Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tony Snow: Someone Detroiters Liked

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On the anniversary of Tony Snow’s death, Detroit would like to take a moment to remember him as an adopted son and someone we liked a lot. While he was not born here, he was raised in Cincinnati which gives him comparable blue-collar town chops. He worked as an editorial page deputy director at the Detroit News from 1984-87. Although his time in Detroit was limited, it was well spent. He found his soul mate and future wife, Jill, also working at the News.

Of the many eulogies offered at the time of his death, none summed up Tony Snow’s existence and perverse optimism as well as Bill Kristol's. Here’s an excerpt:

For quite a while now, optimism has had a bad reputation in intellectual circles. The fashionable books of my youth — and they are good books — were darkly foreboding ones like Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984.” Young conservatives of the era were much taken by Whittaker Chambers’s gloomy memoir, “Witness.” We who read Albert Camus — and if you had any pretensions to being a non-Marxist intellectual, you read Camus — loved the melancholy close of his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The basic attitude one derived from these works was that pessimism is deeper than optimism, and existential angst more profound than cheerful confidence. This attitude remains powerful, perhaps dominant, among many thoughtful people today — perhaps especially among conservatives, reacting against a facile liberal belief in progress.

Tony Snow was a conservative. But he didn’t have a prejudice in favor of melancholy. His deep Christian faith combined with his natural exuberance to give him an upbeat world view. Watching him, and so admiring his remarkable strength of character in the last phase of his life, I came to wonder: Could it be that a stance of faith-grounded optimism is in fact superior to one of worldly pessimism or sophisticated fatalism?

It is an exceptional man that is recalled so fondly.

I’ll confess to being drawn more to Camus and Orwell, but I did vicariously enjoy Tony’s optimistic and good humored view of the world. I also found it reassuring that even St. Tony could, on occasion, aim a cynical arrow in the direction of his opponents:

"Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view." –-White House Press Secretary Tony Snow to Helen Thomas, after the longtime White House reporter asked why the U.S. had vetoed an Arab-backed U.N. resolution

And just one last observation: While searching for Bill Kristol’s eulogy, I once again stumbled over the indescribable déclassé of the progressive leftists. Not satisfied with their “enemy’s” death, they had to wish him great pain and suffering as well. This, for a man who once apologized to David Gregory for pointing his finger at him. Wow. They better pray there’s no such thing as karma.