Politics & Policy

John-‘N’-Al, a Dubious Book, a Fit Awardee, and More

Teresa Heinz Kerry, that fount of quotation, has declared that her husband would make “the best nursery-school teacher in the world.”

Great! That settles it: No need for him to be president.

‐On a more serious note, you may have noticed that Senator Kerry is stumping with Al Sharpton. Yes, Sharpton is at his side, and he will continue to be: As Kerry said, the reverend is “going to campaign with me from now until Election Day.” Thus is the mainstreaming of Sharpton complete. (How many times have I said that? For how many years?) No penalty attaches to linking arms with Sharpton. Tawana Brawley, Steven Pagones, Freddy’s Fashion Mart, all the race-baiting, all the poison–all forgotten, or at least unmentioned in the press (which is the same thing). I think this is a great shame–and it says something sinister about America, that such a figure could become such a leader: and thought an asset by a major-party presidential nominee.

I have written about Sharpton, and the new–or now, not-so-new–acceptance of him ad nauseam. (See, for example, this piece from 2000.) I suppose I should give up–and yet, one continues to whimper.

‐Speaking of continuing to whimper: I will do my thing about Bill Clinton.

A couple of words about his book, if you can stand it. First, I don’t know whether it’s worth reading, because how can you trust it? As Bob Kerrey once remarked, the former president is “an unusually good liar.” I believe he finds it natural–and necessary and desirable–to lie. “All politicians are like that,” some people say. I beg to differ. I think Clinton is a special case.

Second, he was very lucky that he got to write his book after 9/11. That way, he could portray himself as a great fighter against terrorism, and a great fighter against al Qaeda in particular. He could spin his presidency in light of the cataclysm after he left office.

Third, it is now universally believed that Susan McDougal suffered in jail because she refused to bend to the prosecutors’ demand that she testify against the Clintons. This is false–she refused to testify at all, for, against, whatever. But the belief in the McDougal myth is as unbudgeable as that in the Ashcroft-and-the-breast myth. Nothing will ever shake it. Till the end of time, they will believe–they will say–that Ashcroft ordered that statue’s breast covered. Till the end of time, they will believe–they will say–that Susan McDougal languished in jail because she refused to lie about the Clintons, as unscrupulous prosecutors wanted.

The former president has recently reinforced that myth–which is one more mark against him.

Fourth, Clinton said that, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, we conservatives were without an enemy: and replaced the Communists with him. In this, he seems to be endorsing the view that we opposed the Soviets because we “needed an enemy”–they always said that about us, the Left did. Does Clinton not think that the Soviets were a real enemy? Does he believe we merely used them to meet a psychological need of our own?

Fifth . . . well, you can talk about Bill Clinton forever. I’ll stop now.

‐No, just one more point–though it’s mainly about Reagan. Clinton has written in his memoirs–I saw a news report–that George W. Bush was inattentive in the meeting they had before Bush was sworn in. This echoes exactly what Jimmy Carter said about Ronald Reagan–that he was inattentive in their pre-inaugural meeting.

This charge–made in Carter’s memoirs–triggered one of my favorite Reagan ripostes of all time: “What was I supposed to do, jump up and down and beat my breast?”

‐On the campaign trail recently, Kerry said to a new high-school graduate who lacked health insurance, “So you’re living with the Bush plan, which is, ‘Pray you don’t get sick.’” Good one, right? I’m not one to disparage rough-and-tumble campaigning.

All I’m sayin’ is, if Bush campaigned that way, there’d be many, many stories in the mainstream press about how mean-spirited and unfair he is.

Which, by the way, why doesn’t he?

‐I can’t figure out what this means, but perhaps my readers are smarter than I. (I know they are, because I read their mail–some of it. Wish I could read all of it!) A Kerry spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, said, “Whether it’s exploiting the separation of church and state or breaking the rules of procedures in Congress, there’s no line the Bush-Cheney campaign won’t cross.”

Instead of “exploit” the separation of church and state, did she mean “violate” it? And, if so, how have Bush and Cheney done that?

But to ask such questions is to be silly.

‐To read Frank Rich’s columns is to be silly too, but I looked at one two days ago. He was kvetching about the Reagan memorial week, and wrote, “You knew things had gotten out of hand when . . . C-Span broadcast uninterrupted late-night video of Americans trooping past Reagan’s coffin in the Capitol’s rotunda. (Though those mourners were often touted as representative of the entire nation, you could nod off counting the white visitors before a black person appeared.)”

