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Yankee Doodle Dandy

Celebrating America While Breaking Ranks and Settling Scores

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH AMERICA The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative by Norman Podhoretz; The Free Press: 256 pp., $25

July 02, 2000|JIM SLEEPER

Had it sent him to great universities in New York and England, dayyenu--surely that would have been enough. And on and on: his chance to mingle "with some of the most interesting people of my time"; to run a magazine with complete freedom for 35 years "even when I was spending ten of them ungratefully attacking . . . America itself"; his country home, where he is "writing these very words . . . behind an unpainted wooden door that . . . snaps shut with the very same satisfying click that so mysteriously broke the dam of tears in the nineteen-year-old boy I was more than fifty years ago."

Dayyenu, Norman. Enough, already. It's more than 30 years since you first wrote about those tears. One of your nemeses and a mentor of mine, the late Irving Howe, didn't room at Cambridge or sup at its high tables, but when his garment-worker father's union won a strike, there was meat on the family table in the Bronx more than once a week for the first time in years. Right though you are about some things Howe got wrong, why not thank an America where, even today, Los Angeles janitors have rights enough to stake their own modest claim on opportunity and where your fellow septuagenarians who couldn't win Fulbrights had the GI Bill? One needn't be a socialist to do that; a good civic Madisonian could. Open your door a little to an America beyond both ideology and egoism, and stop giving patriotism such a small, sad name.

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