There are times when writers come to a crossroads. There are also times when a writer comes to a cliché he swore he’d never use. So far this paragraph is two for two.
Such a crossroads might be the first time you realized you couldn’t eat any more buffalo wings without feeling ashamed of yourself. Another might be the epiphany that after you’ve seen Roadhouse 20 or 30 times, you don’t have to watch it just because it’s on.
Fortunately, I have not come to any of these particular crossroads. But I have come to a crossroads of my own, which I will explain once I figure out what the rest of this column is about.
People often ask me, “Sir, could you please eat off of your own plate?” But that’s not important right now.
They also ask me to do some very strange things. For example, just this week one regular reader who designs swimming pools asked me if I could help him get pictures of famous pundits’ and politicians’ swimming pools. That’s right. You see, he has a “famous pools” section of his website. The thinking here is that since I’m a pundit and, say, Tony Snow is a pundit too, I could give Tony a call and ask him for a picture of his swimming pool. And you know, I guess I could do that since I do know Tony and he is a really good guy. So I guess that’s not a good example. (But I say this with absolute seriousness: If you do need a recommendation for a pool designer, Randy Patterson is the only one I know. Send him all of your famous pool pics).
Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that a lot of people assume my life is very different from the reality. While yes, I could call Tony and ask him for a picture of his swimming pool, it’s just not the kind of thing I normally do.
Even my hate-mailers, or perhaps especially my hate-mailers, seem to think I sit around eating freshly clubbed seal in oak-lined boardrooms with Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife.
I cannot tell you how many Very Angry People e-mail me to complain about me and my “friends.” “You and Trent Lott and all of your fascist drinking buddies are destroying this country!” reads an incandescently typical missive. Another: “Why don’t you explain to Dick Cheney that he didn’t win the election…!” (They all end with an exclamation point, which shows they really mean it).
Often, when my column is linked to some liberal website, or if my syndicated column appears in a newspaper for the first time, people will write me, taking for granted that not only will their exclamation points persuade me of how wrong I am (“You are stupid and ugly!”), but also that I will also do whatever they say (“You should eat a dead pigeon!”). But almost always, it’s a given that I am writing what I write because I hang out with crypto-fascist meat eaters, or because I am trying to get attention, or because I was or wasn’t breast-fed, or whatever.
To be honest, I’m usually flattered by the suggestion that I’m acting on orders from the Right Wing Conspiracy; I’m still fairly new to the pundit game and I think it’s nifty when people assume that I sit around the Stonecutters’ lodge with Birch Barlow, Dick Cheney, and the Egg Industry mascot, singing:
“…Who holds back the electric car
Who makes Steven Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do!”
(If you Simpsons-illiterate folk have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, click here.)
Of course, it’s not just my readers. I think this is actually just a glimpse into a critical lack of imagination on the part of many Americans. For example, last week I appeared on CNN’s Talk Back Live to discuss Al Sharpton’s [snort, chortle] bid for the presidency. I pointed out the completely uncontroversial fact that Al Sharpton could never, ever, ever, ever win the presidency of the United States, especially since he’s the closest thing we have to a black David Duke.
The guy I was on with — other than Sharpton himself — quickly declared that “white America is very upset, and reporters like him” — referring to me — “they are very upset about the fact that a black man is running.” He went on to call me a “racist,” and there was lots of screaming, etc., which makes the transcript not that useful. But it was interesting to me that the guy immediately assumed I was writing for both “white America” and the Republican party, as if they were both synonymous and as if I were their paid spokesman. It takes a sad mixture of paranoia, stupidity, and cynicism to immediately believe that racism and conspiratorial collusion are the most obvious explanations for any of those things with which you disagree.
