The Spectator

Letters | 28 July 2012

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Divisive he stands

Sir: Finally, a western European publication questions whether Barack Obama can be re-elected (‘No he can’t’, 21 July). Before Jacob Heilbrunn’s article I have seen nothing save lame re-writings of pieces from the New York and Washington media, which is still in thrall to Obama. 

Heilbrunn’s analysis is compelling: the President’s campaign is one of divisiveness, pitting supposedly forlorn and disaffected separate constituencies against ‘capitalism’. Sadly, this has been a traditional tactic of left-wing candidates in the US for a long time (e.g., John Edwards’s ‘Two Americas’) but now it has been turned into a high form by the President’s re-election team. A candidate may honourably lose if voters judge him less than competent, but if he is mean and divisive he deserves to lose.

Leonard Toboroff

Ramatuelle, France

The last grown-up

Sir: Douglas Murray (‘Children’s hour’, 21 July) asks: ‘What public figure would dare say that they like to read Stendhal in their spare hours?’ There is such a figure, at least in the United States, but the case confirms his thesis.

During the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore responded to a request for the title of his favourite book by naming Le Rouge et Le Noir. He was portrayed as so stiff and snobbish as to be scarcely human. George W. Bush was more cautious. Though later reports, after the presidency was safely won, talked of his taste for serious works of history, he championed The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Benjamin Rockbird


Sir: I applaud Douglas Murray’s indictment of our infantilised culture. Sadly, there will be precious few 32-year-olds possessed of his maturity, intellect and erudition who will even know or care what he is talking about. Try your best, Douglas, though I fear the battle is already lost. Have you been to a funeral lately?

Richard Maund

Ormskirk, West Lancashire

Off the fence

Sir: Surely Alan Doyle of Middlesex (Letters, 21 July) — a reader of The Spectator, no less — cannot have failed to grasp the whole point of Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’. Frost places the old bromide ‘Good fences make good neighbours’ in the mouth of his dim-witted neighbour, whom he likens to an ‘old-stone savage’ who ‘moves in darkness’ and is incapable of questioning the meaning of those hackneyed words he learned from his father. Matthew Parris had it right.

Michael Barton West

Melbourne, Australia

Coward at the bullfight

Sir: Just after reading Aart van Kruiselbergen’s excellent letter (21 July) about the horrors of bullfighting, purely by chance I came across the following entry in The Letters of Noël Coward for 16 June 1925: ‘In Barcelona on Sunday I went to my first and last bull fight. I was fortunate enough to secure a seat in the front row — and it was all too lovely. I saw fine horses gored to death and three bulls baited and finally murdered all in the course of a half an hour, after which I left charmed and awed by the sportsmanship and refinement of the Spanish Nation.’ It seems that in the 87 years since this was written Spain sadly hasn’t made much progress in its treatment of animals.

Beatrice Pepper

By email

A touch of class

Sir: Paul Goodson (Letters, 21 July) challenges, in my view correctly, Rod Liddle’s credentials as a leftie. Having just read his piece on the alleged middle-class takeover of the football terraces, I now challenge his implied claim of being an ordinary working-class supporter. Indeed, anybody who makes casual reference to Derrida in pressing such a point has surely to be among the biggest con artists since, er, Derrida. 

Mike Waller


Crying foul

Sir: Presumably Charles Moore’s assertion (Notes, 14 July) that Switzerland has a ‘better’ culture than ours was meant to sound a bit silly and petulant. However, he has a short memory if he thinks Roger Federer would never cry, as Andy Murray did after losing Wimbledon this year. Federer cried at Wimbledon in 2008 and has shed tears on various occasions since then. In both cases the problem is perhaps not so much a lack of manliness (Toby Young also chastises Murray for this) but the pressure of having to give a live interview only minutes after a gruelling physical ordeal. It would be kinder to let everyone compose themselves before being interviewed, but I suspect the BBC prefers the drama of men breaking down live on TV.

Miranda France

London SW11

Wrong spirit

Sir: Well done, Bruce Anderson, for the jokey reference to the Rape of Nanking (Drink, 21 July). I hope we can look forward to more war-crime gags. How about: nice Riesling — apologies for Auschwitz. That would be a real rib-tickler.

Denis Tracey


Tall story

Sir: How tall is Andrew Lambirth (Arts, 21 July)? Standing 5ft in heels, I was quite unable to reach Mark Wallinger’s peephole in the Titian exhibition. I had no particular desire to see Diana bathing, but in the interests of art I asked for a stool. No stool, I was told, because of health and safety. As the exhibition is free, I wonder if I have grounds for complaint?

Isabel Raphael

London NW1