Warning: This Newsletter Is Depressing
Three stories about life and our choices.
I promise we’ll do holiday cheer later this week. But not today.
Today we’re going dark.
1. Bob Dole, RIP
Bob Dole was the first Republican I ever voted for for president and one of the few presidential votes that I made with a song in my heart. It wasn’t just that I liked and admired Dole, but I was fresh out of college and two of my friends worked on his campaign.
One of them was the Dole campaign’s webmaster in what was, I believe, the first time a presidential campaign had a presence on the Information Super Highway. My buddy Rob actually dropped out of college just before graduation to take this gig and it seemed like heady stuff for a 22-year-old.
My other friend carried bags on the campaign. Literally, that was his whole job. “Hey, Mike! Go load 2,000 pounds of Samsonite onto the plane. You’ve got 10 minutes”
Rob got the important job and I’m not sure he ever once saw the senator. Mike had a job that could have been done by a monkey, but he got to hang around Dole every day for months.
Guess who had the better experience?
Dole treated even the lowly kids kindly. He was, as everyone testifies, funny. And funny in a fatalistic, hard-headed way. What a man.
And how great it was to have a political culture where guys like Bob Dole were the leaders.
Also, it is a sad coincidence that Dole and the man who portrayed him so brilliantly passed away within a few months of one another.
Though this one might even be better:
One final note: Dole endorsed Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. And here is what Joe Biden had to say upon his passing:
A month after being sworn in as President, one of the first conversations I had with anyone outside the White House was with our dear friends, Bob and Elizabeth Dole, at their home in Washington. Bob had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and I was were there to offer the same support, love, and encouragement that they showed me and Jill when our son Beau battled cancer, and that the Doles have shown us over the half century we’ve been friends.
Like all true friendships, regardless of how much time has passed, we picked up right where we left off, as though it were only yesterday that we were sharing a laugh in the Senate dining room or debating the great issues of the day, often against each other, on the Senate floor. I saw in his eyes the same light, bravery, and determination I’ve seen so many times before.
There’s more. You should read it.
My point is that whatever the Biden administration has done wrong, it has delivered on its most fundamental promise: A return to the normal respect and good will of American politics.
And it is worth remembering that it is inconceivable that Donald Trump would talk this way about someone from the other party who had worked against him.
Yet what’s depressing is that I suspect the future does not belong to the Bob Doles and Joe Bidens of the world. They are yesterday’s men.
The future belongs to Donald Trump and his children.
2. Afghanistan Is Still Happening
As was entirely predictable, the Taliban takeover has Afghanistan in economic collapse and is creating a humanitarian disaster. Up next: Famine.
Nearly four months since the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan is on the brink of a mass starvation that aid groups say threatens to kill a million children this winter — a toll that would dwarf the total number of Afghan civilians estimated to have been killed as a direct result of the war over the past 20 years.
While Afghanistan has suffered from malnutrition for decades, the country’s hunger crisis has drastically worsened in recent months. This winter, an estimated 22.8 million people — more than half the population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity, according to an analysis by the United Nations World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization. Of those, 8.7 million people are nearing famine — the worst stage of a food crisis.
What’s happening? Western aid was withdrawn. The Taliban is bad at governing. Afghanistan is suffering an ill-timed drought. And Western sanctions are making everything worse.
So what are we supposed to do? Keep sanctions in place that may (or may not) weaken the Taliban, but also will definitely contribute to mass famine? Or remove sanctions and then be party to propping up an abusive, authoritarian regime?
This is one of the—again, entirely predictable—consequences of pulling out of Afghanistan. Americans may not like being a world power, but we are. Our choices have actual, real-world consequences for people. Even the choice to stop doing something matters.
We owned a portion of the deaths in Afghanistan during the war. Now we own a portion of this famine. And if we lift sanctions, we’ll own a portion of what the Taliban does to the Afghan people as we bail it out.
There are no good answers. And even the least-bad options are terrible.
3. Steve Glass
You probably don’t know who Steve Glass is, but for almost the entirety of my professional life, I’ve hated him.
Glass was a near-contemporary of mine who worked at the New Republic while I was at the Weekly Standard. He was one of a class of TNR youths who were given fast-passes into journalism. I spent a year answering phones and then four years fact-checking before I was allowed to pick up a pencil. And all the while, Steve Glass and his TNR cool kid posse were writing for the inflight magazine of Air Force One every week and then free-lancing for the prestige glossies on the side. I was an invisible apprentice. They were the Next Big Things.
But it wasn’t just jealousy on part. Even while this was happening it was clear to me that Glass was a fraud. I would read Glass’s TNR stories and say to myself, “This is bullshit. This didn’t happen. He’s making it up.”
And it wasn’t just me. During that period TNR got a bunch of letters-to-the-editor from figures in or around Glass’s stories not disputing characterizations, but saying the equivalent of, This never happened. This guy is making it up.
I knew that if something like that happened with a story I wrote, it would be the end of my career. But over at TNR the editors dismissed these charges and let Glass absolutely savage the complainants in responses to them on the magazine’s letters page.
All of which is to say that when Glass finally got caught for being a fabulist, it was the least surprising story in Washington media.
But I kept hating him. Because even after getting run out of the business, his career seemed to keep going. He wrote published a novel. He had a movie made about him. He even got into a prestige law school. (Georgetown. My white whale.)
Every time I looked at Steve Glass I saw my own, personal Rollo Tomassi. And I hated him for it. Really, truly hated him.
Here is what has happened to Steve Glass and I do not hate him anymore.
This is usually the part where I show you a passage of the piece I’m talking about, but I’m not going to do that today. You should go read the whole thing. Not just skim it, but sit and read it when you have some time to let it speak to you.
Again: This is Steve Glass’s story. Please read it.
If you don’t mind me going Catholic on you for a moment, it’s easy to subscribe to the idea that God has a plan for each of us when things are going well. It is very, very hard to do so when things are going badly.
And yet to read about Glass it’s hard for me to come to any other conclusion except that this man’s entire life’s story—every single minute of it—was meant to position and prepare him for a single task.
I don’t hate Steve Glass anymore. I admire him. Maybe even love him for what he has done with his life.
And I am chastened to be reminded that we are, each of us, running our own race.
It’s important to note that this didn’t happen just once. Or twice.