Personal Best

Beinart, Peter
April 2003
New Republic;4/21/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 15/16, p6
Michael Kelly died covering the war in Iraq. And, in many of the obituaries written since, you can detect a hint of anxiety, a fear that people who knew him only from his columns--first in this space as TRB, then in "The Washington Post"--would remember him differently from how he really was. That's understandable. In his columns, Mike could be combative, aggressive, unyielding. In life, he was gentle, warm, playful. And so, people who loved him have emphasized the distinction between the way he viewed politics and the way he lived his life. But Mike's politics also grew out of his life. I remember the day, years ago, when he told me why he loathed U.S. President Bill Clinton. Evidently, a cadre of older ladies had answered the White House phones since time immemorial. When Clinton took office, Mike told me, he quietly fired them and installed twentysomething former campaign aides in their place. Why did that offend Mike so deeply? First, because he was a traditionalist, even an anachronist. When he first learned how to check his e-mail--several years after most other Americans had been regularly checking theirs--he noted with amusement that a great many people had been trying to reach him. Mike's traditionalism made him a conservative, but not of the contemporary Washington variety. He revered the old-fashioned Capitol Hill neighborhood in which he grew up, and he believed that such communities developed organic standards of conduct far more subtle and dignified than outsiders understood, standards that needed to be protected from the sledgehammer of ideology and law. In Mike's view, the primary threat to those standards came from self-righteous liberalism--with its intrusive mandates about smoking, gender relations, and shoveling the snow from your sidewalk. Mike supported that war, but, unlike Captain Morrison, he didn't sanitize it. He looked the viciousness of U.S. warfare in the eye.



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