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Brookhiser Begets Boredom at the Ath

October 7, 2009

by Charlie Sprague
Brookhiser Begets Boredom at the Ath

Disclaimer: I am a liberal.  That being said, Richard Brookhiser’s speech at the Athenaeum on Tuesday was terrible. His speech was the first time I have ever left an Athenaeum event early.  The large number of people who left before the Q&A session seemed to confirm that my opinion was shared by others.

Most of the speech consisted of Mr. Brookhiser reading from or summarizing his book Right Place, Right Time.  I hate when speakers do this because it makes the whole presentation less organic and interesting (remember Thomas Friedman’s speech a few years ago when he simply summarized The World is Flat?).  In fact, the whole event seemed designed for Mr. Brookhiser to sell more copies of his book.

In addition to being boring, Brookhiser’s speech was very self-aggrandizing.  He bragged about being published in the National Review at age 15, attending a dinner party at Henry Kissinger’s swanky New York apartment, and other accomplishments he really wanted us to know about.  Although his book and speech supposedly focused on Brookhiser’s relationship with William F. Buckley Jr., surprisingly little was revealed about the father of modern conservative movement.  We were told that Buckley was aggressive and funny, not the most original of insights.  Worse, an anecdote meant to describe Buckley’s wit was terribly unfunny.  I won’t even bore you with a description.  I have a lot of respect for Buckley and was curious to learn more about the man.

The speech also contained a trite and basically useless lesson to young conservatives: if you think 2009 is a bad time to be a conservative, the 1970’s were even worse.  During the course of this lesson, he took an unnecessary pot shot at Jimmy Carter, calling him “not a decent man.”  I’m not a huge fan of Carter either, but a man who brokered peace between Israel and Egypt and established Habitat for Humanity can hardly be considered an indecent man.  Brookhiser’s personal attack on Carter should be contrasted with his apologetic treatment of President Bush.  While bemoaning the lot of conservatives during the end of the Bush era, Brookhiser had the audacity to claim that both of the wars of this decade were out of President Bush’s control.  When the commander in chief of the United States of America decides to wage war and has control over the strategy of those wars, one can hardly say that they were “out of his control."

The Salvatori Center, which sponsored Mr. Brookhiser’s visit to CMC, should demand a refund.  The students of Claremont Mckenna learned very little, if anything, from this pompous lecture.  The one positive thing that can be said about this Ath event, in the words of a CMC conservative who left early, “At least the food was good.”

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