Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Establishment, Morphing

I just read Connie Bruck's long profile of Haim Saban in The New Yorker, and so should you, especially if you are still mulling over the curious state of the "American Jewish Establishment." It left me with that vaguely jumpy feeling writers get when they think about money, influence, sex, philistinism--or all of these at once--and wonder if the disdain is not envy, or the shame of envy, or the suppression of shame, or just disdain.

Saban seems so much the Israeli driver in his Hollywood cockpit—you know, the kind that sits on your tail and then passes you from the right at 80 miles an hour just to gain a place ahead of you at the next stop light. He is no friar, and its hard to tell whether he owes his negotiating successes and tax holidays more to the experience of fighting in a tank or playing dumb around KPMG auditors. He made his fortune bringing stupefying things to our children and to the public realm more generally, from Mighty Morphing Power Rangers to Murdoch's network. His conception of politics is full of personality and proteksia and a measure of self-congratulatory smarminess; he has, he is sure to tell Bruck, seen Bill Clinton in his undershorts, apparently not sure his $1.7 billion is enough to guarantee himself proof of intimacy (or at least intimacy as great as Jennifer Flowers). Yet you read and read and suspect that, indeed, one check from him is worth more than a lifetime of writing earnest books, articles, and blogs.

We should thank him for Martin Indyk, whose center at Brookings is more solution than problem, all in all. ("Indyk was at the Brookings Institution at the time, and he suggested that Saban set up a center there. “What’s Brookings?” Saban wanted to know. “We invited him here for lunch,” Indyk went on. “I showed him the wood-panelled rooms, the portrait of Robert Brookings. He turned and said to me, ‘We’ll do it here.’”) But if Jerusalem blows up--not from an Iranian bomb, but from simple Palestinian rage--I can hear him shouting “I told you so” into some phone, trying to muscle himself into ownership of the "anti-Israel" LA Times, thinking of ways to sway a new generation of watchers and readers his businesses have helped turned clueless.