Politics & Policy

The Interesting Ed Koch, The Bracing Ron Silver, The Sad Margaret Cho, &C.

Let me lead off the way the Republican convention led off: with former New York mayor Ed Koch (who introduced the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg). In the 1980s, Bob Novak called Koch “the most interesting politician in America.” I think I agreed with that. Koch has, if anything, grown more interesting.

His Republican convention speech–here–was utterly charming. It stated plainly that he is supporting President Bush. Koch is a 9/11 Democrat–a Democrat profoundly and properly influenced by that day. The actor Ron Silver is a 9/11 Democrat too (and more about him in a moment).

Would like to share something else about Koch with you, too. Andrew Kirtzman, the New York television reporter–and author of a book on Rudy Giuliani–was interviewed in The Hotline. Asked to relate his most embarrassing on-the-job moment, he said, “Once, when interviewing Ed Koch . . ., I badgered him about what I thought was an inconsistency. Finally he leaned into the table, peered at me, and said, ‘I can explain this to you; I can’t comprehend it for you.’” Continued Kirtzman, “It was an awesome putdown. I’ve been using the line against my friends ever since.”

Marvelous.

‐A sign that the Mo is with President Bush: that ad–that astonishing ad–Daschle has put on in South Dakota, suggesting that he is a big supporter of this president, this war, and a united, determined America. He should be embarrassed, Daschle should–embarrassed, after all he’s said and done. But his overriding objective, of course, is reelection. An insider from the region was telling NR yesterday that South Dakotans care a lot about personality–about the individual. Daschle may well be reelected forever, despite the fact that his politics are well to the left of the average South Dakotan. But South Dakotans can turn against a longtime officeholder, as they did against Sen. George McGovern.

I note, however, that that was in 1980, the year of the Republican tidal wave, when a Republican could win anything, anywhere. In 1980, I could have been elected mayor of Berkeley (well, maybe not).

‐Wasn’t too thrilled that Republicans, in opening their primetime program, imitated the opening of Saturday Night Live. I mean, SNL despises the Republican party, despises these delegates, despises President Bush–makes its living despising everything we stand for. We pay them homage by imitating their signature opening? Why make them think they’re cooler than they are?

But RNC chairman Ed Gillespie looked pretty good coming out of that cab, straightening his tie, and giving that rock-on thumbs-up. And I liked the buoyancy of his run out onto the podium–practically Terry McAuliffe-like in its exuberance, in its sheer delight in politics and political theater.

But Chairman Gillespie reminded me of something: The use of a Tele-Promp-Ter is not for everyone. It is a detracting, paralyzing instrument for some. They’re better off reading from paper, or winging it.

‐As readers may know, I’m a big fan of the roll call–any convention’s roll call. It is wonderful political Americana. Each delegation’s spokesman says something smilingly boastful about his state, and often something clever and humorous.

Consider a few “M” states. The guy from Maine lauded his state’s “two distinguished United States senators,” those liberalish women, who, nevertheless, have R’s after their names (and we need all the R’s we can get). I was sort of touched to see “Doro” Bush Koch, the president’s sister, speak for the Maryland delegation. Doro was married to someone else when the Bush administration began–I mean, the Bush 41 administration–and then she married a Dick Gephardt aide. (See how the Bushes do bipartisanship?) She looks much like her brother, the president, and is an amalgam of her mother and father–as the president is. Also, I liked very much that she referred to Maryland as “once a Democratic bastion”–it now has a tough Republican governor, and lieutenant governor.

The spokeswoman from my state, Michigan, mentioned that President Bush became the first president since 1911 to visit the Upper Peninsula. (It’s worth going for the pasties alone.) (No, I’m not referring to what strippers wear.) My colleague Rick Brookhiser, sitting near me, said, “Well, that didn’t do much for Taft.” Too true.

The lady from Mississippi invoked her state’s musical heroes–country-music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers, blues pioneer BB King, and rock-’n’-roll pioneer Elvis Presley. No nod to Leontyne Price–and definitely none to Milton Babbitt!

Well, maybe in ‘08.

‐Odd about Denny Hastert is that he holds one of the most important positions in the world–Speaker of the House–and no one really knows him. They forget about him. That must be the way he wants it. He is one of the most low-profile (“lowest-profile”?) Speakers ever.

