in War and Peace, where people draw their identity from the head of state: it reduces your status if the president cavorts with an intern in the Oval Office. The senior press establishment resented the loss to their own prestige caused by Clinton's problems," Mr. Lemann said.
The next two workshops in the 2001 History/Literature series are Assistant Professor of Literature Christina Klein speaking on "Reading the New Global Cinema: Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" on March 13, and Ruth Smith of Cambridge University on "Improving Art in 18th-Century England: Words for Handel's Music" on April 10. Both workshops will be held from 4:30-6pm in Rm 14E-304.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2001.