Pauline Kael on Richard Nixon -- true?

In the wake of the election, and the gnashing of teeth over Democrats’ failure to “understand” red states, I’ve heard at least two commentators mention Pauline Kael’s alleged quote from after the 1972 election: “I don’t know how Nixon won. No one I know voted for him.” The quote is used as Exhibit A in proving clueless liberal elitism.

But did she actually say it? I’ve never been able to find any evidence that she did. The only items that come up on a Google search are from silmilar right-wing columns, with no documentation or elaboration (Did she speak it or write it? Who did she say it to?) Now, I’m too young to have ever read Kael in her heyday, but the general impression I’ve always had of her was that she was pretty intelligent, and so would be unlikely to say something so silly.

Along those lines, the other theory I’ve heard is that the quote was uttered not in '72, after Nixon’s re-election, but a year or two later, in the midst of Watergate. According to this interpretation, it was meant ironically; if all the people who claimed to have voted against the scandal-plagued president had actually done so, he never would have won in the first place.

Does anyone know the true story?

Much appreciated.
Don Gato

If she did say it, I think Republicans who take it as “clueless” or “silly” are missing the irony. It sounds to me like a quip, not to be taken at face value but perhaps appreciated for its condescending-yet-naive quality (i.e., she only knows intelligent people). It’s like a faux-elitist comment.

I’d heard this story many times, and heard it ascribed to several people, incuding Pauline Kael.

However, I learned later that the source of the quote was an old cartoon by Jules Feiffer, from shortly after the election of 1972. It featured two tweedy looking academic types, one of whom said essentially, “HJow could Nixon have won? I don’t know ANYONE who voted for him?”

Feiffer is no Republican, by the way, but he was smart enough and insightful enough (unlike many liberals) to recognize that his own circle of friends and acquaintances, all of whom shared his outlook on life and politics, were not NECESSARILY relfective of America as a whole.

So, it appears that Pauline Kael has been falsely accused with making a silly statement. In reality, the person who originated the quote was a liberal who was being satirical.

Good lord, what an unpleasant mental image . . .

I remember him! He did “The Phantom Tollbooth” which I enjoyed as youngster. Here’s a short bio on him.

I tried looking it up in the New Yorker’s cartoon archive, but couldn’t find it. But it also looks like they don’t have any Feiffer cartoons. Perhaps they couldn’t get rights to those?

Anyway, your explanation makes a lot more sense. It sounds much more like the punchline to a cartoon than it does something a person would actually say. Also, a more thorough Google search shows that it has also been attributed to Katherine Graham, a New York Times reporter, an Upper West Side socialite, and others, and also in reference to Reagan’s re-election rather than Nixon’s. (I even found a couple sites that claim Graham said it in '72, and Kael said the exact same thing 12 years later. As if.) In other words, all the hallmarks of an urban legend.

And the fact that it was a New Yorker cartoon would explain how it was attributed to Kael. I also think it’s interesting that, if your theory is correct, it went from being uttered by a man in a cartoon to being attributed to a female speaker. Perhaps it fits better to imagine a ditzy woman saying it?

I’ll keep sleuthing and see what I find.
Don Gato

LOL. Especially for Pauline and Richard.

From my perspective, the quip, which probably was a cartoon quote, isn’t so much about elitism, but more about the tendency of people to be insular and stay within their circles. I mean, one could conceive of the same cartoon, but with two Ku Klux Klanners talking and saying, “I don’t know how Kennedy won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” xo C.

I have the Complete New Yorker Cartoons book, which includes all the cartoons on CD. A search for Feiffer returns nothing at all for him for any year near 1972. In fact, he was only in The New Yorker a handful of times total.

It still could be one of his cartoons, but a Google search doesn’t bring up anything with that quote and his name.

A good theory, but there appears to be nothing to support it.

You know, it occurred to me that Feiffer cartoons tend to be multi-panel affairs, and thus it would be unlikely that he would have drawn something like this. Can you search on your CD for any cartoons referencing Nixon?

Don Gato

Pfeiffer sounds plausible – but the particular cartoon would be more apt to have appeared in The Village Voice, his usual venue. Why the certainty that it was in The New Yorker?

I have heard this same quote applied anonomously to a New Yorker who voted for Eugene Debs, so it may date back further than you think.

How about Pauline Kael on Jean Renoir when he was in his sixties? She said it happened!

Nothing remotely close for the years 1968, 1969, 1972, 1973, or 1974.

I won’t claim for a fact that Feiffer never wrote for the New Yorker, but he did write for the *Village Voice * for years. I would not be surprised if that is where the quote appeared.

The point that almost all his cartoons were multi-panel story telling strips, not one shot “New Yorker” style observational quips, is a good one against it being a Feiffer cartoon.

Why don’t we throw this to Cecil and see how good his phrase detective Kung Fu is?

I doubt it was Pauline Kael for two reasons. First, she was much too sharp to be that clueless; she would be the one making fun of something who was so insular.

Second, Pauline Kael was born, raised, and educated in California, Nixon’s home state, which Nixon carried in 1968 and 1972.

I have always heard the quote associated with an unnamed New York upper-class liberal type wondering about Reagan’s 1984 landslide over Mondale. It seemed like no one would admit to voting for Reagan before the election and then he took everything except Minnesota and D.C.

The Republicans had no business crowing about it, since 24 years earlier they were shocked, shocked! when their man Dewey lost to Truman.

I recall an old teacher of mine commenting, after Nixon’s funeral, that she didn’t know anyone who voted for him either. Meaning that nobody would admit to voting for him and some of them were lying. Perhaps this quip could also work in that sense.