The new, Mary Eberstadt edited anthology, Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys is now officially out. I’m a contributor, and as far as my own piece goes, I plan to leave it at that. I think the essay speaks for itself, and people can make of it what they will.
When it comes to the other contributors, however, I respond as a rabid fan. They are: Peter Berkowitz, Joseph Bottum, Dinesh D’Souza, David Brooks, Danielle Crittenden, Tod Lindberg, Rich Lowry, Heather MacDonald, P.J. O’Rourke, Sally Satel, and Richard Starr. At least for me, the curiosity factor here is huge. It’s tough to put the book down because of that–and because (as noted in “Good is Bad”) this volume has been viciously criticized by the left for…good writing! Every time I dip into these essays, I see something different. Now that I’m moving through the book carefully, I’ll provide a brief preview of each essay. Let me begin with the first three essays, and take up the rest in the coming days.
P.J. O’Rourke must be Mark Steyn’s funny uncle. It’d be a sin (not to mention impossible) to summarize O’Rourke’s conversion narrative. I literally laughed out loud on every page. But as with Steyn, there’s serious intellectual punch in every punch line. O’Rourke is America’s smartest anti-intellectual, and part of what he’s up to is driving home the dangers of thinking too much. Along with laughs, this piece has got the sex. Nuff said. And watch out for the “layering” of O’Rourke’s conservative conversion. After the leftist prelude came the libertarian O’Rourke. The “social” stuff took longer. You’ll see why.
“Jimmy Carter made me the conservative I am today….” That’s how Weekly Standard managing editor, Richard Starr’s piece begins. Among friends of mine who’ve read the book, Starr’s piece has already become a kind of touchstone. Our chief consolation at the thought of a Democratic victory in ‘08 is that, in the current world environment, the result will likely be “more Richard Starr’s.” Starr’s piece also gives a fascinating glimpse of life at R. Emmett Tyrrell’s American Spectator, as the brash new world of conservative journalism began to expand beyond NR.
Where exactly is David Brooks coming from? Brooks is famously hard to peg (“the kind of conservative some New York Times readers can stand,” he calls himself). But after reading this story, you will understand very clearly the moral-intellectual tensions Brooks is perpetually balancing. Brooks also uses this occasion to reflect on how our troubles in Iraq have shifted the balance of his thinking. But what I like most about this piece are the explanations that aren’t offered in so many words. If you want to understand why Brooks came up with his “bobo” idea, or why he writes in defense of America’s suburbs, just read the story of his childhood. It’s all there–of course, written in Brooks’s trademark fun and funny style.
So that’s a quick take on the opening essays of Why I Turned Right. More in a couple of days.