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The Democrats are ramping up the invective. In just the first week of August, they called Romney a tax cheat, a murderer, and George W. Bush.

In a victory for principled conservatism, upstart Ted Cruz won the Texas Republican primary to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Cruz defeated Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, a longtime Republican time-server anointed by Governor Rick Perry. Dewhurst’s familiar name, party backing, and personal fortune had caused many to dismiss Cruz’s campaign as a vanity project. Cruz (knock wood) is almost certainly headed to the Senate: His Democratic opponent is an obscure ex-legislator who has already been informally written off by the national party. Cruz was carried to victory in part by rowdy tea-party energy, in part by support from national conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, and in no small part by his obvious merits. Sarah Palin endorsed him, and  National Review endorsed him (twice, in fact). He is a full-spectrum, ideas-oriented conservative with a compelling biography and a great deal of political talent. Texas is not Maine: It can sustain a conservative in the Senate, and now it will have one. The one niggling question about the race: With Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, the Club for Growth, James Dobson, Eagle Forum, FreedomWorks, Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Robert P. George, and the Tea Party Express all lined up on one side, why was the Republican party on the other?

One day, archeologists studying the ruins of our civilization will no doubt ponder the connection between homosexuality and chicken sandwiches. Chick-fil-A, a popular fast-food restaurant known for the friendly disposition of its employees and for staying closed on Sundays in deference to the Christian principles of its owners, found itself the target of a boycott when its CEO affirmed his support for traditional marriage in an interview with a Christian newspaper. That there is a healthy dose of Christian piety running through the enterprise is not news, nor is the company’s history of giving donations to marriage-supporting organizations through its charitable foundation. The executive never mentioned gay marriage — he seemed at least as concerned about commonplace divorce — but his remarks were taken nevertheless as a slight to the demands of gay-rights activists, and a boycott was pronounced. The mayors of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco threatened to use governmental powers to punish the business. It backfired: Chick-fil-A stores across the country did record business as Americans of diverse political persuasions came to dine in protest of the bullying. There were lines out the doors and full parking lots. Even liberal comedian Jon Stewart chastised the mayors for abusing their authority. (Need we even mention that those mayors were all Democrats?) The happy outcome is that it has been made clear to a great many Americans just who the aggressors are in the culture wars.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said that a Bain investor had told him that Mitt Romney had paid no taxes for ten years. That’s why, he said, Romney has not acceded to Democratic demands to release more tax returns. Reid said it was up to Romney to prove him wrong by releasing those returns. Then he said that he had heard this story from “a number of people.” It’s an unbelievable accusation. It’s wildly implausible that Romney would have had no tax liability for a decade; no investor would have any reason to know about it; the shifting sourcing is suspicious. With the exception of Nancy Pelosi and Reid’s own aides, nobody appears to believe Reid — and even Pelosi will vouch only for Reid’s having heard the story, not for its being true. Several liberal pundits expressed skepticism; Richard Cohen denounced him. Reince Priebus, the head of the RNC, called Reid a “dirty liar” on national television. Under ordinary circumstances, Priebus’s remark would be way out of bounds, but Reid has justified it.

Mitt Romney went on a three-country foreign swing, to Britain, Poland, and Israel. His choice of destinations said it all: our main ally throughout the last century, a firm ally since the collapse of Communism, and the only democracy in the Middle East. All three countries have been dissed, in various ways, by the Obama administration, which prefers resets with hostile tyrants. So the press reported it as Gaffe-apalooza. In Israel, Romney said that “culture makes all the difference” between Israeli success and Palestinian backwardness. Palestinian spokesmen squawked, as if corruption and a terror fetish were good things. In Poland, Romney’s press secretary told badgering reporters to “shove it” — not bad advice. In Britain, Romney did raise hackles with the political establishment when he sympathetically noted London’s Olympic problems. But Londoners have noticed them too: Maybe Romney should run for mayor. The special relationship can take it.

Charles Krauthammer found himself in a fact fight with the White House when he mentioned the strange case of the Churchill bust, which had resided in the Oval Office during the Bush administration but which President Obama sent back to the Brits. The story had been told before and is held up as an example of the current administration’s inattention to the special relationship, but this time around, an odd thing happened: The White House claimed the episode never happened. It produced photographic evidence, and more than one enraged Democrat subsequently denounced Mr. Krauthammer as a “liar.” But the photographic evidence turned out to be a different depiction of Churchill, and the British embassy confirmed that the bust had in fact been returned, just as Mr. Krauthammer had said. The White House apologized for its error, although not for its diplomacy.

