Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The conservative movement has been doing right in honoring its heroes the last few weeks.  A couple weeks back I got to mention the Claremont Institute’s dinner tribute last month for Harry Jaffa on the occasion of his 93rd birthday, and add a couple thoughts of my own about the great man following the unlikely appearance of his piece on the Nicomachean Ethics in the New York Times Book Review.

Last night it was M. Stanton Evans’s turn.  Nearly 200 people turned out at the National Press Club for a gala dinner the Heritage Foundation and Donors Trust organized to salute Stan and his legacy with the National Journalism Center, which Stan founded in the late 1970s with the object of addressing leftwing media bias by training young journalists and writers as they ought to be trained.  Among the 1,600 alumni of the NJC over the years are Ann Coulter, John Fund, William McGurn, ABC’s Terry Moran, the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell, and. . .  me, in the NJC class of spring 1981.  (Their ranks also include the daughter of one of Power Line’s founders.)

Stan is one of the first-generation members of the modern conservative movement, signing on with National Review shortly after its founding, participating in the drafting of the Sharon Statement that launched Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, along with the Philadelphia Society in 1964, and also helping to lead the American Conservative Union.  He’s the author of numerous books, including both theoretical titles such as The Theme is Freedom, but also the most serious defense of Joseph McCarthy, Blacklisted by History.

On the theoretical level Stan is known as one of the great “fusionists,” seeking out the points of harmony between libertarians and traditionalists on the right side of the political spectrum.  On the practical level, Stan is known as the greatest dry wit of the conservative movement.

If you’ve never heard Stan’s deadpan midwestern baritone in person, you’ve missed a great treat, as it won’t come across anywhere near as well in pixels.  But all is not lost: there are supposedly some recordings of his greatest hits available on the Philadelphia Society website.  Stan’s specialty is using mordant irony against liberals.  He loves to throw liberal clichés over his shoulder.  Back in the 1960s he wrote, “Any country that can land a man on the moon, can abolish the income tax.”  Or he would shock liberals by saying, “I didn’t agree with what Joe McCarthy was trying to do, but I sure admired his methods.”

Nixon inspired some of his best ironic barbs.  Early on Stan said, “There’s only two things I don’t like about Nixon: his domestic policy, and his foreign policy.”  He added later that he didn’t come to support Nixon until after Watergate.  “I mean,” he’d say, “after wage and price controls, Watergate was like a breath of fresh air.”  He once claimed to have called over to the White House in the middle of their Watergate agony and said, “Gosh, if I’d only known you guys were doing all of this neat stuff, I wouldn’t have been so hard on you.”

I heard Stan run through some of his greatest hits like these at a conference at Princeton, where several humorless liberals in the audience took him seriously and were appalled.  I think it was exactly this kind of reaction that makes life worth living for Stan.  Why bother arguing with liberals when you can ruin their whole day and get a good laugh out of it at the same time.

Last night a parade of speakers alternately saluted and roasted Stan, and it was my privilege to go last and introduce him for his rebuttal.  Here are excerpts:

We gather tonight in a “let us now praise famous men” mode, but it is a mode distinctly uncongenial to our guest of honor.

So rather than dwell on the usual things, I thought I’d share a few of the items Stan typically leaves off his CV that were crucial and formative to many of his students and protégés.

Start with his lifestyle, as liberals would call it, or, as Stan’s mother would have said, his vices.  Winston Churchill once dismissed the socialist Ramsay McDonald, who was a pacifist, a vegetarian, a non-smoker, and, worst of all, a teetotaler, by saying that McDonald had all of the virtues he abhorred and none of the vices he admired.

I think Churchill would have approved of Stan; he has all the right bad habits. . .

Stan is the only person I’ve ever known who can take Socratic irony and actually make it ironic.

Stan is, for example, a fan of America’s Founding Fathers, but does them one better: he’s not so sure that taxation with representation is such a hot idea, either.

Then there was the time in 1968, when he signed on to the McCarthy for President campaign. That lasted about 48 hours, until he discovered that the candidate was Eugene McCarthy.

I have wondered exactly where Stan got the idea to found the National Journalism Center.  Back in 1970, William F. Buckley told Playboy magazine that the biggest problem facing the conservative movement was a scarcity of good writers and journalists.  Stan’s founding of the NJC helped address that gap, but I don’t think he got the idea from Buckley’s Playboy interview because we all know Stan only buys Playboy for the pictures. . .

The National Journalism Center should be regarded as more than just a training ground for conservative journalists.  It represents an apostolic succession of sorts, and is the kind of legacy that lasts longer and goes deeper than the printed word, whose ink will fade, whose pixels will disappear when the hard drive crashes.  The larger world does not appreciate the extent to which a cadre of Stan Evans-influenced journalists would be different from writers who emerge from the name-brand journalism schools—and not just ideologically different.  For one thing, we can drink more, which is saying a lot in the world of ink-stained wretches.

There was no by-the-numbers didactic instruction in Stan’s method at the NJC.  Instead, his method consisted of practicing Yogi Berra epistemology, which the great Yogi summarized with his aphorism that “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

You could not help but absorb Stan’s approach to good journalism and quality writing, just by being around him, and watching how he went about his craft.  I like to think Stan had a good eye for talent; after all, he invited into his realm, 30 years ago, lowlifes like myself, John Fund, and Martin Morse Wooster, and many worse after us.  I tried to talk them into an NJC karaoke act here tonight, but apparently this would violate several DC laws related to animal cruelty. . .

Stan may not exactly want to lay claim to all of his apostles.  But we lay claim to him.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Stan and the NJC, I might well have made the dreadful mistake of getting a real job out of college. . .

Well, Stan did not disappoint when he took the podium to acknowledge our gratitude.  He noted that with the results of the last election, “There’s been a revival or sorts of traditional conservative values, the desire for sound fiscal policy, and a strong foreign policy.  In other words—hate.”



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