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‘Actually,’ and Other Words



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Toward the top of Impromptus today, I quote a line from the 2008 presidential debates. O said, “I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons.”

It occurred to me later — i.e., after I wrote the column: Isn’t that word “actually” delicious? “I actually believe that we need missile defense . . .” What does “actually” mean there? It could mean, “Believe it or not, I, a grad-school lefty, am in favor of this nutty Reagan idea.” Or it could mean, “I’m asking you to believe me — at least until after the election.” I don’t know.

Anyway, why am I talking about O and missile defense? Because in his State of the Union address, he said, “Provocations of the sort we saw last night” — meaning, from North Korea — “will only isolate them further as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”

Don’t hold your breath for Obama to “strengthen” our missile defense. Since he took office, our program has been going the other way. It has been going backward. Reagan proposed missile defense 30 years ago — in March 1983. We are not a very serious nation about it. We’re not serious because we elected Clinton and Obama — twice each. Reagan and the Bushes were serious. But we need a sustained commitment.

After the State of the Union address, a reader sent me a passage from a Philip Roth novel, I Married a Communist. I’m not sure why this passage occurred to our reader:

The lying. A river of lies. Translating the truth into a lie. Translating one lie into another lie. The competence people display in their lying. The skill. Carefully sizing up the situation and then, with a calm voice and a straight face, delivering the most productive lie. Should they speak even the partial truth, nine times out of ten it’s in behalf of a lie.

An aside on language: May I just compliment Mr. Roth on knowing the distinction between “in behalf” and “on behalf”? That distinction has been obliterated in recent years.

A quick anecdote: Once, a fellow critic and I were rushing up the aisle at intermission in Carnegie Hall. We passed Roth, who was still seated and applauding, I believe. I turned to her and said, “For once, neither of us is the best writer in the hall.” She said, “Speak for yourself.”

Also in Impromptus today, I talk about a subject nobody — nobody — cares about: the abuses of Palestinians by other Palestinians, in particular those who rule them: Fatah and Hamas. Did you hear about the guy who got a year in jail for insulting Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook? And it was an insult so gentle, I barely recognized it as an insult.

Incidentally, a year in a Palestinian jail is not like a year in a good old Amurrican penitentiary — believe me. Fatah and Hamas do not do the Eighth Amendment.

After I wrote my column, I read a new column on this subject by the world’s foremost expert on the subject: Khaled Abu Toameh. Go here.

Finally, I have in Impromptus a comment on Richard Dawkins, apparently the pope of atheism. I write that, if I were an atheist, I’d want a better pope: He is such a disgusting man. Being an atheist does not mean you have to be disgusting, as many, many atheists prove. I guess Dawkins has replaced Christopher Hitchens as pope. The former pope could be equally nasty, and more so, but that he was more stylish, we can’t gainsay.



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