The unemployment rate continued to climb in July, reaching 8.3 percent, with economists at the Fed predicting it will move slightly higher by year’s end. The U.S. unemployment rate today stands at more than a full point above Canada’s and more than three times the Swiss rate. The unemployment rate for young people seeking work is 12.7 percent overall, 14 percent for young Hispanics, and 22.3 percent for African Americans. The president recently gave a speech in which he said of the economy: “We tried our plan, and it worked.” Not for 22.3 percent of young blacks it didn’t.

Asked how well Obama would do among Jewish voters, Nancy Pelosi said that Republicans were “using Israel” to get votes when “what they really want are tax cuts for the wealthy.” Jews who support Republicans, she said, are “being exploited. And they’re smart people.” Smarter, or at least more sophisticated about politics, than the House Democratic leader.

A new book by Politico reporter Glenn Thrush says that President Obama “has quickly developed a genuine disdain” for Romney, and that “scorn stoked Obama’s competitive fire, got his head in the game, which came as a relief to some Obama aides who had seen his interest flag when he didn’t feel motivated to crush the opposition.” Maybe so. Scorn and disdain for one’s opponents can, however, also breed complacency, something Obama’s campaign has often seemed to show. Obama has never had to compete for middle-of-the-road voters (the financial crisis pushed them into his camp in 2008). We suspect, and certainly hope, that he will find this experience rather less enjoyable than his aides are predicting.

When the Democratic party’s full platform committee meets on August 10, it will acknowledge what everyone already knows to be true. The Washington Blade reported and Barney Frank confirmed that a 15-member drafting committee has unanimously voted to include support for gay marriage in the Democratic party’s official platform. Democrats have been more open in their desire to change the definition of marriage after President Obama came out on the subject, even though nobody really thought that his previous opposition to gay marriage was sincere. In his 1996 campaign for state senate, he said, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage,” and as president, he instructed his Justice Department not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal courts. Like the president, the Democratic party has officially “evolved” on the issue. How long before it begins officially denouncing everyone who has not?

August 1, 2012, was a dark day for religious freedom in the United States; the Obama administration’s requirement that all insurance plans cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs — the HHS mandate — went into effect. Some businesses have already won injunctions against the mandate, but there are many employers with religious objections to the mandate who lack the means to pursue legal relief. The American tradition of religious liberty holds that, in the absence of compelling reasons and when compelling alternatives exist, the government should not force any person to act against his sincerely held religious beliefs. The HHS mandate casts this principle aside as an obstacle to the progressive agenda and the president’s reelection. It deserves a firm electoral rebuke.

As of this writing, relatively little is known about Wade Michael Page, the man who killed six in a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee before exchanging fire with police and taking his own life. He was an Army veteran, he played in a white-supremacist punk band, there are signs he recently broke up with a girlfriend, and his weapon of choice was a 9mm pistol. Without more information, it’s difficult to tell what public policies, if any, could have prevented his rampage: Did he show clear signs of mental illness that should have disqualified him from owning a gun? Did he have a criminal record? Nonetheless, if past is precedent, it’s not hard to predict how the conversation will unfold from here: The media will try to pin his neo-Nazi associations on the Right, there will be calls for more gun control, and plenty of newspaper accounts will mention that Wisconsin recently passed a concealed-carry law (even though there’s no sign that Page had a permit, and it’s hard to imagine that a lack of one would have stopped him). There will be more useful media coverage as well, such as of Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president of the temple — who died heroically, trying to stop the attack with a butter knife. Our thoughts are with the victims of this senseless atrocity.

Admiral William McRaven is the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He planned and directed the operation that led to Osama bin Laden’s death. When he was a three-star admiral, he still went on night raids with his SEALs. Another special-operations commander said that McRaven “can drive a knife through your ribs in a nanosecond.” In other words, he is a serious sort of fellow. Thus it was not surprising when he candidly announced that the leaks regarding the bin Laden raid and other special operations had to stop, “because sooner or later it is going to cost people their lives or it’s going to cost us our national security.” He should be heeded.

Vidal the Conservative?

