[ed. note: a number of you have written requesting I invite T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII back for another analysis of the sad state of the conservative movement. After some cajoling and a bottle of VSOP, he agreed.]
T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII
Editor, the National Topsider
Membership Chairman, The Newport Club
Much has been written about the fate of the conservative movement in the months since last I corresponded with you. I won’t belabor the barrels of ink expended in the printing of its obituary, nor will I bore you with further reading of its entrails. Suffice it to say the grand old ship is in the doldrums, adrift in the electoral currents, with nary a harbor on the horizon. But it is time we leave such map room mopery aside and navigate a bold new course for the conservative armada. One needn’t have a 400-year old heirloom scrimshaw sextant for this task; but, fortunately, I do.
It’s quite a handsome instrument, I might add, skillfully hewn from North Atlantic whalebone by some long forgotten crewman on De Gouden Hoer, the sleek Dutch galleon that once transported great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great-grandfather Marinus Van Voorhees to the New World, safe beyond the reach of the angry Amsterdam mobs who mistakenly blamed him for some unpleasant business there involving tulip futures. According to family legend grandpapa Marinus won it in a high stakes high seas game of Kaiserspiel, trumping that unlucky crewman’s queen-high flush with his trusty pearl handled rapier. Although it doomed the crewman to a tragic fate as shark chum in the Gulf Stream, his beautifully crafted sextant has since proven a treasured family keepsake — passed down from generation to generation of Van Voorheeses as we migrated westward with the great American expansion; from Newport to Greenwich to Manhattan, and finally back east again to the summer compound in Montauk.
Today the Van Voorhees family sextant rests proudly atop my private shipboard desk. I’m admiring it now; there it sits, in its protective crystal bell jar, alongside Marinus’ rapier, both still bearing the sanguinary patina of their provenance. They were, of course, the deathbed bequest of my visionary father, T.C. Van Voorhees VI, rakish founder of the National Topsider and the modern conservative movement. Last year, after our final emotional handshake, he looked at me with those anxious, fading eyes, and said:
“the helm awaits, my lad; I trust you will steer it well. And, it appears, I have soiled myself.”
With that, old Dad slipped off this mortal coil. A sad moment, to be sure, but I took comfort in the stoic grace with which he finally relinquished control of both the conservative movement and his bowels. His beloved sextant is a constant reminder of my grave responsibility as conservatism’s new helmsman, and a testament to the timeless truth that fate favors the bold – and the well-bred.
This was, as you know, the theme of the National Topsider’s exclusive January conference at the private Breakers Club in Nassau where I hosted a veritable murderer’s row of top tory thinkers to diagnose the troubles with conservatism. Dame Peggy Noonan was there, of course, along with Kathleen Parker, Douglas Kmiec, and those two mighty Davids of conservative intellect, Brooks and Frum. But enough of the namedropping. The order of the day, after mixed badminton doubles, was to formulate an Rx for our ailing patient. In this regard we were in surprising accord: in order to survive, conservativism simply must start appealing to a better class of people. The sad fact of the matter, as we noted, is that one no longer finds admitted conservatives in any of America’s prestige zip codes nor the faculty redoubts of her selective academies. During our Bahamian summit many gambits were proposed to win back America’s elite electoral precincts from the left; sponsoring various hip hop colloquia at the better Ivies, supporting integration of gays into Nascar, endorsing state ownership of the means of production. Rod Dreher, whose sensational exegesis “Crunchy Cons” sold well over 200 copies last year, recommended a full embrace of the environmental movement, which as I understand is quite the rage among youthful voters and the trendsetting thespians of Hollywood. Good and bold ideas all, and necessary steps to get the movement started again. But there remains a daunting obstacle – namely, the benighted rubes who constitute so much of our so-called “base,” and whose existence make it nigh on impossible to recruit their social betters.
That conundrum of electoral calculus was the topic of much discussion two weeks ago, when my Nassau confreres and I were summoned to the White House for an intimate repast with the new President and his inner circle. Mr. Obama was radiant as ever, still basking in the afterglow of his historic victory. I admit to a recent wobble or two in my faith in him, as the severe beatings suffered by my various family trusts have necessitated some unanticipated cutbacks in my household staff. But that easy, commanding elegance was a bracing reminder of why I endorsed Mr. Obama as the true conservative presidential choice. After dessert (black walnut dacquoise with sections of quince) we retired to the Blue Room where chief of staff Rahm Emanuel entertained us with some droll tales of his days as terpsichorean with the Mossad ballet auxiliary, even treating us to a few thrilling, if f-bomb laced, arabesques. He was followed by Vice President Joe Biden, who put on a fine display of his famed wit and penchant for unpredictable cerebral infarctions. Amid the sparkling bonhomie the President solicited our views on the causes of — and solutions to — conservatism’s sad state. Seizing the opportunity for a tete-a-tete with the world’s most powerful, popular, and beautiful man, I explained the tragic plague of rubes who stand athwart our modernization program.
