June 20, 2007

Tamar Jacoby's late ex-husband / heroin junkie / neocon extraordinaire

A reader points out that Tamar Jacoby, the leading spokesperson for the Cheap Labor lobby, married the legendary Eric Breindel in 1988, although the marriage famously didn't last long. (Here's the NYT's article "Miss Jacoby Is Affianced" and here's the wedding notice.)

Due to his personal magnetism, energy, and ambition, Breindel is an extremely important figure in the development of the neocon stranglehold on public debate in America, even though he's little known today outside of the NYC-DC axis. His funeral after his death in 1998 at age 42 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma was attended by all the Great and Good of the New York media and political elites of all political persuasions.

A 1998 New York magazine article called "The Connection Man" by Craig Horowitz explains:

'As a writer, Breindel was unexceptional, producing mostly the joyless prose of an ideologue. And as an ideologue, he was more effective working the back channels than he was at publicly taking issues and ideas into new territory. But Breindel understood power in a way few people do. He recognized early in his life that personality is more important than ideology. It's all about proximity and access. If you have someone's ear, you can make things happen."

Breindel, among much else, was crucial to the election of Rudy Giuliani as mayor of NYC in 1993 by persuading Rupert Murdoch to have the New York Post back Rudy in its attack-dog style rather than the Conservative Party candidate.

Despite his soaring New York success, however, the last thing Breindel would have expected -- given his unmistakable early promise -- was that he'd have to settle for a career as an editorial writer for a tabloid newspaper. The defining moment of his life, the episode that gives his story its tragic-heroic arc, occurred when he was 27. In the early months of 1983, after receiving a high-level security clearance from the FBI, Breindel went to work as Senator Moynihan's aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee. For someone interested in a career in government, it was a dream job. But on May 16, only eight weeks after he started, Breindel was arrested in the parking lot of a Washington, D.C., motel for buying five bags of heroin from an undercover cop. Two and a half grams for $150. The arrest report said he had tracks on his arms. He was a junkie.

It was, of course, a big story at the time. The coverage portrayed him as a "golden youth" -- Harvard Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard Law School graduate, doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics -- who had squandered his promise.

As Moynihan was vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Breindel had a heavyweight security clearance, so the revelation that he was consorting with heroin dealers was a much bigger deal than if he was an aide to the vice-chairman of Ways & Means. Breindel's Harvard roommate was Bobby Kennedy's son David, another druggie.

Breindel's life was the sum of his obsessions, and chief among them -- quite naturally, given his background [as the son of wealthy Holocaust survivors] -- was the fate of the Jews. It was the locus from which all of his other political positions flowed. He believed that most of the world's evil took place under totalitarian regimes, and from this came his obsession with communism. ...

But there was also an upside, a positive view provided by this prism through which he saw the world: his lack of cynicism about America. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he was the child of immigrants. America was the country that saved his parents. "In a strange way, he was a throwback," says the Observer's Peter Kaplan. "In his politics, in the quality of his thought, in the intensity of his passions and his delight in America. It was our parents' experience, not ours. We were dulled by the success of America and everything that came along with it. But he was experiencing this country the way people who are now in their seventies did 40 or 50 years ago." ...

When Breindel got to Harvard, his obsessions served him well. They were the foundation on which he built what would turn out to be the seminal relationships of his adult life -- those with Moynihan, Peretz, and Podhoretz.

After his arrest shattered his ambitions for high government office,

He continued to write the occasional piece, and he asked his friend Christopher Buckley to make contact for him at the New York Times. He'd written a piece about Whittaker Chambers that he wanted to get placed on the op-ed page.

Buckley hooked Breindel up with Tamar Jacoby, who was then the deputy editor of the Times's op-ed page. "As soon as we met, we knew there was something there," says Jacoby, whose most recent book is Someone Else's House, a look at race and the struggle to achieve integration in America. "He was smart, he was funny, and he cared about the same things I cared about. I knew he'd been through a lot, but that often makes someone stronger and more interesting. I fell in love with him, and his problems certainly didn't get in the way." ...

