July 13, 2007


Ship of fools: Johann Hari sets sail with America's swashbuckling neocons: The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth – and as for Guantanamo Bay, it's practically a holiday camp... The annual cruise organised by the 'National Review', mouthpiece of right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans. (Johann Hari, 13 July 2007, Independent)

From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

I arrive at the dockside in San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stare up at the Oosterdam, our home for the next seven days. Filipino boat hands are loading trunks into the hull and wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.

The Reviewers have been told to gather for a cocktail reception on the Lido, near the very top of the ship. I arrive to find a tableau from Gone With the Wind, washed in a thousand shades of grey. Southern belles – aged and pinched – are flirting with old conservative warriors. The etiquette here is different from anything I have ever seen. It takes me 15 minutes to realise what is wrong with this scene. There are no big hugs, no warm kisses. This is a place of starchy handshakes. Men approach each other with stiffened spines, puffed-out chests and crunching handshakes. Women are greeted with a single kiss on the cheek. Anything more would be French.

I adjust and stiffly greet the first man I see. He is a judge, with the craggy self-important charm that slowly consumes any judge. He is from Canada, he declares (a little more apologetically), and is the founding president of "Canadians Against Suicide Bombing". Would there be many members of "Canadians for Suicide Bombing?" I ask. Dismayed, he suggests that yes, there would.

A bell rings somewhere, and we are all beckoned to dinner. We have been assigned random seats, which will change each night. We will, the publicity pack promises, each dine with at least one National Review speaker during our trip.

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 13, 2007 8:24 AM

Leftists are so derivative and imitative. Do they ever have an original idea? P.J.O'Rourke did this sort of thing better (on a Nation cruise down the Volga) a quarter century ago.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 13, 2007 9:56 AM

Did this guy load his own bags? Would he prefer the Filipinos be replaced by white people, thus depriving them of good jobs?

This guy should apologize for committing so-called journalism.

Posted by: Stormy70 at July 13, 2007 11:43 AM

A good way to envision what probably happened here is to imagine yourself as a cruisegoer with a slightly mischievous sense of humor. This English-accented popinjay comes on board and identifies himself as a journalist. A fair guess is that he's a liberal. He's also eager to take whatever lunatic thing you say completely seriously. From that point on, it's really just a matter of what particular chain do you yank.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 13, 2007 12:44 PM


That bitter young man Eric Alterman did a piece like this on a National Review cruise about ten years ago. He said the great thing about being a conservative is that you get to be served by Third Worlders without feeling guilty. Of course, if his "compassion" held sway those folks would not have jobs, and the cruisegoers would be served by, I don't know, middle-class white folks. That this obvious point totally flew over his head was just precious.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 13, 2007 12:51 PM

It was either PJ O'Rourke or Dave Barry who said a few years ago that journalists were the most gullible people on Earth. You can say the craziest thing you want to them and, as long as you keep a straight face, they'll buy it hook line and sinker.

Posted by: Bryan at July 13, 2007 1:34 PM

I was raked over the coals a while back for something very similar. A brit quoted a book written by another brit in which he described a conversation he had at an air show in the U.S. during with an American who was obviously having a great time putting him on described the F-14 as a plane that could kill people anywhere in the world and bunch of other inflammatory statements, per the author.

Naturally all the brits took this as the gospel truth and another example of our blood-thirsty gun culture.

I, for one, am pretty tired of this thinly veiled anti-American attitude coming across the pond.

Posted by: erp at July 13, 2007 5:51 PM