My post earlier today linking to something in The Wall Street Journal reminded me of another piece that I never shared with you. It was in that paper (and yes, I do read other things) a week ago today: An interview with one of my all-time favorites, Tom Wolfe.
Have you ever wondered about the politics of the man who wrote Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flaked, Streamline Baby, The Right Stuff, and other brilliant, thoroughly enjoyable works of journalism/social criticism before he turned into a somewhat-painful-to-read novelist? Well, if you read The Guardian, you wouldn’t wonder.
That’s all right; I don’t read The Guardian, either. But thanks to what he’s written in the past, there were no surprises for me in this passage from the WSJ:
Mr. Wolfe offers a personal incident as evidence of
"what a fashion liberalism is." A reporter for the New York Times
called him up to ask why George W. Bush was apparently a great fan of
the "Charlotte Simmons" book. "I just assumed it was the dazzling
quality of the writing," he says. In the course of the reporting,
however, it came out that Mr. Wolfe had voted for the Bush ticket. "The
reaction among the people I move among was really interesting. It was
as if I had raised my hand and said, ‘Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell
you, I’m a child molester.’" For the sheer hilarity, he took to wearing
an American flag pin, "and it was as if I was holding up a cross to
George Bush’s appeal, for Mr. Wolfe, was owing to his
"great decisiveness and willingness to fight." But as to "this business
of my having done the unthinkable and voted for George Bush, I would
say, now look, I voted for George Bush but so did 62,040,609 other
Americans. Now what does that make them? Of course, they want to say —
‘Fools like you!’ . . . But then they catch themselves,
‘Wait a minute, I can’t go around saying that the majority of the
American people are fools, idiots, bumblers, hicks.’ So they just kind
of dodge that question. And so many of them are so caught up in this
kind of metropolitan intellectual atmosphere that they simply don’t go
across the Hudson River. They literally do not set foot in the United
States. We live in New York in one of the two parenthesis states.
They’re usually called blue states — they’re not blue states, the
states on the coast. They’re parenthesis states — the entire country
lies in between."
The wonderful thing about this is the way Wolfe catches modern "liberals" out in their own lack of self-awareness so neatly: He sneaks up on them. Just, as Wolfe chronicled, Ken Kesey took the steam out of an anti-war rally with a harmonica and a couple of verses of "Home on the Range," the King of Coolwrite sneaks up on liberals by being an artist and intellectual. They think they are among their own, and then "… UHHH … Ohmigod! YOU voted for BUSH?" Once his prey is paralyzed, he slices and dices it. He makes jullienne fries out of ’em.
I’d love to see him do the same to modern "conservatives," but dressed the way he is, they’re liable to spook before he gets close enough.
What do I have against both of these groups? They quit thinking. They bought their values off the shelf years ago as a complete set; they’re completely unprepared for anything that doesn’t fit in their little boxes. The Wolfe scene above reminds me of a passage in Bridget Jones’s Diary (yeah, I read it; I wanted to know what the women in my family were going on about). I mean the bit in which Bridget has already fallen for Mark Darcy, and they’ve gotten together and are dating (actually, maybe this happened in the second book), and she finds out quite inadvertently that he votes Tory. She is aghast: How could he? When he asks what’s wrong with being a Tory, she is unable to come up with a coherent answer. Why? Because she hasn’t really thought about it, ever. It’s just that everyone she knows takes it as gospel that all decent, caring people vote Labour. What is this? Mark’s a human rights lawyer, for goodness’ sake…
Between Bridget and Wolfe, I prefer Wolfe, who by contrast told The Guardian:
"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."
There’s a character flaw in there somewhere (one that I’m afraid comes out in his novels), but he’s so refreshing, I’m willing to overlook it.