When you think of E.L. Doctorow, it’s his fiction that comes to mind — all those novels, “Ragtime” most famously, but also “The Book of Daniel,” “Welcome to Hard Times,” his latest “The March,” and so on. But wait a minute! The guy’s a terrific essayist.
I’ve been reading “Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution,” an out-of-print collection of his selected essays you can pick up for a buck, which Mugs McGuinness was kind enough to send me. Here’s a morsel from one of them — it’s called “The Character of Presidents” — and it tastes delish:
You and I can lie about our actions and misrepresent the actions of others; we can piously pretend to principles we don’t believe in; we can whine and blame others for the wrong that we do. We can think only of ourselves and our own and be brutally indifferent to the needs of everyone else. We can manipulate people, call them names, con them and rob them blind. Our virtuosity is inexhaustible, as would be expected of a race of Original Sinners, and without doubt we will all have our Maker to answer to. But as to a calculus of damage done, the devastation left behind, the person who holds the most powerful political office in the world and does these things and acts in these ways is multiplied in his moral failure to a number beyond the imagining of the rest of us.
Remember that when the Bullshitter-in-Chief‘s enablers are up for election on November 7.
Mr. Bush is a man who lies. Senator Dole, who ran against him in 1988 [for the Republican presidential nomination], was the first to tell us that. Vice President Bush lied about his opponents in the primaries, and he lied about Mr. Dukakis in the elections. President Bush lies today about the bills he vetoes, as he lies about his involvement in the arms-for-hostages trade with Iran and continues to lie, even though he has been directly contradicted by two former secretaries in the Reagan Cabinet — Shultz and Weinberger — and a former staff member of the National Security Council. He lies about what he did in the past and about why is he doing what he is doing in the present. He speaks for civil rights but blocks legislation that would relieve racial inequities. He speaks for the environment but opposes measures to slow its despoliation.
One irony, of course, is that the bullshitter’s father is regarded today as the wise and gentle one. If it were true — which it isn’t — it’s only in comparison with his son, who is responsible for even greater damage and certainly more than enough devastation to shame them both.