What do you call a person who loathed — and was loathed by — William F. Buckley Jr.; who despised the Judeo-Christian tradition as well as monotheism; who believed 9/11 was a setup; who wrote regularly for — and was warmly received by — the New York Review of Books, The Nation, and other left-wing flagship publications; who endorsed Dennis Kucinich for president; who ran for Congress from New York as a Democrat with the endorsement of Paul Newman and Eleanor Roosevelt and, later, ran for the Senate, also as a Democrat, from California; who criticized the Democratic party from the left throughout the Vietnam War and beyond; who described himself as an “anti-anti-Communist” at the height of the Cold War; and who, upon his death, was eulogized warmly by nearly the entire liberal and leftist establishments, here and abroad, as a national treasure?

Why, a conservative, of course.

So argues David Greenberg, the in-house historian at Slate magazine.

Greenberg’s argument is a classic example of getting any number of trees right, but, after adding them all up, seeing — instead of a forest — some otherworldly landscape devoid of arboreal contours of any kind. His case comes in two parts. The first is that Vidal once said he considered himself a conservative. The second is that Vidal was an ass in the grand progressive tradition.

Greenberg — rightly — traces Vidal’s intellectual roots back to a time when many progressives saw no difficulty in being elitists, racists, and opponents of mass society in every regard. Greenberg — again rightly — also notes that Vidal was a creature of great privilege, which helps explain Vidal’s overweening sense of entitlement and resentment at a world that didn’t defer to him as the hedonistic poet-prefect of ancient Rome he believed himself to be. “Vidal,” writes Greenberg, “was a paradigmatic, almost stereotypical representative of the traditional American elite — WASP lineage, prep schools, money, connections. Fashioning himself a latter-day Henry Adams, a valiant upholder of a civilization under siege . . . ”


(Sipa Via AP)

One might quibble that the author of the first major American novel celebrating homosexuality, who believed that “the great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism,” might not exactly deserve the label of paradigmatic, “almost stereotypical,” representative of the traditional American WASP elite (that is one Herculean “almost”), or that a man who became known as the “sage of Ravello” — that’s Ravello, Italy, not Ravello, Ind. — might not be overly inspired by American isolationism. But whatever, as the kids say

Greenberg quotes the brilliant but problematic historian Richard Hofstadter, who wrote that the two branches of progressivism split in two. One branch, the good guys, went on to create New Deal liberalism. The other bloc went cranky and nativist. “Somewhere along the way a large part of the Populist-Progressive tradition has turned sour, become illiberal and ill-tempered,” wrote Hofstadter. That, too, is true enough (or true enough for the space available here). But it’s another thing altogether to say it became conservative. It became nationalistic, to be sure, but it also became radically leftist in almost every objective measure. Gerald Nye and Hiram Johnson (whom Greenberg names) didn’t stop being progressives because of their isolationism or nativism, anymore than Father Coughlin stopped being a leftist after he broke with FDR.

What is fascinating — though not surprising — is that a liberal like Greenberg can see that Vidal was a crank and fraud in so many regards, but he’s perfectly willing to take Vidal at his word when he called himself “conservative.” Odder still is that, while Greenberg acknowledges that Vidal was a “bigot,” crank, and fool for nearly his whole life, he seems utterly uncurious about the fact that the Left loved him as one of its own and the Right saw him for what he was.

According to the WARN Act, which was passed in 1988, most employers have to give 60 days of notice before mass layoffs. If Congress doesn’t find a way to reduce the deficit soon, the “sequestration” process will force enormous defense cuts at the beginning of 2013 — which raises the question of whether defense contractors should send layoff notices in November, right before the election. The Obama administration, rather unsurprisingly, determined that the WARN Act does not apply here because the cuts might not happen. In fact, it did more than that: The Department of Labor actually discouraged such notices, calling them “inappropriate” and claiming they “would be sudden and dramatic.” Congressional Republicans tried to force the issue with legislation, but were blocked by the Democratic Senate. If the cuts indeed happen, contractors who follow the administration’s advice could find themselves facing lawsuits or delaying needed layoffs; in many cases the law forbids layoffs that aren’t preceded by the full warning period. But then again, the Obama administration has never had a problem rewriting laws by executive fiat, so we’re sure they’ll come up with something — if they’re still around come January.

