Remarks by Tom Bray in Honor of Warren Brookes

Delivered at the 2003 CEI Annual Dinner

I suspect that Warren Brookes would be both pleased and appalled at the festivities tonight.


Appalled, because he was a gentle, modest man who had no interest in puffing himself up. Indeed, while he was one of the great chroniclers of the Washington political scene, he kept his distance from the ceaseless social and political schmoozing that passes for reporting in many precincts of the federal city. Warren instead bought a house hard against the Catoctin Mountains, venturing into Washington only when it was necessary.


As Dan Quayle put it at the memorial dinner for Warren after his untimely death in 1991, he was the Sgt. Joe Friday of American journalism—“just the facts, ma’am.” You couldn’t charm him out of calling it the way he saw it. He never went native.


But pleased, I suspect, because his passionate beliefs have lived after him—in large part because of the efforts of equally passionate people like Fred Smith and his band of despairing optimists. Even Warren, I suspect, would be impressed that the Warren Brookes fellowship has taken solid root as an incubator for other terrific journalists with terrific ideas for expanding the circle of liberty. (List.)


Those of you who are supporters of the Warren Brookes Fellowship program deserve the thanks not just of CEI but of our country. Every one of the Fellows has gone on to do excellent work and make an outstanding mark in the ongoing debate about markets, liberty, and the environment. For those of you who are looking for a high-leverage way of making a difference, I would strongly suggest that this is the program for you.


And, I think, Warren, himself a despairing optimist, would take much comfort from the Washington scene today. He was tough on George W. Bush’s father. “All rudder and no keel” was the way he summed up Bush 41 in a column that did nothing to improve his access to the White House in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He would be amazed that Bush 43 seems to have fallen fairly far from the tree, though that wouldn’t have stopped him from spinning out column after column about the absurdities of things like cap-and-trade, new source review, and the billions being spent on a latter-day synfuel program to subsidize a hydrogen economy.


Two things stand out about Warren Brookes and are particularly worth remembering, especially by would-be scribblers like myself who would try to emulate him. One was his incredible capacity for hard work. “How did he do it?” Mary Lou Forbes, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wondered in her moving eulogy to Warren after his death in 1991. (One reason he did it, of course, was that Mary Lou and The Washington Times were smart enough to offer him the kind of display that quickly made Warren a major force in the policy debates of the 1980s and early ‘90s.)


Second, by the time he turned from a business career to journalism, he actually knew a few things. The most important was his understanding of the dangers of a world stripped of its faith in God and liberty. Here is how he put it in his book, The Economy in Mind, in November 1982 at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution.


“The 1980 election, far from being devoid of issues, turned out to be a profoundly metaphysical debate between the more spiritual, or theistic, view of the world and the more humanistic and materialistic view of it; between those who sense that the spiritual is the dominant force and those who see the physical as the primary limiting factor; between those who feel that the real energy of the universe is mental and, therefore, infinite, and those who believe with equal passion that energy is material, finite, and running out; between those who believe that an economy should be an expansively unfolding creative idea and those who look upon it largely as a zero-sum game.


“This was at its roots a religious debate,” Warren continued. “After all, to believe in a wholly materialistic universe, governed by chance, necessity and implacable physical laws, is, by definition, to accept entropy, mortality, and despair—and by inversion, to disbelieve in immortality, hope, future, and God.


“If wealth and substance are really finite, why both with incentives? Why bother to grow?”


Warren grew. He was ever the skeptic but never the cynic. And through the Warren Brookes fellowships here at CEI, the battle against despair continues to gather pace.