Guys, I want to talk for a minute about America. Yes, this great big lug of a country of ours. In an Impromptus last week, I said, a couple of times, that this is a stupid country–a perverse country, even. I got lots of letters saying, “Jay, how could you? Why, if the Left talked that way about our country . . .”
There are a great many people who think that everything they like about America is the real America, and everything they dislike a false America. That which is “conservative” about this country is authentic; that which is other than conservative is alien.
We should not be so pat. We should not read those elements of American life we find distasteful out of American life altogether. Political correctness? Speech codes and all the rest? All very American. The other day, I noted that the University of Iowa refused to play Bradley University in baseball, because Bradley’s nickname is the Braves. That is very American–very American now. And, yes, we are a stupid country, in many respects.
I know people–my conservative brethren–who think that Harvard and the New York Times–hell, Bennington and the New York Times!–are alien institutions. They are not. They’re as American as apple pie, no matter what you think of them.
A memory: In September 2000, George W. Bush went on Regis and Oprah, and he shot up about ten points in the polls. (I’m sure I’m exaggerating a bit.) A prominent conservative editor remarked to me, “What a stupid country”–and I knew what he meant. What an unserious country, politically.
I believe I’m as patriotic as anyone alive, but I’m not sentimental about my countrymen. Pro-lifers are always complaining about a regime of abortion-on-demand for 30 years. Who, pray tell, has tolerated such a regime? Zulus? So too, I think of something I learned from Ramesh Ponnuru: If people really wanted schools to be better, they would be.
And if they really disapproved of segregated proms–one for blacks, one for whites, one for Hispanics–we wouldn’t have them.
I’m always reminding conservatives that the American people elected Bill Clinton twice–not once, but twice. I am certain they would have elected him a third time, had the Constitution allowed. Certain. Remember that they gave his vice president, Al Gore–infinitely less likable–more votes! They howled–howled–for that boy, Elián, to be returned to Cuba, where parents, as we know (or should know), have no rights whatsoever, the kids belonging to the state.
I sometimes wonder: Why doesn’t the Left do more flag-waving? They’ve done so well here! So, they don’t have the presidency, for now. They’ve got the schools, the universities, the news media, the movies–don’t be so greedy!
Look, this is a very long discussion, and I’ll engage in more of it. So, please: Don’t get your panties in a twist (just yet)!
‐While I’m raving, a bit. Lately, I’ve played a little game: In about eight restaurants in L.A. and New York, I’ve asked, “Do you have any diet pop [or soda, for all you non-Midwesterners] other than Coke?” And the answer is invariably, “No, we have only Diet Coke.”
I find this more than slightly annoying. This is a vast country, a continental nation, flanked by two mighty oceans, with 300 million people in between. It’s an inventive, innovative, imaginative country. (Shall I think of more “i” words?) We should have a thousand kinds of diet pop, and we have a lot of them–but, in restaurants, it’s only Coke. Not even Pepsi (to say nothing of more exotic brands)!
It would be nice to know what’s going on. Could be there’s not a demand for diet pop other than Coke. But it could be that people who aren’t crazy about Diet Coke meekly accept it, simply because they want a diet pop with dinner. How might one know for sure? Only a naïf thinks the market drives everything; the sad truth is, sometimes the market is chosen for us.
This brings me to a debate about Hollywood. Come again? Some people maintain that the profit motive is foremost, and that what will keep Hollywood from being totally left-wing is the need to make money. I have my doubts. I’m not sure that ideology isn’t an important factor in what comes out of that industry.
One reads that conservative TV shows and movies, when they are made, do quite well. But there are very few of them. And, in the case of The Hanoi Hilton, a spiking took place. So why don’t we complain? Why don’t we stamp our feet and demand more entertainment that reflects what might be called Reaganite values (or at least non-Left ones)?
I believe that people want to watch a movie–and when they line up at the multiplex, they choose one. I think they’re like me with my Diet Coke (I’m not especially a Diet Coke fan, but, if there’s no other diet pop, I’ll take it): They may not want a movie soaked in sensuality and idiocy, but they do want to see a movie, and, you know . . . any port in a storm. They didn’t choose the ten movies to choose from; those movies form the menu they are handed.
