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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Tom Wolfe On 'Why Bush?'  | e-mail post

After forcing myself through Michael Moore's little rant, it was nice to stumble upon the thoughts of Tom Wolfe. Wolfe is everything Michael Moore is not: stylish (if eccentric) in his dress, in shape and well-groomed, well-spoken and relevant across generations. In addition, Wolfe is erudite and unquestionably literate with a PhD from Yale in contrast to Mr. Moore's apparent absence of post-secondary education. Also, unlike Moore, Wolfe's The Right Stuff, winner of the American Book Award for general nonfiction, knows how to create credible and compelling works of nonfiction. If you haven't read it, at least see the movie on DVD.

So what does Tom Wolfe have to say about the election? It's not quite a clear endorsement of Bush, but his comments reflect a lucid intelligence and awareness of the state of our nation not readily found in many members of the so-called cultural intelligentsia. The UK Guardian reports, in a story discussing this issue, as well as Wolfe's upcoming book, I Am Charlotte Simmons, in some ways a follow-up to an essay in Hooking Up (emphasis mine, to call out highlights):
"Here is an example of the situation in America," he says: "Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing, during dessert, what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces that he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina's reaction is: 'How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?' I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled. Reagan was sniggered it, but this is personal, real hatred.

"Indeed, I was at a similar dinner, listening to the same conversation, and said: 'If all else fails, you can vote for Bush.' People looked at me as if I had just said: 'Oh, I forgot to tell you, I am a child molester.' I would vote for Bush if for no other reason than to be at the airport waving off all the people who say they are going to London if he wins again. Someone has got to stay behind."

Where does it come from, this endorsement of the most conservative administration within living memory? Of this president who champions the right and the rich, who has taken America into the mire of war, and seeks re-election tomorrow? Wolfe's eyes resume the expression of detached Southern elegance.

"I think support for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment. Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called 'red states' - a confusing term to Guardian readers, I agree - which here means, literally, middle America. I come from one of those states myself, Virginia. It's the same resentment, indeed, as that against your own newspaper when it sent emails targeting individuals in an American county." Wolfe laughs as he chastises. "No one cares to have outsiders or foreigners butting into their affairs. I'm sure that even many of those Iraqis who were cheering the fall of Saddam now object to our being there. As I said, I do not think the excursion is going well."

And John Kerry? "He is a man no one should worry about, because he has no beliefs at all. He is not going to introduce some manic radical plan, because he is poll-driven, and it is therefore impossible to know where or for what he stands."

As far as Wolfe is concerned, "the great changes in America came with the second world war, since which time I have not seen much shift in what Americans fundamentally believe. Apart from the fact that as recently as the 1970s, Nelson Rockefeller shocked people by leaving his wife of 30 years, while now celebrities routinely have children outside marriage, the mayor of New York leaves his wife for his lover and no one blinks. But a large number of people have remained religious, and it is a divided country - do not forget that Al Gore nearly won the last election. The country is split right along party lines."

And there has been a complete climate change in the nation which elected Bill Clinton twice, to that which may confer the same honour on George Bush tomorrow. This, says Wolfe, began not with the election of Bush, but on the morning of September 11 2001.

None of us who were in New York that day will ever forget it, and Wolfe is no exception. "I was sitting in my office when someone called to tell me two light planes had collided with the World Trade Centre. I turned on my television, before long there was this procession of people of all kinds, walking up the street. What I remember most was the silence of that crowd; there was no sound.

"That day told us that here was a different kind of enemy. I honestly think that America and the Bush administration felt that something extreme had to be done. But I do not think that the Americans have become a warlike people; it is rare in American history to set about empire-building - acquiring territory and slaves. I've never met an American who wanted to build an empire. And while the invasion of Afghanistan was something that had to be done, I am stunned that Iraq was invaded."

Wolfe is by no means afraid to offend the political right - "I'm gratified if you find me to be hard on them too," he says. He also anticipates that "conservatives will not like this new novel because I refuse to take the impact of political correctness seriously - I think PC has probably had a good effect because it is now bad manners to use racial epithets."

So what is it about his liberal neighbours and fellow diners in his adoptive New York that Wolfe cannot abide? "I cannot stand the lock-step among everyone in my particular world. They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them."
Even if Wolfe pulls the lever for Kerry tomorrow, it is clear that he actually gets it, in a way that few in his circle can even aspire to.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, November 01, 2004
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