Outgoing Republican senator Olympia Snowe has not exactly been known for her party loyalty while in office — and she’s solidifying that reputation with her behavior in this fall’s Maine Senate race to fill her seat. Republican secretary of state Charlie Summers will be facing independent former governor Angus King and a Democratic candidate, with King holding a commanding lead in the polls and fundraising. Snowe has announced that she will not be endorsing Summers or sharing her $2 million war chest. Summers did decline to support Snowe when she faced a possible tea-party challenge if she ran for reelection, so Snowe is understandably less than enamored of him. Nonetheless, Snowe is immensely popular and powerful in Maine, and if she had an ounce of party loyalty or conservative conviction, she would offer crucial support for Summers in his general-election fight to defeat King, who will almost surely caucus with the Democrats. Instead, she plans to donate her war chest to a “multi-candidate committee” that will aim to reduce partisanship and promote moderates in Congress. Angus King must be delighted.

Tennessee’s Democratic Senate primary has been won by an inconvenient candidate, an unabashed social conservative. The party is right to be concerned that the nominee, Mark Clayton, does not hew to much of the party’s platform. But they have singled out their nominee as a bigot for his opposition to gay marriage. The Democratic party might do well to recall that 73 percent of Rocky Top residents share this opposition.

In the Chick-fil-A flap, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was one of the few liberal politicians to defend the First Amendment rights of the fast-food chain, but that doesn’t mean he’s done playing nanny to a population of 8 million New Yorkers. His “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative,” sponsored by the World Health Organization, will pressure women to breast-feed instead of giving their babies formula. At participating hospitals, mothers will have to request formula from nurses, who in turn will be required to give a stern lecture about the advantages of breast feeding, get the formula from a secured location, and keep records of the transaction. Bloomberg is correct that breast feeding is beneficial. He is wrong to force this view on new mothers.

Wall Street investment banks are demanding that their European partners restructure contracts to ensure that Greek and Spanish obligations will be repaid in euros in the event of a breakup of the euro zone. Nobody wants to be the first to find out what a new drachma is worth. Likewise, the banks are demanding collateral that cannot be converted into a new currency in the event of a Greek or Spanish exit, and contracts that specify that disputes will be handled under London or New York law. Given that Wall Street’s reputation for risk mitigation has taken a beating in the past few years, this may or may not be a significant indicator, but then indicators of the euro zone’s stresses are not rare. But Wall Street is buckling its seatbelt, and so should we all.

The defection of Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab is another twist in the country’s conflict. The issue is no longer political, if ever it was, but sectarian. Bashar al-Assad and his regime are Alawites or heterodox Shiites, a small minority fighting to maintain their rule over the Sunni majority. A Sunni, Hijab had had previous spells as a junior minister and as governor of Latakia. Two short months ago, he was promoted to prime minister because Assad needed a Sunni to cover for Alawite supremacy and thought he had a loyalist. Hijab has proved an unwilling collaborator. Rebels smuggled him and his family out to Jordan, whereupon Hijab declared in the expected high style that he had “joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution.” Although Assad at once pretended that he had fired Hijab, he could not hide that he had received a resounding slap in the face and may now have a Sunni opponent with a plausible claim to replace him. Outrage follows outrage, as Assad tries to recover ground. Slowly the persistence of the rebels may change the balance of power in favor of the Sunnis, but Assad and the Alawites show themselves prepared to stop at nothing.

In February, three women belonging to the Russian punk band Pussy Riot tried to sing an anti-Putin song from the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Their intent was ostensibly religious — they called on the Virgin Mary to rebuke Putin — but their means outré: They wore neon masks and screamed. Disturbing the peace — a misdemeanor. But they were charged with “hooliganism,” which could get them seven years. Western rockers, from Pete Townshend to Madonna, have spoken up for them, and Putin himself has suggested they should not be judged “harshly.” The protesters had valid targets: Putin’s late-phase authoritarian regime, and the Russian Orthodox church’s collusion with it. In the midst of Pussy Riot’s travails, Patriarch Kirill was spotted wearing a $30,000 gold Breguet watch in a photo on the church’s website. That represents a lot of tithes — and a lot of rendering unto Caesar.

