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The Genius

The following notes appear in Norman Mailer’s account of the Republican convention in his new book St. George and the Godfather, published this month by New American Library.


If while speaking to Kissinger, he had called Nixon a genius, he meant it. For a genius was a man who could break the fundamental rule of any mighty sport or discipline and not only survive but transcend all competitors, reveal the new possibility in the buried depth of the old injunction. So Nixon had demonstrated that a politician who was fundamentally unpopular even in his own party could nonetheless win the largest free election in the world, and give every promise of doing considerably better the second time! What Aquarius had not realized until this convention began however to disclose its quiet splendors of anticipation and management was that Nixon would reveal himself not only as a genius but an artist. What had concealed the notion of such a possibility for all these years is that it is almost impossible to conceive of a literary artist who has a wholly pedestrian style. It was possible that no politician in the history of America employed so dependably mediocre a language in his speeches as Nixon, nor had a public mind ever chased so resolutely after the wholly uninteresting expression of every idea. But then few literary artists proved masters of the mediocre.

Nixon was the artist who had discovered the laws of vibration in all the frozen congelations of the mediocre. Other politicians obviously made their crude appeal to the lowest instinct of the wad, and once in a while a music man like George C. Wallace could get them to dance, but only Nixon had thought to look for the harmonies of the mediocre, the minuscule dynamic in the overbearing static, the discovery that this inert lump which resided in the bend of the duodenum of the great American political river was more than just an indigestible political mass suspended between stomach and bowel but had indeed its own capacity to quiver and creep and crawl and bestir itself to vote if worked upon with unremitting care and no relaxation of control. He had even measured the emotional capacity of the wad (which was vast) for it could absorb the statistic of 4.5 million civilians and 1.5 million combatants being killed, wounded, or made homeless on all sides in the three and a half years Nixon had continued the war, yes, quietly accept it as a reasonable cost for the Indochinese to pay in order that we not lose our right to depart from Vietnam on a schedule of our own choosing.

Better than that—Nixon had spent more on the war than on welfare, not far from twice more—and so had taken the true emotional measure of the wad which calculated that two dollars expended on burning flesh in a foreign land was better than one dollar given to undeserving flesh at home. But if this was the major work of Nixon’s intellectual life, to chart the undiscovered laws of movement in the unobserved glop of the wad, it had been a work of such complexity that it would yet take the closest study of the design he had put upon this convention, this masterpiece of catering to every last American pride and prejudice going down the broad highway of the political center.

However, there were also smaller perceptions to make each day, and the growth of political excitement in a political student like Aquarius at the size of the bonanza being offered: a course in the applied art of politics by the grandmaster himself. That this convention would be studied for years by every political novice who wished to learn how to operate upon the insensate branches of the electorate was clear to Aquarius by Sunday when Pat Nixon arrived and certainly by convention time on Monday when the lineaments of superb design had emerged, but that was still later….


Next day—what could possibly restrain him from going?—Aquarius attends the Sunday Worship Service of the Republican Convention. It is being held in the Carillon Room of the Carillon Hotel, a supper club room which moves in a crescent of coral curtains and gold fringe around the room, with golden seats arrayed for more than a thousand guests and these seats are filled. American flags cover the wall on either side of the stage. Sitting there, he thinks there is probably no act on earth more natural to Republicans than going to church on Sunday. That bony look which seems to lay flat white collars on ladies’ clavicles, that Wasp look bony with misery (when they are merely tourists eating in some jammed Johnson’s off the boiling reeking superhighway during family summer travel [the windshield shellacked with the corpses of bugs numerous as dead Vietnamese], yes, same gangling bony lonely pointed elbows) comes instead into its inheritance and stands out in all the decorous composure of characterological bone when Republicans get to church. Then their virtues live again—hard work, neat clothes, patriotism, and cleanliness become four pillars of the Lord to hold up the American sky.

This church service, however, is being held in the morning as balance perhaps to the Republican gala of the evening, a veritable panorama of worship with celebrities to pray and Mamie Eisenhower for Honorary Chairman, plus the wives of Cabinet officials to compose the Advisory Committee. Senator Tower, tough little John Tower, right-wing Republican from Texas, gave the welcome as Worship Leader. Once, when he first came to the Senate, Tower had the mean concentrated take-him-out look of a strong short welterweight, but the Chamber laid senatorial courtesies upon him—now this Sunday morning he was mellifluous and full of the order of dignity as he whipped out his reading glasses, intoned “Almighty God,” and delivered the prayer written by President Eisenhower for his first inauguration, “Give us, we pray, the power to discover clearly right from wrong.” There was no hitch in the words for him. Tower was a hawk, and the operative definition of the hawk is that they do not have trouble with moral discernment….

