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The Misery Cruise

Back in the 1980s, P.J. O’Rourke wrote a classic piece for Harper’s, titled “Ship Of Fools.” [1] O’Rourke signed up for a cruise up the Volga River with subscribers of The Nation magazine. He had a grand old time recording the excesses of the aged American leftists (“the pack of thirty fussing geriatrics”) on the cruise, and poking fun at them. To my knowledge, this was the first time any writer had done this kind of piece; the fundraising opinion mag cruise was at that time a new thing. Since then, the humorous hatchet job on the political cruise has become a genre of its own. Frankly, I was surprised to see that New York magazine had sent a reporter on the National Review post-election cruise, to record the miseries of the fussy conservative geriatrics. These pieces are so easy to write. Nevertheless, Joe Hagan’s report is a guilty pleasure — guilty, because these cruisers are such an easy target, and a pleasure because though I’ve never been on an NR cruise, as a right-of-center opinion writer, I have found myself in situations like this:

That night, Cal Thomas, a USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor, was the host of my table of eight. At an earlier panel, he’d suggested that his audience “starve the beast” of government by refusing to pay income taxes; but now his stage fire had waned, and he looked bored, peering around our table with half-lids, his hound-dog face propped in his hand. I sat next to a retired surgeon from California named Duane, who heralded the Dinesh D’Souza film 2016: Obama’s America as the definitive truth regarding Obama’s anti-Colonialist background, which now portended America’s inevitable slide into socialism. Thomas liked the movie but dismissed its impact on the election, saying it had preached to the converted and had “sourcing problems” besides. But Duane, who has thick glasses and a closely shorn flat-top, was undeterred, insisting it was relevant. “I disagree!” he spat.

This was a phenomenon that was common on the cruise—the conservative pundits and columnists from the National Review attempting to gently disinter their followers from unhelpful conservative propaganda. For people who believe in the truth of works like Dreams From My Real Father, a conspiracy-­theory documentary that argues that Obama’s real father was a communist propagandist who turned Obama into a socialist Manchurian Candidate, this could be difficult work.

Nobody who has paid thousands of dollars to spend a week or so in the company of ideological confreres wants to be told that they’re wrong about anything. I’ve been in social situations in which I’ve been talking to a stranger who, upon finding out that I’m a writer and a conservative, wants my imprimatur on whatever theory he has about politics or current events. Sometimes I can agree with them, but I’ve learned through experience that the better thing is to say something noncommittal and try to get out of the situation. It’s almost always the case that an actual exchange of ideas is not what one’s interlocutor wants to have.

In the New York piece, NR editor Rich Lowry is quoted saying, of these cruises, “We don’t do this for fun.” That’s true. When I worked at NR a decade ago, I once said that I hoped I stayed with the magazine long enough to go on one of these cruises. A colleague told me that they’re actually hard work for the magazine’s staff. I didn’t ask what that meant, but reading this piece, I think my questions have been answered.

 

26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "The Misery Cruise"

#1 Comment By SteveM On December 26, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

Rod, nothing beats the upcoming Retreat at Sea, AKA “The Lenten Cruise” for irony stoked to a phantasmagorical degree.

[2]:

Complete with

“Welcome Cocktail Reception”
“plush lounges”
“swanky casinos”
“dance clubs”

And of course:
“Daily Mass”
“Confession”

The twisted logic of that cruise gives me vertigo.

#2 Comment By Johnny Silence On December 26, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

I’m a social scientist whose work is focused on religion in American politics, and I fully endorse the noncommittal-noises-and-escape strategy. It’s the only way to still enjoy a party once exactly the wrong person finds out what you do for a living.

#3 Comment By Mr. Pickwick On December 26, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

The older I get, the less patience I have for ideology (and ideologues) of any stripe.

When I read these politi-cruise accounts, I’m reminded of the scene in C.S. Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength where N.I.C.E. throws a banquet, and the assembled multitude begins, uncontrollably, to speak gibberish. Then things get really fun….

#4 Comment By Hetzer On December 26, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

This schadenfreude is delicious, especially the last paragraph.

