Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Fools' Names, Fools' Faces ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Non-Fiction

    BRIAN LAMB: Andrew Ferguson, why the title "Fools' Names and Fools' Faces"?

    ANDREW FERGUSON: It's a quote from that famous author, Anonymous. If you look in
    Bartlett's, that's where you'll find it.   It's an old saying from the earlier days of America, I think --
    it goes, "Fools' names, like fools' faces, are often seen in public places," which means sort of the
    public square draws people who tend to make clowns out of themselves.
           -C-SPAN Booknotes with Andrew Ferguson, April 1996

    LAMB: And how about your colleagues at The Weekly Standard?  ... Bill Kristol is the editor...

    Mr. BROOKS: He's the editor. Fred Barnes.

    LAMB: ...and Fred Barnes and--and...

    Mr. BROOKS: Andrew Ferguson.

    LAMB: Now do they all--do you all think alike on this conservatism thing?

    Mr. BROOKS: No, we think violently differently. In fact, that's one of the hallmarks of the
    conservative movement, is that people who used to think alike now disagree on everything and
    that--that's a function of the end of the Cold War and the end of liberalism, really, because
    liberalism--conservatism is in disarray, but liberalism is really in disarray. So we've lost our two
    common enemies.

    LAMB: When could you get a good fight going among the four of you sitting down just talking
    about any issue?

    Mr. BROOKS: Well, during John McCain, that was good enough because Bill Kristol and I thought
    John McCain was the better candidate for a number of reasons. Fred Barnes did not. He--he thought
    George W. Bush was a better candidate--on intellectual grounds, not just who would win in
    November--and Andy Ferguson's ideas were, as usual, very subtle and secretly forceful.

    LAMB: Secretly forceful.

    Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, Andy's not someone who comes out as much as some of the rest of us and just
    baldly declares something. His--his writing--he's a much better writer than I am, a more supple
    writer, and his writing leads you in different feints and the power of the writing is sometimes not
    clear until you read it carefully.
        -C-SPAN Booknotes with David Brooks, July 2000

Ever since I heard David Brooks praise his colleague so effusively on Booknotes last Summer, I've made a particular effort to search out Andrew Ferguson's stuff in The Weekly Standard.  Brooks is absolutely right : Ferguson's essays for the magazine are extremely sly and they conclude with a distinctive kick, as he forcefully drives home a point you may only have been mildly aware he was making.  An excellent example is Christianity, Clinton Style (Weekly Standard, September 11, 2000), in which he discusses the then President's pre-Convention public confessional at Willow Creek Community Church.  This was the event at which Clinton was supposed to apologize for the Lewinsky mess with sufficient clarity that it would remove the subject as an issue for Mr. Gore in the fall campaign.  In his column, Ferguson does not spare Clinton for the transparency and insincerity of the event, but it is only as you read the last sentence that you truly realize that Clinton is only an incidental target : Ferguson's real ire is directed at the brand of New Age Christianity which allows itself to be used in such a manner by a clearly unrepentant serial sinner.  But when the realization finally dawns it is all the more devastating precisely because the equation of the obviously repulsive Clinton and the theoretically sacred Church is so surprising.

Fools' Names, Fools' Places is a collection of earlier pieces and it seems as if Ferguson had not quite perfected this technique when some of them were written.  They are however very funny and they do reflect several of the concerns which he returns to again and again in his writing : the intellectual poverty of those New Age beliefs and the increasing divergence between celebrity and substantive achievement in American culture.  At times these concerns fuse brilliantly as in the devastating portrayals of Bill Moyers and Mikhail Gorbachev, both of whom have made the long strange trip from Left Wing hatchetmen to sort of self-help gurus.  But in most of them, it is merely the callowness and vapidity of the rich and famous that is on display.  A couple of the funniest ones are on Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra (Sinatra at 80 : Ring-a-ding-don't).  In fact, I started laughing so hard at a line in the Streisand profile :

