Conservatism Goes on a Cruise

The NR group is large, but spending time with several hundred conservatives from all over the country should be uplifting at a time when the magazine racks are still aglow with smiling Obama covers. In the magazine's tradition, speakers like Michael Novak and Kate O'Beirne still make NR the cruise of choice among traditionalist Catholics. Writers like Jonah Goldberg and NRO editor Kathryn Lopez appeal to young, tech-savvy, forward thinkers from any background. Dick Morris contributes even more diversity of thought, since the former Clinton strategist is not really a self-identified conservative at all. On our NR cruise, we found he supplied the ballast of pragmatism to panels carrying an abundance of ideologically starboard weight.

Several intellectual heavyweights, including PJM's own Victor Davis Hanson, will cruise the Adriatic in style on the luxurious Crystal Serenity, as Hillsdale College explores the cradle of Western civilization (July 28 through August 9). The Venice to Athens itinerary includes exotic spots like Corfu and Mykonos.

Author and top Fox News star Bill Sammon is the most familiar face in the Hillsdale group. A well-known voice is economist Walter Williams, familiar to many as a substitute host for Rush Limbaugh. Hillsdale President Larry Arnn's onboard brain trust also includes: Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Paul Johnson; John Julius Norwich, an expert on Venice; and Andrew Mango, featured speaker in Istanbul. On Crystal you typically find an older, more prosperous group of travelers.

The Weekly Standard's ten-night Mediterranean cruise (August 7 through August 17) has perhaps the best itinerary of all, a round trip out of Rome circling the Mediterranean. First stop is gorgeous Tuscany, where an 8:00 PM departure leaves time for a bus ride to the museums of Florence. Then it's on to Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Mallorca. Hopefully the deep thinkers of the conservative movement won't get too distracted by local displays of shameless Euro-hedonism at the height of bikini season.

During two days at sea, the seminars aboard Holland America's ms Noordam will be led by Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes, Terry Eastland, Richard Starr, and Andrew Ferguson, all of the Weekly Standard. European journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet will offer expert guidance on the political gyrations of Europe, while high-ranking Bush Administration veteran Elliott Abrams supplies top intelligence on global diplomatic and security matters.

On an earlier cruise my wife and I found the Standard's team especially cohesive and most friendly. The mood was informal, and despite the serious matters being discussed in the seminars, no one forgets that the purpose of a cruise is to have a really good time. The medium-sized group means you'll be eating with different people from the group every night, with time to get to know everyone.

Aboard three conservative cruises we've met farmers, judges, energy workers, a police chief from a college town, a cement salesman with a remarkable memory for funny stories, and an entrepreneur whose business was founding colleges. There's a lot of interaction, plenty of first-person expertise offered, and often the speakers and panelists become listeners. Much as politicians need to spend time "in the district" to reconnect with voters, pundits and authors must also connect with their constituents.

Informal new media like blogs, message board posts, and tweets all have their place in shaping the conservative conversation. Still, sometimes the most effective exchange of ideas takes place in that most traditional of settings -- across the dinner table, an after-dinner drink in hand, on "formal night."