Politics & Policy


California or Bust(amente). Nancy Pelosi gets sly. Killer ants (I mean, ant killers). And more

A brief word about this California recall: Needless to say, I’m all for Republican governorships — and for the harassment of Democratic ones — but a recall doesn’t sit quite well, does it? No matter what the law allows. Recalls for serious offenses, yes (à la Clinton) — but recalls for being a poor governor, causing popular disgruntlement? We just had an election in California. And if the good people of the Golden State were dumb enough to pass over Bill Simon Jr. for Gray Davis — why, they ought to suffer with him.

If the main race, in the second election, were between Davis and Simon, and Simon won, would you feel just a little uneasy? I direct this question at partisan Republicans (my fellow partisan Republicans, I should have said). I mean, what is this, a do-over? A mulligan?

I must say, however — on a very light note — that Cruz Bustamente (I refer to the lieutenant governor of California) is maybe the coolest name in all of politics. Of course, Zach Wamp (Tennessee congressman) is pretty cool too. And the most beautiful names in journalism are Ramesh Ponnuru and Michelangelo Signorile. Very different journalists, lemme tell you (to Ramesh’s favor) — but what beautiful, lapidary, musical names.

Speaking of Bill Simon Jr.: When he visited National Review offices during the last campaign season, I teased him a little for his Ken Doll good looks. He said, “My wife thinks that I do especially well in nursing homes!” Not a stiff candidate at all, that fellow. Actually, quite personable — and a little dull earnestness isn’t such a bad thing in a political environment subject to tawdriness and corruption.

Far be it from me to remind the president of the United States of his own doctrine, but: He has said, repeatedly, that our government will make no distinction between terrorists and the regimes that harbor them — “that feed them, shelter them,” etc., the president likes to say. So what about these al Qaeda bigs the Iranians are supposed to have on hand? Are they locked away, confined in true punitive style? Or sort of hanging out in Tehran clubs, as Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas did, for years, in Baghdad?

Just askin’.

Nancy Pelosi, for all her bothersome and (yes) strident leftism, is one smart cookie. I believe she took a sly shot at Rep. Bill Thomas the other day. Thomas gave a tearful apology for having summoned the Capitol police to bust up a Democratic meeting. Asked for her reaction, Pelosi said, “I thought that Mr. Thomas’s emotional apology answered some of the questions that we had, but not all.” Note that “Mr. Thomas’s,” first of all — nice ‘n’ cold. But note, especially, that “emotional.” I believe that was Pelosi’s special dig at a famously tough and crusty male politician. Remember when Rep. Pat Schroeder cried when she announced that she wouldn’t run for president? I believe Pelosi was sort of saying, “Who’s cryin’ now, big boy?!”

Just an interpretation. Maybe I read the papers too imaginatively.

A dear friend of mine went to Czechoslovakia recently — I mean, the Czech Republic. I have the hardest time saying that. “Czechoslovakia” formed so early in my mouth, as is true of most of us, I know. Anyway, I’d asked her to bring me back some memorabilia from the old days. Among the items was a photo album commemorating Edvard Beneš, president of the country from 1935 to 1938, leader-in-exile during the war, and president again until the Communist coup in 1948. The album features pictures of Beneš with many world leaders, including Churchill and Stalin. And there is a fascinating photo of him meeting Franklin Roosevelt. This is the sort of picture we rarely see here in the United States, and, believe me, I — along with a lot of other students of 20th-century American history — have seen thousands of them. FDR is sitting down, greeting and shaking hands with Beneš, who has, by the look of it, just stridden up to him. Obviously, Roosevelt can’t rise — but the person in his position ought to have (in normal circumstances). He is not in his wheelchair — there is only one of those pictures, as far as anybody knows — and he does not have his braces. But it is a striking photo, for its unusualness, and the reminder of the physical challenge that FDR faced, along with the other ones.

NR’s Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky — speaking of beautiful and cool names — sometimes collects News of the Weird, and he has passed to me some choice items.

From an Associated Press article headed “Wiccan Sues for Prayer Inclusion,” there’s this outstanding quote, from the lead witch (or whatever): “We’re strong as a nation because of our diversity. There are pagans fighting for you at this moment in Iraq.”

No doubt, madam, no doubt!

And do you know that Germany has outlawed the killing of ants? Yes. If you’re found to have done so, you face hefty fines. No jailing, as far as I can tell. Look, I’m all for not killing ants — I think I once stepped on an anthill as a boy, and was wracked with guilt and remorse for days. But to trigger the power of the state?

Well, at least the Germans are scrupulously anti-killing these days. (Yeah, yeah: I know all about Nazi anti-vivisectionism and vegetarianism, so, please, spare me the mail. I’m just riffin’ here. Thanks!)

In recent weeks, I have written about Amiri Baraka, né LeRoi Jones, the talentless, Jew-hating, America-hating, people-hating “poet” who was poet laureate of the Great State of New Jersey, until they abolished the position, and who is now poet laureate — this is serious, now — of the Newark public-school system. (It was in the papers — you could look it up.)

You will be pleased to know that Baraka will be an honored guest at a pro-Castro rally to be held in New York on July 26. He will celebrate the glory of Fidel Castro at the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center, 310 W. 43rd St., starting at 6 p.m.

Isn’t it nice to know that horrors of a feather flock together?

