Politics & Policy

Fake Civil Rights, Quotable Quotes, Fun With Language, and More

An interesting story out of the New York Post yesterday, about how the Salvation Army may have to leave New York. Why? Because the city may force it to offer employee benefits to gay partners, and the Salvation Army is . . . well, a religious organization (and a traditionally religious one).

A lot of conservatives talk about the “extremism” of the gay-rights movement, and some people may wonder what we mean. This is what we mean.

The Salvation Army dedicates itself to good; in New York, it serves millions of needy people. But militants would rather see that scotched than see an Army standing on its principles.

The air space in American life seems to be tightening. Won’t our new diversity tolerate the Salvation Army? Is it, too, to be labeled a “hate” group?

‐I have said before in this column that the gay-marriage debate seems to be lost (i.e., that the anti side seems to have lost). For one thing, all the elites support gay marriage, no matter what the majority may think (and the majority is not aroused). Virtually every employee of the big media supports it; virtually every Hollywood actor; virtually every pop singer; virtually every professor–etc. And what the elites want, the elites usually get, in my observation. (They haven’t yet stopped the war, have they? But they may be getting close.)

For another thing, gay marriage has been successfully defined as a civil-rights issue–and once something becomes a matter of “civil rights,” how can it be denied? Why, if I wanted a million dollars and labeled it a civil right, you might just have to give it to me. (Pay up.)

An interesting exchange occurred in a recent issue of The New Republic. Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity (and NRO) wrote in to say that Republicans have, contrary to myth, been good on civil rights. (Think Reconstruction–and the Civil War!–to begin with.) As Clegg pointed out, Republicans were more robustly in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act than Democrats. Peter Beinart, editor of the magazine, wrote a tart response, saying that Clegg was talking about the old Republican party, before the Dixiecrats joined it.

In 1982, President Reagan reversed an IRS policy denying tax benefits to universities that discriminate based on race. In 1983, Republicans made up the vast majority of congressional opponents of a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. In 1986, Republicans made up the vast majority of congressional opponents of sanctions against South Africa. In 1990, congressional Republicans overwhelmingly opposed legislation allowing defendants to contest death sentences as racially biased. And, in 1997, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly against allowing the Census Bureau to use sampling, despite clear evidence that traditional methods undercount African Americans.

Whoa, Nellie: Those are civil-rights issues? The definition has become comically elastic; we have defined civil rights down–way down.

Conservatives could play this game too, you know: Democrats support legal abortion. Are they anti-civil rights? They won’t permit school choice. Are they anti-civil rights? I was told, just today, that the National Rifle Association is billing itself as “the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization.”

Smart, smart.

‐Real civil rights, not fake, Beinartian ones, are denied in China. Jian-li Yang, whom this column has been following, has been sentenced to five years in prison. (The website dedicated to his fate is here.) Will this be allowed to create a ripple in U.S.-Chinese relations?

Barney Frank (Jian-li’s congressman) said, “I don’t think they [China’s rulers] understand what harm they are doing to their desire to be accepted as a leading nation among other nations by this relentless and unjustified persecution of this brave and principled man.” I beg to differ: I figure that the Chinese figure they are doing no harm, and that they are right.

According to a news report, “Some 67 legislators sent a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao . . . warning that bilateral ties could suffer if Beijing did not release the 40-year-old Yang.”

Mark my words, dear ones: Bilateral ties will not suffer. They never do. The Chinese could roast Jian-li alive in the middle of Tiananmen Square, and the nightly news would still be showing pictures of hijinx in that Iraqi prison.

As the mayor of New York would probably say (it is his favorite phrase): Get real.

‐Check this out, from another news report: “Despite [Taiwanese President] Chen’s reassuring tone, China warned Taiwan in a commentary published Thursday in state-run media not to pursue independence, saying the island should not ‘gamble on the mainland’s tolerance.’”

Uh, I don’t know anyone who would gamble on the Chinese Communist party’s tolerance. That kinda, sorta goes without saying.

‐As long as I’m quoting, consider this, from the New York Times Book Review: “In Robert McNamara’s Defense Department, [Joe Califano] was part of the team that spent its time dreaming up ways to bring down Fidel Castro (a revealing chapter, which opens with Califano noting that he wasn’t exactly proud of this phase of his career) . . .”

