My history on the right: the potted version
This was part of the introduction to my interview with David Frum, the conservative writer and now partial renegade, on my August 9 radio show. This is mostly a condensed version of two longer pieces, one in Bad Subjects, and the other in The Nation. My good friend Michael Pollak asked me to post the text, so here it is.
Before David Frum, a few words about my own right-wing past. In 1972, I cast my first ever presidential vote against Richard Nixon, because he wasn’t conservative enough.
I wasn’t always a right-winger. My eighth-grade world history teacher devoted a full period one day to a sympathetic lecture on Marx. When I got home, I announced to my parents that I was now a Marxist, and, supplemented by a bit of reading, thought of myself as one for the next four years.
But sometime in my senior year in high school — in 1970, when the world was largely in rebellion — I had a collision with one of William Buckley’s collections and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. Subscriptions to National Review and The American Spectator soon followed. By graduation I was a raving libertarian.
In those days, “movement” conservatism was tiny, though it’s hard to believe that now. I had no idea I was joining what in retrospect looks like a vanguard; then we thought capitalism was doomed, but there was something honorable about a last stand.
The moment I got to college, I joined Yale’s Party of the Right. [The POR no longer has a website; the Wikipedia article is mildly informative, and lists me as a “notable member.” I had nothing to do with that.] In 1971, Yale’s “traditions” were under siege not from a broad social rebellion, much of it anticapitalist. For a kid from an undistinguished New Jersey suburb who (briefly) wanted to join the ruling class, this was sad; the POR served as a repository for the Old Blue heritage.
And what a repository it was. We had Birchers, crypto-Nazis, neo-Confederates, monarchists, and drug-taking and gun-toting libertarians.
I didn’t last long. The milieu gave me the creeps, and I pretty quickly returned to my leftist roots. I did pay my former life a visit back in 2003, when I went to the POR’s 50th anniversary banquet in New Haven. The centerpiece of a POR event is a toasting ritual organized around a “green cup”–a silver cup filled with a vile green punch. Toasts were raised to: the Catholic Church (inspiring some hisses from the Episcopalians); the “possession of absolute truth,” which is one of the “incidental perquisites” of party membership; to the murder of Ben Linder, the American Sandinista sympathizer who was killed by the Nicaraguan contras in 1987; to the Crusades; to the “British empire and its American successor”; and to the prospect of building “a Basilica in Riyadh, and a cathedral in Mecca.” The last prompted a call from the audience, “What about Jerusalem?”
It was time to get on the train back to Grand Central.