“Why not just drive them out?” asked the President, elegantly French inhaling his Marlboro Light 100. “Under the old bus, so to speak.”
“Alas, were it so easy,” interrupted Brooks, in a clumsy attempt to draw Mr. Obama’s attentions from me like some cocquettish debutante. Parker, Noonan and Frum were too lost in orgasmic schoolgirl giggling to offer anything more substantive. I ignored their embarrasing faux pas and pressed on with my thesis.
“We’ve tried, Mr. President,” I explained. “But there are unsavory elements within the party who keep bringing them back in.”
My reference, obviously, was to the self-styled luminaries of “populism” who hang like a millstone around the Republican neck — the Sarah Palins, the Plumbing Joes, the Bobby Jindals, the Rush Limbaughs, the motley middlebrow state college pretenders to the conservative throne. A shared contempt for these arriviste oafs unites the Nassau summitteers perhaps even more than our shared fondness for a snifter of well-behaved armagnac VSOP. I have made no secret of my feelings about la Palin and her grim brood of ill-mannered snowbillies, as well that horrid toilet tinkerer from Toledo whose fifteen minutes have somehow refused to expire. The recent emergence of Bobby Jindal and Rush Limbaugh in the intraparty maelstrom yet affords fresh opportunities for conservative dismality.
As for this Jindal fellow, who quite knows what to think? In the more colorful days of my youth I took quite a shine to the mystics of the East Indies, not to mention that culture’s astonishingly encyclopedic catalogues of sexual positions. As teenagers in 1968, my chalet mate Kloonkie Von Wallensheim and I took a sabbatical from our studies at Swiss finishing school for a stint at a Punjabi ashram, to learn Accidental Transgression or similar hippie era hooey from Yogi Rama Booboo, or somesuch fakir who now fades from memory; although, I recall now in my maturity that was mostly a flimsy excuse we concocted to our manservants for the chance to indulge in hallucinogenic benders with John, Paul, George and Ringo. As a result I have a special fondness for the subcontinent, and so was understandably intrigued when I first heard about this young Hindu chap on the hustings in Louisiana. It has long been my conviction that conservatives need to reach out to the duskier demographics, and so I was eager to see how he incorporated sitars and the Bhaghavad Gita into his State of the Union response. But then I heard the fellow open his mouth and let forth a non-stop torrent of the very same tired, twangy trailer park taxophobia that placed the GOP into its current predicament; y’all this, and it’s yore munny that, more redolent of some ghastly hillbilly bar-bee-cue stewpot than the exotically intoxicating curries and saffrons I was led to expect. Where were the hypnotic entreaties to Krishna? Shiva? Ganesh? The appeals to Universal consciousness and the Bramin castes? Nowhere, I’m afraid, just the same old hackneyed hayseed Hayekian Hee Haw delivered by a man who obviously hasn’t the slightest clue how to leverage a pigmentation advantage. The deluded lad has ignited his birthright on a pyre, sent it down the Ganges, and reincarnated himself as just another Bayou Babbitt. One need only look at the blandly average ethnic composition of his audiences to realize that, as an effective parry to the Democrats’ brilliant racial strategems, Mr. Jindal is most certainly a bust.
Where Jindal offers mere disappointment, the crystal set “dee jay” buffoon Rush Limbaugh by contrast offers a horrifying one-stop object lesson in all that ails Republicanism: the embarrassing bombast and boosterism, the cheap anti-intellectual sophistry, the complete failure to understand his place. For twenty years he has served up his sad stew of red meat blandishments and powdered itch medications to a declasse horde of gun-totin’ Ozark lumpenproles and exurban strip mall burghers, a blithering baritone soundtrack for legions of hinterland idiots aimlessly wandering from one Wal-Mart to the next in their blood curdling sport utility wagons. These are, as I have noted, the selfsame steerage classes that makes it so difficult to sell first class tickets aboard the S.S. Conservatism.
