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July 3rd, 2022

Insight

The politicos you love to hate are people too

Jeff Jacoby

By Jeff Jacoby

Published Sept. 7, 2020

Washington's latest "Odd Couple" couple.
Kellyanne Conway's announcement last week that she is leaving her White House job to concentrate full-time on family matters means that one of the Trump administration's most polarizing figures will be off the TV screens and out of the headlines, at least for a while. We can all use the respite. Conway has been the quintessential Donald Trump stalwart, willing to make any argument, defend any claim, or upbraid any critic in defense of the man she served with such ardor, first as campaign manager and then as White House advisor.

To many on the left, Conway's fierce loyalty to Trump made her a figure of hatred. An "I hate Kellyanne Conway" Facebook page has well over 10,000 members. Conway has driven TV anchors to sputtering frustration and provoked members of Congress to rage-tweet that she should "shut [her] lying mouth." In many ways she exemplifies the worst of modern political communications, and while some of the condemnation heaped on her has been ridiculous, much of it has been amply justified . On top of it all has been the weird political psychodrama of her marriage — her husband, George Conway, is a leading and very vocal Trump opponent, who relentlessly attacks the man his wife relentlessly defends.

I remember speaking with Conway a couple of times by phone in the mid-1990s, when she was still Kellyanne Fitzpatrick and making a name for herself as the CEO of The Polling Company, a research and consulting firm in Washington. There was no question of her brilliance, her command of data, or her gift for messaging. At the time, I had little knowledge of her political values. I imagine I regarded her as a loyal Republican and a conventional conservative. I doubt that I would have pegged her as a ferocious political operative in the service of a president like Trump.

Someone who did know her in those days was Kathryn Jean Lopez, an editor-at-large of National Review. In an article for the venerable Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor, Lopez writes with characteristic charity about the Trump advisor who has been such a lightning rod:

Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (now Conway) might have been the first insider political person I met as a college student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s. . . . [D]uring my freshman year, she came to campus and talked about the importance of faith and family.

Raised by a single mother, she radiated gratitude and a desire to give back and make all the sacrifices that [had] made her life possible bear fruit. The first time I ever remember being on TV was a few hours as an on-air commentator on MSNBC during Bill Clinton's impeachment. Kellyanne was the other conservative, and she couldn't have been more encouraging.

Over the years, she would always respond to my requests to write for free when I was editor of National Review's website, and she even was principal for a day at the now-closed St. Rose of Lima School in Washington Heights, New York, because she had a heart for Catholic schools and the little ones. I remember her super pregnant at a reception at Bill Buckley's house.

My point is: She's a person — with goodness and history and hopes and goals and feelings and wounds and all the rest. I think we forget that about people in politics — or in the news generally. Ours is a culture of celebrity and contempt. We tend to make idols of people or despise them, seemingly throwing all our angst about everything in the world onto them. It couldn't hurt to realize they are just human beings like the rest of us.

Politics and the culture wars, aided by cable TV and social media, bring out the worst in so many people. Few of us are as awful as our nastiest detractors insist. There is generally a human side to even the most publicly obnoxious politician, campaign operative, or media celebrity. We could use more journalists, like Lopez, who occasionally make a point of saying so.

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