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Impromptus
Going "nuke-u-lar," a kiss for the French finance minister, the charmingest Democrat, and more


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Rest assured, I like the State of the Union address as much as the next guy — no, more than the next guy. I’m a political junkie and, in particular, a presidential aficionado. But “SotU,” as the State of the Union address is abbreviated, has gotten out of hand. All of that pomp, all of that circumstance, all of that nonsense — not very American or republican, really. Presidents used to send over a letter. But now there are Cabinet secretaries, military officials with their stripes and baubles, and all that applause.

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Yes, applause, applause, and more applause. The rhythm of just about every State of the Union address is ruined by applause — often mischievous applause, point-making applause, or competing applause between parties. Last night, the president allowed a lot of applause (and a speaker, of course, can control it). For long stretches, it seemed that there was applause after every sentence. And more than applause: a standing ovation! This is no friend to oratory.

But, obviously, President Bush’s speech was good. Better than good: It was magnificent. It was magnificently written, and well delivered. I remember when I first heard this Bush speak. It was when he was a candidate, and the all-but-certain GOP presidential nominee. The site was a hotel in Manhattan, and the subject was education. I remember how astonished I was. I thought, This is our nominee? This is our standard-bearer? Uh-oh. Bush was disjointed, halting, and alarming.

And yet he is now practically commanding.

But, as this is Impromptus, I’ll put in a minor and niggling point: A speech for GWB that uses the word “nuclear” about a thousand times is a bit of a horror. It’s like giving a lisper “sassafrass” repeatedly.

Also, George W. Bush is curiously tired when the hour is late — meaning, past 8 o’clock or so. He gets very fatigued, and it shows. And why, in any case, does SotU have to begin at 9? Must be a television-network thing.

You probably noticed, too, the glee that the president took in the killings of al Qaeda operatives. That was fine with me, of course — but even I, truth to tell, raised an eyebrow or two. I thought of one of those presidential debates back in 2000, when GWB was faulted for appearing to take too much pleasure in the capital sentences of the James Byrd lynchers.

But he was within his rights, of course: He had been knocked for refusing to endorse “hate crimes,” and he was trying to make the point that — in his words (I believe I’m quoting accurately) — “We’re gonna put them to death, and you can’t punish ’em any worse than that.”

Priceless.

Two more quick words on the State of the Union: My favorite line from any SotU was uttered by Gerald R. Ford, in 1975: “The state of the Union is not good.” Sometimes, when I’m going through a particularly rough patch, and a friend says, “How are you, Jay?,” I’ll answer, “The state of the Union is not good” — in honor of GRF, the only president from my home state of Michigan.

Finally, I believe I have a favorite cartoon. That may seem a ridiculous thing to say, when you’ve seen thousands — tens of thousands — of cartoons in your time. But . . .

Back in the ’80s, during the Reagan years, The New Yorker ran a cartoon at Thanksgiving. A family was sitting down to a traditional turkey dinner, and someone said, “Dad will offer a prayer of thanks to God, and Mom will give the Democratic response.”

That works for me on so many levels, I can’t tell you.

What are we going to do about the French? Nothing, of course: The French are the French. They live to be insupportable. But I’m glad Rumsfeld said what he said. He is one of the clearest thinkers and boldest truth-tellers of our time. I can hardly believe he’s in government.

I don’t blame him for getting sick of hearing about “Europe.” Europe is a very large place — and it encompasses more than France and Germany. Its citizenry includes more than Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder. I have heard incessantly, “Europe is against the United States now.” Sure, France and Germany are. But what about Italy and Spain? What about the East, including Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania? Moreover, how about those citizens of France and Germany who are strongly with us, even if their governments are not? (By the same token, plenty of Italians and Spaniards oppose U.S. policy — even though the governments in Rome and Madrid are right-leaning and Bush-supporting.)

For several days, I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Now is not the time to discuss the Forum, as I’ll be devoting at least two Impromptus columns to it later on — probably sometime next week. (Stay tuned, as the first Bush used to say.) But I want to relate something quick. The day after Rumsfeld made his statement — describing France and Germany as “Old Europe” — the Continental press was up in arms. And one particular panel at Davos featured the French finance minister.

Unprovoked, he brought up Rumsfeld’s statement — and titters swept the crowd, as everyone expected the Frenchman to assail this obviously absurd and dangerous utterance. But he went on to say, “You know? Mr. Rumsfeld is right. We are old. Our populations are aging. Our economies are stagnating. And we lack dynamism. We need that dynamism.”

There was no “but.” The man just wanted to make that point. And, boy, did that shut the crowd up! I myself almost fell off my chair. I wanted to jump onto the stage and hug him. The French finance minister’s name is Francis Mer. Mon héros!

In Beijing, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had an important statement to make. Asked where the PRC stood on the U.S. and Iraq, he said, “Our stance on this issue is extremely close to that of the French government.”

That says it all, I think, about French foreign policy. Can anyone in Paris be proud that France has taken essentially the same position as the Red Chinese?

I’m afraid of the answer.

By the way, if you insist on saying “Beijing” instead of “Peking,” it’s “Beijing,” not “Beizhing.” The sound is a “j” as in “jingle”; it is not a “zh” as in “Solzhenitsyn.”

Just notin’. I was with people in Davos who said “Beizhing” ad nauzheam.

I have been told over and over that Germany is disappointed in the United States, that Germans are aghast at American foreign policy, and so on. I’m sorry — but I don’t see why any American should be kept up nights worrying about what Germany thinks of American policy. Since when do Americans stand for lectures on international conduct — or internal conduct, for that matter — from Germany?

