NO LOAVES, NO PARABLES: Liberal Politics and the American Language by Clifford Adelman

NO LOAVES, NO PARABLES: Liberal Politics and the American Language

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Adelman, who did a challenging analysis of the counterculture a couple of years ago, (Generations, 1972) now turns his attention to the sins and failures of ""Newlib"" politics -- the McCarthy and McGovern legions mainly, with asides on the Chicago reformers fighting the Daley machine, New York's John Lindsay, et al. The clue to their ideological and moral arrogance, Adelman argues, can be found in their rhetoric; and on a more fundamental level, this is a book about the language of political discourse. Adelman charges the Newlibers, caught up in the stilted and abstract style of academia, with a profound inability to communicate with blue-collar ethnics, whom they in their righteousness regarded as unredeemable racists and warmongers. This is no longer a new perception, but Adelman gives it substance by suggesting that language affects perception and policy -- and that the diction of the Newlibs was as ""totalitarian,"" artificial, and lacking in emotive appeal as that of the Nixon cohorts. By way of contrast and example he cites his heroes: Norman Mailer first of all, and then that small group of (mainly Irish-American) ""street journalists"" who use a folksy, populist idiom -- Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Joe Flaherty, Mike Royko. The New York mayoral contest in which Mailer and Breslin campaigned on a platform of ""Power to the Neighborhoods"" is Adelman's model of how it should be done. This is a provocative thesis, and one can't deny the appeal of Breslin's vigorous, earthy speech. But there are problems: it is a basic liberal fallacy to believe that all problems would be solved if we only communicated better. Symbols and dramaturgy are not enough (Mailer in fact didn't make much of a dent among the New York plebs who promptly stigmatized him as an ""intellectual""). Adelman, who sneers at the smugness of the reformers is, too often, smug himself. Worse, his own style leaves something to be desired even as he is chiding the McCarthy people for being ""off in the orbiting satellites of the generalized with their too easy spacewalks on the cosmic merry-go-rounds of the remote and utopian.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Harper's Magazine Press