Politics & Policy

Impromptus

Ted Kennedy blows hard. The NAACP cracks up (cont.). The Hilarity of the Week. Etc.

Ted Kennedy has spoken, and, as you know, when he speaks, we listen. His latest pearl for the Republic (whether penned by Bob Shrum or not, I can’t say): “The great tragedy would be American servicemen and women, risking and losing their lives in Iraq based upon flawed, distorted, and failed intelligence.” Given how bad the English is, Kennedy must have done this on his own, Shrumless. But you know how intense Bush-hatred must be for Ted K. to be dripping tears for “American servicemen and women.” The Left is never so sympathetic to the Army stiff as when a Republican can be bashed in the process.

As you may have read, Sen. Orrin Hatch — a great friend of Ted Kennedy, by the way — is pushing an amendment to allow foreign-born citizens to run for president. This is slightly dismaying, in that we may be in danger of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the “telegenic” Democrat from Michigan. (Reporters are always saying “telegenic” because they’re scared to say “attractive.”) The governor — governess? — was born in Canada. On the bright side: We could have President David Frum!

A few columns ago, I noted the abolition of the position of poet laureate by the State of New Jersey. That position had been occupied by Amiri Baraka, who used to be known as LeRoi Jones, who is a talentless hate-spewer under any name. While official poet of the Garden State, he penned these lovely lines:

“Who know why / Five Israelis was filming the explosion / And cracking they sides at the notion? / Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed? / Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers / To stay home that day? / Why did Sharon stay away?”

Well, Baraka still has a position of honor (sort of): The City of Newark, obviously piqued at the state’s “diss,” named him poet laureate of the local public school system. No, I am not making this up.

It’s easy to laugh at this travesty, of course; any number of snorted remarks come to mind. But the ongoing degradation of communities like Newark is nothing to snicker over. The kids in that system — who must trust their elders and guides — are told to view Baraka as a model. None of us has a right to complain about the society we live in if we keep silent about outrages such as this.

Don’t you agree?

Several years ago, I was talking to a colleague at The Weekly Standard, and I asked, “Who is the best politician in the Republican party? That is, the smartest, the ablest, the most principled, the most impressive?” He answered, “Mitch McConnell, I guess.”

That answer is hard to improve on. The senator from Kentucky is, indeed, impressive, in myriad ways. I was reminded of this when I read of his legislation to protect fast-food joints and other restaurants from nuisance suits — suits that can have calamitous effects. Said McConnell, “You shouldn’t be able to sue someone else because of your own eating habits.” McConnell spoke of the need to stop “an absurd trend in litigation . . . before it gets started.”

Such thinking, and acting, is so commonsensical, it ought to be barely noticeable. But in our current climate, it is practically heroic.

If I had to describe the greatness of McConnell in one sentence, it would probably be this: He understands the value of freedom. Simple — and remarkable — as that.

Want to hear about the other Kentucky senator — Republican (and Hall of Famer) Jim Bunning? He is a delightful SOB — and I mean that in the most positive sense. He said that, if CIA director George Tenet loses his job because of this Niger flap, “so much the better. I never did like him.”

Not a modern politician, Bunning, and refreshing — in a way — for that.

My boy Dennis Kucinich — go, Dennis! — made what might be the remark of the campaign. Discussing possible Supreme Court picks in a Kucinich presidency, he said he “absolutely would appoint a homosexual judge,” including “any lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person — just as long as they’d be willing to uphold Roe v. Wade.” That is simply the perfect Democratic statement, blowing away all others. Even the ungrammatical “they,” instead of “he,” is sublime.

But how about this? The motto proposed for the EU is “United in Diversity” — again, a perfect nonsense phrase for this age. “United in Diversity” means precisely . . . nothing. These are just syllables crafted to soothe the contemporary ear, an ear increasingly dead, I’m afraid, to real meaning.

For several years now, I have been arguing that people of good will ought to give up on the NAACP. It has delegitimized and disgraced itself. The organization basically portrayed George W. Bush as a lyncher of blacks in the 2000 campaign, and its leaders — Julian Bond, Kweisi Mfume — speak the language of hate and division, in perfect keeping with our times, turning their backs on the NAACP of yore.

So, when a handful of Democrats declined to attend a dog-and-pony show arranged by the organization, its president, Mfume, said, “If you could not find 90 minutes to come by to address the issues affecting our nation, then you have no legitimacy over the next nine months coming into our communities and expecting our vote. . . . In essence, you have become persona non grata, and your political capital is now the equivalent of Confederate dollars.”

Note how Communist this is, in tone and spirit: “persona non grata.” Note the claim to speak for, and represent, all black Americans, as though there were no diversity of thought whatsoever among them. And how about that reference to the Confederacy! A sheer accident, right? Mfume might as well have thrown sheets over the truant candidates (who have since repented, of course, engaging in something like Maoist self-criticisms).

The moderator of the Democratic forum of the NAACP was Julianne Malveaux, the opinion journalist, who said, “Anybody who can’t come here, quite frankly, doesn’t need to be running for president of the United States.”

Frankly, anybody who would submit to interrogation by Julianne Malveaux has no business running for president. She’s the beaut who said of Clarence Thomas, “I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter, and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease.”