For his efforts I am told Mr. Limbaugh is somehow exceedingly well compensated. Certainly, as a conservative, I shan’t begrudge a man making a good living, even those among the GOP’s nouveaux riches. Where I draw the line is when he uses his money to purchase the estate adjoining Meticula, my family’s ancient winter manor in Palm Beach. Last year when I arrived for my annual January-March constitutional I was stunned to discover Mr.Limbaugh as my new neighbor. Literally stunned, as I was unceremoniously beaned by an errant ball from his private golf course as I was supervising the tent arrangements for an evening party in the gardens. Limbaugh had the minimum graces to drive his cart to the fence and offer an apology, but the sight of the obese cigar-puffing harlequin, clad in those garish chartreuse plaid plus fours and tam o’shanter, compelled that I muster an entire lifetime of good breeding to accept it. It should come as no surprise that I summoned my property manager the next morning and ordered him to put Meticula up for sale. It was a difficult decision, what with all the Bernard Madoff unpleasantness that so afflicted the Palm Beach real estate market and social calendar last year. For the life of me I can’t understand why Mr. Madoff is known as the “shame of Palm Beach” while Mr. Limbaugh still maintains an address in that once-exclusive village. Say what you will about the embattled financier Madoff, but at least he had the good taste to inhabit only the better Democratic clubs and progressive social circles. In any event, after 116 years in Van Voorhees hands, Meticula has passed on to new ownership. I took quite a financial bath in the bargain but it was worth it to escape further exposure to Limbaugh. It was also useful in shoring up a few recent liquidity problems in several of my trusts.
Alas, as a leader in the thinking wing of the GOP it has proven impossible to completely avoid the predations of Mr. Limbaugh and his slack jawed minions. Each day he rounds up a fresh wave of uncultured baboons to the Republican cause, like some anti-intellectual Pied Piper, making it harder and harder to reposition the party as an upscale boutique brand. Our progressive competitors continue to pummel us with accusations that Mr. Limbaugh is the presumptive leader of the party; a charge, I might add, that he has been slow to deny. In fact, during the recent CPAC meetings in Washington I watched on in abject horror as Limbaugh held sway at the podium with a barrage of anti-government invective, even repeating his shocking — and embarrassing — imprecations against the success of Mr. Obama. More shocking was the response of the audience, who as one hooted and screeched their primate approval. One supposes the speech might have been a delayed side effect of his painkiller addiction, but what, dear God, accounts for the reaction of the mob? I shall leave this enigma to greater minds than my own. We in the intellectual wing were left only to clean up his mess, but even this charitable act resulted in greater indignities; I read now that RNC chairman Michael Steele was forced into a groveling apology for making the plain observation that Mr. Limbaugh is reviled and despised by all right-thinking conservatives. Despite our efforts the Limbauvian tumor seems only to have metastasized, erupting as it did in the unsightly “tea party” revolts which tormented the public squares last weekend. It has all become, at last, far too much to countenance. Before we can steer the S.S. Conservatism back to port I daresay we must now take leave of the binnacle and force Limbaugh and the rest of the mutinous cretins back to the orlop deck where they belong. At swordpoint, if necessary.
As I explained all this to President Obama, I assured him that there are still many conservatives like us who patriotically wish him every success, no matter what policies he has in mind. After extinguishing his Marlboro he paused for a few moments, nodded, and assured me that he would dispatch his staff and allies in the press to deal with the Limbaugh problem, thereby clearing the Council of Nassau to forge a new, improved, more fashionable Republican party.
In that instant my faith in Mr. Obama’s innate conservatism was reborn, for his offer of bipartisan kindness was a manifest sign that he only has our best interests at heart. Yes, I know there remain some conservatives of the better sort who have been shaken by the recent distressing market turns as our gallant young admiral struggles to find his sea legs and a coherent bank nationalization strategy. I confess to such quiet misgivings myself, which I brought up in our conversation. In response the President assured me that he would keep my portfolio in mind in the next round of corporate bailouts. Let us conservatives take comfort in that assurance, and in the fact that no matter what new taxes he proposes, Mr. Obama has at least assembled a cabinet with no personal enthusiasm for paying them. We must maintain our faith that the President’s inner conservative will eventually emerge, and remain firm in the conviction that He works in mysterious ways.
But, should the markets continue their unfortunate slide, I still have my trusty heirloom sextant. The staff at Sotheby’s remains confident it will still command a pretty penny at auction!