Robert Scheer likes to talk—which is a bit odd, considering that he has spent most of his career listening. A longtime columnist and writer for the Los Angeles Times, Scheer's particular beat has been covering presidents—skewering and dissecting their minds, morals, and oftentimes questionable actions. From Nixon through the present incumbent (who he accuses of "perpetual adolescence," among other more cutting insults), Scheer has held a front-row seat to the country's most powerful men.
In a recent interview with the Mercury, Scheer spoke freely and easily. With barely any prompts, he launched into topics ranging from President Clinton's failure to hunt down Osama bin Laden to his predictions for the 2008 elections (no, not Hillary; yes, bring back Al, "a very bright man who knows a lot about the world we live in"). Speaking from his home in Los Angeles, he delivered off-the-cuff policy lectures that would shame most US senators and offered bemusing insights into the men who have most recently occupied the White House.
Scheer will continue to talk and offer his searing observations when he is in town this Saturday to discuss his most recent book, Playing President, a strident collection of essays and interviews of six presidents (including a notorious on-the-campaign-trail Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter in which the chaste peanut grower admitted that he had "lusted in his heart").
Excluding what he called the sitting "imperialist," Scheer has had amazing intimacy and insight to the greatest power brokers from the past four decades. His latest book gathers up these thoughts into a coherent dissertation about the media ("they're running scared") and the systemic shortcomings of the US presidency itself ("with the exception of the current incumbent, they are hardworking guys who started out with serious intentions and ended up as caricatures of themselves").
What is remarkable about Scheer's recent book—and, about the writer himself—is that what could have easily turned into a stroll down nostalgia lane manages to be keen and cutting edge. Nearing an age when most journalists consider retirement, Scheer seems to be only warming up.