Continued from Part 1
How personal all of this is. Willie's backing of Leo, for instance, is not some mere casual, retaliatory, get-back-at-Howard swipe — nor even entirely cool-headed maneuvering for another chance at the brass ring. Oh, to be sure, there's plenty of that involved: "Leo's a dead man," Willie tells Howard, a few days after Howard's taken him to dinner to inquire about his support — a pro forma discussion, really, and he's said as much; has listed the reasons (getting even and having a shot at picking up the pieces and all that) that he's counted Willie solid for Leo; suggests they now drop the subject and just have a congenial evening — unless for some reason he's wrong. And Willie — "And he's so good at this,” says Howard, laughing helplessly — tells him that these speculations are logical, but that they don't apply: what he's really interested in is the role he might play on each side — and the role of his group, of course. Howard's already told him, virtually any role you want, but Willie then goes to meet with Leo anyway, and then, a few days later, phones Howard to report his choice. "And I ask him why?" says Howard, "and he says, “'Oh, 'cause I think I can be Speaker in December. Leo's a dead man — I'm gonna carry the corpse.'"
But there's something else fueling it, too, rawer and more intense than self-interest; an operatic quality that makes the ardent subtext underlying the most routine political imagery — wooing and courting and bedfellows and so forth — come freshly to life. If Howard's precipitating reaction has been anger and hurt at a broken contract, a kind of dissatisfied partner's reaction that eases fairly rapidly, and can give rise to a civilized divorce; and Leo's has been that of a wounded patriarch, or surprised spouse, in that odd unsortable mixture of husband and wife and son and father and brother they all are to each other, and his response turns on his challenged dignity and feeds on itself; then Willie's response is that of the spurned suitor seeking vengeance (although a suitor, as Howard points out, who never actually voiced a proposal). Willie, having accomplished the retaliation, having kept Howard from the speakership as thoroughly as Howard had kept it from him — and not yet at that point anywhere within striking distance of securing it for himself (how much of a fluke his eventual victory was remains underappreciated: Frankie Vicencia, after Leo's November losses, was actually the McCarthyites' compromise choice), so that one would think his focus would be on the sheer fact of its having been denied him — Willie is still, in the spring of 1980, awash in an extravagance of emotion, nursing grievances so bitter they seem to stem not from six years but from six months before. And it is Howard he is talking about, with scalding force, in language that is extraordinary, to say the least, obsessively returning to it again and again: "He did me in! He abandoned me! He left my home to find a new home, a place in the sun greater than that which I could offer him..."
And even factoring out, as one must, Willie's penchant for hyperbolic effects ("I don't do marriages of convenience," he intones in the midst of this, with mesmerizingly convincing disdain) and mindful of the need to keep a sense of propo...read more