Anyway, the point is that a lot of people seem to think that I write what I write for personal motives; that I have an agenda to which I am unwilling to admit. Now, like all journalists, my attention can be bought by free shrimp and an open bar, but that doesn’t mean I will write what you want me to write. I am nobody’s mouthpiece — except for my dog Cosmo’s, because he can’t speak for himself (or possibly because he’s a Straussian and finds it useful for me to popularize virtue for the little people).
I’ve been thinking about all of this for a couple reasons. First, after I wrote all of that stuff about Jim Jeffords and John McCain last week, a lot of people in cyberspace and elsewhere accused me of always arguing the Republican position.
Well, this is as good a time as any to explain something. I am not particularly proud to be a Republican. Indeed, if you asked me, I would be more likely to say I vote Republican or I tend to root for the Republicans. I do this because I am a conservative and, like it or not, the Republican party is the party for conservatives. I know this statement bothers the six guys with a mimeograph machine over at the Howard Phillips office, but so be it. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of being a Republican (or a Democrat). But it just ain’t my bag. Organized political enthusiasm — while necessary and noble — tends to annoy me when applied to large numbers of people, in much the same way I would rather stop an industrial fan with my tongue than ride a bus with the gang from Up With People.
Alas, the distinction between “Republican” and “conservative” is lost on a lot of people, including many Republicans — especially the ones who wrote me during the primaries about my liberal, unpatriotic treachery when I endorsed John McCain but now tell me I’m such a great Republican because I’m critical of the guy. The truth is, I’m the same conservative, but John McCain’s not the same Republican. But that’s a topic for another day.
The second reason I’ve been thinking about this is that I have a conflict of interest — hence the whole point of this column. (If it would help for me to say, READ THIS PARAGRAPH FIRST — sort of like the “First, cut the blue wire” scene from M*A*S*H — I would. But, I think it’s too late).
As many of you know, I’m engaged to a woman I regularly refer to as “Hey-sugar-could-you-get-me-another-beer-while-you’re-up?” No wait, that’s not right. In print, I regularly refer to her as “the fair Jessica.” Indeed, some people just call her TFJ now. I have been smitten with her and therefore wooing her since well before this column began (which explains why I’ve never abused my role as columnist by shamelessly asking for dates from my readers).
Alas, I was hoping to really cut loose in this space once we got married and then I wouldn’t have to worry about scaring her away. But there’s a problem. She’s got a job. Jessica was recently hired as “Chief Speech Writer and Senior Policy Advisor” to John Ashcroft. Obviously, Cosmo and I are very proud, though more than a little mopey that she’s not around as much (though this does afford me the opportunity to charge around the house wearing my spaghetti-strainer codpiece with my trusty Viking sidekick, Cosmo the White).
Fortunately, I’ve always written nice things about Mr. Ashcroft, so no one can accuse me of sucking up just because he’s the Missuss’ boss. But it does make things a little awkward, since I don’t want her to get canned for something I do — at least not until I can pay off the honeymoon. And I don’t want to all of a sudden write things that don’t sound like me.
So, I just want to be clear: The opinions expressed in this column are mine and mine alone (Cosmo just winked at me), and, in the months to come, if you happen to see a picture of John Ashcroft’s swimming pool on the web, it didn’t get there because of me.
1. For those of you who like to have the world handed to you in tidy little packages, I have news! Get over it, life doesn’t work that way. But for those of you who like to know what’s going on in the world in a tidy little package, checkout our expanded Nota Bene feature on the home page every morning.
2. Remember the conservative-libertarian feud which occupied too much space here not too long ago? I said that libertarians should get over the fact that they are operationally part of the Right and a bunch of libertoids smashed their plastic tricorders in a rage. Well, on June 20th, Michael Lynch of Reason magazine and myself will be discussing, debating, whatever, the question for the America’s Future Foundation in Washington DC. If you’re interested, contact Jerry Brito or the AFF website or anybody else but me, because I told you everything I know.
3. For all of you really cool people who’ve been asking me what I thought about the series finale of Star Trek Voyager you can find out this weekend on NRO Weekend.