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What Would Mailer Say?

The nation’s columnists have exhausted themselves searching fiction for anecdotes and admonitions that will illuminate David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. [. . .]

Norman Mailer, were he here, would be perfect to write the story of David and Paula, perhaps in a long, digressive Esquire essay like those he composed in his prime. For Mailer, who enjoyed exploring the kinks and contradictions of the military-industrial complex, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency succumbing to unauthorized desire would be an irresistible opportunity to explore the tormented psyche of American leaders torn between lust and body-numbing probity. Mailer actually believed President John Kennedy, whom he called the hipster in the White House, had the capacity to liberate Americans from the small-town Puritanism stifling their sexuality and driving them crazy.

For Mailer, speaking in Mailerese, Kennedy was “a man whose personality might suggest contradictions and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of the people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation….” For Mailer “the secret imagination of the people” was definitely sexual.

But sometimes people are far simpler than Mailer makes them. Maybe the story of David and Paula can be summarized by few words from songwriter Neil Young: “Better to burn out than to fade away.” The world can be lonely place no matter how long your resume.

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