Politics & Policy

Cheech Without Chong. The Rush Bs. No One Likes a Preemptor. Etc.

About the Governator, I was going to say, “Only in America.” But then I remembered Ilona Staller.

Who’s she, you ask? Ah, you must not be an ’80s buff. She was the Hungarian-born blue-movie star who was elected to the Italian parliament. Nickname: Cicciolina. My friends and I referred to her as “Cheech.”

But enough reminiscing.

‐A couple of words about the late Bob Graham. No, he didn’t die, but he dropped out of the presidential race, which is a kind of death.

Rarely does a politician so besmirch himself as Graham did in his brief run. He had been a moderate, rather admirable Democratic pol from Florida, but, in order to capture his party’s national crown, he went kind of nuts: railing about how Bush had lied his way into war and, really, ought to be impeached.

In the days before he dropped out, Graham swore up and down that, although he might “re-think” or “re-strategize,” he would not drop out. And then he did. Of course, a politician pays no penalty for such prevarication. People expect it. But shouldn’t it raise at least one eyebrow when someone–even in politics–is so . . . er, inconsistent?

Last, Graham said, on leaving, “My dreams for the presidency are not attainable.” Goodness, that was revealing–no pretense that he thought he had something to offer the country; no pretense that his country, or even party, needed him; no pretense that he had anything important to contribute to our national life. Just “my dreams.”

We don’t expect our every modern pol to be George Washington: but still.

‐All right, let’s do a little Rush. In my opinion, this man is one of the great spirits in the country. Large-hearted. Smart. Merry. Useful.

He got in trouble with the racial police when he suggested that the media were extra rah-rah about a black quarterback on account of race. This was taken to be “racist”–which of course is nonsense. Too absurd for words. Rush may have been incorrect–which I doubt–but racist, no.

Do you remember when tennis champion Lleyton Hewitt, in the U.S. Open, accused a black official of biasing calls toward James Blake, Hewitt’s (black) opponent? Hewitt was pounced on as a racist. What he had done, of course, is level a (ridiculous) charge of racism against someone else. No matter.

All that mattered was that Hewitt had white skin, and something racial had occurred.

I’d like to repeat something I said on The Corner last week: Rush is used to speaking freely, to his radio audience (which must be dominated by conservatives), and in life generally. I, too, am used to speaking freely–mainly because I move about chiefly in conservative circles. But sometimes I leave these circles–leave Conservativeland–and go out in the broader world. And I continue to speak freely: and I sometimes get into trouble as a result. I’m reminded, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.”

People are sometimes startled to hear me give views that I think of as boringly commonplace. I had this experience in Europe this summer, lunching with an English opera director. I made some rather routine remarks about Iraq and the War on Terror at large, and she said, “I’ve never heard anyone express the views that you just have.” I said, “Well, you ought to get out more–broaden your horizons, add some diversity to your life.” Ha, ha, ha.

Another tale: At about the time the Supreme Court’s decision on Texas’s sodomy law came down, I was at a Manhattan dinner party, with all . . . non-conservatives, let’s say. They were talking about the ruling. Asked what I thought, I replied that I had sympathy with Thomas’s dissent. The justice had said that, no matter what we might think of the Texas law, nothing in the U.S. Constitution forbade the state from making it.

A sort of numbness settled over the room–nothing negative; just a kind of extreme surprise. It was as though the thought were brand-new. Why, Texas’s law was unjust–Neanderthal, homophobic, comical–and that was that: Any court, or any person, with a chance to overturn it, would.

One more tale? Okay. Last January–Impromptus-ites may remember this–I was in Davos, and was moderating a panel. I said toward the beginning, “Let’s have everyone say a few words about himself.” The first person to speak was a woman–an anthro professor–and she said, “To begin with, I am not a ‘himself,’ I am a person.” This made one other person in the room–another gal (!)–applaud loudly. And alone.

Seldom have I experienced something so awkward. But it served to remind me: You’re not in comfortable climes anymore, and you have to watch what you say–even when it comes to speaking standard English.

My point in recounting all this is that some statements that are completely unremarkable in conservative settings seem very remarkable indeed in more general settings. Could be something like this happened to Rush: that he said something perfectly normal–that people want black quarterbacks and coaches to succeed–and paid a penalty for it. His words must have hit some ears like stink-bombs hit noses. To me, it’s simply a given that people root for black persons to succeed, certainly in positions from which they have been excluded. You could say that it’s only decent that people engage in such rooting.

I was reminded of something from my distant past (bear with me). Must have been elementary school, something like that. A friend of mine and I were saying, “On game shows, don’t you root for the black contestants?” And the answer was, “Of course, always.”

I will give you a weird–very weird–sidenote: This friend grew up to be an NFL quarterback.

Anyway, someone said to me last week–a propos of Rush and this whole thing–”Why do you leap to Rush’s defense, when you’re always preaching against color-consciousness?” I am indeed always preaching against color-consciousness. But I’m not blind to this trait in others, nor to the fact that this country is immersed in it. Perhaps especially the media. Which is what Rush was talking about.

I will say again that Rush Limbaugh is one of the brightest spirits I know. If he is addicted to pills–I would wager he’ll overcome it. And I know that the grief he is getting over the ESPN thing is colossally unjust, even in the context of a society in which racial injustices–though not the kind Kweisi Mfume might think of–are plentiful.

What is the nature of this grief? Consider. The theme of Rush-as-Klansman is virtually a cliché now. In Newsweek–damned Newsweek–they reprinted a cartoon by one Peters from the Dayton Daily News. A man in full Klan regalia is seated at the ESPN desk. The anchor next to him is saying, “That was Rush Limbaugh with his color commentary.”

