Friday, February 10, 2012

The '60s made us do it

Paul Krugman's column today—noting that Charles Murray's new much ballyhooed book on the social divide is merely the latest example of a venerable conservative tactic to attribute all problems in American society to vague, unspecified things that Liberals Did in the Sixties—reminds me of my favorite anecdote from my days at the late and not-too-lamented weekly newsmagazine U.S. News & World Report.
One of the regular columnists for U.S. News at my time there was a superannuated softball buddy of demi-billionaire owner Mortimer B. Zuckerman's named John Leo.

Leo had been a fairly prominent New York Times reporter eons previous but by the '90s devoted his declining years to cranking out column after column for Snooze, every one of which was almost identical; they always began by decrying the decay of American values (generally defined as those upheld by the Catholic Church, particularly its implaccable opposition to abortion) and ended by concluding that this was all a direct and ineluctable consequence of "liberal permissiveness" of the 1960s.

A friend of mine on the magazine staff had the dubious honor of editing these columns. This editor frequently went to gym at the hotel next door where he had a membership and had a nodding acquaintance with another gym member, a lawyer at one of the nearby (and as I recall fairly old-fashioned) law firms.

One day my colleague was wearing his U.S. News T-shirt at the gym, which prompted his nodding acquaintance to speak up.

"Do you work at U.S. News?" he asked.

My colleague admitted the truth of the accusation.

"Really—do you know this guy John Leo?" he continued.

My colleague replied, "As as a matter of fact, I edit his column."

"Really," said the lawyer, growing more interested. "Could you give him a message for me?"

My colleague graciously said he would.

"I GET IT!" said the lawyer, and turned away.