Had the sort of day that gives magazine writers the reputation--entirely deserved--for being lazy and overfed: Played with the kids in the backyard after breakfast, wrote at home till noon, had an enormous lunch at the Palm, returned a few calls, then sat around the office listening to gossip, telling stories, and trading theories about Clinton's sex life.
At 6 p.m. I drove over to the Capitol for a reception Frank Luntz was having for himself. Luntz, in case you don't live in Washington, is a pollster who gives advice to Republican members of Congress. Or did. Luntz has announced that he is retiring from politics, hence the cocktail reception. (Of course, this being Washington, there were no actual cocktails, just wine and cans of beer.) The party took place in the same room where the Republican leadership often holds press conferences, which somehow seemed fitting. Luntz wandered through the crowd of a hundred or so, the only man in the room not wearing a tie. I found a beer and talked to a couple of lobbyists I know. What are you doing here? I asked one of them. "I used to think Luntz was a total fraud," he said. "I still think he's sort of a phony, except now I know how smart he is."
So do I. A couple of years ago I had a conversation with Luntz about one of his clients, a member of Congress named John. At the time I thought I might do a piece about Luntz, so I recorded the exchange. "I look at John's head as something to fill with the best and the brightest," Luntz explained. "It's like taking all of the classics and getting them down to Cliffs Notes and getting them into his head so at least he knows something about it. The smarter they make John, the better John is, the better it is for me if I want to be part of John's world."
Wow, I thought, that's the most patronizing thing I've ever heard. John can't really be that stupid, that desperately in need of Luntz's help. Can he?
Sure he can, as I discovered several months later on a trip through Texas with another member of Congress, who as it happens was also a Luntz client. The congressman in question was and is one of my favorite politicians in Washington. He's witty, smart, politically sensible, and loves dogs. He's also, as I learned one afternoon in Dallas, completely bonkers.
"Hey, there's the grassy knoll," the congressman said, pointing out the window as we drove through Dealey Plaza. "Did you see that British documentary about the assassination that came on the other night about 3? It was fascinating." I thought he was joking. By the time he finished explaining how Kennedy's autopsy photos had been doctored, I knew he wasn't. Over the next hour, the congressman proceeded to give me the full story. The assassination, he said gravely, was in fact a planned "coup d'etat" staged by "rogue CIA operatives" who killed the president and framed Oswald in a diabolical attempt to extend the Cold War. Or possibly to end it. The congressman wasn't sure which, though he did seem to have just about every other detail memorized.
But what about the physical evidence? I asked. Hasn't it been proved that Kennedy was killed with Oswald's gun? He looked at me like I was an idiot. Speaking slowly, he explained the deception: Days before the assassination, CIA technicians fired a bullet from Oswald's gun into a pail of water. The slug was retrieved, coated with plastic, reloaded, and placed in a larger-caliber rifle, which was then used by government agents to kill Kennedy. The plastic coating disintegrated when the slug hit the president, leaving only the tell-tale marks from Oswald's rifle to throw off investigators from the Warren Commission.
Assuming of course that investigators from the Warren Commission weren't involved in the conspiracy, too. The congressman suspected they were. Just look, he said, at the FBI report on the TWA crash off Long Island. "The government claims the plane just crashed on its own. You think that's really what happened?" Sure, I said. He shot me another how-dumb-can-you-be? look. "I believed the Warren Commission, too," he said. "At first."
I never wrote up the conversation I had with the congressman--lucky for him, every word was, by prearrangement, on background--but I did take notes, mostly because I could hardly believe it was really happening. Could this be the same man I'd seen speak thoughtfully and coherently to rooms full of adults? Then I grasped the difference. Those had been speeches. Frank Luntz doesn't provide scripts for private conversations.
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for the Weekly Standard.