Politics & Policy

A “Caucasian Club”–Ugh. The Paranoid Style (Cont.). a New Symphony–and More

We’ve always said that one problem with “identity” politics is, Where will it end? If we have black student lounges on campus, how many other racially segregated lounges will we have to bear?

These questions are more than theoretical, as proven by a story out of California. In Oakley (not Oakland), “Lisa McClelland says she isn’t a racist,” according to a news report. “She says her campaign for a Caucasian Club at her high school is a move toward diversity, not bigotry. She says everyone is invited–and nobody will be excluded.”

For those who care–and, boy, do people care–Lisa’s “ethnic background includes American Indian, Hispanic, Dutch, German, Italian, and Irish. She says she and her friends feel slighted by other clubs at Freedom High School in Oakley, such as the Black Student Union and the Asian Club.”

Lisa has “collected 245 signatures of support from students, adults, and others since announcing her plans three weeks ago.”

Ugh–enough of the Balkanizing of America. The sad truth is, Lisa McClelland is not as crazy as the society into which she was born: It is America that is crazy. And, if I may call a spade a spade, it is the Left’s fault. It is the fault of all of those who have insisted on the prominence–virtually the primacy–of race rather than its evanescence as a profound factor in our national life.

‐I always feel compelled to defend Dan Quayle. He made a few verbal gaffes, and he was pounced on as a special dunce. Actually, he’s a bright, principled, exceptionally decent man who was treated repugnantly by our elite culture.

A lot of us pointed out that if Vice President Quayle had made some of the same mistakes that Vice President Gore did–e.g., “A leopard can’t change its stripes”–the media would have seized on them as proof of mental unfitness. But . . .

I thought of all this the other day when reading that Governor Davis, in California, had said, “We have the sons and daughters of people from every planet, of every country on earth.” People from every planet. We realize that California is pronouncedly New Age–not to say extraterrestrial–but even so . . .

Look, this was a normal mistake (like the Gore leopard/zebra one). People in the public eye, who have to talk more or less every second, are bound to make many such mistakes. But Quayle, the conservative, wasn’t allowed to make them. This still grates.

‐Said the AP in a lead, “The economy is improving for the super rich.” Way to go, AP! You too can work for a Democratic presidential candidate!

‐Wesley Clark, launching his run for president, said that Americans were afraid to speak out in this time of Ashcroftian terror–were afraid to criticize the administration. This, of course, is a fantasy peddled by the Left. It is possible they wish it were true. It is further possible that they have convinced themselves it’s true.

Clark also said, “We are going to ask, ‘Why are we engaged in Iraq, Mr. President–tell the truth! Why, Mr. President? Was it because Saddam Hussein was assisting the hijackers? Was it because Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon that might bring a nuclear cloud?’”

Of course, Bush has outlined many, many times why we went into Iraq. He has done so clearly and unmistakably, no matter what you think of the decision.

And as Clark was asking, dishonestly, why we had entered Iraq, his crowd shouted out, “Oil!” Then “Halliburton!”

This, of course, is the modern Democratic party–Howard Dean’s party, now Wesley Clark’s party. Used to be, you’d hear this kind of talk on the fringes of a fringy campus. Now it is utterly mainstream Democratic politics. College kookery has become the dominant temper in that party. When Richard Hofstadter wrote The Paranoid Style in American Politics, he was referring to the Right. But I’m afraid the Left has owned that style for many, many years now. Yesterday’s Dow Chemical (Vietnam) is today’s Halliburton (War on Terror).

‐The composer Stephen Hartke was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write a piece reflecting on September 11. He responded with his Symphony No. 3, which was premiered at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday night. The performance was timed to coincide, roughly, with the second anniversary of 9/11.

The symphony uses a vocal quartet, and also a famous poem: “The Ruin,” by an unknown medieval Anglo-Saxon poet. Recall what the poem says:

“The work of giants crumbles.” “Roofs are ruined, towers toppled.” “The wide walls fell, days of pestilence came. Death swept away all the bravery of men. Their temples became waste places. The city fell to ruin. The multitudes who might have built it anew lay dead on the earth.”

And then there is this: “Here in times past, many a man, light of heart, gleaming with gold, adorned with splendors, proud and flushed with wine, shone in war trappings, gazed on treasure . . .”

But, enough. It says a lot that Stephen Hartke chose a theme of lost glory, desolation, and decline. Indeed, his is a symphony that Paul Kennedy–the Yale historian who led the “declinist” school in the 1980s–could love. And, of course, Hartke is merely reflecting the psychology of the elite class. If the New York Philharmonic’s commissioned composer had responded with a work emphasizing resistance to evil, and courage, and determination, and rebuilding, and a refusal to be ruined–why, we all would have fainted dead away! The composer would have been condemned as a jingoist!

