I have yet to peruse one word of H.L. Mencken’s literary offerings. But if Jazz Shaw is, as Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey purports, the blogosphere’s answer to the same, then Mencken must have wielded a searing quill. Jazz understands not only the mechanics, but the spirit implicit in quality writing. This is a gift I try to cultivate, as well. I appreciate it when I discover it in others.
There are only a handful of people I follow on Twitter whose entire visible timeline I feel compelled to read when I check it. Jazz is firmly ensconced among that number. Every tweet is either side-splittingly funny, bitingly sardonic or endearingly self-deprecating…often a combination of all three.
I could ascertain quite early on that I have fairly substantial differences with aspects of his political philosophy. (READ: I’m a strongly ideological social conservative in the Reagan mold!) But I enjoy Jazz primarily because he loves the English language and is superbly capable of utilizing it to gloriously scintillating effect…while still not taking himself that seriously. An affinity for well spun narratives stories and skillfully coined verbiage will always garner my attention, even if occasionally accompanied by a worldview or perspective that diverges from my own.
I met Jazz briefly at CPAC this year, amidst the flurry and rush of appointments, meetings and evening gatherings that characterize those three days. I hope to someday get the chance for a more extended conversation. Jazz is a man with stories to tell, as you’ll learn in today’s profile.
Jazz Shaw is a Twitter follow you will not regret, even when his opinions infuriate you, which will occur at some point. He holds nothing back. But trust me; you wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would I.
10 Questions for Jazz Shaw
1. What exactly do you do for a living, beyond being a jack-of-all-trades commentator on Twitter, with a rich collection of anecdotes and observations?
I write political/social commentary for a couple of outlets who sporadically pay me, not all of whom would care to be listed that way, as well as the material I write for my own personal satisfaction. You can find me both at Hot Air and Pajamas Media, and periodic appearances in various newspapers. I also work in the political arena in the communications field when the right opportunity presents itself. I spent most of 2010 as communications director in a congressional campaign as my full time paying gig. I may or may not jump into another campaign for 2012 or some PAC work. Time will tell. But to pay the bills I also continue to do what I’ve done for a couple of decades… technical writing. It’s a body of work you’ve never heard of, probably couldn’t find if you wished to, and which would put you to sleep almost instantly if you did. But in the current economy, carving out a 1099 lifestyle like that has been as challenging for me as it has for many other Americans, so if you need somebody to mow your lawn this summer…
2. When I see your positions on various issues, you seem to lean libertarian to me, but how would YOU describe your political philosophy and why?
How I would describe myself is a question I always find difficult because communicating that to a general audience leads you down various rabbit holes where you’re supposed to tag yourself with this or that label, none of which have ever been a comfortable fit for me. Party-wise I was a registered Republican (though total RINO) from the late ‘70s until January of 2005, when I finally gave up on them and registered as an independent, remaining so to this day. The Democrats have some interesting positions on a few of the social issues which garner my sympathy, but never enough to sign on as one. I love the small “L” libertarians, but as a party, the big L Libertarian platform contains many liberty-centric aspects near and dear to my heart, but they also skew off into Crazyland far too often to make me register with them.
In the “conservative vs. liberal” battle, I personally consider myself a Northeastern, Rockefeller conservative, but of course all of the “real” conservatives across the rest of the country would call me a total RINO, if not an unabashed liberal. Again…I don’t fit in with anyone. I’m an isolationist on foreign policy who opposes war unless there is no other choice, and then only to crush the enemies of America, not build them a new country. I’m absolutely a fiscal conservative. On the social issues, well… let’s just say everyone will find a reason to hate me. I’m an independent and pretty much a lone voice in the wilderness to everyone one of these days.
3. Are you a native New Yorker and have you always been?
I was born and raised in New York. (Upstate, not the city. That’s an important distinction, as our area was very, very rural and considerably more conservative than anything you find in the Big Apple.) But after school, I left to spend some time in the Navy, travelling the world, and then living in places from California to Washington to New Orleans to Florida. But I finally moved back here in the ‘90s and have settled back in. I think the travel gave me a lot of exposure to a variety of ideas and philosophies, but fundamentally, I was always a northeastern boy at heart. It’s still a more liberal / libertarian area then the hard line “real conservative” bastions, but it’s not a caricature of liberalism like San Francisco orFire Island. I supposed that shaped my early ideological leanings, but those were tempered by the variety of people I came to know on my travels.
4. Over the course of your lifetime, who are three political figures whose leadership you would characterize as inspiring?
That’s a tough one because, as surprising as it may sound for somebody who essentially steeps in politics for his waking life, I am generally not impressed by politicians. In fact, I wouldn’t trust the majority of them to run lemonade stands, to say nothing of the federal government. But there are always exceptions. Since we’re restricting it to my lifetime and direct personal experiences, I suppose I would list New York Governor George Pataki, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and Gerald Ford. All imperfect in their own ways and none without blemish on their records, but people who had to work in difficult environments. They couldn’t just run to their base and win, but had to carve out consensus between allies and opponents to get things done. And each faced a number of trials in the political arena and came through with some grace and decorum. I could probably write a book on each of them, but we’d be here all day.
5. You write often for Hot Air’s Green Room and other outlets. When did you begin writing and who have some of your influences been?