As it has been for more than 50 years, the news from Cuba is tragic and infuriating. On July 22, two Cuban dissidents, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, were killed in a car crash. From what can honestly be learned, they were rammed and driven off the road. Two weeks before, the same thing had happened to Payá. This dissident seemed to have awfully bad luck. On July 22, two democratic politicians from Europe were traveling with Payá and Cepero. They were Ángel Carromero of Spain and Aron Modig of Sweden. They had come to help Cuba’s peaceful dissidents, struggling for freedom and democracy. Both survived the crash. They were then held incommunicado by state security for about a week. After this period, which must have been harrowing, they apologized to the Cuban state for their illegal activities; Carromero, for good measure, confessed to causing the accident himself. Modig was allowed to return to Sweden. Once there, he said he could not speak freely, for fear of harming Carromero — who is still being held in Cuba. They have charged him with vehicular manslaughter. He is now, in effect, a hostage, same as Alan Gross, the American aid worker who has been imprisoned since 2009. The message of the Cuban dictatorship is clear: No one had better lift a finger for the island’s democracy movement. Since it took office, the Obama administration has claimed that its kinder, gentler approach to the dictatorship would yield results. One sees the results.

China has planted a military garrison on the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, about as far from Hainan province on China’s southernmost tier as Barbados is from Miami. The archipelago is Taiwanese territory, at least according to Taipei. So the longstanding fear that the People’s Liberation Army will one day storm Taiwan may be exaggerated: Beijing appears to have decided on an incremental approach. Other countries in the region — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines — dispute China’s extravagant claims over most of the South China Sea, which has oil reserves. Japan, South Korea, Australia, and other U.S. allies in the Pacific welcome the Pentagon’s decision to deploy most of the Navy’s fleet to Asian waters by 2020. But what the Defense Department aims to accomplish through the pivot to Asia, the White House would undermine through cuts in defense spending: A double-minded administration is unstable in all its ways.

Some 700 million Indians were without electricity during a two-day blackout, and 300 million remained without power after New Delhi declared the crisis resolved. India’s electrical grid is a gigantic tragedy of the commons: The system is politically owned and politically run, and consequently between one-third and one-half of all electricity generated in India is stolen. Massive investment is needed, but nobody wants to invest when half the juice is going to get hijacked. The solution to the original tragedy of the commons was property rights, and it still is.

For a reminder that nothing is impossible in politics, one needs to look no further than the improbable ascent of London mayor Boris Johnson. Currently presiding over the London Olympics, “Boris,” as he is known to one and all, has elevated himself from figure of fun to serious political contender. Once a critic both of Islam, which he called “medieval” and “vicious,” and of gay marriage, which he compared to polygamy, Johnson has reinvented himself as a moderate, appropriating the milquetoast political correctness of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia.” It is paying off: Johnson easily won a second mayoral term and appears to have his eye on the premiership. With this in mind, he is doing what he can to recruit Rupert Murdoch to the cause, openly hosting him as his special guest at the Olympics. And, in July, the Telegraph reported that he was approached by a group of disgruntled donors to the Conservative party. Johnson once famously said that he had “as much a chance of becoming prime minister as of being decapitated by a Frisbee.” The British might well start looking out for frisbees.

The Olympic opening ceremony was an impressive production, but it contained its fair share of oddities. Many of them reflected the eccentric British sense of humor, but others were less salutary. Among this latter group was a curious tribute to socialized medicine, which was shoehorned into the show without context or excuse. The National Health Service is the closest thing that modern Britain has to a national religion, and the spectacle of hundreds of nurses running around making beds in front of a sick baby was little short of an offering to the Gods of the Department of Health. That government policy can transform the character of a people was never made more obvious than by the exhibition of tens of thousands of putatively free citizens rapturously applauding an inefficient bureaucracy. Americans might take heed: In 50 years, that could be you.

At the Stockholm Olympics 100 years ago, Jim Thorpe, All-American college football player, won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. His record-setting decathlon was the first time he had ever competed in the event. Back home he went on to play professional football and baseball. The unresting engine of excellence paradoxically makes such all-around careers impossible. Athletes specialize early and train relentlessly. The unscrupulous seek advantage in drugs, sometimes at the command of totalitarian states. Ye Shiwen, the Chinese swimming prodigy, insists she is dope-free, and indeed tests clean. She still comes out of a Communist athlete factory. Now Oscar Pistorius, the South African blade-runner, sprints on carbon-fiber prosthetics. We idealize what Housman called “the early-laurelled head,” while trying to adjust our rules to new modes of competition, both fair and foul.

