Because I was traveling Wednesday, I was unable to attend the memorial service for Tony Blankley, the conservative writer and activist, but I wanted to add my own to the tributes offered him.
Tony was a warm gentleman in the truest sense of that old-fashioned term. He was a conservative by temperament as well as philosophy. You saw this in his careful use of words and in the meticulous, yet often quite flashy, way he dressed. There were few conservatives I enjoyed arguing with more.
It was certainly not because he was a pushover or because he lacked commitment to the conservative cause. On the contrary, Tony, who labored for both Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, was a brilliant, forceful and sometimes puckish intellectual pugilist. He showed you he could be polite yet unyielding. He loved history and always brought it to bear in making a case. He also knew Washington from the inside out, and this made him the best kind of pundit. It wasn’t just that his predictions were often right. Whether right or wrong, his observations were grounded in experience, in trained instinct and in an unclouded (but not cynical) view of how politicians operated, and needed to.
And he spoke in a mid-Atlantic accent, which he came by honestly from a childhood in Britain. I have a theory that we give 30 extra IQ points to someone who speaks with a British accent. Tony didn’t need any extra marks for intelligence, but there something delightfully old Tory in how he said things. You could imagine him as a backbencher on the floor of Parliament in the 1930s, backing up Winston Churchill in his campaign against appeasement.
But the best part of arguing with Tony was that he always taught you something, even as he always tried to learn something from what you were saying. Christopher Lasch, the late historian and one of my intellectual heroes, wrote a magnificent essay shortly before he died called “The Lost Art of Argument.”
Lasch insisted that those involved in authentic argument entered imaginatively into the ideas of their opponents. The purpose was to understand an opponent in order to change his or her mind. But true engagement, he said, involves putting your own ideas at risk. Argument is supposed to teach, which is why Lasch insisted that democracy might not always be the most efficient form of government but that it ought to be the most educational form of government.
Tony argued in just that way. Political ideas mattered to him so much that he did not just listen for the weak points in an opponent’s assertions, though he was very good at that. He sought out the strongest part of an opponent’s case in order to refute it in the most honest and fundamental way possible. And sometimes he’d smile and decide that he needed to take your ideas into account and alter his own case. He’d do so — and then come right back at you with an even more persuasive case to make.
I will miss Tony, and his republic can be grateful to him.