Moments with Midge

Midge Decter deserves the outpouring of accolades she is receiving this week. I didn’t know her as well as Scott, but can attest that in my several encounters with her over the years stretching back to the late 1990s she put you so at ease in conversation that you’d think you had been lifelong friends.

It was clear she paid attention to details and grasped the essence of things quickly. If she thought you were sound, she’d have your back. I recall vividly one awkward member’s breakfast at a Philadelphia Society meeting—I think the year I was president, back around 2008 or so—when I was seated between Midge and one of the most strident “paleocon” critics of neoconservatism that I won’t name here (I’ll give a hint: his last name rhymes with a dog once famous in Hollywood films). This person decided to assail me as a proxy for neocons on the question of John Locke and the American Founding. I rejoined by asserting Locke is a better fit for the American character and experience, and assailing the person’s historicist continental “altar and throne” version of conservatism as being suitable only for Lichtenstein. This internecine fight among political philosophers wasn’t really Midge’s field of expertise, but she immediately grasped the dynamic of my argument and suddenly I had an ally: we had our interlocutor surrounded and outnumbered.

Around 1990 she wrote a coda for the Reagan presidency that I liked to quote in my books and lectures:

There was no Reagan Revolution, not even a skeleton of one to hang in George Bush’s closet. But what he did leave behind was something in the long run probably more important—a series of noisy open debates about nothing less than the meaning of decency, the limits of government, the salience of race, the nature of criminal behavior.

I once got to read this quote in her presence as part of a lecture I gave at Amherst College in 2002, and she flattered me by saying she was flattered that found useful wisdom in her summary.

P.S. One of Stan Evans’s great quips late in life was, “A paleoconservative is a conservative who has been mugged by a neoconservative.”

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