Seeking WFB.

December 5, 2012

Originally published in the paper of record, David Welch’s recent essay is below – sans editing, because he hit the nail right on the obvious and common sensical head.

It is a shame that William F. Buckley Jr. passed away in 2008. The conservative movement could use him — or someone like him — right now.

In the 1960s, Buckley, largely through his position at the helm of National Review, displayed political courage and sanity by taking on the John Birch Society, an influential anti-Communist group whose members saw conspiracies everywhere they looked.

Fast forward half a century. The modern-day Birchers are the Tea Party. By loudly espousing extreme rhetoric, yet holding untenable beliefs, they have run virtually unchallenged by the Republican leadership, aided by irresponsible radio talk-show hosts and right-wing pundits. While the Tea Party grew, respected moderate voices in the party were further pushed toward extinction. Republicans need a Buckley to bring us back.

Buckley often took issue with liberal-minded members of his party, like Nelson A. Rockefeller, and he gave some quarter to opponents of civil rights legislation. But he placed great faith in the Republican establishment and its brand of mainstream conservatism, which he called the “politics of reality.”

But his biggest challenge came from the far right, primarily in the form of the John Birch Society. During the 1950s and early ’60s, Birchers demanded that the government rid itself of supposed Communists — including, according its founder, Robert Welch (no relation, thank heaven), Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Buckley’s formula for conservative success rested on “the most right, viable candidate who could win.” He saw the danger the Birchers posed to the party, and in 1962 he wrote a devastating essay in National Review that condemned them for essentially calling on the party to commit political suicide. He dismissed Welch’s outrageous views as “drivel” and “removed from common sense.” The essay relegated the Birch Society to pariah status. Buckley may have saved the nascent conservative movement from the dustbin of history.

The absence of a Buckley-esque gatekeeper today has allowed extreme, untested candidates to take center stage and then commit predictable gaffes and issue moon-bat pronouncements. Democrats have used those statements to tarnish the Republican Party as anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-gay, anti-immigrant extremists. Buckley’s conservative pragmatism has been lost, along with the presidency and seats in Congress.

Republicans must now identify those who can bring adult supervision back to the party. Replacing Buckley — an erudite and prolific force of nature — with one individual is next to impossible. But we don’t need to. We can face the extremists with credible, respected leaders who have offered conservative policies that led to Republican victories.

Dare I say it, or should I just whisper the word? We need “the Establishment.” We need officials like former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, operatives like Karl Rove and Republican Party institutions.

Mr. Christie and Mr. Bush are ideally suited to drive extremists from the party. While some say Mr. Christie’s praise of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy hurt him politically, in fact it cemented his role as party truth-teller. In conjunction with his spirited defense of Sohail Mohammed, a State Superior Court judge who was absurdly attacked for allegedly wanting to impose Shariah law, Mr. Christie should be celebrated by sane people everywhere.

Mr. Bush, who once bravely stated that Ronald Reagan would have a hard time fitting in with today’s Republican Party, likewise has the position and gravitas to weigh in and weed out the Todd Akins and Sharron Angles of the world.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Christie best represent realistic, levelheaded conservatism. Both have crossed the aisle numerous times to the betterment of their states. Yet they enjoy sterling reputations in the party. This occurs when common sense trumps partisanship. This is not to say that the only way forward is by tying the party to bipartisanship. But it does mean a willingness to fight those who claim the name of the party but not its ethos.

In a recent interview, the bête noir of both the left and the Tea Party right, Mr. Rove, suggested that his organization, American Crossroads, might become active in Republican primaries during the next election cycle. If Crossroads and the old-guard Republican committees sided with sensible candidates early on in the primaries and, if need be, ran ads against extreme members of the party, they could do much to bring some sense back to the Republican landscape.

Our modern-day Buckley’s denouncement of once fringe Tea Party candidates should be forthright. Whether it’s Bush, Christie or a party institution, there must be one clear message: no unserious candidate need apply. Party leaders should seize this moment as Buckley did decades ago. It wasn’t easy. He lost subscribers and donors. But inveighing Buckley went, weathering the storm to keep his party poised for future victories.

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Playing The Ponies

July 23, 2010

If the D.C. social circuit turns itself out for any function this year, it will be the America’s Polo Cup, the equestrian sport’s equivalent of the similarly-named sailing event.

Or so hope Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who plugged the event (which they’ve organized) on Carol Joynt’s “Q&A Cafe” program in Georgetown. The pair formerly made headlines bluffing their way into President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, gaudily sans invitation.

