Never am I more annoying to my fellow conservatives than when I state how popular Hillary Clinton is, and what a threat she is, on the political stage. I annoyed conservatives all through that Senate campaign, when many were chortling “carpetbagger,” “liberal extremist,” etc. And I have done so more recently by pointing to the mind-boggling popularity of her memoir. This is a book that, from what I’ve heard, is dull and unnewsworthy. And it’s flying off the shelves. It is winning back that historic advance, and going on from there.
Now one reads that, on the day she launched her ‘06 Senate-campaign website — FriendsofHillary.com — it had so many visitors that it crashed.
Hillary Clinton is the princess, or queen, of the Democratic party, which represents about half the country. (It just kills my fellow cons when they are reminded that Al Gore received more votes than George W. Bush, nationally.) Hillary is an utter heroine to a huge chunk of our nation. Much as that nauseates us, we have to be aware of it — and plan and act accordingly!
Let me emphasize: It isn’t just lesbian, socialist vegans who are pro-Hillary; that is a comforting fantasy. It’s good and ordinary and patriotic American folk who are drawn to her. Believe me — I know some!
All of my life, the Democrats have been running against Herbert Hoover, one of the most maligned men in American history (despite his undeniable errors). Walter Mondale had a great line in 1984, when he was irked at Ronald Reagan’s habit of quoting FDR, Harry Truman, and other Democrats. “Stick to your own heroes,” said Fritz: “Harding, Hoover, and Nixon.” Pretty good, huh?
Well, John Kerry, the other day, accused President Bush of having “the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover.” Aside from the colossal asininity of that charge: He just had to get the name of Hoover in there, didn’t he!
Mind you, President Hoover left office 70 years ago.
As you know, Bush huddled with those great statesmen Jesse Jackson and Elijah Cummings at the National Urban League conference. These men complained that the president doesn’t spend enough time listening to “black leaders” (i.e., them). I love what a Bush aide was quoted as saying (in the Washington Post): “He meets often with African Americans but invites them as individuals rather than as parts of groups.” More of that kind of talk and we’ll be on our way to a Great American Reuniting (or maybe it would just be a Uniting — either way, let’s have it).
Howard Dean accused President Bush of “playing the race card” in his opposition to affirmative action. Well, if that’s not the pot calling the kettle African-American. The Democratic party might be described as one big race card. I have so many examples, I hate to select a favorite, but here is one of my pets: Before the NAACP, Al Gore bellowed, “They don’t even want to count you!” He was referring to the opposition of some Republicans to a technique in Census-taking called “sampling.” “They don’t even want to count you!”
Anyway . . .
Funny how Saddam — if it is Saddam — is heavily playing the religion card. This old-time Baathist socialist is now Mr. Muslim — talking about how his sons died for Allah in the glorious jihad, etc. Do any real Muslims buy it, do you think? They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel (although, in my experience, scoundrels are more likely to be found in the fields of anti-patriotism). Must be that religion is the last refuge of an encircled Arab dictator.
I don’t recall that Hitler extolled the glory of the Lutheran Church as he and Eva undertook their final embraces. (Of course, Stalin did discover Russia — when his back was to the wall — as against International Communism and the New Soviet Man, didn’t he?)
Lately — well, forever, really — I’ve been inveighing against the “increasing South Africanization of American life.” A society in which everything is color-crazy is a society unpleasant to live in: especially when you aspire to universal ideals. We should drop in, for a second, on the real South Africa. Very instructive was a New York Times article published several days ago. It described the (ongoing) plight of “coloreds” in that country. The destruction of the apartheid regime has apparently changed little in this respect:
“We were all going to be South Africans [after apartheid], not colored, not black, not white, just South Africans,” said Mr. Khan, 43, an unemployed laborer who lives in Netreg, a few miles from Table Mountain. Mr. Khan was convinced; he cast his ballot for Nelson Mandela.
“We were all going to have a better life together,” he said.
Nearly 10 years after Mr. Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, Mr. Khan still does not have a job. He collects scrap metal on a horse-drawn cart to feed his family. His parents still live next door in a two-room cinder-block house, with 18 other relatives living in shacks in the backyard with the horses and chickens. Worst of all, he feels that people of mixed race are still caught in the middle of South Africa’s rainbow.
“In the old system we weren’t white enough,” Mr. Khan said. “Now we aren’t black enough. It is still colored people who are stuck in the middle, and no one cares about us. I am not a racist, and I fought in the struggle against apartheid. But we have to admit that under white rule, we had a better life — less crime, more welfare, better schools and doctors.”
The curse of color continues. (Pardon the alliteration.)
