The Breakfast Table

Would Gore Have Made Us Happier?

I just love it when you get going on the ‘80s and ‘90s.

One of my favorite things about the 19th century is that when people went bankrupt, they were so ashamed that they packed their bags and left town. Those were the days, my friend, and I hope some of that is going to turn up in your novel.

Incidentally, I didn’t mean that old money’s antipathy to new money was the issue. I meant that thinking about that question, which is an interesting question, led me to think about what I really believe about being rich, which is that it’s an art that most people aren’t particularly good at. This, of course, is something of a comfort. (And by the way, I’m not at all sure I agree with you that people should be entitled to make as much money as they feel like and spend it as lavishly as they wish. Some people have way too much money and should give most of it away.)

For so much of the 20th century, the WASP values of the station wagon and the tattered sweater were the operative ones where having money was concerned, and everyone understood them: You didn’t let people see how much money you had. And then all that fell apart. You’re right: It was in the ‘80s. And the poster children for that golden moment were Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg, who bought an apartment from a Rockefeller and spent $1 million on flowers for his daughter’s wedding and had parties filled with living statuary. (Living statuary are a definite no-no in my book.) And then they were stoned to death for it, by old money, disguised as the New York Times.

As for Israel, I feel very bleak about it and about the whole mess in the Middle East. Sometimes I think that there are an unlimited number of Palestinians willing to blow themselves up, and that therefore the existence of Israel is in jeopardy in a way it’s never been. (So, it seems almost pointless to dwell on the settlements and on Sharon’s provocative behavior because none of it really matters.) Sometimes, when I think how close Clinton came to some sort of peace agreement last year, I’m more hopeful. But then, of course, I’m forced to face the worst thing of all: our president.

What would it be like if Gore had won? I keep wondering—and having to remind myself that he did win. OK, if Gore were president. Would we be happier? Probably not. We’d complain bitterly because in some horrible way he’s One of Us—he’s educated, he’s literate, he’s a Democrat, etc.—so we find him particularly irritating. But no question we’d be better off with him than with this awful, banal, illiterate (but alas, sporadically charming) yahoo, who doesn’t seem to cause any of the anger or bitter complaint he ought to in people like us but instead a kind of exhausted resignation. Bush, doing a terrible job, has a high approval rating; I can’t help suspecting that Gore would be doing a much better job, with a low approval rating.

Speaking of spouses (and yes, I did know my husband back then—we were both at New York magazine, and both married to other people), I know you’re about to go to your wife’s college reunion and that yours was last year. Why did you go? How was it? My college reunion is taking place this weekend, too, but I gave up college reunions five years ago when I couldn’t figure out the answer to the first of those questions.

One last thing. While blogging around this morning, I discovered, by accident, that your radio show can be listened to online. EVERYONE! Go listen to Kurt’s radio show, Studio 360. It’s great.