I’ve never been able to read Philip Roth’s novels because I cannot stand his navel gazing (or should I say penis-gazing?) characters. They are, for me, profoundly uninteresting — I find them infantile and narcissistic in their concerns. Perhaps my
the problem with his writing is his thinking. Why do I say this? Because Roth unloads about politics in Spiegel interview, and pretty much highlights everything that’s infantile and narcissistic about liberal thinking with regard to the Bush administration and the upcoming elections:
Roth: Unfortunately, yeah. I didn’t, until about two weeks ago — until then it wasn’t real. Then I watched the New Hampshire primary debates, and the Republicans are so unbelievably impossible. I watched the Democratic ones and became interested in Obama. I think I’ll vote for him.
SPIEGEL: What made you interested in Obama?
Roth: I’m interested in the fact that he’s black. I feel the race issue in this country is more important than the feminist issue. I think that the importance to blacks would be tremendous. He’s an attractive man, he’s smart, he happens to be tremendously articulate. His position in the Democratic Party is more or less okay with me. And I think it would be important to American blacks if he became president.
SPIEGEL: It could change society, couldn’t it?
Roth: Yes, it could. It would say something about this country, and it would be a marvelous thing. I don’t know whether it’s going to happen. I rarely vote for anybody who wins. It’s going to be the kiss of death if you write in your magazine that I’m going to vote for Barack Obama. Then he’s finished!
SPIEGEL: Do you actually believe that Obama could change Washington or could change politics?
Roth: I’m interested in what merely his presence would be. You know, who he is, where he comes from, that is the change. That is the same thing with Hillary Clinton, just who she is would create a gigantic change. As for all that other rhetoric about change, change, change — it’s pure semantics, it doesn’t mean a thing. They’ll respond to particular situations as they arise.
You got that? Republicans should lose because they’re “so unbelievably impossible,” as fatuous a statement about national politics as I’ve ever heard. And Obama should win solely because he’s black and “articulate,” the favorite liberal code word for a black who isn’t an embarrassing representative of his race. Incidentally, my last, italicized phrase is deliberate, and harks back to the acceptance speech Hattie McDaniel made, at the studio’s urging, when she accepted her Oscar for her performance in Gone With The Wind, the first Oscar ever awarded to a black actress:
“Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting for one of the awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you.” (Emphasis mine.)
You do appreciate, don’t you, the fact that Roth is completely uninterested in Obama’s abilities, background, politic beliefs, political experience, associates, ideology, indeed anything of substance? All that matters to Roth is that Obama is a credit to his race. How utterly embarrassing that our great tradition of democracy should be reduced to this kind of inane banality.
That same absence of deep thinking colors Roth’s commentary about Bush. Keep in mind that Roth, via his “profound” (but humorous) books, is considered one of the great social thinkers of the Baby Boomer generation. That “intellectualism,” however, assuming it actually exists, abandons him when it comes to describing why Bush is bad. He throws in a few conclusory statements about the war and global warming, but he just can’t get a handle on substance. (As an aside, we’ll assume, just to be nice, that this interview was recorded before recent news that the Greenies’ purported remedies are actually speeding global warming. Of course, that may not be a problem, because we’re possibly entering a period of solar induced global cooling. But let me undigress.) What you really have to do is just take Roth’s word for it that Bush is bad, really, really, really bad. Really bad.
SPIEGEL: What will remain of the current president, George W. Bush? Could he be forgotten once he leaves office?
Roth: He was too horrendous to be forgotten. There will be an awful lot written about this. And there’s a lot to be written about the war. There’s a lot to be written about what he did with Reaganism, since he went much further than Reagan. So he won’t be forgotten. Someone has said he’s the worst American president we’ve ever had. I think that’s true.
Roth: Well, the biggest thing would be the war, the deceptions surrounding the entrance into the war. The absolute cynicism that surrounds the deception. The cost of the war, the Treasury and the lives of the Americans. It’s hideous. There is nothing quite like it. The next thing would be the attitude towards global warming, which is a global crisis, and they were utterly indifferent, if not hostile, to any attempt to address it. And so on and so on and so on and so on. So he’s done a lot of harm.
Of course, it’s not all Bush’s fault he’s so appalling. It’s your fault and my fault too. That’s because we’re brutal. Did you know that?
SPIEGEL: Since your book is set in that week during the 2004 elections, can you explain why Americans voted for Bush once again?
Roth: I suspect it was the business of being in a war and not wanting to change, and political stupidity. Why does anybody elect anybody? I thought highly of John Kerry when he began, but he couldn’t stand up against Bush. The Democrats aren’t brutes, which is too bad, because the Republicans are brutes. Brutes win.
Funnily enough, a lot of the brutal behavior, lately, seems to be coming from the rank and file Democrats, not the Republicans. An easy example is the fact that Democratic speakers on the circuit don’t need to hire bodyguards. Republicans do. That’s because Republicans get physicall attacked when they speak on college campuses. Ann Coulter was attacked. College Republican student organizations are attacked. Condi Rice was threatened by a Code Pink loony tunes who got within inches of her. The list goes on and on and on. You can add your own, but you’ll be hard put to find corollaries on the other side; that is, conservatives attacking liberals. But back to Roth….
“Brutes.” “Hideous.” “There is nothing quite like it.” This man, this spokesman for a generation, clearly hasn’t thought beyond the Democratic parties’ last list of talking points. He’s got all the nasty conclusions of the kindergarten set, but with a more sophisticated vocabulary:
“Mommy, I hate Tommy.”
“Because he’s a meanie.”
“But what makes him a meanie?”
“He does mean things.”
“What mean things does he do, darling?”
“He’s mean to me.”
And so on, ad nauseum. It’s tolerable in a child because you know they’ll attain reason and leave that phrase behind. It’s intolerable in a literary lion, a spokesman for his generation, who has never been able to emerge from his prolonged and clearly debilitating adolescence.
I’ve vented my spleen, so I’m going to leave the last words to that great philosopher, Bugs Bunny: “What a maroon. What a nincowpoop.”
UPDATE: Just to keep things on the up and up, I edited the first paragraph to reflect some accurate criticism a reader made in a comment at my old blog site, regarding an ambiguity in my writing.