Like you, probably, I have read a lot about the nomination of Chuck Hagel in the last few days. He is Obama’s choice for secretary of defense. And I’ve thought of the 2004 presidential campaign. Let me take you back . . .
Democrats laid great stress on John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. “Kerry went to Vietnam; Bush did not.” (He had merely served in the Air National Guard.) They acted like Vietnam was an absolutely trumping credential.
Four years later, John McCain was the Republican nominee. Funnily enough, you did not hear much about Vietnam as a credential — not from Democrats.
At the moment, many Democrats are essentially saying, “Hagel served in Vietnam. He is a war hero. Shut up. No criticism allowed.”
Well, McCain is a hero too, from the same war. He has certain views of defense policy and foreign policy. Hagel has other views. Both are entitled to their views, and the rest of us are entitled too, to our own views.
People play the Vietnam card in dirty ways, I find.
Here is a specific memory. I was on television with a Democratic strategist. This was August 2004. I’ve just Googled the transcript. The strategist said, “. . . what John Kerry needs to do is to hit Bush as hard as Bush has hit him. And the way you do that is, you remind people that Bush betrayed this country about why we went to war in Iraq, just like he betrayed them when he didn’t fight in Vietnam.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe that someone was saying Bush had “betrayed” his country in the Vietnam era.
But in that campaign, 2004, Democrats sounded like Curtis LeMay — only LeMay was a great deal brighter, more sensitive, and more decent than they.
Who is responsible for Hagel’s nomination? The American people, really. They chose Obama over Mitt Romney on November 6. Elections have consequences. Hagel reflects Obama’s thinking, particularly on the Middle East. Romney would have named a much, much different secretary of defense.
In a democracy, people get what they deserve (I never tire of saying). At least the majority does. Hagel is the kind of defense secretary the American people asked for, when they reelected Obama.
They could block him, if they wanted — by flooding their senators with letters and phone calls, crying out against Hagel. But they won’t.
Maybe they’ll choose more wisely, next time they have a chance . . .
You can see the appeal of Hagel to Obama, and not just when it comes to the Middle East: Who better to preside over the gutting of American defenses than a Republican war hero?
Ed Koch is one of my favorite people in public life. He is almost certainly my favorite Democrat. I criticized him when he endorsed Obama over McCain in 2008. I did so in sorrow and puzzlement, not in anger.
I said something like this: “Mayor, you favored Bush over Kerry in 2004 — on the issue of security. You said you disagreed with Bush on every single domestic issue, but security was too important to allow a Kerry presidency. Well, the same thing applies now: Obama versus McCain.”
Koch disagreed, obviously.
In 2012, he endorsed Obama again! Over the superb Mitt Romney — who would have made the kind of foreign-policy president Koch wants (and I want).
Now he’s sorry, given the Hagel nomination. And guess who’s going to be secretary of state? Kerry — the very man, the very fellow Democrat, the mayor could not trust with power in 2004.
Election Day 2012 was a big, big deal. It’s going to “impact” us, as modern Americans say, for a long time to come.
I don’t know if you’ve followed the Andrew Mitchell case in Britain. Mitchell was a member of David Cameron’s cabinet, forced out over a scandal. It was alleged that he cursed out police — as the nastiest aristo might.
“F***ing plebs,” he was supposed to have called them. “You don’t run this f***ing country,” he was supposed to have said. “You should know your f***ing place,” he was supposed to have said.
Class in Britain is like race in America. An American who has been branded with the scarlet R is done for. They do some branding in Britain too. Mitchell was made a symbol of Tory arrogance, condescension, and disdain.
It was all a lie, of course. Mitchell never said those things. He was set up, lied about, slandered, libeled — hounded out of office, unjustly.
. . . the words attributed to Mr Mitchell . . . were not words that real people, even nasty real people, actually employ. They were the inventions of those who wanted Mr Mitchell to have said those words — a parody of a type they didn’t like.
Is there any greater joy than when a lie doesn’t succeed? Mitchell has been exonerated, so far as I can tell. He has not had his position restored, but he should. One reason he was exonerated is that video exists — video of what actually happened between him and the police.
I love justice so much, I could weep. I love it too much, actually — it can be a little like loving unicorns.
Did you see this story, from here in the good ol’ USA? A woman was claiming disability. She couldn’t walk, she was on crutches. She needed to be paid by the taxpayers. One day, she threw away her crutches and ran on high heels into a park, to fellate a man. And it was caught on video. (The running, that is. I don’t know about the other.)
Oh, sweet justice, dear justice — I love thee too much.
One of my complaints in life is that people never go back. Someone says something, that something turns out to be absolute rot, and the someone just sails on, without any acknowledgment of error, without contrition, without reform — because people never go back. This was especially maddening after the Cold War. All those people who said that you could never challenge the Soviet Union, that you had to coexist, eternally, that Reagan was a madman? They just sailed on to such positions as the presidency of the Brookings Institution.
Hell, what am I thinking? They sailed on to such positions as president of the United States, vice president of the United States, secretary of state . . .
