John Updike was a novelist who wrote about business men and people who lived in small New England towns. He was not exotic at all. He has left this reminiscence of his politics when he was the rare author and artist to remain a patriot in the 1960s. A couple of anecdotes:
A response to a BBC questionnaire on Vietnam in 1966. It got him into trouble.
Like most Americans I am uncomfortable about our military adventure in South Vietnam; but in honesty I wonder how much of the discomfort has to do with its high cost, in lives and money, and how much with its moral legitimacy. I do not believe that the Vietcong and Ho Chi Minh have a moral edge over us, nor do I believe that great powers can always avoid using their power. I am for our intervention if it does some good—specifically, if it enables the people of South Vietnam to seek their own political future. It is absurd to suggest that a village in the grip of guerrillas has freely chosen, or that we owe it to history to bow before a wave of the future engineered by terrorists. The crying need is for genuine elections whereby the South Vietnamese can express their will. If their will is for Communism, we should pick up our chips and leave. Until such a will is expressed, and as long as no willingness to negotiate is shown by the other side, I do not see that we can abdicate our burdensome position in South Vietnam.
On a visit to the Soviet Union in 1964.
And yet I came away from that month, and the two subsequent weeks in the Eastern-bloc countries Bulgaria, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia, with a hardened antipathy to Communism. The difference between our empires was not, as many were beginning to say, and were to say louder and louder during the impending Vietnam years, six of one and a half-dozen of the other. It was more like eleven of one and one of the other. Ours was the distinctly better mousetrap.
He was there during the 1964 election. I must confess that I also voted for Johnson, but for different reasons.
in 1964 I went to considerable trouble to vote inside the Soviet Union, casting at the American embassy in Moscow my absentee ballot for Lyndon Johnson and against that warmonger Barry Goldwater; my peaceloving Russian hosts were as relieved as I at the Johnson landslide. One source of my sense of grievance against the peace movement when it came was that I hadn’t voted for any of its figures—not for Abbie Hoffman or Father Daniel Berrigan or Reverend William Sloane Coffin or Jonathan Schell or Lillian Hellman or Joan Baez or Jane Fonda or Jerry Rubin or Doctor Spock or Eugene McCarthy. I had voted for Lyndon Johnson, and thus had earned my American right not to make a political decision for another four years. If he and his advisers (transferred intact, most of them, from Kennedy’s Camelot) had somehow got us into this mess, they would somehow get us out, and it was a citizen’s plain duty to hold his breath and hope for the best, not parade around full of pious unction and crocodile tears and power hunger and supercilious rage.
On the peace movement and its contempt for Lyndon Johnson. I believe this comment is pertinent on the contempt, and hatred, for Bush by the political left today.
The protest, from my perspective, was in large part a snobbish dismissal of Johnson by the Eastern establishment; Cambridge professors and Manhattan lawyers and their guitar-strumming children thought they could run the country and the world better than this lugubrious bohunk from Texas. These privileged members of a privileged nation believed that their pleasant position could be maintained without anything visibly ugly happening in the world. They were full of aesthetic disdain for their own defenders, the business-suited hirelings drearily pondering geopolitics and its bloody necessities down in Washington. The protesters were spitting on the cops who were trying to keep their property—the USA and its many amenities—intact. A common report in this riotous era was of slum-dwellers throwing rocks and bottles at the firemen come to put out fires; the peace marchers, the upper-middle-class housewives pushing baby carriages along in candlelit processions, seemed to me to be behaving identically, without the excuse of being slum-dwellers.
On the occasion of a visit of Soviet artists and writers to America.
Arthur Miller, no reactionary, said it best when, a few years later, he and I and some other Americans riding the cultural-exchange bandwagon had entertained, in New York or Connecticut, several visiting Soviet colleagues. The encounter was handsomely catered, the dialogue was loud and lively, the will toward friendship was earnest and in its way intoxicating, but upon our ebullient guests’ departure Miller looked at me and said sighingly, “Jesus, don’t they make you glad you’re an American?”
And so, he is gone. He never considered himself anything but a liberal Democrat but that brand has changed beyond recognition. The piece above was written in 1989 and I wonder what his thoughts would be today on Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic Party.