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As a conservative Christian, I find myself enjoying reading material that is outside that domain. For example, I might read a Christian periodical, but I also (for some weird reason) love to read The Economist.
Further, I find myself positively giddy when the opportunity arises to talk with someone I respect, someone who understands where we are in the world today. When it’s a person from the publishing world … well, it doesn’t get any better.
Such an opportunity presented itself recently when I visited with the editor of Commentary magazine, John Podhoretz. Long an admirer of his family – Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter are conservative icons – I knew that John has carried on with the same worldview and is today one of the great spokesmen for what I call a “realistic” worldview.
In other words, primarily, he understands that the greatest threat to us all is the scourge of jihad. That John Podhoretz is Jewish and a New Yorker, and I am a “Bible-believing” Christian in the heartland, makes our conversation all the more remarkable. But the truth is, people like people when they like them, and I like John Podhoretz. He says things that need to be said, and he’s comfortable putting himself out there, a rare quality.
He’s been editor at Commentary since early last year, and, following in his father’s footsteps there, obviously understands the importance of the magazine:
“Commentary has a historical mission and a contemporary mission,” he explained. “The historical mission in its establishment in 1945 was to make the argument that it was possible to be fully Jewish and fully American [are you listening, Pat Buchanan?].
“One could live and respect and embody and articulate what it meant to be a Jew and that this mission was entirely complementary of the mission to be unapologetically, happily American,” Podhoretz said. “Commentary existed to explain the Jews to America and to explain America to the Jews.”
Indeed, the Jewish leadership at the magazine is, I think, ahead of the rest of us in that the Jews have known for quite some time that the world is full of hate-filled totalitarians that hate freedom-loving people everywhere. I’m not sure my gentile friends have understood that until, oh, say, September 2001.
It’s good to have the perspective of folks who have been there before and blazed an ideological trail. John Podhoretz benefited from the same experience, growing up in that wonderful, literary, ideological home.
“I had no particular metamorphosis,” he remembered. “I’ve been sort of a conservative since I came to political consciousness.”
From his perch at Commentary, Podhoretz is keenly aware of the challenges faced by this generation, as opposed to the Cold Warriors:
“Now there are these existential challenges to America and world Jewry. The potential rise of a nuclear Iran by an openly anti-Semitic and apocalyptical theocracy that talks openly about Israel disappearing from the earth is one.
“At home, there is the rise of open hostility to the idea of Jewish nationhood, on college campuses and in American politics and then the peculiar existential danger posed by the idea that Jewish peoplehood is a problem.”
Truly, Jew-hatred is an international sickness. It is what makes bedfellows of diverse people like liberal American clergy and, well, Yasser Arafat.
To meet these threats, Podhoretz sees a variety of tactics and strategies. Commentary magazine is just such a tool.
“Commentary is unique on the right in that it is an old-fashioned, polemical, intellectual journal of ideas that attempts to provide authoritative analysis at length of social and political and cultural phenomena, as well as publishing fictional and cultural commentary and theological commentary and the like.”
One of the communities that Podhoretz recognizes as a potential partner is the Christian world, particularly in America. He sees Christians as being quite a bit more sophisticated in their thinking than they are usually given credit for in leftwing circles:
“Some feel there is a social pressure to ‘dumb things down.’ Yet there is certainly a growing audience for this kind of writing, in part because it does go against the grain.”
In fact, that is precisely what I find when discussing world affairs with my friends in the Christian community. Far from the knuckle-draggers that folks like Harry Reid believe them to be, conservative Christians are indeed natural allies with their Jewish friends. Podhoretz is smart enough to discern this.
“One of the other unique roles Commentary serves is that it is a Jewish publication that is grateful to Christian audiences who have fostered such passionate support for the state of Israel. It is very important, the role that evangelicals and other Christians have been playing, especially recently with an openly hostile administration in the White House. The ballast of support and the protection being provided by American public opinion, so heavily anchored in the evangelical community, is quite important.”
To more benign matters, or at least “less important” than the existential dangers we all face, is that Podhoretz understands who he is and what provided the basis for his role at Commentary: he’s a writer.
“I grew up in a household of writers. If your parents are, let’s say carpenters or cobblers, artisans of some sort, it makes sense that you watch that and pick up on that. Because I grew up around it, it was demystified for me. It [the writing life] doesn’t need a code broken, you just approach people as editors, etc. For me I was able to get a relatively fast and comfortable start. It wasn’t some mystical community.”
So, at the end of the day, when John Podhoretz shuts down his computer, is he optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
“I’m completely optimistic about the future for the West. Whatever is happening now that’s bad can be reversed. I came to my political adulthood in the late 70s. Things were much worse then than they are now. We’d lost a war, a president had resigned in disgrace, we had stagflation, crime spiraling out of control, 18 percent inflation and 11 percent unemployment. The Soviets were marching in Afghanistan. Iran. Three Mile Island.
“And it was reversed because the American people weren’t going to stand there and watch their country go down the tubes. This is a vibrant country, and its own history of individualism is written into its DNA, and these cultural challenges posed by things we’re seeing can be beaten back.”
And so, for a conservative, a fellow that Jefferson Smith would have identified with, I say to new/old friends like John Podhoretz and the Jewish community worldwide: we love you, stand beside you and appreciate your courage, innovation, perseverance and pluck.
I highly, highly recommend that you get a subscription to the magazine this man leads.
As for me and my house, we read Commentary!