Is that too boobish a thing to say? Is that an egregious example of not “moving on”?

So be it, baby.

It’s been a long time since my last Impromptus. (Sort of sounds like the beginning of a confession!) Not only have I been abroad, I have also been occupied with other duties. Many readers wrote to me asking what was wrong. Someone said, “Do we need to send U.N. inspectors to find you?” Someone else said, “Have you died?” When I answered no, he said — essentially — “That’s too bad, because you ended your last column, ‘I have a million more things to say,’ and that would’ve been a nice way to go out.”

Thanks a lot. All heart.

Speaking of Impromptus, if you’d like to sign up for e-mail delivery, you may do so via a device at the upper right.

The European version of the Wall Street Journal has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. It crowned Vaclav Havel as “the European” of those two decades. The paper’s editorialists provided a nice explanation, and it was a good choice. Even inspired, really.

And need I remind you that Havel is just about the only outspoken European supporter of Cuban exiles, democrats, and human-rights activists?

It could not have been more fitting that the Democrats had their first presidential cattle call at an abortion conference, all pledging allegiance to the Sacred Practice #1. Nothing is more important to the Democrats than abortion — legal abortion on demand: anytime, anywhere, for any reason — and nothing is more important to the American Left than abortion.

At this conference, Al Sharpton showed why he’s the most nimble of the Democratic candidates, and the most dangerous. He’s a demagogue, a hater, and a menace — also an inciter to murder. But he’s about the only Democrat with any charm. When it was his turn to speak, he said, “We’ve been told that we have three minutes. My good friend Senator Edwards spoke for five. So Joe Lieberman told me that, in the name of affirmative action, I can take seven.”

Can you imagine any other top Democrat saying anything similar? Can you imagine Jesse Jackson doing so? I can’t. Sharpton is positively fun — which is such a pity.

We used to ask the question, “Does Yasser Arafat have any control over these suicide bombers?” We should not ask it anymore. In case there are still doubts, consider the following report in the Jerusalem Post:

The Palestinian Authority has decided to commemorate the memory of Abdel Baset Odeh, the Hamas terrorist who carried out the suicide bombing in a Netanya hotel last Passover Eve, by naming a soccer tournament after him. Thirty people were killed and dozens injured in the attack, which triggered Operation Defensive Shield. . . . According to the Palestinian Authority’s newspaper al Hayat al Jadeeda, Odeh’s brother, Issam, would distribute the trophies at the end of the matches. A second [tournament] has been named after Raed Karmi, the former head of Fatah’s armed wing, Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades, who was responsible for the deaths of at least ten Israelis.

No one has the right to wonder anymore. These murderers are the toast of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine.

The actress Susan Sarandon, over in England chiding the prime minister for his alliance with the United States, said, “What’s happened to Blair? I don’t understand his reasoning or his logic. I don’t understand his evolution. I can see him being seduced by Clinton but don’t understand what him and Bush speak about.”

That’s “he and Bush,” honey. Ordinarily I wouldn’t smirk at anyone’s English — but, see, she was calling Bush dumb (essentially), and if you’re going to do that, you shouldn’t do so like a dummy. You know?

A reader writes, “I ask you to help in my personal crusade: getting journalists to stop the abuse of Cassandra (from Greek mythology). Even the best conservative commentators make this error repeatedly. They describe leftist purveyors of doom as ‘Cassandras.’ They mistakenly believe that Cassandra was a false prophetess. She was not incorrect in her prophecies but rather cursed by the gods to be correct but unbelieved and unheeded. Your help in this matter would be appreciated.”

Okay den.

“There is a fairly conservative political talk show here in Minnesota that, in December, will occasionally wish its listeners a ‘Happy HanaRamaKwanzmas.’ I was driving when I first heard that and almost went off the road. Thought you might like it.”

Oh, I do!

On this business of the use of “cohorts”: “When I was young I had a very good friend with whom I spent a great deal of time. Her mother would always ask, ‘What are you two cohorts up to?’ — usually with good reason. As an adult, my good friend became an accomplished artist and painted a lovely scene of two raccoons peeking out of a hollow log. The painting is entitled The Cohorts in honor our of friendship. It hangs proudly above my mantle.”

Fittin’ to cry.

“Dear Jay: My husband and I are awaiting the birth of our first child in February. Of course, over the past months I’ve been reading pregnancy and childbirth books, which are primarily written for women since we’re the ones doing the actual gestating.

“One thing that has me — and my husband — a little steamed is that nearly all of these books use the term ‘partner’ to refer to the father/support person. Call me old-fashioned, but I guess I resent having my loving and supportive husband of eight-and-a-half years grouped under the generic PC heading of ‘partner’ along with boyfriends, fiancés, live-in pals, sperm donors, lesbian lovers, and just basic friends of women who decided to go it alone in the parenting department.

“Doesn’t ‘husband’ count for something?

“Just something I wanted to get off my ever-expanding chest, and I thought you would understand.”

I do.

Finally, a reader implores, “Jay, settle something. How do you pronounce niche: ‘nitch’ or ‘neesh’?”

I think an English speaker should say “nitch.” The word passed long ago from French into our own language. We don’t italicize the word — indicating it as foreign — and we shouldn’t pronounce it in a foreign way either. I wouldn’t pronounce hors d’oeuvres in the French fashion. To do so would be not only pretentious but also unnecessary — even wrong, in a psychological and cultural sense.

D’accord?

Au revoir, y’all.



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