The New Republic has a terrific, terrific article in their latest issue, by British writer Johann Hari, who sailed on this year's National Review cruise and wrote an incredulous 3,000-word takedown of the event and its participants. To be fair, they must have known it would be a pretty good article because it had been done with so much success a decade earlier by theNation's Eric Alterman, who, in 1997, sailed on that year's National Review cruise and then wrote an incredulous 5,000-word takedown of the event and its participants.
Is a decade long enough to elapse before ripping off a stunt? Sure — especially one that worked so well. However, in the tiny, interlocking and overlapping world of the media — particularly the world of left-leaning politically-themed magazines — it's probably not long enough to rip of a stunt without acknowledging it. Which TNR, alas, does not.
Even so, the article really is great, and it's an important one to have written based on the information it collects about right-wing thinking and rhetoric, right from the start:
I am traveling on a bright-white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, and 500 readers of National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." Global warming is not happening. Europe is becoming a new Caliphate. And I have nowhere to run.
Which is a good thing, because Hari collects some unbelievable quotes and anecdotes during the trip, from both National Review presenters and from their eager, cruise-travelling readership. A sampling:
"You must live near the U.N. building," the Floridian says to one of the ladies after the entrée is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently.
One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to "thank God for Fox News."
Podhoretz goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo" and that Bush is "a hero." He is, like most people on this cruise, certain the administration will attack Iran.
He also catches fissures within the ranks, like when John Podhoretz insists that "[t]here were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria" and that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success" and "couldn't have gone better." William F. Buckley snaps at him, "Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" (For the record, no, Podhoretz is not.) The piece is worth reading just for Buckley's later comments about how Reagan would have dealt with Iraq ( "I think the prudent Reagan would have figured here, and the prudent Reagan would have shunned a commitment of the kind that we are now engaged in, if only to imagine the Republican presidential candidates scrambling to get their heads around that.
Also worth reading for a nice jab at Republican hypocrisy: "Several days later, the nautical counter-revolution has docked in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where passengers will clamber overboard into a nation they want to wall off behind a 1,000-mile fence." It should be noted, however, that a more general hypocrisy was pointed out far back in the last decade as well: That, one year after Alterman lampooned the NR cruise, the Nation launched their own version (in which — fun fact! — Christopher Hitchens was a featured participant). Mother Jones took the Nation and Alterman to task on that point ("Is there an irony in the prospect of The Nation hammering out a progressive agenda on the deck of a potential ecohazard while underpaid, overworked seamen toil below?"). According to Mother Jones, Alterman did not seem to see a problem, and to the Forward in 2004, didn't think participating in a Nation cruise himself was any biggie, either. So in the scheme of things, maybe ripping off his story idea ten years later isn't such a big deal. Either way, one can only wonder what Alterman's great friend Rick Stengel might have to say about all this.
Update: Big hat tip to Ankush Khardori, who passed along the piece to me and writes about it here, noting that P.J. O'Rourke predated the lot of 'em by crashing a similar cruise.
Reshuffling the Deck Chairs on the National Review cruise [TNR]
Cruising For Trouble [Penguins on the Equator]
Related, referencing the Alterman piece, which does not seem to be online:
From Port to Starboard, Magazines Take to High Seas Towing the Party Line [The Forward]
Sailing Out [Mother Jones]