The Cat in the Hat for President

A POLITICAL FABLE


ROBERT COOVER

With a new introduction by the author

“As his dazzling career continues to demonstrate, Mr. Coover is a one-man Big Bang of exploding creative force.” —Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review

“Robert Coover remains our foremost verbal wizard, our laughter in the dark.” —T.C. Boyle

“Robert Coover is one of our masters now. The tumultuous, Babylonian exuberance of his mind is fueled and directed by his equally passionate craftsmanship. He seems to be able to do anything.”
—Robert Kelly, The New York Times Book Review


“Robert Coover's work is sharp, sly, and shockingly funny.” —Lydia Davis

“A brilliant mythmaker, a potty-mouthed Svengali, and an evil technician of metaphors. He is among our language’s most important inventors.” —Ben Marcus

Published by Foxrock Books in collaboration with OR Books

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About the Book

As Robert Coover read Dr. Seuss to his children in 1968, he noticed “the little Cat in the Hat symbol on the front cover: ‘I CAN READ IT ALL BY MYSELF.’ It looked remarkably like a campaign button, and, by changing one letter, it was one.” Sensing a strange affinity between the anarchic Seussian world and the riots, assassinations, warfare and social upheaval that forever marked 1968 as a year of turmoil, Coover began to write. With the slogan “I CAN LEAD IT ALL BY MYSELF,” he imagines a hedonistic, novelty-crazed public and their shameless, nonsense-spewing, hat-wearing demagogue: the Cat in the Hat.

While this mindbending classic vividly evokes the late 1960s—with psychedelic flights of fancy and tropes of the sexual revolution, civil rights, and Vietnam all heaving out of its pages—it also feels chillingly prescient a half century later. Its hilarity shot through with anger and fear, The Cat in the Hat for President anticipates and diagnoses the unheard-of spectacle of the current political circus, and, well, a cat in a (MAGA) hat.

80 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-682191-30-9 • E-book 978-1-682191-31-6

About the Author

robert coover author photo

One of the most revered contemporary American authors, Robert Coover’s most recent books are Noir, The Brunist Day of Wrath, and Huck Out West. A book of selected short fictions, Going for a Beer, will be published in winter 2018 by W.W. Norton. He is the recipient of the William Faulkner, Brandeis University, American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Endowment of the Arts, Rea Lifetime Short Story, Rhode Island Governor’s Arts, Pell, and Clifton Fadiman Awards; as well as Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Lannan Foundation, and DAAD fellowships.

Read an Excerpt

From The Cat in the Hat for President:

“Why do you sit there like that?” asked the Cat in the Hat.

We stared back at him. The sonuvabitch was unconscious.

“Lift your chin

Out of your shoes!

We will win

And they will lose!”

Ned held the phone receiver like a club, glared at the Cat, his temples throbbing. What in August and September had looked like the political upset of the century, had by mid-October become a total disaster, not only for our party, but for the nation as well.

“Some news is glad,

Some news is sad,

I do not think—”

“Shove it,” snapped Joe. Ned dropped the phone receiver to its cradle with a bang. Our party’s moderates and liberals, so-called, my men Riley and Boone among them, had just pulled out, leaving us stranded, to form a rump group in support of the Opponent. It was a move almost unprecedented in the history of American politics. So was the more serious threat that lay behind it.

Sam, pacing, paused to clap one hand to the Cat’s shoulder and suggest quietly that he go for a walk or take a nap or something. But the Cat remained, grinning foolishly. Sam shrugged, resumed his pacing.

I watched Clark. Clark watched us. Benignly, hugely, over thin hands folded just under his eyes. He more than anyone had brought us to this strange crisis. Yet he betrayed no surprise, no solutions, no remorse.

Joe took a hard drag on his cigarette, ground it out savagely in an ashtray. “Well, we’ve gotta think of something and damn quick,” he snapped.

