Bill Steigerwald

Christopher Buckley's latest satire about an unpopular president who nominates a sexy TV judge to the Supreme Court is kind of spooky. "Supreme Courtship" -- which he finished in January and has been praised in liberal places like the New York Times Book Review for its bipartisan skewering of the political elites in Washington who never seem to run out of ways to ruin our lives -- was only released in early September. Yet its antagonist-in-chief is a teeth-capped member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who looks, acts and never stops talking like Joe Biden and its main female character -- Judge Pepper Cartwright -- bears an eerie resemblance or two to a certain Alaska governor now seeking the vice presidency. Buckley, the late William F. Buckley Jr.'s son who was born in 1952, is a frequent contributor to top national papers and magazines and an editor at Forbes magazine. His 13 books include "Thank You for Smoking," which Hollywood turned into a 2006 movie. I talked to him Sept. 23 by cell phone as he slowly made his way from Washington to New York City on Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express.

Q: Tell us briefly what your book is about and who would play the lead character Pepper Cartwright in the movie version.

A: Well, it's about a president who is frustrated by his arch-enemy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who keeps shooting down his Supreme Court nominations for very frivolous reasons. So one night at Camp David, when the president is in bed with the first golden retriever named Dwight, and they're channel-surfing looking for a bowling tournament, on comes this courtroom reality show starring Judge Pepper Cartwright, who looks sort of like a naughty librarian -- very, you know, dishy, with glasses. She packs a pistol underneath her robes.

So I give you a book that I handed in in January, where the antagonists are a cosmetically enhanced U.S. senator who has run for president a number of times and can't shut up, can't stop talking, pitted against a glasses-wearing, gun-toting TV hottie. So I return the question to you: Who do you think should play Pepper Cartwright? (laughs)

Q: I guess if she doesn't become the vice president .

A: (laughs) I tell you. You can't make this stuff up. It's very frustrating writing satire in America these days. You're in a losing competition with tomorrow's front page.

Q: My second question was going to be "It is a satire, right?"

A: I think it is. I'm no longer sure (laughs).

Q: Is there a message buried in your satire?


Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..