And did you catch that line, “Death swept away all the bravery of men”? Nothing–nothing–could be less true of the Americans of September 11.

Finally, please note that Hartke has described his symphony as “something of a sacred work, though from a humanist point of view.” I can’t think of a more perfect statement for the present age. What could be sacred, if not humanist?

‐Attorney General Ashcroft decries hysteria about the Patriot Act as hysterical, and the American Library Association responds that his remarks are sexist–because most of the ALA’s members are women. (Ashcroft had placed special weight on hysteria about peeking into library borrowings.)

Friends, I will say again: You cannot satirize modern America. Swift and the other boys would just throw up their hands.

‐I wish to hail David Horowitz’s latest project, his “Academic Bill of Rights,” a proposal from Students for Academic Freedom. The idea is to promote genuine diversity–diversity of thought–on campus. And to protect students and faculty from ideological bullying (of which I, like many others, got huge doses while in college–you may wish to see a 2002 speech called “A Conservative on Campus“).

This is a hugely important effort, and while I am sending you to websites, I should specify www.StudentsforAcademicFreedom.org. In the past, I have called David Horowitz an MVP of American conservatism. I have said the same of Linda Chavez and Abigail Thernstrom. Why should this be? Because these people have come from the Left, are exceptionally tough, and cannot be intimidated by their erstwhile brothers-in-arms–particularly on race (about which most intimidation is done). They are battle-hardened, they know the relevant language, and they are not afraid.

Hence they are MVPs.

Speaking of MVPs: Daniel Pipes had a typical column on the anniversary of his own group, Campus Watch–dedicated to monitoring Middle Eastern Studies, a field that is (needless to say) more important than ever. I say “typical” because the column is brave, depressing, and true. You may find that column here.

‐After 9/11, liberals thought it cool to say, “Now we can talk about something real–unlike Monica Lewinsky and Gary Condit.” I responded, “A presidential affair with an intern–and all the subsequent perjury, etc.–and a congressman under suspicion of murder are rather important. If we can move on from frivolous things, why not from whether Sen. James Jeffords was invited to the White House’s Teacher of the Year ceremony, or the charge that Republicans were bent on ‘putting arsenic back in the water’?”

Ah, and now comes Bill Clinton, telling political audiences that Bush “tried to put arsenic back in the water.” Just when you’ve forgotten a little about the colossal schmuckiness of the 42nd President of the United States . . .

‐A couple of weeks ago, I wrote something about l’affaire Bird in Indianapolis, in which Larry Bird, the general manager, fired Isiah Thomas as head coach. It got racial because . . . well, as noted in the first item above, this is America (sadly).

A reader writes to say, “In case you missed this, it appears that Larry Bird is paying homage to Jesse Jackson to make amends for firing Isiah Thomas. Speaking about the death of Indiana’s governor, Bird said, ‘He [the late Frank O’Bannon] is one of my heroes. I have three outside of sports: JFK, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Frank O’Bannon.’”

Good boy, Larry. Good boy.

‐Descending to the really silly, I just want to report the lyric I heard on the Muzak in a store (and perhaps I’m the last to know it, so I apologize in advance): “Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid.”

Boy, what a beautiful, treasurable rhyme. Of course, there is no “Pagliacci”–that is the name of the (Leoncavallo) opera whose protagonist (the pagliaccio) is Canio. But still . . .

‐Last week on this site, we published a version of the introduction I did to NR’s new book, “We Will Prevail”: President George W. Bush on War, Terrorism, and Freedom. The book itself–a collection of Bush speeches and statements since 9/11–may be ordered here.

I’d like to publish a little mail:

“Hello, Jay: Just finished your piece ‘A Voice for Our Time.’ I’m not one to buy stuff off the Net, but after reading this as I sit surrounded by liberals who scoff at the very idea of Bush, I have only one thing to say: sold.”

What a gratifying letter!

And “Dear Jay: I just read your intro to the Bush oratory book. What an important and timely project. I ordered four copies. Since most of my family are lefties, they’ll be offended if I present it as a gift. But I’ll lend copies to others–fence-sitters–who I know will find it compelling.”

Very nice. And, “Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I am an ex-life-long Democrat [what a wonderful phrase]. My conversion came after listening to President Bush’s speeches immediately following 9/11. His worldview and his determination, expressed through his oratory, spoke to me in a way that no other president ever had.

“Now when people refer to his malapropisms, I just laugh. Misunderestimated again!”

Bingo.

One more?

“Jay, the most interesting contrast between this president and the last one (well, ONE of the most) is that Clinton said beautiful things that were often largely devoid of meaning, or capable of meaning whatever you wanted to hear, whereas when Bush speaks, it may not be pretty, but there is no doubt where he stands. Which, therefore, is the better speaker?”

Hear, hear. And thank you, and good day. (Yes, I realize I’m not Paul Harvey.)

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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