I was grateful to be honored—or, perhaps I should say, targeted—at the 2023 Commentary roast, the magazine’s 13th such annual event. John Podhoretz said he wanted to recognize me partly for my work as a senator, but mostly for my standing as a 28-year subscriber to Commentary. What follows here is an edited version of the words I said after being roasted by John and others.

Commentary is a truly vital institution, a lodestar of conservative, Jewish, and American intellectual life. Though, I have to confess, standards seem to have declined under new management. Norman Podhoretz helped launch the careers of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; John helped launch the careers of Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot.

Maybe John rebelled against his dad. But I thought you’re supposed to start out as a liberal at Commentary and turn into a conservative—not start as a conservative and become a Trump-deranged liberal at the Washington Post.

Notwithstanding his son’s shortcomings, Norman Podhoretz is a giant of both the conservative and the Jewish worlds. So much of what I know comes from reading Norman over the years. He’s the living soul of Commentary. We should all hope to emulate his “love affair with America” and to instill it in our kids and grandkids.

To be clear, though, I’m not a “neoconservative.” I was, to borrow a phrase, “right from the beginning.” I didn’t grow up in a political family, but we were patriotic, traditional, and conservative with a small “c.” It wasn’t what you’d call a philosophical conservatism. But as a college freshman, I noticed a plain, no-frills magazine in a friend’s dorm room. I picked it up because I recognized a few names: Norman Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams, William J. Bennett, Irving Kristol, Harvey Mansfield, Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson. That magazine was the November 1995 Commentary, the 50th-anniversary issue. I haven’t put it down since.

I became a loyal subscriber. I also located back issues in the library and discovered classics like Moynihan’s “The United States in Opposition,” Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” and Richard Pipes’s “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight & Win a Nuclear War.” I probably learned more down in the basement library than I did in the classroom.

It wasn’t easy to be a subscriber back in those days. No PDFs or online versions for us. As a college kid, I had to call the Commentary office each summer to change my address. Each time, the same lady answered with the gravelly tone of someone just back from a long smoke break. One time, I asked her, “I bet you don’t have many subscribers in the 72834 zip code, do you?” After a long, impatient sigh, she said, “Hon, we don’t have many subscribers in Arkansas.”

It’s true, I wasn’t immersed in the Jewish tradition as a boy. The nearest synagogue was more than an hour away. My little town did have three Baptist churches, two Methodist churches, and one Presbyterian church for mixed marriages of Baptists and Methodists.

When I got a list of my freshman roommates and one was named Cohen from New York, my dad sincerely wondered, “I served in Vietnam with a guy named Cohen from New York, maybe they’re related.” I replied, in earnest, “I’ll ask him when we talk.”

Fair to say, I wasn’t well informed about Judaism or Israel. Until I started reading Joseph Epstein’s short stories in Commentary, I didn’t even realize I was a goy. But I always felt a kind of intuitive kinship with the Jewish people. Despite my Christian faith, by temperament, I confess, I’ve always been more of an Old Testament kind of guy.

Thanks to Commentary, I played catch-up quickly. I probably knew Oslo was a dangerous folly before I really knew what Oslo was. When the peace processors pressed their case at Camp David, Commentary delivered a reliably scathing critique.

By the second intifada and then the 9/11 attacks, I hardly had to wait for the next issue of Commentary to be equipped to argue against the campus radicals and terror apologists. Still, in arguing what Norman called World War IV, I relied on him to quickly arm me with new facts and arguments.

My mom cleaned out her attic recently. She discovered several boxes labeled “Commentary 1995 to 2004” with dog-eared and annotated pages. The next year I joined the Army, which ended my archiving habit. But she forwarded my issues wherever I was around the world, just like Joseph Epstein’s mother did for him when he served in the Army—as he reminisced on the occasion of Commentary’s 75th anniversary.

Each issue offered indispensable wisdom, insight, and humor—and not just about Jewish life in America or Israel and the Middle East. Commentary exposed the moral scandal of affirmative action. Commentary warned about the hollowing out of our military. Commentary always saw Communist China as a present and gathering danger.

I still depend on Commentary. As a father of two young sons, I’ve returned more than once to Midge Decter’s essay “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” When my aides need guidance on some foreign-policy controversy, I sometimes tell them, “Go look in the Commentary archives, you’ll find something there.”

Commentary is more essential than ever. In fact, I suggest repurposing Richard Nixon’s old campaign slogan for marketing purposes: Commentary, now more than ever.

After the atrocities of October 7, now more than ever, we need a strong, confident, and unequivocal defense of the West, especially the United States and Israel. Our nations are good; our enemies are evil.

Now more than ever, we need to reclaim our political, cultural, and social institutions from what Norman has long called “jackal bins,” radicals so ignorant of history that they don’t see their roots in the French Revolution, but no less dangerous for it. (He adopted it after reading an interview by Jimmy Breslin of an LBJ administration pooh-bah who was clearly referring to the “Jacobins,” only Breslin didn’t know what a Jacobin was.)

Now more than ever, we need to stand up for those whom George Washington called “the children of the stock of Abraham” and fight back against the hatred of anti-Semitism.

This has been Commentary’s mission from the beginning. After the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and a revolting new outburst of anti-Semitism on our campuses and in our streets, we need Commentary now more than ever.

I don’t belong to the “stock of Abraham.” I therefore don’t worry that a lunatic might blow up my family’s house of worship. I don’t fear that a madman will try to run over kids at my sons’ school. I understand that I can’t fully know how many Jews feel and what they fear in these moments.

But after three decades of reading Commentary, there are a few things I do know.

Israel’s war against Hamas is righteous and just—and it will be won.

Israel doesn’t need patronizing lectures about civilian casualties. As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza.

Israel has no more obligation to provide aid to Gaza than we had to provide aid to Germany and Japan in World War II.

Israel’s ultimate enemy here—and ours—is Iran, and neither Israel nor the United States can be completely safe until the ayatollahs are scared straight or killed dead.

The children of the stock of Abraham are indeed God’s chosen people, so anti-Semites are at war with the Almighty, not a good place to be.

America cannot tolerate these anti-Semites. They should suffer severe legal, social, and political consequences for their hate.

There’s a famous line in one of Commentary’s most famous articles, “Jewish Faith and the Holocaust,” by Emil Fackenheim. This line was actually written by Norman, who edited the article. He wrote of “an absolute commandment: Jews are forbidden to grant posthumous victories to Hitler.”

I join Norman and all friends of Commentary in strict observance of this commandment. No victories for Hitler or Hitlerism. No victories for Hamas, or Hezbollah, or Iran. No victories for the jackal bins marching in our streets and on our campuses.

Victory in this struggle will be ours, and ours alone. And Commentary will be there to chronicle our victory, now more than ever.

God bless Commentary, and may God continue to bless and protect the Jewish people.

Photo: Flickr/Israel Defense Forces

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