In my book I tell the story of a dramatic terror alert at the U.S. Capitol during the events surrounding the funeral of Ronald Reagan. I was in a ceremonial room in the Senate, part of a delegation asked to receive back the president’s body from California, where he had died, for the lying in state. A plane had entered Capitol air space, was headed toward the Capitol, was presumed to be weaponized. All were told, literally, to run for their lives — “Incoming aircraft, one minute out!” Quite a scene. As I walked I saw a great lady ... be carried down the Capitol steps in her wheelchair, as all around her fled. She held her cane in her hand, like the brave little prow of a ship. And as I turned and saw her a thought came with the force of an intuition, though it was not that, just a thought: Before this is over we’ll all be helping each other down the stairs. ... We must become more serious in the way we practice our politics, more equal to the moment. We need to take the long view; in the age of chatter we need forbearance, maturity, and grace.
My first thought is that any columnist who thought he was playing a major or minor role in people’s political decisions would be mildly delusional. Columnists tend not to have that power, nor deserve it. But my second is of course I try to think about the implications, if any, of what I write. But where I come down is this: I am a columnist, and my job is to try, within the limits of my abilities, to tell my readers what I think is happening, and what it means. I have to say what I believe to be true or I don’t deserve to write for the Wall Street Journal.
In a larger sense, Kathryn, allow me to say here that I have been dismayed to see something new happen, in the past few years, in conservatism. ... When I was first struggling through as a young conservative, when Bill Buckley was heading NR and Ronald Reagan and then Bush I were in the White House, conservatism was marked — truly, distinguished as a political movement — in part by an air of profound latitude in terms of what could be said. We had brawls. ... Now there is, in the conservative movement, a greater air of fearfulness, of repression. And this is all so very un-conservative. "Which side are you on?", "You better not buck the team," "Declare your loyalties, comrade." Literally: comrade. This is not the way of conservatism, this is the way, the manner and tone, of the old leftism. I don’t think it’s defensible morally, and I know it’s indefensible practically. Movements must grow, must include, expand, gather in; politics is a game of addition.
I happen to think careerism has become an unseen force in much of the fighting. Conservatism didn’t used to be a career, it was a sailing against the wind, a pushing back against the age that is pushing you, and it was often lonely, individual, painful. It has been for me.