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Mailer Inside Miami

St. George and the Godfather by Norman Mailer Signet 229 pp. $1.50

By William Englund

ONCE AGAIN Norman Mailer has charged to the middle of the national political conventions Far from the aloof commentators who dissected this year's campaign at a distance, Mailer plunged pen first into the tumult of the floor. He managed to impale nearly everyone on its point and came out grinning with a delegate's-eye-view of the American political process at work, and slyly ingenious speculations and insights into what--really--was going on.

Miami in the summer of 1972 was the scene of three political interactions between the young and the old--young Democrats and old Democrats, young Republicans and old Republicans, and demonstrators and police. Each face-off developed in its own way, and Mailer, who can't bear to consider himself as part of the old, wrestled continuously with the changing but shapeless form of the young, never quite pinning it all down at once.

The Democrats met in July with the nomination still in some doubt. McGovern, victor in the primaries, and the candidate of the young, was faced against an array of assorted party stalwarts, the most important being Hubert Humphrey, a prominent politician since before some of the McGovern delegates had been born.

Politically, Mailer was with McGovern, but he missed that old Kennedy charisma. He failed then to understand the appeal in not getting vicariously or sexually excited over a political candidate, in merely respecting a man for his decency and honesty.

He did, however, appreciate the will and the perseverance of the unexcited, hard-working "insufficiently evil" McGovern delegates. What set them apart from the "McCarthy kids" of 1968 was their serious intention of winning and their proven ability to wade through every parliamentary morass the party bosses could lead them into, at any hour of the night or day.

These kids had been raised by mothers who loved them--so they had a complete innocence altogether near to arrogance. The trade unionist reared more often than not by a mother who laid the frequent back of her hand on every idiot potato and onion and lemon head of a kid in her brood, could now have the immense anger of seeing his leonine powers lifted by a horde of suburban ants who had never been stepped on, and now could hardly be.

McGovern's forces carried the day with the help of some key parliamentary decisions by Chairman O'Brien. Had he decided against the will of the young, they would have bolted the Democrats, wrecking the party. Going with them, he was either helping a winner or setting the young up for a fall that would leave them subdued and chastised for the '76 convention. Either way, the old stood to gain.

LEAVING A DEMOCRATIC party behind that was trying to accomodate the young (who in fact had taken it over), Mailer went to Washington, the city of the old. Between conventions he visited Henry Kissinger, and found him not altogether unattractive, a likeness in some ways of himself. But on returning to Miami in August, he was reminded by the assembled demonstrators there of the planes sent out by Kissinger's employers--planes which "lay death in strings of defecation on the earth."

In spite of his outrage at the war, though, Mailer couldn't help admiring the way the great Republican prime-time extravaganza was handled. The timing, the celebrities, Pat, and especially the Young Voters for the President, fascinated him. For him the YVP was as a mindless, well-scrubbed cheering section, in whose faces he could see the Wad.

The Wad is Mailer's term for the evil underside of Middle America, the money-conscious ugly population of bigots and haters. It is the Wad that can support the war in Vietnam, and it was the Wad that gathered in Miami in August to nominate its candidate for President.

What that unattractive convention wanted was a leader who could deliver them from dread. To eliminate the worry and fear of Asian Communists, lawless protesters, higher taxes, nuclear war, and arrogant welfare parasites is to eliminate thought, and so bring peace. Thus the friendly trips to Peking and Moscow are in perfect congruity with a stepped-up defense program and a perpetual war in Indochina; all serve to keep the hated Communists from attacking or even threatening us at home.

WHAT THE WAD wanted was a man who would make sure that everything was going to be OK. They agreed not to get in his way when he had to step across the law, and in return he agreed to watch out for their best interests. The ultimate development of the Godfather.

The Republicans dealt with the young by taking in only the smiling, agreeable children of the Wad, showing America how patriotic and respectful some kids could be, and simply ignoring the "radicals" of Flamingo Park. The police successfully diffused the demonstrations by arresting few and beating up practically no one. With the Republicans in town, Flamingo Park became nothing but a carnival, an adjunct to the convention skillfully portrayed by anxious-to-please newsmen as an orgy of disruption for the folks back home. Every obscenity hurled meant more votes from the Wad; every egg on the dress of a delegate "can mop up the guilt of 500 bombs."

MAILER WAS SENT down to Miami on assignment by Life magazine, and had originally intended to present an objective report, an intention that lasted about two days. There were too many questions and not enough answers, he writes, so he decided instead to follow the natural reactions of his brain as it sifted through the evidence.

The result is the exhaustive effort of a New York-intellectual brain with an obvious leftward slant trying to comprehend the phenomenon of a Methodist from South Dakota and a shrewd dealer of the Wad running against each other for President. Mailer remains throughout skeptical, pedantic, perceptive, and, in spite of himself, expressive of his admiration for all characters in the principled or unprincipled pursuit of their goals.

If St. George McGovern was sent out by his youthful supporters on a knight's quest for the Presidency, then Richard Nixon stands as the great Godfather manipulator of the love and hate the old in this country feel for their young. After they meet, lance to heater, we'll look for Mailer (the aging self-proclaimed "Aquarius") to put together the story of '76.

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