And yet, despite the clarity, consistency, and success of Roosevelt’s policies, politicians and economists today are more like to sound like Roosevelt’s critics than like the president himself: fearful first and foremost of inflation; confident that the unemployed and indebted masses are suffering only what they deserve; persuaded that nobody ought to criticize business leaders too strongly, lest the country suffer a loss of confidence; heedless of the moral and social consequences should we continue to demonstrate that our politics are unresponsive to widespread hardship.
It has proven possible to disregard the lessons of Roosevelt’s policies for at least two reasons. First, decades of histories have emphasized his luck rather than his ability…
Second, we have forgotten how, or even that, Roosevelt’s policies actually worked.
In the term-time, when he isn’t teaching, he distinguishes himself as a cross-country runner and sportsman. On his spare evenings he helps out in a local youth club. In vacations he conquers difficult peaks and Most Serious climbs. Yet when his college offers him a permanent Fellowship---or to his present soured way of thinking, imprisonment for life---he baulks.
Last term he had delivered a series of lectures on George Orwell under the title ‘A Stifled Britain?’ and his rhetoric had alarmed him. Would Orwell have believed it possible that the same overfed voices which had haunted him in the 1930s, the same crippling incompetence, addiction to foreign wars and assumptions of entitlements, were happily in place in 2009?
Receiving no response from the blank student faces staring up at him, he had supplied it for himself: no, Orwell would emphatically not have believed it. Or if he had, he would have taken to the streets. He would have smashed some serious glass.
Mining the notebooks again. January 7, 2016. Posted February 8.
Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), the night manager of a famous European hotel and a tough but sentimental man about to be drawn into intrigue and adventure by the arrival of the femme fatale mistress of an illegal arms dealer (Elizabeth Debiki) in the upcoming BBC adaptation of John le Carré's (comic?) novel The Night Manager.
When did John le Carré become a comic writer? Or has he always been and I'm just finally getting attuned to the joke?
The wig, the immortal wig: Herr Kaspar’s one-hundred-and-forty-thousand-franc crown, the pride of every classic concierge in Switzerland. Herr Kaspar’s William Tell of a wig, Frau Loring called it: the wig that dared to raise itself in revolt against the millionaire despot Madame Archetti…
Madame Archetti had inherited the Archetti supermarket fortune [and] lived off the interest on the interest. And what she liked at age fifty-something was tour the great hotels of Europe in her open English sports car, followed by her staff and wardrobe in a van. She knew the names of every concierge and headwaiter from the Four Seasons in Hamburg to Cipriani in Venice to the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. She prescribed them diets and herbal remedies and acquainted them with their horoscopes. And she tipped them on a scale scarcely to be imagined, provided they found favor.
And favor was what Herr Kaspar found in bucketloads...He found it to the tune of twenty thousand Swiss francs each annual visit, not to mention quack hair remedies, magic stones to put beneath his pillow to cure his sciatica, and half kilos of Beluga caviar on Christmas and saints’ days, which Herr Kaspar discreetly converted to cash by means of an understanding with a famous food hall in the the town. All this for obtaining a few theater tickets and booking a few dinner tables, on which of course he exacted his customary commission. And for bestowing those pious signals of devotion that Madame Archetti required for her role as chatelaine of the servant kingdom.
Until the day Herr Kaspar bought his wig.
He did not buy it rashly...He bought land in Texas first, thanks to a [client of the hotel] in the oil business. The investment flourished, and he took his profit. Only then did he decide that like his patroness he had reached a stage in life where he was entitled to shed a few of his advancing years. After months of measuring and debate, the thing was ready---a wonder wig, a miracle of artful simulation. To try it out he availed himself of his annual holiday on Mykonos, and one Monday morning in September he reappeared behind his desk, bronzed and fifteen years younger as long as you didn’t look at him from the top.
And no one did...Or if they did they didn’t mention the wig at all...The whole hotel had tacitly decided to share in the glow of Herr Kaspar’s rejuvenation…And things continued happily in this way until the evening Madame Archetti arrived for her customary month’s stay, and as usual her hotel family lined up to greet her in the lobby…
And [there] at his desk [was] Herr Kaspar in his wig.
“What are we wearing on our head, Kaspar?”
“Whose hair, Kaspar?”
“It is mine,” Herr Kaspar replied with bearing.
“Take it off,” Madame Archetti ordered. “Or you will never have another penny from me.”
“I cannot take it off, Madame. My hair is part of my personality. It is integrated.”
“Then dis-integrate it, Kaspar. Not now---it is too complicated---but for tomorrow morning. Otherwise nothing. What have you got at the theatre for me?”
“I shall look at you again in the morning. Who’s playing him?”
“Leiser, Madame. The greatest Moor we have.”
“We shall see.”
Next morning at eight o’clock to the minute Herr Kaspar reappeared for duty, his crossed keys of office glinting like campaign medals from his lapels. And on his head, triumphantly, the emblem of his insurrection. All morning a precarious hush prevailed in the lobby. The hotel guests...were aware of the imminent explosion, even if they did not know its cause. At midday, which was her hour, Madame Archetti emerged from the Tower Suite and descended the staircase on the arm of her prevailing swain, a promising young barber from Graz.
