When I came to Washington in 1985, it was with the expectation that I would be spending my life fighting the Cold War. At the time, there were, oh, a couple of visionaries out there who looked forward to a world in which the Soviet Union lay on the ash heap of history, such as the man in the Oval Office then. But I figured we had two choices: We could acquiesce in the spread of Soviet influence and communist tyranny. Or we could play for a tie, to preserve the freedom of the Free World (yes, capital letters and without irony) while acknowledging that the Soviet Union and its global influence were permanent features of the political landscape.
I was OK with playing for a tie, and if circumstances had required me to spend the past 22 years doing that, it would have seemed entirely worthwhile to me. But wonder of wonders, things sometimes change. For the better. Suddenly. And in the wake of such change, as the eternal verities turn out to be neither eternal nor veritable, new questions start bubbling up.
So I was an advocate for my side, which is to say the United States and the Free World, through the end of the Cold War. Such advocacy also included the domestic side of policy, where we needed to worry about the diminution of our freedom at home, as well as the dangerous domestic reluctance to pay the price of opposing our adversary abroad. That made me a conservative polemicist, and a proud one, especially for running this paper’s editorial page from 1991 until 1998.
But by around 1996, 11 years and a new world since I came to Washington, I decided there was another kind of writing I needed to be doing. The new features of the world abroad and also of the world at home, with a “New Democrat” in the White House and the GOP in control of Congress, cried out to me to supplement my polemics on the editorial page with a sustained effort to describe and analyze what was going on in the world of politics.
So, I asked Wes Pruden if he’d mind if I took some space once a week on the Op-Ed page to pursue that endeavor, and he quickly agreed, to my lasting gratitude. After I left, I continued to enjoy the indulgence of my successors as editorial-page editor, Helle Dale and Tony Blankley.
You have probably figured out where the train is going this week. One thing I’ve always liked about readers of The Washington Times is that they don’t hew to the default setting of reading only the biggest paper in town. Maybe it’s because they are conservative; maybe it’s that they are curious about different points of view.
It’s not that The Post has any shortage of smart readers. But the thoughtful e-mail I’ve received over the years and the fascinating absence of the profanity-drenched dreck that most commentators endure in their inboxes is testament to the high-level engagement of readers with the issues I’ve been trying to explore.
I’ll miss that. So yes, after 11 years, I have decided to ring down the curtain on this column. It’s not that I consider the project of analyzing and explaining the political world to be, so to speak, “mission accomplished,” any more than that I considered polemics a thing of the past when I took up this column. I’ll continue to do some of each. But a lot of other projects also beckon.
One that I hope you’ll be hearing about, and let me start now, is the book I’ve written, which HC/HarperCollins is publishing June 1. It’s called “The Political Teachings of Jesus,” and its purpose is to examine very carefully the public statements of Jesus in the Gospels in order to understand more fully what he had to say about how people should organize their affairs and their relations with each other in this world. What you find in those statements, I think, is a fully worked out account of the idea of universal freedom and equality, as well as profound guidance on how to go about building a society based on those principles. If you are intrigued, good.
Another thing I’ll miss is the opportunity to draw attention to the excellent work of others. If I wanted to write something for The Washington Times readers about Andrew Ferguson’s new book, “Land of Lincoln,” I would ordinarily wait until the publication date, also June 1. But by then, this column will be long gone. So let me plead necessity and jump the gun by drawing your attention to an extraordinary and wonderful book. In “Land of Lincoln,” Mr. Ferguson set out to find the real Abe, and his journey yields a portrait of modern American life unmatched in wit and insight. Do yourself a favor and pre-order a copy at Amazon.
I don’t imagine you’ve ever bothered counting, but by agreement with the editors, this column has aimed to be about 850 words long each week. The very last two, to all readers, are “thank you.”