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Even if you didn’t know Penn Kemble — I knew him only slightly, but invariably found him solid, quiet, politely friendly, possessing a unique brand of “cool” — you will doubtless be moved by Bob Tyrrell’s tribute today to his longtime friend and handball rival, who died last Saturday. Kemble, you see, remained the best sort of Democrat, in contrast, say, to the likes of Sidney Blumenthal.
As it happens, Penn reviewed Blumenthal’s snippy book on the Reagan right for us in the September 1986 TAS. He found The Rise of the Counter-Establishment “badly compromised by Blumenthal’s inability to resist catty, ad hominem thrusts which overwhelm his intellectual and journalistic judgment.” He noted that Blumenthal’s “scornful style works against his effort to make the reader take his subject seriously.” Blumenthal’s biggest problem, however, was his inability to “turn a critical eye on the [New Left] movements that transformed the Democratic party during the McGovern era.” Thus Blumenthal couldn’t see that “Reagan reflects the dominant values of American civilization, while many of his most ardent opponents do not.”
Kemble’s final observations penned two decades ago remain no less valid today:
…Only mainstream Democrats, working within their own party, can overcome the leftist provocations that so divided the country, and that stirred the New Right toward its surprising victories.
But whether Democrats or Republicans lead, it is inconceivable that our popular democracy will ever renounce the American faith — the faith that has so profited Ronald Reagan, and that Blumenthal finds so dangerous and so contemptible. The future of American politics still lies with the most persuasive champions of that faith.