Murray Kempton (1917-1997) was a columnist for Newsday, as well as a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. His books include Rebellions, Perversities, and Main Events and The Briar Patch, as well as Part of Our Time. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985.

The Brawls of Yesteryear

Murray Kempton wrote the following in July 1992, just before he left New York to cover the Democratic National Convention. My next national convention will be the twenty-first of those occasions when I have intruded my fleshly and decreasingly spirited presence upon the company of Democrats, Republicans—and once …

On Frank Sinatra (1915–1998)

One day I was dealing with Ella Fitzgerald, and the subject of Sinatra came up and her intruder-mistrusting voice suddenly softened and she said, “Frank. Just this little guy telling this story. That’s all you have to be.”

Once Ain’t for Always

An Explanation of My Title: Historical scholarship, that ragbag of myth, holds that once in 1927, while recording at the Columbia Studios, Bessie Smith had run through all her prepared material and then found herself with enough time left for another song and no way to use it except by …

With Malice Toward Many

Human Rights Watch has tolled the passing of one more year with the release of another annual report on the advances of harshness on Earth and official ill will to the helpless. These findings at once appeal to our conscience and define the bipartisan compact that has put our conscience …

The New Equality

When bedtime comes for the guests at the prison California delicately identifies as its Central Women’s Facility, the loudspeaker is reported not infrequently to announce, “All you bitches and whores, get into your rooms.” One little-noticed index of our advance toward gender equality is a 400 percent increase in the …

The Second Oldest Profession

The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd was in Georgia on election night brightening up the night watch over Newt Gingrich’s uneasiness. As is the usual case for communions with good girls and most especially with more than semidivine ones like Dowd, the talk drifted to the woes of woman as …

Drugs & the CIA

The New York Times’s Tim Golden noted recently[^*] that a full quarter of the New Yorkers of color sampled in a 1990 poll believed that their own government “deliberately makes sure that drugs are easily available in poor black neighborhoods in order to harm black people.” This impression of willful …

Million Dollar Legs

Edward Jay Epstein’s Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer especially claims our gratitude because its protagonist would otherwise have been forgotten when he was less than six years dead and his fortune, his monuments, and the whole huge mound of his frauds long since gone up in smoke. Hammer …

Keeping Arafat Occupied

Benjamin Netanyahu displaced Shimon Peres as Israel’s prime minister in an election that turned on a hair and was fought over through no end of differences, all of them oddly founded upon a shared agreement about the character of Yasser Arafat. Netanyahu and Peres alike judged Arafat as a man …

Me, the People

Very little in this visitor’s diminishing recollections of the Republican Convention survives so vividly as one moment of quarrel between Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times and a colleague still fixed in the Clintonian persuasion. Scheer had given the Clinton administration no end of slack before at last recoiling …

The Shadow Saint

Hitchens’s stirrings are so far from blasphemous as almost to resonate with the severities of orthodoxy. He came to scoff, but the murmurings that recurrently rise from his place in the pew unmistakably imply the man who has remained to pray. Mockeries suffuse his tones; but their charms, seduce us though they may, cannot conceal the fierce purpose of their employment, not in God’s despite but on His behalf. The compelling impulse in The Missionary Position’s heartbeat is not to make fun of a holy woman in her wither but to chastise a heretic.

The Nation’s Progress

Bob Dole said farewell to the Senate recently and will henceforth be free to campaign as undistracted by the pressures of the public business as President Bill Clinton’s journeyings already suggest he is. Dole’s valedictory sounded the key he has made so familiar to those of us who cherish a …

The Shame of Lebanon

” ‘Fare you well, your suit is cold.’ Cold indeed and labor lost…” —The Merchant of Venice II: vii The antechambers of the President of Syria fill up with an army of suppliant suitors; and every personage, however grand elsewhere, must shrink himself down and jostle all …

Dying for Life

“My Father, if this cannot pass… thy will be done.” —from the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ According to Saint Matthew The Christian calendar especially appoints the Easter weekend for solemnizing the despairs of death and celebrating the hopes of resurrection. And so Good Friday was the fittest of …

Whose Foreign Policy?

