by T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII
Intellectual Conservative At-Large
Summer once again tiptoes in on crepe soles to the eastern extremities of Long Island; affording, as is its wont, fresh opportunities to enjoy the providence of nature and the financial acumen of one's forebears. Despite the looming spectre of global climate change the lawn is verdant and lush, and my gardener Hideo informs me the hibiscuses are in especially fine fettle. Much to the relief of his mother (if not the household staff) young T. Coddington VIII has returned from Quonsocket Prep and Rehabilitation Center. I am pleased to announce he has made significant strides in overcoming the acute arson disability that so plagued his sophomore academic marks, and thus his matriculation as a member of Harvard '15 is all but assured. And, if you will forgive a note of personal triumph, I also find myself in the midst of a career renaissance as the leading conservative thinker on the scourge and embarrassment of conservative extremism.
This solstitial season should then, by all rights, occasion in a conservative centrist like myself a deep sense of satisfaction -- if not outright contemptuous pity for the jejune editorial boobs of The National Topsider who some 18 months ago unceremoniously dismissed my services following my prescient endorsement of Barack Obama. Thanks to the good conservative breeding instilled in me by my late father, swashbuckling Topsider founder T. Coddington Van Voorhees VI, I am happily above such base emotions. Living well, as they say, is the best revenge; particularly when underwritten by royalty checks from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and the other top-tier periodicals unintimidated by trenchant critiques of the soi-dissant 'Tea Party' idiots. Rather than basking in the deserved status of a conservative man in full, however, I instead find this the summer of my discontent. Each day seems to introduce some new crisis on the world scene with hints of more to come, and one is left to wonder if even our elegant young President's oratorical and tonsorial gifts are equal to the challenges ahead.
I was visited by one such harbinger last weekend, in the form of a 80-meter Ferretti motoryacht, as I was hosting my weekly confabulation of like-minded conservative thinkers at the old family Montauk estate. Dame Peggy Noonan was there as always, along with the vivacious Kathleen Parker and those two mighty Davids of conservative intellect, Frum and Brooks. We were engaged in a vigorous boys-against-girls badminton match on the south lawn when I espied the aforementioned vessel laying anchor a few hundred yards off the jetty. A quick peep through the old family Dollond spyglass (according to Van Voorhees lore, a gift to Coddington III by some lovesick Nantucket whaling heiress who later committed suicide with a harpoon after great-great-grandpapa spurned her advances) confirmed it was Die Walküre, the handsome 16-cabin personal watercraft of my old friend and EU agricultural pricing minister Kloonkie Von Wallensheim. As delighted as I was to see this grand seagoing edifice, I was equally aghast to see her gleaming white hull now disfigured with some sort of black gooey film.
When Kloonkie reached the pier in Brunhilde, his mahogany Hacker-Craft tender, he explained that he and the boat were making their annual migration from their low-tax Carribean winter quarters to their summer havens in the Mediterranean -- only to be accosted by an unctuous black tide egested by the ill-begotten BP oil platform that has so dominated the recent news cycle. In all honesty I had not paid the story much heed, as I have been assured by my contacts in Washington that the President was fully dedicating his attention to the matter. Not that I am cold hearted; quite to the contrary. I am of course moved to pathos by the unfortunate plight of dislocated shrimp boaters just as I would be for any fellow seafarer, no matter how declasse their vessel. But seeing Die Walküre in that violated condition brought the urgency of the crisis home in a way no morose tar-covered pelican could ever hope to.
Knowing of my frequent visits to the White House, Kloonkie prevailed upon me to phone the President to see if he could arrange some sort of stimulus funding to remove the unsightly blemish. I of course agreed. But when I reached the Oval Office operator, a brusque young intern informed me that no such recompense would be forthcoming as it would be "off-point" with the President's latest populist media gambit against some yacht-sailing BP executive. I demanded to speak to Mr. Obama directly, but was informed he was on the golf course and not taking calls. Frustrated, I asked to be transferred to the office of Mr. Emanuel, but for some reason his extension had been disconnected.
You can imagine my embarrassment as I was left to explain the situation to Kloonkie, who has spearheaded European support of US policy since 2009. Instead of the expected anger, the poor fellow broke down in tears. I had not seen Kloonkie this distraught since our days as chalet mates at a Swiss finishing school, when his mother, the late Countess Astrid Von Wallensheim-Ascencão, infamously renounced her peerage to remarry an itinerant Portuguese tennis professional.
"Coddsie, it's not just the boat," he sniffed. "It's the whole damned world. Have you been to the continent lately? The economy is moribund, the Euro is falling apart, and the underclasses are too lazy to do anything but riot for longer holidays. I wrote half the EU regulations on immigration and pensions, and how do they thank me? If I moor at St. Tropez, my yacht will be confiscated by the French tax officials. If I stop at the old family island I'll be attacked by rampaging Greek postal carriers. If stay out of harbor, I risk getting mistaken for an Israeli navy ship and blown up by some Palestinian peace flotilla. And this -- this president of yours doesn't seem to have a single idea what to do about it."
