Friends, we’ve talked before about Two Americas — and Two America moments. These are the instances that reveal the deep split in our society, a split that seems barely reparable. The split is between: oh, Left, Right; blue states, red states; the Boston Globe, National Review — however you want to characterize it.
Have I got a moment for you.
I’m sitting at the New York City Opera last week, covering The Rape of Lucretia (Britten) for the New York Sun. Toward the beginning of this Roman drama, a kind of narrator sings the following: “A king will often use a foreign threat to hide local evil.”
As this comment registered — flashed above the stage, as a surtitle — there were some titters. Then loud laughter, as people grew more confident. Then outright applause. Loud, lusty applause. It almost stopped the show.
You could sort of feel the mob mentality build — as people discovered that it was safe to laugh and applaud, because they were sitting among their ideological fellows. One man behind me sounded like a hyena — I thought he would hurt himself.
Obviously, this audience thought that the opera had scored one on ol’ George W. and his allies. And as I sat there in the dark, listening to this madness, I thought: “We are two Americas. These people have nothing to do with me. Nothing. They are as alien from me as any hardened leftist Frenchman — as any hardened Saudi, for that matter. How far are we from Ground Zero? Three miles? Four miles? Ground Zero, where 3,000 Americans were murdered in cold blood, not two years ago, by real foreign enemies?”
When I later related this story to Rick Brookhiser, he said, “How many subscribers are there to the New York City Opera? Among them, there must be some who lost loved ones in the Trade Towers. Wonder how they felt.”
Hang on, I’m remembering something, from shortly after 9/11. Let me dig it out from my “archives.” Okay, here it is: an Impromptu from 9/16/01:
I can give you a little vignette from New York — from Broadway, specifically. My wife and I went to a show on Friday night. We were dreading what might transpire, for we had seen a lot of yellow-ribbon, candlelight-vigil stuff. Would there be some treacly speech? Something gooey and sentimental about “peace” and “an end to hatred” and the ickiness of military retaliation? Broadway types are surely among the left-most, most New Agey people in the nation.
Sure enough, before the curtain, a man walked out. We held our breath. He then proceeded to give an amazingly intelligent, measured, inspired, and patriotic speech about national resolve and the courage to go on. He ended, “America will triumph.”
America will triumph. On Broadway! I clapped so hard, I almost hurt my hands.
After the show, the cast lined up, and this same man asked the audience to join them in the singing of “God Bless America” (which is, by the way, in part a religious song: “Stand beside her, and guide her through the night with the light from above”). I sang so hard, my throat hurt.
As a friend of mine commented — on hearing this — a lot can change after a national experience such as this. I saw really no difference Friday night between Broadway and the Elks Lodge in Boise.
Well, it’s been a long time since then, folks. You know our attention span.
So, Patricia Ireland is going to the YWCA — the organization once known as the Young Women’s Christian Association, but now known only by initials, in part, surely, because of that embarrassing third word. The former NOW head is now head of the YWCA. Had you considered this organization a radical feminist one? Well, maybe you hadn’t considered it at all.
There was a fascinating and unusual column by Jonathan Foreman in yesterday’s New York Post. Foreman is a film critic for the paper — and sometime contributor to NR — and an expert on things military (and on many things). He has been with American forces since the beginning of the war.
This particular column explains that American soldiers have been forbidden to take home any “bounty,” or souvenirs. When I first started reading, I thought, “Well, why should they? Why should they remove anything at all from Iraq? Isn’t that sort of like plucking a flower from the Kew Gardens, or chipping off a bit of Pyramid?”
As I read on, I saw that this view was silly — and that American soldiers have a right to grouse. See what you think.
Here, though, is an excerpt — a bit I especially liked.
“Most guys just want to bring back something with the Iraqi government symbol on it, so they have something to show their kids and [can] say, ‘I liberated Iraq and this is what I got,’” says Sgt. Patrick Jockisch.
“Hey, my grandpa brought home a whole uniform from WWII, a Nazi pistol, a couple of books, some coins and medals. It’s stuff we got out to look at. Stuff we took to show-and-tell.
“My kids will have to say, ‘My dad was there, but he didn’t get anything.’ There’ll be no proof that I was there.”
Again, a highly interesting column, on an unexpected topic.
Thought you might like to know that Janeane Garofalo is faring just fine, in case you were worried. She’s one of the antiwar Hollywood celebrities, and she remarked to the Washington Post, “Before this [the war and her “dissidence”], I was a moderately well-known character actress. Now I’m almost famous.”