Curiosity, which weighs a ton, landed on its feet, gracefully, in Gale Crater on the surface of Mars earlier this month. Seven minutes later it transmitted a color photo of its surroundings on the surface of the Red Planet. “A miracle of engineering,” a lead scientist on the NASA project called the performance of the Mars rover. Its job is to gather information about the planet’s inorganic chemistry and about its organic chemistry, if it has one, which it might. Intelligent life, of course, is another matter. It’s doubtful that Curiosity will find that on Mars. That there is plenty of it on Earth is what the mission has succeeded in showing us so far.

The scene could have come straight out of a movie: A dog, barking eagerly, runs up to its owner, who says, “What’s that, Lassie? Two little girls lost? And . . . you want Taco Bell?” Fajitas all around were in order in an Atlanta suburb after two young girls got lost in the woods and a neighbor’s chihuahua (named not Lassie but, inevitably, Bell), though barely able to see over a daffodil, tracked them down. The rescue was reminiscent of an incident in Los Angeles last year when a tobacco shop’s chihuahua chased off two faint-hearted robbers. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

Friends of freedom and partisans of clear thinking paused to celebrate the centenary of the late Milton Friedman, whose scholarship deeply influenced economics and whose popular Free to Choose series of television programs and books provided millions of people around the world with a crash course in liberty. He was a tutor to Ronald Reagan and an adviser to such other heads of state as had the wisdom to take his counsel. (Too few acted on it.) He was tireless in arguing that the chief virtue of the free market is that it is the only reliable method for alleviating the mass poverty that is the natural state of man. He conclusively disassembled the regnant myth of the Great Depression (that it was a failure of capitalism rather than a failure of government policy), revolutionized monetary economics, and invented important statistical techniques in his spare time. His key social insight — “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself” — remains ferociously relevant, perhaps more so now than in his day. When Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics, it was the stature of the prize that was elevated, not his.

John Keegan was a British historian who made people think hard and long about war. In his view, human beings in all eras had fought to settle issues and always would. His books excelled in bringing to life not just the great commanders but the men in the line. He would have liked to have been a soldier himself but as a boy he had orthopedic tuberculosis and had to spend years in hospital. All his life he was in pain, supporting himself with an elegant cane and never complaining. After two decades teaching at Sandhurst, the British military academy, he became the military-affairs editor of the Telegraph. Out of principle he supported the war in Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq, and his opinion mattered because of the historical perspective that informed it. However just a war might be, though, he remained a humanist who deplored the brutality of battle. Aged 78, he died at his home in England. R.I.P.

Gore Vidal’s status as a literary lion was an instance of grade inflation. He managed to persuade literary folk that he knew something about politics, and political folk that he knew something about literature. Yet each pretense was true only up to a certain low point. As a political commentator and historian, he wasted himself on conspiracy theories; his literary oeuvre comprised hackery in various genres — novels, detective stories, screenplays, memoir, essays — only a handful of essays rising to real excellence. He was a tub thumper for homosexuality who sneered at AIDS; a self-styled old republican who shrugged at totalitarians, from Nazis and Japanese to the Soviet Union; an aristocrat who pursued airtime with the zeal of the Kardashians; a wit whose only note was bitchiness; and a creator who created only one character, himself, and that an unpleasant one. Dead at 86. R.I.P.

POLITICS
Romney’s Road Ahead

It is a season of second-guessing for the Romney campaign. He has been behind in the polls fairly consistently, both in the nation as a whole and in swing states. Journalists are emphasizing his gaffes and alleged gaffes. Conservatives want him to pick a running mate who will supply the charisma they do not find in him.

The candidate has made his mistakes, to be sure, but most of the commentary is scanting his strengths. The race remains tight, and Obama is below 50 percent both nationally and in the swing states. Romney is running a competent campaign that raises funds effectively, develops its messages and mostly stays on them, and can be trusted to execute its strategies well.

Conservatives are nervous, however, because it is not clear how Romney plans to close the gap in the polls. Undecided voters may break against an incumbent with a lackluster economic record, but hoping that they will do so is not a strategy. If Romney and his aides understand this point — and they might — they have not telegraphed it.