I and my guests were momentarily stunned, this being the first time any of us had heard an ill word spoken about Mr. Obama by a European of impeccable intellect with the Hermes ascot to match. This was followed, understandably, by muffled sobs. It was left to me to gamely break the lachrymose silence. "Perhaps Kloonkie is right," I said. "Perhaps the President has not quite turned out to be the Reagan reincarnation we all expected, and in some ways I am beginning to believe this Obama fellow is unequal to the task. As the intellectual conscience of the conservative movement, and whatever our previous enthusiasm for the chap, we ought have the courage to point out those rare instances where his performance has been found wanting. Such as foreign and domestic policy. The important thing is that we not end up implicated in his shortcomings."
"Take the President's economic program," I added. "We could begin noting how little it has done to revive the fortunes of East Hampton's polo outfitters. My own Argentine malletier Jorge, for exampIe, has returned to the pampas, leaving me to make do with last year's model. And if the polo equipment sector is struggling I am forced to assume that other parts of the American economy may be as well. And, although we all voiced support for Mr. Obama's plan, we should emphasize that support was merely based on what it was supposed to do. Not what it did."
This explanation seemed to brighten the spirits of my fellow columnists, as it slowly dawned on them that they too could now venture the occasional measured criticism of the previously inviolate Mr. Obama without risk of losing their intellectual credentials or place in the social register. The effect was like the lifting of a great burden, and we began to discuss a nagging question -- how exactly to account for the curious disconnect between Mr. Obama's intentions and his results?
"Clearly, this isn't the Barack Obama any of us swooned for during the election," offered Peggy Noonan. "As a candidate he was fresh, intellectual, and serious. Instead, as president, he has proven to be naive, detached and aloof. Nostradamus himself could not have predicted such an astonishing 180 degree transformation."
"Indeed, how could anyone?" added Brooks. "The fellow was a success at everything he had ever attempted -- being ethnically interesting, going to Harvard, getting elected, or writing autobiographies about being ethnically interesting and going to Harvard. It was simply inconceivable that there was a task he could actually fail at. I am forced to conclude his Harvard credentials may be a sham."
It was difficult to suppress a shared giddiness for our newfound manifesto of open and polite dissent against the world's most powerful and formerly popular man. But such cautious subversiveness is not without its risks. For one, it meant all of us now faced banishment from future White House state dinners. Fortunately, owing to Mr. Obama's plunging poll numbers, such invitations are no longer the fashionable "hot ticket" in Washington; in fact I am told by several of the nation's leading society columnists that unless one is a panhandling panjandrum from an impoverished backwater, attendance at these events is now considered a net social liability. Secondly, and more worrisome, it was clear we would now face the inevitable charges of apostasy and racism from Mr. Obama's remaining devotees. Charges, we believe, which can be easily deflected with a few strategic donations to Reverend Sharpton's community outreach program.
The third risk we now face is the most exasperating: the coming catcalls from the moronic Tea Party simians who will undoubtedly (and illiterately) gloat about our late-hour conversion from orthodox Obamaphilia. With this column I imagine my email inbox will soon be chockablock with lovely missives like, "hey, moran! I couldsa tolt y'all that dangity Obama was a commernist 2 hole yeers agoo!! Ima gessin I must be a hole lott smarter then yew with yore big smarty pants kollige words!! Hyuk hyuk hyuk!! Tea Party git r dun!!"
The irony of such sentiment is that it proves just how desperately the current conservative movement is in need of intellectual heft -- precisely the kind of intellectual heft that thinkers like Frum, Brooks, Parker, Noonan and myself can offer, now that we are no longer exclusively devoting that heft in the service of Mr Obama. No less than the future of the conservatism is at stake, and its adherents face a stark choice: the lowbrow lunacy of Palinism, or the Ivy-honed judgment of those of us who are keenly attuned to the shifting trends of politics? The dimwitted Tea Partyists will of course attempt to make great hay of their premature, if annoyingly correct, warnings about the President; they will likewise seek to brand those of us who had a brief meaningless fling with him as political trollops, half suggesting we commit a guilt-ridden harpoon harakiri like my ancestor's jilted admirer. But in the end conservatives must ask ourselves: shall we be led by the blind pig who occasionally stumbles on a truffle, or the gifted (if fashionably late) Cordon Bleu-trained chef who knows how to whip it into an intoxicating soup?
I would hasten to add that as former devotees and dinner guests of the President, we enjoy unique status as conservatives with an ear at the White House. Case in point: after his golf game Mr. Obama returned my call. While he did not offer financial assistance in cleaning Die Walküre, he showed keen interest in obtaining a copy of Kloonkie's 2007 EU economic plan!