By Robert Wilson
June 4, 2018
I almost always use this space to bloviate about the cover story in the new issue. Permit me, please, to bloviate about something else this time, even though Sandra Gilbert’s cover story, a look at the #MeToo revolution, is an important essay that you really should read. In its initial phase, which shows no sign of coming to an end, #MeToo has deserved the full-throated support of all of us. But Gilbert, an esteemed literary critic with unassailable second-wave feminist credentials, is helping to open a new phase, it seems to me, in which women talk to women about where their revolution should go. A good time for men to keep quiet and listen. And so I will.
A second piece in this issue looks back half a century at one of the worst seasons in our country’s history, but does so with a surprisingly winning nostalgia, given its grim central events. Between the assassination in April 1968 of Martin Luther King Jr. and that in June of Robert F. Kennedy, Steven Isenberg, then 28, went to work for RFK’s presidential campaign, inspired by his hero, President Kennedy. What makes Isenberg’s memories of this terrible time so winning is his idealism and his youthful energy and naïveté. With no experience working on a campaign, he immediately finds himself managing RFK’s primary bid in one small county in Oregon. Although he is given few resources and even less advice, he manages to set up a headquarters and a plan of attack, persuade the candidate to appear at what becomes an enthusiastic and well-attended event, and gets out the vote. Kennedy loses the Oregon presidential primary, but Isenberg’s is one of four counties he wins in the state. In a late-night phone call, RFK thanks him and promises that he has a memory like an elephant. Then, in the short time before the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Isenberg happens to be assigned to campaign in California with the civil rights legend John Lewis. Later that summer, he attends the tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago and finds himself hanging out in a bar with Norman Mailer.
We’ve seen this Zelig-like quality in Isenberg before. In 2009 we published a charming piece by him in which he described how, again as a young man, he managed to lunch with four British literary icons, among them W. H. Auden and E. M. Forster. Without ever saying Hey, look at me, he manages in both pieces to convey some quality in himself that others are drawn to. What he presents as chance encounters feels to us to be an inevitable pattern. I’ve had a few encounters with Isenberg myself in recent years. Even with the blow to his idealism of his candidate’s murder and all the blows the decades administer to us all, his youthful and magnetic enthusiasm for life, I can report, remains.
Robert Wilson is the editor of the Scholar and the author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation.