The New York Times gave its readers a huge dose of nostalgia on Sunday morning with an article penned by John Leland, called, “Still Picking Fights and Dropping Names: Norman Podhoretz Looks Back at the Fierce, Argumentative Parties of New York’s Intelligentsia.”
The piece focused on the feisty Podhoretz’s controversial literary and political influence, which was centered around a group of New York City’s Intelligentsia, roughly from the time period of the early 50s till the late 90s. The former editor of “Commentary,” is now 87 years of age. Podhoretz calls the Upper East Side of Manhattan his home.
Accompanying the long feature are 15 photos of Podhoretz’s then intellectual contemporaries. Many of whom, on occasions, he feuded with over literary and/or political issues. Podhoretz referred to the latter, “as a battlefield.”
One can only imagine the fireworks that this group brought to those literary, booze-filled parties referenced in the story. Leland described Podhoretz and his cerebral-leaning associates, and the mass attention that they received during that era, “as the well-read Kardashians.”
In this talent-filled group, you will find the likes of heavy hitters such as Lillian Hellman, Jules Feiffer, Susan Sontag, Saul Bellow, Alfred Kazin, Hannah Arendt and the one and only bad boy – the novelist and wife-beater, the late Norman Mailer!
Podhoretz crossed swords with the volatile Mailer over a line that he had written in Irving Howe’s magazine “Dissent.” It had to do with supposedly justifying “personal violence.” Podhoretz added this put down on Mailer: “This shows you where the ideology of ‘hipsterism’ can lead.” See, Paul Johnson’s book, Intellectuals.
Mailer is the same character who later, in 1969, ran for the office of Mayor in NYC, with columnist Jimmy Breslin as a running mate. (The Pulitzer Prize winning Breslin died in NYC, last Sunday at age 88.) The duo finished in fourth place. Part of their platform was to make NYC “the 51st State.”
Leland’s article also didn’t give any details on how or why the late Hellman and Podhoretz fell out. But, another writer, mentioned in Leland’s profile, Mary McCarthy, let the world know why she despised Hellman. Appearing on the “Dick Caveat Show,” in January, 1980, she said of her: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” As far as insults go, that one belongs in the top category.
The author of “Intellectuals,” Johnson, piled on by saying of Hellman, “she seemed to be one to whom falsehoods came naturally.” Ouch!
(Leland’s profile is part of a series, “Lions of New York,” that the newspaper is running in response to the municipal crisis of the 1970s and 80s. To learn more about how NYC bounced back from that low point, go to: nytimes.com/series/lions-of-ny)
In this mostly entertaining profile, Podhoretz confessed that he supported Donald Trump for president. He labeled him “the lesser evil.” Podhoretz also praised former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani for making the city a “safe place,” but blasted the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, “as a bum.”
Leland’s piece underscores how Podhoretz started out as a Lefty, then somewhere in the early 70s, he drifted over to the Dark Side and embraced the disputed Neocon ideology. This spelled out as an “emphasis on strong foreign policy and military intervention,” a la Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense for the Bush-Cheney Gang).
Podhoretz had no problem supporting Ronald “The Deregulator” Reagan and the warmongering Dubya. He remains loyal to NYC and blames Liberals for its “violent crime.”
As far as Podhoretz was concerned, Saddam Hussein had WMD, so he thought the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, was a good idea. Check out: http://www.antiwar.com/scheuer/?articleid=11670.
Later, Podhoretz urged Dubya to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to Politico.
One of the items missing from Leland’s piece is whether Podhoretz had any personal regrets about cheerleading the disastrous war in Iraq. I would like to know how he felt about the cost of that conflict: Try $4 to $6 trillion to U.S. taxpayers; close to 5,000 U.S. troops dead and about 35,000 more wounded; countless Iraqi deaths and wounded, soldiers and civilians; and, the creation of millions of refugees, both Muslim and Christians alike.
But alas, not a word in Leland’s piece about the Iraq War debacle and Podhoretz’s ardent support for it. Why was that relevant topic left out?
There was also another compelling element to Podhoretz’s tendency to engage in rivalries/conflicts with his contemporaries that was missing in action. I’m talking about the Mother of All Political/Literary Feuds: “Norman Podhoretz Vs. Gore Vidal!”
Gore Vidal, popular novelist and brilliant essayist, was once friendly with Podhoretz. However, he eventually came to loath him. The strong feelings were mutual. Only God really knows how this battle of the intellectual elites was hatched and why.
In any event, it went center stage in 1986. Vidal, “America’s Biographer,” now deceased, struck first with an essay, in the The Nation magazine, entitled: “Requiem for an American Empire.” It appeared in its January issue.
Podhoretz responded to Vidal’s piece with a strong article of his own in his Commentary magazine. Then later, all Hell broke loose, when the highly-controversial essay, “The Empire Lovers Strike Back,” March 22, 1986, was posted by Vidal in the The Nation. It specifically targeted Podhoretz.
Since that day, the supporters of the protagonists have continued the dispute from the sidelines. It would have been nice to know Podhoretz’s feeling today about this explosive, charring episode in his career. Why Leland left it out is a mystery, since Podhoretz’s “friends and adversaries” were featured in his article.
Does Podhoretz still hold a grudge against Vidal? Or has the passage of time, and Vidal’s death, caused him to let bygones be bygones. Too bad this important chapter, with online links to their competing essays, wasn’t covered in the Times otherwise compelling, well-written article.
Top photo of Norman Podhoretz is YouTube screen shot
Bill Hughes is a native of Baltimore. He’s an attorney, author, professional actor and hobbyist photographer. In his salad days, he worked on the docks as a longshoreman. Bill also played on three championship soccer teams: sandlot with Jules Morstein; high school at Calvert Hall; and college at the University of Baltimore.