The aspirational couple.

Since, they’ve been chomping impatiently and loudly at the D.C. social bit. To their advantage, that particular bit is unusually susceptible to chomping because of the transitory nature of that city: the in-crowd changes every four-to-eight years, providing for a cultural memory more myopic than, say, Greenwich, Connecticut.  

The headlining event will be the match between the United States and Costa Rica. The Cup has long been an event of political and cultural significance in D.C., as diplomats and industrialists from competing nations migrate to host countries for the duration of the tournament. President Warren Harding was in the stands in 1923, meeting and greeting benefactors (established and potential) from around the polo-playing world.

The 2011 America’s Polo Cup will be held on the National Mall, set back from the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. Since it’s not sanctioned by the Federation of International Polo, the match is largely thought a spectator event. There is no word yet from the organizers as to the price of tickets, or if security will be any tighter than a White House state dinner.

Like most things Salahi, the Polo Cup is already a little fraud-tarnished: its website once listed India’s Kingfisher Beer as a sponsor but Yashpal Singh, president of Kingfisher’s parent company, disagreed. “We are not sponsoring this event and have informed the people managing this event of that… We have sent legal notices to this effect, and he keeps on advertising us as a sponsor. I don’t know what world he’s living in.”

Land Rover withdrew its sponsorship in 2009, when a charity associated with the event was investigated by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs for tax irregularities.


Barbarians At The Gate

December 5, 2009

With celebrity gossip and reality television often taking media precedence over coverage of military engagements and economic recession, it’s little wonder that the two would eventually travel perpendicular paths. It may be a testament to the tragic prominence of pop culture “news” in our national consciousness that those paths would cross at so venerable an event as a White House state dinner.

The hopeful Salahis.

The hopeful Salahis.

Aspiring nouveau socialites Tareq and Micheaele Salahi, known for dodging creditors and for courtroom brawls with relatives, secured their coveted fifteen minutes of fame by bluffing their way in to President Obama’s first-ever state dinner. The two engineered the stunt as part of a bid to appear on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of D.C.” reality television series. Previously, Michaele had also claimed to have been a Redskins cheerleader and appeared at a cheerleaders’ alumni event for that team; she was unable to perform any of the cheers and was quickly outed.

The couple (he, a polo-playing vintner and she, a blonde) are in the habit of forcefully rubbing shoulders with those who would rather not. The two maintain a Facebook account which documents, in pictures, their aggresively upward social mobility. His family owns a Virginia winery, the subject of protracted legal battles with his parents: he wants it, they say they need to sell it to pay off his debts. The couple have already lost their Virginia home to foreclosure. A photo of Tareq posing with Prince Charles hangs prominently inside that house and its closets contain, by Michaele Salahi’s own estimate, about 300 pairs of her shoes.

“Nobody wants to deal with them,” say the couple’s Virginia neighbors. “The sheriffs have come by twice already looking for them” in connection with their Maserati and Aston Martin, both of which have been repossessed.

The pair were spotted almost immediately at the White House dinner by a D.C. society columnist who was there to cover the event. The columnist, apparently more in tune with that town’s social radar than the two aspiring insiders, alerted an event staffer that the Salahis appeared out of place. A quick check revealed that neither actually had an invitation. Appropriately fitting that two such ladder climbers, hopeful for reality television riches, would be turned in by one of that ladder’s own guard dogs.


Summer Suits

September 28, 2009

Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felton recently wrote “Lighten Up: Rediscovering The Summer Suit” for that paper’s July 23 issue of this year. His piece is reproduced here, below, for its language and pertinence, and because it’s a nice daydream when the wind is blowing brown leaves off the trees outside.

Novelist and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius blogged at the Daily Beast this week in praise of summer suits. “Long Live the Seersucker” was the headline, with a subhead that promised Mr. Ignatius was championing “a revival of cream-colored linen and balmy pinfeather.” It begins well enough, with Mr. Ignatius crowing that he has “a closet full of such suits.” But then he admits he’s embarrassed to wear them. When dressed in white linen, “people ask me for ice cream cones.” As much as he would love to escape the “permanent sartorial winter” that is the wearing of dark suits, he lacks the courage to do so.

Seersucker-suited defense attorneys, Houston, Texas.

Seersucker-suited attorneys, Houston, Texas.

