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Kevin Williamson, We Feel Your Pain

Kevin Williamson, we feel your pain. We really do. You’ve been the subject of a deal of frustration over the last week and the object of a great deal sympathy. But very few of those who’ve stood up on your behalf or expressed their concerns really understand what just happened to you. We do.

For those of you who may not know, Kevin Williamson is one of our favorite writers. And as it turns out, he’s one of everyone’s favorite writers – or almost everyone. Many observers think that Williamson is one of the best writers of his generation or at least the best conservative writer of his generation. For years, Kevin has written for National Review (and National Review Online), until three weeks ago, when he was hired by The Atlantic, probably the best known and most respected mainstream journal of political opinion.

Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of the magazine and the former media confidant of Barack Obama, announced Williamson’s hiring, saying that he was thrilled to have a such a great writer on staff, particularly since Williamson is the most articulate and thoughtful of the “homeless conservatives,” that is to say conservative opponents of Donald Trump who have been left behind by the populist takeover of the GOP. It was a good hire, for Williamson, for Goldberg, and for The Atlantic.

Predictably, though, it didn’t last. The “progressive,” writers for and readers of The Atlantic thought that Goldberg had sullied the name and reputation of the magazine by hiring a – gasp! – conservative. And so they spent the every waking moment after Goldberg’s announcement trying desperately to find a reason that Williamson should be thrown overboard. Last week, they finally found something. Turns out that Williamson believes what he writes, and that includes believing that abortion is akin to murder and should be treated as such. Much to his shame, Goldberg caved to the pressure last week and fired Williamson for having the temerity to hold firmly to positions that are well within the mainstream of political opinion in this country but nevertheless considered anathema by the progressive mob.

And to repeat: we feel his pain.

Almost eighteen years ago, we too were fired for holding mainstream political opinions that were anathema to the progressive mob. In our case, we believed that corruption was one of the two most serious risks to our republic (and its financial markets) and that therefore a president who sexually molested twenty-four year-old young women and then lied about it under oath was a risk to the nation’s social and economic stability. Our employers didn’t think that the position we had staked out on corruption was compatible with their business model. No, seriously.

Soon after we were defenestrated from our perch at Prudential Securities, Jim McTague, the longtime Washington columnist for Barron’s magazine (and the author of a terrific-sounding novel about Washington, called The Cocaine Caucus, hopefully due in book stores everywhere later this year) wrote a column about Mark (the senior analyst of our team at the time), that detailed our fall from grace. Jim put it this way:

Political correctness has come to Wall Street. Last October, Prudential Securities, the brokerage arm of Prudential Financial, fired its highly popular conservative political analyst, Mark Melcher, because his opinions didn’t match up with those of the company brass. Melcher, who has spent the past 17 years observing Washington, is considered one of the best political analysts in the business.

For the past eight years, Institutional Investor has ranked him the securities industry’s top Washington analyst. Many of Prudential’s 6,000 retail brokers lionized him, and institutional clients paid handsomely to recruit him to speak at client conferences….

A recurrent Melcher theme is that moral deficits have severe economic consequences in that they facilitate the spread of corruption. As such, he argued that Wall Street and its investors have a responsibility to reverse what he considers to be the leftward drift from moral norms and capitalism, not just in Washington, but in universities, the mass media and churches….

Such views, however, apparently displeased John Strangfeld, who took over as head of Prudential Securities in October, the same month Melcher was forced to step down. Melcher, who had been predicting a Bush win, was shown the door two weeks before the presidential election.

The economist won’t comment on the circumstances behind his departure, citing a confidentiality agreement. Prudential Financial spokesman Bob DeFillippo also demurs, “We do not comment on the reason a person leaves Prudential,” he says, adding curtly, “We also don’t comment on rumors, especially unattributed and unsubstantiated rumors.”

The source of this “rumor,” however, is Prudential itself. A U-5 filing with state regulators discloses the reason for Melcher’s forced departure. “Employee’s work product exhibited difference in philosophy from that of firm management,” Prudential reported.

Melcher’s firing coincided with the departure of long-time Prudential Securities chief executive Stanwick “Wick” Simmons, who has since been named chief executive of Nasdaq. A Melcher friend suggests that Simmons had long protected the economist from Prudential Financial’s chairman, Arthur Ryan, and senior vice president, Harold Davis, who were taking heat from liberals both in- and outside the firm. Indeed, even as Melcher was blasting Clinton, Ryan was hobnobbing with the President aboard Air Force One, boasting of Newark, New Jersey-based Pru’s work with inner-city children.

Simmons, too, declines to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement. His only remark to Barron’s was, “Mark provided a real service, and it was the responsibility of a firm like Prudential to provide commentary and identify it as such.”

The principal difference between us and Williamson was probably put best by Williamson’s former colleague at National Review, Jonah Goldberg, who wrote that “he was hired for the same reason he was fired. He has strong opinions and he expresses them very well.” What that means is that while we were fired ostensibly for interfering with our employer’s business, Williamson was fired for engaging in his employer’s core business, that is to say the expression of political opinion. This is, we think, an unfortunate evolution of the censorship/uniformity of thought demanded by the Left. As countless commentators have noted, given Williamson’s job, it is clear that the Left wanted him fired for holding “impermissible” opinions – not expressing them, mind you, but just for holding them. This is totalitarian to its core.

Sometimes, conservatives like to think that progressives/liberals are dumb. This is hardly the case. Over the last couple of years, the Left has made the two most engaging and thoughtful conservatives writers working today – Kevin Williamson and Mark Steyn – pariahs in the media community. Williamson will, presumably, go back to the conservative ghetto, perhaps back to National Review, while Steyn has been almost exiled entirely, pushed out by the very same National Review and forced to start his own media company in order to pay the bills.

As for us, we feel Steyn’s pain too, obviously. We just think it’s a shame that the Left’s attempts to deprive holders of contrary opinions of their ability to earn a living didn’t begin and end with us.

And it won’t end with Williamson either.

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