Everyone has hinge moments that make the difference in life, and one of me came with a support and lesson from Vernon Jordan Jr. The civil rights leader and pragmatic liberal, who died Monday at the age of 85, played an unlikely role in promoting it Career of a Young Conservative Journalist.
In 1979 I was the junior editor for National Review in New York. How younger? One of my jobs was answering William F. Buckley Jr.’s mail. NR was a wonderful intellectual school at the time, but I longed to see and understand more of the world. I didn’t think I’d be able to speak up about things I knew too little about.
That’s why I applied for the Henry Luce Foundation’s Luce Scholars program, which at the time sent 15 young people to Asia for a year to work in the interests of their professional interests. The final review included 30 minute interviews with each of the five judges. One of them was Jordan, already known for his civil rights advocacy and political importance.
I admit to be careful with my prospects. Though not as much as it is today, a conservative out of the closet was a cultural outsider in politics and journalism. At the time I was following the debate about the supply-side economy, which was gaining influence over political law. I was particularly drawn to the economic and moral arguments of Jack Kemp, a young GOP congressman from New York.
As anyone who met him knows, Vernon Jordan was a commanding physical presence. He stood 6-foot-4, had a deep, resonant voice, and looked you straight in the eyes as you spoke. He immediately brought up my work at National Review, and we spent more or less the entire half hour debating Kemp, the supply side economy, and free market morality in order to create economic opportunity.