Politics & Policy

Unchanging Principles, “Real People,” a Horrendous Museum Proposal, and More

I’d like to start by comparing George W. Bush to Jimmy Carter. Now, before you lose your lunch, hear me out. Besides, President Carter wasn’t all bad.

The other day, Bush said, “When you become the president”–he always says “the president,” instead of “president”–”you cannot predict all the challenges that will come. But you do know the principles that you bring to the office, and they should not change with time or with polls.”

Nicely said. And very reminiscent of something that Governor Carter said repeatedly in the ‘76 campaign: “We must adapt to changing times with unchanging principles.” I loved that then, and love it still–thinking it right on.

GWB and Jimmy C.–birds of a feather (sort of) (in this limited way) (send no mail, please).

‐May I tell you something I’ve always hated? I’ve begun with something I’ve always loved–so let me indulge in the dark side for a moment.

When I was growing up, I knew someone who always talked about “real people.” “Real people” meant: black people, brown people, poor people. But few others could be “real.” Anyone “of color” immediately qualified as “real”–even if he was a millionaire. If you were white and poor, you could be a “real person.” Even if you were not-poor and white, you could be a “real person,” provided you were kind of cool. If you were on the left, that got you in too, pretty much.

I developed a strong distaste for this business of “real people.” All people are real, and humanity reveals itself in a huge variety of human reality. David Rockefeller is just as “real” as the most colorful bum in the Bowery (not that there are many bums in the Bowery anymore, but that’s another story).

Anyway, I thought of all this when reading that Candidate John Edwards had said, “Not only will I run for the real America, I will run in the real America.”

It’s all real, baby. Deal with it.

‐I should stop dumping on the beloved Malaysian anti-Semite Mahathir–but why, really? I learned something interesting from a New York Sun editorial. It listed many past sins of Mahathir–and they were all interesting. But my ears especially pricked up at this: “In 1984, the New York Philharmonic canceled a visit to Malaysia rather than agree to the Malaysian government’s demand that it drop its plans to play Ernest Bloch’s ‘Hebrew Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra.’”

The more you hear about the beloved Mahathir–hero of Davos, among other bien pensant places–the more you’re inclined to say: Screw ‘im.

‐Turns out that Don Nickles (R., Okla.) is not running for reelection to the Senate. This is about as admirable as they get–senators. Nickles is about the best of them. In my sort of “exit interview” with Phil Gramm, he told me that, if he, as a citizen, could pick anyone to represent him in the Senate, it would be Nickles.

May such others spring up to replace him, and the few like him.

‐I wanted to be sure that you caught the recent words of Andrew Cuomo, the former (Clinton) HUD secretary and New York gubernatorial candidate. They come in an essay published in a new book for which he is called editor: Crossroads: The Future of American Politics. Referring to 9/11–and Democrats–Cuomo writes, “We fumbled the seminal moment of our lives.” While President Bush “exemplified leadership at a time when America was desperate for a leader,” the Democrats offered “chaos.” Cuomo: “We handled 9/11 like it was a debate over a highway bill instead of a matter of people’s lives. People wanted leadership and they didn’t get it from the Democrats.”

Andrew Cuomo “gets it.” (I strongly dislike that phrase, but it came naturally to me here, for some reason.) And I have a private theory–nothing but private, and amateur, and possibly cockamamie: that his recent marital trauma–his wife, Kerry Kennedy, had an affair with another man, and the couple is divorcing–clarified his mind and liberated his tongue. Of course, maybe his loss in New York Democratic politics did, too.

In any case, Andrew Cuomo has said something powerful, and true, and Americans should take note.

He certainly did rile Rep. Charlie Rangel, ol’ “Chollie,” the great lover and defender of Fidel Castro. Said Rangel, “[Andrew is] a very creative thinker, but I don’t really think the Democratic [presidential] candidates will be coming to him for guidance. Normally, when you want advice, you go to people who’ve been successful.” Uh-huh. “Andrew Cuomo has a vivid imagination and I assume he’s going into the writing business as a novelist.”

