Let’s start with the immortal words of the late Admiral James Stockdale, a true American hero, who found himself thrust onto the vice presidential debate stage in 1992.
“Who am I? Why am I here?”
Those of you who are longtime readers will know the answer to the first part, at least. I’ve been writing about American politics and its place in the culture for more than 20 years now — as the chief political writer for the New York Times Magazine and as a columnist at the Times, Yahoo and now the Washington Post. I’ve covered five presidential campaigns and spent time with scores of politicians. I actually like them.
I’ve written a couple of books, too, and turned the last one — “All the Truth Is Out,” about Gary Hart’s undoing in 1987 and the way it transformed political journalism — into a movie called “The Front Runner.” You probably didn’t see it, but Hugh Jackman was terrific, so you should.
As for the second question, what I’m doing here at Bulletin, I guess the answer is: trying something new.
Columns are about certainties, or at the least the appearance of them. You pick a position and you argue it. Most columnists these days, sad to say, know their position on every issue before they ask a single question. It’s basically a team sport.
Increasingly, though, the only thing I’m really certain about is that I don’t have all the answers. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump represents a clear danger to the democracy — aside from that, though, I don’t always know where I fit in the political debate. Like an awful lot of Americans, I’m independent, both by temperament and affiliation, and I worry for the country.
If you feel the same, then I hope this newsletter is for you. It’ll be more personal than what I’ve done before. I’m trying to work through some difficult questions about our politics and media — while occasionally discussing screenwriting or books, or baseball, or serial abuses of the English language. We won’t always agree, but my hope is to build a community where we can talk to each other, directly and kindly.
So how does the subscription part work?
Most of my posts about politics, roughly one a week, will be free, and you can subscribe to have them sent to you.
I’ll also be doing something I haven’t done as a columnist, which is to dissect the way we in the media cover politics, from the perspective of one who’s been inside it for a long time. Most of those posts — along with occasional digressions into my Hollywood projects — will be available only to premium subscribers, who can sign up for $4.99 a month, or 50 bucks a year. Just think of me as an especially talkative parking valét.
(If you do sign up for a premium subscription, which you can do here, don’t forget to go through the onerous process of verifying your email address, so that my premium posts will show up in your inbox as if by magic.)
Premium subscribers will also be able to comment on posts and join my members-only Facebook group. I haven’t totally figured out what we’ll do in that group — like the Bai Lines logo, it’s under construction — but I’m open to any ideas that don’t include a barbecue at my house. (Our puppy barks incessantly at strangers. We can talk about that, too, if you have any tips.)
Later this week, I’ll have something to say about these Congressional hearings into the January 6 insurrection — and the media’s complicated role in helping the Big Lie get started. I also want to talk about the three quotes that guide my political writing.
Until then, thanks for finding your way to Bai Lines, and I hope you'll stick around.