dear michael

kael/nixon update

It's been more than a month, but I think I have some light to shed on Pauline Kael's supposed quote about Nixon. As my original post noted, Kael is reported to have said, when Nixon won the 1972 election, "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!" This is often used by Republicans to demonstrate how out of touch liberals are with the real world. My sense was that Kael wouldn't have said such a thing, so I threw down a challenge to anyone to give me documented evidence that she'd ever said it. Will Brantley, who has written (and is writing) about Kael, said he was also trying to hunt it down ... he didn't get far. And, needless to say, I didn't hear from any of the Republicans who claim it as a meme.

Yesterday, though, I got an email from Craig Seligman, author of the fine Sontag and Kael. Here's what Craig said:

Kael told me the story of that mysterious quotation when it appeared in (I think) The Wall Street Journal several years ago. She never said it, and she was irked by the fact that it was so often attributed to her. Apparently a reporter, or somebody, asked her to comment on Nixon's election, and she replied that she couldn't because she didn't even know anyone who had voted for Nixon. And the story got garbled. I may have garbled the story myself slightly, since some years have passed since she told me, but the point is: she never said it. Which is easy to believe, because I never knew her to make patently stupid statements, and when she joked or was outrageous it was never with the kind of naivete that you would have to assume to make a statement like that.

The upshot is that people who know nothing about her or her work are constantly berating her for saying something she never said and never would have said.

As far as I'm concerned, the case is closed. Not that posting this on my blog is going to make a difference, but hey, if Craig Seligman can hunt me down, maybe Repugs can, too. Thanks, Craig!