'Tis a glad and confident morn in this famous capital. I am practically levitating with many satisfied thoughts about the exquisite dimensions of those pints of Real Ale that, in the line of duty, I consumed at the Golden Lion Pub the night before. Suddenly the merry and mellifluous voice of Malcolm Muggeridge is on the telephone. "Did you see the picture of your president in the morning paper?" he sings. "He flew off to greet the sailors of the Nimitz, and from his talk one would have thought he were celebrating VE day."
Yes, there my president was, pictured in the Daily Telegraph -- one of the world's richest sources of far-flung news, I might add -- grinning high above the great ship's deck. There he waved to the cameras, joshed and solemnized before the weary sailors, asserting sunnily that "I am absolutely convinced that your presence there (off the Iranian coast) along with other United States ships and the fighting men on them, has been the major factor in protecting the lives of the 53 hostages. . . ."
Here is the peculiar kind of presidential pronunciamento that has been our president's forte, a pronunciamento that, despite all the loony violence it commits against fact and logic, somehow manages to paralyze totally the synaptic transmission of mediocre brains. There is of course, no evidence that lives have been saved and, in truth, there is precious little evidence that the captives' lives are all even intact. Yet our president, with a beaming Rosalynn at his side, sprays forth these red, white and blue vapors. No catcalls resound. No one even worries about how much smog might affect the ozone layer.
In London today Muggeridge's joyously enunciated sense of the absurd contrasts refreshingly with the odd quietude that otherwise pervades political discourse. It is a quietude that I did not perceive nine months ago when I last weighed the merits of Real Ale.
Despite rising unemployment and a 20 percent rate of inflation, the civilized inhabitants of this sceptered isle remain mum. Last fall one would not have expected it. Part of the explanation resides in the lack of political alternatives to Mrs. Thatcher's government. The Labor Party, her chief political opponent, seems to have utterly discredited itself under the dreary governments of James Callaghan and Harold Wilson. Furthermore, Labor is now engaged in a veritable civil war, pitting its crazy left against its responsible moderates.
The majority of British voters finally seem to have lost faith in Labor's nostrums and is inclined to give the Thatcher government more time to sort things out. Despite losses in recent by-elections, the Tories' popularity is actually rising while pollsters see Labor's repute as remaining surprisingly low.
As for the British discussion of foreign policy, it is characterized by an eerie ambivalence. Muggeridge insists that Churchill's heirs and assignees no longer see themselves as players on the world stage. Others mark down their present ambivalence to trauma brought on by our president's dizzying foreign policy and his proclivity for making astounding declarations similar to the Nimitz Manifesto. At any rate, here is irony for you: Paris lacks a leader whose foreign policy is sufficiently forceful for French tastes, while Mrs. Thatcher lacks a foreign policy consensus sufficiently forceful for her tastes.
Today in London there are powerful voices intent on banishing this enervating ambivalence. They hope to create a constituency for Mrs. Thatcher's forcefulness. Encounter magazine is one of those voices. For over 25 years, it has been a forum for the most sophisticated and cultured defense of liberty against those Siamese twins of totalitarianism, fascism and communism. Many of the most distinguished writers of the postwar period have appeared in its pages, and there they do what intellectuals are supposed to do. They bring learning and disciplined thought to the analysis and defense of our culture.
Little intellectual reviews like Encounter have minuscule audiences when compared with audiences that doze before the BBC. Encounter's audience numbers probably no more than 25,000. Yet it would take British television a hundred years to benefit the cause of freedom and culture as much as Encounter benefits freedom and culture with one stout issue. The controversies of an era are defined in the pages of these reviews; TV pundits are merely juveniles mimicking their elders.
From his office off Trafalgar Square, Encounter's pugnacious editor Melvin J. Lasky asserts that the ambivalence befogging Britain will dissipate when America sobers up and leads. "With Afghanistan, appeasement collapsed. Western Europe is now waiting for the U.S. to make a case for the West's defense, but there is no message from Washington." Apparently Lasky missed the Nimitz Manifesto.