April 01, 2004

Menand on McCarthy

Posted by Ed

Eugene McCarthy was a fascinating man. Louis Menand is an interesting writer. Menand's New Yorker review of Dominic Sandbrook's new McCarthy biography is therefore a fun read.

My favorite detail from the article: "McCarthy once spent a year in a monastery, with a view to becoming a priest; he had already got engaged, and his fiancée had to wait for him to change his mind and come out before they could marry." (It's not clear exactly what this says about McCarthy's character--beyond the obvious conclusion that he was serious about Catholicism.) There's lots of other fun stuff in there, too--like Sandbrook's suggestion that LBJ or Hubert Humphrey could have won the 1968 fall election if McCarthy hadn't challenged the president in the primaries. Menand, I think, is correct to dispute this, and I enjoyed his claim that McCarthy's subsequent presidential campaigns "suggested the same unpleasant combination of piety and frivolity as John and Yoko’s bed-ins for peace. "

It's easy to quibble with parts of Menand's analysis. Menand writes that Sandbrook's McCarthy bio would make a "worthy companion" to Rick Perlstein's recent book on Barry Goldwater, adding "Perlstein is interested in the story; Sandbrook is interested in the analysis." Menand is correct to praise Perlstein's book, but I don't think this comment does Perlstein justice. Even so, I'd recommend this article to anyone interested in 20th-century American politics.

Posted by Ed at April 1, 2004 12:16 PM
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