“But where is Herr Kaspar this morning,” she asked in Herr Kaspar’s vague direction.
“He is behind his desk and at your service as ever, Madame,” he replied in a voice that, to those who heard it, echoed for all time in the halls of freedom. “He has tickets for the Moor.”
“I see no Herr Kaspar,” Madame Archetti informed her escort. “I see hair. Tell him, please, we shall miss him in his obscurity.”
I especially like that promising young barber from Graz.
Ok, it’s not P.G. Wodehouse. But there are distinct echoes of Austen and Wilde---Madame Archetti is directly descended from the Ladies de Bourgh and Bracknell---and a touch of Waugh. Might be better rather than calling le Carré a comic writer to call him an ironist, a quality I’ve always noticed in his work. But inThe Night Manager he’s verging into satire.
Come to think of it, though, The Tailor of Panama is a satire of Graham Greene’s and his own spy novels. And, come to think of that, Greene was a self-satirist himself. So why am I surprised to find myself laughing at a le Carré novel.
I started reading The Night Manager this evening because I’d just learned that there’s a television mini-series in the offing, starring Tom Hiddleston as the protagonist, Jonathan Pine, the night manager of the hotel where Herr Kaspar is the concierge, and Hugh Laurie as the villain, an illegal arms dealer named Richard Onslow Roper.
But I decided to put it aside for now and stick with The Night Manager because of Herr Kaspar, his wig, Madame Archetti, and that promising young barber.
Now I’m second-guessing my choice.
The hero of The Night Manager has just met a femme fatale.
I expect no good will come of it.
I’m not a fan of femme fatales in novels and movies and TV shows. They require too much suspension of disbelief.
I didn't live a monk-like existence before I got married, but I can't say I dated all sorts and conditions.
Most of my girlfriends were one type or another of artist, intellectual, or bohemian.
That's another way of saying neurotic.
But not one of them was a femme fatale.
I dated a few who were trouble. There were a couple who could have drawn me into real-life Elmore Leonard novels. One had a boyfriend in the army she neglected to tell me about until he came home on leave. Another had a husband in prison. She swore he wasn’t up for parole for several years. There was another who seemed to enjoy pitting her would-be boyfriends against each other but I think with her it was more the case that she was like people who can’t help ordering another dessert before they’re finished their first. In matters of love and romance she was an innocent and cheerful glutton. But I wouldn’t call any of them or any other girl I dated a femme fatale.
At least, none of them had a history of enticing tough but sentimental men who should have known better into intrigues and adventures.
Are there any real femme fatales?
If there are, I never fell into one's clutches.
I don't know if I should count myself lucky.
My life could have used a little intrigue and adventure.
Still, it always presents a problem for me as a reader when a plot depends on the hero falling into the clutches of a femme fatale.
Besides the suspension of disbelief required to accept her existence, I always suspect an element of wish-fulfillment on the author’s part and---ironically---a trace of gynophobia. It’s as if the writer is scaring himself with his own fantasy, fearing what he desires and desiring what he fears. I’m not accusing le Carré of this. But too many other writers have fallen into this trap of their own devising and I’ve grown wary.
But she’s arrived, in the company of the villain, off-limits to the hero for that reason and for that reason almost certain to entice him into intrigue and adventure even though he knows better.
The trailer for The Night Manager doesn’t make it look the least bit comic. And the cast list at imdb.com doesn’t include Herr Kaspar or Madame Archetti. But there does appear to be some definite femme fatale-ism at work.
Joe Namath was a hard-liver with a (well-earned) reputation as a drinker. But some of that was self-medication. He got banged around a lot during his career, played hurt week in and week out, and finally finished with a career of unfulfilled promise because he was just plain worn down. That’s the subtext of this quote, although it was still only January of 1969 and he didn’t know what a hard and disappointing road lay ahead of him. He was only celebrating the Jets AFL championship victory over the Raiders and looking forward to beating the Colts in the Super Bowl:
On the flight from New York to Florida, [Namath] vented about the prohibition of locker-room champagne in the AFL by the league commissioner, which had forced [him] and his teammates back into the training room. He was told to keep booze out of sight of kids watching on TV. Namath called out the league on its hypocrisy. Didn’t the commissioner see Lassiter and Davis knocking Namath loopy in the league championship? And some celebratory champagne is bad? “You know what the real image of football is, it’s brutality,” Namath said. “Why don’t they tell kids like it is? Tell the kids that this guy is trying to hurt that guy and knock him out of the football game.
Is Twain on record as having an opinion on football?
The Melbourne Cup is the Australasian National Day. It would be difficult to overstate its importance. It overshadows all other holidays and specialized days of whatever sort in that congeries of colonies. Overshadows them? I might almost say it blots them out. Each of them gets attention, but not everybody's; each of them evokes interest, but not everybody's; each of them rouses enthusiasm, but not everybody's; in each case a part of the attention, interest, and enthusiasm is a matter of habit and custom, and another part of it is official and perfunctory. Cup Day, and Cup Day only, commands an attention, an interest, and an enthusiasm which are universal--and spontaneous, not perfunctory. Cup Day is supreme it has no rival. I can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, which can be named by that large name--Supreme. I can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, whose approach fires the whole land with a conflagration of conversation and preparation and anticipation and jubilation. No day save this one; but this one does it.