Speaking of mystery: He asked, “Does anyone really know where John Kerry stands on the war?” A most pertinent question. I think the answer is no. I cover and analyze politics professionally, and I’m not sure I know. I believe he stands with the anti-war Left, but must trim his sails–his windsurfing sails–for reasons of electability. Hastert, in his brief remarks, linked Lincoln, Reagan, and Bush–and did so with complete plausibility, in my opinion. They have much in common (and you know what I think of Lincoln, and his relevance to today, from this Impromptus).

‐I suppose the speech on Monday that I most enjoyed was that of Ron Silver, the liberal actor. He still considers himself a liberal–but, like Koch, he is a 9/11 Democrat. Before the GOP delegates, he said we must “never forget, never forgive, never excuse.” He lingered over that phrase “never excuse,” and it is, indeed, worth lingering over. He opined that we are “engaged in a war that will define the future of humankind” (I wish he had said “mankind,” but I can’t have everything). He stressed that the other side–TerrorWorld–started this war, and he pointedly referred to our “coalition” (something the Democrats in general are loath to do). And I really liked, “History shows that we are not imperialists”–so, cryingly true; rather, “we are fighters for freedom and democracy.”

And I really, really liked his shot at “the entertainment community” for declaring a love of human rights and then doing everything possible to keep President Bush from advancing them.

Quite interesting was that he expressed support for our “commander-in-chief,” as distinct from “president.” Yes, this is a 9/11 Democrat; he wants that War on Terror prosecuted. And still more interesting was his interview with Brit Hume, later in the evening. He said that he was pretty much a domestic liberal–on abortion, on stem cells, on health care; and yet he favors school vouchers. (He mentioned, too, that he has supported SDI from earliest Reagan days.) As for the Left, they backed Clinton’s “humanitarian interventions,” and did not require that he obtain permission from the U.N. The Left would be supporting a lot of what’s happening now–except that they are “blinded” by their “hatred” of George W. Bush.

Ron Silver is not blinded. When Hume remarked that he had fallen away from the Left, Silver responded that the Left had fallen away from him. In this, he sounded rather like President Reagan. I wish I could say more about Silver’s speech, and that interview. I am grateful–really grateful–for him.

‐Some of us think that Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, should be a right-wing conservative, because, by golly, he looks like a right-wing conservative. Bernard Kerik? He looks like one too!

‐I was talking about Reagan earlier (when am I not?). John McCain cited one of the late president’s favorite FDR bits: about a rendezvous with destiny. I thought McCain brought a good speech, and delivered it limply–flatly. One sentence had a powerful simplicity: “It’s a big thing, this war.” Yes, it is a big thing. McCain stressed that the defense of the country is the first obligation of government. And he referred to a “pitiless theocracy”–a very good phrase. (No, he wasn’t talking about Bush-Ashcroft-DeLay-Santorum.) Also effective was, “There is no avoiding this war–we tried that, and our reluctance cost us dearly.” Spot-on.

You almost get the feeling McCain is going to vote for Bush. But once you close that curtain–not even your hairdresser knows for sure.

‐That Singing Cop sang “Amazing Grace,” in somewhat anodyne fashion. Brit Hume referred to the piece as “the great spiritual.” It is not a spiritual; it is a written hymn. But one can see how the mistake can be made.

‐Rudy was good, wasn’t he? I thought he was a little long and undisciplined–and, as with McCain, the words were better than their delivery. But it was a good speech. That chant “Four More Years!” is a little tiresome, I think. Giuliani handled one such interruption very well–he said, “Absolutely, absolutely,” then got back to 9/11. I was impressed with his recitation of what the Germans had done, and what the Italians had done (in their dealings with terrorists). (May I say–with gross immodesty–that this section reminded me of a speech I gave, on the anniversary of 9/11? Here.) And when he ridiculed Kerry, he did so in a happy-warrior way–he was a merry ridiculer, if that is possible.

And how about his defense of Bush against the media–a class that mocked and misunderstood Churchill and Reagan, too?

If you were a Republican, you had to like Rudy on Monday night, even if he did announce divorce from his wife in a press conference, without informing said woman first. (That did not happen Monday, no.)

‐Perhaps because of the Michael Moore movie, a lot of people are twitting President Bush for continuing to read to those Florida schoolchildren for seven minutes–My Pet Goat. That was the book, right? Can you imagine if Bush had bolted from his seat immediately? “Cowboyism, bravado, alarmism.” In an interview the other day, Laura Bush handled this nicely. She said, “What my husband did was perfectly appropriate. I think it was the right thing to do in front of the children. . . . I think it was the right thing to do in front of the press that was there. And while he was there for those seven short minutes, his staff was getting more information.”

