I’ve been kind of quiet the last few days because I’ve been busy working. So here’s some fodder for the holier-than-thou Hairshirt Brigade: I’m in Phoenix attending the Restoration Weekend organized by uber-righty David Horowitz (Gasp! Shriek! Moan! Plotz!).
Nah, sorry to disappoint my critics. I’m not “pulling a Hitchens” nor “defecting” as some would crudely put it. I’ve come to this conservative gaggle before and have written about it in The Nation — so no wild conclusions should be drawn. This is merely a professional visit (Horowitz is also a neighbor of mine and we maintain a respectful friendship across a very deep political divide, occasionally arguing over corned beef sandwiches at the local deli).
I am, I might say, having a pretty grand time here — chatting up a lot of Republican pols including John Ashcroft, Tom Tancredo, JD Hayworth and many other specimens of the Crustacean Right including former Clinton CIA Director James Woolsey. I thought Ashcroft was going to fall over when I introduced myself as from The Nation.
It was kind of a shock to watch the former attorney general accept an award cooked up for him by Horowitz and actually present evidence of a Genuine Personality. Who knew? Unfortunately we couldn’t get Ashcroft loosened up enough to do one of his singing shticks but we did get him talking a bit about some internal GOP politics. I did have some laughs when a conservative comic who is part of the program here did some stand-up about how Ashcroft’s feelings have been hurt by his liberal critics. “No matter what George Bush does, the liberals say ‘Bush is Hitler! Bush is Hitler!’ How about that, John?” said dinner comic Evan Sayet nodding his head toward Ashcroft. “For those four years you spent toiling in the basement of the Justice Department stripping Americans of their civil liberties you’re just called a nameless ‘fascist’. You’ve gotta be saying, ‘Hey, wait, I’m Hitler too!’”
I was invited to speak on a panel about the future of the Democratic Party and was joined by former consultant Pat Caddell, current Democratic strategist and all-around wunder-babe Flavia Colgan along with New York Times Magazine correspondent Matt Bai. As a dedicated poker player I believe in the credo “No Free Cards” i.e. you gotta pay to see the flop. So before treating the audience to my usual disdain for the Dems I made them first sit through my all-out dump on the Republicans– which they took pretty well. (It was, indeed, heartening to have a number of people come up to me afterwards and tell me how uncomfortable they have grown with Bush). Generally speaking, the audiences at these events are usually quite gracious and easy-going if indeed out-to-lunch politically. It’s a much friendlier venue than your usual lefty gatherings. The Weekend-goers here are disportionately richer, older, more comfortable, less angry than your average progressive (duh!). And as they will usually admit that their politics are much more about self-interest than purportedly about saving the world, they don’t get very worked up if you disagree with them. Doesn’t really affect the bottom line, y’know.
Friday afternoon after a lunch speech by Senator John Kyl (which he used to justify the warrantless NSA spying program), some of the folks here went out skeet shooting at a local range and were kind enough to ask me along. Given that some of the party-goers here not only support Dick Cheney but are actual friends of his, I decided it was more prudent to duck out (so to speak); so I stayed back at the hotel garden, soaking up the gentle Arizona sun in an Adirondack chair, lazily sipping some Dr. Pepper, and mentally reviewing all the reasons why I could never be a conservative.
Anyway, I’ll be writing some of this stuff up over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.