»  National Review Online

November 9, 2000

   Publick Affairs Vex No Man

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Boswell.  "Perhaps, Sir, I should be the less happy for being in Parliament. I never would sell my vote, and I should be vexed if things went wrong."  Johnson.  "That's cant, Sir. It would not vex you more in the house, than in the gallery: publick affairs vex no man."  Boswell.  "Have they not vexed yourself a little, Sir? Have you not been vexed by all the turbulence of this reign?"  Johnson.  "Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor eat an ounce less meat. I would have knocked the factious dogs on the head, to be sure; but I was not vexed."  Boswell.  "I declare, Sir, upon my honour, I did imagine I was vexed, and took a pride in it; but it was, perhaps, cant; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less."
                        (From James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, entry for May 2, 1783.)

Well, I confess I have not got Doctor Johnson's fortitude of mind. I could not get to sleep Tuesday night. I needed to be up at six on Wednesday, for reasons having nothing to do with "publick affairs," and felt so depressed at "Hillary!" taking the New York Senate seat, and at Bush (as was at first reported) losing Florida, I went to bed at ten o'clock. But I couldn't sleep — very unusual for me. At last I had to take some of my wife's Tylenol PM. Yes, folks: I was vexed.

I was vexed, in the first place, to think that 52 per cent of the voters of my state — I must tell you, with deep shame now, that I am a New Yorker — would send as their representative to the U.S. Senate a liar, thief and crook who has never submitted herself to public questioning by any interviewer more potent than Rosie O'Donnell, and who believes that the responsibilities of public office begin and end with organizing fundraisers to campaign for yet higher office, using the public fisc for this purpose. It is true that Rick Lazio is a dull candidate, and that he ran a campaign of breathtaking incompetence. Still, there are worse sins than dullness and poor campaign skills. Lazio is an honest man with strong legislative experience. He was, at least until those moronic handlers got their hands on him, willing to be interviewed by anybody, unrehearsed. If you think that Clinton is the better candidate here, you are seriously delusional. And besides, the Lazio campaign had solicited and got $200 of my money.

I was further vexed that my man Bush looked liked losing the Presidential race. I would not make the same arguments here as for the New York race. I dislike Al Gore, for reasons I have enlarged on at length in this web site's parent magazine, but I can quite understand why a lot of people would want to vote for him, and I doubt he is a seriously corrupt person, as "Hillary!" and her husband surely are. It's just vexing to think of the mischief he might do. "Hate crime" laws (translation: an assault on the First Amendment); "gun control" (ditto the Second); another 100,000 pages added to the tax code; another million or so to the Federal Register; unrestrained immigration; a Supreme Court packed with PC leftist Constitution-haters; abortion "rights" extended to six months post partum; an executive order merging the Boy Scouts of America with NAMBLA; more fire-sales of our hard-won military-tech expertise to the Chinese Communist Party so they can target our cities more precisely with their missiles; you know the list. Still, on any reasonable scale of moral turpitude, Big Al is a much better person than "Hillary!" and I think there is a modest chance the nation would survive a Gore Presidency with our territory, at least, more or less intact.

Was my vexation, like Boswell's, mere cant? Had I fooled myself into thinking that these large matters of state really impinged on me, when they do not? No, I don't think so. The times are very different. In Doctor Johnson's England no citizen had to have anything to do with the government and its officers if he chose not to. It took me three months — and a police investigation — just to get the wretched license to own a handgun. In Johnson's time there were no police, and if you wanted a handgun you walked down to a hardware store and bought one. Whatever serious misjudgment in foreign affairs an 18th-century British statesman might make, it would not result in London being incinerated and its population vaporized. Ordinary middle-class households in the good Doctor's time did not have filing cabinets in the spare bedroom filled with receipts and statements, in case the Chancellor of the Exchequer was taken by the whim to conduct an audit of their finances. The Lord Chancellor and his colleagues did not have the power to prevent parents from knowing that their daughters were to have abortions, nor the power to accuse those parents of "hate crime" if they objected to their sons being taken into the woods on camping trips by pederasts. Well might Johnson, in another place (March 31, 1772) say: "I would not give half a guinea to live under one form of government rather than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual. Sir, the danger of the abuse of power is nothing to a private man. What Frenchman is prevented from passing his life as he pleases?" A great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and a great many corpses too — 100 million this past century murdered by their own "form of government." Yes, I can justify my vexation.

Yet still I wonder if it was worth losing an hour's sleep over. We still have our Constitution, and if we struggle we may yet preserve it from Al and "Hillary!" and their loathsome Dictatorship of Virtue. What is life without struggle, anyway? In the meantime, here is my family and my dog around me; here is my modest home — three bedrooms on a sixth of an acre, but it satisfies my needs. Here are my books, my music, my guns and my friends. I am not quite willing to say that the outcome of this election "is of no moment to the happiness of an individual," but I am not at all sure it's worth an hour of sleep. No, from now on I shall cultivate Johnsonian detachment. No more Tylenol PM. Let the chips fall where they may: I shall not be vexed.