The Cat doffed his Hat and out popped a Something that commenced to dash preposterously around the room. Infuriated, Ned leaped up and stomped on it. “Get your silly ass outa here!” he screamed at the Cat, and kicked him out the door. Ned was an affable guy, circumspect and deferential. His reckless boot in the butt of our party’s nominee for the next President of the United States of America only showed how bad things really were.

I could have said, I told you so, but it was no time for that either. Nor for that matter was it necessary. It was clear they all remembered my early opposition—an opposition that had nearly cost me my job—remembered it and now counted it wisdom, for much of the decision-making was falling on my shoulders again. “Your ball, Sooth,” Joe said. Given the nature of the decisions that lay ahead, I can’t say I was all that happy about it.

In truth, my original objections to the Cat in the Hat had been of a merely practical sort. I’d been convinced from the outset of the impossibility of unseating the incumbent party this year: a war was on and the nation was prosperous. As I saw it, our job was to build for the elections four years hence, and I accepted the National Chairmanship of the party in that spirit. I was convinced we had to strengthen and enlarge the center to win, and therefore sought the nomination of a solid middle-of-the-roader with an uncontroversial record, a man whose carefully controlled candidacy this year would lay the groundwork for his election four years later.

Moreover, even had we, not they, been the party in power, the Opponent would have been a tough man to beat. Born in a small Midwestern town of middleclass parents, reared and educated in the Southwest, known to have considerable holdings and influence in the Eastern Establishment, a poker buddy of several Southern Senators, progressive and city-oriented yet bluntly individualistic and rural in manner, rugged, shrewd, folksy, taciturn yet gregarious, a member of everything from SANE and the NAACP to the American Legion, Southern Baptists, and the National Association of Manufacturers, a chameleon personality who could project the faces of Chairman of the Board, Sheriff, Sunday Duffer, Private Eye, Young Man on the Go, Crackerbarrel Philosopher, Liontamer, Dad, Quarterback, Country Gentleman, City Lawyer, Good Sport, Field General, Swinger, and the Guy Next Door, all in one three-minute TV sequence, the Opponent was, in short, a natural. Of course, as Clark was to point out and the Cat to demonstrate, he was not without serious failings, what man is? But when I took over in early spring as the minority party’s National Chairman, it was generally conceded he was a shoo-in. Later, at their Convention, a young, soft-spoken, Harvard-educated New York Congressman was chosen as his running mate. Beautiful. Christ, how I envied them!

There are risk-takers in politics, bold men who wait their chance then go for broke, latent Hotspurs suddenly gunning for immortality with the intensity and single-mindedness of an assassin or a saint. I’m proud to say I’m not one of them. My life in business and politics has been long, successful, and colorless. I have been, among other things, a state senator and treasurer, a U.S. Congressman, an undersecretary in the Department of Commerce, and Ambassador to Costa Rica, but most of my political life has been spent—in and around business—working quietly for the party. I could no longer count the number of ad hoc committees I’ve chaired, closed sessions swayed, anonymous tasks performed. Without headlines, without glory—though not without honor. It was a tribute to my effectiveness that the press, upon receiving news of my appointment, merely took it for granted. Mr. Brown Named Party Head.

Theoretically, politics is all issues: the word used to describe the conflicts arising in men’s efforts to suffer one another. But practically, of course, there are no issues in politics at all. Not even ideological species. “Liberal,” “conservative,” “left,” “right,” these are mere fictions of the press, metaphoric conventions to which politicians sooner or later and in varying ways adapt. Politics in a republic is a complex pattern of vectors, some fixed and explicable, some random, some bullish, some inchoate and permutable, some hidden and dynamic, others celebrated though flagging, usually collective, sometimes even cosmic—and a politician’s job is to know them and ride them. So instinctive has my perception of the kinetics of politics been, so accurate my forecasts of election outcomes, I have come to be known jocularly as Soothsayer Brown among my colleagues, or, more spitefully, Gypsy.