OK, I've seen it all now: A presidential election in which the incumbent's personal attraction to, and past interpretation of, T.S. Eliot's enormously complex The Waste Land becomes a political issue for nimrodded literary critics, such as the University of Virginia's "conservative English professor" Paul Cantor:
[Obama's critiques] certainly point to a deep radicalism in his early political thinking. Much of twentieth-century literature was polarized between extreme leftwing and extreme rightwing positions, rejecting the liberal middle. It seems that the young Obama was attracted to the political extremes rather than the American mainstream middle of liberalism.
On the upside, this episode has finally given me something nice to say about Bill Kristol. He knows when he's licked:
I’m pretty impressed. [Obama] seems to have understood The Waste Land better than I did as a 22-year-old.
Don't take it so hard, Bill. The greatest literary critic since Dr. Samuel Johnson, Yale's Harold Bloom, had this to say about the poem's regular molestation by academic professionals:
The major paradigm for The Waste Land is Walt Whitman's majestic elegy, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," though most of Eliot's critics fail to see this.
As did the severely royal family, too, as related in a marvelous entry at The Library of America blog, which "retells the story of when Eliot read his poem to [King George VI's clan] during World War II. The Queen Mother later recalled the experience":
We had this rather lugubrious man in a suit, and he read a poem ... I think it was called "The Desert." And first the girls [Elizabeth and Margaret] got the giggles and then I did and then even the King.
Oh, I say, how delightfully cheeky. What what?
Which is more than I can say for America's political aristocratic class, which has none at all.