The first Presidential election in which I voted was 1960.
The age of eligibility back then was 21, causing me to miss
Eisenhower-Stevenson II by a year. I regret this greatly: The way it looks now,
the 1956 election could prove to be the only opportunity vouchsafed me in my
lifetime to be able to choose between two
In 1960, I voted for Richard Nixon, it being an article of
faith in the circles in which I was raised that the late Joseph P. Kennedy,
father of the ultimate winner, must be kept away from the White House no matter
what the cost. The only really memorable moment in the campaign, by my lights,
was Eugene McCarthy’s great, passionate convention speech, fruitlessly but
immortally nominating Stevenson for a third try.
As it turned out, the 1960 election was decided, so Nixon
apologists assert, by voters resident on Election Day, 1960, in various Cook
County cemeteries. In other words, a living Senator was voted into the Oval
Office by deceased people. In last Tuesday’s balloting, in the neighboring
border state of Missouri, a deceased governor was voted into the Senate Chamber
by living people. This, I suppose, is progress of a sort.
What is not progress is the way this has all turned
out-although what has not been sufficiently noted, amid all the op-ed
hand-wringing about court challenges and the like, is the unhappy inevitability
of it. The Age of Clinton may have been many things to many people, but what it
has surely been is the era of mega-litigation, a Golden Age of Lawyering. Think
of it: the tobacco litigation and settlements; the legalistic cat’s cradle of
Lewinsky-Clinton-Starr; the swarm of litigation surrounding the financial and
fleshly serendipities that distinguished the previous careers of New York’s new
Senator-elect and her spouse; the Perelman-Duff divorce. In the past eight
years, courts have dictated outcomes of a magnitude and resonance for which
anyone of my vintage (likely to think in terms of Dred Scott or Marbury v.
Madison or Roe v. Wade ) has been
wholly unprepared. What has been astonishing about these rulings is their moral
disinterestedness, a soulless, legalistic purity that reminds, again and again,
how in this country the work of lawyers is mainly to negotiate evasions of
statute and fees for themselves, no matter what the larger public interests
involved or-God help us!-such clearly obsolescent considerations as social
right or wrong. This, dear readers, is the Clinton Legacy. How proud Joe
Conason must be.
And now this.
However it comes out, the term of the next President is
spoiled, will have a stink about it that will make rallying the nation, if
rallying should be called for, difficult if not impossible. Purely as a matter
of personal, ethical and cultural conviction and intellectual taste, there was
no way I could have voted for Al Gore; but no matter what the outcome,
something clearly stunk about the Florida returns in terms of possible
arithmetical fraud as well as probable voter confusion over a ballot, used only
in Palm Beach County, apparently designed by the same illiterate three-card
monte artist responsible for highway signage in our area.
On the other hand,
before we go overboard on the theory that the road to Buchanan hell was paved
with Gore intentions, it all depends on which side of Lake Worth these disputed
ballots were cast. If on the eastern bank, where the rich live, do not forget
that this is the place that, until 1986, required day-workers and other
laboring-class persons to carry identity cards and to be photographed and
fingerprinted, perhaps to be checked by armed guards posted on the causeway,
just the way they did in Vichy France. Still, it is amusing to conjure up a
picture of the Bush clan huddled around a fire on the freezing, rainy beach at
Hobe Sound, feverishly marking freshly printed ballots, asking each other, “How
do you spell ‘Buchanan’?”
I have long been in
favor of a Constitutional amendment to expel Florida from the Union, since it
competes with California for pre-eminence in just about everything that is
wrong, tacky, corrupt or misguided with post-postmodern American life. That it
should have proved to be the fulcrum of the nation’s collective political
judgment at the turn of the millennium has a kind of ominous historical
inevitability and does not bode well for this century. Since whoever turns out
to be our new President will be beholden to the Sunshine State for his
ascendancy to the First Magistracy, I hold out no hope for a Washington-based
initiative for my amendment, but I have an idea for a swell fallback. If New
York State were to increase the “escape clause” of its tax-residency statute
from 181 days to, say, 306, the effect on Southampton and Palm Beach real estate
would be something wondrous to behold!