#5 Comment By Fred On December 26, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

Now that’s a writer who knows the value of a good opening sentence…

“The whole thing was white, and broken, that much was clear.”

He’s talking about a submerged shipwreck, but the implied reference is obvious. A fun read.

[3]

#6 Comment By Mutha Bacon On December 26, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

What a gaggle of spoiled, entitled brats, those whiny cruisers. If they’re the tailwinds of the “Greatest” generation, thank heaven for the conveyor belt of actuarial eclipse, that most efficient in its implacability of Nature’s instruments of moral hygiene since the wheelchair and the slanted gangplank to ride it on.

#7 Comment By Geoff Guth On December 26, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

Liberal ideologues (we have plenty in Boulder) are insufferable. Conservatives tend more towards being anger bears.

Back before the anti gay thing really took off and the GOP went off the fiscal deep end, I was actually a registered Republican. Was even a delegate to a county convention one year. I got buttonholed more than once while there by people with massive axes to grind. They’d seem completely ordinary until set off on their pet peeve then they’d be off to the races.

That experience helped set me on my way out of the party. The whole “gay people are the devil” wedge issue exercise confirmed that the party wasn’t for me, and the disaster of the last few years destroyed any remaining faith in the party.

I’ve avoided becoming active with the Democratic party. I really don’t want to be turned off in the same way. The people who make up the base really are insane.

#8 Comment By Geoff Guth On December 26, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

Funniest comment I ever read on National Review’s website was on an article regarding inheritance taxes. A Ron Paul influenced advocate of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps was positively incensed by the idea that his bequest from his grandfather might be reduced by inheritance taxes. In his mind, that money was already his. He didn’t catch the irony.

#9 Comment By tennvols87 On December 26, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

In order for that Ron Paul supporter to be a hypocrite you first have to concede that all money regardless of its putative “owner” belongs to the state. Bequest have always since time immemorial been a facet of family life. Pell grants haven’t quite the historical legacy.

#10 Comment By MBunge On December 26, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

“Bequest have always since time immemorial been a facet of family life.”

And taxes due the state have been a facet of public life for just as long. Has there ever been a state of any sort that did not impose taxes on somebody? The hypocrisy is in railing against one and not the other.

Mike

#11 Comment By JasonG On December 26, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

I used to subscribe to NR. The endless come cruise with us ads always amused me. I guess they make money for NR, or why keep doing them.

Still, I can’t think of a worse way to spend limited time and money than with some former pol/ think tanker drone on and on.

Mostly I think the conversation at a table you were assigned to went like this:

“Hi, I’m Larry Kenersky. I used to live in Nashua, NH, but I moved to Fort Myers 25 years ago. Import / Export was my gig, mostly plastics from the Far East.

You know, I introduced Barry Goldwater at a rally in NH back in ’64. I met him again at the Dallas airport in ’75. He didn’t remember me! Can you believe it!

I was done with him from that point forward. DONE I tell you!”

#12 Comment By Sam M On December 26, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

At least these cruises make some kind of sense. I keep getting hit up by ye olde college to go on alumni cruises, complete with lectures. Huh? If I am going to re-do college, it’ll be keg stands with buddies. What would lead people to believe that the class of 2001 would get along with same from 1991 and 1951?

#13 Comment By Tyro On December 26, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

The humor in the PJ O’Rourke piece (at least for conservatives), was about how liberal supporters of The Nation were supposed to be salt-of-the-earth, man-of-the-people self-abnegating friends-of-the-poor but instead actually like being on a “classy” cruise with lots of alcohol and fancy accommodations. By contrast, you expect that kind of nouveau-riche indulgence of expensive cruises on the part of National Review readers because, after all, the point of being conservative is to argue that if you’re a member of the party of/for the “rich and powerful”, you might as well have something to show for their labors.

#14 Comment By Sean Scallon On December 26, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

“We don’t do this for fun.”

