Old Joe

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:12

    two hours of drilling and scraping, and three days of "paradise in pill form." I guess the glory days of psychotropic convalescence are over.

    Literature will suffer for it. Do you ever notice how many great novels and short stories were written while the author was "recuperating" from some dread disease or horrid accident? Last week, for instance, I was reading the journals of the French Nobel Prize-winner Roger Martin du Gard, who was hospitalized for months after he was almost killed in a car crash in 1931. "I was mired in these perplexities," he later wrote, "when, all of a sudden, the idea came to me to write a modern drama. My last weeks at the clinic were devoted to this obsession: I settled on all my characters and built, scene by scene, a precise scenario for Un Taciturne, which allowed me to write the drama, in one burst, in less than three months."

    Yeah, yeah, "all of a sudden." Don't tell me that Martin du Gard?the slowest and most painstaking writer of his generation?didn't have a little something to loosen his hand. Not that I claim to be Martin du Gard or D.H. Lawrence or Katherine Mansfield. But it would have been nice to have girded myself with a bit more pharmacological armor before entering the field of battle against a mouthful of stitches and plaster and blood.

    On the other hand, maybe drugs spring to mind only because last week saw the most bedspin-inducingly stupid drug "study" to have come out in years. Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) made the astonishing discovery that there's a correlation between adolescent drinking and drug use on the one hand, and sex on the other. One's first thought was: Duh. One's second thought was: Who the hell paid money to find that out?

    It came as no surprise to hear that the president of CASA is Joe Califano, the Johnson-administration hack (and Carter-administration secretary of Health, Education and Welfare) who quit his four-pack-a-day habit sometime in the mid-1970s. I'll grant that Califano is entertaining on the subject of smoking. He likes to recount that of those four packs, three would be regular, and one menthol?to numb the pain in his throat that came from smoking four packs a day.

    But Califano has always seemed keen to provide more evidence that a New Deal Democrat is merely a Mussolini-ite who swallows his words. As soon as he quit smoking, he decided to devote his considerable energies to assuring that no one ever smoked another cigarette anywhere, ever again. That's what Califano does for a living to this day. The designated quotemeister anytime anyone sues a V.A. hospital, he gets paid hundreds of thousands a year to nag people about their habit.

    But lowly tobacco apparently provides too little scope for the man who helped shepherd Johnson's domestic policy program through Congress. Now he's onto sex and drugs. According to one wire account of the CASA study, "All in all, 63 percent of teen-agers who use alcohol have had sex, compared with 26 percent of teens who don't drink. About 72 percent of teens who use drugs have had sex compared with 36 percent who don't use drugs."

    What can I say? That's certainly why we used drugs.

    Old Ann Even if the latest polls hadn't shown him falling farther behind John McCain in New Hampshire, it still would have been a bad week for Bush fils. Voters, once exposed to him, have so little fondness for the man that, if elected, he'll probably be the first president to enter office with a negative approval rating. But Republican bigwigs are also beginning to feel like they've been left holding the bag. The papers last week were full of top-level GOPers pushing a put-a-brave-face-on-it kind of preemptive spin. "I hear some saying that his friendly, outgoing personality on tv is mistaken for a smirk and smugness," said one of them. Not likely. Sometimes you can mistake a friendly person for an unctuous one. And sometimes you can mistake a shy person for a smug one. But there is no such thing as confusing smugness and friendliness. As if to clear up all doubt, Bush went on the attack and vented several of the smuggest things he's said all campaign long. He brought up the worries about his intellectual capacity by calling his opponent in the 1994 governor's race a hag: "I would just ask you to go ask old Ann Richards what it's like to underestimate George W." (And referring to oneself in the third person, of course, is no way to dispel worries about one's smugness.) Then he patted himself on the back for his willingness to run a so-called positive campaign, saying, "I'm gonna talk about what I believe and let the people choose." In other words, don't expect me to answer a single question from now until the end of the campaign. And if that fails? "I'm well positioned for the long run," Bush said. "I've got enough money to make it through."

    Perhaps the blame lies with Texas. Texans are always bragging about how different they are from other Americans, and perhaps we should take them at their word. The state's oil dependence certainly causes its economic interests to diverge from the rest of the country's. As in Louisiana and Oklahoma, high times in Dallas mean unemployment in New Hampshire; empty office buildings in Houston mean gas is cheap and life is good in California.

    But whether the cause is economic or cultural, Texas has a habit of sending onto the national stage these shooting stars of statewide politics?Lyndon Johnson, Ralph Yarborough, Jim Hightower, John Connally, Phil Gramm?whom the country at large comes to loathe on closer acquaintance. The presumptive Republican nominee is the latest in that line.

    Old Bill There's a chance Hillary Clinton and Pat Buchanan could be candidates for the same ticket next fall, if both get the nomination of New York's Independent party. That's not as odd a pairing as it sounds, according to Hillary's newest biographer Gail Sheehy, who appeared on Fox News Channel a few days ago to inform us that Mrs. Clinton is actually "socially conservative." Sheehy gave three examples of how. For one, Hillary "actually disapproves of abortion personally, although she would always fight for a woman's right to choose." For another, "she thinks homosexuality is not normative, although she would fight for the President's policies on that score." Finally, "she doesn't believe in divorce, except she would always, you know, support women's right to choose in all of those aspects."

    God knows what Sheehy means by "normative." (Normal, maybe?) But by "conservative," she seems to be implying that there's something conservative about small-town American hypocrisy?which indeed there is. There has always been a strong family resemblance between Hillary and the sanctimonious, Bible-waving bitches who populate the work of every early-century Midwestern novelist from Sherwood Anderson to Sinclair Lewis. It's this that Sheehy is seizing on, trying to show that when Hillary, for instance, speaks out against her husband's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy, she's engaging in the conservative tradition of hypocrisy. It's the Harper Valley PTA in reverse.

    Old Times Readers of this column know that "Hill of Beans" is no particular fan of firearms. But the threat by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to file a class-action suit against gun makers, in an attempt to coerce them into adding safety locks and other gun-control doodads, is tyranny in the making. HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo seems to realize that the public might take it that way. He says the suit shouldn't alarm anybody, since the administration isn't planning on winding up in a courtroom. "Our hope," he says, "is that we can resolve this at the negotiating table." But the only legitimate reason for the administration to litigate would be to settle a point of law?and it's precisely this desire to settle out of court that gives the suit the smell of autocratic bullying. Previous administrations have intervened in Supreme Court cases through amicus curiae briefs, but none has sought to win through rich lawyers and left-wing judges what the administration can't win from Congress. It's a cynically engineered constitutional crisis. The New York Times editorial page rejoiced that the suit might "succeed in wresting from gun makers at least some of the reforms that Congress has refused to entertain, much less pass." That Congress = Chopped Liver equation should have puzzled readers. The lodestar of the Times' editorial policy is a good-government punctiliousness that?thanks to the wonders of cryogenics?has come down to us wholly unaltered from the muckraking progressive platitudes of 1910. The Times has traditionally had no political agenda to speak of, other than the archaic goo-goo one of assuring that elections are fair. But here we have a full-blown case of constitutional usurpation and it bothers the Times not a whit. The paper appears to be giving up its progressive leanings for Clintonite partisanship. Either that or it's husbanding its outrage for the next time a candidate for the Utica City Council exceeds his primary spending limits by 85 cents.