As regular readers know, I am a great admirer of Vikram Seth. He is one of my favorite writers. His Suitable Boy was, simply, one of the most satisfying fictional experiences of my life. (I confess that I skipped over the legislative part.) His Equal Music was exquisite, and deeply understanding. Norman Podhoretz compared his “novel in verse” — The Golden Gate, about California — to Don Juan.
The other day, at the urging of a friend of mine — not that I needed any urging — I picked up Seth’s From Heaven Lake, his travel book concerned with China and Tibet (I insist on separating the two). At the beginning of the book, he referred — at least twice — to China’s “Liberation.” By this he meant the coming of the Communists to power in 1949. He was not merely quoting government propaganda; he wasn’t using “Liberation” ironically (and, yes, he employed the capital letter) — he appeared really to mean it. This is the regime, needless to say, that would kill tens of millions of people, in one of the worst cases of genocide, oppression, and surreality in human history. (“Surreality” is a fishy word — not authorized — but I avail myself of it.)
I’ll pick up From Heaven Lake sometime later. But I didn’t really have the stomach to keep going. And, by the way, Seth pronounces his name “sate.” I believe I once titled a piece “‘Seth,’ Rhymes with ‘Great.’” It’s still true.
A little language. In yesterday’s column, I kvetched about the distinction between alternative and alternate — or, rather, about its not being observed. This brought some testy e-mails from a few readers — wanting to go to 99th definitions and so on.
Well, the best I can do is quote my heroes Strunk & White, who rule as follows:
Alternate. Alternative. The words are not always interchangeable as nouns or adjectives. The first means every other one in a series; the second, one of two possibilities. As the other one of a series of two, an alternate may stand for “a substitute,” but an alternative, although used in a similar sense, connotes a matter of choice that is never present with alternate.
Professor Strunk and Mr. White got into my brain early, and they will never be dislodged, hate to tell you — not that I can remember what I read yesterday.
Some mail? We’ll get into some serious stuff later, but first, some lighthearted fare:
“Dear Jay: You say, ‘David Frum for President,’ if Orrin Hatch succeeds in getting the Constitution amended to allow foreign-born citizens to be elected to our highest office. Okay. But after President Frum: President Steyn!”
“Dear Jay: I read your depressing Impromptus today. It reminded me of a presentation I heard recently. This presentation described the time leading up to the start of your work day as a ‘golden hour.’ You were to avoid negative input (chiefly the news) during this golden hour so as to make it easier to decide to have a positive attitude for the day.
“One more handful of downers from you, Mister, and Impromptus may be moved out of the golden hour . . . like to lunchtime, or after dinner.”
Can’t say I haven’t been warned!
“Jay, here’s a wonderful little passage from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot which I came across just now: ‘”Smoke, sir?” the servant asked, giving him a look of scornful bewilderment, as though unable to believe his ears. “Smoke? No, sir, you can’t possibly smoke here. Why, sir, I wonder you’re not ashamed even to think of it. Dear me, this is a queer business and no mistake.”’ Pg. 42, Penguin ed.
“Plus ça change! [New York mayor Michael] Bloomberg’s got a little Russian in him.”
“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I don’t know if it’s a trend, but consider this: I have voted for every Democrat that ran for office, starting with McGovern and ending with Gore in the last election. I will be voting for Bush in this one, regardless of who is on the other side. I will also be voting Republican in local elections.
“The Democratic party is totally bankrupt, full of personal vendetta and hatred. They have no ideas on what they would do in power, only what they don’t want the Republicans to do. I do not trust them with the security or the future of this country anymore.
“When I voted for Clinton, I felt the country deserved him. We didn’t deserve the best. I don’t feel that way anymore. I want someone who stands for the things that this country stands for, someone who has read the Constitution and isn’t interested in living under the U.N. Charter. I want to vote for someone who understands that those of us out of work right now want jobs, not unemployment extensions. I am not hearing anything from the Democrats that leads me to believe that they get it.”
And a related one: “Mr. Nordlinger, I wrote to you in April and said how I as a lifelong Democrat was planning to vote for President Bush next year. Well, my plans have changed. Not about voting for Bush but about continuing to be a Democrat. I made the switch and became a Republican last week. I believe Ronald Reagan is credited with saying, ‘I didn’t leave my party; my party left me.’ That’s not nearly strong enough a sentiment for how I feel now. The Democrats didn’t just leave me; they’re driving away at full speed into oncoming traffic. The Democratic party has gone off the deep end and is being taken over by the extreme Left. And by extreme, I don’t mean Mondale/Dukakis liberal; I mean people who would rather have the United States meet with disaster than have Bush succeed. These people need to be kept as far from the levers of power as possible.”
I will close with some letters on this business of a gay high school. (Such a school has just been launched by the City of New York.) I had a comment on the matter yesterday.
