Comment: Mailer's America

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Mailer is scarcely more sparing of other Democrats. He writes of Senator George McGovern: "A Christian sweetness came off him like a psychic aroma—he was a fine and pleasant candidate but for that sweetness. It was excessive. Not artificial, but excessive, as the smell of honeysuckle can be excessive." He describes Gene McCarthy's followers: "Their common denominator seemed to be in some blank area of the soul, a species of disinfected idealism which gave one the impression among them of living in a lobotomized ward of Upper Utopia."

At first Mailer was dismayed at McCarthy's failure to attack Humphrey in debate before the California delegation. Then he came to realize that the Senator was "proceeding on the logic of the saint, as if the first desire of the ONE devil might be to make you the instrument of your own will. God would judge the importance of the event, not man, and God would give the tongue to speak, if tongue was the organ to be manifested. Everything in McCarthy's manner, his quiet voice, his absolute refusal to etch his wit with any hint of emphasis, his offhand delivery which would insist that remarks about the future of the world were best delivered in the tone you — might employ for buying a bottle of aspirin, gave hint of his profound conservatism."

After Humphrey's nomination appeared to be a certainty, Mailer ran into McCarthy in a restaurant, and still another hue of the Senator's personality came to light: a hard and bitter humor. Mailer tried to match his mood. "You should never have had to run for President," he said. "You'd have made a perfect chief for the FBI." Replied McCarthy: "Of course, you're absolutely right." "The reporter," says Mailer, "looked across the table into one of the hardest, cleanest expressions he had ever seen. The face that looked back belonged to a tough man, tough as the harder alloys of steel, a merciless face and very just, the sort of black Irish face which could have belonged to one of the hanging judges in a true court of Heaven."

Mellowed Nixon. Like many of the commentators on the left this year, Mailer is much more charitable toward the Republican Convention than the Democratic. He was surprised himself at his diminished hatred for Nixon. The man still suffered from slickness. "His ability to slide off the question and return with an answer is as implicit in the work of his jaws as the ability to bite a piece of meat." Yet, adds Mailer, adversity seems to have mellowed, even deepened him. "The new Nixon had finally acquired some of the dignity of the old athlete and the old con —he had taken punishment, he knew the detailed schedule of pain in a real loss, there was an attentiveness in his eyes which gave offer of some knowledge of the abyss, even the kind of gentleness which ex-drunkards attain after years in A.A."

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