Fast times in New Jersey, &c.


I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to Chris Christie videos like some people are addicted to porn. I could watch them all day. I particularly like it when he confronts schoolteachers: because no one ever confronts schoolteachers (except maybe unruly, pugnacious, or precocious kids). Schoolteachers are always sacrosanct, politically — but not with Christie.

Have I mentioned that he is governor of New Jersey? I’m sometimes unsure how much knowledge to assume, here in Impromptus. My inclination is to assume a great deal.

Christie confronts teachers, all right (because they confront him). But he takes care to distinguish them from the teachers’ union. In his view — or at least in his rhetoric — the rank and file are one thing, their union another. The line goes like this: Schoolteachers, good; their union, bad. Schoolteachers glorious and unselfish; their union mean and corrupt.

I used to follow this line, I think. And I’m sure that all practicing politicians should. But I have my doubts about it. It seems to me that if schoolteachers wanted better union leadership, they would have it. If the union leadership isn’t representing schoolteachers — let those teachers say so. But do they?

The teachers and their union: Is there any real difference? Isn’t the main difference that the union is available to play bad cop? (Accept a one-year freeze? Pay a dime for health care? Not on your life, you school-wrecker and child-hater!)

On the subject of education generally, I like to quote my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru: “If the American people wanted better schools, they’d have them.” I’m not 100 percent convinced of that; but I very much appreciate the line.

For many years, conservatives said — maybe they still say — “Black Americans, on the whole, are conservative. They are certainly well to the right of their leaders — their self-appointed leaders. Black Americans favor traditional morality, law and order, school discipline and reform. Jesse Jackson, Ben Hooks, and Al Sharpton are far outside the black mainstream. The ‘black leadership’ is like Bella Abzug; black Americans are more like Gerald Ford.”

I myself talked that way. But I stopped, at a certain point — when black Americans kept voting for the Democratic presidential nominee 88 percent, 91 percent, 94 percent . . . I said (to myself), “Do not commit the error of condescending. If people are voting a certain way — maybe it’s because they want to. Maybe they know full well what they’re doing. Sometimes you have to take no — such as ‘no to Republicanism’ — for an answer.”

I have had a long-running argument with Armando Valladares, the great Cuban dissident. He believes that people in the Free World who are pro-Castro, or soft on the regime, are merely ignorant: They have no idea what takes place inside the country. They are brainwashed, by Castroite propaganda. Wait’ll the regime falls, just as the Nazi regime fell, and the camps were exposed: Then everyone’ll know; then everyone’ll despise the regime.

No, they won’t. They could despise it now. I do. You do. Armando does. (More than 20 years in the gulag will do that to you.) Information about Cuba has been available since Castro seized power in 1959. About a decade ago, after years of debating Cuba, I had a terrible thought: If people in free countries are defending Cuban Communism — maybe it’s because they like it.

Is Michael Moore ignorant? No — he’s on a side. I realize I have chosen an extreme example; but he is certainly not an isolated one.

Speaking of Moore, I see that he’s one of those who want a mosque built, not near Ground Zero, but on Ground Zero itself. And the Pennsylvania field — plant one there, too? How about the Pentagon? Just think what could be built in place of that strange old structure . . .

A friend of mine asked me whether I had read Jeffrey Goldberg’s write-ups of his interview with Fidel Castro. I said I had glanced at them and stopped — I expected to return to them in due course. Why had I stopped? Well, the dictator was referred to, constantly, as “Fidel.”

Let me quote from a piece of mine about Cuba, published way back in 2001:

Cubans and Cuban Americans feel a persistent hurt over the general American attitude toward them. One exile in Boca Raton reports that he can no longer talk with his Anglo neighbors about his homeland. “If I explain to them the reality of Cuban life, all I get is, ‘Oh, you’re a right-winger,’ or, ‘You’re biased against President Castro.’” Can you imagine being biased against the tyrant who deprives you of rights, throws you in jail, and makes life so intolerable as to force you into the open sea on a homemade raft? Many Cubans especially resent this honorific “President” before Castro, as if the dictator were the equivalent of a democratic leader. Worse is the affectionate, pop-star-ish “Fidel.” We would never hear, for Pinochet, “Augusto.” Gus!

Hell, people don’t even refer to President Obama, the chief executive of a great liberal democracy, as “Barack.” (Vice President Biden does — in public. It was the subject of an essay I had in a recent National Review.)

Some people might claim, “You have to call Fidel Castro ‘Fidel’ now, because his brother Raúl is the junior dictator. You have to be clear which Castro you mean.” A) There are many ways of doing that. B) People in the Free World have referred to the dictator — the senior one — as “Fidel” ever since he was installed, more than a half-century ago.

Of course, people say “Che” too. “Guevara” sounds practically strange.