“Dear Jay: While I don’t agree with separating out the gay kids from normal high schools into an all-gay high school, I can understand its appeal. Back where I grew up — rural/suburban California — I desperately wanted to go to a high school with more Asian kids (I’m half Japanese and it shows), because we stuck out in a school that was heavily Latino and black. There were about four of us in my graduating class of 650 or so. To get an idea of our dropout rate, know that, our freshman year, we had around 900 students in my class.
“The fundamental problem in many high schools today is that teachers don’t discipline the students. It got to the point where my friends and I, though we were all males, would not go to the restrooms unless we were in a group, because it wasn’t safe. The segregated high school for gay kids is understandable: The few obviously gay kids in high school frequently got what one who later became my friend called ‘the still living sh** kicked out of us’ because the teachers would do NOTHING.
“I think the separate-high-school solution is like papering over a crack in the wall. The difficult problem of the crack is that the house’s foundation must be reset. But papering over it makes things seem better. Getting the kids who are most at risk of getting clobbered safely away from a dangerous school is papering over the problem; what really needs to be done is to make schools themselves safer. Of course, that would require holding poor minority kids responsible for their actions, which was unthinkable in my area. So these young thugs become dangerous older thugs . . .”
“Well, Jay, nobody else on my side of the fence is going to tell you this, but I will. I used to go to ‘Gay Youth Social Groups’ and ‘Support Groups’ when I was high school aged, and they were all pretty much dating services with a thin veneer of counseling. Gay people will acknowledge this among ourselves, but it’s un-PC to admit it to ‘outsiders.’
“Second, times have changed. When I graduated high school, you were just starting to see same-sex couples at proms. Now, it’s no big deal. And I was in Livonia, Mich., so if it was that casual in the Midwest in 1990, I can’t imagine why you’d need a segregated school in NYC.”
“Mr. Nordlinger: I am gay and only 22 years old, which means it wasn’t too long ago that I was in high school in a small town in Wisconsin. I can tell you with absolute certainty that those few students who were openly gay (I was not one of them, for the record) went through hell day in and day out. They were constantly ridiculed by students AND teachers alike. Comparing the abuse — verbal, mental, emotional, and sometimes physical — gay students suffer to the abuse overweight kids suffer is absurd. Both are certainly damaged emotionally, but when a gay kid is constantly picked on for being gay I think it affects him in a way different from an overweight kid. The overweight kid walks away from the experience feeling rejected because of his appearance, but the gay kid walks away from the experience feeling rejected because of who he is. . . .
“Moreover, I think the abuse actually engenders certain political attitudes that conservatives find undesirable. The gay kid who is constantly picked on starts to resent all straight people for the way they’ve made him suffer and he will want nothing more than to reject every aspect of culture that he believes is representative of heterosexuality (fidelity, marriage, abstinence, etc.). I also think it causes him to identify his sexuality as being more central to his being than a gay student who wasn’t picked on does (me, for example). I would think that, as a conservative, you would want to avoid this . . .”
“Mr. Nordlinger, in your Impromptus today, you asked whether it was now cool to be gay. I’m sure it was a rhetorical question, but, hey, I’m answering anyway.
“I’m in high school in the Bay Area, and am a bit of a theater dweeb. Naturally, many of my friends are gay (or bisexual, or whatever). Whether or not the rest of the school views it as cool, my friends do; two of them go around saying, ‘We’re the scary gay drama upperclassmen,’ and laughing about the ‘dumb straight kids.’ I, being 17 and (as aforementioned) a theater dweeb, have done a fair amount of wavering about sexuality. I’m still not quite sure about myself, but I do know that the gay community is about the dumbest thing ever; no matter what I feel, I’m certainly not aligning myself with it. These friends also insist that all of our straight friends are simply in denial, and try to ‘lesbify’ all of them. One of them recently decided she’s actually straight after all (she is. Trust me), and the others proceeded to insist that she wasn’t and to bully her into being bisexual again. In their view, if you realize you’re not straight, you’re seeing the light, but if you realize you’re not gay, you’re lying to yourself. In any case, whether they’re ‘cool’ or not, they’re certainly not harassed at all.”
“Jay, you didn’t mention the reason your lovely mayor kept talking about on the news clips I saw this morning: that gay students are being beaten up and abused at regular high schools. I ended up yelling at my television, as usual, wanting to know why on earth they weren’t doing something about that, rather than just attempting to avoid the problem by shipping off the victims to a supposedly safe location. After all, once the gay students are no longer around to abuse, the bullies will just find others to pick on. This is definitely a case of letting the inmates run the asylum, surrendering to the barbarians and giving them the keys to the city, (insert next cliché here).”
WELL. That’s certainly enough for one day.