American Notebook: A Program for the Nation

American Notebook: A Program for the Nation

Last August I received a letter from Esquire magazine. Its first two paragraphs read:

Looking ahead to the 1960 presidential election, this magazine feels that it would be an interesting and useful undertaking to present the opinions of outstanding men of ideas regarding the candidates proposed and the issues involved. For the political parties and the electorate, there is the decision of which candidate, among the several already prominent, is to be given presidential authority and responsibility. Yet, during the campaign there may be such concentration on the personalities of the candidates that issues to be debated and decided become neglected. We believe that the publication of the opinions of leaders in fields other than politics will be a contribution to intelligent public discussion.

Accordingly, we should be grateful if you will consider, and answer, these two questions:

1. Among those mentioned as possible presidential candidates, whom do you prefer for president in 1960?

2. What, to your mind, should be the most important issues in the election?

Attached is a list of those who, like yourself, are being asked to participate. There has been a fair attempt to select persons whose individual opinions are valued within their fields, and whose collective opinions will present a wide spectrum of response.

I went no further with the letter, but took a look at who had been invited. There were 150 names. About ten of us in the literary garden, and a wide range of other minds, frauds, generals, stuffed shirts, bureaucrats, after-dinner speakers, and figures in the news: Bernard Baruch, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Gen. Lucius Clay, Henry Ford II., Gen. James M. Gavin, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., Ernest Hemingway, Dr. Sidney Hook, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry R. Luce, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, George Meany, Edward R. Murrow, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, Walter Reuther, Rear Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, Dr. Jonas Salk, Gen. David Sarnoff, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Dr. Frank Stan67 ton, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Dr. Wernher von Braun, DeWitt Wallace, Hon. John Hay Whitney.

Over breakfast, I decided the hell with it, I was not going to answer, and went through the rest of the day without thinking any more about the letter. Late that night, after a party, I tried to go to sleep half-drunk, and instead found myself awake with that particular intense and false clarity alcohol can give in the last thirty minutes before it starts to wear away. I was thinking about the letter from Esquire, and at three in the morning it seemed right to answer it. So I went downstairs, and worked at fever speed for an hour or less, not altogether innocent of manic glee at the thought of how this long answer to question 2 would look in the pages of a mass-media magazine. The draft written, I went to bed and enjoyed a self-satisfied sleep.

In the morning I thought to take another look at the ...


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