Friday, February 5, 2016
Nixon, index cards, and whiskey
What a magically odd time the '70s must have been. Politics were in a furious uproar, war was fucking with the national attitude, science was figuring out some crazy shit, the age of the internet was barely even a speck on the horizon, everyone could fuck without worrying about HIV. What a fascinating and different time it was, so alien to the 21st century.
That's not to say that I think the '70s were better than now by any means. It was shitty to be a woman, it was shitty to be a minority, it was shitty to have a disability or a mental illness (or worse, you couldn't even get diagnosed as having either and just got labelled "lazy"). Now isn't much better, but things have improved at least a little.
I bring this all up because that's most of what I got out of reading Jimmy Breslin's How the Good Guys Finally Won - a fascinating time capsule of a book that includes backslapping with Gerald Ford before he was anything more than the Speaker of the House, concerned discussions about how women were going to fuck up politics, and some of the most amusingly biased reporting I've ever seen about a President all told in an archaic, gloating tone that wouldn't be out of place coming from Hunter S. Thompson.
The book is fine, I guess. I'm not sure I want to read any more Breslin (he's got a fine voice and he's amusing enough but gives off an undeniable creepy-college-guy-at-the-high-school-dance vibe) but this did make me want to read a lot more about Nixon. It made me aware of political figures I'd never heard of before because, let's face it, America's educational system is kind of fucked and I'd never learned much about Nixon or his impeachment/resignation in my history classes. It's an interesting perspective to take on the whole debacle, really. Breslin cobbles together a coherent narrative out of the slow building of evidence and tales of closed-door meetings on the Hill. It's political drama that apolitical people can enjoy, and has the wondrous aspect of an impending train wreck hanging over the whole thing that makes it tense and fun to read even when you basically know how everything washes out.
But it was decidedly odd to read. The voice is wrong for the story - Breslin describes himself drunk and stumbling around fundraisers, shows lawyers as hip-shooting desperadoes, and glories in gory details. Breslin wants this to be a novel, he wants this story to be a slaughter, and it frankly isn't. It's got nightmarish aspects, to be sure, from a civil liberties perspective. But in the end it's a story about politics, not a Die Hard movie, and so Breslin's brash wanna-be cowboy style feels a little out of place.
But from what my dad tells me Breslin was the reason people bought papers - you'd pick up the Times instead of the Bee for Jimmy's column. That was the voice people wanted to hear their politics reported in. And that, more than anything else, makes me wonder just what the everliving fuck was going on in the '70s.
(Also this book was stolen from a coffee shop, but don't worry I'll be returning it and donating some more coffee-friendly books to their "so your friend is running late or your date stood you up" shelves because I'm pretty sure someone put this book there as a joke.)
Breslin, Jimmy. How the Good Guys Finally Won. Viking Press. New York: New York. 1975.