All right, Galupo. Who are you, and why are you worth our time?
Nice to meet you too! My first piece of relevant experience came in the late-’90s and early Aughts on Capitol Hill. I spent many a late night—nothing important happens there before 5 p.m.—scribbling for an in-house congressional publication called Legislative Digest, where a team of young nonlawyers translated the tortuous legalese of various bills and floor amendments into plain English. I’m happy to report that, despite this, I still have a full head of hair.
Our charge was always to write objectively, but the Digest was, and to my knowledge remains, an arm of the House Republican Conference communications operation. During my stint, the Conference was chaired by the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, and then Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.
I briefly left the Hill to work for an Internet startup called Voter.com. The idea was to be the “Amazon.com of political news on the Web.” We were right that New Media was about to transform the news business. We just didn’t know the transformation, at least in its first stage, was going to take the form of personal blogs. After the heady ride that was Election Night 2000—the famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, who was to be our rainmaker of sorts, ignominiously split the backside of his pants while watching returns—Voter.com experienced a bad hangover and went belly up in early 2001.
And so back to the Hill I went, doing some communications work for the House Education & the Workforce Committee, also chaired by Boehner at the time. (Note: If you’re a rock-ribbed Republican type, don’t project my various quirks and apostasies onto him. I was an unimportant midlevel functionary.)
For the next six-odd years, I was a staffer at The Washington Times, where I covered film, pop music, culture, the D.C. social scene, and Whatever Else. A few highlights: The great Tom Hanks threatened to lock me in a hotel room and “de-program” me because of my association with the Moonie-owned Times. I got Jeb Bush to call Oliver Stone’s W. biopic “unadulterated hooey.” And I saw Tommy Lasorda serenade Lionel Richie with the Stevie Wonder tune “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Wrong black pop singer, Tommy! Fun times.
Looking at the blogging you’ve done at U.S. News & World Report, it appears that you’ve got a bone to pick with mainstream conservatism, especially as it relates to fiscal policy. Are you some kind of closet liberal?
No! I’ll warn you that I’m a huge fan of the late poet-historian Peter Viereck. You know how a lot of conservatives like to call themselves “classical liberals” or “genuine liberals” or “market liberals,” as opposed to modern progressive liberals? Here’s my thing: I think they’re all liberals. As Whittaker Chambers wrote in a meaty letter to William F. Buckley on Christmas Day 1958:
I am a man of the Right. I am a man of the Right because I mean to uphold capitalism in its American version. But I claim that capitalism is not, and by its essential nature cannot conceivably be, conservative. This is peculiarly true of capitalism in the United States, which knew no Middle Age; which was born, insofar as it was ideological, of the Enlightenment. … America was the first capitalist power that started from scratch in a raw continent. We are something new under the sun. Only the American South sought to persist in the past, as an agrarian culture, resting on slaves instead of serfs. To wipe out this anachronistic stronghold, above all to break its political hold on the nation as a whole, the emergent capitalist North fought with it what amounted to a second revolution … From the ruins of war, in direct consequence of war’s industrial needs, U.S. capitalism burst into such growth as the world had never seen before. … There is in this history not one single touch of conservatism. How could it be otherwise? Conservatism is alien to the very nature of capitalism whose love of life and growth is perpetual change.
Precisely. This is a succinct example of what you might call Right Progressivism, with its notions of beginning from scratch and wiping out anachronisms. If, as a conservative so-called, you accede to revolutions so long as they’re wrought by markets instead of government, that’s your business. But I don’t feel beholden to John Locke’s blank-slate empiricism and its theory of individuals as self-actualizing independent contractors. Like the Catholic blogger Mark Shea, I don’t revere capitalism as “Sacred Tradition.” And like Edward Luttwak, I’m happy to trade a little capitalist efficiency for some measure of social cohesion and continuity. Simply put, institutions that are worth conserving—the family, say, or bluegrass music—are worth conserving, period.
That said, I’m not a monarchist, socialist, or anarchist. I live under the yellow sun. As Garry Wills said, “The historical achievement of liberalism is a great one, and even its severest critics would not systematically raze all its monuments.” The prosperity and freedom that our Hamiltonian merchant-state has achieved is real enough. But it came at great cost. I find it hard to imagine America as a Jeffersonian small-government republic ever becoming an industrial world power. You want an America that is a shining City on a Hill for the world’s tired, poor, and hungry? Fine. But know that war, territorial expansion, all the dirty maintenance that comes with running an empire, and of course a strong centralized state are the evolutionary hitchhikers to the realization of such an ideal.
I see the choice between Romney and Obama as a choice between Right Progressivism and Left Progressivism …
Zzzzz … ah. Sorry! What else should we know about you?
I spend much of my days with my two children—a son, 7, and a daughter, 3. I watch an unseemly amount of baseball. I grew up in South Jersey and so root for the Philadelphia Phillies—which has meant much suffering lately. My wife and I play in a rock band locally in D.C. and Northern Virginia. I love all sorts of music, but in particular I have an unhealthy obsession with the Rolling Stones. I maintain a YouTube channel with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor guitar tutorials. The channel was recently featured in Rolling Stone magazine.
Why do you call yourself Mel Belli on YouTube?
An inside joke. The Bay Area’s “King of Torts” had many colorful moments in the great documentary film Gimme Shelter, including “The Rolling Stones don’t want any money … so I’ll keep it.” Ha!
Anything else before I cut you off?
When my dad is in town to visit, we like to slip up to Laurel Park to watch horse racing.
Baseball, guitar, retrofitted Tory conservatism, and horse racing … You’re strange.