The campaign’s message could be strengthened. Its principal argument is that the economy is weak, and therefore President Obama has failed. Blaming the weak economy on Obama has two political defects. First, it underestimates the public’s willingness to cut him slack because he inherited an economic crisis. Second, implying that all would be well if Obama’s policies were rolled back lends credence to the Obama campaign’s relentless attack on Romney as the second coming of George W. Bush.

Better for Romney to acknowledge that we have had some long-building problems in addition to ones of more recent creation, and to pledge to fix them. Our dysfunctional health-care, tax, and immigration systems long predate Obama even if he has made them worse. All need conservative reforms to serve the country’s interests. So do our entitlement programs. Romney need not (and should not) repudiate Bush. He needs instead to make a case that transcends the Obama-vs.-Bush debate that the president is obviously desperate to have.

Some Republican strategists say that for Romney to offer his own agenda would be to take attention away from where it should go: to Obama’s record. That advice is more simplistic than shrewd. To hold out the possibility of constructive reforms of American life is to underscore Obama’s failure.

This kind of campaign would be in keeping with Romney’s career of successful turnarounds. And it’s a campaign that could win.

NATIONAL REVIEW
Frances Bronson, R.I.P

Frances Bronson, WFB Jr.’s secretary from 1968 until his death, passed away on August 1, after a long and tough battle with emphysema. She was 81 years old.

She was, in many ways, the perfect Girl Friday to the founder of National Review. Perhaps a better metaphor would be: the Mary Poppins of the modern conservative movement.

What a formidable portcullis at the castle drawbridge she was. Her pronunciation of “Mister Buckley’s office” could instill trepidation in the stoutest heart, and was heard over the years by presidents, prime ministers, the great and good, and the not so great and good. But beneath the rime of frost on those vocal cords were great warmth, a merry soul, and a sharp, fun-loving wit. If you made Frances giggle, you felt that you’d passed some important existential test.

She came on board just as WFB’s fame was cresting. Firing Line had launched in 1966; WFB had made the cover of Time in 1967; his famous exchange with Gore Vidal on television took place the year she arrived at NR.

Frances’s plate — or, alas, ashtray — was never empty; her professional life consisted of dealing with a groaning smorgasbord of Buckley detail: NR; books (over 55); columns (nearly 6,000); Firing Line tapings (over 1,500); the fortnightly editorial dinners; the annual decampment to Switzerland; sailboats; family; godchildren; nieces and nephews (over 50); friends (countless); Cavalier King Charles spaniels. It was endless, but all was handled with cool and calm and British phlegm. Anyone capable of coping with the hyper-dervish world of WFB could probably have planned the Normandy invasion — in her spare time.

Frances was a splendid and caring friend, and devoted to her own large family. She never married but, being the second child in a family of eight, did not lack for siblings and nieces and nephews, upon whom she doted. At the end, her bedside was crowded with those whom she had loved, and who returned her love, with interest.

I visited with her the night before she died, and the next morning called to tell her, “You outlasted Gore Vidal!” Her nephew Howard reported that this made her laugh. I shall miss hearing my beloved “Aunty Frances” laugh. She was so very dear to me, as she was indeed to so many. Her passing brings almost to an end the old school of NR. R.I.P.

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‘He’s driving me — ” Dramatic pause. “Insane.” Or gaga. Or cuckoo. He was WFB, editor of this magazine, but also columnist, TV host, author, speaker, and (in his spare time) hard partier and sportsman. Me was Frances Bronson, WFB’s right hand — “secretary” does not comprehend what it took to choreograph WFB’s numerous activities — from 1968 until his death 40 years later.

She came up the hard way, born into a large and loving but indigent family of Jewish Cockneys. She auditioned for the D’Oyly Carte company and was asked to come back in a year, but the charms of big-city life and high-powered employment won out. She served, and tamed, a number of bosses in England, Canada, and America until Harry Elmlark, the agent for WFB’s syndicated column, put the two of them together.

Her life history concealed an irony. In England, where everyone is born with a class Geiger counter, her origins would be spotted a mile away. But to Yanks, her accent suggested imperious Plantagenets. She used it to cut through tangles and deflate stuffed shirts.

She was thoughtful, attentive, and kind. Everyone who overlapped with her at NR has some story of her goodwill; same with her many siblings, nephews, and nieces. She loved music, dining, reading, and talking about all three. She was beautiful — a bright-eyed, whip-sharp girl; a sultry, lustrous woman; a lively old lady.

Dead at 81. R.I.P.

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