Politics & Policy

My Readers Write

"When will you get sacked?" and other FAQs.

The exciting news is that after months of toil and a barely acceptable loss of human life, the NRO masthead is finally up. Isn’t it amazing how some things seem like they’ll be so easy but turn out to be really hard and some things that seem like they’ll be really hard turn out to be snap? For example, I always think bathing should take no effort at all. And yet, almost everyday the fair Jessica comes home around 6 or so and when she gets within oh, five feet of me, points to the shower and says, “Go.”

Anyway, the point of the masthead is to let you people know more about us — our hopes and our dreams, our fears and our shoe sizes. Unfortunately, nobody at NRHQ agrees with me, so pretty much everyone just submitted a short bio instead. But I want to keep that spirit alive and at the same time avoid writing a turgid column about the new education “reform” bill, so I figured I would update my FAQ sheet. So without further ado…

1. Didn’t you already write a FAQ sheet?

Well, yes I did. The year was 1999. Our president had narrowly escaped conviction in his impeachment trial (in part because Sen. Arlen Specter had bravely voted “Haggis” at the moment of truth). A movie called Star Wars: The Phantom Menace had disappointed fans around the world while making millions, and the author of a column called “The Goldberg File” didn’t need to uncoil a wire hanger just to scratch two thirds of his body mass….

More to the point, I wasn’t engaged. National Review Online was a humble operation held together by spit and band-aids. I wasn’t paid a living wage. I didn’t have a dog. The webmaster was a great guy, but I liked telling the world that he had a problem with Mr. Brownstone. In other words, the times have changed.

2. Where can I find that FAQ sheet?

Well, you can click here. Take note of the old-world craftsmanship and funnier writing. Also, it will answer many questions not addressed here.

3. What is it like to work at National Review?

Well, “at” is a preposition denoting physical proximity to National Review. I really don’t work there. While I live in Washington, I’ve been to the Washington office of National Review only a half-dozen times over the last three years. I’ve been to the New York office maybe 15 times.

4. So, how do you get things done?

Well, I am in constant contact with the NYC crew mostly through Instant Messenger, and primarily with Kathryn Lopez, the hardest-working woman in rock and roll, if by “rock and roll” you mean conservative magazines.

More to the point, NRO has the most impressive staff imaginable (for what we pay). Chris McEvoy — a.k.a. the Irish Mussolini — makes all of the trains run on time as the Managing Editor of NRO and makes me look very good in the process. Thanks to him, it’s much, much, much more of a professional operation than it was in the early days when we used a Ms. Pac-Man machine as our server. Our recently imported Canuck, Neil Seeman, actually enjoys editing the thousands of manuscripts that come in. Jessica Haggard and Aaron Bailey (a Hillsdale man!) are our dueling webmasters, though we are losing Jessica because, in part, she’s gaining a mouth to feed. Her husband got some phat job in California. So between new home, new job for the hubby, and a new baby, we decided it was only fair to unchain her from her desk. She will be sorely missed and you should tell her so at jkelsey@nationalreview.com.

Anyway, we also have a content meeting in Rich Lowry’s office pretty much everyday and I participate via speakerphone. They have no idea how naked I usually am.

5. So you don’t get to hang out with the NR people?

Not really, though I see quite a few of the gang at various social and professional functions that require me to wear pants.

6. Don’t you think you should start actually answering some frequently asked questions?

Yeah, I guess so. FAQ me baby!

7. How come you’re conservative but you grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan?

Now, that’s what I call a frequently asked question!

As Irving Kristol and others have pointed out, most people get their politics from their parents. I am no exception. When I say this, most people think I’m referring to my Mom — of Lucianne.com fame — but the truth is I got most of my political education from my Dad (my Mom taught me what to do with that education). Indeed, as this Sunday is Father’s Day, I feel especially compelled to say that my Dad remains one of the smartest, funniest, and most curious thinkers I’ve ever met. For most of his career he was an editor charged with assigning stories for a news syndicate that fed thousands of newspapers. It was a perfect match. Throughout my childhood he would always start conversations, “You know what would make a good article?”

If you think the New York Times makes you angry, you should peruse his mental files. He’s still complaining that they always referred to Castro as “Doctor.”

To look at him, you’d think he’s a dignified, brainy guy — and he is. But he’s also a bit of an oddball. The very first lesson I can recall him giving me, other than, “Don’t put paint chips in your mouth,” was, “If you ever get pulled over by a policeman in South America, make sure to say you’re sorry and ask him if you can pay the fine right then and there. You don’t want to go down to the station house under any circumstances.”

I was five years old.

8. Did you write that because you forgot to send him a Father’s Day card?


9. What’s it like to be the son of Lucianne Goldberg?

I get this a lot, as there are cults of Lucy-haters and Lucy-lovers out there, so the tone of the questions varies widely. The short answer is: It’s really cool.

10. What is a “flying monkey”?

Unfortunately, not everyone reads my column everyday, so a lot of people have missed the explanation. A Flying Monkey is what we call the hyper-educated, culturally fluent, nicely conservative folks who hang around NRO. I admit, a marketing pro would not have come up with such a term for our most loyal readers, but it stuck. I’m sorry. You can even buy a Flying Monkey T-shirt in the NRO store.

11. Do people ever ask you, “Why are Jews so liberal?”

I’m glad you asked that. Yes, yes they do. In fact I would say it is the most common substantive question I get. I think people ask me because I’m approachable, Jewish, and conservative. I think people want to know the answer because most folks respect Jews for all sorts of reasons but are dismayed by the fact that — as the saying goes — Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.