Then why do it? You may say: “To raise money” but it seems to me a pretty expensive way just to a clear a few bucks given the logistics, not to mention having your best writers and editors spend a few weeks on the water with a bunch of conspiracy theorists. But then they only have themselves to blame. If the “base” believes in this stuff it’s only because Cal Thomases of the world have let them indulge in birtherism or the “Clinton Chronicles” without saying “Guys, enough is a enough.” But one suspects NR fears its readers or fears they’ll go elsewhere for more hardcore stuff if they denounce it. Fine then, they can suffer fools gladly while dodging them into the casinos.

Funny thing it’s the paleos, who aren’t really into conspiracies, that are the ones aren’t allowed on the cruises. Oh well, perhaps places like TRI have a better idea than enriching Carnival Cruise Line: ( [4])

#15 Comment By Sean Scallon On December 26, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

Here a tiny synopsis of what was wrong with the Romney campaign take from Hagan’s article:

“As we drained the Pinot Noir, (Kevin) Hassett gave his audience the insider’s view of the Romney campaign, describing how its election-monitoring software crashed on November 6 and Obama was probably behind it, “because those guys are so evil.”

The table grumbled in assent.

“The thing we have to understand is, these are people who don’t have any morals,” said Hassett. “They’ll do anything. I’m one of their No. 1 targets. I mean, they really want me bad.”

First of all, the Obama people probably don’t know you even exist and if they do, they’re probably glad a writer of a book entitled Dow 36,000 is working for the Romney campaign. If I was an NR cruise goer I would certainly ask what this incompetent was doing in NR’s company and why the Romney campaign was employing him at all. Of course beforehand I’d make sure I had someone in Honduras to pick me up after they left me behind.

#16 Comment By tennvols87 On December 26, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

You missed the point. Death taxes are an extremely recent and noxious form of taxation. To tax assets that have already been taxed is completely unfair and entirely a product of welfare state rapaciousess. I’m sure you can find a precedent in the annals of Roman imperial tyranny, but that would just prove my point. The tendency to infringe on the sanctity of the family is a hallmark of the transition from Republcian to tyrannical government.

#17 Comment By tennvols87 On December 26, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

Every person on a cruise is either going to be nouveau riche or not rich at all. But the behavior of the people on that boat was, while crotchety and at times boorish, not nouveau riche at all. And super partisan that he is Tyro of course misidentifies the home of nouveau pretension in Americna politics. That belongs entirely to the SWPL crowd of urban liberals. The Nation cruise article was a classic precisely because it captures the proto-yuppie transfiguration that was emerging on the left. Also for a person always preaching class warfare, it’s funny that you are such an expert on the original put down the aristocracy used against the bourgeoise. False consiousness can be a real hassle can’t it.

#18 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 27, 2012 @ 8:10 am

On the contrary tennvols, if we could run the government on inheritance taxes, while reducing the income tax on the living to little or nothing, it would be a huge improvement. Let the estates of the dead fund our government, while the living get to keep their income and spend it. They will make their own contribution when they die — from assets that they used when living, but no longer need. Let the next generation make its own way in the world. With allowances for family heirlooms, and at a price for passing along real estate that has sentimental value, a one hundred percent inheritance tax might be the solution to our current fiscal impasse.

#19 Comment By Tyro On December 27, 2012 @ 11:21 am

Death taxes are an extremely recent and noxious form of taxation.

Inheritance taxes have been levied in one form or another in the USA since the 18th century and have existed in their modern form for almost 100 years. The idea of inheritance taxes as effectively a transfer tax has existed since the beginning of private property in civilization. The only exception has been the British system of primogeniture because the intent was to keep estates intact, and the “tax” levied was in the form of military service on the part of the inheritor. The American preference for inheritance taxes was specifically out of hostility to the British and Dutch estate/feudal regimes, which existed to keep property out of the hands of the masses.

And, yes, mocking the boorish habits of people whose Conservativism is an affectation they adopt to show that they’ve “made it” is an enjoyable pastime of mine. (“As you can see from my anger at Obama’s policies, liberal quoting of Fox & Friends, and my belief that the uninsured are parasites, I am a model of professional success and could not possibly be poor!”)

