Yes, they’re both profane and irreverent and smart and funny. But in addition to those things, they were both drawn to Barack Obama:
George Carlin, in March:
Yeah, underneath it all I’m a disappointed idealist. Yes, I think the Obama story is an inspirational story, it’s a wonderfully unique American story and it’s exciting and fun to watch but even if he’s elected and makes a lot of changes I still retain the right not to belong. I just like it out here.
And I understand that the flame of the idealist flickers underneath, and that’s fine — I can’t deny that — but I kind of like it the other way because it kind of gives me the freedom to point at everything.
Wow. Okay, so let me ask you this: You brought up the Obama thing, and you seemed to have done so sincerely and not with irony or being jaded. How do you view that as a phenomenon, even as one you don’t want to belong to?
Well, it’s an exciting story to watch. What’s exciting is that it doesn’t happen in this country very often. There were moments in the history of the American people — and by the way, one of the reasons I got off the train of the American experience is I think — I’ll get back to Obama in a minute — I think that human beings were given great gifts and had great potential and they squandered it all on goods, possession, power, territory and on a superstitious God that watches everything and controls. These things, I think, crippled the human animal to the extend that we never lived up to their potential. The same thing happened in this country. We were given great potential. We were given this great system of self-government, the best one that had been devised so far. And we’ve given it all up for gizmos, and goods, and toys and possessions, and — in this country — God, overlooking everything and spoiling everything.
So… there have been moments in this country when people have, leaders have emerged who were inspirational, and who could carry the people with them because — in order to effect change in their lives and experience as a group, they need to be led, and they need to believe in something and they need to believe in themselves, and they need to believe that they can change things. And they way that happens is through an inspirational leader. FDR was that, Franklin Roosevelt — he gave people something to believe in, and mainly it was themselves, that they could weather the storm, and he got them through the Depression and a fuckin’ World War. So, these things happen and they’re interesting to notice — I don’t know how much overall meaning it has, I do respect what’s going on as a true American phenomenon, this rising up of someone who — maybe, I don’t know — has the quality to inspire people.
Philip Roth, in February:
SPIEGEL: Do you still care about politics? Are you following the 2008 election?
Roth: Unfortunately, yeah. I didn’t, until about two weeks ago — until then it wasn’t real. Then I watched the New Hampshire primary debates, and the Republicans are so unbelievably impossible. I watched the Democratic ones and became interested in Obama. I think I’ll vote for him.
SPIEGEL: What made you interested in Obama?
Roth: I’m interested in the fact that he’s black. I feel the race issue in this country is more important than the feminist issue. I think that the importance to blacks would be tremendous. He’s an attractive man, he’s smart, he happens to be tremendously articulate. His position in the Democratic Party is more or less okay with me. And I think it would be important to American blacks if he became president.
SPIEGEL: It could change society, couldn’t it?
Roth: Yes, it could. It would say something about this country, and it would be a marvelous thing. I don’t know whether it’s going to happen. I rarely vote for anybody who wins. It’s going to be the kiss of death if you write in your magazine that I’m going to vote for Barack Obama. Then he’s finished!