But it was left to Dr. Elton Trueblood of Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, to give the sermon, and Aquarius later wondered if Richmond, Indiana, was looked upon as a swing vote in a swing state; in that case, local Hoosiers might be loyal to the honor that one of the town clergymen had addressed the assembled Republican mighties, loyal at least for a few hundred more votes—Aquarius had already begun to admire the thoroughness with which Richard Nixon looked for such votes—quite the equal of any first-rate housewife on the hunt for ants during spring-cleaning. (It is the innocuous corners which must never be overlooked.)

So, even on this nonpolitical and nondramatic occasion, this unpolitical and highly Christian convocation, care had been taken to invite the President of the Synagogue Council of America, also serving as rabbi of Temple Emmanuel, Miami Beach, to offer an Old Testament meditation. Then Maryland’s Junior Miss, Miss Cathie Epstein, soon offered the song “Amazing Grace” which was harsh on the ear for its amazingly tortured sounds, he thought, but the crowd gave Miss Epstein such a spontaneous whip-out of the sound, “Amen,” and so much hand-clapping that they had obviously heard something else—score one for Jews-for-Agnew.

No, Nixon did not miss any corner with an opportunity for amazing grace, and the Reverend James A. McDonald who sang next with the deepest pleasure of the ages since Paul Robeson, was also black, blacker than Brooke, and the benediction being given by Father Ramon O’Farrill who was Cuban, his name in the Miami Beach papers would do no irreparable harm with local Cubans, no more than Rabbi Lehman, Epstein and Jeannette Weiss would offend nearby Senior Citizens. Of course, Jeannette Weiss, an alternate delegate from Michigan who read the Pledge of Allegiance, might have been German as easily as Jewish, but all the better—she could gladden both kinds of newspaper readers, and certainly would not hurt the pride of women, alternate delegates (so often ignored) and a few hundred near neighbors in Michigan. But since Jeannette Weiss proved when she stood up to be black, it could be said that Nixon was tickling every straw in the broom.

Now, there was not much chance that the President had literally been able to bother with such detail as this, but of course it was not impossible he had actually put the program together for the sort of relaxation others take in crossword puzzles—it didn’t matter—his hand was laid so finely upon the palpitations of this convention’s breast that from the thought of his presence came all the necessary intimations of intelligence. Even the least of his assistants must acquire a sense of how to place each potential use in its slot. Not every evidence of harmony in the Vatican issues directly after all from the Pope, but who would say he is not the center of all its political spirit!

Along came Dr. Elton Trueblood then to give the sermon, and in fairness to him, he was there for more reasons than to swing a corner of Indiana; the Doctor was a sermonizer of invention—he fulfilled that Sunday function which requests the preacher to give the parish something to think about from Monday to Saturday for he said, “Government ought to be a holy calling, a divine vocation. We ought to speak of the ministry of politics.” And he quoted Romans 13:6, “The authorities are ministers of God,” and so decided that, “Whatever your occupation in politics or government, you are called to be His ministers.”

As he spoke, his features too far away to be discerned, only his white hair and glasses, his balding head, dark-blue suit and starched white shirt visible in the distance, he looked nonetheless like a compressed whole bully of faith—small surprise that Faith was his favorite word. It was as if he was the first to know that this worship service was not part of the convention so much as the convention was going to be a service of worship. Nonetheless, Trueblood touched something of confusion in the Republic heart, which he did not necessarily put to rest. No more than the good decent average Republican would admit that he loved to fuck his wife (those who did) in a voice which might ever be heard aloud—as if blight must immediately descend on the marriage—so must many Republicans have thought in private over the years that they were doing God’s work and being His ministers in the world of corporation and government, His ministers to work for the salvation of this tortured and troubled Republic, as divided as two souls residing in the same heart, this Republic of order and barbarism where the young would, if given their way, yet walk with naked breasts and faces hidden by matted hair and trampled flowers, timeless droning drug-filled young with filthy feet—they would yet walk upon the heart of America.

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