About two-thirds of the way through that fine 1992 film, A League of Their Own, star catcher Dottie Hinson has had enough of the grind and is ready to quit. “It just got too hard,” she tells Jimmy Dugan, a former major league home run leader now relegated to managing the Rockford Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. “It’s supposed to be hard,” Dugan spits back. “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
Some years ago, at a lunch honoring Midge Decter, who died this past May 9, I quoted the fictitious Jimmy Dugan while trying to capture something of the character of Marjorie Rosenthal Decter Podhoretz, “Midge” to her parents and all those privileged to be her friend. Doing the “hard,” with the courage born of conviction and the skill born of a broad and penetrating intelligence, is what made Midge Decter great — and unique.
And while it’s a cliché to say it (especially about a gimlet-eyed editor who would skewer a cliché at 40 paces), we won’t see her like again. The combination of circumstances and personality that made her a giant are not replicable. And that is not pleasant to contemplate, because America today badly needs the wisdom and example of a Midge Decter.
Writing of Midge in The New Criterion, Roger Kimball nicely captured her multifaceted personality and its impact on so many of us: “She was above all a sort of spiritual godmother, warm and encouraging to the young, unsparing to the pompous and wrongheaded, gifted with a laser-like ability to distinguish what was genuine and what was fraudulent.” And while Midge was a happy Jewish warrior for cultural sanity, sound politics, and a society that lived freedom in solidarity, she was also clear-eyed and unsentimental about the enduring effects in public life of what her Christian friends — and there were many of them — called “original sin.” I once complained to Midge about some political perfidy or other, some betrayal of principle or trust, and she replied, with a kind of grim smile, “Think low, George. You’ll rarely be disappointed.”