    With her cavernous sinuses, her inexhaustible lungs, she doesn't so much sell a song as wrestle it to
    the ground and kneel on its throat.  She should try this with her songwriters.

that my wife made me let her read the essay, right away.  After that, we kept stealing the book back and forth from each other, the one grabbing it from the other while they were convulsed with laughter.  (This is what passes for entertainment in your average conservative household--sharing a collection of vituperative columns like dissidents used to pass around samiszdat in the old Soviet Union.)   In fact, my wife got so carried away, in the midst of the essay about Peter, Paul and Mary being arrested (Puff the Magic Dragon Goes to Jail) at an anti-apartheid demonstration, that our four year old son ran upstairs to tell me that, "Mommy isn't breathing."  I think it was this line that did it, about how the years haven't been kind to Mary, particularly poundagewise :

    As she belted out the songs, she wagged her head and threw her body from side to side, while the
    other celebrities struggled to anchor themselves against the assault of her weight.

We both enjoyed the paired essays about Ferguson appearing on a talk show as the designated Gennifer Flowers defender and the trouble this got him into with his wife.  What wife after all wants her husband defending a harlot on national television ?

And lest you assume that all the book consists of is scurrilous right wing screeds, there are plenty of equally acerbic glances cast at Republicans and conservatives--Newt Gingrich, Bill Bennett and David Gergen among them.  More importantly, Ferguson is toughest on himself and his profession.  This is the other major theme of the collection, and of much of his other writing : the pomposity of the press.  Whether belittling himself for appearing as a talking head on cable television, or hilariously dissecting the modern GQ/Esquire/Vanity Fair-style personality piece--the ones that all seem to start : "I met (insert name of star) for lunch at (insert name of trendy restaurant)..."--the authors of which all seem to labor under the delusion that they are themselves integral to the story, Ferguson holds up a rather harsh light to journalism as it is practiced today.

In a culture which is increasingly dominated by celebrities, politicians and the press, he happily skewers all three.  He does so in a series of essays which are as funny as any you'll ever read.  You should definitely read the book, but in the meantime keep an eye out for his current writing.  By himself he makes it worth checking out the Weekly Standard every week.


Grade: (A)


