One of the most annoying traits of left-wingers is their tendency to assume that you, too, must share their political views. I was reminded this recently when reading the 90th anniversary issue of the New Yorker.
There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”
Reagan’s post-presidential Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis thus becomes an opportunity for the New Yorker writer to write off his entire presidency as an exercise in dementia. I remember the Reagan administration. When the left wasn’t complaining that Reagan was either napping or horseback riding at the ranch, it was busy bellyaching about his costly and supposedly dangerous military buildup, his supposedly budget-busting tax cuts, and his breaking of the air traffic controllers union. Reagan, in this paradoxical view, manages to be simultaneously checked-out and malevolently, potently effective.
And who is the “us” in the New Yorker’s “many of us suspected”? The New Yorker editor’s colleagues at the magazine? The readers of the article? The community of intelligent people who might subscribe to the New Yorker? Reagan, by defeating the evil Soviet Communist empire and igniting economic growth in America, did more for the world, more for freedom and prosperity, than any of them ever did.
Later in the same issue of the New Yorker is a wonderful profile of Sir Jonathan Ive, the Apple design executive that the magazine describes as “one of the two most powerful people in the world’s most valuable company.”
Early in his career, Ive worked for a London-based design consulting company named Tangerine, founded by Clive Grinyer. The New Yorker reports that in spring of 1992, “before a general election that the Labour Party was expected to win, after 13 years of Conservative Party rule,” the Tangerine partners visited Apple in San Francisco. “When they landed back in London, they were greeted by the news that the Conservatives had won. ‘It was fucking depressing,’ Grinyer recalled,” the New Yorker says.
This is, more or less (the California weather and something about a rejected bathroom sink design are also mentioned), the explanation given for Ive’s move to America. As if the reasonable reaction to an electoral victory by Margaret Thatcher’s successor over the party that had led Britain into its pre-Thatcher statist malaise was to flee the country.
You don’t have to be a left-winger to use an Apple computer or appreciate its design. This column was written on one, and Rush Limbaugh regularly talks about his love for Apple products. But the New Yorker profile breezes along as if it makes perfect sense that this Apple executive who now rides around in a chauffeur-driven Bentley and has a Gulfstream V private jet would have bolted Britain in reaction to a Conservative electoral victory. After all, Ive’s known for his sense of aesthetics, right? And no one with good taste could possibly have right of center politics.
The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael said in a December 1972 speech, after Nixon had won re-election in a landslide victory over George McGovern, that “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken.”
I’m too young to have voted for Nixon. But one thing that seems to have endured in the more than 40 years since Kael’s famous remark is the cloistered politics of the magazine’s editorial staff. For an institution that prides itself on its sophistication and culture, it strikes me as disappointingly closed-minded.
Maybe I’m biased — the magazine called my most recent book “loony.” But it’s one thing for the New Yorker to run left-wing editorials or nasty reviews of books by center-right authors. It’s another thing for them to insert an attack on Ronald Reagan into an article about grammar, or an attack on the British Conservative Party into an article about Apple. It’s a sad reminder of the grating, smug conformity of American elite opinion, and of the way in which having even mildly conservative politics in urban, literary America can make a person feel almost like a countercultural rebel.