A sad start to the first Morning Jolt of the week.
Kate O’Beirne, RIP
If you never had a chance to meet Kate O’Beirne, you really missed out.
Before I knew Kate, when I was a politically-wonky polliwog in the 1990s, I watched her on CNN’s Capitol Gang. It’s easy to forget how good television news debate programs used to be, before the stage was turned over to interchangeable telegenic bobble-heads who aren’t really into reading. On Capitol Gang, the panelists had to be journalists, published regularly in print publications, who knew their stuff and could think on their feet. And on screen, Kate O’Beirne seemed like a cross between Katharine Hepburn and a velociraptor.
The late Robert Novak described Kate in his autobiography, The Prince of Darkness:
Tall, blond, New Yorker-feisty, and exceptionally well-informed… Kate auditioned for the Gang for the first time on June 24, and she was dynamite. My decision was quickly made. Kate O’Beirne was a tremendous asset to the program, informed and able to charm the socks off [liberal panelist Al] Hunt. I think Boston Irish [Mark] Shields was less susceptible to the charms of an Irish lass from New York, and Kate always felt Mark resented a strong conservative woman. But Kate radically improved the program.
Watching her vivisect the arguments of the liberal panelists over the years, I was more than a little intimidated when I first met her. I joined National Review full-time in 2004, and in a circumstance where she had every reason to say or imply, “keep your mouth shut and learn, rookie,” she bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and an important contributor to the magazine as a whole. I recall at Democratic convention in Boston 2004, my first big event as new guy on National Review’s team, she asked me in front of my new co-workers, “how did you learn so much about politics?” I’m sitting in front of a Murderer’s Row of political journalism – Ramesh Ponnuru, John J. Miller, Jonah Goldberg, Byron York – and she’s asking what I think. More than a few folks inside and outside of National Review have those stories – where Kate made you feel like a big deal, even when you weren’t.
As merciless as she could be on-air and in print, she was as gracious and kind in real life. When she hosted a party, she made sure every guest felt at home. She gushed about her sons, serving in the military and law enforcement, two success stories of parenting. She sent gifts when my children were born.
Every once in a while, she left you with the feeling she could see around corners. In 2009, I remember her chatting, in one of her seemingly ever-present clouds of cigarette smoke, after a group of editors had met with some young no-name state legislator. This guy, who looked like he wouldn’t be able to buy booze without his ID, was named Marco Rubio and was talking up a long-shot bid against Charlie Crist in next year’s GOP Senate primary. Impressed, Kate speculated that this kid could be Romney’s running mate in 2012 (this was when the idea of Romney running again was considered unlikely) and that Rubio would run for president someday. Not quite on the nose, but in the ballpark.
William Kristol accurately observed, “Kate was a stalwart of the conservative movement who never manifested the stodginess or self-importance that one associates with stalwarts.”
She is dearly missed already.