On other electoral fronts, it is clear that the
African-American population turned out and voted for Mr. Gore as if their lives
depended on it, for which they can hardly be blamed, given the ardor that Mr.
Bush has brought to his stewardship of the Huntsville execution chamber. Few
observers seemed to take note that what was said of Mr. Bush by his derogators
closely resembled in tone and emphasis what was said of Harry Truman when
F.D.R.’s death catapulted him into the White House, which I personally took as
grounds for hope. In similar vein, Mr. Gore’s followers heaped him with the
same résumé-centered encomia I have seen attributed to those who, in 1928,
cheered Herbert Hoover’s accession, which must be grounds for suspicion.
Dire premonitions concerning Mr. Gore were hardly to be
relieved by the fact that practically every boldface Hollywood or glitz-ocratic
name mentioned in the leading New York gossip columns in the 48 hours following
the election was identified as an activist for the V.P. This last, in
retrospect, seems motive sufficient in and of itself to have voted for someone
else-even Mr. Buchanan. And if anyone doubts Madame Senator-elect Clinton is a
killer, the skill with which she managed to appear onstage at the precise
moment that Rick Lazio was starting his concession speech was an example of
evil-minded timing the equal of which I am hard put to recall.
I suspect that the rest of the country is as fed up as your
correspondent is. I had hoped never again to gaze upon the wrinkled,
garden-gnome visage of Warren Christopher, or to hear, ever again, the slick,
phonily back-country circumlocutions of Jim Baker, but here those two are
So I intend to try to forget all this and to cultivate my
garden, notably the one between my ears. I will not spend one second reading
any of the “exclusive exit interviews” Mr. Clinton appears to have given to
every magazine this side of Maxim
(which I expect is the magazine he
reads whenever he retreats with his cigar to the Presidential onanery). So far,
by my count, exclusive interviews
have appeared in Talk , Vanity Fair and Esquire , not to mention Joe Klein’s summation a few weeks ago in The New Yorker . Does Mr. Clinton get
paid under the table for these? I think we should be told. I think we know the
No, to regain sanity, I will begin by listening to the
“Italian Lesson,” greatest of all monologues by the greatest of all
monologists, the immortal Ruth Draper. Thanks to a note in Time Out New York , I learned that these have been completely and
impeccably restored to compact disc by Susan Mulcahy, and my credit card
practically incinerated thanks to the speed with which I rushed to
http://www.drapermonologues.com and ordered several sets. You should do so, too, if
you don’t wish to be classified as a churl or-worse-a Bright Young Thing. These
are for educated, sophisticated people to whom intelligence, and not
possessions, is the standard by which we judge ourselves. Warning: People whose
minds thrill to David Hasselhoff in
Jekyll & Hyde are not likely to get Ruth Draper.
I will also spend time studying One Man’s Eye: Photographs from the Alan Siegel Collection (Abrams,
$49.50), a book which a publicist sent me and which I intended to glance at
briefly before moving on. But I found myself turning one page, then another,
and then going carefully through the whole, and then reading and rereading Mr.
Siegel’s preface-because what I was looking at was a true collection, at a
level of choice and comprehension rarely encountered, formed by a really good
eye roaming across a potentially vast, inchoate area of interest and making,
again and again, individual choices that both stand alone and yet make sense of
I happen to think “collections”-as opposed to mere
“accumulations”-are really interesting. Any idiot with a checkbook can go out
and buy stuff. For examples of non-collections posing as same, just riffle
through the home décor magazines, especially the singularly cheesy version The New York Times put out a couple of
Sundays back. But a real collection … ah, that’s something! The half a C-note
Abrams is asking for Mr. Siegel’s book seems to me like good value in the
tuition department. His preface alone is worth the money for anyone who might
wish to go forth and do likewise.
And one of these days, I suppose we’ll have a President. Who
it will be, knows God. Whoever it is, God help us!
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