Former New York Times op-ed columnist Anthony Lewis passed away of heart and renal failure on Monday two days shy of his 86th birthday.
Lewis spent more than half a century with The Gray Lady in one capacity or the other. He won two Pulitzer Prizes (one for writing about the U.S. government’s loyalty oaths during the McCarthy Era and the other for his reporting for the Supreme Court). The author of numerous books, Lewis was best known for Gideon’s Trumpet which documented the landmark Supreme Court case and its plaintiff, Clarence Earl Gideon. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supremes ruled that a defendant had a right to an attorney even if he could not afford one.
He was one of liberalism’s leading lights. I frequently saw him on The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour. He came off as passionate and eloquent. But as the years went by, I viewed him as someone who both misunderstood conservatism and conservatives while swimming in a sea of moral equivalency. Recently, conservatives have comemorated the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s “evil empire” speech (as did our own Paul Kengor). However, at the time, Lewis blasted the speech as “primitive” and “dangerous”.
In an interview with New York Times before his retirement at the end of 2001, Lewis said, “Certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.”
Lewis’ statement and others like it in the months that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001 are what ultimately caused me to turn away from the Left. In a way, I suppose I have to thank Anthony Lewis for helping to make me a conservative.