Mr. Tanenhaus, while we profoundly disagree on a number of points, I must echo the sentiments of my colleague. Your concerns, interests, and curiosity are clearly within politics, and the time has come for you to resign from the New York Times and take a chance. It is abundantly clear from the thoughtful and striking qualities of your New Republic piece that politics, not literature, is your beat. Your heart is in finishing the Buckley bio, not in books. Your literary hero, John Updike, is dead. And you clearly aren’t interested in any the emerging literary talents. So why continue to pretend?
But here’s the good news. There are plenty of people who can do what you cannot on the literary front. And with Democrats now controlling a sizable stretch within the Beltway, there are plenty of conservatives who cannot do what you can do on the politics front. If you wish to flail the sheets of conservatism and get a movement going, would such linen-shaking be best served in your current sinecure at the New York Times? Or would it better served through work carried out at The New Republic and other publications? I may be a liberal, but frankly a number of my progressive friends and colleagues could use a few swift kicks in the ass. Right now, there is no better candidate than you to puncture the complacency that has settled in among certain sectors of the Obama camp, who still genuinely believe that questioning even a few notions of Obama’s decisions do not involve the gestures of a natural skeptic, but a liberal drifting right. Like Jefferson, I like a little rebellion now and then. Natural storms must inhabit any partisan atmospheres if the American system is to remain honest. And while we both rest on different wings, I sense that you feel the same way.
Would not the sparring that you once unsuccessfully attempted by assigning Leon Wieseltier to write an ad hominem attack on Nicholson Baker be better served through politics? I’m sure you know by now that what works for politics does not always work for books. Humorless and austere writing — that Burkean tone you so admire and attempt to employ, often stubbornly, within the Review — does not blend particularly well with the fun and bipartisan possibilities of literary journalism. But it does work for politics.
I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Tanenhaus. Did the Democrats fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this current political climate represents a .44 Magnum pointed in your direction, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a few questions. Do I cower away from the principles with which I’ve lived my life? Or do I accept who I am and write and work with my strengths in mind?
Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
© 2009, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.