Frank Rich is a writer-at-large for New York magazine. His books include Ghost Light, a memoir, and The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America. He is an Executive Producer of the HBO series Veep.

How He Captured America

Bob Hope in his ‘joke vault,’ Toluca Lake, California, July 1995
When Bob Hope died in 2003 at the age of one hundred, attention was not widely paid. The “entertainer of the century” had long been regarded by many Americans (if they regarded him at all) “as a cue-card-reading antique, cracking dated jokes about buxom beauty queens and Gerald Ford’s golf game.” A year before his death, The Onion had published the fake headline “World’s Last Bob Hope Fan Dies of Old Age.” Though Hope still had champions among comedy luminaries who had grown up idolizing him, Christopher Hitchens was in sync with the new century’s consensus when he memorialized him as “paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny.”

The Voice of a Rebel

Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller, Roxbury, Connecticut, 1963
In 1999, four years before his death at age ninety-four, a shaky-looking Elia Kazan appeared on prime-time television to receive an honorary Oscar. To many watching at home, Kazan’s brief turn was an obligatory detour on the way to what proved that year’s main event, the upset victory of Shakespeare …

Who Was JFK?

President Kennedy leaving St. Stephen Martyr Church in Washington, D.C., after attending Mass on the day Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba, October 28, 1962
Without the halo of martyrdom and the mob-and-CIA-populated conspiracy theories generated by the assassination—and without the voluptuous video record of Kennedy’s grace, charisma, and wit—would his White House tenure poll so high? Probably not. It’s telling that his death has a greater afterlife than his presidency.

‘Why Has He Fallen Short?’

Barack Obama meeting with US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal, Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, March 28, 2010
The Obama of Hope and Change was too tough an act for Obama, a mere chief executive, to follow. Only Hollywood might have the power to create a superhero who could fulfill the messianic dreams kindled by his presence and rhetoric, maintain the riveting drama of his unlikely ascent, and sustain the national mood of deliverance that greeted his victory. As soon as Inauguration Day turned to night, the real Obama was destined to depreciate like the shiny new luxury car that starts to lose its book value the moment it’s driven off the lot.

How to Cover an Election

When, in the summer of 1968, Norman Mailer covered the Republican and Democratic conventions on assignment for Harper’s magazine, he was forty-five, an aging rebel looking for a new cause. He had started to drift restlessly from his single-minded pursuit of the Great American Novel into filmmaking and journalism, two …

On the Democrats

Such was the low estate of the Bush administration in American public opinion that the Democrats did even better than expected in the midterm elections of 2006, especially in their narrow takeover of the Senate. The most revealing upset came in Virginia, where Jim Webb, a much-decorated Vietnam veteran, fierce …

Ideas for Democrats?

It is not easy to be a professional Democrat in 2006. Out of power for six years and widely damned as out of intellectual steam, the party is regarded in nearly every political precinct and publication as a chronic invalid, doomed to obsolescence even though nearly all the stars are …

‘The Secret Way to War’

It’s hard not to think of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day when reading Mark Danner on what will forever be known as the Downing Street memo. Ishiguro told the story of a butler, just beyond the periphery of tawdry events in high places in World War II …

On ‘Fixed Ideas’ Since September 11

As we have been instructed at regular intervals since September 11, 2001, “they” attacked us because they hate everything we stand for, our freedoms most of all. If that is the case, history will have to explain why post-9/11 America was so quick to rein in the freedom of debate …