Tuesday August 11, 2020
I was born in Iowa, raised in the mountains of Virginia, and attended Virginia Tech sporadically from 1974 to 1976 before dropping out to try my luck writing. At some point in the late 1970s, individual liberty became my highest political value and I resolved to do what I could to defend it. I had seen the federal government sabotage the currency, ravage southeast Asia with an unjust war, and tumble into disgrace with the Watergate scandal. The pratfalls of the Carter administration, following the depravity of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, spurred a sense of impending political and economic collapse.
After moving to the Washington area in 1980, I was appalled to see what passed for good writing inside the Beltway. The prevailing standards seemed designed to make magazine and newspaper subscribers regret ever learning to read. Many articles resembled a numbing four-hour politburo speech. Voiceless prose with a low-watt righteous drone was the tacit ideal. “Go team, go!” was the epitome of literary excellence. There was nothing to learn from the vast majority of pieces except which side of a dispute the author favored. Alternatively, some writers prided themselves on being perpetually overwrought—a blight that reached epidemic levels after the election of Donald Trump.
If I was expecting mental stimulation in Washington, I came to the wrong place. “Political thought” consists of making accusations or making excuses, and not much more. DC’s “mental currents” usually let only the froth rise to the top. Any idea not immediately profitable to one of the political parties or major interest groups usually sinks without a trace. As French essayist Paul Valery warned, “At every step, politics and freedom of mind exclude each other.”