What a shame—a shame that a man who writes thrillers should be so easily cowed by convention. But the real shame is the modern prejudice against summer suits, an attitude that has hardened as men’s clothes have been bifurcated into two extremes: the dark formality of the business suit and the hypercasual mufti of T-shirts and shorts. The habit of wearing suits used to be such a natural part of grown-up life that men could bring variety and personality to the workaday get-up. Now, to the extent men think about their clothes, they tend to focus on fine-tuning the weekend rigs of perpetual adolescence. The summer suit, correct but easy-going, presents a rare opportunity to bridge the gap. It’s bad enough to beaver away at the office when the beach and boats beckon; do we have to do it dressed like undertakers?

Having a distinct summer wardrobe was once the mark of a man in the know. The term “white shoe” for describing a socially secure firm derives from the WASPy habit of wearing chalked bucks in the summer. Joseph Heller in his novel “Something Happened” describes a salesman whose job is in jeopardy because “he has no tone,” evidenced by his clueless clothes—tweed or worsted in the dog days when everyone else is wearing seersucker.

Seersucker and white linen do still have a robust following in the Spanish moss states. But the Southern connotations of pale-colored suits have been a hurdle for Yankees, who can’t figure out whether they evoke Atticus Finch or Boss Hogg. Another difficulty is discerning whether seersucker, inexpensive cloth that it is, suggests penury or wealth. Writer Damon Runyon took to seersucker in the 1940s and his friends thought he was going broke. He set them straight: “Only very rich men ever wear seersucker clothes.” And thus he concluded: “Runyon, what is good enough for a financial giant is good enough for you.”

But these days air conditioning has made it possible to scoff at summer, and that has made the suits of the season risky. Consider the photo, on the front page of Tuesday’s Journal, of the Apollo 11 astronauts visiting the White House this week. There is the great moon-walking American Neil Armstrong in khaki poplin, perfectly suited for Washington in July. But he’s oddly out of place surrounded by the dark woolens of Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Barack Obama.

summer_suit

The White House wasn’t always locked into such formal suiting. In June 1945, Harry Truman met the press to tout how well the peace was going to go with our pals the Soviets. His summer suit conveyed that he was in control: “The confident man in the White House,” reported Time magazine, “cool in a blue seersucker suit and soft-collared white shirt, was optimistic.” (If only the optimism had been warranted.)

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who made seersucker a Washington mainstay, and he took advantage of the cloth’s ability to bridge high and low, wearing seersucker suits on road trips across the Dust Bowl. Not that there weren’t complaints. One day in August of 1940, FDR sat for some press pictures. “He’s looking wonderful,” said a photographer who griped: “Only trouble was that darn seersucker suit. The pictures won’t look very dressy.”

But that’s the very opportunity presented by summer suits for men, a way to avoid being dressy without tumbling down into abject sloppiness. Mr. Obama knows he can’t wear his impeccable dark suits for every occasion—Richard Nixon famously made that mistake, strolling the beach in black wingtips and navy worsted—but beyond that uniform, Mr. Obama isn’t quite sure what to wear. The less said about the president’s unfortunate blue jeans at the All Star Game, the better.

Too many men wear their suits the way waiters wear their bad tuxedos, as something alien and apart from the clothes they wear when given a choice. The admirable efforts to rescue American men from the infantilizing curse of the hypercasual are never going to get anywhere as long as suits are seen as an arbitrary and foreign costume. Summer suits are part of the solution, a way to prove that one can be relaxed in a jacket. Linen, poplin, or seersucker breaks the suffocating and stultifying uniform out of its dull uniformity.

That said, there are some job sites at which a year-round uniform of inky formality is not only appropriate but demanded, among them mortuaries and certain Wall Street banks. Fresh out of Harvard Business School in 1947, John C. Whitehead took a job at Goldman Sachs, where one was expected to wear one’s jacket all day long, even in the heat of an office that lacked not only air conditioning but windows. Tired of broiling, Mr. Whitehead bought himself some seersucker. “I felt quite snappy,” he recounts in his memoir, “A Life in Leadership.” Wearing his summer suit for the first time, he sprang into the company elevator only to find himself with “one of the great eminences at the firm,” Walter Sachs.

“Good morning, young man,” the whitebeard said. “Do you work at Goldman Sachs?”

“Why yes, sir, I do,” replied Mr. Whitehead, pleased to have been noticed.

“In that case,” Sachs scowled, “I would suggest that you go home right now and change out of your pajamas.”