Saturday, March 23, 2024

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on The World of Theodore H. White, Pt. 2

D.W. Buffa's latest novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Part II of Buffa's "Third Reading" of Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series begins:
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won the Presidency in a landslide against Barry Goldwater, with more than 61 percent of the vote. Four years later, in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States with only 43.4 percent of the vote, and yet, according to Theodore H. White, Nixon’s election was also a landslide, a negative landslide, the first one in American history. Adding the vote for George Wallace, an extreme conservative, to that of Nixon, a traditional conservative, the conservative vote against Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate, was 56.9 percent. What had happened?

The war in Vietnam had happened. What became known as the Tet offensive, had broken “the confidence of the American people in their government, their institutions, their leadership….” The enemy “had astounded the world with a force, a fury, a battlefield presence that gave the lie to all that America has been told for months,” that America was winning the war. It is one of the ironies of history that the Tet offensive had been “a complete failure,” with a third of the enemy forces killed, and none of its objectives achieved, but failure on the battlefield was a victory in the domestic politics of the United States.

Opposition to the war was led by university students, a group that had become, in White’s description, “the largest working-class group with a single interest in the United States - or any other country.” There had been 1,350,000 college students in l939; there were 6,900,000 in 1968. Political compromise, the idea that it takes time to change things, was seen by university students as nothing more than an “excuse for postponing the inevitable, for denying the truth. If a certain goal is accepted by the best thinking as an unchallenged good, why cannot it be made real now?” What was considered the “best thinking” was itself a reflection of a remarkable revision, and sometimes an outright rejection, of traditional values. “On stage, on screen, in letters,” American intellectuals “created a world without heroes.” The “new avant-garde has come to despise its own country and its traditions as has rarely happened in any community in the world; American institutions, customs and laws are regarded as the greatest system of restraint on that individual self-expression which it sees the highest right of man.”

Free from all restraint, and appalled by what the future seemed to offer, American students mobilized against the war. Convinced that the war would not be ended so long as Lyndon Johnson was still President, the question was who among the Democratic politicians who opposed the war would be willing to challenge him for the Democratic nomination....[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part I.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part II.

--Marshal Zeringue