James J. Kilpatrick died Sunday, I see. Younger people will recall him as a cartoon, the basis of Dan Aykroyd’s
“Shana, “Jane, you ignorant slut” sendup of “Point/Counterpoint,” the back-and-forth exchange at the end of “60 Minutes.” Older ones, based on the obituaries I’m reading, would be forgiven for thinking “no big loss,” given how vile his stances were in the heat of the argument:
Mr. Kilpatrick popularized the doctrine called interposition, according to which individual states had the constitutional duty to interpose their separate sovereignties against federal court rulings that went beyond their rightful powers and, if necessary, to nullify them, an argument traced to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John C. Calhoun.
…At times, Mr. Kilpatrick went beyond constitutional arguments. In 1963, he drafted an article for The Saturday Evening Post with the proposed title “The Hell He Is Equal,” in which he wrote that “the Negro race, as a race, is in fact an inferior race.”
But 89 years of life is long enough to grow, it seems:
Mr. Kilpatrick ultimately acknowledged that segregation was a lost cause and re-examined his earlier defense of it.
“I was brought up a white boy in Oklahoma City in the 1920s and 1930,” he told Time magazine in 1970. “I accepted segregation as a way of life. Very few of us, I suspect, would like to have our passions and profundities at age 28 thrust in our faces at 50.”
Yep. I’m kind of a softy on James J., because I once wrote him a letter disagreeing with one of his columns, and he wrote me back, on his personal letterhead, no secretary’s initials at the bottom, acknowledging my points and respectfully differing. I wish I still had that letter. Respectful disagreement — what a relic of a different time.
I don’t want to excuse Kilpatrick’s earlier support for segregation and the like, although one thing this book project taught me — and I think I’ve said this before and I’ll probably say it again — is that history is both the up-close, day-to-day details and the long view, and as long as progress is being made, we’ll probably be OK. Segregation embarrasses conservatives today, because it reminds them of how many of their number were on the wrong side, so I guess there’s some pleasure in rubbing their noses in it from time to time, but ultimately, what’s the point? If Jack Kilpatrick can change, anyone can.
I used to read his columns when they came in; he wrote two or three times a week for probably a few hundred newspapers. I know syndicated columnists still exist, but I don’t read any of them anymore, at least not outside their home papers. He wrote about politics and language — an Ask Mr. Language Person without the humor — and, from time to time, country life. Those columns were datelined “Scrabble, Va.” and were about the nest of wrens under the eaves or whatnot. It takes a little bit of talent to make life’s mundane details into something others want to read, and read again the next time. (She said modestly, surveying her audience of dozens…) In the grand scheme of things, he was a successful journalist at a time when that was both easier and harder than it is today.
Here’s something that struck me from the obit: His first wife died in 1997. He remarried in 1998. Ha. Another man lost without a woman. I have a friend who tells his wife, “Honey, I love you and all, but if anything ever happened to you I’d be standing on the sidewalk in front of the funeral home, proposing marriage to random women walking past.” The most powerful men I’ve known know enough to be humble around their wives, because their wives make their lives possible. They run the house, get the dry-cleaning done, balance the family checkbook, pay their husbands an allowance. I saw one at a charity event, drooling over a silent-auction item. He turned to his spouse and asked, “Can I afford this?” Ask if they’d like to come over for dinner, and he says, “Ask the boss. I show up where she tells me to go.”
I’d hope that Kilpatrick would be offended by a dumbass like Jonah Goldberg, but you never know. For now, it doesn’t matter.
Bloggage, while we’re on the subject:
The Newtster, crazier than ever after all these years. As my friend Lance Mannion points out, why is this allegedly “brilliant” scholar still getting respectful coverage from the D.C. press corps?
Everybody’s seen this by now, but just in case you haven’t: A few other things in the “hallowed ground” penumbra of ground zero. I think Olga’s Salon & Spa should change its name to the Hallowed Ground Grooming Institution. Classy!
As someone who’s driven four-cylinder cars forever, I’ve never understood why they’re so often ignored by Detroit car buyers. (Even my fellow Passat drivers around here are all sporting V6 badges on the trunk.) Some respect, please.
Time to take Kate to the orthodontist and, oh yeah, write a syllabus. Later, all.