In America we have no annual supreme day; no day whose approach makes the whole nation glad. We have the Fourth of July, and Christmas, and Thanksgiving. Neither of them can claim the primacy; neither of them can arouse an enthusiasm which comes near to being universal. Eight grown Americans out of ten dread the coming of the Fourth, with its pandemonium and its perils, and they rejoice when it is gone--if still alive. The approach of Christmas brings harassment and dread to many excellent people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a year. The observance of Thanksgiving Day--as a function--has become general of late years. The Thankfulness is not so general. This is natural. Two-thirds of the nation have always had hard luck and a hard time during the year, and this has a calming effect upon their enthusiasm.
January 11, 2016. Posted for Super Bowl Sunday. February 7.
There’s a reason political reporters long to be like sportswriters and a good reason they shouldn’t be. Good sportswriting is a form of fiction. Sportswriters are allowed to read minds, attribute motives, pass off pure guesswork as insight, and not only take their sources---players and coaches, at any rate---at their word but encourage them to make those words...colorful. Basically, reporters and players collaborate in creating stories based on embellishments, exaggerations, and out and out lies. The best liars give the best quotes.
Sure, certain facts have to be reported. The final score, for instance. Who actually played and what they did when the ball, puck, or another player came their way. But the rest is subject to interpretation. Poetic license is granted to sportswriters and all their stories are just that, stories. Tall-tales, legends and folk tales in the making, and might as well begin like movies with the warning: “Based on a true story” or “Inspired by real-life events”.
This is fine with me. It’s part of the fun, and sports is meant to be fun. I’m a fervent believer that good fiction is more truthful or at least more true to life than most non-fiction. But it’s also part of the fun, and sports is meant to be fun. It’s entertainment. Games and fights and matches are entertainments. They’re staged events. Therefore, they’re subject to review and criticism as entertainments. And criticism is simply opinionizing, hopefully informed opinionizing, but still, when you get down to it, it’s just a matter of the critics writing about what they think about what they saw. That makes sportswriting writing. And all writing is about the writer and the writing---its intent, quality, and effect---as much as it’s about an actual subject. So the writer better be smart and talented and the writing better be worth reading.
It better be entertaining.
It’s more entertaining if it’s also accurate.
One more thing. Sporting events are comedies. I know, not to the fans of the losing teams and players, and not to the fans of the winners who have invested too much of their vanity and sense of self in their favorite teams and players. But, with a few exceptions, all games end happily in that everybody had a good time, including, when they look back on it, after enough time has passed, the players who lost. There are some unhappy stories. Sad stories can be told. But then the inherent tragedy is essential to the comedy. We need to laugh or we will cry.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who had been having a pretty mediocre day to that point, saw the football roll behind him. He scampered, picked up the ball and peered downfield.
His line of sight was consumed by three or four Vikings defenders, steam rising from their mouths as if they were draft horses, rumbling at him. “Uh-oh,” he thought to himself.
At halftime, the Vikings led, 3-0, prompting more than a few to speculate that it was simply too cold to think, much less to score.
For now, let’s return to the game, which through halftime appeared to make a star of cold that was borderline insane. The Seahawks’ Sherman noted that the ball did not fly right in temperatures like those more often found on the plains of Mars. Asked how he had managed, Sherman smiled. He was born in Southern California; this not his natural habitat.
“It was all good until my eyelashes froze,” he noted. __________________________________
A hardy perennial of postgame news conferences is listening as players attribute their team’s pure dumb luck to Him and His Son. So Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor claims that he knew the kicker would miss and attributes his assurance to God. Cornerback Richard Sherman speculated that Jesus would have approved of the Seahawks’ team effort.
God, perhaps preoccupied with a tricky black hole, has so far declined to offer a comment. Jesus’ telephone number is unlisted.
Let me pause, also, to note that along with a few players recklessly running about the field in short sleeves, we got to watch the Vikings’ cheerleaders dance in the subzero temperatures and shake in their mukluks for slightly more than the cost of gas for their cars. This gilded league could of course take care of this problem of cheerleader poverty by rooting about in its loose change drawer and by forcing teams to pay a proper wage.
Commissioner Roger Goodell would rather pretend that these women are independent contractors.
Hmm. In that last one, Powell’s veering dangerously close to serious journalism.
Or if you think about a certain fact about football. Like I said, tragedy is essential to comedy. Comedy is funny because life is not.
This game, even with its silly God talk, came as a bit of a relief after Saturday night’s A.F.C. playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, which served, with its impressive stupidity and violent gratuitous hits, to demonstrate why football is so often indefensible. As player after player was laid out, as a quarterback returned to the field presumably in enough pain to keep the maker of Percocet in business for months, you are reminded once more that there is to football a recklessness about men’s lives.
Mining the notebooks. January 14, 2016. Posted February 6.
Better question: Why would you expect them to?
This is called giving the game away.
