Babbitt Strikes Back

by Jay Nordlinger

Today, I conclude my notes on Arthur Vandenberg, the Michigan senator who was a staunch isolationist before World War II and then cooperated with President Truman et al. to forge international institutions (go here). In yesterday’s installment, I wrote about a book — a book whose title entered our American language:

In 1922, a book went off like a stink bomb in the Midwest: Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt. It mocked the values that Arthur Vandenberg embodied and championed. In a strange turn of events, he and Lewis became friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.

Today, I quote a swatch of Vandenberg, and will again here:

Babbitt has a right to strike back. Without him this would be a sodden land. … He is happy and satisfied to be a part of his own ‘home town’ — and to strive, with his neighbors, to make the old ‘home town’ a little better and a little cleaner and a little healthier. … Save us from a society that is all ‘Mencken’ and ‘Sinclair Lewis.’ Give us ‘Babbitt’ at his best — interested in his home — living with his own wife — striving to educate his children — helping his church — still believing in a just God — loving his country and his flag.

As I remark in my column, one could weep.

I also quote a swatch of The Good Society, Walter Lippmann’s book of 1937. Vandenberg quoted it too. It reminds me a lot of what I’ve read in National Review over the years (though you would never think of Lippmann as an NR-type guy):

We are trying to operate a capitalistic system under a government that dislikes the system, and would, if it had the courage and power, replace it with a collectivist system. This inner conflict between the nature of free capitalism and the real purposes of the government has created a deadlock. Business cannot proceed because it is terrorized by New Dealers. The New Dealers cannot proceed because, being only half-hearted collectivists, they dare not follow out the logic of their own ideas.

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