The Corner

Advice from a Master

Commenting on a post of mine, a reader writes in with some advice from the 37th president.

Mr Derbyshire — You wrote:

Polemical writing consists of saying the same thing over and over again in as many different ways as you can figure until people finally see your point, which normally takes years.

You may also appreciate a longer earlier version of the idea, from the late Michael Kelly’s approx. 1993 New York Times Magazine article about David Gergen:

He learned the importance of saying the same thing, over and over and over: “Nixon taught us about the art of repetition. He used to tell me, ‘About the time you are writing a line that you have written so often that you want to throw up, that is the first time the American people will hear it.’

Said either way, I think it explains an enormous amount of American decay: The country is better than most of its citizens deserve, as they’re unwilling to bestir themselves to learn about reality and think about much beyond American Idol and other frippery.

I like the advice from Nixon, and mostly agree with the last sentence. Only “mostly,” though. I do wish people would pay a bit more attention to reality (which, as Philip K. Dick observed, is the stuff that doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it). And pop culture is of course filth.

However, I think I see lurking behind that sentence the specter of the idea that citizens should all be politically fired up & engaged with politics all the time. I can think of nothing more horrifying. It puts me in mind of the younger Colonel Qaddafi calling for “committees everywhere!” How’d that work out?

A free and rational political order is one in which citizens don’t need to bother much about politics. Probably my reader is right: The U.S.A. would be a better place if people bothered somewhat more than they currently do; but please, not “committees everywhere.” Most of us have lives to live.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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