Responding to the recent spate of stories about Cubans desperately trying to leave Castro’s domain, a reader wrote to Kathryn Lopez and me, “When is some reporter going to ask Castro’s American apologists why someone would drive a 1951 Chevy from Cuba to Florida if the island is such a paradise, what with Communist literacy and health care. [The man is referring to this amazing occurrence.] And when certain people ask, ‘Why do foreigners hate us so much?’ you should be allowed to ask, in return, ‘What place do you hate so much you’d try to drive a 52-year-old truck through the ocean to get there?’ God bless those poor people.”


You may wish to check out this report from CubaNet, to glimpse the magnificence of the Cuban social-welfare system:

The director of the office of Social Security in the province of Camagüey ruled that a 79-year-old woman is not entitled to assistance because she has two sons abroad who should send her money. The woman, Zoila Leyva, says she lost track of her sons years ago and now lives alone, nursing her diabetes and hypertension.

To survive, Leyva sells candy in Camagüey’s bus terminal, dodging inspectors who could fine her 1,500 pesos for not having a license. “Sometimes I think I’d be better off dead, although I’m not the only one,” said Leyva. “There are so many old people selling peanuts, newspapers, or whatever that it is depressing. I never thought my old age would be so tormented.”

Okay, I’ve got a lot more, but I’m tired and cranky, and you’ve got to get on with your weekend. A little mail, on recent subjects aired in this column?

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: You wrote about how the Left has always had trouble with [the late] Celia Cruz, because she was a black Cuban who hated Castro and everything he stood for.

“I was reminded of a conversation I had with a very liberal classmate about ten years ago — it has stuck with me for that long! At the time, Hootie and the Blowfish were quite popular. My liberal friend told me, ‘I should like them because their lead singer is black, but I just don’t like their music.’ This summarizes what I think of liberalism.”

Friends, you’re not going to believe this one. I mean, get a load of this:

“Dear Jay: I think you have it backwards on the ‘did well/did good’ phrase. The term was coined by people resentful of the Philadelphia Quaker elite, and the expression originally ran: ‘They came here to do good, but wound up doing well.’ Its close cousin runs: ‘On Sunday the Quakers pray for their neighbors’ souls; the other six days they prey on them.’ If the Quakers appropriated the former as a term of pride (perhaps reversing the order), more power to them, but I think accuracy requires a reconsideration of the terms as employed. Or is it that, as a Republican, you are antithetical to anything clever coming from those with the audacity to criticize the status quo?”

I’m afraid the letter-writer has caught me out. I was going to relate that expression the way he likes it, but I just can’t stand the idea of attributing anything clever to the enemies of the status quo, wanting everything to remain just as it is, forevermore! That’s like me, don’t you think, faithful readers?


“Dear Jay: “I am encouraged by Lance Armstrong’s performance today. If/when he visits the White House for his latest Tour de France win, Bush can say something like, ‘Lance, I think we have a lot in common. We both appreciate physical fitness, we’re both Texans, and if I keep working real hard, after five years maybe they will cheer for me in Paris too!”

“Jay, you talked about how people refer to distances. When I went to school in Auburn, Ala. (LA or Lower Alabama), a friend stopped to ask a local how far it was to a road off the main road on which he was driving. The older gentleman replied, ‘It’s about two looks down the road.’ My friend asked what that meant, of course, and the gentleman replied, ‘Look as far down the road as you can and drive to it. Then do it again. That would be two looks down the road.’”

“Jay, a friend of mine told me that, while in rural Virginia, he stopped to ask for directions. He was told to go about two ‘farsees’ up the road before taking a turn. Perplexed, he asked what a ‘farsee’ was. The reply: ‘Well, you go about as far as you can see, and then go as far as you can see again.’”

About mottos (I had picked on that proposed for the EU: “Unity in Diversity”): “Dear Mr. Nordlinger: The Vermont motto is ‘Freedom and Unity,’ or ‘FU’ for short!”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: My favorite meaningless slogan comes from the old Pat Paulsen campaign: ‘Solutions are not the answer.’”

“Dear Jay: A faculty colleague had two signs for his office door, which he put up only during Student Advisement Week: (1) ‘I can’t give you a brain, but I can give you a diploma.’ Wizard of Oz. (2) ‘”Concern for Students”: It’s not just a slogan — it’s our motto!’”

And how about replying to certain queries? Readers offered many delightfully crude answers to “How’s it hangin’?”

But I have some printable letters re “What do you say?”

“My standard reply is, ‘It’s a long story and you don’t want to hear it.’”

“I’d like to suggest an old Southern saying: ‘A sack of flour would make a big biscuit.’”

“I always reply with, ‘What do you want to hear?’”

“Dear Jay: On casual greetings and appropriate responses: When I mean it (and only rarely when I don’t), I say to people, “Good to see you,” when it’s been a while since our last encounter. One particular elderly friend of mine is in the habit of replying, ‘Good to be seen!’ The first time he said this, he noticed my puzzled look. He explained, ‘You know, it’s better to be seen than viewed!’”

Finally, I had a little item about how Gov. Gray Davis was reading Hillary Clinton’s memoirs for inspiration. A reader wrote, “I’m sure you’ll get a lot of mail on this one, Jay, but what immediately sprang to my mind was when W. C. Fields was asked why he was reading the Bible: ‘I’m looking for a loophole.’”

Weekend, y’all.


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