Leon Wieseltier
Literary Editor

Washington Diarist: The Well-Wishers
May 20, 2009

“LET’S PUT IDEOLOGY aside; that’s so yesterday.” Those memorable words were uttered by Hillary Clinton in Santo Domingo, on her way to the Summit of the Americas. I wish to parse them. They may be read charitably and uncharitably. I will begin with charity, since in this case it goes against my grain. There are two ways in which the abdication of ideology by the Secretary of State seems understandable.

At the Window
April 15, 2009

Of three or four in a room there is always one who stands at the window. He must see the injustice among the thorns and the fires on the hill. So wrote Yehuda Amichai in 1958, and I have been feeling rather like the morbid observer who has wandered away from the warm company. The glass through which I gaze is far from the place that I lovingly and disquietedly see; I have to squint past the coercions of the media, and correct also for the distortions of solidarity. But in Israel now I see fires on the hill.

Washington Diarist: In Which We Engage
April 01, 2009

Is it really possible that in a Democratic administration the championship of human rights and the promotion of democracy will no longer figure conspicuously in the foreign policy of the United States? It is really possible. Oh, the stirring words will be spoken; the stirring words are always spoken. But in the absence of policies one may be forgiven for not being stirred by words. And so far even the language has been wanting in ardor. Idealism in foreign policy is so 2003. After all, the opposite of everything that George W. Bush believed must be true.

Washington Diarist
February 18, 2009

ON JANUARY 22, at 2:36 p.m., I received an email from President Barack Obama. “Friend,” it began. “Thank you for being part of the most open inauguration in our nation’s history.” You're welcome. I do not recall any closed inaugurations, but never mind. This is the season of the benefit of the doubt. Like anybody who knows anything about the American past, I soared when the President stated his now archetypally American name; and like anybody who has tired of the haughtiness of conservatives, I relished the Chief Justice’s fumble.

Washington Diarist: Out There
December 24, 2008

Counterfactuals are the inventions of logic or misery. The interest in an altered world is not born of contentment. But when the imagined improvement turns out also to be real—well, here is the most unlikely true story about Jews in modernity that I ever heard. It was told to me many years ago by a Jew, an American judge, who grew up in the Jewish community of Goa, in India. It happened during the partition riots in 1947. He related that rampaging gangs sometimes broke into his family’s house, armed with pistols and axes and torches, and of course with anger.

Washington Diarist
December 03, 2008

A few weeks ago, the prophet Elijah appeared to me. It was almost dusk, and he took the form of a comely woman on P Street. She wore a black dress that tightly clasped her waist and sky-high black shoes with formidable fastenings. Her dark hair was pulled back vehemently into a ponytail, and drops of sun-specked metal hung from her ears. Most remarkable of all, she was dancing. A man in a dinner jacket was her partner, but he acted mainly as a pivot for her ballroom brazenness on the sidewalk, which was executed with an admirable mixture of discipline and abandon.

That Night
November 19, 2008

The leaves were not all that was changing in Lafayette Park. I had never before seen a patriotic mosh-pit, but I was gladly trapped in one outside the White House in the hours after Barack Obama's inexorable but still unimaginable victory. I had also never seen young people march on the White House in the cause of joy.

Washington Diarist
November 05, 2008

I have never voted happily in a general election. In the 1980s I envied my conservative friends who drew the curtain of the voting booth over an epiphany, whereas I groaned beneath my philosophical complexity when I voted for Reagan; and when I voted for Clinton a decade later, it was not without an exertion of casuistry about the distinction between supportable and admirable. I have not yet been asked for my vote by a candidate who represents the entirety of my convictions. I am not dismayed by this. Politics should not provide the most complete or the most profound of life's satisfactions.

The Shrinker
October 22, 2008

'He is barometrically interesting." This was Irving Howe's judgment of a professor of literature whose prominence we were mischievously discussing. We were praising the guilelessness of barometers. They come right out and say it. The same candor about the weather is gained when a writer unexpectedly expresses himself in a way that requires no interpretation, and thereby exposes the Geist in the Zeit. It is always satisfying to see the errors of one's time clearly stated. I am grateful to The New Yorker for this satisfaction.

Washington Diarist
October 08, 2008

One of America's quadrennial rituals is liberal shock. Again the Democrats are surprised by the brutality of the Republicans. They are lying. Yes, they are. They want very much to win. So should we lie, too? "We" already have. (John McCain did not say that America should stay in Iraq for a hundred years.) The Democrats believe that, by running roughly, "we" become like "them. " More grandly, the objection is that the moral character of a campaign is a premonition of the moral character of an administration. I do not see the correlation.