Andrew Ferguson Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Andrew Ferguson
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: What’s So Funny about Corona, Politics, the Media, and the Culture? Andrew Ferguson and P.J O'Rourke (Peter Robinson, May 1, 2020, Uncommon Knowledge)
    Running Scared (Andrew Ferguson, 1996-02-19, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Scotty: James B. Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism by John F. Stacks (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)     -Andrew Ferguson : Senior Editor (Weekly Standard)
    -ARCHIVES : Weekly Standard
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Andrew Ferguson  Title: Fools' Names, Fools' Faces.  Air date: November 3, 1996 (C-SPAN)
    -TRIBUTE : The Conscience of a Curmudgeon : Barry Goldwater 1909-1998 (Andrew Ferguson, TIME)
    -TRIBUTE : Where Charlotte Wove : On a visit to E.B. White's farm, we find the animals gone but the place still enchanted (ANDREW FERGUSON, TIME, July 1999)
    -ESSAY : The President's Very Favorite Book : In defense of George W. Bush's literary taste. (Andrew Ferguson, August 2001, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : Sex Talk : The surgeon general's farcical "Call to Action" (Andrew Ferguson, July 2001, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : Bush's Exercise Guru : Will our next surgeon general make us all fit as fiddles? (Andrew Ferguson, May 2001, Weekly Standard)
    Evolutionary Psychology and Its True Believers. (Andrew Ferguson, March 19, 2001, Weekly Standard)
    Liberty, Equality, Dignity: a review of Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics by Leon R. Kass (Andrew Ferguson, November 4, 2002, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of  Staying Tuned by Daniel Schorr and Tell Me a Story, by Don Hewitt (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : Goodbye, brave Newtworld : His sweeping visions were a mix of brilliance and banality
(Andrew Ferguson, TIME, November 1998)
    -ESSAY : Who Are You Calling Angry? (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, December 2000)
    -ESSAY : The Arianna Sideshow :  The activist and socialite has plans for two "shadow conventions" she hopes will roil the Establishment.  What are they really about? (ANDREW FERGUSON, TIME)
    -ESSAY : The Drug Culture Gets a Museum  (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, April 17, 2000)
    -ESSAY : What's at Stake in the 2000 Election (Andrew Ferguson, American Spectator)
    -ESSAY : Debates that Rate (Andrew Ferguson, TV Guide, October 2000)
    -ESSAY : What Would They Think of the '90s : W. C. FIELDS (Andrew Ferguson, AEI)
    -ESSAY : Divine Comedy : P.G. Wodehouse's Perfect Pitch (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : Poor, poor, pitiful me: He's powerful and he knows Sharon Stone. Why won't Clinton stop whining?  (ANDREW FERGUSON, TIME, FEBRUARY 17, 1997)
    -ESSAY : Christianity, Clinton Style : The confessor in chief wows an audience  of evangelicals. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, September 11, 2000)
    -ESSAY : A License to Revisit the Word "Is" (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, June 2000)
    -ESSAY : Impeached and Proud of It : Bill Clinton's history of himself (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, May 15, 2000)
    -ESSAY : The Feminist Lothario (ANDREW FERGUSON, TIME, September 1998)
    -ESSAY : It's the Sex, Stupid (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, FEBRUARY 2, 1998)
    -ESSAY : The Metaphors Make the Man : Al Gore's deep thoughts. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, October 23, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Praise Al, from Whom All Blessings Flow : The amazing achievements of a lifelong politician.(Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, August 21, 2000)
    -ESSAY : His Struggle To Get Real : Who is Al under the wooden veneer? Sooner or later he'll have to find out (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, September 1997)
    -ESSAY : Mary Matalin :  After failing up, the political  operative-turned-pundit fails down. (Andrew Ferguson, Slate, Jan. 18, 2001)
    -ESSAY : The Arianna Sideshow (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, July 2000)
    -ESSAY : Gary Hart comes out : The former Senator and ex-presidential candidate reveals  that he's thriller writer John Blackthorn (Andrew Ferguson, January 17, 2000, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Horrific Days Are Here Again : Get ready to hear about greed, homelessness, and inequality. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, January 22, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Confessions of a Dot-Com Delegate : The complete trivialization of political conventions.(Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard,   August 7, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Sex, Lies, and Conservatism (Tucker Carlson & Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, November 22,1999)
    -ESSAY : Mr. Bush, Tear Down This Roadblock : Reopen Pennsylvania Avenue (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, January 15, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Babe Ruth : Republican governor hopeful Ruth Dwyer tries to take back Vermont. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, October 16, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Vanishing Voters, Vamoose! : Harvard's Kennedy School finds a non-problem to  worry about.  (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, April 10 , 2000)
    -ESSAY : Accentuate the Negative : Say this for them: Bush and McCain know how to crank up turnout. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, March 6 , 2000)
