I HAVE READ my friend Henry Fairlie's re-reminder that it was indeed he who first caused the words, "the establishment," to leap from a typewriter in 1955, to confuse people in every civilized language, to become corrupted by others into a harlot of a phrase. Its demureness, its very virtue -- that is, its haziness -- has been debauched, he complains, by literal-minded political aginners.
Not only Henry's followers, I might add, but at least one predecessor, Trollope, who, unlike Henry, used the words with specific, institutional meaning in mind. But Henry deserves the credit because his historical timing was right, like that of Columbus, not that of Leif Ericson, "old butterfingers," as we Scandinavians sometimes call him.
I have sympathy for Henry as he celebrates, or mourns, this 25th anniversary of his invention because I am approaching the 22nd anniversary of my invention, or, perhaps, my reinvention. I must have had predecessors in the mists of the past whose timing was not as brilliant as mine.
I can no longer keep silence. I did it. I started off "the quality of life" on its globe-girdling course. It is even more demure than "the establishment" and a damn sight more hazy. But what a career it has had! Adlai Stevenson introduced it to -- well, to the establishment; Professor Schlesinger elaborated profoundly on its meaning, well salted and peppered with historical references; Fairlie's English compatriot, that rather sensible socialist, Anthony Crosland, infused a famous book with it. As for me, I don't think I ever used it a second time.
Unlike Henry's inspiration, the phrase did not leap from my typewriter. It just lay there and almost got crossed out. This I think, was in 1958. I had been instructed by CBS News to do a 15-minute radio anaylsis of Adlai Stevenson for a Sunday series called "Newsmakers." I was writing on the kitchen table in my cabin in the Blue Ridge foothills. I was trying to figure out why Stevenson -- liberal, humanitarian, Democrat -- was yet so different from Truman, Harriman, Humphrey and the other New Dealers. What I wrote was this: "He seems disturbed about the quality of American life, when most politicians measure it only in quantity." I elaborated, but that was the key sentence.
I didn't feel stout like Cortez, I wasn't stunned by my discovery. As I recollect, I paid a visit to the outhouse, came back, sat down at the table again, scratched a chigger bite on my ankle and thought some more as the suspicion sneaked over me that I had something there, that the phrase was radioactive, at least, if not explosive.
Well. A few days after the broadcast, Stevenson read my script on an airplane, began using the phrase in his speeches, thanked me at least once in person for the words and in at least one letter to me which is probably up at the Library of Congress along with some other old stuff of mine. "The quality of life" went from that beginning and, like "the establishment," has never known when to quit.
I suppose the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary who have immortalized Henry and "the establishment" have left me and "the quality of life" alone and mortal. (I don't own the dictionary and haven't looked.) I claim not to care but I get a little wistful now and then, and not only in respect to old "quality of life."
There was the business of Hubert Humphrey and Vice President Mondale. Humphrey died and Mondale gave the official eulogy, the most splendid speech of his career. The two best phrases in that speech expressed the thoughts that Hubert was the "conscience of the country" and that he "showed us how to live and then he showed us how to die." In broadcasts, I had previously referred to Hubert as "the conscience of the government" and had said that "he taught us how to live and then he taught us how to die."
I'm sure the vice president didn't write the eulogy; his speechwriter did. And professional speechwriters, like professional auto thieves, make sure to alter the vehicle at least slightly before putting it back on the market. After all, I'm a professional speechwriter.