A couple of weeks ago, we learned that Hillary Rodham Clinton was getting $200,000 a speech. (Go here, for example.) My reaction was: Well, it’s a free country, and I’m a free-marketeer. And if someone wants to pay HRC 200 grand for a speech, fine. I think it’s a little weird, though: I don’t believe I have ever heard her say anything interesting — and she’s been on the public stage since about 1991. Also, I don’t believe she can be relied on to tell the truth.
Well, here’s another reaction, or thought: People used to condemn politicians and other public servants for “cashing in.” As a rule, this condemnation came when those cashing in were Republicans.
Bill Clinton has become a zillionaire, right? And Al Gore has become a mega-zillionaire. Have they cashed in? Is Hillary Clinton cashing in?
I remember the great furor — the storm of condemnation — when Ronald Reagan took $2 million for two speeches in Japan. This was about nine months after he left the White House. An old Reaganaut said that the money was meant to be “the Reagans’ retirement fund.”
A little Googling gives me this article from People: “Eight Days in Japan Earn Ron and Nancy $2 Million — Now That’s Reaganomics.” You can imagine how the article went. “Was it appropriate, critics asked, for a former President to cash in on his White House luster so blatantly?” The magazine found a professor to say, “The founding fathers — Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison — would have been stunned that an occupant of the highest office in this land turned it into bucks.”
And here is something from the Los Angeles Times: “Reagan’s Fall From Grace: The $2-Million Japan Tour, Nancy’s Vengeful Memoirs and Legal Battles Over the Iran-Contra Affair Have Made His Retirement Anything but Restful.” Again, the article went just as you’d expect: “For the Great Communicator, whose standing plunged when he accepted the speaking honorarium from Japan’s Fujisankei communications conglomerate last October, the main impression to be overcome is that he has been inappropriately cashing in on his eight-year presidency.”
The 1980s — i.e., the Reagan years — were routinely called a “Decade of Greed.” That was the great and constant term, from the media, academia, and Hollywood: “Decade of Greed.” They had to say this, because they couldn’t say that Reaganite economic policies weren’t successful. They couldn’t say that unemployment didn’t plunge or that growth wasn’t spurred — so they had to call those years a “Decade of Greed.”
Oddly enough, the 1990s, which were also good — thanks largely to the tech boom — were not called a “Decade of Greed.”
Googling around, I noticed a headline over a George Will column from January 1992: “In Reagan’s Decade of ‘Greed,’ Charitable Giving Soared to New Heights.” Oh, yes.
The world tires of conservatives’ complaints about double standards in the media. I understand this. But I tire of the double standards themselves.
Seeing as we’re walking down Memory Lane, a little bit, let me tell you this: A lot of conservatives say, “I can’t believe that Barack Obama is president.” I know what they mean. But even more, I can’t believe that Joe Biden is vice president, and that John Kerry is secretary of state.
I’m sure I know why. Obama had been in public life for about two seconds before the people, in their wisdom, elected him president. He had been in the Senate for four years. He had not left much of an impression, at least on me.
But Biden and Kerry? I can’t remember a time without them, really. They have been in the Senate forever — or, they had been. And they were wrong about virtually everything, in my opinion. The Cold War, they got spectacularly wrong. “Reaganomics.” I could go on and on. Biden was just kind of goofy, and occasionally nasty, but Kerry, it seemed to me, was a committed leftist: He was emotionally pro-Sandinista, in my judgment.
So, marvel if you will that Barack Obama is president. The staggering thing, to me, is that Kerry is secretary of state, and that Biden is vice president. Elections are a reflection of a people (in a democracy). This is unnerving.
Hell, given that Biden and Kerry are there, I’m surprised that Chris Dodd doesn’t hold some high position! Why not bring back Ron Dellums?
Correct me if I’m wrong: After O. J. Simpson was acquitted, there were no riots. There was no organized grievance. And he had clearly murdered two people in cold blood.
