Lindsay, A Man for Tomorrow
John V. Lindsay and the Silk Stocking Story
John V. LindsayLess than Meets the Eye
The most useful source of Congressman Lindsay’s present manifestation may be none of the above works but rather Professor Trilling’s celebrated essay on The Princess Casamassima. For Mr. Lindsay comes to us, now as never before or likely again, as the Young Man from the Provinces. Precision is hardly Mr. Parmentel’s concern in his recent article on Lindsay in Esquire; still he seems on the mark when he evokes his subject as “Scarsdale Galahad.” Mr. Lindsay springs up out of our pavements as that most alien of strangers, the white Episcopalian born here. And his situation is “as chancy as that of any questing knight of mediaeval romance.”
“Parsifal at the castle of the Fisher King,” Professor Trilling instructs us, “is not more uncertain about the right thing to do than the Young Man from the Provinces picking his perilous way through the irrationalities of the society into which he has been transported.”
Mr. Lindsay then summons up the memory of Hyacinth Robinson, which means that his special command on our interest is that he is sentient and aware of what is happening to him: “We care,” James says, “our curiosity and our sympathy care, comparatively little for what happens to the stupid, the coarse and the blind.”
Mr. Parmentel reports this judgment: “‘He’s such a nice guy that you can almost forgive him his shallowness,’ said Kempton.” That citation is offered not certainly with pride nor as a definition, but only to suggest how oblique the subject is. For it is as well to say that Congressman Lindsay is so complex that one can almost forgive him for being so nice.
The Young Man from the provinces “may be of good family but he must be poor.” Mr. Lindsay’s true family is that of the Whig resistance, certainly good and certainly poor these days. He has very little notable politics that were not destroyed in the eighteenth century. Mr. Button too much exaggerates his position in Congress as Mr. Parmentel too much deprecates it; given his temperament and interests it is unlikely that Mr. Lindsay could ever be an important Congressman except in the aesthetic sense. Mr. Button recites the interests in the admiring detail they deserve: Mr. Lindsay’s solitary vote against a bill which would force any citizen to prove that the material he was mailing was not obscene; his denunciation of the loyalty oath requirement for student applicants for National Defense Education Act loans; his leadership in defeating the late Congressman Walter’s “industrial security, anti-subversive” bill.
“As a Republican,” Mr. Lindsay said once, “I see my task in Congress as that of redefining the role of the individual in our half-garrison, part-welfare state.” That is a stranger’s role, and one which has earned Mr. Lindsay less enthusiasm from progressive opinion than one would ordinarily expect. The reason must be that progressive opinion is not conditioned to trust persons who distrust the state. It cannot be suggested, from the broad …