The oddest thing happened on Hannity & Colmes Monday night. A Democratic strategist, Mary Anne Marsh, was giving it to President Bush, as you might have expected. But here’s what you might not have expected: She said, “Bush betrayed this country about why we went to war in Iraq”–so far, so good (or rather, so far, so normal)–”just like he betrayed them when he didn’t fight in Vietnam.” Say what? Bush betrayed his country because he served in the Guard, not in Vietnam itself? Are you kidding?
No, she was not kidding–she repeated her charge, that Bush had “betrayed his country.” Okay–so must have every eligible man who did not serve in Vietnam. All traitors. Including Bill Clinton, of course, and many others Mary Anne Marsh must admire. That is the criterion: If you were eligible and did not serve in Vietnam, you “betrayed your country.”
This is what it has come to. Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes I pause and ask myself whether I’m too hard on the Democratic party. Am I just too partisan? I don’t think so. I think there is a deep sickness within that party, and we saw a shocking manifestation on Hannity & Colmes.
And, incidentally, wasn’t it extreme right-wing nationalists who, once upon a time, cried “Treason!” whenever someone didn’t go to war? And now it’s nice Democratic consultants. Used to be, liberal Democrats defended men who didn’t go to Vietnam–even praised them, held them out as the “real heroes”! That’s certainly the way it was when I was growing up, in Ann Arbor.
History is weird. America is weird. This presidential campaign is beyond-weird.
‐Speaking of anti-Bush kookery: I hadn’t quite taken on board just how serious a charge Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the DNC, made when he said that Bush had been AWOL–yes, AWOL–during the Vietnam War. Absent without leave. That’s a big-time charge, is it not? I mean, a crime? And this wasn’t some fringe player bandying about reckless words: It was the head of the party. But nothing said against Bush can be too rabid–the media are basically uninterested, preferring to linger over Swiftie McCarthyites (as they see them), John McCain’s moral refereeing, and Abu Ghraib.
Ah, they’ll always have Abu Ghraib!
‐A little more Bush hatred, a little more anti-Bush sickness? This time, travel to Brazil, land of babes, bossa nova–and boobs (I’m speaking of idiots, not of breasts). The minister of culture, Gilberto Gil, is also a singer, and he was singing a song when behind him “flashed up an image of the U.S. president with a noose around his neck and the slogan ‘Morra, Bush, Morra,’ or ‘Die, Bush, Die.’” (I’m quoting the International Herald Tribune.) The singer/minister’s agent later said that the “visuals” had been the work of the graphics man, not Gil himself. Either way–a jolting commentary, no? Or rather, it would be one, if it weren’t so unsurprising.
‐A further word on Senator Kerry: He brought this on himself, really–all this Vietnam talk, all this Vietnam pain. He decided to make his four months in Vietnam the center of his candidacy–you could see that much at the Democratic convention. It was all “band of brothers,” and “reporting for duty,” and “I’m a hero,” and “Elect me because I served in Vietnam–and the other guy didn’t.” Kerry himself “reopened the wounds of Vietnam,” to use an old expression. If he’s going to focus on those four months, and not his anti-war activism, and not his time as Dukakis’s lieutenant governor, and not his 20 years in the U.S. Senate–we’re going to have a Vietnam-centered election contest.
Which is too bad–but Kerry chose it.
And now the Democrats are demanding–including in their TV ads–that we all “get back to the issues”! Now!
‐A lot of people don’t like what Senator Dole did–rebuking Kerry–but I do. (Made me kind of proud to be a former Dole intern.) He certainly has standing, shot up as he is. And he pointed out that a lot of people got out of Vietnam a lot worse than Senator Kerry did. And they don’t brag about their suffering, don’t flaunt their Purple Hearts (and they certainly don’t throw their medals–or ribbons or whatever–away).
A huge unseemliness issues from Kerry. He’s played a game his whole career: When it suits him, he’s the great anti-war protester, preaching about America’s sins in Vietnam; and when it suits him, he’s the great warrior, defender of his country. You can’t win with the guy–but maybe Bush can. Just maybe.