Ah, yes, the old racial counting. We had that all through the Reagan presidency, and have had it all of my life, really. It’s so sad, the race-on-the-brain disease. A member of my family would go through store catalogues sent to him, looking for black people among the models. If he did not find enough of them, he’d angrily send the catalogue back to the company. I knew another man who, at concerts, would count the number of blacks and women in the orchestra. That was his entertainment–and it meant a lot to him socially and psychically, too. To hell with the music! (Hey, he could write for the New York Times!)

When Clinton was threatened with impeachment–a threat that eventually went through–many, many liberal commentators wrote that the impeachment would be illegitimate in part because blacks did not want him impeached. And I have written countless times that nothing is more important to Clinton than blacks’ support of him: because it validates and justifies his existence. I may be a lying, philandering creep, but, by golly, blacks love me!

What a fine day it’ll be when Americans can be Americans–or just people–instead of races. That is a day, however, that I won’t live to see.

Even if I beat Methuselah’s record.

‐Oh, hang on, I wanted to say one more thing about Frank Rich: He wrote, “To conservatives, anyone who opted for even modest restraint in Reagan coverage . . . was guilty of insufficient sentimentality; anyone who criticized the man was a traitor. ‘Thoughtless, mean, hateful’ were just some of the epithets heaped by Fox’s Sean Hannity on a rare Reagan dissenter who showed his face on TV, the political cartoonist Ted Rall.”

Ladies and gentlemen, shortly after Reagan died, Rall said, “I’m sure he’s turning crispy brown right about now.”

“A Reagan dissenter.” A Reagan dissenter.

Remember that one.

‐Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom have been announced, and among them is Norman Podhoretz, the longtime editor of Commentary. I have written many times of Podhoretz’s influence on me–which was well-nigh decisive (though he is not to blame for my errors). (I sound like someone writing the acknowledgements section of a book.)

One thing about Podhoretz is that, though he’s a pivotal political figure, he was supposed to be a literary critic–and he is a literary critic. He is also a great one. But his times would not leave him alone. During the Cold War–and during the New Left, and during the Vietnam War, and during Reagan–you simply had to take a stand. Many of them, actually. And Podhoretz did. He wrote searchingly and logically and eloquently about everything, and he affected a great many people.

I first saw his name in Richard Nixon’s Vietnam book–it was a reference, in a footnote, I believe, to Podhoretz’s own Vietnam book (Why We Were in Vietnam). I then learned of this magazine called Commentary, which I devoured–and drew inspiration from, and learned from.

David Pryce-Jones has said that he emerged from Eton and Oxford not quite right, politically and philosophically–and “Commentary was my university.” That is, Commentary was his true, corrective university. I can say much the same thing.

It was critically important to me that Podhoretz and his crew had come from the Left. They could not be accused of all the things the Right was accused of (usually unfairly). They often portrayed themselves as genuine liberals–believing in equality of opportunity, for example–who had been betrayed by the Left (even as the Left had betrayed the country).

Anyway, I could go on, but I just wanted to celebrate President Bush’s selection of Norman Podhoretz for this honor. (Another Great Influence, Bill Buckley, accepted the medal from the first President Bush.) No one is better on the commies, on our social problems, on the Middle East, etc.–but Podhoretz is awesome on Shakespeare, Byron, and company as well!

P.S. All of Norman Podhoretz’s books are worth reading, needless to say, but if I had to recommend one–one to really make your heart sing (you don’t mind the split infinitive, do you, Norman?)–I might name the little memoir called My Love Affair with America.

‐Friends, I have much more, and I intend–pretty soon–to publish more Reagan-related letters, but I’d better scoot, and I leave you with a few letters related to recent columns, but not to RR.

First, I cited the old feminist slogan “A fetus in a woman’s womb has no more standing than a hamburger in her stomach”–and Dave Skorka writes, “That slogan would not be usable today. As we all know, thanks to the fine folks at PETA, ‘meat is murder,’ whereas, of course, abortion is not. Interesting to note how, on our side, the positions are reversed.”

‐And another: “Jay, your bit about the substitution of the word ‘holiday’ for any religious term, lest those of a different faith take offense, reminded me of a supermarket ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that ran a few weeks before Easter. It promised savings for customers who ordered their ‘holiday hams’ early. The ad did not say what holiday those ham-eaters might be celebrating–but can we assume it wasn’t Passover?”

‐Last, “How about reminding people that ‘Holiday’ must be Jesus Christ’s middle name?”

Later, y’all.

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