Midge Decter, a leading neoconservative writer, dies at 94

NEW YORK — Midge Decter, a leading neoconservative writer and commentator who in blunt and tenacious style helped lead the right’s attack in the culture wars as she opposed the rise of feminism, affirmative action and the gay rights movement, has died at age 94.

Decter, the wife of retired Commentary editor and fellow neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, died yesterday at her home in Manhattan. Daughter Naomi Decter says her health had been failing, but doesn’t cite a specific cause of death.

Like her husband, Midge Decter was a onetime Democrat repelled in the ’60s and after by what she called “heedless and mindless leftist politics and intellectual and artistic nihilism.” Confrontation energized her: She was a popular speaker, a prolific writer and, as she described it, “the requisite bad guy on discussion panels” about the cultural issues of the moment. Her books included “Liberal Parents, Radical Children,” “The New Chastity” and the memoir “An Old Wife’s Tale.”

In 2003, she received a National Humanities Medal, cited as one who “has never shied from controversy.”

Calling herself an “ardent ideologue,” she faulted affirmative action for causing “massive seizures of self-doubt” among Black people. She attacked gays as reckless and irresponsible, and alleged that they had removed themselves from “the tides of ordinary mortal existence.”

Feminism was her special target. “The Libbers,” as she called them, “had created a generation of self-centered and unsatisfied women ‘hopping from marriage to marriage,’ resenting their children for limiting their personal freedom and pressuring themselves to have careers they might not have wanted.

She doubted the modern wish to “have it all,” but Decter managed a full life of family, work and material comfort. She was married more than 50 years to Podhoretz and had four children, two with him and two with her previous husband, Moshe Decter. (All four worked in journalism and son John Podhoretz eventually became editor of Commentary, while daughter Ruthie Blum is a columnist at The Jerusalem Post). She wrote for several publications, from The Weekly Standard to The New Republic. She was an editor at Basic Books and executive editor at Harper’s magazine, where she helped work on what became Norman Mailer’s award-winning book “The Armies of the Night.” She founded the anti-Communist “Committee for the Free World” and was a member of the conservative watchdog Accuracy in Media.

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