A Tale of Two Cruises
by Rachel MacNair
The National Review is a magazine founded by William F. Buckley in 1955 to give intellectual heft to conservatism. The Nation is a magazine that was founded in 1865 as a successor to William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and it offers progressive thought. Each of them regards the other as being on “the other side” – the Right and the Left.
Both held post-election Caribbean cruises that were one-week seminars digesting where we are now because of the elections. Both hold these seminar cruises annually, but timed this year’s to be after elections results were known. They were three weeks apart, and both had around 350 passengers participating.
And I, being as perverse as I am – or to say it more positively, being the bridge-builder sort – went on both of them. When it had reason to come up, I told people on each that I was also going on the other, and the reaction was usually positive and sometimes led to interesting conversations.
Being with the same cruise company, they were quite similar in format. There were some trivial cultural differences – The Nation gave t-shirts to all registrants, and I don’t think that idea even occurred to the National Review (NR) people. Most of what the speakers said was about what you’d expect if you read the magazines they write for.
When processing the election, NR panels focused at length on what they thought was wrong with Hillary Clinton. They were pleased with Trump winning, though they had opposed him during the primaries, because that meant Clinton was defeated. The Nation, on the other hand, focused at length on why Trump might have had any appeal, and got to a few remarks about Clinton herself later on. But one theme about Clinton was common to both groups: that her elitism had been a turn-off.
They have different takes on opposing racism, though both clearly do. Both had a good portion of non-whites among the speakers on their panels, and as far as I could tell both had an entirely white audience. On the NR panels, Jonah Goldberg did a several-minute diatribe against the Alt-Right, saying that while NR does like to do coalitions among various kinds of conservatives, the Alt-Right people were too far beyond the pale. He got enthusiastic applause.
Euthanasia never came up. When the death penalty came up in conversation, I was the one mentioning it. The difference on abortion, though, was substantial.
For NR, they held an entire session on the topic. The person introducing it noted that there were differing opinions on this in the audience – a comment made in no other session – but the session focused entirely on explaining the pro-life case. It was a straightforward educational session. But it was one that could have been held ten years ago just as well; it didn’t discuss current news or movement strategy.
Then there was hardly any comment on the issue at all in the other sessions. Not even on the question of why Clinton narrowly lost, where a good case could be made, at least at the level of speculation, that her extreme abortion views had an impact. Those views weren’t listed among the things that they found wrong with her.
The Nation sessions, on the other hand, mentioned the issue fairly frequently in its euphemistic terms, “reproductive rights” and so on. These were peppered throughout the comments, added to lists of what would need to be defended, with remarks based on the assumption that everyone agreed (and I never found any evidence otherwise, except for me). Yet in those main sessions, I don’t recall hearing as much as an entire paragraph on the topic, and usually not even a full sentence. It was frequent, but it was shallow.
The Nation staff did encourage me to put out some consistent-life handouts on a table with other handouts near the main sessions, since they were encouraging participation and spread of ideas. A handful of each of the three I put out were taken, and of course I don’t know how many were read and then put back down again.
Small Group Discussions
For NR people, individuals and small groups were usually eager to discuss the finer points of the pro-life view, I being well-practiced in that and have written books on the topic. I told them I was trying to get the peace movement to understand the pro-life view, because if any people should understand nonviolence to unborn children, peace movement people should. In addition to abortion itself, trying to squelch alternative views are unhealthy for the peace movement. So I was helping to strengthen the peace movement with the pro-life work. This generally made sense to people, and those who did want to discuss peace movement ideas had it framed for them to make more sense.
With The Nation cruise, on the other hand, I could be quite chatty on other issues, but had to tread lightly when abortion came up. I did essentially get accused of heresy at one point (my word, not hers) and told to shut up. That’s likely with that group, but I was pleased it was only once. Others were much friendlier.
I’ll end with my favorite conversation, because it fit so well. At a lunch table I overheard a man saying how hypocritical it was for Republicans to say they cared about unborn children and then let them die in wars. I went over and they welcomed me into the discussion, as was custom, and I re-iterated the point: unborn children in war don’t even need to take direct hits, but are harmed by the very vibrations of bombs. Then I acquainted them with the consistent life ethic, where pro-lifers included opposition to war and war opponents were pro-life. Having ascertained I was pro-life – framed just right – they asked a series of questions. What about this situation, what about that situation? I easily answered and they went on to the final one: what about overpopulation? I said if we were going to kill human beings for that reason, wouldn’t it make more sense to kill those adults causing the problems? Little tiny babies weren’t the ones causing problems. They immediately picked up on that. Starving people in India weren’t the ones responsible for any “overpopulation” problems, and how much did the average American waste? While they were on a roll on that topic, I excused myself. My work on that occasion was done. That’s the most satisfying kind of conversation.
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