Anyway, these are just musings, which is, in part, what this breezy lil’ web column is for. I am simply flabbergasted that, in restaurant after restaurant–where you can order 20 kinds of pasta–there is only one diet pop on offer. I don’t think the market is working there; I think something else is working there.
And, by the way, do you know what Bill Buckley’s most anthologized essay is? It is 1961’s “Why Don’t We Complain?” about traveling on a train that was ridiculously overheated. It is included in WFB’s forthcoming autobiographical collection, Miles Gone By.
The consumers, I would say, are sometimes sheep. And I am as guilty as anyone (insert baa-ing sound here).
I had a sharp friend, however, who wanted soda without caffeine, and she especially liked root beer, so, in the establishments near her work, she would always ask–in the hope of spurring them to get root beer. Not sure whether she ever made any progress. But she was no sheep, that girl!
‐I am holding here the newsletter of my congressman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York. (Some of my conservative friends would tell me that he isn’t really an American congressman, and that I don’t really live in America, but “whatev,” as the kids say (and, yes, I left off that “er” deliberately).) It is interesting to be represented by one of the leftmost congressmen on the Hill.
Jerry says that the Bush administration “exaggerated the threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.” First, how do you exaggerate the threat of what is, in fact, non-existent? Second, I wonder what those weapons were that Saddam used against the Iranians and his own people. And I wonder what those inspectors and all the other analysts were smoking when they swore to WMD danger from Iraq. But, in Jerry Nadler’s world, there was nothing to worry about.
And convertibility, shmonvertibility.
Next, don’t forget the evils of Big Pharma! “In my opinion,” says Nadler, “seniors need real help to lower the costs of their prescription drugs, not legislation whose chief effect will be to line the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.” I see. There is no need for pharmaceutical companies to make money. They’ll just conjure those “miracle drugs” from trees. Because, if it means anything to be a liberal Democrat, it is to know that material goodies just fall from trees.
In an item headed “Defending Women’s Rights,” Nadler refers to “what extremists call ‘partial-birth abortions.’” Extremists call it that, huh? What do non-extremists call it? Nadler’s fellow New York Democrat, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, called it “close to infanticide.” (He could have dispensed with the hedge of “close to.”)
Toward the end of his letter, Nadler details the funds he has appropriated for our district. You got $150,000 for “the NYC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center (Mental Health Promotion Online Demonstration Project),” and $250,000 “for the New School (services for at-risk low-income students).”
That last is an example of how “progressives” have larded up our language: “at-risk low-income students.” We know that “low-income” means “poor”; the latter word vanished from our vocabulary about, oh, 20 years ago, rather as “blind” did. If you’re “sightless,” you’re better than “blind”; and if you’re “low-income,” you’re better than “poor,” somehow. I bet the blind and the poor don’t think so.
And “at-risk”? Really, who, among us, isn’t at risk? What are these low-income students at risk from? Lifetime representation by Jerrold Nadler?
‐I give you Part CCCLXIII of This Is a Stupid Country: As we learn in the New York Times, Central Park has many statues and monuments. Pictured in the paper were José Martí, Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and Columbus. But, you see, there are no Puerto Ricans, so that is a problem, for some people.
Years ago, in the first Reagan administration–that exciting, tumultuous, pivotal age–Interior secretary James Watt joked that he had a perfect committee: composed of “a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple.” He was flayed for this, as you can imagine, but he made a lasting comment on contemporary America, in my book. This is–in that sense–the James Watt Society.
‐I have crabbed on too long, so groove on a couple of letters, and I’ll go.
“Dear Jay: Israel’s top woman tennis player is Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi. Is that a great name or what?!”
‐And, “Dear Jay: I have an editor friend who worked on a book about the French and Indian wars. The author had written of a series of fierce struggles with none of the parties ‘giving any quarter,’ or words to that effect. The fact-checker changed the word ‘quarter’ to ‘third.’ Why? Because, explained this person smugly, there were three parties involved–the French, the Indians, and the British–not four.
“Jay, you can’t make this stuff up.”
I guess not!