BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON
“At a time when Americans increasingly fear we are declining and doubt the efficacy of our form of government; at a time when the Chinese are prancing around the world bragging that their model of authoritarian state capitalism is superior to American democratic, private property based capitalism; in this dreary, confused, uninspired autumn 2011—our words “we the people” and “the pursuit of happiness” crackle through the centuries to yet touch the hearts and minds of our jaded, world-weary European cousins.
“Our founding words and ideas are ever young. They are imperishable. And we should not wander from our faith in them. On America’s Thanksgiving Day 2011, we should be thankful for what our founding fathers created and bequeathed to us and to the world. And we should be strengthened to fight for the more complete application of those ideas in the election year that follows this week’s prayerful Thanksgiving celebration.”
Tony Blankley wrote those words just seven weeks before he succumbed to stomach cancer. He died Saturday at 63.
That beautiful Thanksgiving Day message is part of a rich legacy of conservative intellectualism, which he communicated with a wealth of knowledge, historical context, persuasive artistry, and a rare gift for the language.
Tony was born in Britain, but he was a bold and unabashedly proud citizen of his adopted America. He understood her more than most natives. He was like a master fisherman who becomes one with every bend, every current, every seasonal change and every creature inhabiting his favorite mountain trout stream. Tony was one with America. He was a natural, instinctive believer in her primacy and her promise.
Tony was a staunch, historically grounded, intellectually inspired, global view conservative. But he was pragmatic and at times unpredictable.
He seemed troubled by the intransigence and partisan gridlock that was bringing American government to its knees and making governance impossible. He was concerned about the crises we faced and our inability to resolve them.
As the new 112th Congress convened, he sensed the potential for trouble between an Obama White House and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. He wrote of the dangers of political timidity and the potentially grave consequences of brinkmanship.
Given the choice between trying to govern from the perch of a House majority, or waiting it out until the next election in hopes of winning the White House, Tony chose the former, back in January.
“A principled fight for our prosperity and our children’s future,” he wrote, “must not be delayed another two years, nor should we fear failing to effectively explain our objectives to the broad public.”
Years from now, he mused, if historians were to look back on a crippled American economy, many causes would be noted, but “the central indictment for the catastrophe that ended American prosperity and world dominance will be justly laid at the feet of those Washington politicians who continued to play for short-term partisan advantage, even as the economic earth was beginning to move under their feet.”
As he did in many of his columns, Tony provided historical perspective that gave context and rationality to problems and circumstances misconstrued by other commentators who did not share his insight. While it was and is politically popular to lambast Washington for the failures of government, he saw it, correctly so, as the inevitable result of a deeply and fairly evenly divided national populace that for decades has struggled over whether to resist or embrace what he called “a Europeanized, post-constitutional American economy, government and culture.”
He concluded as well, that in the absence of a public mandate, a divided people needed unifying leadership, visionary leaders who could transform public discord into workable public policy; transforming the will of the majority, even if a bare majority, into something real, and then communicating the wisdom and right of that transformation to the rest of the population.
Tony was a regular participant in a very informal breakfast club of graying communications professionals who met occasionally to commiserate and talk about such weighty issues, mostly with a focus on the long-term solutions (the newgopforum.com website is an outgrowth of the group). I took a lot of notes when Tony spoke. He always had something worthwhile to impart. What I admired most about him, though, was how well he listened and how often he asked questions rather than offer an opinion.
Tony Blankley was an actor, a writer and author, a thinker, a strategist, and a great flack, all accented with sometimes blinding sartorial splendor. He was an incredible talent. But he was never intimidating or pompous. He made you feel welcome and comfortable in his presence. He was always good humored, in a British sort of way. He was genuine and genteel, a true gentleman. He had great character and intellect. In short, he was a class act in a town that doesn’t produce many.
The breakfast group is getting together in a few weeks. We will miss him.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.