[FDR] could do as he pleased with the dollar, and the South would utter no protest---rich and poor, white and black alike, the citizens of Dixie wanted cotton prices to rise. But if Roosevelt used federal dollars to hire poor people---especially black people---at a higher wage than the one that prevailed in the cotton South, white politicians would protest. Governor Eugene Talmadge of Georgia passed along a constituent’s complaint about [Civil Works Administration] wages summing up southern opposition: “I wouldn’t plow nobody’s mule from sunrise to sunset for 50 cents a day when I could get $1.30 [from the CWA] for pretending to work on a DITCH.”
My old friend Rennie’s father was a proud union man. Shop steward at the factory where he was a foreman. And he raised his son to hate the bosses. The owner class. What they want, he told Rennie, was cheap domestic labor. Servants. To maintain a pool of workers desperate enough to bow and scrape and tug their forelocks for practically nothing the owners needed that there be little or no attractive alternatives. Whatever other work was out there had to pay worse and humiliate and degrade you more. So it was in the owners’ interests to keep wages down everywhere, in every industry and line of work, and to make sure that what jobs there were, even at low pay and with sorry conditions, were few and far between. This would make sure the servants would be grateful to have their jobs and desperate to keep them.
That’s one of the reasons the owners hate unions, said Old Man Rennie. Unions get workers good pay, safe working conditions, and respect. But it’s also why they hate government spending that alleviates poverty and creates jobs: it gives the servant class an alternative to being servants, because why would anyone plow a mule from sunrise to sunset for 50 cents a day if there was any better choice?
Rennie’s dad was being figurative as well as literal. He knew that owners thought of anyone who worked for them as servants, whether they plowed a field, made a bed, built a turbine, or created a spreadsheet. You took their money, they owned you.
Governor Tallmadge’s constituent was whining about the New Deal in 1933. But the whine has persisted for eighty-odd years. Presumably the constituent was a farmer, never a guaranteed road to riches. And it was the Depression. He was probably struggling and the prospect of having to pay his field hands even a little more money would have made him worried it would break him. But you’ll notice that he’s aware that the work he needs done is onerous and the pay he’s offering is for shit. So you have to wonder.
If he knows the job is miserable and he’s not willing to pay enough to make it worth it, how can he in good conscience ask anyone to work for him?
That’s easily taken care of: by turning things around so that he’s not the exploiter, he’s the exploited.
He’s not the bad guy here.They are.
There’s unconcealed contempt for the people he needs to hire in what he’s saying and a sense of personal aggrievement---he feels he’s owed their labor. He shouldn’t have to ask anyone to work for him. People should be begging him to hire them.
Anyone who would take the job, who needs the job, is lucky to have the job, because they don’t deserve anything better. The fact they would even hope for something better is a sign of their moral failing. They should know their place and keep to it. But they’re a pack of lazy cheats, unwilling to put in an honest day’s work, happy and eager to take the government’s money---taxpayers’ money, the farmer’s money---to do nothing. And by offering the option, the government is complicit in the cheating. (Note that it’s taken as a given that the jobs the government’s offering aren’t real jobs. The work is “pretend” work.) The poor farmer is being cheated out of the cheap hired help he needs to make a living and out of the little hard-earned money he has left after paying the lazy good for nothings their exorbitant wages.
Fundamental to the farmer’s complaint is that some people were put on this earth simply to be used by him to make money.
That’s an attitude that goes back to the beginning of human consciousness when someone with a heavy club decided he didn’t want to do the work himself or share the bounty.
But it’s persisted for eighty years in the United States in the owner class’s furious opposition to every program, policy, initiative, and social movement---intended to improve the lots and bargaining positions of workers. Unions, the New Deal, Social Security, the Great Society, Medicare, food stamps, disability, unemployment, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, family leave, Obamacare, even fixing roads and building new schools and bridges, even public education---all weaken the owner class’s power to reduce other people to servanthood.
Rennie’s dad was right. It gets down to these questions:
Who owns the country, the rich or the rest of us?
Why do of why we have a country, to protect rich people's money or to give the rest of us a decent place to live?
Sometimes there’s nothing more rebellious you can do than just try to be yourself.
Namath was always miscast as a hippie, his long hair mistaken for a social statement rather than the simple matter of style that it was. He fits some concepts of hippie-dom---he’d disavowed his Catholicism, he was sexually promiscuous, he didn’t accept orders blindly, he liked beads. But he had little in common with Columbia protesters or Village drug users or West Coast flower children. When asked if he were a rebel, Namath scoffed. “That’s not true,” he said. “If I don’t believe in something, though, I’m not gonna go along with it: it has nothing t do with being anti-establishment or whatever; it’s just that if it’s not right for me, then I can’t go along with it. I’m not trying to fight society---I’m just trying to be myself.”
This is one of those angels dancing on the heads of pins arguments of interest and import only to pedants, prigs, and priests. If the word has any real meaning, it's an historical one. Otherwise, it's a fad term that's used as cover for liberals and leftists who for one reason or another are embarrassed to call themselves liberals and leftists. It's also popular with people who want to claim credit for liberal Democratic successes while disdaining the dirty work necessary to achieving those successes and the politicians who had to do the dirty work.
In my circle of acquaintance, most liberals are content to call themselves liberals and the occasional self-styled progressive is usually someone who knows the President could have given us single-payer if he'd truly wanted it and the fact that he didn't give it to us is proof the President is not only not a progressive, he's a closet Republican in the pocket of the insurance industry.