Almost famous! There’s a title for a movie.
I’m supposed to lay off Bill Clinton, the same way I’m supposed to lay off Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman — but, Lord, is it hard. They keep . . . tempting you. They do so with almost Lewinskian seduction.
Down Mexico way, the former president said, “We have to have honest inspections for chemical and biological weapons, and we need to have a sensible attempt to involve the world in building a democratic Iraq.”
Excuse me? Honest inspections? Is Clinton implying that the United States and its allies would conduct dishonest inspections, and that the only honest inspections would come through the U.N. — Dr. Blix and his merry band? Is Clinton implying, with America’s enemies, that our government would, for example, plant WMD, just to say we found such weapons?
And, of course, the ex-president spoke his words on foreign soil (the best soil for him to be on, in a way).
Then, turning to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Clinton trotted out his usual lines. I’ve heard them from him many times, although he has been bolder with them since he left office. He is one of those who claim that “extremists on both sides” hold up the peace, wanting to keep conflict going perpetually. You know, Hamas killers; democratically elected Likud officials — the extremists.
This view is noxious enough from lowly professors without being held and expressed by former U.S. presidents.
On his Mexican trip, Clinton said, “I know what the peace will be like, and so do they [the Palestinians and the Israelis]. It’s only a question of how many people they are willing to see die before they reach the inevitable agreement.”
This sort of equation will drive you to the funny farm, if you actually know what’s going on over there: if you actually know anything about what the Israelis have striven for, and what they have met, on the other side.
But Clinton should know all this, shouldn’t he? And if he does: why does he pretend not to? Because this absurd equivalence sounds better — “evenhanded”?
A regular correspondent from Munich writes, “Dear Jay: I thought you might want to mention the supreme irony — if that’s the word — of Mahmoud Abbas’s being sworn in as Palestinian prime minister on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Abbas, of course, is a Holocaust denier, having specialized in this subject — Holocaust denial — while studying in Soviet Moscow. His thesis was entitled: The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.”
This is a man with a sickening past, Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen): but he is the Great Moderate Hope over there, I suppose. Maybe we can see it this way: the gentlest are Holocaust deniers; the less gentle acknowledge it — and applaud it. (I have written about this disturbing subject many times, for example in “Thanks for the MEMRI (.org),” published last May in NR.)
More news from the PA (and I ain’t talkin’ Wilkes-Barre, folks). As Palestinian Media Watch reports, “Official Palestinian Authority TV has broadcast a music video calling for the murder of Jews in the disputed areas, even showing scenes of Jewish teenage girls and a Jewish couple, who are among those targeted for death by PA TV.
“The music video shows scenes of masked gunmen firing automatic rifles, aerial views of Jewish towns, and, as mentioned, Jews who are targeted for murder: a man walking with his wife, a group of teenage girls, and a soldier.
“The words that repeat throughout the music video:
“‘From the mountain of fire came the rebels . . . / Everywhere there are settlements. / Oh brave Nablus, keep the cauldron ablaze. / Pour over the settlements great flames. / Foreigners have no place on this land.’”
Just lovely. PA MTV!
And what has the Great Moderate, “Abu Mazen,” said? “The Intifada must continue. And it is the right of the Palestinian people to rise and to use all means at their disposal” (March 3, 2003).
Now to Cuba: actually to Paris. I have studied the Cuban issue for a good long while, and I know of no more admirable an organization than Reporters Without Borders, an outfit patterned on Doctors Without Borders. RWB actually cares about Cubans, and in particular those who are independent journalists (or who try to be).
Recently, activists from the group “were beaten by staff of the Cuban embassy in Paris . . . when they chained themselves to the embassy railings in the presence of several prominent cultural figures to protest against the imprisonment of 26 journalists in Cuba. . . . Cuba has now overtaken Eritrea, Burma, and China as the world’s biggest prison for journalists.”
For the entire story, and to become acquainted with RWB’s invaluable work, please go here.
Dick Gephardt has shown himself to be quite daft. Anticipating a debate between him, as Democratic presidential nominee, and Bush, he said, “I know I’m going to know more, and I know I can put two sentences together, and I know I can pronounce the word ‘nuclear.’”
Okay, have your yuks: but beware. I think Bush would clock Gephardt in any debate. Yes, the Texas governor was disastrous in his first debate against Gore, in my opinion. I thought it was all over, at that point. But he was 1,000 percent better in the second debate, talking rings around the Dem. And he was quite good in the third debate: I thought he was by far the better performer, substance aside.
Dan Quayle, of course, had a shaky performance against Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 (although it wasn’t as bad as myth remembers). But he came back blazing against Al Gore in 1992, and, for my money, more than bested the cloying Tennessee senator.
I’d be careful, if I were Gephardt, about what I wished for. He will not “know more” than George W. Bush — although he may know more that’s wrong. (That reminds me of the Groucho Marx line — the alleged Groucho Marx line — that Mondale used against Reagan, very effectively: “It’s not what he doesn’t know. It’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so.”)
As for “putting two sentences together,” Bush can do that just fine, and, in fact, I think I like him as well in his extemporaneous remarks now as I do in his elegantly written speeches.
“Nuclear”/”nuke-u-lar”? Well, that’s just an American variant, and George W. Bush is a very American man. That shouldn’t be such a harmful thing, for someone running for the leadership of America — no matter what Rep. Gephardt or Teresa Heinz Kerry thinks of it.
And here’s a fearless prediction for the ‘04 campaign: Bush will keep his eyebrows their natural color.
Did you know that John Kerry served in Vietnam? You didn’t? Well, you must not have talked to him lately.
Here is the Massachusetts senator, defending himself against criticism for his “regime change” comment, during this latest Iraq war (remember that Kerry called for “regime change” in Washington while our boys were fighting and dying for the real thing overseas): “When I fought in Vietnam and fought for my country, I didn’t give up my right to make quips and to participate in the debate.”
Can anyone explain what that means? Who ever alleged that fighting in Vietnam made quipping and debating impermissible? No, Kerry just wants to get that autobiographical datum in, at any turn. “Waiter, I fought in Vietnam and fought for my country: May I have the Dover sole, please?” “When I fought in Vietnam and fought for my country, I didn’t give up my right to advocate higher marginal tax rates.”
In my last Impromptus, I published a letter regarding Jaromir Jagr, the Czech hockey player who arrived in America knowing only four words: yes, no, and Ronald Reagan.
Well, I have since been informed — by many readers — that Jagr wears the number 68, in honor of Czechoslovakia (as it was then known): and that he is thought to keep a photo of the Gipper in his wallet.
Almost makes me want to watch a hockey game: which one late great basketball coach (whose name escapes me at the moment) memorably described as “one continuous turnover.”
(No mail, please: please. I have huge respect for hockey players, as athletes, and I would gladly shine Wayne Gretzky’s shoes with my own hair. But . . . well, we’ll leave this subject for later. A lot later.)
Following that last Impromptus, I received a note from my fellow conservative columnist, Lawrence Henry, of www.spectator.org. He made what I regard as a brilliant point:
“You should have pointed out that, as with ‘fedayeen,’ the liberals have just learned ‘neoconservative.’ They’re using it much the way they use ‘assault rifle’ or ‘semiautomatic.’ They don’t know the real meaning. It’s just shorthand for ‘evil gun.’”
That is so true, it almost hurts.
A reader writes, “Jay, in your column today, you wrote ‘Topeka, Kan.,’ and ‘Mobile, Ala.’ So either you were being lazy — what’s a few more letters? — or you’ve missed the boat on the new state abbreviations.
“Some years ago they decided that all states were to have two-letter abbreviations, both capitalized, no period. Kansas is KS and Alabama is AL (Alaska is AK).
“Usually it wouldn’t matter, but everything you write is such high quality that to make a stupid little error like that just makes it look worse than it otherwise would.”
Can’t agree with you there, compadre. I know full well what the postal abbreviations are — and I even use them on letters, sometimes. But I like the older abbreviations, thinking they’re a little more elegant: “Minn.,” “Mich.,” “Mass.” “MN,” “MI,” and “MA” just seem a little cold, computery, and robot-like to me. So, being a reactionary conservative, I reach back for the old abbreviations.
We do that in National Review too, by the way. And there are a couple of states — Iowa, Maine — that you can’t shorten at all (according to that practice)!
Speaking of letters: Folks, I apologize, as I do periodically, for not reading, much less answering, much mail lately. Other responsibilities have crowded in.
And speaking of that: I’ll be away, traveling and working, for the next little while, and will in all likelihood have no Impromptus next week.
Happy May Day! And I’m not talking salutes to Lenin — I’m talking, leaving a bouquet of flowers at some lady’s house, ringing the doorbell, and running away.
Some of you remember that, surely? (I know: don’t call you Shirley.)