At this time of year in the literary resorts of Cape Cod and Long Island, within the writers colonies of New England, around the swimming pools of Beverly Hills, the intelligentsia despairs of the government in Washington. No matter which administration has the misfortune to hold office, the ladies and gentlemen of superior awareness proclaim it inadequate to the tasks at hand.
The intelligentsia knows it could do everything so much better than the poor drudges elected by uniformed opinion or appointed by a president invariably enthralled to interests both stupid and venal. If only they were willing to waste their time in meetings, who among the illustrious company of the elect could not bring happiness to the domestic population and peace to the rabble of nations.
Long ago, in the darkness before television, the intelligentsia construed itself as a republic of letters. The burden of civilization was shouldered by a few historians, essayists and critics, most of them obscurely residenced in Oxford or Paris. With the advent of the American century and the wonders of mass communication, what was once a republic became an empire. The literary state within a state was transformed into the colossus of the media, extending its hegemony into the provinces of film, evangelism, fashion design, rock music and television journalism. The keepers of the flames now number in the hundreds of thousands; their celebrity grants them the divine right of philosopher kings, and if they were to form a government, it would make up a ministry of all the talents. For example:
President -- the author of the most celebrated work of nonfiction published during the preceding four years. The formula of election multiplies the sum of money earned (for paperback, movie and book club rights) by the weight of publicity (measured in column inches) by the number of times that a critic uses the adjective magisterial.
Vice President -- One of the 12 or 13 female novelists whose collected works remind The New York Review of Books of Anais Nin. Awarded by lot.
Attorney General -- Norman Mailer. Aquarius waits the death watch with a prisoner for whom he has procured an execution. Aquarius indicts David Rockefeller for the crime of being rich. Aquarius goes boisterously into prison yards saying that he is the attorney general and does anyone want to make something of it.
Directory of the Central Intelligency Agency -- John Chancellor, the last of the television anchorman who knows everything.
Secretary of Labor -- Pete Hamill.
Ambassador to China -- Lillian Hellman, in the hope that she might write a sequel to "Watch on the Rhine" and so preserve the innocent Chinese from the communism to their left.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- Bowie Kuhn.
Minister Without Portfolio to the Organization of African States -- Susan Sontag, who some years ago observed that the "white race is the cancer of history."
Secretary of Health and Human Resources -- Truman Capote.
Chief of Protocol -- Oscar de la Renta. Of Phidias it was said he found Athens brick and left it marble; of de la Renta, it could be said that he found Washington broadcloth and left it taffeta.
Secretary of Agriculture -- Julia Child.
Ambassador to Sweden -- Philip Roth.
Director of the United States Information Agency -- Seymour Hersh.
Special Representative to the Commission on Outer Space -- Carl Sagan. Invested with credentials of utmost importance, settled comfortably on the top of a Titan missile, he could be dispatched on an infinite mission.
Secretary of Defense -- Francis Ford Coppola. His grasp of "realpolitik" (cf. "The Godfather," Parts I and II) combined with his boyish enthusiasm for war (cf. "Apocalypse Now") ensure his confirmation by the Book of the Month Club.
Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Reserve Board; the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; the Council of Economic Advisors -- all these various powers and dominions conferred upon the editorial board of Time Inc.
Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. -- Jerry Zipkin.
Ambassador to the United Nations -- Leonard Bernstein. The maestro never makes a speech. He improvises musical statements -- marches, eulogies, patriotic choruses, toccatas in a minor key -- to expound the sentiment of the moment. The American delegation consists of a symphony orchestra that Mr. Bernstein conducts from a piano placed on a podium in the General Assembly.