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.

Most Popular


How to Bend the News

This, from ABC, is a nice example of a news organization deliberately bending the truth in order to advance a narrative that it wishes were true but is not: Venerable gun manufacturer Colt says it will stop producing the AR-15, among other rifles, for the consumer market in the wake of many recent mass ... Read More

George Packer Gets Mugged by Reality

Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin's Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine ... Read More

Trump’s Total Culture War

 Donald Trump is waging a nonstop, all-encompassing war against progressive culture, in magnitude analogous to what 19th-century Germans once called a Kulturkampf. As a result, not even former president George W. Bush has incurred the degree of hatred from the left that is now directed at Trump. For most of ... Read More

Iran’s Act of War

Last weekend’s drone raid on the Saudi oil fields, along with the Israeli elections, opens a new chapter in Middle Eastern relations. Whether the attack on Saudi oil production, which has temporarily stopped more than half of it, was launched by Iranian-sponsored Yemeni Houthis or by the Iranians themselves is ... Read More