It's the new black.
The latest installment of our continuing series of love letters to people, places, or products who we revere—but who will never love us back.
You might not know it, but you’re a friend of the family. Every Friday night (and sometimes Saturdays or Sundays, once we got DVR), my parents sat down and turned on the NewsHour so they could be informed by Shields & Brooks (Shields & Brooks is one of my favorite hyphenated brands, alongside Mumford & Sons and Barnes & Noble; you guys should get Gwen Ifill to join you on the banjo one night). My mom told me when I was a tiny tot that the political analysis of PBS had one liberal and one conservative. I assumed that Mark was the conservative because he was old and you were the liberal because you were less so; I was soon corrected.
You became my representative Republican intellectual, my political uncle. Not old but middle-aged. Not government-hating but government-aware. Not classic liberalism but classical conservatism. You emphasized people’s story in the context of data and scholarly analysis. You forced others to recognize the importance of emotion and passion, of cultural identity and of complication. You quoted amazing dead guys like Burke and Hume, were not above referring to poets, and you told everyone to stop thinking so highly of themselves.
Since you were my representative, I assumed for most of my adolescence that the Republican party constituted an intellectually sound alternative to its Democratic counterparts. It took several years of college for reality to sink in and the dysfunction of both our leading political parties to prove themselves. This meant that college, for me, was an experience in political disenchantment; much like politics itself.
Yet I have not become disenchanted with you. In 2009, I saw you speak to a group of well-to-do Floridian snowbirds. I submitted a question about what book was most formative in your intellectual journey and you said Burke’s Reflections on the Revolutions in France. Two years later, I switched into social and political philosophy class just because I saw Burke lying on the professor’s table. I wrote about you in my final paper and criticized your approval of the KIPP program as problematic from a classically conservative perspective. I started writing more final papers about contemporary Republicanism and its discontents, and about the search for alternatives.
Today, we’re going to watch the beginnings of a renewed national debate about surveillance. The opening lines of the New York Times article about Presidnet Obama’s response was, “Obama… sought to reassure the public that his administration has not become a Big Brother with eyes and ears throughout the world of online communications.” This will be an unusual task given the previous Times reportage (and Guardian reportage and Washington Post reportage) that sounds Orwellian enough. The national debate will slide quickly from policy to philosophy: how much do we value privacy, now? What is the meaning of security? Most fundamentally, what is the nature of the human heart – of the powerful and the plebeian?
Like other young, open-minded intellectuals, I will be paying attention to people I respect so I can adopt their opinions and sound original; I will be paying attention to you. My guess is that you will bring up human nature at least three times in the next op-ed. Tonight on the NewsHour, you and Mark Shields will agree harmoniously about how worrying this is; Mark will look heartbroken like the sincere basset hound-resembling national treasure that he is, and you will shake your head a lot and look cynically disappointed the way you have for the past decades. You will talk about Obama’s self-confidence and about the American people’s allergy to realism.
So David, in the middle of more political mayhem and Judy’s questions about your perspective and Hari asking you about the NBA finals: know that you are appreciated. Your role is valued. And you are welcome over to our place for dinner any time.
P.S. When you’re finished with it, I plan to take your job. Good to keep it in the family.