A bouquet for Stein

Posted: Sep 08, 2000 12:00 AM
The author note about Harry Stein in his delightful new book "How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace)" begins as follows: "Harry Stein is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in a number of publications in which he will likely never appear again, including The New York Times Magazine, New York, Esquire, and GQ end ital." How can you not love a guy like that? Though it covers material that is familiar to conservatives -- the nauseating pose of moral superiority common to nearly all liberals, their intellectual laziness and extreme intolerance, their ignorance of anything beyond what is in the pages of The New York Times or on the network news, and their indifference to the real-world consequences of their "good" intentions -- there is panache here. In part, this is due to what might be called the stolen plans aspect of the book. Here is a mole who lived and worked and socialized with all those liberals, and has surfaced to tell us what they say about us in private (sure we knew, but it's different from an eyewitness). Because he is so funny, the whole effect is bracing and almost illicitly amusing -- it's like eavesdropping on your opponents. And it gives one hope that if the simple logic of the conservative orientation was enough to convert one red-diaper baby -- in contrast to say, religious conversion, which is more often the road to the right -- perhaps others will follow. In his How to Tell if You've Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy section, Stein offers these hints: "You hear someone talking about morality and you no longer instantly assume he must be a sexually repressed religious nut." "Watching network news, you notice that the person opposing affirmative action is identified as a 'conservative spokesman,' while the one supporting it is just a 'Harvard professor.'" "Black history month seems to last from February to July." "At your kids' back-to-school night, you are shocked to discover that only dead white male on your 10th grader's reading list is Oscar Wilde." "Try as you might, you just can't get yourself to believe screwing around on your mate qualifies as an addiction." Stein's early life and career were firmly left. He grew up loathing McCarthy and lionizing the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. His parents even did stints in the Communist Party. But unlike most of his friends and relatives, Stein is not immune to the lessons of history. He couldn't comfortably reassure himself -- as they did and do -- that his had always been the side of the angels. The fascists were evil incarnate, yes. But what about scores of millions the communists killed? It did not forever escape Stein's notice that the best people were neither far left nor far right, but true democrats -- lovers of liberty. So it was that long before Bill Clinton's smarmy act hit prime time, Harry Stein's liberal garments were beginning to chafe. It began when Mrs. Stein elected to raise their infant daughter full-time instead of placing the child in day care. This marked the Steins as strange. They were put on the watch list. Later, Harry received the involuntary baptism that befalls every conservative sooner or later. For merely mentioning at a dinner party that Dan Quayle might have had a point, he was snarlingly denounced as a "fascist" by a prominent fellow journalist. "That's how you argue, by calling me names?" Stein retorted. As he demonstrates over and over again in this book, the answer is yes. Buy this book for your wavering friends. It may well tip them.