Sunday Bookchat

May 17, 2008

Nostalgia for 1968 is in the air, at least on the part of wingnut pundits like Rush Limbaugh, who harken back to the riots during that year’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago and hope for a reprise. But a different kind of nostalgia will arrive this summer when Norman Mailer’s masterpiece, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, is returned to print by New York Review Books, one of the classiest print lines now going. Mailer, sent to cover both the GOP and Democratic conventions that year, wrote the book that showcases what used to be called New Journalism at its finest.

As Frank Rich notes in his introduction to the NYRB edition, the book is also an unanswerable reproach to the conventions of political journalism:

As a narrative of the summer’s actual political events it is both compactly comprehensive and dead-on, often hilariously so. And not just when serving up Richard Nixon. Mailer’s Dickensian portraiture revivifies even the half-remembered. Eugene McCarthy seemed less a presidential prospect than “the dean of the finest English department in the land.” John Connally boasted “a thin-lipped Texas grin, a confident grin—it spoke of teeth which knew how far they could bite into every bone, pie, nipple or tit.” Hubert Humphrey employed “a formal slovenliness of syntax which enabled him to shunt phrases back and forth like a switchman who locates a freight car by moving everything in the yard.” Mayor Richard Daley looked at his worst “like a vastly robust peasant woman with a dirty gray silk wig” and at his best “respectable enough to be coach of the Chicago Bears.”

The accounts of both conventions begin with definitive appreciations of the antithetical American cities where they took place. Mailer marvels that the Grand Old Party, “the party of conservatism and principle, of corporate wealth and personal frugality, the party of cleanliness, hygiene, and balanced budget, should have set itself down on a sultan’s strip.” In Chicago, which he rightly celebrates as “the great American city,” he apotheosizes both the “clean tough keen-eyed ladies” of the near North Side and “the fear and absolute anguish of beasts dying upside down” at the slaughterhouses. By the time Daley’s beastly police set off the massacre of Michigan Avenue, Mailer has painted an urban landscape vivid enough to ground his metaphor: “The Democratic party had here broken in two before the eyes of a nation like Melville’s whale charging right out of the sea.”

Mailer spoke truer than he knew when, watching the way politicians rushed the television cameras, he predicted that political conventions would soon be held in TV studios. As it turned out, the conventions themselves became TV studios, but he was on to something.

* * * * *

Since a great many wingers are fond of invoking Neville Chamberlain, Munich and Winston Churchill, even if they don’t quite know much about why they are important — this poor ass, for example — they might want to sit down with this excellent article about a spate of recent books about Winston Churchill and World War II, including two (Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke and Patrick Buchanan’s Churchill, Hitler, and ‘The Unnecessary War’) that attempt to demolish conventional thinking about “the good war” from leftish and rightist perspectives.

* * * * *

Memo to George F. Will: Here’s what a review of Rick Perlstein’s superb Nixonland looks like when its written by somebody who’s intellectually honest and with no ideological ax to grind. Just thought you might like to read it and remind yourself what it was like not to be a hack.

5 Responses to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. scorpi2000 Says:

    By scorpi2000 – May 15th, 2008 at 8:06 pm EDT
    By scorpi2000 – Mar 9th, 2008 at 3:49 am EDT
    The only reason that race is an issue in any society, is because one group or another feel they have the right to gain power or stay in power by any means. Stopping or preventing any fair competition is ok because, “our existance is more important than yours”. Achieving this goal by hook or by crook doesnt matter to some .

    This way of thinking can only manifest when one race or culture feels that thier individual existance, beliefs and wants are more important or relevant than the lives of others that also live on the planet. The exceptance of this logic leads to one believing they have the right to take over or exploit another mans property or land, and punish, or demonize anyone who resists or fights back.

    When this aproach to survival ,is embraced, and put into action, the individual, the race,the culture, the society, the country, or the nation using it, has actually jeapordized its own future existance, peace and survival. When this aproach to life is used against another human being you have now forced him to either, adopt the same concept to protect himself, ATTACK, flee, be detroyed or dehumanized.

    Any and all wars are a product of this phenomina.

    As history has always repeated itself in previous societies, after building and maintaining a great society based on these concepts, they all fail because of the same concept that created them.
    Colapsing from within , its own people using the concept on themselves, or because the other countries, in fear of you doing the same to them, rush to become powerful enough to protect themselves, or try to do you, before you do them.

    It will only end when we as human beings stop using this concept

    to, gain power, maintain power, gather resources or secure survival.

    We should immidiatly start using our power and knowledge today to first protect ourselves from that which has already been set in motion long time ago. Build and maintain a strong military for defence purposes only.At the same time, create a self sufficient, self sustaining society in America containing a balance of all races and cultures around the world.

    We must teach all children the reasons, rules and laws of existing in a peacful inclusive society.

    The other way it can end is if the concept of (win any way you can) evolves to a point where the use of this way of life spreads around the country, spreads around the world, and manifests into a massive war that destroys most, leaving only the meak to inherit the earth.


  2. cbconnolly Says:

    Yeah, uh, Limbaugh isn’t the one touting this “recreate ’68” nonsense. He’s parodying these idiots like Rosanne Barr who are calling for massive protests at the convention.

  3. Paul McCord Says:


    “Just thought you might like to read it and remind yourself what it was like not to be a hack.”

    Some intellectual honesty on your part is called for also. Will has a very definite political perspective that colors much of what the sees–just as you do. If you demand honesty from him, you need to demand the same honesty from yourself. If he’s a hack for the right, you’re a hack for the left. Calling others names may make you feel good and maybe even superior, but in the end, you’re nothing more or less than they.

  4. Steven Hart Says:

    Playing concern troll in other people’s comment fields doesn’t seem like the greatest way to drum up business for your sales training, Paul, but whatever. I remember when Will wasn’t a hack. I also remember what Miss Molly sounded like, and you’re doing a pretty good approximation.

  5. Paul McCord Says:


    There you go calling people names again.

    Obviously, I don’t comment in order to drum up business for my company; if I did, I’d be the hack saying whatever I thought the blog owner and their readers wanted to hear–but unlike most posters on the internet, I don’t try to hide who I am. One of the insidious aspects of the internet is the ability to attack and berate in anonymity. Debate in the country is getting continually more course because unlike you and I who know who the other is, most internet debates are between men and women from all political views that refuse to acknowledge who they are.

    By the way, although I have no sympathy for the left, my blog post tomorrow is about the lessons business can take away from the Republican party–that when you take pains to establish a brand and then the organization’s leaders, while parroting the brand’s message, act directly counter to that message, the brand dies, just as the Republican brand is dying–or more correctly, is dead.

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