Saturday, September 22, 2007

"A Big Family of Shits"

Louis Auchincloss tears back the veil on a slice of upper echelon WASP society and its not so pleasant impact on the country.

From the Financial Times:

As Vidal complained in the same essay for the New York Review of Books, “of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs. Yet such is the vastness of our society and the remoteness of academics and bookchatterers from actual power that those who should be most in this writer’s debt have no idea what a useful service he renders us by revealing and, in some ways, betraying his class.”


“It is a myth,” he continues, that a once great and powerful class of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants has been pushed aside; the ruling class has simply eliminated the ethnic and religious bars to entry, and expanded. “Proust studied this very carefully,” he says. “He understood that society would take in anybody it wants.”

Indeed, at the very centre of American politics is the great dynastic Wasp story of our time, the Bush family (both presidents: Philips Andover – America’s Eton – Yale, Skull and Bones). Surely this is the grist for a great society novel? Auchincloss demurs. “I just think the Bushes are a big family of shits,” he says with a sibilant hiss, “they might have existed anywhere.” The statement sits oddly with the photograph on the mantelpiece, which is of the Bushes welcoming Auchincloss to the Oval Office after he was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2005. “That’s because all the grandchildren are there,” he replies, noting that he has received an enormous amount of grief from friends over the picture. As befits a lawyer, his defence is a touch legalistic: “I didn’t accept a prize from George W Bush, I accepted a prize from the President of the United States. Who am I to turn that down? The grandchildren had a lovely time!”

“I used to say to my father,” he says, “ ‘If my class at Yale ran this country, we would have no problems.’ And the irony of my life is that they did.” He pauses before invoking a 20th-century American foreign-policy who’s who: “There was Cy Vance, Bill Scranton, Ted Beale, both Bundys, Bill and McGeorge – they all got behind that war in Vietnam and they pushed it as far as they could. And we lost a quarter of a million men. They were all idealistic, good, virtuous,” says Auchincloss, “the finest men you could find. It was the most disillusioning thing that happened in my life.”