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
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:


  • Bernie Madoff, for ripping off the insufferable Eli Wiesel. No criminal is all bad.

  • Muntazer al-Zaidi, for doing to George W. Bush what his mother should have done to him throughout his childhood. (Had Barbara clocked him with a slipper every time he said something smug and stupid, he might not have developed that inexplicable self-confidence which soothed so many of us through two election cycles.) That angry Arab expressed the feelings some 80 percent of Americans have about the smirking nebbish who sent thousands of our brave soldiers to die in vain, while wrecking a country and destroying its Christian communities. I’d suggested to Richard we make up an online shoe-throwing game, but it looks like somebody beat us to the punch. That press conference in Baghdad is the closest George Bush has ever come to risking life and limb for his country. (To be fair, I would also like to see Richard Reid, the fanatical Moslem convert who tried to blow up an airline with a shoe-bomb, get his just deserts. In true Dantean style, he should be hauled by Knights of Malta into an airline security line, and be beaten to death by enraged travelers with the shoes they had to remove. Let Ann Coulter at him first….)

  • Tom Cruise, and the makers of Valkyrie. It’s about time somebody told the story of the great Claus von Stauffenberg—and emphasized how Hitler’s enemies included some of the very best people in Europe (Catholic aristocrats), alongside the worst (Sartre, Stalin). I wish the film had brought in Pius XII’s involvement in that brave plot to end the war, halt the Holocaust, and prevent a Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe. But that’s asking a bit much from a Scientologist and former Franciscan seminarian. (At least he never got ordained!)

  • Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich—for his frankness and candor. Most politicians aren’t willing to be straightforward about what it is they do for a living and why. His Milosevic hairstyle and Tony Soprano dialogue have made this for me a happy Advent.

  • My brave, almost reckless publishers, Crossroad, for bringing out my gothic graphic novel, written in blank verse, depicting intrigue at the Vatican in the style of Dostoevsky. I assured them it would sell like hotcakes, and be assigned at parochial schools. And they pretended to believe me. Thanks, guys! I promise that the next book will be much, much sillier.

  • InsideCatholic for giving me a regular column, so I don’t have to spray all Takimag readers with my theological noodlings. Instead, I can write about my dogs.

  • My long-suffering girlfriend, employers, friends, and nearby neighbors. It has been tough for all of you. I’ve been there, I know. And I know that is why it has been tough. Stay strong—I’m not going anywhere.

  • And finally my readers. What can I offer you but this prayer: (Imagine me in a Kente robe, extending my arms in benediction): May all the blessings of the Kwanzaa season descend upon you and remain with you forever.



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