I’m not done: In Newsday, they had a cartoon by Walt Handelsman that depicted Rush putting on a (pointed) Klan hood and saying, “I was just trying to make a point.”

I’m still not done: Our old friend Don Wright of the Palm Beach Post had three fat people dressed up as cheerleaders and wearing those pointy Klan hoods, with a voice behind ESPN’s door saying, “Tell them Limbaugh doesn’t work here anymore!”

This is the same Don Wright who drew what I would call a truly racist cartoon of a Clarence Thomas puppet on the hand of Antonin Scalia–and Justice Thomas is talking jive (“Oh, yeah! Say what?”). (National Review reprinted this cartoon in a recent issue–for the purpose of decrying it, of course–and it was discussed on the Fox News Channel.)

It is too little to say that Rush is a better man than his enemies. These men–the cartoonists and their ilk–are not fit to kiss Rush’s (now-skinny) . . .

‐Speaking of accusations of racism: I have just finished one of the truest, most searing books you’ll ever read: No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom (that blessed duo). (I have reviewed this book for the forthcoming NR–get it early in digital edition, if you like!) One of the Thernstroms’ points is that efforts to achieve accountability–and therefore help young people, especially black and Hispanic ones–are habitually tarred as racist.

As I was reading their magnificent book, I noted in the newspapers that Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia was coming under fire–for linking HOPE scholarships to SAT scores. The governor, of course, was being smeared as a racist, by all the usual suspects.

The war on standardized testing has been amazingly nasty (which is in the nature of war, I should know). Want to hear what the incomparable Jonathan Kozol once wrote? He is quoted in No Excuses. Standardized testing, he said, brings to mind “another social order not so long ago that regimented all its children . . . to march with pedagogic uniformity, efficiency, and every competence one can conceive–except for independent will–right into Poland, Austria, and France, and World War II.”

I’ll simplify it for you: Testers are Nazis.

Verbal tests are constantly accused of racial bias, but how about math tests? The Thernstroms wonder how those can be biased.

Ah, but reason has little place in this realm. The president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics–no less–said–get this–”Traditional mathematics is the mathematics of exclusion.” There you have it.

I know a man–a math prof–who, years ago, spent a sabbatical in South Africa. Someone there told him, “We don’t believe the white man’s math.”

That doesn’t make a teacher’s job so easy.

‐May I say something about the hue and cry over Joseph Wilson’s wife, and her exposure as a CIA employee? That is regrettable, of course–if not outrageous and criminal. But I’m just sort of glad to see the Left now unhappy about the outing of CIA folk. In my day, back in Ann Arbor, Philip Agee was a big hero.

‐And I’d like to repeat a point from last week: Many people are saying that David Kay’s WMD report proves that Saddam did not pose an “imminent” threat. All right. But what did the president himself say? In his State of the Union address last January–a rather important speech–he argued, “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent.” But “since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions . . .? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations will come too late.”

If you’re interested in the president’s own words, try NR’s new compilation of Bush speeches and statements since 9/11: “We Will Prevail”: President George W. Bush on War, Terrorism, and Freedom.

One more point: No one likes the preemptor. That much is clear. Well, I like a preemptor–and probably you do too–but a great many people don’t, and the preemptor doesn’t get much credit.

An older friend said to me at lunch on Sunday, “Haven’t you heard all your life that we should have acted against Hitler? That we shouldn’t have let him get so strong? That we should have taken him on early?” But if Chamberlain et al. had gone to war against Hitler, would they not have been denounced as warmongers, as hotheaded leaders who took unnecessary risks? After all, had Herr Hitler–with that peculiar and rather popular program of national socialism–been that dangerous? Didn’t Germany have its own standards, and why should the values of England be imposed on them?

Menachem Begin is one man who took preemptive action: In 1981, he bombed that nuclear reactor in Iraq. (The reactor was in Osiraq, and it was French-supplied–leading the Israelis to nickname it “O-Chirac.”) The whole world condemned Begin. No one likes a preemptor. He didn’t wait for Saddam to get nuked up; he, in his situation–in Israel’s situation–couldn’t afford to. Begin was denounced at the U.N., including by the United States, led by our beloved Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.

But, of course, he was right–he did us all a great favor. How could the U.S. and its allies have gone to war in the Persian Gulf, exactly ten years later, against a nuke-ready Iraq? You might say–without stretching matters too much–that Menachem Begin saved the Kuwaiti people.

Let them chew over that in Kuwaiti homes!

No, no one likes a preemptor. I often quote George Shultz: “When there’s a rattlesnake in your backyard, you don’t wait until it has its jaws around your child. You kill it.” But still, there would be people saying, “The parent is a murderer, because the rattlesnake’s ill intent was not proven.”

George W. Bush did not wait until it was too late. He knew that would be irresponsible. He acted while he could. And for that, he deserves ringing thanks. Whether he will get them, fully, in his lifetime is an open question.

‐Okay, y’all, I’ve got gobs more to say, but I’ve gone on too long, and I’ll conclude with something . . . a little vulgar. Will you forgive me?

Reading Mark Falcoff’s new book on Cuba –Cuba: The Morning After (which I review in the current NR)–I chuckled, just slightly, at a sentence concerning politics on the island in the bad old days (that is, the days that preceded the horrific, unspeakable days of Castro’s totalitarian dictatorship): “Politics was seen as essentially the pursuit of booty . . .”

Just like Clinton!

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

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