“Overall, in 1995, the [Chinese] authorities stepped up repression of dissent.” So speaks the State Department of the United States in the solemn official voice of the most recent of its annual country-by-country reports on human rights practices. The meager deposit of the State Department’s human rights conscience has been …

The Republican Implosion

After the New Hampshire primaries, Robert Dole had to go back to trudge his stony path, denied the joys of the victor but permitted the escapee’s sigh of relief. Pat Buchanan’s jacquerie had horridly lit up the regular Republican estate with burning barns; even so, its manor house stands singed, …

The Beat of War

“Immediately after the explosion, the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, having run wildly out…and having looked in wonderment at the bloody soldiers at the mouth of the dugout they had been digging, attached himself sympathetically to an old lady, who was walking along in a daze, holding her head with her …

A Mess of Improprieties

Henry James introduced us to the Countess Gemini, whose repute among soberer Tuscans was “as a lady who had so mismanaged her improprieties that they had ceased to hang together at all—which was the least that one asked of such matters.” All the same she remained a countess. The Central …

The Last Gentleman

General Colin Powell’s decision not to run for president seems to have suffused our politics with a sense of loss whose presence is palpable and yet whose origins are rather a mystery. Our mourning cannot be for the loss of a candidacy with that realistic a chance for the Republican …

Heat Lightning

The weeks since Louis Farrakhan’s march on Washington have been notable for an absence of resonance. When we have so long, and vainly, held our collective breath for the crackling of thunder, we know that all we saw was heat lightning. The event was none the less significant, and especially …

Bradley’s Escape

We can thank Stendhal for introducing us to M. Leuwen, who hated nothing except humidity and bores. Since this is the season when humidity especially soddens and boredom particularly dispirits, mightn’t we impute the same high taste to Bill Bradley’s choice of a day in August for announcing that he …

Notes from Underground

The American Communist Party reached its highest tide, a modest crest, when Earl Browder was its General Secretary. Joseph Stalin had made him in 1929 and unmade him in 1945. When I developed Browder’s acquaintance, he was well into the surprisingly mellow twilight that succeeded the setting of his sun.

Working Girl

It is a pity that Ginger Rogers’s obituaries so uniformly cast her in images inextricably tied to Fred Astaire. Of course there was the partner who was the goddess with the god, and they command our awe as unearthly creatures must. But there was also the girl who was of …

Business as Usual

The evidence that Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez supplemented his Guatemalan army salary with a decade-protracted stipend from our own Central Intelligence Agency is no longer disputed except by the apparent parties to the transaction. The case is plain enough: Alpírez was trained at Fort Benning, was graduated to the counter-insurgency …

Home of the Brave

“Ron [his coach] once told me that I dove with more pain and suffering and sickness than any diver he had ever had.” —Greg Louganis The Almighty is presumed to pass His judgments and dole out His penalties to individuals, which allows us to suppose that nations are spared …

Narco-Democracy?

Recent events in Mexico again remind us that unpleasant surprises would more infrequently confound us commentators if we assessed the motives of statesmen with the severity we apply to those of mafiosi. The President of Mexico has arrested his predecessor’s brother for complicity in the murder of a mistrusted capo …

A Family Affair

Memory, that dubiously reliable prompter, persuades me that when first I sighted the child Qubilah Shabazz, she was a baby on television and her father was cradling her against his chest with a right arm as soft as his tongue was hard. It was early in the Sixties and Mr.

Happy Endings

We shall have to wait out what’s left of the twentieth century’s final decade before we know whether it will abide in the universal memory with a blessing or a curse. Even so, it must already be said for the Nineties that they at least began with singular promises of …

Downhill Part of the Way

And who, Horatius asked the Romans, will stand at my right hand and fight the bridge with me? And up sprang two volunteers. Horatius was lucky: he wasn’t canvassing Democrats. President Bill Clinton has begun a month-long campaign to salvage the Congress for Democrats clambering over the side to salvage …

Is the Party Over?

The chances are the congressional Democrats will do better than they are expected to next month. The Republicans may have established their landslide a bit too early. Great sweeps that surge to visible crest in October tend to ebb in November. But even if the Democrats keep both branches of …