In the battle of ideas, Midge Decter was a fearless warrior. She had little patience for fence-sitters and heaped special scorn on those who made themselves out to be victims.
Yet Decter’s death last week, at 94, was met with glowing obituaries that reflected qualities beyond her brilliance in intellectual combat. Even The New York Times and Washington Post saluted her impact, not a small matter given that Decter was a founding mother of the neoconservative movement those papers love to hate.
Writer, author, editor and organizer, she was far ahead of her time in identifying what we now call the culture wars. She wrote “The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women’s Liberation” in 1972, which contained this provocative paragraph:
“Women’s Liberation does not embody a new wave of demand for equal rights. Nor does its preoccupation with oppression signal a yearning for freedom. The movement on close examination turns out to be about . . . the difficulties women are experiencing with the rights and freedoms they already enjoy.”
Three years later, she followed with “Liberal Parents, Radical Children,” an insight proven by the leftist bullies on social media and college campuses.
Love of country and gratitude for its liberty fueled Decter’s passion and she and her prolific husband, writer and editor Norman Podhoretz, made a powerful pair in eviscerating foes. For them, America’s glass was not half empty.
They would adopt a similar attitude toward Israel’s enemies.
Their son, John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a Post columnist, said in his eulogy he and his three siblings wondered about the source of their mother’s intellect and spirit.
“My parents met in 1946 on a registration line at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where my show-offy 16-year-old future father was trying to make time with a girl and misquoted T.S. Eliot — whereupon the 18-year-old with a thick Midwestern accent turned around and corrected the quotation,” Podhoretz recounted, adding:
‘Join side you’re on’
“How had she come to T.S. Eliot? There had been barely a book in my grandparents’ house. My dad says that when he met her Midge had already read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Proust. Proust! And yet this was a woman who spent her life regretting the fact that she never graduated from college.”
I first met Decter a decade ago at a small dinner of conservatives. The others knew her, and one asked about an observation she had made earlier, that “you have to join the side you’re on.”
The words were new to me — and a lightning bolt in my head. I don’t remember much else about the dinner, except I instantly understood the clarity those words could bring to any difficult decision.
For Decter, the decision had been about her relationship to the Democratic Party. She, her husband and a few others had been feeling estranged over a bizarre fondness for communism and an equally bizarre animus toward America itself.
Finally, after realizing they had become critical outsiders instead of critical insiders, they reached a breaking point and endorsed Richard Nixon.
The blowback from former allies was intense, with some relationships never repaired. But there was no going back, and all these years later, no regrets about the decision.
(Norman told me she never used those words in writing, but that he did, quoting her! Such was their marriage that a mutual friend tells me Decter once noted that “I bring him coffee and he brings me courage.”)
I have often quoted her gem because the lesson is as current as today’s cancel culture. The left’s demand for total conformity even as its policy ideas grow more radical is creating millions of Midge Decters.
Parents who object to racial and gender indoctrination in elementary school are likely to join the political side they’re on. So are liberal-minded urban residents who fear the rise of violent crime, then must listen to Democrats call them racists for wanting police protection.
Indeed, the political revolution happening today in America can be seen as a continuation of what Decter and others started six decades ago. It has spread to growing numbers of blacks and Latinos, among the most reliable Dems, who are pulling away from the push for open borders, abortion on demand until birth and an ever-more powerful government.
Those who make the decision to switch sides often pay a price in lost friends and family harmony, and perhaps financially.
But joining the side you are on is more than simply having an argument with friends. Ultimately it’s about being honest with yourself and matching your actions with your convictions.
There is one other thing about Midge Decter I came to know, and that is how kind she was. I wasn’t alone in recognizing her generosity of spirit.
This side of her is best captured in the Washington Free Beacon, where Mary Eberstadt wrote of gatherings where Decter would spend hours talking to young people:
“Not once did it occur to us that this formidable woman, anchor of so many communities, might have better things to do than entertain our conservative junior league members, some of whom were only recently out of braces. Then again, how would we have known we were imposing? She treated one and all as if nothing mattered more than our company.”
To those lucky enough to know her, Midge Decter’s memory is already a blessing. May she rest in peace.
Joe out to lunch on baby formula
And babies, too?
Yes, babies, too.
Chalk up another example of where the sclerotic slowness of the Biden White House led to a crisis that could have been prevented.
The case at hand is the shortage of baby formula, caused by the closure of an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan and a subsequent recall of products, including Similac, after two infants died of a bacteria that might have come from the plant.
That happened in February, and by early May, formula supplies were reportedly 43 percent below normal. Since then, stories of parents desperate to find food for their babies have dominated much of the media. Apparently having no other sources of information, the White House now says it’s on the case.
A better, more energetic president would have admitted the slow start and pledged to move heaven and earth to fix it. That’s what leadership looks like.
That’s not the president we have. Instead, Biden and his crew are beating up on private industry by warning about price gouging while defending the bureaucracy that has kept the Abbott plant closed and keeps imported formulas off the market.
To top it off, outgoing press secretary Jen Psaki effectively accused Abbott of murder in the infant deaths, saying, “There were babies who died from taking this formula,” a link that has not been proven.
All and all, just another day in the ongoing collapse of a presidency.