Election night: New York. At a dinner party somewhere, Fran Lebowitz will be stressing out, chain-smoking, watching the election results and providing colour commentary. Later this month, the essayist, social commentator and cultural satirist will be in Edmonton for the University of Alberta’s Festival of Ideas, whose theme this year is Shifting Tectonic (Social) Plates. For Lebowitz, in her own country it’s clear those plates aren’t shifting fast enough. Or at least, not in the right direction. The Globe and Mail spoke with her this week as she holed up at a friend’s apartment during the worst of Hurricane Sandy.
What has it been like, as a feminist, to watch this campaign?
To me, it would seem maddening to any woman. To me it would seem maddening to any human who is not a straight white gentile male millionaire, because if you ask me, that’s Romney’s only sensible constituency.
Your thoughts on Mitt Romney?
Basically, as far as I can tell, Mitt Romney wants to be the president the same way little girls want to be princesses. I don’t think he wants to be the president for any actual reason, the way that for instance I would like to be the president. We all know little girls who say things like ‘I want to be a princess’ and sometimes their indulgent parents buy them a little princess costume and they say ‘Now you’re a princess.’ But people grow out of this. I would be happy to buy Mitt Romney a president costume if he would drop out. Because he doesn’t seem to have any real agenda. He seems to have many horrible principles, but I don’t think that’s what’s motivating him. I think it’s his personal ambition, pure and simple, just to hold this office that he has already denigrated by being a candidate for.
Does it upset you that politicians have become less forthcoming, more message-tracked?
I always get angry at journalists because they don’t push these guys. Push them. When they don’t answer the question, ask it again. Don’t let them off the hook. That is your job. But what you see, at least here, is that the journalists in general have joined from a class point of view with these people. So in New York, for instance, where you have this idiotically rich mayor, everyone curries his favour. It’s rampant in America, this idea that you are so rich, you must be so smart. And frankly, my feeling about that is: People who think the richest people are the smartest people have never met a really rich person or a really smart person. But I have met both, and there’s not a single crossover.
Did you watch the debates?
I was going insane watching the debates because Jim Lehrer might as well not have been there. If I had been there moderating – although no one would ever use the word “moderate” in regard to me – I would have stopped Romney from talking; when Romney kind of said, ‘No, no, I’m going to keep talking,’ I would have yelled at him. Candy Crowley, the thing she did that I loved was when she corrected Romney. But if I were her, I would have said it louder, and again. Also, it would probably be a good idea for them to stop calling them a debate, because they’re nothing like debates.
It must make you crazy watching election-night coverage.
Election-night coverage makes me crazy for numerous reasons. One is that I frequently watch the wrong person win and also because I hate this red-blue thing. It’s so childish. Really? We can’t even read any more? We have to have colours? That’s what we did when I was in kindergarten. So to me, the fact that this has now caught on to such an extent is pretty upsetting. So yes, I hate that, I hate them predicting and mostly, frankly, I hate the results.
But you’ll be watching anyway.
I’ll be riveted. I do at this moment feel more strongly that Obama will win, because I feel this hurricane is going to help him.
The president is the president, so the president is appearing and the president is drawing a very sharp contrast between himself and the last Republican president that had to deal with the hurricane, who is George Bush and who let tons of Americans die.
Could you recommend a way to watch the election coverage that won’t make you too crazy?
To me, the stations to watch are the ones where the newscasters are speaking the least. If you want to watch the election and not be made crazy, I suggest you don’t watch the election. I would suggest you read 19 th– century English novels to calm yourself down. It might remind you of an era when people knew how to write sentences and there was no such thing as Mitt Romney.
Other election-time reading?
I think it’s always good to read George Orwell. I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, everybody was writing ‘Orwell was wrong.’ And I thought. ‘Doesn’t anybody know how to read?’ Orwell was exactly right. He wasn’t writing about communism; he was writing about totalitarianism. If you read 1984 , it is now. Also, maybe if everyone read him, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess.
Fran Lebowitz will be at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton on Nov. 16.
This interview has been condensed and edited.