Today marks the last of about 22,000 written opinion pieces in a newspaper career spanning 46 years.
Some summary thoughts....
-- Despite the citizenry self-describing as conservative vs. liberal by 2-1, liberalism continues overwhelmingly to control the rhetorical environment. Key opinion-shaping institutions -- the academy, mainline churches, the press -- have collapsed or dramatically changed. The printed word, a leading devotion of this professional life, confronts a dubious future.
-- The presidents of the past 46 years neatly describe the competing virtues of the nation's two principal ideologies. Compare the policies of Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II -- as a cohort -- to those of Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Obama. It's not a difficult choice.
-- Still, George Will's formulation is correct: Unless one is actively conservative, the tendency is to drift left.
-- Regarding the very liberal Barack Obama as the most loftily placed tribune of the contemporary left: Where intellectual honesty has departed, there can be no trust. So, to Obama, this confession from John Marquand's book "Sincerely, Willis Wayde" aptly pertains: "I try to be sincere, really I do. But sometimes it's a problem -- how to be sincere." Those words go far to bathe in light the sullen anger of the hour.
-- As a culture, we're addicted to celebrity. Nothing else explains either our idolatry of insolent athletes and antic entertainers or our insistent belief in the jiggly wisdom of over-cleavaged Hollywood lovelies. Nor does anything else explain the "Today" show dispatching 50 staffers, or CNN dispatching 400, to cover the London marriage of Kate to William -- a prince in the royal line against which, 235 years ago, we fought the planet's most successful and consequential war of liberation.
-- Yet as a people, perhaps above all we crave intimacy -- the intimacy of place, family, friends, and community. The reliable, trusting, interdependent intimacy of the others in the foxhole -- and in what Albert Jay Nock termed The Remnant (see his compelling essay, "Isaiah's Job"). What is America if not a community of shared values on a national scale?
-- On the solitary business of writing, James Thurber had it right when he noted how hard it was to convince his wife he actually was working while looking out the window. And, as one whom readers repeatedly have sought to disembowel and loop with a noose, I can attest to the insight of Keats' observation, "Let any man write six words and I can hang him for it."
-- Life is an experiment in full throttle. Two cancers have taught the glories of rolling on one's back in life like a happy dog. And the crucial virtue of inveterate optimism. Negoism and pessimism are boring and ginormously unfun. Attitude is just about everything.
-- This crucial quote, from Whittaker Chambers, has served as a perennial reminder:
It is idle to talk about preventing the wreckage of Western Civilization. It's already a wreck from within. That's why we can do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving care to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.
That may seem hardly an optimistic outlook, but it also can be read as the essence of hope persisting beyond the gloom.
-- Given the advancing years, and with the landscape full of scary-smart conservatives, it's time to move on -- to a place where, as Christopher Tolkien has written of the restorative Rivendell in his father's "Lord of the Rings": "Weariness falls away and time doesn't pass, it just is."
Through a long line of typewriters, word processors, and computers, two mantras have been on display near at hand. One, a button acquired as a teenager, proclaims: Acquit Socrates -- the Athenian philosopher condemned to die for teaching the truth. The other reads: The reader is your friend. Be kind to him.
That has been the constant goal -- to write conversationally and straight-up, with here and there some leavening irony. To thwack the nail and drive it home. To press the fight while having some fun along the way.
Oh, yes, there have been defeats, but also some big victories.
Thanks for playing.
And now let us head out praying -- with this one not heard much anymore:
"Our father's God, to thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God our King."