#20 Comment By J On December 27, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

Every person on a cruise is either going to be nouveau riche or not rich at all. But the behavior of the people on that boat was, while crotchety and at times boorish, not nouveau riche at all. And super partisan that he is Tyro of course misidentifies the home of nouveau pretension in Americna politics. That belongs entirely to the SWPL crowd of urban liberals. The Nation cruise article was a classic precisely because it captures the proto-yuppie transfiguration that was emerging on the left. Also for a person always preaching class warfare, it’s funny that you are such an expert on the original put down the aristocracy used against the bourgeoise. False consiousness can be a real hassle can’t it.

I invite you to read Joan Didion’s various 1980s essays on the Reagan crowd such as ‘The Realm of the Fisher King’. All the things noted about the NR cruise folk are all there already. The aggravated and rootless money-centered adult children that make up the cadres and donors. The vapid self-important internal ‘literature’. The difference between what the insiders believe but don’t talk about even to each other and what they tell the gullible next tier(s). The lack of interest in actually solving any collective problem, though awesome urge to talk about it unceasingly. How much of what they do is an effort to stay salaried of people whose utility is basically their dislike of select other people.

The SWPL thing is a strawman, as far as I can tell. The interesting thing about it is the ugly emotion with which the SWPL gets invoked- the jealousy and contempt.

#21 Comment By MBunge On December 27, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

“Death taxes are an extremely recent and noxious form of taxation.”

Actually, they’re about the least offensive kind of taxation. They involve two people. One is dead and either has a lot more to worry about than taxes or doesn’t care. The other did nothing to earn/deserve the money at issue. If there’s ANYTHING a government, at least one in a meritocratic democracy, should tax, it’s the money you leave behind after you die.

Mike

#22 Comment By JonF On December 27, 2012 @ 7:32 pm

There’s no such thing as a death tax (in the US at least): that phrase is a piece of propaganda, nothing more.

We do of course have an estate tax, which affects only estates of truly gargantuan proportions. The amount of cry-baby whining (accompanied by flat out lies) that goes on about this tax shows just how warped our politics have become in kowtowing to the upper echelons of the wealth pyramid. Moments like these I almost can hear “Les aristos aux lanternes!” in the back of my mind.

#23 Comment By tennvols87 On December 27, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

So if I get this right criticizing rich Republicans is justified because Joan Didion did it. But criticizing SWPLs is a product of envy and jealousy. Got it. Just like there is no such thing as a death tax because it isn’t the dead person who is being taxed, but the equally lifeless “estate.” I guess that means corporations are people after all if estates are people as well. If I called it a “lifeless tax” would that be better JonF. Certainly a poster who used terms like gargantuan and cry baby is not motivated by envy. Nope just good old fashion logic there.

#24 Comment By JonF On December 28, 2012 @ 5:34 am

Re: Just like there is no such thing as a death tax because it isn’t the dead person who is being taxed

There isn’t a death tax because the death is not what is being taxed, and 99% of all deaths do not trigger any sort of special tax (beyond sales tax, as applicable, on whatever funeral services follow).
It is the act of inheritance, of abnormally large estates, that is taxed. The tax should be called by its proper name “estate tax”, or if you prefer “inheritance tax”, though that too obscures the fact that the overwhelming majority of estates and inheritances are also tax free (FYI, My own preference would be for the estate tax to be eliminated and replaced by taxation on inheritances, of all sizes, as ordinary income to the heirs, exempting only spouses)

#25 Comment By MBunge On December 28, 2012 @ 10:32 am

“Certainly a poster who used terms like gargantuan and cry baby is not motivated by envy.”

It is not envy to point out that people who inherit money have, in almost all cases, done absolutely nothing to either earn or deserve that money. It’s like winning the lottery, except you win it when you’re born and then don’t collect ’til decades later. Should lottery winnings not be taxed?

Mike

#26 Comment By Austin Ruse On December 30, 2012 @ 10:15 am

“Perhaps you’re right” is one of the best responses to such a challenge. It is what Bill Buckley said to me when I brashly upbraided him for believing women priests were both possible and acceptable. I have found that “perhaps you’re right” is the best response to the encounter you describe. I have used it myself many times…

best,

Austin