I’ve been writing professionally since my late 20’s, but as mentioned, most of it was obscure technical material or one-off articles for publications you’ve never heard of. I started my first blog in 2002 and it’s really only in the past decade that I’ve focused almost exclusively on politics and government.
The writers I admire most at this stage of my life are the true wordsmiths who flex their linguistic muscles like heavyweight champions. I rarely live up to that type of diligent attention to every phrase, but there are those who inspire me to try. That doesn’t mean that I always have to agree with them, (and in some cases I almost always disagree) but the power of their ability to communicate is head and shoulders above the rest. I can narrow the list down to five for you, in no particular order. George Will, James Kilpatrick, James Wolcott, Christopher Hitchens and, of course, H.L. Mencken. Each one is (or was) a master in their own right. They represent a diverse menu of opinion and ideology, but each one has produced work that can bring tears to the eyes of a lover of the written word.
6. Are you a person of faith and accordingly, what role should religion play in the public square?
I’ve struggled with matters of faith my entire life. At any given point, you might find me best classified as anything from an agnostic to a fairly serious Methodist. It’s a personal matter for everyone and I certainly have no definitive answers or wisdom to offer your readers on matters of eternity. As to what role faith plays in the public square, it should be as little as possible in American government, but you can’t take it out of the mix entirely. A person’s faith informs their decisions and molds their personality, and that’s fair game for voters to take into account when considering a candidate. But once in office, elected officials need to represent everyone on equal footing, including people of all faiths or no faith at all.
7. I’m guessing we’ll get some unique answers from you…so please disclose some of your favorites in the following categories: Books, Musical Artists, Films, Foods and whatever else you want to throw in!
How much time do you have for this? (*sigh*)
Books: I read political tomes as part of my work, not for enjoyment. I find most political writers to be biased and motivated to write for all the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some good ones, but it’s not my favorite genre. I love mystery novels, particularly the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout and all of Sherlock Holmes. I also love science fiction, with too many great authors to list. I like snarky comedy in my reading, so Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a top pick for me.
Music: I’m stuck in the era of classic rock, with a few later additions. I still listen to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen, with some Jane’s Addiction and Counting Crows tossed in for good measure. But then I go on a tear and listen to a ton of suicidal depressing folk music, particularly John Prine or Dylan. Most recently I’ve added The Mountain Goats into my rotation.
Films: The greatest movie of all time was Casablanca. I have most of Bogey and Bacall’s work on DVD in my library. But I also love a huge variety of other film types, particularly science fiction and action films. I’m a die hard fan of the Die Hard trilogy.
Food: I like food. I like almost all types of food. I cook a lot. But in the end I’m a meat and potatoes guy. Also most any pasta dish. Breakfast is my big meal many days. I love eggs in a variety of ways. I’m also a big fan of scrapple.
8. Going to ask you to put your consultant hat on for a second! Can Republicans win the White House back in 2012 and if so, what is the best path to ensuring that occurs?
I always get a hearty chuckle out of these types of questions at this point in the cycle. As somebody who has had to essentially run a congressional campaign, I can tell you from first hand experience that two weeks is a long time in an election where tomorrow’s news cycle can knock everything ass over tea kettle. Two months is an eternity. Twenty months out? That’s enough time for a new generation of dinosaurs to evolve, rise and fall. Obama’s numbers have been sliding generally downward, but that happens to every president, and most of the voter opinion and reaction is based on external forces which are largely out of his control, no matter how much opponents would like to argue otherwise. But he does not have a “Jimmy Carter” problem as so many Republican thinkers would like us to believe at this point. He could probably win an election today by a slim margin, depending on the candidate and if unemployment sinks significantly by next summer, he could be darned near unbeatable.
Of course, all of that is subject to the question of who the GOP manages to get through the nomination process. If it’s a solid, serious candidate with some charisma and the ability to connect with the moderates around the nation somehow squeaks through, Obama could be a one term wonder. But the base may wind up putting some bomb throwing wildcard into the race, in which case I think Obama is safe for two terms.
9. I know you must be married because you talk about the food your wife cooks! Are you a father and/or grandfather, as well?
We raise pets, not children. I’m currently the “father” of three cats, a basset hound and a miniature schnauzer. Seriously…would you want me for a dad?
10. You’ve lived a little longer and seen a bit more in your time than most of the folks I’ve profiled so far. What have been three instances in your life that have brought you real joy and or/ a sense of accomplishment?
While it certainly sounds corny, the best thing to happen in my life was meeting my wife while volunteering at a Humane Society animal shelter one day. After asking her out on a date more than a dozen times and getting shot down, I finally wore her down to the point where she agreed to go out with me just to get me to shut up. We were married roughly 18 months later and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. We’re a couple years out from our 20th anniversary. She really saved my life in more ways than I could list.
I still have a photocopy of the first paycheck I ever received for publishing something I’d written. I felt like that was a landmark moment in my life after so much rejection leading up to it.
Finally, as a young man I was able to travel the world and actually circled the entire way around the globe twice. There was one day when I woke up under a tree outside of Mombasa, Kenya, with my camera and a backpack full of beer and snacks. I looked around, realizing where I was, and took some time to actually savor the moment and appreciate everything I had seen. That was a pretty good day.