With her help, and recommendations from Podhoretz, Peretz, and Moynihan, Breindel landed a job writing for the editorial page of the New York Daily News...

Breindel and Jacoby decided to marry at the beginning of 1988, four years into their relationship. The wedding was at the Harvard Club, and the guest list was, of course, eye-opening. "We both knew a lot of people, and we took some mischievous pleasure in Elliot Abrams having to shake hands with Anthony Lewis and Norman Podhoretz having to shake hands with Bob Silvers," Jacoby says, laughing at the memory. "Eric and I joked about having to have different rooms to accommodate the various ideologies."

The relationship, which had always been combative, deteriorated not long after the wedding, and their split yielded one of the most often told and heavily embellished breakup stories in the history of New York's chattering class. The tale begins when Breindel and Jacoby embark on a two-week trip to Europe with Breindel's parents to visit the concentration camps. ... They were, in fact, in Europe with his parents when they decided to split up. They were in Hungary, not Poland, and she had always planned to stay on in Europe -- without Breindel -- to visit her sister in London. When she got home, the apartment was not empty, and Breindel was staying with his parents. Jacoby was, according to people who know her, extremely bitter and angry after their split. Still, the funeral was difficult for her. "When I married Eric, I had all kinds of expectations and hopes about life. I'm a different person now, but at the funeral I spent a lot of time thinking about those two people."

Even without the apocryphal rendering of the breakup, the cynical view is that Breindel chose women the same way he chose his friends -- based on who could help him the most. Tamar Jacoby was the right woman for him at the right time, and when times changed, he found Lally Weymouth, [Washington Post owner] Katharine Graham's daughter, far more useful.

A general lesson for our era is that cyberspace is far overrated as a way to influence events compared to personal contacts and behind the scenes machinations.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Ron Guhname said...

At least in the short-term, the socially and politically gifted influence events much more than the intellectually gifted.

Anonymous said...

Cyberspace didn't exist back then. Of course access to powerful people is more important than anything else; were things any different in the time of the Medici? The value of the Internet is as a way for commoners to network and challenge their overlords, like in the grassroots immigration campaign (or the Dean netroots on the left). It's not as powerful as a few drinks with President Bush, but he's not going drinking with us anyway, now is he?

Anonymous said...

What stands out in this bit is not the Jewish background of Jacoby's late ex-husband. But his CLASS.

Room-mate of a Kennedy? Connected to Moynihan, the Murdochs, etc?

There has been a fairly ugly search for "neo-cons" i.e. the old hunt for "Jewish" conspiracies. When staring everyone in the face in this article is CLASS.

Class as epitomized by polite, New York upper-crust society from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, with aristos and networks and connections. All having the same sort of Teddy Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson-Franklin Delano-Roosevelt-JFK "neo-con" liberal conservatism noblesse oblige.

Think about it. All came from money or moneyed intellectual backgrounds (or at least the pretense to intellectual activity much like courtly poems and such in the late Middle Ages). All were part of a hereditary, networked elite in a fairly populist, socially and physically mobile society. All had to reconcile their aristo background with populist longings.

Hence, neo-con ideology. Harnessing populist idealism (all people are like us, can be made like us, can fit in with us) with aristo leadership (we aristos can make that happen).

You can draw a straight line from Teddy Roosevelt to GWB. Same backgrounds, same ideologies, same melding of faux populism to aristo leadership.

The corollary to this is that the aristo leadership itself is not capable of carrying itself much further, dissipating itself into drugs or other issues. We've had a century of aristo leadership and it seems we are due for a big dose of Andy Jackson fairly soon.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be an inbred class-based system that determines who gets to write for major newspapers, no?

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:15,

His abilities to influence may have been because of class connections, but it seems quite clear that at least a large segment of his beliefs about immigration were indeed formed by his Jewish experience, namely, that immigration to America saved his parents' lives. Unrealistic Ellis Island nostalgia is depressingly common amongst influential Jews today. Nothing about blue blood class consciousness there.

Luke Lea said...

It is apparent that the guy had a kind of intimate-charm-charisma-sympathy that drew people to him, in addition to everything else. He was specially lovable and human somehow. Even Lawrence Auster weeps for him (and curses you, Steve, for being disrespectful).

Those class comments are still pretty acute though. First it was the Wasps, now it is the . . . Jasps? Circulation of elites Pareto called it (even though I can't stand him).

Vol-in-Law said...

My wife explained the tv show 'Law & Order' to me as being about the replacement of one elite by another - the destruction of New York's old WASP elite by a new Jewish elite, assisted by Catholic footsoldiers (not that my wife really objected to this, she's WASP but strongly pro-Jewish). This was exemplified by the many many episodes where DA Adam Schiff turns on and destroys some old WASP elite family with whom he's been friends for decades, but L&O's villains are almost always WASPs.
We live in the UK though and haven't seen many Fred Thompson era eps, don't know if Dick Wolf changed the tone at all for the new DA character. -ViL

Vol-in-Law said...

Lawrence Auster has been attacking Steve Sailer a lot over this article, calling him an 'amoral paleocon', which I find odd - Auster's concern for religion and religiosity seems much more paleo to me than Sailer's concern for empirical reality. One reason Sailer is morally degenerate, according to Auster, is his refusal to take seriously the Iranian threat to Israel, and a snarky comment from Sailer to the effect that America shouldn't care about the Iranian threat to Israel because Israel isn't America. According to Auster, this means Sailer hates Israel. Hmm. Personally I support Israel, but I'm aware that it's a largely irrational, "which football team" sort of support. I can't imagine an Iranian-American commentator saying that Sailer hated Iran because he didn't support Iran in its conflict with Israel, but that seems to be the standard that's applied.

Anonymous said...

I believe Auster is a former Jew who converted to Christianity (Episcopal?). However, considering his strong philo-semitism, I don't understand why he bothered to make the switch.

Anonymous said...

You can draw a straight line from Teddy Roosevelt to GWB. Same backgrounds, same ideologies, same melding of faux populism to aristo leadership.

But T.R. was tough on immigration, not just illegal immigration.

Furthermore, it may be incorrect to say Teddy R. was a false Populist. He certainly didn't talk like one. There are some recordings of Teddy Roosevelt speaking ( made on Edison cylinders?). His accent is mid-Atlantic, almost English. Roosevelt I didn't affect a phoney Bubba acccent.

And the later Teddy Roosevelt differs from Chimpy MacBush Satan Jr. on issues such as trade protectionism ( "Thank God I am not a free trader"), anti-trust enforcement, and environmental conservation.

Yes, T.R. hyped a jingoistic war in 1898, but Rossevelt personally led a charge in that war, in the most literal sense. He didn't just make a celebrity appearance on an aircraft carrier in mid-ocean.

Sorry, but I don't think that George Jr. is a Teddy Roosevelt guy. Instead, one might liken the Bush/Cheney/Rove/swishy Lindsey Graham cabal to antebellum Democrats.

Anonymous said...


That's an amazingly obtuse statement. Presumably he did that because he came to believe that Jesus was the son of God. That would be pretty obvious, wouldn't it? Unless you think of religion as merely a matter of tribalism.

Anonymous said...

That's an amazingly obtuse statement. Presumably he did that because he came to believe that Jesus was the son of God. That would be pretty obvious, wouldn't it? Unless you think of religion as merely a matter of tribalism.

One is reminded of the beer-bellied biker accosted by a tiny, old woman-no one else would have dared- who said, "If that gut was on a woman. I'd say she was pregnant".

Without missing a beat, the biker informed her, "It was, and she is."

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