The a.m. is devoted to writing, at home in Stamford, something about John Kenneth Galbraith, for delivery at his party tomorrow in Cambridge. Tough stuff because I am the only right-winger on the speaking ticket, which includes the president of Harvard and John-John, with six in-betweens. I did notice, at lunchtime, the change outdoors from drizzle-rain to bright, placid sun and wafty wind, especially ingratiating because I live on the most beautiful acre in America.
The evening was designed to promote Harry Evans’ huge (and impressive) new book, The American Century; $50, 900 photos, and very good text (as much as I have read). Harry moves with division strength, and the panelists for his program were Anita Allen (U. Penn), Mario Cuomo, Robert Hughes, and Lani Guinier (Harvard). The sponsor was the Freedom Forum, whose patron Al Neuhart sat in the front row. I was delighted to tell him that I love USA Today. It was standing room only in the theater and the same in an adjacent auditorium, a crowd that included everybody east of Redmond, Wash., one would ever hope to see, or hope not to see.
Harry was the MC, and after a word or two from Hughes, Cuomo had the floor and spoke about American poverty and about rich man-poor man and about the disparity of income, all in answer to Harry’s asking what did we think about the American century. I was next, and I said that we had just heard another of Gov. Cuomo’s Tobacco Road speeches, which he was terrific at … I was distressed at the dinner/reception after the 90 minutes of forum to hear from an elderly gentleman that “Tobacco Road” wouldn’t mean anything to anyone younger than 65. I grabbed a younger woman and asked, did she know what T/R stood for? Yes she did. But the plaintiff didn’t yield ground, pleading that the person I asked the question of “knows everything, so she doesn’t count.”
I did a few arpeggios on the theme of the decrease in poverty over the century, but Hughes and Lani Guinier would have none of it, and Arthur Schlesinger said that income disparity in the United States was more pronounced than anywhere in the world, and I said, well all that that means is that the United States has a lot of rich people, but what’s so bad about that?
The class warfare business is very much back in town, I’ve noticed, and much of the evening was devoted to the disappointments of the American century. At wind-up time Harry asked, going around the panelists’ table, what was the singular achievement of the United States? Bob Hughes said the “amelioration” of race divisions. Lani Guinier said the liberation of women. Harry pointed to me, and I said I would struggle to come up with something that would prompt applause from the audience. That statement drew applause, but not my answer, which was the defeat of the Soviet Union. Chill-time.
Harry said later he didn’t intend it all to be so one-sided, he had invited Peggy Noonan but she dropped out at the last minute. We missed her. My new best friend, seated at my right at dinner, is Wendy Wasserstein, in part because she told me she had done a weekly journal for Slate, which makes us blood-persons.