A scene from the 1980s TV show Spenser: For Hire keeps popping into my head these days. I tried in vain to find it on the Internet, so forgive me if my memory of it is considerably less than verbatim.
Hard-bitten private detective Spenser (we never know if that’s his first or last name) is talking to a female fugitive about a bank robbery she was part of long ago in which a security guard was killed. The woman thinks it was foolish of the guard to have interfered. “Why couldn’t he just sit there? It’s not his money!”
Spenser replies (again, quoting from very fuzzy memory), “Maybe he thought that he had a duty to do it. Maybe he thought that he earned a living, put his kids through school, getting paid to do nothing but sit there for years on end. Maybe he thought that when it was time to hold up his end of the bargain when he really mattered, he had to step up because that’s what he’d been there for all along.”
Why has the memory-rusted scene been coming back to me?
Because it reminds me of what National Review is for.
Yes, yes, I get that it’s a pretty bad analogy in some respects.
We are not a security guard, nor do we sit around doing nothing. We have always been too busy standing athwart history to sit for very long. At the same time, most of the threats we’ve faced, the battles we’ve joined, the opponents we’ve picked, have been with the Left, and that’s made things easier. When you’re in the argument business, it’s not a chore to pick fights with your enemies, it’s a happy duty. And when your ideas are popular, and your principles widely held, it doesn’t take much courage to stand up for them.
But this has not been one of those moments. The conservative movement is being torn from within. It’s close to a civil war. The fault line runs straight through the heart of the Republican coalition, but not through National Review. We stand on one side of the chasm, while many of our friends have set up shop on the other. And quite a few others think they can stand with one foot on each side of an ever-widening divide.
It’s much more painful to pick fights with your friends. Our ideas become more difficult to lift when so many walk away from the effort. It’s harder to stand up for your principles when former allies are trying to tear you down.
But, simply put, this is the life we have chosen. And since I started working here almost 20 years ago, I have never been more proud of National Review than I have been in 2016. We’ve refused to go with the flow at precisely the moment so many are getting on the bandwagon. (I take clichés and beat them to death with mixed metaphors.) Yes, we’ve lost some treasured longtime friends, but we’ve gained some wonderful new ones. We can lament the losses and hope they are temporary, but none of us regret doing what we felt was right: Standing up for our principles, telling the truth as we see it, and reporting the facts as we find them.
I thought it was either Goethe or Alf who said, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” But the Internet tells me it was Basil King. Well, whoever said it, he was right. And you, my friends, are the mighty forces we are counting on. Normally these Webathon beg-letters are a necessary chore. Not so at this moment. I’m eager and proud to ask for your help. We need it. The conservative movement needs it. The country needs it.