Correct me if I’m wrong: The parents of George Zimmerman are in hiding, owing to death threats. The president spoke at length about the Zimmerman-Martin case. Couldn’t he have found the time to say something about Zimmerman’s parents? Something like “No matter how we feel about the outcome, the defendants’ parents shouldn’t be in hiding”?
Wouldn’t a large-minded president have included something like that? Someone Lincolnian?
But that is asking too much, certainly now. (And it’s way too much to ask of this president that he say, “The defendant himself ought not to be in hiding. This is America. We are a nation of laws.”)
I want to give you a link to a radio conversation: It’s here. The conversation is between the estimable Seth Leibsohn and me. The show is Seth’s Arizona Politics and Culture. We talk about the current issue of Rolling Stone and related matters. Rolling Stone? Its cover shows the Boston bomber — the surviving one — as a kind of pin-up. Soft and pretty, as I’ve said. He’s almost a David Cassidy for our times. Justin Bieber may be a little jealous.
In our conversation, Seth brought up an apt phrase from the past: “the banality of evil.”
Let’s turn to some language: I’ve noticed that Eliot Spitzer keeps using the word “fulsome.” In an interview with The Daily Beast, he said that, in his campaign, he will “spend enough so that the public can hear my voice and we can have a fulsome debate and conversation.” In an interview with CNN, he said, “I think I’ve answered all the questions, your questions, appropriately asked, and I will do my best to be fulsome in those answers, but at a certain point, I do think that, as to certain things, our private lives are our private lives.”
Okay. What’s going on? Many people say “fulsome praise” when they mean “a lot of praise.” Fulsome praise, however, is praise that is “offensive to good taste,” “excessive,” “overdone,” or “gross.”
I have quoted from the first definition of “fulsome” as given here — at Dictionary.com. The second definition is “disgusting; sickening; repulsive: a table heaped with fulsome mounds of greasy foods.” The third is “excessively or insincerely lavish: fulsome admiration.”
Then there is the fourth definition, which gets Spitzer off the hook: “encompassing all aspects; comprehensive: a fulsome survey of the political situation in Central America.” (The fifth and final is “abundant or copious.”)
I still doubt that Spitzer has a grasp on the word. Maybe I’m wrong.
In this column, as in life, I love to quote Jim Leyland, the Detroit Tigers’ manager. During the All-Star break, he said, “I think we’ve done pretty good. I think some people think you’re supposed to walk away with the Central [Division] and be in the playoffs and go to the World Series. It just doesn’t work like that.”
When he said “some people,” he might as well have been pointing directly at me. I’m guilty as he charges.
For the past several days, I’ve been in California, and I was going to do you a little California Journal. But I think I’ll just make one note. It is this: California, for all its problems, is still California. It’s still beautiful, beguiling, breathtaking. Still a Golden State. And hard to beat.
The old saying is true: If the Pilgrims had landed there, instead of on the East Coast, the country would never have developed. No one would have pushed east. They would have stayed, content.
Earlier in the year, I was in Fresno, talking to some friends of mine, and their friends. These were all businesspeople. I did a piece called “An Entrepreneurial Life: Pictures from struggling, wonderful California.”
My friend Richard Spencer said to me — I’m paraphrasing now — “People ask me, ‘Why don’t you move to Idaho, or to Texas, or to North Carolina, or to Nevada, or someplace else? Why don’t you go where the business environment is friendlier?’ The truth is, I like California. I don’t want to leave California.”
I understand him. I understand the people who leave. But I also understand those who couldn’t be dragged away by wild horses.
And Fresno, mind you, is not generally regarded as a beauty spot. It’s a long way from the coast. It is one of the most depressed areas, economically, in all the United States. But still . . .
I wish California were still governed by George Deukmejian or Ronald Reagan. I wish John Wayne still lived here, in more than one sense. I think that, in electing the likes of Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, Californians have put their state in the toilet.
Still, what a toilet!