You’re a big James Joyce buff. Is running for president more like “Ulysses” or “Finnegans Wake”?
Definitely more like Ulysses than it is like Portrait. Finnegans Wake is dream speak. Ulysses is consciousness meeting reality. But here’s why I think Ulysses is extremely relevant. People believe Ulysses is this complex, difficult, inscrutable text full of references. And it is a difficult text, but its subject matter couldn’t be more democratic. It’s about a guy going about his day for one day. That’s the plot of Ulysses. And, to me, that’s what makes it very touching. You’re in this guy’s head, and you’re kind of seeing life through his eyes, and at the end through his wife’s eyes.
That’s how politics ought to be, too.
— Pete Buttigieg, in GQ
First, please, keep doing more comments like this! Let’s keep relating politics to literature! It is better than relating it to horse racing, which people seem dedicated to doing, but since I know nothing about that, I am reduced to shouting things such as, “That little one looks fast! That big guy seems like maybe his leg hurts! Fetlocks!"
However, I am not sure I agree with the assessment that politics ought to be more like Joyce. I am certain I have read passages about candidates wooing voters in Iowa that read like “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”:
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little candidate who assured the moocow that Green New Deal should not target him (the moocow) personally for methane eliminations, no!
The moocow came down the road where Real Americans lived. They lived in Iowa. The candidate was there to meet them. They looked at him through a glass.
and i’m proud to be an american
'cause at least i know i’m free
He sang that song. That was his song. And Lee Greenwood’s song, but he liked the song. The moocow was his Uncle Sam’s, who said I Need You.
God bwess the USA.
But then it would go on and become self-consciously ironic and distant.
Then again, if politics were really as much like “Ulysses” as Buttigieg would have us believe, we would have to deal with statements from candidates’ spouses like . . .
I remember the day of running standing at the podium mother wife family assembled and the signs showing all red and white like the rose of Texas isn’t and the sun blooming bright like a new Rasmussen poll over 50 percent and I thought is it he running and me standing smiling or running am I who gave you that mandate that right says I oh I heard in the push polls push polls! says I watch your language now and I thought as well this one as another and me standing amid voters in the I pulled down the mic so the crowd could feel my support all spousal and the buzz and we said yes we can yes we will yes.
. . . and that would be very annoying, and then all the talking heads on CNN would claim that it was supposed to be an analogy to the part of “The Odyssey” where a guy falls off a roof.
But are we so sure it isn’t like “Finnegans Wake”? I found a lost excerpt of “Finnegans Wake” that I am pretty sure described the campaign perfectly:
to find a candid eight to pass if I the nay shun! stand forth at the head of the pack, your polls throbbing. not like seamus romney dogged by a ruff roof time, nor the staff fur gazing in a salad daze at the un-fork-edible! Comb, me! Fired! Now mull her, report. Take! Campaign! Buss! Staff and nonsense! A Berning Bush. Comma, la!
o to be done with the hmmmclickooooclickahhhhclickclickEEEEEEishness by night and hehhehsmckwaaaaaaaaaaaahehhehnanigans by day and the crnchcrnchcrnchclickclickCLICKery of it!
Do use a port medic err for Raw’ll? Dew ewes sup poor tmeddy carrefour awl?
A way a lone a last a loved a long the — campaignrun, past Joe and Beto’s, from swerve of position to bend of bae, brings us by a commodious palimpsest roll of registration back to Electoral College and Environs.
See what I mean? Anyway, something to think about!
P.S. I know Stacey Abrams is probably going to run for governor again and not president, and I wish her success in whatever endeavor is next, but I hear she read “Silas Marner” for fun when she was 10, so if she wants to do this, I am here for it!
(1) sound of an observed needle wavering back and forth on the New York Times landing page as the page is reloaded
(2) sound of a baby being kissed and handed back to its parent by a politician chuckling uncomfortably
(3) sound of a candidate eating corn and being photographed at a weird angle and Twitter having a field day
(4) candidate falling asleep on keyboard and being struck by lightning
(5) candidate using Notes app to apologize
(6) incomprehensible question to which there exists no answer
Read more from Alexandra Petri: