Thanks, BT, as always; your comments are much appreciated. I agree with you that some of the foibles of contemporary journalism can be traced back to Wolfe and Mailer and that tendency, in the so-called “new journalism,” to equate powerful writing (i.e., the use of the conventions of fiction within non-fictional material) with the promotion of the powerful ego.

I think the connection I’m seeking between the Problem with Ehrenreich and the Problem with The West Wing may be something far more dangerous, and not at all literary/representational in nature: I think the issue may well be the general — pardon the metaphor — flaccidity of thinking on the left these days. After all the talk several years back (most of it in white circles, of course) about the vacuum of leadership in the African American community, I think the more pressing (and often unacknowledged) problem is the vacuum of national leadership on the left. Who are we to imagine leading the charge for progressive reform, whether politically — Al Gore? Tom Daschle? Gray Davis? — or, for that matter, culturally — Michael Moore? Barbara Ehrenreich? Barbara Streisand?

I think my disheartenment (okay, I know, but is there an appropriate actually existing noun?) stems from finding two potentially radical moments of political engagement in U.S. culture watered down by their authors’ self-congratulatory assumption that they’ve already got “right” on their side, and thus don’t need to do anything more.

But now, of course, I’m re-heartened by trying to picture Ari Fleischer in a cropped t-shirt, maybe with a little belly-button ring…