Maybe I just travel in the wrong circles.
At any rate, I don’t like or need to call myself a progressive. “Liberal” is a good enough word for Pop Mannion, and it was good enough for his President, Franklin Roosevelt.
I think a more useful distinction between Hillary and Bernie is that she’s a reformer and he’s more of a revolutionary. Some progressives think that makes her a conservative. And she is. I’ve made this case before. Liberalism is the true conservatism. It’s an idea I got from Roosevelt by way of Pop Mannion. HRC’s that kind of conservative because she’s FDR’s kind of liberal.
Roosevelt popularized a new term for his political philosophy. The word "liberalism" was not common in American political debate before 1932. As a presidential candidate, Roosevelt sought a new word that would transcend partisan lines and signal a break with older (and outdated) political divisions. During his campaign, Roosevelt began calling himself a "liberal" rather than a "progressive." He always distinguished his ideology from conservatism on one hand and socialism on the other. Later, when he ran for re-election as president in 1936, Roosevelt explained his political philosophy by quoting one of his favorite sayings: "'Reform if you would preserve.' I am that kind of conservative because I am that kind of liberal."
“Colorado Demoncratic Senator Gary Hart at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California. Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem are at the table. Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder is standing at right.” Photo by Nancy Wong via Wikipedia.
Gary Hart was running for President when I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1984 and he came to the University to speak sometime before the caucuses. I went to hear him. I can still picture him in my mind: his big brown head above the heads of all around him, his long-jawed face deeply tanned, his smile broad and bright, youthful but not boyish, ruggedly handsome as the cowboy he wasn’t in any way despite being from cowboy country and with nothing about him suggesting the divinity student and aspiring minister he’d once been. But for the life of me I can’t remember what I thought of him or of his prospects of winning in the caucuses, taking the nomination, and defeating Reagan in the general election come November.
Considering who else was running---Walter Mondale, George McGovern, John Glenn, Fritz Hollings (Yes, the Democrats had two candidates who went by the name of Fritz.), Jesse Jackson, Alan Cranston, Reuben Askew---you’d think Hart would have been my guy or at least the guy I was most drawn to, unless it was Jackson, but I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered that.
It may be that I didn’t feel strongly about any of them because I didn’t think any of them had a hope in hell of beating Reagan and I was reserving my hopes and affections for 1988.
But it’s still curious to me that I didn’t caucus for Hart.
I caucused for George McGovern.
That was pure sentimentalism on my part. I did it for Pop Mannion. Pop had headed a slate of McGovern delegates in 1972. The slate lost. My sentimental hope was that I’d help send a McGovern delegate to the national convention who’d cast the vote for McGovern Pop hadn’t been able to in ‘72. There was zero chance that would happen, even if McGovern had survived the first round at our precinct. Which he didn’t.
So the question I’m asking myself is how did I end up with the Mondale people in the second round after our little McGovern group was declared unviable?
Why didn’t I join the Hart people?
I’d like to think I wasn’t particularly drawn to Hart because I was out and out against him.
I don’t see how I could have been for any Democrat who’d run for the United States Senate on a platform of “open contempt” for the legacies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Hart was the rock star of the 1974 Democratic candidates. He wore expensive cowboy boots with his silk suits. Not really a populist, he was, however, a reformer: his big campaign play was publishing the names of his opponent’s contributors and the amounts they gave. Evans and Novak said Hart’s “abandoning abrasive liberal ideology for a bland moderate facade” was actually subterfuge. Clearly they had not read the book he’d published the year before about the McGovern campaign, Right from the Start. “American liberalism,” he had written in it, was “near bankruptcy.” And George McGovern, while he brought into liberal politics the greatest organizers in a generation, “did not bring in a new generation of thinkers. he did not because it isn’t there.” Hart’s billboards read, “They had their turn. Now it’s our turn.” His outmaneuvered opponent, the once-popular two-term conservative incumbent Peter Dominick, said Hart seemed to be “trying to get to the right of Attila the Hun.”
Hart seemed almost angrier at other Democrats than at Republicans. His stock speech, “The End of the New Deal,” argued that his party was hamstrung by the very ideology that was supposed to be its glory---that “if there is a problem, create an agency and throw money at the problem.” It included lines like “The ballyhooed War on Poverty succeeded only in raising the expectations, but not the living conditions, of the poor.” That was false: the poverty rate was 17.3 percent when LBJ’s Economic Opportunity Act was passed in 1964 and 11.2 percent as Gary Hart spoke. But such claims did appeal to the preconceptions of people who Hart claimed must become the new base of the Democratic Party: those in the affluent suburbs, whose political power had been quietly expanding during the 1960s through redistricting and reapportionment. He called those who “clung to the Roosevelt model long after it had ceased to relate to reality,” who still thought the workers, farmers, and blacks of the New Deal coalition were where the votes were, “Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats.” He held them in open contempt.