Uh-huh. Keep whistlin’ Dixie, “Chollie”–or whistling whatever Castro’s theme song is. Cuomo is right.

‐I’m sure that you know about Theodore Dalrymple, the brilliant doctor/writer who publishes in National Review, City Journal, The (London) Spectator, and other venues. He is the author of, among other books, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, a collection.

One of the problems that Dr. Dalrymple has had over the years is that people simply don’t believe him. (I mean, members of the elite class, in particular.) They are incredulous. They simply don’t believe that England’s social problems can be as bad as Dalrymple finds them. (He is a prison doctor, among other things.)

So I was especially interested to read Matthew Parris, a prominent British journalist, in The Times (of London). Unfortunately, I cannot find this column online to link to it. Titled “Dispatches from Prozac City,” it chronicles the author’s sojourn in Newcastle upon Tyne. Toward the end of his piece, he writes,

For some years now I have been reading the journalism of a prison doctor who writes in The Times and The Spectator under the name of Theodore Dalrymple. I have often wondered whether he was making any of it up. He paints a picture of individuals and communities reduced to a kind of vicious passivity, at the same time threatening and wheedling, helpless yet dangerous, and totally unviable without the welfare state.

At times he sounds like a grumpy old Tory; at others a note of compassion, horror and despair rings through the writing. [By the way, Dalrymple is always compassionate. That’s what motivates him to write as he does.] At times his observations pull in an almost Nietzschean direction, implying that the weak should be left to their fate and, perhaps, their children taken away. At others one finishes his columns itching to send in an army of Wesleys, Salvation Army captains, Boys’ Brigade recruiting sergeants and Elizabeth Frys.

I end a week in Scotswood [a neighborhood] equally torn. Dr Dalrymple is not making it up. The reality is if anything worse, for he writes about prisons. Scotswood is not a prison, except in people’s minds. It is a living community inhabited by free men and women, many of them kind and loving people, some of them anything but worthless, most of them locked into a corrosive hopelessness.

And so on.

‐Speaking of great men: Practically in Dr. Dalrymple’s league is David Gelernter, the Yale computer-science prof and all-purpose wiz (art critic, social analyst, etc.). I hope you read his op-ed piece on the Terri Schiavo case in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. (This is the recent pulling-the-plug case, in Florida.) It is one of the most bracing, clear-eyed, rousing, magnificent things I have read in the recent period–or ever. I feel sure that OpinionJournal.com will post it at some point. Watch for it. Clip it. Savor it. Thrill to it.

‐A reader alerts me to an item in–where else?–The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s headed “Can suicide bombings be defended?” It continues, “Recent controversial writings by the British philosopher Ted Honderich and a wave of suicide bombings, in the Middle East and elsewhere, prompt the question: Are such attacks morally defensible? What philosophical, legal, and political factors should be weighed in answering that question?”

But I cannot go on.

‐Those of us who admire Donald Rumsfeld can point to his handling of this week’s leaked-memo affair as a prime justification for our view. There was the memo itself; and then his response to its leak. (For a good précis of the subject, go here.) Maybe more of the secretary’s highly confidential memos should be leaked.

‐Who’s the most objectionable congressmen of all? I wouldn’t hazard a guess, but a promising candidate would be L.A. rep Xavier Becerra, for reasons I won’t go into here. Anyway, he has proposed a National Museum of the American Latino for the Mall and Smithsonian. Someone once said in a different context–I believe it was Clarence Pendleton about “comparable worth”–”This is the looniest idea since Looney Tunes.” But ours is a country, sadly, hospitable to loony ideas. And we are becoming ever more soaked in “identity politics.” We are barely allowed to be Americans; we have to be all Balkanized up. It’s amazing that the American social pot isn’t boiling more than it is. (When it comes to American pots, I prefer melting.)

The realization of Becerra’s museum would be a national tragedy. May I suggest that “we”–someone–start the campaign against it now?