    -ESSAY : George W. Bush, Reformer? W. decides imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. (Andrew Ferguson , Weekly Standard, February 21 , 2000)
    -ESSAY : Bill Clinton's Last Gasp :  The State of the Union as laundry list. . . .a long and artful one. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, February 7, 2000)
    -ESSAY : This is an Election, Not a Tea Party : Shouldn't the candidates attack each other?  (Andrew  Ferguson, Weekly Standard, January 31, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Reagan, McCain, and Sam McGee : The unlikely revival of Robert Service, presidential poet. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, December 20 ,1999)
    -ESSAY : The McCain Rage : John McCain is gaining in New Hampshire. Will his temper trip him up? (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, November 15 ,1999)
    -ESSAY : The Message is the Message : McCain's campaign for reform is very meaningful. But what does it mean exactly? (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, February 2000)
    -ESSAY : Iowa Gothic : The thrill of being ground zero of campaign 2000. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, August 16, 1999)
    -ESSAY : The Indiscreet Charm of Lucianne : Her cocktail of sex and gossip proved irresistible, if not deadly (Andrew Fergusion, TIME, December 1998)
    -ESSAY : Speaking for the American People... How come we always seem to agree with whoever's doing the talking for us? (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, October 1998)
    -ESSAY : An Era Of Tiny Commotions : From the NEA Four to the campaign-finance scandals, the '90s are the downsized decade (Andrew Ferguson, TIME, October 1997)
    -ESSAY : Barney backlash. (what is right with the Public Broadcasting  Service children's television program 'Barney and Friends) (Andrew Ferguson, National Review, Nov 29, 1993)
    -ESSAY : Hands Off Our Cigars : The feds go after stogies. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, August 2, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Those Who Don't Get It : The following memo has been passed along by Andrew Ferguson, a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine (1994)
    -ESSAY : MAD ABOUT MAPPLETHORPE  (Andrew Ferguson, National Review, 8/4/90)
    -DOWNLOADABLE ESSAY : Apocalypse Whenever (Andrew Ferguson, 1990,  Reason magazine)
    Liberty, Equality, Dignity: a review of Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics by Leon R. Kass (Andrew Ferguson, November 4, 2002, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of Reagan : in His Own Hand (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, February 5, 2001)
    -REVIEW : of How I Accidentally Joined the  Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (And Found Inner Peace) by Harry Stein (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard, )
    -REVIEW : of The Operator: David Geffen  Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood by Tom King (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of A Charge to Keep by George W. Bush (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of The Fat Man in the Middle Seat by Jack Germond (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of Unmanning Strunk and White :  A fourth edition of the classic Elements of Style. (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of Crazy Rhythm: My Journey from Brooklyn, Jazz, and Wall Street to Nixon's White House  by Leonard Garment  (Andrew Ferguson, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of On the Rez by Ian Frazier (Andrew Ferguson, Fortune)
    -BOOK LIST : The Contents of our Character  REASON asked a number of writers and scholars to recommend three books, with a couple of restrictions: one had to be a work of fiction, and one had to have been written in the past 50 years. We were seeking the books that would be most instructive to a new immigrant on those vexing questions: What is the American character? What defines American culture? (Andrew Ferguson, Reason)
    -DISCUSSION : The Year of the Goat : To make sense of the tumultuous year 1998, The American Enterprise assembled three seasoned observers of folly: Lucianne Goldberg, literary agent best known for her friendship with Linda Tripp; Mark Steyn, columnist for The American Spectator and the London Spectator; and Andrew Ferguson, senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a former Bush administration speechwriter. (American Enterprise Institute)
    -ESSAY : Moyers' Boy Alter : NEWSWEEK KISSES UP (Mediawatch, 10/01/1991)
    -ESSAY :   Our current howler (part III): When pundits don't attack : Synopsis: Scribes have experienced a "swoon" for McCain. In the process, some standards may have suffered. : The McCain Rage by Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard, 11/15/99 (Daily Howler, 16 December 1999)
    -REVIEW : of Fools' Names, Fools' Faces  by Andrew Ferguson (Daniel J. Silver, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing edited by David Brooks  Pens at the ready, conservative writers march forward into the past in a new anthology (Richard von Busack, Metro Active)
    -REVIEW : of Backward and Upward (Joseph FitzPatrick, The Brunswickan)

    -LECTURE : The Artist as Citizen  (Barbara Streisand,  Americans for the Arts, February 1, 1995)
    -ESSAY : A chorus of disapproval : The Weekly Standard hits Clinton from the right, The Nation whacks him from the left, while The New Republic swings and misses (DAN KENNEDY, Salon)
    -ESSAY : After the honeymoon :  The national media have given John McCain their unconditional love. As he tests the presidential  waters, that's about to change.  (Dan Kennedy, Boston Phoenix)
    -ESSAY : Substance Abuse : Faking, flubbing, and cramming with the media's  talking heads (Alexandra Robbins, Washington Monthly)

Book-related and General Links: