In a “London Journal” earlier this year, I said,
Never, I think, have I seen so many sports cars: Italian and German sports cars. The swankest, prettiest models. I think, “They can’t all be Russian oligarchs” — that is, they can’t all belong to Russian oligarchs. I mention this to a friend later. He smiles and says, “I’m not so sure . . .”
I see as many sports cars in Dallas as I did in London. Maybe more. A good number of them are in light colors: white, yellow, powder blue, lime. Why not? Dallas is a sunny climate. Light-colored sports cars look great in such a climate. In a gray, slushy winter, not so much.
‐I’m happy to see Reagan Street. Named for the 40th president? I doubt it, but I’m not checking . . .
‐By the way, Reagan was nominated, for the second time, in Dallas (1984).
‐Near Reagan Street is Bowser Avenue — a fine street for dogs, I would think . . .
‐Robert E. Lee Park: Hmmmm. I really don’t think of Texas as having been part of the Confederacy. I know I should. But, strangely, I don’t. I should pause to analyze why someday.
‐There are three restaurants, right in a row. All of them have excellent and appetizing names: Hypnotic Sushi; Green Papaya Vietnamese Bistro; and Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen. Guess which one papi chooses? You betcha. The salsa is outrageously good (and so are the chips). It makes me realize that I often have poor salsa.
‐I am here for an event of the National Review Institute. (In Dallas, I mean, not in Cyclone Anaya’s.) The event is a meeting of the Dallas branch of the National Review Institute’s Regional Fellows. There are about 20 fellows (all jolly good). (Gals too, I should probably specify.)
Our topic is William F. Buckley Jr. and the conservative movement. Or, more broadly, WFB and the world. I tell the fellows something about Bill: You can quote him on almost everything, saying almost anything. Now and then, he contradicted himself. He contained multitudes, blah, blah, blah. He was large. He was principled and had a consistency, that’s true. But he had evolutions as well — and moods, and impulses.
He liked to quote Whittaker Chambers: “To live is to maneuver.”
You know how people say that you can quote Scripture in support of any argument? The writings of WFB are something like that. He wrote for something like 60 years straight, without taking a breath. There is a lot in that corpus.
And I like what Rick Brookhiser says about journalism: The word “day” is in it (jour). Something to remember, both for readers and for writers.
Go down Memory Lane, quite a few years: Prior to the 1968 presidential cycle, WFB’s friend John Kenneth Galbraith, the influential socialist, was asked whom he would support in the upcoming Democratic primaries. He answered, “The leftwardmost viable candidate.” WFB was tickled by the phrase. Every so often, when asked whom he favored in a Republican primary, he would say, “The rightwardmost viable candidate.”
Sometimes he said it because he meant it. Sometimes he said it because he didn’t want to answer the question. Sometimes he said it because it was charming.
The truth is, he favored candidates, or disfavored them, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes he just liked the guy. Or disliked him. Sometimes he felt that the candidate was the right person for the moment. Famously, or infamously, he supported the leftist Allard Lowenstein for Congress — just because he thought Lowenstein belonged in the congressional menagerie. That ticked a lot of conservatives off, including our publisher, Bill Rusher.
Anyway, I now hear about “the Buckley Rule.” No one said “Buckley Rule” during Bill’s lifetime, to the best of my memory; they have said it a lot since his passing. They mean, you support the rightwardmost viable candidate in a primary.
I hesitate to speak for Bill, but I don’t think he would like the idea of a “Rule.” It was more of a guideline, a notion, a useful concept. Anyway, we would have to talk to him. (And he might well give us different answers on different days!)
Part of conservatism is freedom from ideology and dogmatism. Resistance to the straitjacket. An allergy to the party line. There is a lot of common sense in conservatism, and some artistry — a largeness. Daniel J. Mahoney once wrote a book called “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology.” In fact, Dan is the creator of the syllabus for the NRI fellows.
(By the way, most people who have to endure Communism grow quickly tired of ideology. I have never lived under Communism, but one reason I rejected the Left was its terrible orthodoxy, its crampedness of mind.)
‐The Regional Fellows here in Dallas ask me a helluva lot of questions about Buckley. I enjoy it a lot, in part because it’s like having a visit with Bill. (Memories flood in as the questions are posed.) Some of the questions are intellectual, some of the questions are political, some of the questions are literary. Some of the questions are even sensitive. And by “sensitive,” I don’t mean, “Be nice to butterflies,” I mean, “Whoa, that touches a nerve!”
‐Before the meeting, the fellows submitted bios. One began, “I grew up in Hereford, Texas, the son of a Firing Line-watching potato farmer.” (Firing Line was Bill’s long-running television show.)
Another fellow explained that he was a choir director and organist at a church. That certainly adds spice to the stew! What I mean is, such a person contributes to diversity. (I wince to write that word, considering what people have done to it.)
One participant calls himself “a fairly recent convert to conservatism,” having spent his first 40 years subscribing to Mother Jones and other such magazines. He is “still detoxing,” he says. I tell him he is marvelously prepared for life on the right. He knows what the other side will say, and why, before they say it.
Another fellow writes, “My wife is a stunning Russian beauty and we have a 16-year-old daughter.” “Stunning Russian beauty” — is that a bit of a redundancy?
One woman went to two different institutions of higher education: Hillsdale College for her B.A. and UC-Santa Barbara for her master’s. She studied classics at both places. It would be hard to imagine two more different schools: the “conservative Harvard,” as I have called it, and one of the leftmost universities on earth (in one of the most beautiful settings on earth). Is our NRI fellow the only person who has ever enrolled in both institutions?
And guess what? She loved them both.
Another fellow has worked “as an analytical chemist, technical writer, and comedian.”
I’d like to work in comedy too, but nobody invites me. I suppose some would say I have worked in comedy inadvertently . . .
‐Dallas has a Katy Trail, along which people run (and walk and bike). I associate “Katy” with Houston — for Katy is a town in Greater Houston.
‐Along the Katy Trail, I see an interesting sign — a sign whose wording I like. The sign warns people not to exercise their pets too much when the weather is too hot. The wording is something like, “Would you wear a fur coat when exercising?”
‐One of the grossest moves of all human moves is the “farmer’s blow.” Do you know what that is? It is a method of blowing one’s nose. Find a definition here. When I was growing up, very few people did this, in front of others. Now it seems almost normal. No one cares if others are looking. I am not exactly Emily Post, but I think the unblushing growth of this practice is appalling.
‐Out of an establishment, hard rock is pouring. I look to see what the establishment is. The Hard Rock Café. Well, okay then!
‐On a FedEx truck, I see a very sad sign: “No Cash On Board.” It reminds me of the “No Radio” signs stuck in cars in pre-Giuliani New York.
It would be so much nicer to live in a society governed by the Ten Commandments than to live in a society governed by “No Cash On Board.”
‐A frequent correspondent who knows I am in Texas sends me a note. He writes from San Antonio, “where the Tex meets the Mex.” The phrase is used in a movie called “Bernie,” the relevant clip of which my correspondent sends me: here. Listen to the old codger talk about the sociology of Texas — the distinctive parts of the state.
‐The day after I got here, I wrote a little blogpost. I said that something remarkable had happened at the Dallas airport. The man in charge of the cab line asked me whether I wanted a bottle of water. I said sure. There was no charge. Then the man put my suitcase in a cab’s trunk — and would not take a tip.
When I get back to New York, I have an e-mail from a Dallas colleague, who says, “Hope your trip home was uneventful — and that some New Yorker gave you a bottle of water when you arrived!”
Listen, I was lucky no one gave me the finger!