When Ward Connerly took the podium in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, he started out by describing his long days battling the numerous, and often vehement, proponents of affirmative action who regularly attacked him during his 12-year tenure -- he used the word "sentence" -- on the California Board of Regents. Then he looked out at the crowd of about 500 people.
"So it is quite a thrill," he said, "to be able to bask in the warmth of your applause."
Columnist George F. Will speaks after receiving his Bradley Prize.
(Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
For Connerly, in other words, it was a night when he could be confident he was among like-minded friends.
Oh, yes, it was a conservative love-fest on the Kennedy Center's upper level, as the Bradley Foundation bestowed a total of $1 million on four individuals for "outstanding intellectual achievement." In addition to Connerly, who founded the American Civil Rights Institute and is a leading architect of efforts to eliminate race-conscious selections by employers and schools, Bradley Prizes were awarded to syndicated columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner George F. Will; Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather Mac Donald, a legal scholar and journalist; and Robert George, the McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. Each received $250,000, with no strings or guidelines on its use.
"They are a relatively diverse group of people with accomplishments in various fields," said Michael W. Glebe, the Milwaukee-based foundation's president. "Heather Mac Donald and Robert George . . . are on their way up, with brilliant careers ahead of them. In the case of George Will and Ward Connerly, obviously this isn't a lifetime achievement award -- they have accomplished a lot already, but we know they have more to do."
The awards are funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which, according to its mission statement, is devoted to "strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles and values that sustain and nurture it."
Translated, that means the Bradley Foundation has long been a big financial supporter of conservative think tanks and thinkers. As Will put it, the Bradley Foundation is "so important to leavening the political argument in this country."
Only this was not the night for leavening. It was a night for reveling -- reveling in accomplishment, in approbation, in unwavering support. After a lengthy video tribute to the foundation itself -- one filled with heartfelt endorsements and happy pictures of little kids -- emcee Fred Barnes of Fox News and the Weekly Standard took over, introducing each recipient with a brief tribute speech and video montage. There were musical performances by former New York City police officer Daniel Rodriguez, who became nationally known as the "singing cop" after 9/11, and Broadway performer Jennifer Holliday.
The event wasn't raucous but there were light moments. During Connerly's video tribute, the crowd chuckled loudly at a photograph of the honoree meeting with a very red-faced President Bill Clinton. Mac Donald, who is known for tackling difficult subjects (racial profiling, the interrogation and detainment of suspected terrorists) ripped the Christo project in Central Park as looking like orange vinyl "from a construction site" placed "erratically" throughout the park. Clearly, the audience liked her assessment of this particular art installation. And Will opened to ripples of laughter when, as the final awardee, he noted that "brevity is not only the soul of wit and the essence of lingerie . . ."
Will was the hands-down hit, though Connerly was impassioned and Robert George moving in a speech that began with the immigrant tale of his grandparents and ended with a tribute to his father and father-in-law, both of whom served in World War II. A former presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1993-98), George is known for marrying values, and his own religious beliefs, with the law and the Constitution. Mac Donald went for the laughs -- and full-bore criticism of the mainstream media for all the usual reasons.
Will concluded his remarks by comparing his award with the Pulitzer he had won for distinguished commentary in 1977. "It's even better," he said, "to receive the Bradley Prize."
It also comes with a lot more dollars attached. So let's cut to the chase: What, exactly, is George Will going to do with his quarter-million-dollar windfall?
"None of The Post's business," retorted Will, before digging into his deep, and well-known, knowledge of baseball lore to come up with an answer.
When Tug McGraw won the World Series, Will said, he was asked what he was going to do with his winnings. His reply: I'll spend a lot of it on wine and women, and I'll probably waste the rest.
"That," Will said, "is my answer."