February 26, 2008


Post-Presidents Day Salute: A.L. Levine (The Blog at 16th & Q, February 18, 2008)

[F]or the time being Jewish Presidents belong to the realm of fiction, which brought to mind Michael Halberstam’s 1978 bestselling novel The Wanting of Levine. It is long out of print, though it appears in the catalog of the Montgomery County Public Library system. When I went seeking a copy this weekend, the librarian I consulted noted the book had not circulated in five years and was probably long-gone from the shelves. Lucky for me, she was wrong. [...]

The novel is one-part political insider fiction, one part-late seventies sex romp, one part liberal Jewish wish-fulfillment and one-part a canny take on the rhythms of political enthusiasm and what Americans want from a President. Written as it was in a pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan, pre-Internet and pre-collapse of the Soviet Union (just to mention a few epoch shaping “pre’s”) era, the novel obviously has limits when applied to today’s political landscape. Certainly, Levine, with a libido Bill Clinton could only envy, would not be electable, never mind even runnable in today’s climate. But certain aspects of Levine’s character — his “firstness” to coin a phrase, his lack of governing experience, his personal charisma do bring to mind the current campaign. In one stump speech he says:

This is the first time I have run for office. It’s an advantage not to be a politician because like all occupations, politics puts a mark on a man. Politics is a worthy, noble profession, but a lifetime in it requires so much compromise, so much dealing, that a person tends to forget what his real principles were in the first place. … Compromise is necessary, but a lifetime of it leaves a mark. It is fine for a career in the Senate, but not necessary or even desirable in a president. I am, I believe, experienced in politics, but not a politician.

I haven't read it in 30 years, so my memory may be even less precise than usual, but if i recall correctly one scene in particular has bearing on the '08 race. Levine is a guest at a dinner hosted by a black political organization and is served a plate of feces formed to look like a steak. The leader of the group informs him that he's the first Democrat ever to call them on the ruse, that most happily shovel down the dish rather than risk offending them by complaining. Thus far Ms Clinton and the media seem, likewise, to afraid of causing offense to call Senator Obama on what he's serving up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2008 1:11 PM

Your memory of the scene is correct! Although it wasn't actual feces -- just rotten meat that he said tasted like "sh*t." Thanks for reading!

Posted by: CPO at February 26, 2008 5:32 PM