Panic button.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Jan. 20 2006 11:35 AM

Panic Button

At last, House Republicans learn to run for their lives.

80_thehasbeen
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One of CAP's founders, William Rusher, said as much in an online Q&A this week with the magazine he used to publish, National Review. Asked if he was still "concerned about Princeton," Rusher said:

I will always remember fondly the Princeton I knew, and regret what has happened to it. My old NR colleague Jim Burnham, who was a graduate of the Class of 1933 (or about then), once told me that Princeton had become "just another liberal joint," and I'm afraid it's true.

CAP's real complaint was with growing old. Rusher might as well be Burt Lancaster in the movie Atlantic City, standing on the boardwalk and saying, "You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days."

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Prospect Street: So, what was Sam Alito thinking, at the tender age of 35, when he listed a fogeys-only group like CAP as his most impressive conservative affiliation?

It's possible that Alito's conservatism was prematurely gray. Michael Kinsley once described Al Gore in his 30s as an old person's idea of a young person. At Princeton, the serious, no-nonsense Alito must have seemed like a young person's idea of an old person. Alito has admitted that he picked up his conservatism from reading William Buckley and National Review. When Alito warmed to National Review in the mid-1960s, intellectual conservatism was an unabashedly elitist phenomenon. In those days, many of Buckley's conservative rants were often simply wittier, more urbane expressions of the CAP lament, aimed at Yale's decline rather than Princeton's.

The other major influence on Alito's early political thought, his father, was another diehard traditionalist. He didn't allow women who worked for him to wear pants to work, a stand that CAP members would have cheered from their rockers.

But 20 years ago, Sam Alito wasn't wrinkled enough to think that way. More likely, CAP was just the handiest conservative résumé-padding he could find on short notice. As he acknowledged in his testimony, "What I was trying to outline were the things that were relevant to obtaining a political position."

Alito insisted that if he had known what the group stood for, "I would never be a member of an organization that took those views." But on issues from affirmative action to Bob Jones University, the Reagan administration took stands all the time that sounded like CAP—and Alito was eager to be a member.

When Alito took stock of the Reagan Justice Department, he must have drawn the same conclusion as his bright, ambitious rival, John Roberts: You'd never get in trouble with Ed Meese for standing too far to the right.

Now Alito is counting on the fact that the penalty for impersonating a doddering old reactionary is lighter than for actually being one—and that the statute of limitations, like CAP itself, has expired. In the decades to come, he can join Justices Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, and Kennedy in forming a new group of grumps who want to turn back the clock. Call it the Concerned Alumni of Reagan.  11:10 A.M. (link)

Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at thehasbeen@gmail.com. Read his disclosure here.

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