By T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII
Columnist, The National Topsider
Membership Chairman, The Newport Club
When my late father T. Coddington Van Voorhees VI founded the iconoclastic conservative journal National Topsider in 1948, he famously declared that "Now is the time for all good conservative helmsmen to hoist the mizzen, pour the cocktails, and steer this damned schooner hard starboard." In the 60 years since he first uttered it after one-too-many Cosmopolitans at one of Pamela Harriman's notorious foreign policy black tie balls, father's pithy bon mot has served as a rallying cry for conservatives from Greenwich to Chevy Chase. Today, I say it's time we conservatives once again grab the rigging, and set sail with the flotilla of the true conservative in this race: Barack Obama.
Trust me, I haven't taken this tack lightly. No Van Voorhees has supported an avowed socialist since great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpapa Cragmont Van Voorhees lent Peter Minuet $24 and a sack of wampum to swing a subprime mortgage on Manhattan Island. Old dad himself often recounted how, as a lad, he would command the family chauffeur Carleton to drive the Duesenberg down to the Times Square Trans-Lux so he could hiss Roosevelt. But I've taken a good measure of this Obama fellow, and I must say I like the cut of the man's jib.
How can I say this, you ask? One look at this Obama chap is all the answer you need. Suave, tanned, unflappable, Harvard connections; it's obvious that here is a man to the conservative manor born. One imagines him at the helm of the Ship of State, basked in the sunlight diffusing through the seaspray over the bow, like some beautiful rugged Othello from a rapturous Ralph Lauren catalog, calmly issuing instructions to the deck crew in that magnificent mellifluous baritone of his. It's that easy-going, almost effortless grace that has all the A-list conservatives like David Frum and Kathleen Parker whispering Reaganesque in hushed tones. Even Peggy Noonan -- the Grand Dame of Gipperism -- has succumbed to Obama's undeniable conservative charms. Just last month I listened to her wax poetic about the Adonis of Chicago between chukkers at the Newport Club polo tournament final. "Why Peggy, you old dowager," I quipped, "I believe you just had an orgasm."
Certainly, my endorsement has raised more than a few eyebrows around the National Topsider water cooler, particularly among the alumni of jejune cow colleges like Michigan or Dartmouth. They sometimes point to Mr. Obama's radical Rolodex and his hooey about "wealth redistribution" and "dictatorship of the proletariat." But, as I patiently explain, this is precisely the point - it is hooey, over-the-top rhetorical flourishes obviously designed by Mr. Obama to win over benighted inner city hoi polloi (a feat, I might add, that even the Great Communicator himself was unable to accomplish). As for his so-called radical ties, who among us hasn't sent dinner party invitations to Gore Vidal and a leftwing terrorist or two to enliven the postprandial conversation? Leonard Bernstein loved hosting all manner of Weathermen and Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army celebrities at his Park Avenue pied a terre, but it didn't mean the Maestro wasn't in favor of low taxes. On the contrary; I know for a fact he itemized every cent of the catering bills for his famous terrorist cocktail parties.
Just so, I have every confidence that Obama's true conservative butterfly will emerge once in office, coaxed from its Maoist cocoon by conservatives like myself and Frum and Parker and Noonan -- all of whom I am pleased to report are already under consideration for the Obama Administration State Dinner shortlist. Certainly there may be a tax increase or two, but isn't that what estate attorneys and Cayman Island banks are for? Under a worst case scenario some of us may have to set up a lease-back depreciation arrangement on one or two of our vacation compounds, as Dad was forced to in the dark years of Carter. But I'm not worried. I've got a pretty good sense for character, and I'd be willing to bet my Weejuns that inside this Obama fellow lives the soul a rock-ribbed old money Brahmin. Ask yourself: could a seriously committed Marxist carry off a Brooks Brothers suit like that? I mean, other than Dad's old commie nemesis and Harvard fencing club foe Alger Hiss.
But there is an even more compelling reason to support Barack Obama: Sarah Palin.
If you are a conservative like me, you guffawed when you heard John McCain announced this declasse rube as a running mate, followed by good-natured applause, thinking it was some sort of whimsical campus prank he was reenacting from his Annapolis years. This was, of course, quickly followed the shock of realizing that he wasn't joking, and all that Hanoi unpleasantness had finally driven him around the bend.
It's an inescapable conclusion that this woman has, in 6 short weeks, single-handedly destroyed the Republican party. Certainly George Bush may share some of the blame; but we conservatives must remember how our hopes were buoyed by his impressive bloodlines and Yale degree before we realized his excursion to Texas had caused him to "go native." But la Palin offers true conservatives no such extenuating graces. I mean, my God, this woman is simply awful; the elided vowels, the beauty pageantry, the guns, the crude non-Episcopal protestantism, the embarrassing porchload of children with horrifying hillbilly names, the white after Labor Day. As fellow conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan quipped to me the other day outside a Martha's Vineyard antique shop, it's gratifying to know the Gipper isn't alive to see what has become of his party.
But it's not just American conservatives who are appalled. Just last week conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks and I were enjoying an apres-badminton apertif at the family weekend house in Montauk with my good friend Viscount Klaus-Maria Von Wallensheim, the conservative EU Agricultural Pricing Minister with whom I shared an Alpine chalet and manservant during our years as classmates at a Swiss boarding school. "Kloonkie" (my old school appellation for the Viscount) reported the growing dismay of the Continental Right over Palin's embarrassing enthusiasm for childbirth and Israel.
"Coddsie, old chap," he warned, "You know I've always been America's biggest defender in Monaco. But if you elect this ill-bred charwoman, I will be forced to move anchor to St. Tropez out of pure shame."
David and I were left nodding silently, for how else could we respond? If Palin has lost Kloonkie, she has surely lost the entire conservative movement. The idea of this dreadful woman in Washington is almost too much to contemplate. Not only would it be a fashion disaster, one can scarcely imagine the White House social calendar -- mooseburger fetes to that ghastly Joe the Plumber, perhaps followed by snow machine derbies through the Rose Garden?
For now, we conservatives must do what we can to sabotage the ill-fated McCain-Palin fiasco and hope for the best. Once the election is over we can lick our wounds, read the entrails, and decide where the movement should go from here. In anticipation, the Topsider will be holding a top-level exclusive strategy conference in Nassau next January, featuring tout le monde of conservative intellectuals from the Back Bay Review, The Prospective Standard, National Bowtie, and The Swarthmorean. If you are attending, please be advised that gentlemen's jackets will be mandatory after six PM.
Until then, do not despair; the election of Mr. Obama means that at least some conservatives will still have a place at the table. I do hope I get seated next to this William Ayers fellow -- I've heard he has some amazingly droll anecdotes!