Who knows what Bill would advise regarding our current contentions. He liked to surprise, whether by endorsing marijuana decriminalization or by opposing a blind man’s sailing expedition (“a profanation,” he insisted). Still, I’m pretty sure my old friend would say to depressed conservatives today something along the lines of what Barry Goldwater said to depressed right-wingers at the 1960 GOP Convention: Grow up, conservatives! Bill lived through and surmounted Goldwater’s 1964 debacle, the ensuing Great Society, Nixon’s presidency and resignation (at the time, hard to say which was more embarrassing), American retreat in the 1970s, the assassination attempt against Reagan, the various stains of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and other unpleasantness, not including, however, Barack’s Obama’s election in 2008. He was spared that indignity. Though bad, our predicament would not have discouraged him, nor should it discourage us. Despair is a mortal sin, he warned . . . cheerily. Twice a day we should remind ourselves, “the Soviet Union is no more.”
Lately, what I find myself missing most about him is his wit. Conservatives retain a sense of humor, which is different from wittiness, though among the House Republicans even jokes seems rare. On Fox News — and on most conservative blogs — the humor is either swallowed up in earnestness or wasted in buffoonery. Bill’s wit was tasteful, versatile, and at its best concerned with truth rather than mere pleasantness. His sallies dazzled, but didn’t have to wound. They were refined rather than ridiculous. Liberals didn’t know what had hit them. Nowadays they know.