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…

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