I met with the self-appointed emissary to B. last week, and he met with me, the self-appointed emissary to B. Our mission: to breach the divide. What divide? Good question. However, we know it exists. We know it threatens the well-being of the Great Republic. We as a society cannot thrive if the reds and the blues are committed to each other’s destruction and cannot share bathrooms.
The rot has got to where it is not only reds and blues; the two sides are divided against themselves and cannot give a simple answer to what ought to be a simple question: What do you, as a red, believe, bedrock? And you, as a blue — I am referring here to American political organizations, not redcoats and patriots — what are your basics?
Under the circumstances, I thought to begin with what I knew, however small and of little weight in the political world; to wit, the battle of ideas, the engagement with principles and ways of thinking about them. Even here, among both reds and blues, the thinkers — sometimes called intellectuals — whose job is to explain and define key questions cannot see eye to eye or concept to concept.
Agreeing on positions is not necessary if you agree on principles. For example, the question of whether we are a democratic republic or a republican democracy does not preclude disagreeing on setting term limits for the peoples’ representatives.
B. and B. are magazine men. As boys, they were enthralled at how William F. Buckley Jr. had launched a magazine that became the beehive of the conservative movement. They both drew inspiration from Irving Kristol, who famously said that if you have problem, start a magazine. Now nobody knew, or appeared to care, who was writing what where.
My response: Go back to fundamentals. Otherwise, what? You want Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene to define what conservatism is?
The initiative began when I called him — hadn’t spoken in years due to him going with B., who was the most irredentist amongst the Never-Ts, and my hanging in with B., who countered saying never won’t cure the blues.
I said: Do you remember what Buckley advised?
On martinis? Gin, never vodka. He nodded to the barman. We had agreed to meet at the Hay-Adams, wore J. Press blazers and gray flannels, fedoras.
Mine’s rye, straight. I meant on electing conservatives.
Oh sure, he said support whichever conservative has the best chance of winning. And never speak ill of a fellow Republican.
That was Reagan.
Oh yes. So what’s on your mind?
We got to do something, said I. We got to make a stab at re-fusing the right.
Re-fusing? Fuel is what they need.
Re-fusioning. Whatever; but the fuel comes whence, I pressed.
Why, if Buckley is the reference, ideas. They all said that. Kirk, Weaver. Ideas have consequences. Ideas are the force upon which liberty’s edifice is built. Or rebuilt. Just as love of country is the foundation. What’s the idea?
We need to re-fuse. And with refusion, put pressure on the Republican Party to get its act together.
Give it a shot, boy. For old times’ sake. You can’t quit now.
Cut the histrionics. What’s the plan? If there is one.
You go to Bill. I go to Bob. We take it from there.
They could go naked, I said, deadpan.
But would they, he parried.
Why not? They abolished their dress code, reversed. Shows they go whichever. Thing is, everybody knows the emperor has no clothes.
The banter was to cover our embarrassment as we realized we hadn’t spoken since 2016 for reasons unworthy of men who claimed to respect arguments and disagreements. You know the way Englishmen will spend a few minutes making witty remarks about everything except the matter they mean to discuss, until they’ve had a couple gin and tonics and feel ready to get down to the b.t.s. Or the way Frenchmen will take 10 minutes running everything down and then ponder their own onions, assuming they have any.
Then, too, had we burned every last bridge or was there one still crossable? We were the only ones who’d step up, go to the principals, make the pitch.
The pitch: Get Bill and Bob to issue a Joint Statement of Republican Principles. With invitation to anyone seeking elected office, from sheriff to president, to sign. You know, like Grover’s tax pledge.
Reckon they can get a grant to run ads, he said.
Sure. Put the arm on hedge fund managers. Ideas have consequences. Guys who make billions and still feel a touch of guilt remembering their teachers marked them for academic stardom, before they realized they had a knack for the work that makes the big bucks.
So the idea, he goes to Bill, I go to Bob. Make the case. House divided, last best hope. Can’t know if y’ don’t try, right?
Civic duty and so forth. We agreed on that.
Had to nail down some notions. A few points to get the machine moving. The foundation. The hard core. The stark red line in the sand of ideas.
You know, I opined, a last shot at banter before the nit and the grit — the terms. What we should agree on first is if it even matters.
If it matters.
I mean, it’s not as if DeSantis will quote Buckley and Christie will hit back with Bartley.
You mean does anybody care.
I let the question answer itself.
Look here, said I, the game plan is to have two idea men put aside their mutual loathing, stand athwart the divide, and say, halt! The Republic deserves better.
But your point is that, to the pols, the battle of ideas is irrelevant.
My point is that the battle of ideas matters more than ever. Especially because no one says so.
We had a drink on that and got to work.
Okay, he said, let’s put down the easy ones first. If they sign off, we’ll bring them a few more, then draft the statement. The situation on the border merits a response no less vigorous than Ukraine’s to Russia.
I’m putting that one down. They both support supporting Ukraine, so let’s see if they support supporting Texas. Next.
Constitutional amendment, federal government operates on a balanced budget.
Good one. That’s basic. The response of the Washington grifter class —
Never mind that. Amendments. Constitutional convention. No amendment banning abortion.
Another good one. Federalism 101, hold people responsible for protecting the most tiny. No passing the buck to Washington.
Same vein, no more federal involvement in education.
Absolutely, take responsibility for educating the kids whose lives you saved. You think they’ll go for that, kill Department of Ed? With all those enforcement rules about girls’ sports and all?
It’s all in the Constitution already. All these additional enforcement laws are just an excuse to create more no-work jobs in Washington and meddle in local matters.
All right, leave it in. Foreign affairs. What’s a good one?
Forget it. We don’t know we can get agreement on these three, and if we can’t, it’s shot. Okay, just one: John Quincy Adams’ dictum is still the cornerstone of all national-security policy, good?
We both stared hard. Then we both nodded. Shook hands.
Exhaled by ordering another round and going back to the banter: Bet — which one of us will call first with the thumbs up? No point drafting the statement until we know we’ve got the first principles.
Easier for you, he said. Bob’s a soft touch.
You mean Bill’s a hard nose? Then I’ll take him. Will he even see me? Call him to say it’s only business, nothing personal. Might even invite me to breakfast, put it on the expense account. Bob, too, but he’ll give you dinner.
Got it. What’re we betting?
Bottle of rye, what else?
Of course. Need a ride?
Got my bike. See ya, partner.
To be continued.