52 Movies?
52 Movies: Week 1 - The Great Escape

From an Old Letter

I mentioned here a few months ago the unexpected death of an old friend. In the process of clearing out his apartment, a member of his family came across half a dozen or so letters I had written to him in the 1980s. A couple of things in this one from June 1987 struck me.

Karen and I had our tenth anniversary in May. It's pretty hard for me to believe that so much time has passed. The time since I went to work at Intergraph (over six years) especially has flown, there being fewer major transitions to mark the time. This, I suppose, is the way one goes to sleep and wakes up at retirement.

Now I'm retiring, and the fortieth anniversary is eighteen months away. I haven't been asleep, but as people always say, the time, when viewed from this end, seems remarkably short--at some moments. At others it seems an age

Along similar lines of thought--I'm amazed that it's already presidential election time again. Looks like a pretty grim array of candidates. I suppose the Democrats will nominate another bozo and I'll end up voting Republican, but it won't be with much enthusiasm. I find myself, after a six or eight-year flirtation with the conservative movement, feeling more and more estranged from it. Too many of the main players--at least as I perceive them through the lens of the conservative press--don't seem to me to be conservative where it counts. It remains true that the traditionalist conservative camp remains the major bastion of sanity on the current intellectual scene, but the "God bless our standard of living / And let's keep it that way" crowd seems to predominate....

With a couple of slight modifications I could have written that yesterday. My relationship to conservatism has been troubled from the beginning. 

I'm having trouble placing that quotation. It's a popular song...Paul Simon, maybe?...yes


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The 'main players' that year were George Bush the Elder (a man with certain virtues and talents, but an opportunist for whom issues were fungible); Robert Dole (a man with certain virtues and talents, but a Capitol Hill apparatchick first, last, and always); and Pat Robertson (a man with certain virtues and talents, but odd and erratic). Of the also rans, the ones with executive experience included Donald Rumsfeld, Alexander Haig, and Pierre duPont. I doubt Rumsfeld and Haig have ever taken much of an interest in social and cultural questions. As for Gov. duPont, he was a patrician ideological temporizer who was playing Jack Kemp (or really did think that on reflection Kemp had been right all along). Mr. Kemp was running. He might have been more inclined toward a traditionalist viewpoint on some questions, but most of his shtick was a great deal of babble about 'growth' and 'opportunity'. Mr. Kemp learned that year that Republican voters are motivated by different things than CPAC attendees or the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and that 8 or 9 pro forma campaigns for a safe seat in the Buffalo exurbs wasn't the best preparation for a competitive presidential campaign. So, slim pickings for social conservatives, unless charismatic / pentacostal screwballs do not disconcert you.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that of the five traditionalist candidates who have run and been competitive, two were opinion journalists with very limited time in line administration (that would be Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes); one had some background in institution building, but all kinds of questions about character and, er, psychological normality (Pat R); one had no background in public administration or business (R. Santorum) and really no abiding constituency in the Republican Party; and one is absolutely despised by wide swaths of people who cannot give you a minimally cogent reason why (M. Huckabee).

Yeah, I'm sure I wasn't referring to professional politicians in that letter, but to thinkers, pundits, etc. Russell Kirk, for instance, was still around. A fairly powerless group in any case.

Heh. I had forgotten that Robertson ran that year. The phrase "narrow escape" comes to mind, but of course it was not narrow at all.

Well, the most widely circulated commentators at that point were Paul Harvey, James Jackson Kilpatrick, George Will, Wm F. Buckley, William Rusher, Robert Bartley, Smith Hempstone, Emmett Tyrell, Norman Podhoretz, and Irving Kristol. Bartley certainly fits your description; Rusher and Tyrell were political partisans. Not sure how these others fit into your complaint.

I think Kirk's oeuvre at that point consisted of short fiction. A more highbrow figure was Allan Bloom, who had certain shortcomings. Richard John Neuhaus was still employed by the Rockford Institute and more obscure than he was at a later date. Deal Hudson was on the faculty of Fordham and not writing for general audiences. Ralph McInerney would have been known for philosophy and for fiction. Austin Ruse was still in the advertising business.

I have no idea at this point who I had in mind. Probably not specific people so much as that wing in general. Kirk btw was an elder statesman at that point, known for books like The Conservative Mind more than for his fiction.

"Kirk btw was an elder statesman at that point, known for books like The Conservative Mind more than for his fiction."

By 1987 Kirk's then most recent (and ultimately final) book of fiction had been out for at least a couple years. Not sure what his nonfiction output was around then.

As I was preparing for my marriage in 1987 I didn't pay too much attention to the GOP primary. But I was still in the Assemblies of God at that time, and recall futilely trying to get my co-religionists to reconsider their knee-jerk support of Robertson and have a look at Kemp instead.

~~~It remains true that the traditionalist conservative camp remains the major bastion of sanity on the current intellectual scene, but the "God bless our standard of living / And let's keep it that way" crowd seems to predominate....~~~

I read something not too long ago by George Nash, the historian of American conservatism, in which he contrasted the conservatives who emphasize freedom with those who emphasize virtue. He of course posed this as more of a continuum than a binary, but he makes a good point. And as he says, the division goes back to the 50's.

That was (is?) the basic distinction that the "fusionism" of WFB and others attempted. The freedom party's case is looking less plausible nowadays.

and have a look at Kemp instead.

Kemp had some major shortcomings (no executive experience and an affection for fanciful macroeconomics). The three consequential Republican candidates of the last generation who've actually run something, seem more or less sane, and haven't had a history of disconcerting policy reversals are Steve Forbes, George W. Bush and Mike Huckabee. Steve Forbes big shtick was a flat tax; George W. Bush's was an unfunded appendix to Medicare and a tax cut; Huckabee's was a rather innovative tax reform. I sometimes think Republican pols can't think about anything else. My hometown is a study in stagnation and mediocrity. The retiring county executive is quite pleased with herself as would be the voters: the property tax rate hasn't changed. That the homicide rate in central Rochester is 2.5x what it might be is something about which no local pol seems to care.

IIRC, Nash's basic point is that the fusionism was sustainable because the disagreements between the two camps did not have any policy implications (except, perhaps, regarding segregation, which Kirk seemed to think had been present in the South since time immemorial when in truth my grandfather would have been of an age to witness the last bricks in the edifice being laid). As we speak, most flavors of libertarian are not your friends. Ever.

I pretty much agree about libertarians, but a question remains as to whether one can form useful alliances of the enemy-of-my-enemy sort.

The property tax situation here is similar to what you describe. Property taxes are low, sales tax is 9-10% depending on the municipality. And applies to food.

"Kemp had some major shortcomings (no executive experience and an affection for fanciful macroeconomics)."

True, but at the time he was the only GOP candidate besides Robertson that the folks in my circles would have looked at.

"Property taxes are low, sales tax is 9-10% depending on the municipality. And applies to food."

Here it's the opposite. Our sales tax is only 6 or 7%, varying by county, and it doesn't apply to either food or clothing. But our property taxes run pretty high.

That's superior, on the face of it, assuming the property taxes aren't excessively high. Sales tax, especially on food, is tougher on the poor.

Thank you for reminding me that I still have to file my VAT return.

You can correct the injury to the impecunious from property and sales taxes by adding a general per-person tax credit to your state income tax. This would require higher marginal income tax rates at the state level, so it's not happening.

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