December 18, 2008
We’ve had so much grim news since Christmas past, The flourishing of Takimag is one of the few bits of tangible good news to which I can cling as winter sets in. In my capacity as the site’s designated autobiographical humor columnist—every publication has one; NR’s is Ramesh Ponnuru— I give thanks to our noble patron, Taki for his generous sponsorship of our work. I look forward to hoisting a martini with him Friday night, when I visit the Holy City.
Paul Weyrich, one of the last real conservatives in the movement that bears that name, has gone to his reward. I trust it is a rich one, and I imagine him in the Melkite section of heaven waving cheerfully over at his old ally Jesse Helms, up in the balcony with the Protestants. “Who knew it would segregated up here?” he might ask Jesse—who would drawl back, “Tole you so.” Robert Novak, another of the good guys, is fighting brain cancer—remember him in your prayers. At a dinner for him this fall, I was touched to hear the story of his Catholic baptism. I hope he has more years to spend with us, down here in the vale of tears, dodging calls from Ambassador Wilson.
At this time last year, our economy was still floating gracefully over the Atlantic like the Hindenburg—except what inflated our bubble wasn’t hydrogen but methane, the vapor that rises from bullsh-t. We were still buying American cars on money borrowed from our children, I was pouring cash into a 401(k) that my job’s financial advisor assured me would let me retire by age 65 with $700,000 in constant dollars, and higher oil prices were helping Russia challenge neocon domination of the globe. Life was looking pretty good.
There were several viable candidates for the Republican nomination—all of whom pledged better policies on immigration than John McCain’s. Ron Paul’s money bombs were still going off, and we didn’t yet know that his campaign staff was riddled with antisocial ideologues who’d refuse to work with grassroots activists simply because they were Christians. We had high hopes he’d score well in New Hampshire, and force the sniggering twits who cling to sinecures in what’s left of the conservative movement to address the stark, glaring fact: He was the only candidate in the race upon whom Ronald Reagan would have p-ssed, if he were on fire. Of course, the Republican primary system has been thoroughly front-loaded, to make sure that insurgent candidates never again had a chance; Buchanan gave the Grey Men a scare in 1996, and those people don’t like surprises. If they did, they might read a book from time to time—one published before 1990.
The Democrats were squabbling viciously, and it still looked like the Harridan might outspend and outpoll the Huckster—giving any decent Republican a fighting chance. Of course we didn’t nominate one, and the Dems got smart for once: Instead of every man’s nightmarish, litigious first wife, they picked the black guy we all hope to see behind us at an ATM machine, a guy who’s (in Biden’s words) “clean,” wearing a Harvard tie. If he robs us, he’ll do it legally, like any other politician.
It took just a single year to bring back that Weimar feeling. I’m reminded of one of Auden’s very best poems, which I taught my students this year, “The Fall of Rome”:
The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.
Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.
Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.
Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.
Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.
Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.
Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.
At least the reindeer make me think of Christmas. Surely amidst that herd somewhere we might find Donner and Blitzen. (Rudolf let celebrity go to his head, and now lives quietly in a compound on Mykonos.)
But the year hasn’t been all bad. There were signs of hope here and there, for those with eyes to see. Let me point to a few glimmers for which I’m grateful. If they aren’t the star of Bethlehem, they’re at least flickering lights on the Christmas tree at Macy’s. This year I am grateful for: