Join the Club: Blue Sea, Red Sea


Join the Club: Blue Sea, Red Sea

Beyond just uniting the similarly minded, political cruises actually make waves in the overall governing landscape.

By Clark Norton 

PH 189The tenor of the onboard discussions couldn’t be more different. On some cruises, the right can do no wrong. On others, the left is always right.

Ideologically, the cruises are as remote as the South Pacific and the North Atlantic. Bill Kristol vs. Howard Dean. Conservative vs. liberal. Red state vs. blue state. Republican vs. Democrat. Right vs. left. Starboard vs. port.

Welcome to the sometimes contentious, often provocative, and always passionate world of political cruises: where true believers on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum gather — separately — to ponder, discuss, and debate the pressing issues of the day. Both appear to be completely flummoxed by what motivates the other side — or an opposing faction of their own side — which only adds to the shipboard frisson. 

Yet the cruises also resemble each other in some striking ways, often sharing the same cruise line, following similar itineraries, even relying on the same travel agency to do the organizing. That would be the Atlanta-based The Cruise Authority, which has been putting together political cruises of all stripes for years. It began in 1995, when representatives of National Review, the publication founded by conservative icon William F. Buckley, approached the agency about coordinating a cruise that would draw their readers together with pundits and politicos into a seaborne celebration of all things right of center. It proved such a hit that The Cruise Authority has now organized a total of 33 National Review Cruises over nearly two decades, featuring guest speakers such as Robert Bork, Ralph Reed, and former Congressman Allen West. But The Cruise Authority’s co-owner Howard Moses didn’t stop there. If shipboard cruises could successfully tilt right, he figured, then why not left?

So Moses approached Victor Navasky, then-publisher of the venerable progressive magazine The Nation, about doing a similar cruise for its readers. “Victor told me the idea,” associate publisher Peggy Randall recounts, “and I said, ‘That’s crazy! The Nation can’t do a cruise!’ But we did do it, and it was a huge success.” The Nation has now held 16 annual cruises, which have featured (sometimes lovable, sometimes controversial) speakers such as Calvin Trillin, Ralph Nader, and Christopher Hitchens.

Randall acknowledges that that they “took some heat in the early years.”

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