Dear Dr. Gingrich: Forgive the slightly formal mode of address. I know all the best people nowadays--phone salesmen, talk-show hosts, politicians--prefer a mode of instant intimacy, but I still find it hard to make bosom buddies out of people I don't know. There is also the matter of academic courtesy. You were once a professor. I still am. This is, in a manner of speaking, an academic letter. According to an article in The New York Times, you were inspired in your youth by Arnold Toynbee and Isaac Asimov but have as your "guide du jour" my study of the Hellenistic Age, Alexander to Actium.
President Kennedy, we're reminded by his biographers, understood the need for politicians to maintain their public dignity at all costs. When Hugh Sidey of Time playfully reported that Kennedy had posed with his family for the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly, "modelling a trimly tailored dark gray suit," Kennedy became apoplectic at the thought that he might be considered frivolous or effeminate for appearing in a flashy men's fashion magazine. " Anybody who read this would think I was crazy," he raged at Sidey, according to Richard Reeves.
In contemporary American political debate, struggles over abortion are usually treated as conflicts between rival interpretations of individual rights. Those who favor abortion most often invoke the "right to choose" of the woman who has conceived the fetus. Those who oppose abortion focus on the "right to life" of the fetus. But there is a third position that is largely overlooked.
One consequence of living several thousand miles from the place you grew up and shifting residences every few years is that the people you care for tend to die at a distance. Once a year or so I get a phone call to inform me that someone I had assumed alive and well has suffered a stroke, or shot himself, or neglected to wake up. Upon hearing such news I usually feel a brief but genuine desire to drop whatever I am doing and fly to the funeral. Then I recall the funerals I have attended.
The conservative justices are privately exuberant about the remarkable Supreme Court term that ended last week. Surprised and slightly dazed by the magnitude of their victory, they think they have finally exorcized the ghost of the Warren Court, fulfilled the goals of the conservative judicial revolution and vindicated the ideal of a color-blind Constitution for the first time since Reconstruction.
It's a puzzle: as a recent World Bank study claims, the people in the U.S. have the highest "average" income in the world--or the second highest, next to Luxembourg. But to many it seems we have no money and no savings, that our Social Security may collapse and that we won't have anything to live on in our old age. How can this be? I look at my own IRA and groan. People my age, in their 40s, are saving at less than a third the rate our parents did. Or so say some economists. Others say no, it's people over 50 who aren't saving. Somebody isn't.
When the new Republican Congress was sworn in last January, the South finally conquered Washington. The defeated Democratic leadership had been almost exclusively from the Northeast, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, with Speaker Tom Foley of Washington, Majority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Majority Whip David Bonior of Michigan in the House, and, on the Senate side, Majority Leader George Mitchell from Maine. The only Southerner in the Democratic congressional leadership was Senate Majority Whip Wendell Ford of Kentucky.
The Supreme Court struck down congressional term limits this week; and the surprising part of the 5-4 decision was not the wooden majority opinion by John Paul Stevens but the elastic dissent by Clarence Thomas. For the justices and their clerks, of course, rhetorical excesses are one of the pleasures of writing dissents, and shouldn't always be taken seriously.