Still, it seems odd to me that I’d have preferred Walter Mondale to to the dynamic and charismatic Hart no matter how much Hart was still sounding like the most egregious sort of New Democrat. Good old Fritz? Jimmy Carter’s Vice-President? Bland, predictable, no fire in the belly Fritz? And in 1984, Hart, along with the other Democrats in the race, would have been running hard against Reagan so maybe he’d changed his tune. I doubt that, though, considering he was touting himself as the candidate of “New Ideas” which implied Mondale was the candidate of the old ideas and Mondale was an unabashed and unapologetic son of the New Deal who’d have been proud to call himself an “Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat”.
Maybe it isn’t so odd that I preferred Mondale.
But it does seem odd that I don’t remember struggling with the choice of what group to caucus with next after McGovern was eliminated.
Maybe that choice wasn’t there to make.
It’s possible that there were no Hart people in that church basement that night.
That seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But maybe it was a tactical decision by the Hart campaign. Maybe he didn’t have the troops in place. Maybe he was really running for the nomination in 1988. Mondale was the presumptive nominee, although I’m not sure how “inevitable” his nomination was thought to be, and, of course, the almost universal assumption was that Reagan would win re-election with relative ease. Hart may not have made a play for every precinct in order to save time, energy, and effort, intending only to make a respectable show of it to enhance his position coming out of the gate next time. I can’t tell you.
I can’t tell you the state of his organization or what his thinking was about his chances, although I feel should know. It’s not as if I wasn’t following the election. I was all up in the news, as the great Wev McEwan likes to say. One of my many favorite things about my time in Iowa was being able to read the Des Moines Register and the Chicago Tribune every morning. But there’s a good reason I don’t remember much about that election season.
My mind was on other things that naturally left a more lasting impression.
My loftier thoughts were focused on matters literary. It was more important to me to understand what Chekhov was thinking when he wrote “The Duel” than what any politician was thinking as he plotted his road to higher office.
And my time and energy were taken up with matters romantic.
I was busy having fun being a young writer in love and in lust.
Within a few weeks of the caucuses I was down in Florida, enjoying spring break in Miami and Key West with the future Mrs M (the Blonde as was). I remember those two weeks in vivid detail.
Still, it bothers me I don’t remember the other stuff. I’d like to know what I was thinking, just for curiosity’s and vanity’s sake.
I’d like to know if I was as smart about politics as I thought I was.
I’d like to know if I was right.
Or at least what I wrong about so that maybe I would know to adjust my thinking to make myself a little more right---or less wrong---now.
I could find out, I suppose. Sometimes I get mad at my grad student self for not having started keeping a journal. But I wrote lots of letters. Long letters. You think my blog posts are long? Ask my friends who sometimes got letters from me of thirty pages what long is. So maybe I wrote to one of them about the caucuses. I could ask around to see if any of them kept my letters but it’s not really worth it. What I personally remember isn’t as important as what actually happened.
Hart came in second in the caucuses, with 16.5 percent of the vote, which doesn’t sound like much but it was a much better showing than was expected. It didn’t just set him up for 1988, it gave him a significant boost going into the ‘84 New Hampshire primary which he won. Handily. He beat Mondale by very close to 10 percentage points, 37.28 to 27.86, and from there the campaign became a real race. Finally, it wasn’t close, but Hart won in 25 states and stayed in it all the way to the convention, and at that point there seemed no doubt that he’d be the Democratic nominee come 1988.
Unless that rising star Mario Cuomo got in it.
But here’s the thing, again.
I don’t remember any of that race. My memories skip from caucus night to the convention and Geraldine Ferraro being nominated for Vice-President and then from there to Ferraro herself turning up at a rally at the University shortly before Election Day and then to me walking past a frat house on Election Day that had a big sign on a bed sheet strung across it that said “Come to the Reagan Victory Party Tonight! Democrats Welcome!”
The only specific thing I remember from the primary campaign was the first time I heard Mondale’s “Where’s the beef” ad.
It was during that spring break trip to Florida. I was driving up to a Waffle House in South Beach to meet the future Mrs M, who was getting off her overnight shift at the news service where she was working, for breakfast. I can still see that Waffle House through the windshield of the car. But the memory isn’t connected to Hart or to the campaign in general. It isn’t a political memory at all.
The future Mrs M was cultivating a terrific tan that needed constant admiration.
So that’s it. My memoir of the time I caucused in Iowa. Not much to it. Like I said, for personal reasons I wish I could remember more, but I don’t think it would make a better story if I did. 1988, on the other hand…
I have much clearer memories of that awful election year. But, once again, I don’t remember how I felt about Gary Hart, except angry.
Hart, as you probably remember, was the presumptive nominee when the campaign season started. And you certainly remember why he no longer was before the campaign really got underway.
But beside being furious at him for throwing away not just his own chances but the Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House, I don’t remember what I thought about Hart or even if I supported him.
And in going over it all again as I’ve been writing this, I’ve got to thinking.
Maybe this isn’t saying something about me and my memories.
Maybe it says something about Hart himself.
Maybe I don’t remember what I thought about him because he was hard to know what to think about him.
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" Trump remarked at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. "It's, like, incredible."
Folks, he was making a joke.
And the joke wasn’t on his supporters. It was on us.
And on the media.
And on the other Republican candidates.
And his supporters get it.
They get that in a way he was calling them stupid.
But they also get that they’re being flattered.