12. So, why are Jews so liberal?

That’s a tougher question. I think there are a lot of reasons, many of which may apply to some people but not to others. One explanation is that Jewish ethics are mostly concerned with this life and not the afterlife. This translates into a misdirected attempt to use government to make the world a better place. Another explanation is that Jews consider themselves a real-life American-style minority with all of the silliness that identity politics entails. Another explanation focuses on the fact that minorities tend to look to the federal government (or the Czar) as the protector of their liberties. Another explanation is that Jews are hyper-educated, prosperous, and, alas, wealthy intellectualism in America is increasingly susceptible to the liberal impulse to “fix” the world. Then there’s the Holocaust, which scholars such as Harvard’s Ruth Wisse believe is replacing the Torah as the touchstone of Jewish religious consciousness. Unfortunately, this carries all sorts of psychological victim-guilt baggage. And lastly, most people inherit the politics of their parents. Go with whichever answer works for you.

13. Do you have any advice for aspiring columnists?

Less than you might think. I really fell backwards into this gig and I don’t think the way I did it is replicable. My best advice is to read and write as much as you can. But as a matter of tactics, try to avoid being a general pundit on the big news stories of the day. It may be unfair, but if an editor hasn’t heard of you and you don’t have a special expertise, he simply won’t care what you have to say on the biggest story of the day or the week. Besides, you will be competing with Big Name (and Big Headed) people and the news hole will close on your fingers.

Instead, my advice is to pick obscure, quirky, and interesting topics that have a very long shelf life and that nobody else is writing about. This way, editors are more likely to put you in the hold pile rather than the reject heap. Another good idea is to ask if you can write book reviews. That will give you more time to polish your work and your competition will be vastly smaller. And, of course all the normal clichés happen to be true. Seize opportunities when you find them. Write what you know. Don’t run with scissors, etc. Send online editors very large sums of cash and beef jerky.

14. If I want to write for NRO what should I do?

Didn’t you hear what I said? Okay, well, first of all you should really try to report something. And you should write it in less than 900 words. And you should avoid writing in the first person — as editor I’ve used up all the extra personal pronouns. Anyway, send unsolicited pieces to unsolicited@nationalreview.com.

15. How many e-mails do you receive in a given day?

It depends. Sometimes I can get 200 or more in a day, if my column was particularly good or particularly bad. Last month when I made some Asian jokes, I received about six or seven hundred e-mails in about 24 hours. On a slow day, I probably get as few as a couple dozen e-mails.

16. Do you read them all?

I try. I certainly open them all. The longer the e-mail goes on, the less likely I will be to finish it, because my lips get very tired.

17. What kind of e-mail do you ignore?

Almost all press releases. I just don’t bother. If I read every press release people sent me, I wouldn’t get anything done. And I think 99.99% of press releases are badly written, unbelievable, and content-free.

18. What kind of e-mail do you read?

Well, I certainly read all of the short compliments. Also, if it says it’s a correction I will always start reading it. If I then see that the person said, “Hah! I was just doing that to get your attention,” I will probably stop reading.

19. What are your favorite kinds of e-mails?

Hard to say … I guess my favorites are the ones that tell me something I didn’t know, especially stuff from people with personal or professional expertise. But sometimes I get real gems, like the one I got yesterday.

20. What was that?

Oh, some guy named Jason M. O’Connell rewrote the words to Guns and Roses’s song, “Welcome to the Jungle”:

Welcome to the G-file,

he calls people names,

he’s got opinions on everything,

his couch yells out the names,

He is the person who can find,

humor in the GOP,

and if you’ve got no money honey,

neither does he,

In the G-file, welcome to the G-file,

his dog had an operation on his na-na-na-na-na-na-na knee, knee

I want to see Jake Tapper Scream!!!

Welcome to the G-file, he writes it every other weekday,

learned to live like an animal until he got engaged,

and she’s a very sexy girl, very hard to please,

The fair Jessica is her name and he won the lottery,

In the G-file, welcome to the G-file,

Some really pissed Asians wanted to break his na-na-na-na-na-na-na knees, knees.

Sharpton sees the empty buffet and screams!

21. Ohhhhhhkay. Moving on, what kind of dog is Cosmo?

A good one.

22. No, I mean what breed?

He’s a mixed-breed, most likely half-Australian Cattle Dog and half Yellow Lab.

23. What are his politics?

See his bio.

24. Okay, what are your politics?

Well, I’m a conservative. While I have great sympathy for libertarian arguments, I think libertarians themselves often go too far. But let’s not get started on all of that. I was more of a neoconservative back in the day, but I’m less of one now because I’m not sure what neoconservative means anymore. But I would like to let the tinfoil-headed conspiracy theorists, racists, anti-Semites, and general loony birds who write me every now and then know that neocons are not a well-organized socialist conspiracy. You’d know this if you learned to close the microwave door before you turned it on.

Anyway, I guess if you wanted to characterize my approach it’s this: I love elitism but I despise the current elite. But the real tension in my thinking is over the question of ideology. Conservatism was originally a philosophy opposed to ideology and I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind and yet I also find ideology very useful. It’s a big hassle.

25. Well, if that’s the case…

Look, go read “Conservative Zoology 101,” the “Bluto-Burke Connection Revealed,” and “Libertarians Under My Skin” and get back to me.

26. When will William F. Buckley Jr. fire you?

You know it’s funny, but at least a couple times a week someone tells me they know, predict, suspect, hear, or hope that Mr. Buckley will can me. And sure, WFB has the power to do that, but it’s unlikely that he would do it himself. That decision is more likely to come from Rich Lowry or Ed Capano, NR’s publisher.

27. Okay, when will they fire you?

You would think any day now. But the fact is that for some reason they like keeping me around. I thought for sure I’d get a warning when I referred to Ed Capano’s office as the nutcracker suite, but I didn’t even hear a peep.

Maybe I will now.