When Obama is graceless, &c.


Was having lunch with a friend — a different friend — over the weekend. He’s from Ohio, and he said, “What about Portman?” Yeah, what about Portman? We’re talking about Rob Portman, who looks like he’ll be elected to the Senate. He was a congressman, years ago. Then, under W., he was U.S. trade representative. And then director of the Office of Management and Budget. Very, very capable and appealing guy.

Time out for a second: Isn’t it interesting how we call House members “congressmen” and senators “senators” — even though House members and senators are equally members of Congress?

Anyway, I have told a couple of stories about Portman in this column before. I think I’ve told them twice. Can you bear a third time? I promise this will be it (for at least the remainder of 2010).

Way back in 1999, I was interviewing Gen. Barry McCaffrey. He was President Clinton’s “drug czar.” He had been a hero of the Gulf War. Talking about Republicans he admired, he brought up this young congressman, Portman. He said, “I hope he’s president of the United States in another twelve years. He’s one of the finest public servants I’ve met in America.”

Another twelve years? That would put us right at 2012, more or less. Kind of interesting.

Story No. 2? Well, I was at Davos, in 2004. There was this reception, and Portman and another Republican congressman were there. The second congressman — he was a little older than Portman. He’s out of politics now (not voluntarily). He said, “When you’re a politician, you say in the early stages of your career, ‘I’m not going to be president. I’m not going to be president.’ But you don’t necessarily mean it. Then there comes a time when you realize, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m really not going to be president!’”

The congressman then did something funny and memorable. He got down on one knee, clasped Portman’s hand, and said, “You’re my only hope. You could be president. Would you remember me for a cabinet position?”

Portman for President: We could do worse, we could do worse.

Some readers have asked whether I would comment on the Nobel Peace Prize. I have done so — at the Corner, our group blog (as you well know). My “archive” — so grand and serious a word! — is here. Last Friday, October 8, I had six items (“blogposts,” I guess). Three of them are on the Nobel Peace Prize. A glorious development, the award to Liu Xiaobo. As Impromptus readers know, I have written about this dissident — now jailed — for quite a long time. We have followed the campaign to get him the peace prize. Even Tutu endorsed it!

I will have an article on the prize in the next National Review. And I will discuss it some more in a future Impromptus. (Have a lot to say.) Right now, I’d like to go back in time — and say something about the Nobel Peace Prize of 1992. I was thinking about it yesterday. Why? Because it was Columbus Day, and that is very much relevant.

In 1992, the prize went to Rigoberta Menchú, the Guatemalan “indigenous rights” celebrity. How did she happen to win? I don’t think it could have happened in any year other than 1992. You see, it was the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America — or “encounter with America,” or “rape of America,” or whatever they’re teaching the kids to say now. The Nobel Committee wanted to make a statement: a statement against Columbus and everything he means. So they gave the prize to the most famous “American Indian,” loosely speaking, there was.

That is an interpretation, anyway.

At the ceremony in Oslo — December 10, 1992 — the Nobel Committee chairman said to Menchú, “Welcome to this little wintry country in the far north, so far from your own country and your own world.” Speaking to the audience generally, he said, “It is 500 years this year since Columbus ‘discovered’ America, as we have been brought up to say, or since colonization began. The celebration of the anniversary has at least produced one benefit, in the spotlight it has so effectively focused on the worldwide problem of the rights of aboriginal peoples.”

So, was Menchú being given the prize specifically in response to Columbus? The chairman said, “For the Norwegian Nobel Committee it was a happy coincidence that it was precisely in the year of Columbus that she emerged as such a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Many in Norway also thought there was something local behind the 1992 selection: a touch of guilt over the Norwegians’ treatment of their own “Indians,” called the Sami, formerly known as the “Lapps,” a term that somehow fell into disrepute. Political correctness produces zigzags in language.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but won’t. (The Menchú phenomenon is fascinating, and also somewhat appalling.) I know that Columbus Day is terribly uncool now, except as a day off. Some of us, in America, celebrate “Indigenous Peoples Day,” rather than Columbus Day. I know that Brown University removed Columbus Day from its calendar a few years ago — and started to refer to “Fall Weekend.” I like ol’ Chris: a brave, imaginative, and, of course, adventurous man. The American spirit, as some of us understand it, owes a lot to him.


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