American Writers: Totally Unelectable

Thanks to Bookslut for covering the poignant electoral campaign of novelist Caleb Carr, who failed to gain a seat as a County Legislator in Rennselear, New York. Carr came in last among four candidates, and I think this is sad news.

Who the hell wouldn’t vote for Caleb Carr? Who are these stiffs who beat him, and what the hell have they written lately? Caleb Carr is not just some thumbsucking postmodernist; he’s a vivid social critic whose books paint vast sympathetic canvases of diverse humanity. His Alienist invoked Jacob Riis, Teddy Roosevelt and Sigmund Freud, a potent mix of sociological influences and a sure indication that this is a guy upon whose mind the welfare of the human race weighs heavy. I think he would have made a great county legislator, and I salute him for giving it a shot.


A look back at the legacy of American writers who’ve run for office is not encouraging. Norman Mailer ran for Mayor of New York City in 1969, nine years after famously stabbing his wife at a drunken Manhattan party. He lost. Gore Vidal has run for Congress in New York and the Senate in California. He lost. Upton Sinclair ran for Governor of California in 1934. He lost.

Around the world, the situation is different. Playwright Vaclav Havel was a successful President of Czechoslovokia during the turbulent years surrounding the fall of the Soviet Union, and was even re-elected. Novelist Maria Vargas Llosa failed to become President of Peru in 1990, but he was a serious candidate and gave the opposition a difficult race. Looking back in history, philosopher Marcus Aurelius was not only one of the best writers of his time, he was the friggin’ Emperor of Rome.

Why are American writers so unelectable? Well, it’s a fact that irony doesn’t play well on the political stage, and neither does eccentricity. There’s also the fact that the few writers who’ve tried to run for office in America add up to a pretty odd bunch of candidates. What writer would you vote or campaign for, if you could?

13 Responses

  1. Well…I sure as hell
    Well…

    I sure as hell wouldn’t vote for him. So there’s one…

    “Vivid social critic whose books paint vast sympathetic canvases of diverse humanity”?

    What office are you running for, exactly?

    Also, from a literary standpoint, is mentioning it the same thing as covering it, really?

  2. Writers Shouldn’tI don’t
    Writers Shouldn’t

    I don’t understand why writers want to be politicians. I think writers have more effect on/in the world as writers, they can influence opinion more than a politician. Although, I think JFK’s quote that more politicians should understand poetry & poets should understand politicians or something like that.

  3. Maybe It’s a Good ThingI
    Maybe It’s a Good Thing

    I mean, look at Ishihara Shintaro. I haven’t actually read any of his books (have any been translated into English?) but from what I understand they had about an equal impact in Japan as Kerouac books and James Dean movies had in America back in the day. And then a couple decades later he becomes the Mayor of Tokyo and goes around saying that the Rape of Nanking was a fabrication and generally being an ultranationalist a-hole…yeesh.

    Then again, ol’ Jack got pretty senile in his old age himself (the Nazi sympathizing from Vanity of Duluoz in particular).

  4. ThompsonJust to add a
    Thompson

    Just to add a southern gentleman to the list, Hunter almost pulled out a victory for Sheriff in Aspen; and then everything went to the wolves. Though if he had been elected…

    On a side note, Havel was an enormous Zappa fan. He invited him to the castle in Prague out of respect and they became friends. The only reason Zappa has ever been to D.C. is to defend himself and the record industry against obscenity charges. Whopping cultural difference. But if it makes people feel better, their new president (Vaclav Klaus) is the guy who embezzled the most money during the revolution.

    That being said, I’d vote for David Foster Wallace. I’ve seen interviews, and he doesn’t take shit. He doesn’t back down to the middle ground and he sounds intelligent (so much so that he’s a bit hard to follow sometimes). I’m not the biggest fan of his writing, but I think his head is in the right place. Imagine if we had a leader that made the public feel less intelligent?

    And I’d vote for Caleb Carr. The guy is clearly willing to put in the work. Everything I know about turn of the century NYC I learned from The Alienist, Winter’s Tale, and Gangs of New York.

  5. Franken for US SenateAl
    Franken for US Senate

    Al Franken has 5 books published.

    From what I understand, most of the first-time volunteers just try to register voters. Also, from what I understand, where I grew up has become rabidly Republican for reasons unfathomable to me so this may be a losing proposition–registering Republicans–for someone running as a Democrat.

    I grew disenchanted with politics long ago when I saw it as nothing as a wealth redistribution scheme, with the poor lucky to get some crumbs. I’m probably not alone with being disenchanted and only engaged as a letter-to-the-editor writer which is why the USA has tens of millions who’ve given up on the American dream and millions more losing out.

    Possibly Al Franken could become a leader. I don’t know how wide a swath Hillary Clinton has cut in Washington and she’s definitely got a leg up on the game.

  6. Damn, I forgot Hunter
    Damn, I forgot Hunter Thompson! I knew there was another one, Rubaio, thanks.

    (Addition to above paragraph: “Hunter S. Thompson ran for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. He lost.”)

    Yep, Havel was also a major Lou Reed fan. The guy had very good taste, for a politician.

    David Foster Wallace, not a bad idea. But long speeches might be a liability.

  7. You know what office I’m
    You know what office I’m running for: Philosopher King of the world.

    Oh, and, Bookslut actually mentioned the race before (the only place this news got out). One mention is a mention — two mentions, I think, adds up to “coverage”.

  8. I think Al Franken would get
    I think Al Franken would get a lot of support in America. However, since he is basically a TV personality who occasionally writes political books, I don’t think he’d meet the strict criteria I’m applying here — authors of literary fiction or poetry.

  9. Well, thanks for trying to
    Well, thanks for trying to “cover” that, but I saw that they “mentioned” it twice and I don’t think that’s “coverage”. But yes, we must thank them. Glory be to them!

  10. He does meet the criteria of
    He does meet the criteria of extremely ugly people … can’t forget that.

  11. A few more…& some
    A few more…& some winners…

    A couple more losers:

    John Fast (Communist party – ’52)

    Joe Walsh (if Biggie Smalls is lit, which I agree with, why not Joe Walsh? He ran for prez & dropped out)

    And some winners:

    Lew Wallace…(appointed) adjutant general of Indianna, sat on commission that tried Lincoln’s assasins

    A few of the guys that framed this country (Payne, Franklin, Jefferson, Monroe, etc.)

    The last few winners actually bear out your valid point… We are a country that was framed and created by thinkers and writers, which is now run by accountants, insurance agents, lawyers, and soundbytes,with thinkers and writers considered radical…
    Therein lies our problem.

    Also, I’d vote for some offbeat activist writers who have hands on experience with the government and it’s flaws and systems…How’s about Tonya Bolden or Andrew Vachss?

  12. That is a fact!Hmm, that’s a
    That is a fact!

    Hmm, that’s a good article concept: “American Writers: Totally Ugly”.

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