Politics & Policy

Beware American! Beware a Too-Early Withdrawal! Don’t Beware Gephardt (Necessarily)! Etc.

May I start with a little anti-union rant? I didn’t think you’d mind, you NRO wingnuts, you. It is also an anti-airline rant–and you may not mind that, either.

I’m writing you on the high seas, in the course of a National Review cruise (and you should really come on one). But I don’t have my baggage, and never have, since I boarded last Saturday.

Here was the deal: On that day, Saturday, I took an American Airlines flight to Ft. Lauderdale, to meet NR’s ship. The plane landed, on time, at 2:15. But the ground crew would not unload the luggage, as the union has a rule that–as I understood it–forbids the unloading of luggage when lightning has been spotted within five miles of the airport. I waited from 2:15 to 5:30, when I absolutely had to leave, as the ship was departing.

Now, right here, let me say a couple of things: I worked at golf courses for several years, and am a great respecter of lightning. Am a great respecter of caution about lightning. I would never do anything, or urge anything, that would put anyone at risk.

But this was a little bizarre. The notion that it was dangerous to unload luggage during those three hours is implausible. The other airlines–airlines other than American–unloaded their luggage, as–again, as I understood it–their unions do not have that rule. This seemed to be sheer rigidity on the part of the one union, with common sense, and concern for customers, having no place. It was almost as though the union was sticking its tongue out at us, saying, “Nyaah, nyaah, we could unload the luggage, but we don’t have to, so nuts to you.”

Now, I know that this will be difficult for some of you to believe, but I try not to be anti-union. I really do. I was raised in southeastern Michigan, and heard about Walter Reuther and the Battle of the Overpass, blah, blah, blah. I was duly taught to hate the companies’ “goons.” I looked at photos of the Harlan County miners, and felt sharp pangs–all of that. But we are a far cry from Harlan County days, aren’t we? Every time a teachers’ union fights to beat the students out the door at 1:30 in the afternoon; every time a public-employees’ union fights against the public good; and every time an airline refuses to unload my luggage, for what seems like no good reason–I lose the battle to keep an anti-union current out of my brain.

But let me talk about the airline. It is now Thursday, and I don’t yet have my bag. I should have had it on Tuesday (forgetting that I should have had it to begin with), at one stop. I should have had it on Wednesday, at another. Now the promise, or hope, is Friday. None of us on that American Airlines flight could file a “lost luggage claim” in Ft. Lauderdale, because, you see, as they explained to us–the luggage wasn’t lost; it was sitting nice as could be out on the tarmac; we just couldn’t have it. I have since been told that my luggage is in no hurry to get to me because it is “low priority.” That’s right, because the bag is “unaccompanied,” it is low priority, never mind that it is rather high priority to me.

And, in an instance of caprice, some fellow cruisers of mine–from that same flight to Ft. Lauderdale–received their luggage at the Tuesday stop. No explanation as to why: as to why they got theirs, and I didn’t get mine. It’s just so, and the passenger evidently has no say and no recourse.

I tend to like corporations, and find myself defending them, frequently. I figure they’re full of hard-working and bright and conscientious individuals, making the economy grow, serving the public, and not deserving anything like what the Left gives them, in movies, etc. Furthermore, I tend not to like the use of a public platform (like this little column) to berate a corporation, particularly on the basis of one episode. I am not a Naderite, and neither do I like to think of myself as a whiner, or a bully. After all, some things–perhaps even most things, I don’t know–are no one’s fault.

But this is wrong: Unless I’m blind to something, this is a case of corporate callousness and disregard, of an airline’s saying to a customer, “Get bent.” (Never mind the union’s role in the matter.) Bags like those aboard the Ft. Lauderdale flight should have the highest priority, I would think, not the lowest.

Bill Buckley has written for decades about the airlines and their deeds/misdeeds, and he once published a column titled “Beware Varig” (referring to the Brazilian airline). In the same spirit, I might say, to all of you, beware American.

‐A word about Iraq, and the administration’s apparent decision to hand over control to Iraqis sooner rather than later. Fine: but let’s hope we don’t do it too soon–that is, too hastily, jeopardizing the good that has already been done, at great cost. This is a long, hard, and necessary project, and we should not quail in the face of Democratic attacks or the alleged short attention span of the American people. We paid a price in liberating that country, and we must not subvert that action by withdrawing too early–before the liberation can stick.

I think of Vietnam: We Americans withdrew, and left the South in the hands of the government–which would have been fine, had the Democrats in Congress been willing to back that government. But they cut South Vietnam off. Gerald Ford became the first president in history to travel to the Hill to testify before a congressional committee. He did so to plead with the Democrats not to abandon the government that some 52,000 Americans had just finished dying to uphold. But no: when the Democrats refused to fund it, the government collapsed, and the people of South Vietnam had to endure a Communist “peace,” with all its attendant horrors.

If Democrats gain control of either the White House or Congress next year, will they support Iraq–Free Iraq, and the aspirations of the millions who live there? Will they honor the liberation that the United States effected? If you listen to the Democratic candidates on the stump, and many of that party in Congress, you know that these aren’t idle questions.

The George W. Bush administration has been staunch in resisting unwholesome pressures. I suppose one should trust it not to leave Iraq to the mercy of the Saddamites. But one is–I am–a little uneasy.

‐It seems that Dick Gephardt is the flavor of the month. It’s almost as though “the liberal media”–is that too boobish for you?–have decided that Howard Dean can’t win, and that they have to turn to this old Democratic congressman for a chance against GWB. Well, as a Republican, I’m not sure I’d rather run against Dean than Gephardt. It seems to me that Dean is much more talented and clever than the Missourian.

One thing’s sure: Gephardt is not immune to the extremism, rhetorical and otherwise, that has taken hold in the Democratic party. The other day, he said, “Everything we care about is vanishing before our eyes.” Oh, like what? High taxes? Nonchalance about Islamist terrorists, and their state supporters, all seeking to destroy us? What?

‐I quote to you from a New York Times obituary. This is so classic. A judge has died, at 83. The opening line is, “Hugh H. Bownes, a former federal appeals court judge whose rulings in defense of civil liberties often put him at odds with conservative New Englanders . . .”

Because, as you know, we conservatives can’t stand civil liberties!

‐Finally, I want to quote to you something from the New York Times that moved me greatly–or rather, something that the Times itself quoted. It ran an article on Toshikazu Kase, a 100-year-old veteran of the imperial Japanese government. He would write in his memoirs about the surrender to MacArthur on the deck of the Missouri, “Here is the victor announcing the verdict to the prostrate enemy. He can impose a humiliating penalty if he so desires. And yet he pleads for freedom, tolerance, and justice. For me, who expected the worst humiliation, this was a complete surprise. I was thrilled beyond words, spellbound, thunderstruck.”

Ladies and gentlemen, might not many Arabs–expecting the worst from the victorious Americans, about whom they have been lied to from the crib–feel just this way, in this age?

See you soon.

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

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