Life should be fun. It should be satisfying and exciting. As much as possible one should do what one’s heart dictates, as long as it is constructive and helpful. (If it is not, one should take one’s heart to a minister, rabbi or therapist, and get one’s heart in order.)
In this spirit, a slight swerve is announced here.
Everyone who reads me knows I am a political conservative, by which I mean I adhere to a particular philosophy, a way of viewing life and man and his time on earth. I do not think a lot of modern conservatives have taken on their philosophy because they were brought up in it, schooled in it, and swallowed it whole. And I don’t think a lot of them became conservatives because they read a book by Hayek or Adam Smith and thought, “Ah ha, this seems sound!” I think a lot of people in our time who have become conservatives did it because they had a certain and particular kind of mind. To choose just one facet, they have a natural respect and even sometimes love toward human beings, while at the same time having no illusions—none—about who we are. Man is not perfect and is not perfectible, at least by other men. We are what we are; God made us and gave us freedom; we use it to ill and good; man best operates through certain arrangements and traditions, and those arrangements and traditions are best animated by respect for the individual and love of liberty.
You start out there, and then you find yourself hearing something or reading something that you find out is “conservative.” You pick up National Review at the age of 17, or you read C.S. Lewis or bump into the autobiography of a man named Whittaker Chambers and you read and suddenly you think, “Oh my God, that’s exactly what I think.” That moment, for a young conservative, is a very happy one, a breakthrough.
In the leftist water in which we all swim, and have swum for half a century, left-liberalism reigns: in media, in academia, in the schools and the newsmagazines. It is a great relief to see there are actually a number of little fish like you, trying hard to swim upstream.
Because I am a conservative I support the party that best represents conservative views, the Republican Party. Sometimes I get mad at it; often it disappoints me. It is imperfect, and not perfectible. But to a greater degree than in the past I feel an urge to help it. Since peace was wrenched off the tracks on 9/11, deep in my heart I have pulled for President Bush, Vice President Cheney, members of the current administration, and Republicans in the Senate and the House. With the decline of the Democratic Party I have become convinced there is a greater chance we will win the war if the Republican Party wins the election.
In the past four years I have written about and given advice to both parties in this column. But a week ago, while watching the Democratic convention, I made a decision.
I am going to take three months’ unpaid leave from The Wall Street Journal and attempt to support the Republican Party in the coming and crucial election. (Every four years everyone says “this is the most important election of my lifetime,” but this year I believe it is true.) I’m going to give whatever advice and encouragement I have in terms of strategy, approach, message—I hate that word—and issues. No one has asked me to do this, and I do it as a volunteer, not for a salary but simply to give my time to help what I think is the more helpful side. This will take a bite out of my finances but I can do it. Actually most of us, when we die, wind up with a few thousand dollars in the bank. We should have spent it! I am going to spend mine now.
The White House does not need my help. They have the best political strategists, communications specialists and speechwriters since the Reagan era, which had the best of all these since the time of JFK. President Bush has his sound, and it’s a good one. He’s getting his sea legs on the stump—it’s hard to go from being-president to being-president-and-running again-for-president, it’s a bit of a shift and is always awkward. But he’s got it together and they’ve got it together.
There are others, however, lower down on the power pole, who might benefit from another hand on deck. I’ve called a few this week and they’ve been welcoming and I’ll see if I can add to their fortunes. If I can’t I’ll at least try not to sink them.
Because politics is such a spectator sport and an obsession for so many people—I include myself in this group; who else would watch almost every minute of the Democratic convention, and enjoy it?—some political reporters will call me and ask who I’ll be trying to help or what I’ll be doing. Let me give them my answer now, and it is an answer that will not change. It is the wonderful reply of Terry Edmonds, a speechwriter for John Kerry, who was pressed by a reporter on what work he was doing at the Democratic convention. “I don’t exist,” he said. He doesn’t want to talk about whatever contributions he’s making. Neither do I. Also, to be frank, while I’m sure Mr. Edmonds is wonderful at what he does and his modesty obscures the size of his contributions, I am not so confident that I will be wonderful at what I do. I haven’t lived a political life since 1988. I have no idea if my ideas will prove pertinent or helpful.
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A word about careers. Mine has been varied and has not always gone as planned. When I left the Reagan White House and wrote my first book I was certain I would not return to politics. I worked hard to gain an independent voice as a writer of books and essays and, the past four years, this column. A while back I also agreed to spend part of the 2004 election year commentating on MSNBC and NBC. But it was not fully satisfying. I never felt I was moving the ball forward either for my beliefs or for myself or for that elusive thing that yet exists called “what is true.” The oppositional nature of TV news shows—there’s a liberal and a conservative and they fight, which equals drama, which equals ratings—often keeps progress from happening and truth from being said. And in an odd way people talk a lot on these shows—there’s a high syllabic content—but they often don’t say what they really mean.
Anyway, I never felt I was moving the ball forward. So I ended my contract and figured out where I should be. I decided it’s good to be on TV in whatever venue seems right when you feel you have something important you want to say. I also decided that when you are living through crucial history and you believe one political party is on balance right, and trying to fight a valiant fight, you should join in if you can.
When I return after the election I hope I will bring to my work a new and deeper knowledge of modern politics, the American electorate, and changes in media coverage of both. If it turns out things go well I’ll come back and tell you why I think it went well. If things don’t go well—if the Republicans lose, or they lose plus I’m a big flop in my efforts—I’ll tell you about that too.
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A personal note. My colleagues at the Journal have been sterling. This is the third time in four years they’ve allowed me to take a leave, the first two to finish books. They appropriately decided I cannot write for them during this time even now and then, because it is not the business of The Wall Street Journal to employ Republican or Democratic operatives. (I hate that word because it sounds so John Le Carre; but if you are trying to help a party you are operating in its favor, so there you are.) My personal thanks to James Taranto, my wonderful editor of four years; and to Paul Gigot, the editor of the editorial page of the Journal, who shared reservations as to the personal wisdom of my decision and yet proceeded with what might be called a conservative’s love for personal freedom.