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Skeletons at the Feast

State of the Union: Lessons learned from the ISI Gala crowd and Tucker Carlson in Wilmington, Delaware.

Sarah Culver

Few punchlines will bring down the mood of a room full of septuagenarians like “the one thing you couldn’t say about Mrs. So-and-so is that she died like we all will.”

The effect of Tucker Carlson’s blunt observation about what was considered forbidden knowledge in his native La Jolla was amplified since he was probably the only one in the room who hadn’t been drinking. Within a few minutes, the audience at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s 70th Anniversary Gala in Wilmington, Delaware, had overlooked the pall over the room and thanked Carlson with a standing ovation.


The unwelcome realization that I might one day be that 70-something confronted with the reality of my own death was ameliorated by the presence of those who have sustained the conservative movement for decades beyond what was expected of them. Annette Kirk, whose late husband Russell left this earth almost as long ago as the length of their marriage, continues to invite students to the family home in Mecosta, Michigan. The unassuming Linda L. Bean, the primary sponsor and namesake of the conference center ISI inaugurated last week, maintains philanthropy alongside her business pursuits in Maine.

At some point, these and other privileged souls must be looking for more than mere recognition per Morton Blackwell’s dictum “give ’em a title and get ’em involved.” Yes, they care about culture, but are also vaguely aware that spontaneous social media trends impose more immediate cultural constraints than multi-million-dollar programs. Ultimately, their concern is political: They know that authority, or at least the claim to authority, binds us down to the most intimate domain of our very thoughts.

Why else would the crowd in Wilmington respond with such vigor when Carlson mentioned during an aside that “we should all be very, very concerned” with Gavin Newsom? Because they know the slicked-back hair, imposing smile, and preternatural self-confidence could drive him straight into the White House and the country straight into totalitarianism. (Carlson later told me that Newsom would “be happy to put his political opponents in jail. If he ever gets the chance to do that, he won’t hesitate.”) For what it’s worth, the same goes for those who generously support the function of these pages: Those who give and subscribe care about how their fellow citizens think about their nation’s domestic and foreign policy and seek to influence it however they can.

Those who forget whither the political winds blow are destined to be forgotten. (“Is National Review still around?” one woman in Wilmington asked me). Still others are forced to remember how politics has changed them and their country: When I referred to Arlington County, Virginia, to another gala-goer, she responded, “My son’s in Arlington. In the cemetery.” I only noticed after she leaned away from me that there were tears in her eyes. Before Carlson had even arrived at the podium, one woman among a tent of tuxedos and evening dresses dared to utter what those in La Jolla refused.


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