Actually, as you know, someone went back — someone went back to who said and did what during the Cold War. That was Mona Charen, in her book Useful Idiots.
Anyway, this is all prelude to a column by Christopher Booker, here. It was published in the Telegraph on December 29. The column begins,
There could be few more apt epitaphs for the year now ending than a recollection of the headlines in April that greeted a stark warning from the Environment Agency. Fuelled by the predictions of the climate-change-obsessed Met Office (and the official policy, since 2007, of the similarly fixated EU) that we will have “hotter, drier summers” for decades to come, the agency foretold that the drought conditions of the early spring were likely to last “until Christmas and perhaps beyond”. The prophecy was swiftly followed by the wettest late spring, the wettest summer, the wettest autumn and the wettest Christmas we have ever known — eight months of near-continuous rain and floods amounting to England’s wettest year since records began.
I am not a believer in scorekeeping and score-settling. In fact, I think those things can be awfully destructive. There is much utility in forgetting — or in sweeping under the rug. But every now and then it’s useful or necessary to go back: to check the record, to hold people to account.
That’s not too harsh, is it?
Over the years, a genre has developed in journalism: the left-wing hit piece on a National Review cruise. What happens is, someone from a Left magazine signs up for one of our cruises. He goes on the cruise and then slashes us in print.
I have read two of these pieces, I believe. They are nasty, poisonous things. The last one I read was published in The New Republic. It was disgusting from beginning to end — dripping with cruelty and distortion.
Later on, the author of that piece was caught in a scandal: fabrication and other dirty deeds. He was stripped of some big prize. But The New Republic was apparently happy to publish his attack on us. I haven’t read The New Republic in a long, long while (for that piece and other reasons — reasons that pre-date the attack on us).
These anti-us pieces are full of mockery and mendacity — also the grossest selectivity. Hundreds of people go on our cruises. I think we’ve had up to 800, all at once. There are always a few ding-a-lings in the crowd, but most are decent, admirable, sincere people. Even some of the ding-a-lings, actually.
What do the attackers do? Focus on the worst, naturally — the most mockable, the most lampoonable.
They never talk about, say, Bernard Lewis discoursing on the Middle East. He’s only the world’s greatest Middle East scholar. Or David Pryce-Jones reflecting on France. Or Paul Johnson explaining Churchill. Or Anthony Daniels analyzing crime. Or Daniel Hannan deconstructing the EU. Or Milton Friedman lecturing on economics. (He’s gone now, but he was once an NR cruiser.)
No, no — they would never notice such things. They would rather report what some drunk said in a bar (allegedly).
Why am I bringing this up now? Readers have pointed out to me that such a piece was published in New York magazine. Don’t these Left journos tire of imitating one another? Aren’t they embarrassed to play the same trick over and over? I haven’t read the new piece, and doubt I will. Once you’ve read two or three of these pieces, you’ve read them all. I responded to the New Republic thing — at length, as I recall. I’m not up to responding further.
As I’ve said in previous columns, NR cruisers are a diverse crowd. They are all conservative, yes, and they all like National Review, yes — though we’ve had some hostiles. And not just left-wing journalists. Anyway, they are all human, making them diverse.
Some are healthy, some are sick. Some are happy, some are morose. Some are religious, some are atheist. Some are bright, some are less so. Some are boisterous, some are shy. They’ve been through wars, divorces, the death of children — you know, life. They don’t come from a cookie cutter. They are individuals (and they respect individualism).
Our attackers portray them — portray us — as a monolithic blob, of course.
I will now say something that will make many gag: A major impulse and emotion in this crowd is love. Love of freedom, love of ideas, love of democracy, love of Western civilization, love of country, love of people. A major impulse and emotion in our attackers is hate — certainly scorn. In recent years, I have come to think of the Left as one big hate group. Hate is the very fuel of their lives. I suppose you can see this on MSNBC most any night.
I doubt that NR will ever send a reporter on a Nation cruise, to mock and revile it. We have other things to do. I went to Renaissance Weekend once — as an invited guest, I should say. Enjoyed it, for the most part. Wrote it up gently. (Go here, if you like.) Praised the organizers, who are wonderful people.
Maybe NR will receive such treatment one day. And maybe one day I’ll beat Tiger and Rory in a playoff at Augusta.
Well, I’ve gone on and on, and I’d better stop! Let’s see — don’t have any music for you, at the moment. Don’t have any language. Food, care for some food? Went to a new Cuban place, in Harlem. Terrible, terrible arroz con pollo. High-school cafeteria, at best. Oh, but the mamey milkshake afterward! Made up for it. I had never heard of a mamey (if I can say “a”). A new fruit to me. (What an odd sentence.)
Hang on, I have a poem for you. Around New Year’s, I thought I should read Tennyson’s poem again — the one about ringing out the old and ringing in the new. Hadn’t read it in ages. Thought I might find it a little — you know, hokey. On the contrary: a masterpiece. If you haven’t read it in a while, give it a try: here. Every stanza is just right (not that anyone died and made me Helen Vendler).
To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.