It should come as no surprise to anyone who visits this blog that Pauline Kael was and is a great influence on my writing ... I use a Kael quote as the site's motto, fer chrissake! So you'd think I'd be happy to know that so many people are quoting Pauline lately. Heck, I saw Ron Silver quote her on teevee just the other day.
It's a Republican meme ... to demonstrate the disconnectedness of the liberal mind from mainstream America, you just quote Pauline Kael, who is reported to have said, on the 1972 electoral victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern, "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!" There are variants ... the quote itself varies, once in awhile she's said to have made the statement about Ronald Reagan, and the people citing her refer to Kael variously as a film critic or a theater critic or a book reviewer, who wrote for The New Yorker or The New York Times.
That they can't get the quote exactly right suggests Kael said it rather than wrote it, I suppose. That they can't get her job description or employer right suggests they don't know what they are talking about, I suppose. But the truth is, that sounds like something Kael would say ... not something she would believe, but something she would put into the mouth of a fictional other as a way of poking holes in them.
Here's the thing. I have an entire shelf in my house consisting of nothing but Pauline Kael books. I have every anthology of her work that was ever published ... every individual compilation from I Lost It at the Movies through Movie Love, the original Citizen Kane Book, the massive For Keeps, and the short reviews of 5001 Nights at the Movies. I also have a book of Kael's interviews over the years, Conversations with Pauline Kael, Francis Davis's Afterglow: A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael, and Craig Seligman's Sontag & Kael. I looked through the indexes of every one of those books and checked out every listed reference to Richard Nixon, and I could not find the infamous quote.
So I looked online. I googled "kael nixon" and got 2,890 hits. I read as many of them as I could bear, and didn't find a single one that provided an actual citation for the quote. I tried Amazon's A9 search engine, which allows you to search the texts of books. I got one clear hit, from page 30 of Bernard Goldberg's Bias, where he refers to the "famous observation" of Kael ... since I don't have the book myself, I can't check to see if Goldberg documents his quote.
The point is clear: as far as I can tell, Pauline Kael never made this "famous observation." I'm hoping that someone will read this ... perhaps some conservative who happens upon this post via the wonders of Google ... and give me a clear citation. Best guess is Goldberg has it ... it's at least possible that the meme begins with Goldberg's book. I might go down to the bookstore and see if I can find out for myself. But in the meantime, if anyone has a citation for this supposed quote, let me know.