Someone should buy Howard Dean a copy of Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago, because Mailer's description of Eugene McCarthy lands directly on what is wrong with the Dean campaign. Dean's campaign's problem has been diagnosed by various D.C. types as that classic one always being diagnosed by various D.C. types: too liberal. For these types, what Dean has to do is to appeal more to Southern Man -- by which is really meant, suburban white collar man. And suburban white collar man wants a Sister soul'ja moment; he wants lower taxes; he wants a strong military; he wants the end of welfare as we know it to mean welfare for poor people (not, say, traditional government supports for mortgages, agri-business, the defense industry and all the other fine things that employ suburban man).
But we think Dean's real problem is that he is way, way too white. Which is what Mailer saw about McCarthy. Just as he saw that Humphry had what he called the Mafia vote in his pocket. Humphrey was quite comfortable about divvying up the spoils with the devil. He was quite comfortable with what politics in America is about, which is pleasure. While McCarthy was quite uncomfortable about that -- for him, politics was about virtue.
Dean has the virtue racket down cold. The question is, can he subordinate virtue to pleasure? If he can't, he's unelectable. There are hopeful signs. Here's an article from San Antonio's paper today"
"AUSTIN � Speaking in smooth Spanish and fiery English, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said he is the person to lead the nation to a better economy, improved education, universal health care and real immigration reform.
The former Vermont governor spoke at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, a national advocacy organization devoted to Hispanic rights.In no-nonsense language, Dean told the crowd he intends to balance the budget and develop jobs, which will attract investment in the nation."No Republican president has balanced the budget in this country in 34 years," he said. "If you want to trust your hard-earned dollars, you'd better elect a Democrat because the Republicans cannot handle money."
Dean said close to 90 percent of the working poor and children have health care in his state, and he wants to do the same for the nation."
When Dean talks juicily about handling money, he taps into that part of Clinton's legacy that is all about making it. It is hard to imagine Eugene McCarthy using that language.
Here's Mailer on McCarthy's followers:
"If the face of Chicago might be reduced to a broad fleshy nose with nostrils open wide to stench, sink, power, a pretty day, a well stacked broad, and the beauties of a dirty buck, the faces in the crowd of some 5,000 Eugen McCarthy suporters out at Midway Airport to greet the Senator's arrival on Sunday, August 25th, could hve found their archetype in any one of a number of fairly tall slim young men in seersucker suits with horn-rimmed glasses, pale compleions, thin noses and thin -- this was the center of the common denominator -- thin nostrils. People who are greedy have extraordinary capacities for waste disposal -- they must, they take in too mucvh. Wehreas, the parsimonious end up geared to take in too little -- viz, Chicago nostrils versus McCarthy nostrils."
And here Mailer is on McCarthy's wilful lack of synch with black voters: "Negros in general had never been charmed with McCarthy. If he was the epitome of Whitey at his best, that meant Whitey at ten removes, dry wit, stiff back, two and a half centuries of Austan culture and their distillate -- the ironic manners of the tightest country gentry; the Blacks did not want Whitey at his best and boniest in a year when they were out to find every justification (they were not hard to find) to hate the Honkie."
Disregarding the "Honkie" -- a stylistic mistake, we think, quasi-indirect discourse broadcasting out from Honkie's own fear, and Mailer's extrasensory pick up of it, than any street lingo lying around in Chicago -- still, there is something very true about the country gentry remark. The strength of the Democratic party has always been its understanding of ethnic appetites -- that freedom, in this country, starts with the tongue's primal ability to wrap itself around something good before it gets to talking. There's a reason politics in this country is conducted over innumerable barbecue lunches and dinners. Matter is never more matter than when it is eaten (except, of course, when it is shit out). And politics is ultimately about matter. Dean doesn't have to know about the number of American troops; but he should know the names of the wounded and the dead in Iraq. He has to know that the economy, right now, particularly sucks for black America, and that this is no accident. Dean will be a contender if he can get in touch with his inner appetites.