“Sure, maybe we’re a little dumb for being taken in by this clown. Maybe we're being played for chumps. But, goddamn it, he's our clown! And we’re loyal and we know what we want. Our minds are made up and we’re not going to change them, no matter who tries to shame us or bully us or politically correct us.”
Yeah, I know. The irony. Still..
The basis of the joke is the passion of their commitment to electing their guy President.
And it speaks to a source of his appeal: his supporters’ desire to stick it to THEM.
That THEM doesn’t just include the usual targets, the people all the other Republicans candidates are promising to stick it to, the people the Republicans at all levels of government have been sticking it to and trying to stick it to for years---Immigrants, the poor, the unfortunate, LGBT people, Muslims, women, liberals of all kinds. It includes everybody who benefits from the way things are run out of Washington and on Wall Street at their expense. It includes the owners and bosses and corporate flunkies who are running the economy in a way that takes money out of the hands of hardworking people who don’t have the money to spare. And it includes the Republican establishment and with it the other Republican candidates who, hard as they try to sound like regular folks, are bought and paid for creatures of the establishment.
It’s a pretty good joke, if you don’t think about the spite and malice that underlie it or, rather, if you can think past that.
The best jokes are the ones that tell a truth, and the fact he’s making the joke is proof that the joke is true.
There’s nothing THEY can do to stop him.
It’s a great big Go take a flying one at the moon to a lot of people who need to told to go take a flying one at the moon.
Got to face it. Trump’s a pretty good comedian.
At least, he knows how to tell a joke.
Sure, you and I don’t think he’s a laughing matter, as much as we try to laugh at him.
This worries me.
The rules of politics are: Shake every hand. Kiss every baby. And make ‘em laugh!
Among the other GOP contenders, only the despicable Ted Cruz comes anywhere near close to rivaling him as an entertainer, and Cruz’s style of showmanship is a not easily acquired taste.
Not a lot of laughs to be had on the Democrats’ side either. Some wry smiles, more than a few good chuckles, but neither HRC nor Bernie have them rolling in the aisles. Bernie strikes me as just plain dour. That’s probably unfair. I’m judging him by the dour Berniestans who grump, mope, and whine through my Twitter feed.
I know, I know. Not you. You’re a hoot and a half. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about all those other Berniestans you’re pal-ing around with on Twitter. P.G. Wodehouse wrote, “It’s never difficult to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” Well, for Scotsman substitute “Leftist with an ideological ax to grind”.
At any rate, witty as Bernie might be---and I’ll take your word for it that he is, sometimes, at any rate---funny and entertaining don’t seem to be his preferred idioms. He seems more comfortable hectoring and scolding.
As for Hillary, she tries, but she’s not a born entertainer. Despite how the media like to picture her, she can be warm and funny and she likes a good joke at her own expense. She enjoys being part of the fun. She just doesn’t seem to know how to make things fun herself. And she’s still a bit stiff and stilted on the stump. It’s not that she’s more at ease when she gets serious. It’s that she seems more sure of herself. Like the A student she’s always been, left to her own devices, she’s too eager to put her hand up and answer the question in more depth and at greater length than even the teacher wants to hear.
Still, I think she’ll fare better one on one with Trump. If he starts clowning, she’ll give him that great Mom’s “Waiting for you to get over yourself” look, fire off a good one liner of her own, and get on with the business of looking and acting Presidential.
That’s my hope, anyway.
But the best part of Trump’s joke, as far as his voters are concerned, is that it’s not just a joke. It’s a rallying cry. He’s telling them he’s going to win. They’re going to win. And that’s the main source of his appeal. He makes them feel like winners.
Recently, a friend was shaking his head glumly over Americans’ habit of deciding who gets their vote based on how that candidate makes them feel.
He was convinced that’s the basis of Trump’s support.
And, he added with exasperation, Bernie’s.
I agree with him about Bernie. I don’t feel his appeal myself, but I know his supporters feel passionately about him and I think their feeling passionate is part of what makes them passionate. They want a leader who makes them feel the Bern.
And I agree with his point in general. People are drawn to certain politicians because of how they make them feel. Because they make them feel.
It is how we got Reagan and George W. Bush and now Donald Trump.
It’s also how we got FDR.
And TR. And JFK. And Bill Clinton.
Even jaded and cynical liberals like me like candidates who make us feel good. We just tend to feel best when we feel smart and superior, which is why we gravitate towards wonkishness.
But making people feel good, about themselves and about life in these United States---or about how life can be made to be and is going to be---making them feel strong and confident and able to tackle a problem is essential to successful leadership.
It is the essence of leadership.
But it’s what else a leader makes people feel that determines if that leadership is virtuous.
Trump makes his voters feel like winners at the expense of others.
They win by making others---those others---lose.
He makes them feel their spite and malice. He makes them feel their hatred, anger, and fear.
He makes them feel that hatred, anger, and fear are just.
He makes them feel that feeling hatred, anger, and fear is enough.
But he can be funny about it.
Have to admit, I thought Trump would have faded by now. Not because he'd have finally gone too far.
Can't be said enough. Trump isn't saying anything beyond the pale to Republicans. All the other candidates have said the same things. But, again except for Cruz---there’s a reason he’s Trump’s only real challenger at this point---all the others have just been careful to sound like they're not saying those things. But the base doesn't want careful. They want passion.
