Rather than continue the discussion right now, I shall spend a moment putting on paper some thoughts that passed through my mind on my rain-truncated walk this morning. These will be brief, so I shall eschew elaborate explanations.
When the 1960 presidential race came around, I was twenty-six and teaching at Harvard. Like pretty much everyone else in the Winthrop House Senior Common Room, I was wildly for Kennedy. One day, Barrington Moore Jr., with whom I was co-teaching a sophomore honors tutorial, remarked to me that there was really no difference between Kennedy and Nixon. I thought he was mad, and only somewhat later realized that he was essentially right [although eventually I concluded that Kennedy was actually more dangerous.] During that time, the young Gloria Steinem was a regular columnist for New York magazine [not to be confused with The New Yorker.] She was assigned to follow the Nixon campaign, and one week she wrote a remarkable column, printed as I recall on the last page of the issue, describing a revealing moment on the Nixon campaign bus. It was late at night and everyone was exhausted. Steinem was seated next to Pat Nixon, and from fatigue and stress, Pat’s famous perfect public face slipped just for a moment, a moment that Steinem captured and memorialized. Pat Nixon started talking bitterly about Jack and Jackie, the beautiful people to whom everything in life had been given. “Dick and I could not even go to the senior prom because Dick had to work as a waiter,” Pat complained. It was a cry from the heart, and captured perfectly a difference between them that was deeper than policy or politics. I had read The Brothers Karamazov during my first graduate year while I was cramming for the doctoral general examinations [I also read The Fountainhead – I was very young.] When I read Steinem’s piece, I thought to myself, “Nixon is the Smerdyakov to Kennedy’s Ivan.” By a bizarre irony, this relationship has reappeared, with Trump playing Smerdyakov to Obama’s Ivan, except that Trump actually has had a Kennedyesque life of unearned wealth and privilege, and yet, despite that fact, resents and lusts after Obama’s universal acclaim.
You see, there is something to be said for a liberal education.