Memo To: Tony Lewis of The New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: I'll Miss You, More or Less
How unfair for the Times to run your last column of 32 years worth on a Saturday, when readership is at a nadir. I might have missed it, but my wife always looks for Frank Rich's op-ed on Saturday and she announced: "Did you see that Anthony Lewis is retiring?" I can tell you I felt a genuine pang of regret, not the thrill of exultation that so many of my conservative friends no doubt felt on hearing the news. In the years I was still publishing the MediaGuide, where we described you as "the liberal conservatives love to hate," I still remember running into Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media, the right-wing media watchdog, who poked me in the shoulder, growling: "I see you gave Anthony Lewis four stars. I wonder what you gave Karl Marx."
While I've certainly disagreed with you far more often than not, I've admired the rigor of your arguments especially when they have applied to the law, to First Amendment issues, and to your frustrations over the absence of peace between Arabs and Israelis. I can't think of another Jewish liberal intellectual of your caliber who has been as conscientious as you in trying to see things from the Palestinian point of view. The June 2 column on "The Price of Occupation" was one such that I admired and singled out for commentary in this space. You are going to be missed on this topic, especially in these critical days. I note the excellent story by Ami Eden about your retirement in this week's Forward, the Jewish weekly, "Lewis Lays Down His Pen, His Pet Causes in Disarray."
I'm sure we are going to see you around, Tony. This ain't an obit. But I thought I'd go back to two of your best all-time columns, though I disagreed with both. Your targets, Ollie North and Judge Bork, are both heroes of mine, but your slicing and dicing of them was masterful. I actually think Bork might have been confirmed at the Supreme Court if it were not for your columns:
Lewis, Anthony. The New York Times. “North, Northwest,” 12-4-88. With perfect timing, just as conservatives were trying to rally the President for an Oliver North pardon, Lewis makes a case not against a North pardon, but against sympathy for him. In “North, Northwest,” Lewis brings to light, with named sources and stories, examples of Oliver North’s exhibitions of pathology, wondering aloud why on earth the conservative movement would embrace such a nut as a hero. Lewis also draws the important conclusion, correct no matter which party sits in office: “the real danger of an Oliver North inside the White house [is] not the pathological lies, the tales of Abu Nidal, but the acquisition and abuse of power.” Telling comments from the man on the left on the man on the right, Lewis winning this round decisively.
Lewis, Anthony. The New York Times. “A Question Of Judgment,” 9-27-87. Lewis had celebrated Judge Robert Bork’s defense of press freedom in an important 1984 U.S. Court of Appeals decision, “Bork and the Press,” 8-30. So he had his work cut out for him in drafting the intellectual case against Bork’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court reporter and cheerleader during the heyday of the Warren Court, Lewis produced a series of masterful columns that gave respectability to the political assault against Bork. This was the most important of them because it left no loophole. He agrees with Nicholas Katzenbach, who suggested to the committee that they simply ask, “Is Judge Bork a man of judgment?...Is he a wise person?” Lewis then presents the argument that a person who discards abstract theories when they become inconvenient can not be a person of judgment. “There is something deeply troubling about a judge who seeks certainty in abstractions: who discovers a grand theory that will solve all problems, then turns to another when the theory fails - as it must ... Robert Bork’s pursuit of theory has led him to profound misjudgements on great legal and moral issues, and to unconvincing changes. This is why this intelligent and engaging man should not sit on the Supreme Court.”