It's hard out there to be in print. You work like a horse to break news, but by the time the periodical gets read, there's at least a 50 percent chance that nobody will care anymore.
Vanity Fair is a glossy, perfect-bound monthly magazine that apparently pays up to $10 a word and has long been an aspirational forum for people in my business.
But the response I have when the routing list brings the office copy of Vanity Fair my way is almost always this: Hey, look, this thing they're talking about on the cover is that thing everybody stopped talking about months ago!
Last month the Condé Nast flagship (or maybe it's more of a tug boat) featured a glittering story of China's high-speed rail network that sure seems to have passed blue lines before the horrific Zhejiang derailment and the closing of brand new lines due to low ridership. No disrespect to the article! It's just that it was the kind of piece that might have made a splash in 2010, when China's bullet train was an object of international envy rather than a corruption-plagued, career-ending embarrassment.
Now here's the November issue, which hit newsstands just as a big new protest movement was sweeping the nation. And there it is right on the cover! The Ninety-Nine Per….I mean the Occupy Wall Str…..um, the Flea Par….no, no, it's uh, the umpteenth attack on the Tea Party!
Now, hardly anybody in New York media universe has to date done a takedown of the Tea Party movement that is full of misstated positions, unchecked assumptions and vague generalities. So Simon Johnson and James Kwak's "Debt and Dumb" (which features a hideously ugly Ed Sorel illustration) must be breaking new ground, right?
You betcha! Kwak and Johnson discover that Tea Party protestors frequently refer to the founders of the American Republic. And it turns out that Alexander Hamilton (who surely must be the founding father tea partiers favor, right? because he's on a bill?) believed in making sure the U.S.A. paid all its debts. And the Tea Partiers aren't serious about not defaulting on debts because they, um, don't want to keep raising the debt ceiling.
Not only that, but even George Washington opposed the Whiskey Rebellion.
You could call this potted history, but that would be an insult to pot. It's also an impossible logical proposition, wherein the Tea Party shows its unseriousness about debt by eschewing excessive spending during a period of record debt and deficits that are unprecedented in peacetime. Does this mean the Occupiers, whose most important goal is to let sociology majors skate on their student loans, are serious about debt? We'll have to wait until 2014 or so, when Vanity Fair gets around to covering Occupy Wall Street.
In any event, Kwak and Johnson end their piece by giving away the game, noting that when the Tea Party extremists got access to power, they joined right in with the borrow-and-spend mainstream: "A bare majority of the Tea Party caucus in the House eventually voted for the debt-ceiling increase, but that was because they had achieved their primary goal: a bill that was all spending cuts and no tax increases."
If you're keeping score at home, here's how Federal spending has been moving under these all-cuts budgets you keep hearing about:
2008 $2.9 trillion
2009 $3.5 trillion
2010 $3.5 trillion
2011 $3.8 trillion
Vanity Fair, ladies and gentlemen: Two years late and at least five-dollars-a-word short.