The Breakfast Table

Better at What?

Gosh, between the restaurant and the pillow thing, I think you’ve got more in common with George W. Bush than I do. Although yesterday or the day before when you described Al Gore as “one of us,” I virtually winced. I’ve never met the man (although when I was editor of New York magazine, he once called to ask me not to run an item about one of his kids), but I don’t think he resembles any friends of mine.

You really think “Gore would be doing a much better job” than Bush? If not at ineffable, inspirational leadership, then at what? Protecting us against terrorists? Brokering peace in the Middle East? I mean, I voted for him, but his overwhelming hypothetical superiority doesn’t seem self-evident to me.

I agree with you about the perniciousness of the withdrawal of the rich from the banal shoulder-to-shoulder chores of civic life. (I guess sleeping on foam-rubber pillows in democratic gathering places like hotels and college reunions does not count as a chore of civic life.) I remember not long after you and I met, a decade ago, you told me about the secret back-door VIP license-renewal system at New York’s DMV. Your huffiness about that charmed me immediately. I take the subway. I use the U.S. mail. On the other hand, has my own democratic character been enriched by the (literally) 40 hours I’ve spent on the phone with Earthlink technical support personnel since February about my fucking satellite-based Internet access? To some extent people who can afford it are driven to buy out of Ordinary Life because so many of those chores are more onerous than they used to be—like flying coach, or getting medical insurance claims processed. And if I could pay someone to make sure that my household’s telephone expenditure was at all times optimized, I’d do it in a flash.

But, my leftish friend, of course “investor confidence” is the only real guarantor we have, in a free (OK, freeish) market system, that companies will be run and stocks traded more or less on the up-and-up. By the way, back in your beloved shame-besotted 19th century, when bankrupts skulked out of town, business and banking and investing were much more scam-ridden and unreliable and immorally conducted than they are today.

Put the job security of one’s employees above profit? Yikes! That’s well beyond leftish, Nora. What are you, French or something?

At the Washington Post, they’re withholding their bylines instead of their labor as a labor protest. Such a silly, smug, yuppie-ish, ineffectual gesture, don’t you think—trade unionism lite? I particularly like the story in today’s paper by “A Washington Post Staff Writer” about the upcoming Sotheby’s auction of some of Katharine Graham’s personal possessions—including a Renoir estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1 million, not including sales tax.