I clutched my notebook nervously as I looked around the bright, smoke-free, tastefully paneled lounge. Pundits and poseur-pundits milled, schmoozing, under the bright klieg lights, swishing ice in empty rocks glasses (the men) and squeezing lemons into their Diet Cokes (the women).
Everything was tony. Tony tony tony. The make-up, the smiles, the smart pantsuits, everything in the room screamed je ne sais quoi! For it is je ne sais quoi, as de Tocqueville (or was it Bacon) once said, that a good pundit needs in order to shine like a supernova, to shine like Gergen. Over by the stage I saw Gergen and his entourage, slapping backs, joking, playfully giving one another purple nurples. That could be me, I said, already feeling my nipples bruise under Gergen’s rough-hewn hands. On stage, Arianna Huffington’s bass player did a sound check.
I hungrily eyed my competition. The room was (obviously) packed because of Gergen’s legendary pundantic stylings, but there were a significant number of new faces (I’ve been going to Gergen since high school, I would know). The usual “experts” (you can air-quote me on that, excelsior) were in attendance: the “C-Spangled Kid;” the US News and World Report girls; Ziggy Marley. Some Robert Novak clones swarmed around the men’s room. I sat thinking that if I saw one more McCain t-shirt I would puke, or at least throw mine (which I bought in 1997, thank you very much) in the trash. I seethed with resentment at my peers, as I often do, but then I began to wonder if that was healthy; it struck me that I always seem to hate everyone who’s into the same things that I am. Maybe it was just competition, I thought. But aren’t pundits more than just American gladiators? Should our fine art be sullied with the blood drawn by our rhetorical jousting? Then I realized that competition was healthy. Competition was America. Or so I said in one of my works-in-progress, a minor opus called Primary-Colored Bruises: Will the Rough-and-Tumble 2000 Battle Help or Hurt the GOP?
I mostly ignored the opening acts—bo-ring! The Experience was okay, if you like that sort of thing (har har). Then Gergen took the stage. Loose wisps of hair dangled mannishly over the left side of his head. He shook them away recklessly, thoughtlessly, full of life and probably Viagra. He shuffled his papers, faux-oblivious to the waiting, literally drooling crowd. He cleared his throat and began to speak. “America today,” he said, pausing for a moment and then staring blankly into the throng. It was long, too dramatic to be a dramatic pause, the USNWR Girls started tittering, you could hear the audience’s teeth grind, Gergen standing there, immobile, head beaded with sweat, like those candy-stuck-to-paper things, except clear and liquid, and not placed in neat little rows, and salty. Could that maybe have been it? America today, period, an op-ed koan? I thought about it. The genius of that, the understatement. It was everything Gergen was talking about, it was health care and Social Security and campaign finance reform and gun control. It was Sister Souljah and Bob Jones, it was Peter and Martin Luther and Larry King. America. Today. Just when I thought I had it, Gergen cleared his throat again, and I swear he was looking right at me, like he noticed he had sent me to the moon, to Saturn. He knew. “America today,” he said again.
How does one describe the essential Gergenness of David Gergen? One does not. The Gergen that can be spoken is not the true Gergen. Instead, I will speak about myself.
Loath as I am to use the tired vernacular of a lesser, nay, dead (1987, Hell-o!) art form: I killed. I began my act by looking Gergen in the eye and telling him what he meant to us all, to the young pundits-to-be, to the dreamers. Sure, I said, maybe Will and Buckley were there at the beginning. Maybe Buchanan runs for President, maybe Kinsley got himself a nice little “’zine,” maybe Paglia knows her Madonna theory. But it’s Gergen, and only Gergen, who commands our vital center, who knows how to get our swing votes, who lets us see him sweat and makes us like it.
I looked him right in the eye and waited for the applause to die down, waited for the catcalls and whistles to ebb, waited for Gergen to take his seat. The C-Spangled Kid (like that’s his real name) squinted at me through narrowed eyes. Should have gotten here early like I did, pal. As for my piece: well, if you want a taste of me, then I’ll see you at the Barrel next Wednesday. I don’t give it up that easily. Suffice it to say that, by the time I was done, everybody in that room knew exactly why Bill Bradley lost.