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?