When I discussed this with an NR mate yesterday, I dwelt on the particularity of “like many black men do.” And he responded — quick as a flash — “But Julianne Malveaux doesn’t regard Clarence Thomas as black, does she?”

Brilliant. But it’s almost too sad to be funny.

Can Howard Dean win? Don’t count him out — I mean, don’t count him out for either the nomination or the general. Stranger things have happened. I’m a little wary about all this cackling over Dean’s success in the pre-primary season. I keep thinking of the hoary caution, “Be careful what you wish for . . .” Dean’s charismatic, he’s “fresh,” and the media — in any general election — will be probably 95 percent on his side. The Bush-hatred of the media is growing, as those who opposed the Iraq war try to justify their position by portraying the aftermath as disastrous.

Myself, I’m pretty much out of the prognostication business. I’m frequently asked for my predictions, and I almost as frequently decline to give any. I was tempered by the election — and then the reelection — of Bill Clinton. I couldn’t believe that the American people would opt for him over Bush until the eve of the ‘92 election. Then I was convinced that Clinton had been mainly an accident of the Perot candidacy (19 percent), and that he would be a one-termer.

I’m in the strange position now of thinking that ‘04 could be nip-’n’-tuck, a la 2000, or a 49-state blowout, a la ‘72 and ‘84. I mean, my latitude is that great. At this point, I would be shocked by neither.

But we’ll talk more about this, surely, as that fateful November (not this coming one) approaches.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been attending, and writing about, a little festival that the Kirov Opera of St. Petersburg is staging in the Metropolitan Opera House. I want to share something with you from the program. An essay touched on the Kirov’s production of Semyon Kotko, a Prokofiev opera that is heavily propagandistic. The opera is based on a novella by the hack party writer Valentin Katayev, set in the civil-war Ukraine. The essay read, in part, “Patriotic, but not without irony, [the director’s] staging of the finale flashes ahead to evoke Stalinist excesses implicit in the local Bolsheviks’ victory.”

I of course paused over, and gagged at, that phrase “Stalinist excesses.” As is well known, there was no horror in Lenin’s time — and would be no horror post-Stalin! And can you imagine the phrase “Nazi excesses”? I thought not. And if Stalin had excesses, what else did he have — temperance?

Sometime last year, I did an appreciation of Robert Conquest, the great scholar of the Soviet Union (and other things). In a talk with me, he said, “There’s still an attitude on campus of, ‘Don’t let’s be too rude to Stalin.’” I’m afraid that’s true — and not only on campus.

I appreciated a line by James Wood, and thought you would, too. Wood is the prominent literary critic associated with The New Republic, and he has just published a book of his own (called The Book Against God). He told the New York Post, “I have a reputation as a very harsh critic. My editor said, ‘You know you have it coming [critical revenge against him].’ Much like all the lefties said about the U.S. after 9/11.”

I was so relieved to hear Wood say that. I mean, you’d expect, say, me to say it. But . . .

The great salsa singer Celia Cruz has died. She was a Cuban, and because she was a human being, she hated Castro and his destruction — moral, civil, and material — of that country. A correspondent sent me a column about her published on CNN.com, with the remark, “Absolutely amazing, considering the source.”

Yes.

Speaking of human rights (was I?): Earlier today, I was cleaning out some e-mail addresses, and came upon that for Jian-li Yang, the Chinese democracy activist now locked away by the Beijing dictatorship. (Jian-li has permanent-resident status in this country, and his wife and children are American citizens.) Jian-li doesn’t have access to his e-mail just now. But we can remind our government that we, as a people, should keep an eye on him, not letting him rot away — at least not in oblivion. The website dedicated to his liberation — once more — is here.

Care for a little language? A reader writes, “In today’s column you say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a place, near Savannah, called Ronnie’s, and it is one of the most divine places on earth. It’s on Dean Forest Road, off of 16.’

Off of? Where did I get the impression that you knew and valued good English?”

Here’s the answer: I’m an American, you see, and I talk like an American, and while I value good and textbook English, I also value natural, idiomatic American English, which I employ from time to time — indeed, most of the time. Especially in this breezy, slangy lil’ web column.

Okay, homie? So get off of my back! (Ah, that was a strain — but I tried.)

Finally, the HILARITY OF THE WEEK. A couple of days ago, amid the fan mail (thank you, dear ones), there was . . . er, some non-fan mail. This guy was ripping me six ways to Sunday for offensive remarks about Bob Dylan, the musician (or whatever). It was a scalding, sarcastic, seriously personal letter.

I couldn’t for the life of me remember ever writing about Bob Dylan. So, intrigued, I did a search, and discovered that the man had read an interview conducted by me with the composer Ned Rorem — who did, indeed, rip Bob Dylan six ways to Sunday.

In a mischievous mood, I wrote back — just slightly disingenuously — “Excuse me, sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about, having never written about Bob Dylan, to my knowledge. Do you perhaps have me confused with someone else?”

And he sent me back the following note:

“My apologies. It was someone you interviewed. The other day, a kid was throwing rocks at a turtle in a creek in my yard. I called out to him, ‘Hey! Don’t do that to that turtle!’ He looked at me and then at the turtle, then back at me. ‘That’s my hat!’ he said. I must be on a roll.”

I’ll say!

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