COMPLEXITIES AND CONTRARIES: Essays of Mild Discontent by Eugene J. McCarthy


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A selection of 46 columns and other brief commentaries, 1977-81--more ephemeral but also more idiosyncratic, less cut-and-dried than many such. The reader interested in McCarthy's de-activist politics will find him advocating a return to the constitutional, constructively idle Jefferson-to-Barkley vice-presidency--or lambasting the ABSCAM probe (""The FBI could infiltrate the H. & R. Block Company, for example, and offer unsuspecting clients clever ways of avoiding payments on income taxes""). The austere McCarthy, piqued by superlatives (""the brightest and the best,"" ""the Great Society,"" Why Not the Best?), lauds in their stead Harry Truman's ""good man""--or ""damn good,"" or ""no damn good."" ""It was good language, well spoken."" Other, varied abuses of language also draw fire--the ""cookie cutter"" neutron bomb (concentrated killing, little blast or fire damage), the Rapid Deployment Force (""Why not just bring back the Marines?""). Like others opinionizing-to-order, McCarthy has his pet causes (presidents-and-poetry, the Irish) and his pet peeves (notably, Jimmy Carter--a political nincompoop who also affronts, in an Irish tie-in, by his ""misuse of poets""). Only once or twice does he make an actual, applicable proposal--but it mightn't be a bad idea, for one, to let Ford and Chrysler fold, and subsidize GM to make a proper car and meet the foreign competition. You may also be intrigued with his roll of the best-ever Cabinet members (especially the reasons). And, for sheer feeling, see the morning after his defeat in the 1968 Nebraska primary: ""The sun does not seem to rise over the prairies of Nebraska. The land sinks, and the sun is waiting. . . . It is better to win."" Though nothing here really commands attention, there are passing intimations (more so than in his programmatic hooks) of what McCarthy once meant to many.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1982
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich