Politics & Policy

Impromptus

My moment of Hope. My man for chief justice. Talkin' Democrat — etc.

Happy Bob Hope’s Birthday. He’s a hundred today. And I have a little story to tell you. I met him once. Or rather, I saw him. I had a kind of encounter. I haven’t forgotten it, and I hope I don’t ever.

It was in my usual ice-cream place — Thomas Sweet, at Wisconsin Ave. and P St., I believe (this was when I lived in Washington). I was at the counter, getting my double-dip of chocolate and cinnamon. And I looked over, and there, at a table, was Hope, with his wife, Delores, and a couple of others (I suspect a daughter and a son-in-law). This was in about, oh — 1996. So he was a youngster of 93 or so.

He was licking at his ice-cream cone, almost feebly — like an old man would. He looked terribly old — but beautiful, in a way. His hair was wispy, and his skin was about translucent. You could see thin blue or purple veins.

I started out the door — but something made me go back. I went back through the door, looked at him, and gave him a thumbs-up. I think I said, “Thanks a lot.” He saw me, and his eyes brightened, and he gave me about the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. Beatific, even. For a moment, it was just me and him, in the whole world.

I left that parlor surprisingly moved. I mean, I was almost embarrassed at how moved I was. I thought that I had had a highly unusual encounter.

Now, I know that Bob Hope was no saint. But I loved him for many reasons, and still do. It also occurred to me — as I was walking back to my house that night — that I had seen one of the most famous people on earth. I mean, you’ve got Queen Elizabeth, you’ve got Paul McCartney, you’ve got Michael Jackson. But across the generations, in every pocket of the globe? Hope is one of the most famous people of the last century.

I loved him not least for his contribution to the popularization and acceptance of golf. (But maybe that’s not such a good thing. For the last 25 years or so, you’ve hardly been able to get a tee time.)

I’d like to close this item with just one Hope remark, that stays with me. He was in a thousand movies, as you know, and he never won an Oscar. (I believe this is right.) He hosted the Oscars ceremony a lot, though. One night he began, “Welcome to the Academy Awards — or, as they’re known at my house, Passover.”

Happy, Happy Hope.

William Rehnquist may step down this year, and we’ll need a new chief justice. My choice, I guess, is somebody already on the Court: Clarence Thomas. The more I read about him, the more impressed I am with him. He is a brave and independent-minded man, embodying many of the qualities that an American should have — that anyone should have. But he is also a formidable judge, consistently writing intelligent, lively, and eloquent opinions. (More important, they are right opinions.)

He is a fairly young man. He has guts and dignity. His elevation to chief justice would be a massive middle finger to those who deserve to be flipped off. He is a principled conservative — a constitutionalist, as a jurist should be. And it is not the least significant thing in the world that he would be a black chief justice (much as I wince at the racial angle).

Some others in the conservative camp are plumping for Nino (Antonin Scalia). That’d be fine, of course (although do you ever get the impression that this justice is just a tiny bit too pleased with himself?).

But Thomas would be majestic.

As regular readers know, I get a kick out of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi — legal troubles or not. More than once in this column — particularly after 9/11, and in the run-up to the Iraq war — I’ve said Forza, Silvio.

Well, he has now come out for something unusual: the inclusion of Israel in the EU! If Turkey can get in, he says, why not Israel? The more the merrier — and the idea of “Europe” is ever-elastic. (If Valéry Giscard had a fit about Turkey, how much more apoplectic would he be about the Jewish state?)

Berlusconi’s idea may be whimsical — but I say again, Forza Silvio! Any word about Israel out of a European leader’s mouth that’s not vile is a relief.

Tom Daschle did something remarkably human — and I say, ha, ha, ha. At a press conference, he pointed to Linda Scott and said, “Yes, Evelyn?” So, who’s Evelyn? That’s Evelyn Thomas — another black female journalist who’s covered Daschle for years. According to the New York Post, the assemblage “gasped.” Linda Scott shot back at the Democratic leader in the Senate, “It’s Linda, and I know we don’t look alike.”

Daschle later called the woman to apologize. And you haven’t heard much about this in the press — almost nothing.

But can you imagine if a conservative Republican did this? Why, he’d be denounced as a Klansman, or worse (if there is worse). Daschle’s faux pas was pretty human, as I remarked. But often, ideologues of the Left don’t make room for humanity, if you know what I mean.

Which is why I say: ha, ha, ha. And maybe, the next time a conservative screws up, they’ll be a little more humble and less judgmental.

Ooh, John Edwards is a tough little talker, idn’t he? Campaigning in Iowa, he said, “Just because you have yourself a new ranch and wear a big belt buckle doesn’t make you a friend of rural America.” That was a jibe against President Bush, in case you didn’t guess. And the zillionaire trial lawyer John Edwards? There’s a real overalls-and-manure man, I tell you. Actually, a real farmer-politician was the great Lauch Faircloth — would-be savior of the District of Columbia — whom Edwards defeated.

But Edwards is so gosh-darn cute when he talks tough, don’t you think? He may go far in the Democratic primaries.

As you know, Democrats are reluctant to talk about abortion — they’ll do anything to avoid uttering the word. They say, “right to choose.” Or “reproductive rights.” Or whatever else the euphemism of the day is.

It seems clear what John Kerry will be saying, for the duration of the campaign: “right to privacy.” That’s his code, to let the folks know he’s foursquare behind abortion-on-demand.

I’m so tired of Democratic obfuscation I’d almost vote for the candidate who comes out and says — and defends and champions — “abortion.” That’s what it is, after all.

Let me quote to you a little about Dick Gephardt on the trail. In Iowa, he “pounded his fist and spoke passionately about his family’s health-care experiences. Constant eye contact with the crowd, a jab of his hand or finger to make a point — all are hallmarks of an energized Gephardt.” A local said, “[Gephardt] always looked wooden to me on the tube. . . . [But] the man’s alive, man. Alive.” The candidate himself says, “I do feel liberated.”

Does any of this sound familiar? A veteran Democratic candidate thought of as wooden, starting to pound tables and otherwise emote. Starting to talk about his family’s tragedies (or “health-care experiences” — you get the idea). Yes, Al Gore began to behave like a madman, in order to prove that he was human. To me, he went farther in proving the opposite.

So Richard Gephardt may end his career risible and untrue to himself, instead of president.

My friend and colleague Richard Brookhiser has written a book about Gouverneur Morris — Gentleman Revolutionary. I haven’t yet read the book, but I’m sure it’s terrific. Why? Because Rick Brookhiser wrote it. You don’t have to taste Chef Daniel Boulud’s latest soufflé to know that it’s delicious.

Anyway, the question has arisen, Why isn’t Morris better known? He was the principal writer of the Constitution, after all.

I think it may have to do with uncertainty about how to pronounce his first name — and embarrassment over saying it. Rick says that Abigail Adams — who spelled phonetically — wrote “Governeer.” So that’s how the name was probably said, which is a fairly long way from the French pronunciation.

I have remarked before about Walter Bagehot and Leonardo Sciascia. Both of them have lesser reputations than they should have — and it’s believed by some that it’s because there is uncertainty about how to pronounce their names (“Bagehot” and “Sciascia”). In the former case, you say “Badge-it.” In the latter, you say “Shah-shah.” Every Italian knows that, of course — but Sciascia’s reputation in the English-speaking world is suppressed, because people are afraid to recommend him and afraid to ask about him in bookstores and libraries.

Anyway, just an idle thought. And you can spend the rest of your day talking about Toussaint Louverture!

Oh, hang on: There was another point I wanted to make — within that last Impromptu! What prompted all this — besides Rick’s book — is that I saw that the new governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, would like to be president.

Well . . . maybe.

I absolutely love what I’m about to tell you. You know how, for years, the Left (and others) have teased the Right about the fluoridation of water? Eons ago, apparently, some right-wingers were alarmed about fluoridation, as they believed that it was some socialist plot, or a scheme at brain-washing, or something.

Well: One of my best friends is a dentist — a professor of dentistry, in fact, in the Midwest. He was in town (New York) for a conference recently and this question of fluoridated water came up. He said, “You know, people are still up in arms about that. They go to court and besiege city councils and all that.” I said, “Really, after all these years? The Right’s still suspicious of that? Left-over John Birchers or something?” He said, “No, no — not at all. These are left-wing groups: know-nothing environmentalists, earthy-crunchy types — the usual crowd.”

Well, well, well. Who’s laughin’ now, huh? Who’s afraid of fluoride in the water now? And this is 2003!

As I believe I said elsewhere in this Impromptus: ha, ha, ha.

A couple of letters on the “new” postal abbreviations — which I’ve been bloviating about lately — and then I’m out.

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I believe you are being no more reactionary than the Associated Press in terms of state abbreviations. As a current Massachusettensian (or as we are known in N.H., a ‘masshole’), I assure you many of us still use the Mass. form except when addressing envelopes.”

And, “Jay, being blessed enough to live in the great State of Texas, I just cannot bring myself to abbreviate the name of my state. Must be all that state pride we have down here — well, that and it’s just prettier on an envelope.”

Ah, America. Quel pays. (Didn’t Yakov Smirnov say that?)

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