So I never expected Trump to go too far and get rejected by a sudden wave of high-mindedness among GOP voters.
The reason I expected him to fade is that I think he's boring.
He's got one piece of shtik. Bragging loudly while he bullies people he thinks can't stand up to him.
I thought even people who liked what he was saying would get tired of the way he swaggers and shouts and acts like a the worst kind of boss.
Then there's the fact that much of his celebrity appeal is based on his being a guy people love to hate.
Nobody wants to hate their President.
Their being the key word in that sentence.
Didn’t cross my mind that to a lot of people his shtick would seem new. Even people who’d seen him at it on The Apprentice would find it new because it is. New to the national political scene, that is. Other would-be Presidents don’t talk like this.
Trump is willing to talk like a normal human being and not a calculating politician on the make---although, of course, that’s exactly what he is and maybe more so than anybody who’s ever run for President except Newt Gingrich and Richard Nixon.
And not only would people find it new, they’d find in necessary.
Nobody else has been saying what they need said.
This isn’t just a matter of their needing said out loud the angry, hateful, and racist things they think they keep to themselves.
It’s a matter of their needing a politician to speak for them and of their needing a leader who talks to them as if they matter to him.
We all need that.
We all need our political representatives to speak for us and to talk to us. And we need them to do it using language that makes sense to us, that sounds like what we think and expresses what we feel in the way we would do ourselves if we had the words and the stage.
There’s another thing that makes that joke work, by the way. It sounds like a joke any of them could have made themselves, if they were clever enough and quick enough to think of it.
I think something very similar is a major source of Bernie’s appeal. He’s saying things that need to be said with a directness and explicitness that even the most liberal Democrats seem too timid to say except in the most hedging and defensive and almost apologetic ways.
And I think it explains many people’s wariness about Hillary, particularly that of young voters who naturally don’t understand why the old folks can’t say what they mean. Like I said, Hillary’s a born A-student and she can’t help lapsing into wonkspeak using words seemingly over-carefully chosen to please the teachers and professors and score points with the debate tournament judges, whoever they are. It doesn’t seem to be the average voter.
She has another liability.
She’s a responsible adult and feels compelled to act like one.
Trump isn’t a responsible adult. That’s part of his shtick too. Acting like a teenage boy who knows he can get away with anything because he’s so slick and handsome and charming.
No, I don’t know anybody else who gets away with that either, Bill.
But mainly Trump is a consummate showman. So is Bill. So were FDR and TR. So was Lincoln, he was just subtler. Trump’s advantage is he’s playing to an easy audience and he knows it. It’s maddening but it’s hard to know what to do about it, except to hope that most voters don’t want just a showman as their President. They want a President as their President.
And that might be the fact.
While the political press keeps touting Trump even as they pretend to lament the fact of him---he’s too good for ratings for the media to truly lament---using words like “soaring” to describe his flourishing campaign, he’s soaring in that he’s flying higher than the other Republicans. His polling hasn’t soared much higher than a third of all Republicans who say they’re going to vote in the primaries, which is not a high percentage of the overall voting public, and polls also show he is pretty generally disliked, even if he is good for a laugh.
He might still fade. We'll know soon enough
In the meantime, Hillary and Bernie should hire better joke writers and work on their timing. Hillary really is warm and funny in person, but she’s still a bit stiff and over-rehearsed on the stump. Trump actually has her number on this.
He says she looks like she practices her every move and gesture in front of a mirror for two hours. He mimics her doing this.
I’m not saying Donald Trump is like Idi Amin. I’m just saying this description of Amin reminded me of Donald Trump. Minus the charges of cannibalism---although that could change when the other Republicans get a little more desperate.
A former heavyweight boxer -- six feet four inches tall and stout -- Amin was a larger-than-life figure who divided opinion: in the eyes of many black Africans, his willingness to stand up to his former colonial overlords made him a hero; to those in Israel and the West, on the other hand, he was seen as a political loose cannon with a huge sexual appetite -- he had had five wives, countless mistresses and numerous brief sexual encounters, not all of them consensual -- and a penchant, so it was rumored, for eating human flesh. The charge of cannibalism was never proven. What is not in doubt, however, is that Amin was a man of extremes. One of his former Cabinet ministers described him on the one hand as ‘nearly illiterate’, ‘politically naive’, ‘violently unpredictable’ and ‘utterly ruthless’, and on the other as ‘jovial and generous’ and with ‘extraordinary talents -- for practical short-term action, for turning apparent weaknesses to his own advantage, and for asserting his leadership among a gang of thugs’.
Between three performances in the siege towns, [Twain and his wife and daughter] found time to visit another famous Indian site, the Taj Mahal, at nearby Agra. Twain pronounced himself disappointed in the palace. “I knew all the time, that of its kind it was the wonder of the world, with no competitor now and no possible future competitor,” he complained, “and yet, it was not my Taj. My Taj had been built by excitable literary people; it was solidly lodged in my head, I could not blast it out.” He amused himself by quoting other travel writers on the Taj Mahal and counting up their common phrases. “Language,” he mused, “is a treacherous thing, a most unsure vehicle, and it can seldom arrange descriptive words in such a way that it will not inflate the facts.”