Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bradley Symposium report, Part 1

Now, see there? I went, I asked my question, I shook their hands -- perfectly civil and polite, nothing at all to fear from the panelists. And the audience seemed friendly enough, as well. So despite their fearsome reputation, the Bradley Foundation's symposiasts were quite civil.

They opened the floor to questions and -- after a dreadful rant from a British defender of the "European project," among other "questions" -- my prayers were answered. I caught the eye of Mrs. Kass, the moderator. She and her husband wrote a lovely book about courtship some years before, about which I interviewed them at the time. Mrs. Kass nodded, and soon the microphone was passed to me.

"My question is for Mr. Brooks," I began, and only then realized that I had failed to state my name and affiliation as had been requested. I apologized and said my name, when suddenly I realized that the panelists weren't the only ones with fearsome reputations. Glances were exchanged, and I could have swore that I saw at least one panelist slip a note to his neighbor. But paranoia aside ....

Paraphrasing my question, roughly, from a stressed-out memory: "Mr. Brooks you wrote an excellent book -- your "Bobo" book -- about the American elite, and how it is ... well, how it is that someone finds himself sitting up there at the table. Now, about 10, 12, 15 years ago, we used to hear a lot about the 'liberal elite' that was out of touch with the American people. ... It is possible that we now have a conservative elite that is similarly out of touch? ...."

Then I sat down. Mr. Brooks, who is very intelligent -- he might have missed, at most, three questions on his SAT, two of them on the math part -- began his reply by acknowledging the unspoken subtext.

I've been experiencing a slight hearing problem in my left ear for the past few days -- not oxycontin, just earwax -- but I believe Mr. Brooks began by saying, "You know, I was just discussing this the other day with my Mexican nanny ...."

Mr. Brooks then said that there can be no populist revolt like Buchanan/Perot/Gingrich, because the masses have no leader. About three questions and 10 minutes later, my prayers were answered again when Mrs. Kass recognized ...

Tammy Bruce.

I shall let Ms. Bruce, whose hearing and memory may be better, quote her own comments, which I am pretty sure began, "I'd like to respond to something David just said ...."

But, dear friends, be assured that the Platonic archons have heard from the tribunes of the plebs.

** UPDATES **


Linked at the American Spectator blog.

Pajamas Media has commented on Tammy's excellent adventure.

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Glauco a.k.a. Albert has an account of the discussion, and some comment: Part I & Part II.

One of Glauco's commenters notes that some of James Ceaser's argument seems "compatible with a Guardian class seeking to extract effort froom the populace through the creation and manipulation of myths." I believe that this commenter is a leftist, but what he says is very much compatible with a very old paleoconservative critique of what might be called the Claremont School of conservatism, namely the use of history as myth in the sense Plato meant when he used the phrase "noble lies."

This is one of my pet peeves with contemporary conservative rhetoric: Everything in history, we are told, has exactly one meaning, without regard for any context that might suggest impurity of meaning. The classic example of this is Abraham Lincoln, a figure of enormous significance in Claremont School iconography. Both leftists and Southerners have long pointed out that Lincoln, among other things, trampled constitutional rights by imprisoning dissenters, and that Lincoln frequently disclaimed any intention to bring about racial equality.

Even when intellectuals in the Claremont crowd can be prompted to address these non-conforming facts, however, it never seems to deter the Claremonters from their idolatrous "What Would Lincoln Do?" mentality. The faults and failures of another other American leader -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc. -- are fair game. But never can anyone be permitted to harbor a skeptical view toward Honest Abe. Skeptics on the Left are accused of being unpatriotic, while skeptics on the Right are accused of racism, but always the intent is the same: Those who invoke Lincoln must only do so with unmixed admiration; only such admirers can be admitted to the circle of respectable society; and any skeptic who barks too loudly must be destroyed.

Thus the actual man -- the cagey, sarcastic lawyer-politician whom Herndon knew and described -- is buried beneath layers of lachrymose myth and has become, we might well say, the "Third Rail-Splitter of American Politics." (Sorry -- couldn't resist the pun.)

-- McCAIN