Lewis Lapham Lights Up

"I'm watching fools leap and dance," says retiring Harper's editor Lewis Lapham, whose polarizing essays will continue bimonthly. "What am I supposed to do, say they're not fools?" (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Lewis H. Lapham flips up the top of his Zippo lighter, ignites another Parliament and inhales deeply.

At 71, he's about to step down after 28 years as the editor of Harper's magazine, but he's not talking about that right now.

Instead, he's telling the story of his aborted job interview at the CIA back in 1957, when Lapham, after matriculating at Hotchkiss and Yale and Cambridge, hoped for a career as a Cold Warrior.

"The CIA was in temporary buildings, Quonset huts down by the Lincoln Memorial," he says. "The interview was at a wooden table with four guys, all from Yale. They were of a type that I had come to ridicule at Yale -- the George W. Bush type."

What type is that?

"Eastern, rich, privileged, arrogant, perennial cheerleader," he says, the adjectives rolling out in his patrician voice.

He can't resist taking a shot at Bush, which isn't surprising: His cover story in the March issue of Harper's is called "The Case for Impeachment." But it's not only Bush who arouses his scorn. Lapham has skewered every president since Nixon. He's a world-class curmudgeon.

He continues his story about the CIA interview, marveling at the questions he was asked.

"The first question was: If you were standing at the 13th tee at the National Golf Links in Southampton, which club would you use?"

He exhales a stream of smoke. "Now, it so happened that I'd played that golf course and knew the hole. It's a short hole, so if you said 'driver,' you'd be wrong. . . . I said 7-iron, and I got it right."

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