"With their dominance in sport, at work and at home eroded, Bush thought white American men needed to know they were still good at something. That's where Iraq came in . . .
The great white stars of yesteryear were for the most part gone, gone in football, in basketball, in boxing, and half-gone in baseball . . . On the other hand, the good white American male still had the Armed Forces . . . ." -- Norman Mailer, writing in the London Times' op-ed page last week.
When The Wall Street Journal asked me to react to Mr. Mailer's latest daft screed, I almost took a pass. I've never written an opinion piece for a newspaper before, and furthermore I know as much about Norman Mailer as I do about Mary Quant. I think they were both kinda hot for a few minutes in the '60s.
Other than a vague recollection that Mr. Mailer once played Boswell to Jack Henry Abbott's Samuel Johnson, I really only remember one other pertinent fact about him. But, what the heck, if you're going to take a stab at something new, why not take a stab at it with Norman Mailer.
Mr. Mailer was the Father of the Non-Fiction Novel and now he can also claim lineage as the distant, addled third-cousin of the Rational Op-Ed. Studying at the Sorbonne as a young man obviously made a deep impression on him because this thing reads like Jacques Chirac's Dream Journal.
With six marriages under his belt, one would assume Mr. Mailer has a stranglehold on warfare. One would be wrong.
His basic contention is that we went to war with Iraq because with the dominance of white American men in the boxing ring, the office and the home front eroded, George W. Bush thought they needed to know they were still good at something. Mr. Mailer has a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Harvard so he had to know that argument wouldn't fly. But, then again, maybe this claptrap is just a grand put-on. The fact that I and many others can't differentiate anymore does not auger well for Norm's legend.
You know something, the only "race" that really occurred to me during the war was our Army's sprint to Baghdad. Conversely, Mr. Mailer appears to see just race in our armed forces, right down to the "Super-Marines" as he calls them. It seems that Mr. Mailer even notices color in people when they're wearing camouflage. He then goes on to speak about racial subsets in the world of sports. Now, when I watch baseball, football and basketball, I see uniforms and skills. Mr. Mailer evidently sees races and nationalities. He's like a Casey Stengel/William Shockley hybrid. "Why'd you send the rook' back to Triple A, Skip?" "Well, he was gettin' around on the fast ball but he still couldn't hit the bell curve."
Ironically, Mr. Mailer seems to see everything in the world in terms of black and white, except of course, good and evil.
He also fancies himself a boxer, a "champeen," but stuff like this will just sully his record. He's now a club fighter, a pug, a tomato can that Warhol no doubt gave him. He constantly uses boxing metaphors and yet refuses to give President Sugar Ray Bush any credit for his startling TWKO (Three-Week Knock Out).
A guy like Mailer hates a guy like Bush because Mailer thinks of himself as infinitely smarter than Bush and yet President Bush is the most powerful man on the planet and old Normy's connecting through Atlanta and flying on prop planes to a community college that's so far out in the sticks the mail rider has yet to arrive with the message that The Great Mailer is currently more out of the loupe than a jeweler with conjunctivitis. All so he can scoop up a sub-microscopic honorarium and the accolades of star-struck locals and 18-year-olds who mistakenly think Mr. Mailer wrote "Gravity's Rainbow."
He feels there's no connection between the secular state of Iraq and radical fundamentalist terrorists. Not true. Abu Abbas was recently recaptured there after Europe practiced catch-and-release with him many years back. Abu Nidal was found shot to death last year in his Baghdad apartment. Police suspect fair play.
And while I don't want to appear to pick more nits than a father-and-son Spider Monkey team who know they're being followed by a National Geographic film crew, Mr. Mailer's wrong when he says that only one-half of our country was for the war: 70% is one-half only if the whole is considered to be 140%.
Mr. Mailer at one time challenged and provoked. Now he just provokes. Norman Mailer has become Norman Maine, a former matinee idol whom loved ones best keep an eye on, because if this is the best he can now muster, he'll no doubt be walking purposely into the surf off Provincetown any day now. And as Mr. Mailer's prostate gradually supplants his ego as the largest gland in his body, he's going to have to realize, as is the case with all young lions who inevitably morph into Bert Lahr, that his alleged profundities are now being perceived as the early predictors of dementia.
I empathize with Mr. Mailer in one regard, though. Although he's clearly abdicated the lucid throne, it must be hellish for someone who can still arrange words so beautifully -- i.e. "the question will keen in pitch . . ." -- to wake up every morning and have it slowly dawn on him that he's effectively been rendered totally irrelevant.
Mr. Miller is a comedian.
Updated May 5, 2003
"Mr. Miller is a comedian". Boy, I hope that was obvious.
Now, Mr. Mailer replies:
Just because the two big guys who flanked you on Monday Night Football took away your balls and left you with a giggle in replacement doesn't mean you have to suck up to The Wall Street Journal.
But thanks for appreciating my fine use of "keen."
Keen up, then, to my piece and read it again without panic. You're too good to become squalid and kiss-ass for so little.