Bill Weld couldn’t.
‐It occurs to me that I wrote, above, “Senator Dole”–there is, of course, a Senator Dole, a current Senator Dole, and her name is Elizabeth, representing North Carolina. But you know I meant the man from Russell, Kan.!
You know, the guy disabled in the Po Valley, fighting the Fascists, whom we elected in 1996, because the other candidate was a blatant draft dodger, and you know how much we honor veterans, don’t you–especially the Democrats! They really honor veterans! Love ‘em! In fact, they wouldn’t have any other type as president!
‐Forgive my pique, but look: Dole can’t even dress himself; Kerry was very lightly–blessedly lightly–injured. And we’re all supposed to bow down to Kerry as Audie Murphy reborn and walking among us–and asking for our votes? Nay, demanding them! Dole can be forgiven, I think, his recent blast against his erstwhile colleague.
‐Over to Germany–which means, of course, al Qaeda. I was struck by something that Shahid Nickels said. Who’s he? He’s the Qaeda-ite–a German convert–who turned state’s evidence. (Maybe you can say he converted twice.) As the Herald Tribune told it, “The group”–the Qaeda group in Hamburg–”became increasingly radical and by late 1999 the conversation ‘was all about jihad,’ [Nickels] said.” But then this is it: “Nickels then distanced himself from the group because, he testified, ‘I couldn’t stand hearing any more about the guilt of the Jews.’”
Ponder that: a German Islamist who, in the end, “couldn’t stand hearing any more about the guilt of the Jews.”
There are essays and essays to be written about that–but not by me. Not now!
‐A final word on Senator Kerry? A friend pointed out to me that he–the candidate–has embraced a risky strategy: He is mowing all the anti-him vets down, calling them liars. All 250 of them, or whatever it is, by this point. As Dole asked, “Can they all be Republican liars?” I mean, every one of them–these 250, who are from various parts of the country, and are involved in various walks of life? Kerry might have said, “Memories differ, the war continues to arouse passions, these people are entitled to their views, it was a fraught time, the government gave me these medals, what can I say, your quarrel is with them”–but no: He had to do the Clinton/Stephanopoulos/Carville/McCurry thing: They’re all liars, these enemies of ours, all liars, and Republican stooges as well.
Yes, Republican stooges! Kerry and his people are saying that these men don’t have minds of their own, don’t have opinions or perspectives or feelings of their own, can’t act independently–they are mere tools of the Republican Attack Machine.
A risky strategy, yes–if the media will make it so. (So maybe it’s not so risky?)
‐Czeslaw Milosz has died–which reminds me of Jian-li Yang. Why? Jian-li, you will recall, is the Chinese scholar, democrat, and human-rights activist who is now confined to some Communist dungeon. I have written about him many times–but I first met him in 2001. He dropped by the office here, and I asked him “what book best described the Chinese situation, as far as intellectuals were concerned.” (I’m quoting from my original piece on this.) “And his answer I found touching: He said, ‘Milosz’s Captive Mind.’ This is, indeed, one of the great explanatory books of our time, and it reaches across every boundary and every age, really.”
I thought of this on hearing of Milosz’s death. His is a book for the ages, and he led a life for the ages. It was one of those lives that define anti-totalitarianism. He was needed. I’m sorry he is gone; but he did his work, and then some.
‐David Pryce-Jones recently reminded us that Milosz left Paris because he couldn’t stand the cravenness of French intellectuals before totalitarians–so he went to America, to the Bay Area, to teach at Berkeley. He apparently found that an improvement–which says maybe all one needs to know about France.
‐Friends, this has not been the most fun Impromptus in world history. I’ll be back to you soon with a better one–with a more enjoyable one, certainly.
Let me end with a joke–a homemade joke–sent to me by a reader, Mark Turk. Kerry and Edwards are at McDonald’s, doing some campaigning. An employee, in her excitement, spills some coffee on Kerry’s hand. Edwards wants to sue–but Kerry wants to write it up for his fourth Purple Heart.
Not bad, huh?
Bitterly yours . . .