‐One of the themes of this column has been: The former Soviet Union, and the former Soviet-bloc countries in general, have suffered because there has never been a proper accounting of Communism, as there was for Nazism (not that that accounting was proper enough). This is a theme I borrow from our David Pryce-Jones, who plays it knowledgeably and forcefully. Therefore, I was delighted with a story, a couple of years ago, about a Hungarian goon who finally received a reckoning for 1956. (The relevant Impromptus is here.)

And I am interested now in a story out of Prague, sent to me by a sharp reader: That story is here. A person has, at last, been convicted for crimes in 1968. It’s not much–not many people, and not many years in prison. But it is something, and it is important.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus re Rumsfeld, I mentioned the coalition of nations helping the United States, and the mockery of that coalition by many Democrats. This occasioned many responses, including from a reader who sent me a link saying, “Go to the 12th of the 12 pictures.” It is of a South Korean returning from six months’ duty in Iraq. Our reader said, “I didn’t even know those guys were over there.”

Yesterday’s column also mentioned Fiji–because Al Gore joked, running down President Bush’s global leadership, “Fiji sent one person.” (As far as I’m concerned, that one person should be Vijay Singh, the great golf champion–he is worth many, many battalions.)

A reader informs me, “Fiji has been our ally before. In the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942-43, the Royal Fiji Battalion was so effective that it received a unit citation from the Marine commander. Later it distinguished itself in Malaya and in peacekeeping duty in Lebanon. It is not true that these soldiers reverted to the cannibal customs of their recent forebears for the duration, but they did not discourage the rumor. Mr. Rumsfeld should ask for more of them.”

‐Last, we’ll do a little language. My final item yesterday mentioned West Virginia–or rather, a reader of mine had written that a West Virginia co-worker had said “physical” in place of “fiscal.” And then I signed off, “Bye, y’ounse.”

That sign-off elicited a crush of mail saying, “That word [y’ounse, or yunz, or yinz, meaning “you ones”] is not West Virginian! It’s Pittsburghese!” Ah, but hasty ones, remember that West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle is very close to Pittsburgh, and that some West Virginia towns are virtual Pittsburgh suburbs.

About physical/fiscal, one exceedingly well-informed reader sent the following: “I can say this as a West Virginian, and wouldn’t much care to hear it from anyone else, but physical instead of fiscal is a common mispronunciation in the southern part of the state (South of 60, as in U.S. 60, we say around here).

“I grew up in the state’s Northern Panhandle, and never heard such a thing. But when I came to [City X] as a young reporter I heard an elected official say that the county was ‘in good shape, physically speaking.’ I spent the next hour or so calling around and researching trying to figure out how one could come to such a conclusion about a place where so many of the residents were obviously, um . . . quite robust.

“I ended up calling the official at home, to ask him about his comments. He had a good laugh at my expense–he didn’t think he had been wrong, he just thought I was ignorant of good elocution.

“Since then I’ve heard it spoken that way almost universally and even read it a few times. I’ve realized that they aren’t really misspeaking, but rather believe that this is the word. Sort of a localized ‘irregardless.’ It always gives me a little laugh.”

Hey, what’s wrong with “irregardless”??? Perfectly natural in my home state of Michigan: a mellifluous combination of “irrespective” and “regardless.” It’s in the dictionary too, I’ll have you know.

And consider this: “Jay, I lived in West Virginia for twelve years. Even the very educated natives pronounce ‘fiscal’ as ‘physical.’ It seems to be a regional thing. It’s akin to my friends from Pennsylvania (one of whom holds a Ph.D. in chemistry) who pronounce ‘picture’ as ‘pitcher.’”

Yup, there’s that too–all part of that great, multifaceted language we may think of as American.

‐Hang on, just one more item, if I may, on another subject: “Jay, you were talking about Albania, and how much you admired the guts of that country. I went to a Randy Newman concert in Atlanta the other night. He said that he has always been fascinated by Albania, and that his song ‘Wedding in Cherokee County’ was really about Albania, not Alabama.”

Sweet Home Albania? See you later, dear hearts.

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

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