Writing in The New York Review of Books in 1983, just as the elder of my acquaintances from the university down the road began hitting the ground, Gore Vidal cited Alexander Herzen's "terrible truth," the end of each generation is itself, to recommend a rescue of American education from Reaganite indif- ference to fact. Only the oth- er day, the internal newspaper of that same university print- ed an ad for its school of bus- iness administration, on the basis of an alumna's boast of acquiring fabulous networks. Vidal would have understood: we have always had networks. They used to bear content. Recommending the curiosity of William Dean Howells, the great late-Century editor of The At- lantic and a novelist of such power that he could appeal, as almost no one else ever would, to both Twain and James, he wel- comed The Library of America's issuing of Howells' later works in the first of what became two volumes. But Vidal was always a connoisseur of the vigor in what is fine.
The average educated American has been made to be- lieve that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any infor- mation at all about those countries we are meant to lead. Worse, we have very little information a- bout our own country and its past. That is why it is not really possible to compare a writer like Howells with any living American writer because Howells thought that it was a good thing to know as much as possible about his own country as well as other countries while our writers today, in com- mon with the presidents and paint manufacturers, live in a present without past among signs whose meanings are uninterpretable. The weight of a misspent legacy is infinitely greater than that of the shell that frittered it away; this is simply a famil- iar response to any acquaintance with something fine. But now, he asks, what of the shell exempted from its acquisition, whether on some theory of security, or of fashion, or religion? I don't be- lieve we can say of Vidal, that he fretted his extinguishment, but that he pulled his weight. We know we can say, that as the only kind of Tory worth his salt, he asserted constantly and truly, to become cultivated was nothing more or less than playing fair. How synchronous that stroke is - and besides, there are lats. There will be politics for this reason, as there must be. Let's begin.
People were marrying yesterday afternoon in Florida even be- fore the stay was to be lifted, today. Im- mediately Jeb Bush's office propounded a false equivalency, his safest bet to mollify the base he has always cultivat- ed: he called for respect for persons who seek legal pro- tection, and for those who favor re- ligious repression, and imagine an ex- clusionary sacrament. The Lord had already made His feelings known on that idea. Far be it from others to inform Jeb Bush.