Not proud? I don’t know what better he could have done in life. Anyone who knows anything about the life Cubans have had to endure since 1959 would agree. What exactly shames Califano about trying to bring down a dictator who has killed, tortured, exiled, immiserated, and generally persecuted for almost a half-century now?

It is hard, now and then, not to think the world–and in particular this country–perverse.

‐More quoting? The ever-reliable Yasser Arafat, to the Palestinian people: “Terrorize your enemy.” Like they need the encouragement?

‐More quoting? Dominique de Villepin, explaining the expulsion from France of a radical Islamic cleric: “The government cannot tolerate the public statement of views that are contrary to human rights, attack the dignity of women, and call for hate or violence.”

Not very First Amendmenty, but not bad, from Villepin!

‐Try this out, from the incomparable, singular, irreplaceable Barbara Amiel: “[The late Sheikh Ahmed] Yassin, bizarrely described by Westerners as the ’spiritual leader’ of Hamas, certainly embodied the spirit of Hamas: He called on all Muslims to kill Westerners ‘everywhere,’ declared that Israel would disappear by 2027, and forbade any peace initiative or dialogue with Israel. He was successful.”

Not everyone writes like that. In fact, almost no one writes like that.

Keep going, Barbara.

‐What has gotten into Bill Cosby? I don’t know, but I hope it stays there. You have probably heard his recent remarks by now, but savor them again.

At a celebration of the Brown decision, Cosby said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids–$500 sneakers; for what?–and won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’ . . . [The kids are] standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t?’ ‘Where you is?’ And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. . . . Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. . . . You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.”

But it gets better. About “the incarcerated,” Cosby said, “These are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola, people getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake, and then we run out and we are outraged: ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him!’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”

To be sure, the Cos could have phrased his arguments better, but still: Those vapors you feel are fresh air, from–for me–a very unexpected source.

‐You realize that the University of Iowa canceled its baseball game against Bradley University (Peoria, Ill.), don’t you? Because Bradley is called “the Braves,” and the Hawkeyes are all Injun-sensitive.

I’m sorry, folks, but Impromptus is not for the purpose of politeness: This is a stupid country.

‐I interrupt this column for a commercial announcement (not really, but I liked the sound of that): The New Criterion is staging an event at New York University (Lipton Hall of the Law School) from 6 to 8 this evening. The subject is its “Lengthened Shadows” series, about American institutions in the 21st century. Speakers are Hilton Kramer, Roger Kimball, Judge Bork, Mark Steyn, and your columnist. Those in New York may wish to drop by, if only to become acquainted with a sublime journal.

‐A little language? I found this somewhere in the press (I can’t remember exactly where at this point; I have in my possession only a sentence or two): “Next week it will be announced, I am told, that Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond will perform a one off-concert for John Kerry. The pair, who had a huge hit many years ago . . .” What was meant, there, is “one-off concert”–a concert that is a unique, not-to-be-repeated event. But I like the idea of this event as an off-concert!

‐And get this, from a column by our own, immortal William Rusher: “In World War I, the socialist leader Eugene vs. Debs . . .” Obviously, Bill had written “Eugene V. Debs”–and some editor somewhere rendered that “Eugene vs. Debs,” as his stylebook probably dictated “vs.” instead of “v.” for court cases!

Do you think?

In another column–about the rise of conservative think tanks, thanks to the ideological exclusivity of universities–Bill had a wonderful phrase: “intellectually arthritic universities.” I can’t think of a better (brief) way to describe them.

‐I will leave you with a little vignette from NR’s recent cruise (to Bermuda–and back, of course). Actually, it’s not so much a vignette as a neat fact, or discovery. I was in the aviary of the Botanical Gardens–why would Bermuda need botanical gardens, when the whole place is botanical gardens?–and happened on a species I hadn’t heard of: the barbary dove. I got a little dizzy–it was whiplash. Barbary dove. What a glorious juxtaposition (if that’s the word–which it isn’t, quite)!

I thought of something Jack Kemp used to say (don’t you think of Jack Kemp while visiting Bermuda’s Botanical Gardens?): He was not a hawk, but a dove–a heavily armed dove.

From now on, I just may think of myself as a barbary dove. I invite you to, too!


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