Literature, Poetry, and Books
In the NRO symposium on Barack Obama's first year, Bill Voegeli observes, "The Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez often said, 'I'd rather be lucky than good.' One of the problems in trying to assess Barack Obama is that he has been such a lucky politician over the past six years that it's still hard to know how good he is."
This reflection calls to mind the extraordinary Charles McCarry novel, Lucky Bastard. McCarry was for many years a CIA agent, stationed abroad, and is justly hailed as the master of his genre. His hilarious 1998 spy novel recounts the career of the bastard son of John F. Kennedy, who blazes like a comet from obscurity to a serious presidential contender--aided every step along the way, from his days at Columbia University, by Soviet intelligence. David Skinner recently wrote an appreciation of McCarry's work in The Weekly Standard (subscriber only).
With his eye on John F. Adams' sexual adventures, McCarry of course had the then-incumbent president in mind. But his description of how Soviet intelligence paved the way for Jack Adams' rise reminds us how easily American media and other institutions can be swayed by shallow elite opinion. The 1998 novel is a highly instructive work for our time.
What exactly do you think is the instruction?
That the surface of things often points to deeper lessons--but that few people take the surface seriously enough to go deeper. But foreign observers, scarcely disinterested, do take seriously our vulnerabilities and how easily we are flattered. McCarry, like Roberta Wohlstetter (whose book I recently revisited), invites us to see the world as one not simply brought to be by chance but to a greater extent than we suspect by intention.