John Kerry himself has mocked Bush for those seven minutes. Not his best moment–not Kerry’s, I mean.

‐My favorite Bush quote of late? Easy: “I know who I am. If you’re the president, you don’t have time to figure out who you are. I think it’s unfair to the American people to sit in that Oval Office and try to find your inner soul.”

That is perfect, quintessential, classic Bush.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I discussed a story about Broadway’s contempt for Republicans: Actors were considering a boycott, to spare themselves the ignominy of performing before Republican delegates; stagehands were talking about donning anti-Bush T-shirts.

I got a letter: “I must respond to your column of today. I am a New York stagehand, Local #1 IATSE. I assure you that the majority of stagehands I work with are red-white-and-blue Republicans. Unlike the lefties of this town, we support President Bush, abhor the thought of Kerry in charge of anything, and hope–for the sake of this country’s future–that President Bush is reelected.”

How do you like that?

‐I feel kind of bad about Margaret Cho. She’s a very funny, very talented comic. I appeared on a television show with her once; she was friendly and charming, if clueless about politics and world affairs. Now she is on a kind of tour-jihad; her show is called “State of Emergency.” She explained in an interview, “It is an emergency about the obliteration of democracy, a complete disregard for human rights all over the world, a government which is corrupt, and a media that has been infected by the same thing. There is a real lack of information about what is actually going on.”

There is a real lack of information in Margaret Cho’s head. “A complete disregard for human rights all over the world”? Hasn’t she heard of the toppling of the Taliban, and of the toppling of the Hussein regime? Than these, two more evil regimes you will not find. This is what Ron Silver was talking about, in the convention hall. Can you have any doubt that the Margaret Chos would support the overthrow of Mullah Omar and Saddam, if the work had been done by a Democrat–preferably a liberal one?

Cho is also fond of saying, “Bush is not Hitler. He would be, if he applied himself, but he’s just lazy.” Funny–funny, abhorrent, and sad, at the same time.

‐I was complaining too, yesterday, about the rash of pieces by smug, cynical New Yorkers, giving not-very-friendly advice to out-of-towners. (You know: “If you pronounce ‘Houston Street’ the way you would the name of the Texas city, you’ll reveal yourself to be the clod that you are.”)

Well, Kirk Manlove of Springfield, Mo., has retaliated with some advice for New Yorkers–you know, some administering of one’s own medicine.

1. Don’t ask us if we’ve seen the Michael Moore movie, and we won’t ask you if you’ve seen the Mel Gibson Christ movie.

2. Don’t say “Missouree,” say “Missourah.”

3. Don’t say anything bad about John Ashcroft–we love him here.

4. It’s okay to wave back.

5. It’s okay to say hi.

6. “Please” and “thank you” are acceptable–even desirable!

7. It’s a fiddle, not a violin.

8. Be careful, many of us are armed. It’s a Second Amendment thing. You wouldn’t understand.

‐Also touching on yesterday, a reader writes, “Interesting that the chairman of the political science department of the University of Michigan–that citadel of race preferences–would liken Republicans to supporters of apartheid. Aren’t modern Republicans the colorblind ones? But never mind . . .”

Never mind, indeed.

‐This does not apply to yesterday’s column, but it’s a marvelous letter, so . . . “All this talk about Vietnam reminded me of something I read on a food board a while ago. A woman (very nice and gracious most of the time and not an idiot despite being an ardent leftist) recalled her first taste of Vietnamese food in 1980 in San Francisco. She wrote something like, ‘Eating that meal made me furious that we would go to war with people who could create such beautiful taste.’ Aside from the fact that we didn’t fight in Vietnam for their food, she didn’t seem to realize that most likely the people who cooked that wonderful food fled the Communist regime we were fighting against. Ugh.”

Yes, “ugh” is the least one can say.

‐My colleague Meghan Clyne reports some sad news: The spellchecker of Microsoft 2003 accepts minisculeminiscule!–that stubborn (and perfectly understandable) misspelling of minuscule. Ah, well: a minor–though not quite minuscule–loss.

‐Finally, I’d like to tell you what was my favorite moment of Convention Monday: When a 9/11 widow said that her husband had told her, over his cellphone, that he and other passengers were going to fight back, the delegates began to whoop and cheer–not snivel or whimper, but whoop and cheer.

I loved that more than I can tell you. I’m not sure I can articulate why I loved it so much. But I trust you understand.

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