Politics & Policy

Song Sung Blue, The Worst Conservatives, The New Criterion, &C.

Start today with a little music–or a lack of it. The New York Choral Society was scheduled to sing at the Republican convention. They were to sing patriotic songs–”From the Halls of Montezuma,” “Anchors Aweigh”–in honor of America’s armed forces. Nothing too partisan. Nothing partisan at all.

But the Society has backed out, because–well, its members are left-wing, and they can’t stomach the idea of appearing at a Republican convention. (The New York Sun has the story.) One singer said, “When the Boston Pops performed [at the Democratic convention], you didn’t hear people saying, ‘Oh, they’re so liberal.’ If we were singing a song about voting for George Bush . . . I could see how that would be problematic, but that’s not what we were doing. We were supposed to be singing hymns to support the armed forces.”

Frankly, the idea of the New York Choral Society singing at the Republican convention was always ridiculous. To a certain kind of Democrat, the Republican party is evil–not the opposition party, not another arm of America, but evil. Am I wrong to think that that certain kind of Democrat populates the New York Choral Society?

Oh, trust me, friends–trust me.

‐Speaking of music and politics: I have a couple of tales from the Salzburg Festival, from which I am recently returned. As regular readers know, I often talk about the anti-Americanism of Americans abroad, not of Euros. (I dedicated a piece to this subject, called “Love on the Arno.”)

Well, a couple of vignettes. We were in a forum, and I was interviewing an American singer. During the (public) Q&A, a nice lady raised her hand and said, “The American system is so cruel–we don’t treat our young artists well. And in Eastern Europe, it was so humane: They got, I think, six free lessons a week. What can we do to make our system in America more humane?”

Turning to the singer, I said–so help me; I couldn’t bite my tongue–”Yes, tell us about that land of milk and honey, Soviet Eastern Europe.”

Fortunately, the singer didn’t rise to the lady’s bait, giving a splendid, sensible answer. The truth is, young people from all over the world beat a path to the American door, to study in our schools, to begin their careers here, to pursue their destinies here.

They vote with their feet. Can they all be stupid?

One more vignette. A desk clerk at my hotel is very proud of his son, who speaks excellent English, who is an usher at the Great Festival Hall, and who has learned a lot about America. The clerk was relating all this, beaming with pride–so I said to him, “He’s practically an American!” And the (nice) American lady standing next to me said, “Oh, don’t insult him.”

I could only respond that, to some of us, it was no insult.

What can you do? Things never change, it seems, over the years.

‐I must tell you which people I most contemn right now, here in America: conservatives who will not vote for Bush, or who have “reservations,” because he’s not pure enough. “Oh, his spending, oh, his steel tariffs [which were imposed for like two seconds]!” Come on: There’s a war on. Don’t these people know it? Will there ever be a weightier contrast between the two major candidates? Will the stakes ever be higher? I mean, this is 1864-ish.

I must say I retch at these conservatives, about whom I read. (I’m not talking about the anti-war, anti-Bush conservatives: I’m talking about the ones who are for the war, but who draw back from support of Bush because, like just about every politician–necessarily–he’s impure.) They seem to me, above all, immature: to misunderstand democracy, to reject politics, to give off whiffs of totalism.

Yuck! (Don’t you wish I’d express myself more forthrightly?)

‐No, I did not mean “condemn” in that first sentence above.

‐I’ve told this story in Impromptus before, but I’m going to tell it again, because I’m reminded of it by these reports about Unfit for Command, and whether liberal booksellers are making mischief with it, keeping it off shelves, giving customers a hard time, etc.

I can believe it. Why? Well, in part because I once worked at a bookstore, the Little Professor in Ann Arbor. The manager there–a nice guy, by the way–refused to put out conservative magazines and gun magazines. When I told a (conservative) friend about this, he rechristened the store: “The Little Suppressor.”

‐Readers of conservative material know that we have long had an interest in the obits of Communists published in the New York Times. Why? Because they’re hilarious–outrageous and hilarious. The Times is ever reluctant to call a Communist a Communist. We’re apt to hear that the deceased had “strong beliefs,” or “unpopular opinions,” or maybe even “radical politics.” But the Times will seldom blurt out the raw truth. They might call the guy a “victim of McCarthyism” or something–and then savvy readers will have to infer all the rest.

Well, the Times published what ought to be a classic obit the other day, of Elmer Bernstein, the composer. No, not Leonard–Elmer, who spent his life in Hollywood, writing for the movies (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, True Grit, etc.).

This is what the Times wrote: “His career was sidetracked in 1950 for five years because he considered himself a Communist.”

Don’t you love it? Because he considered himself a Communist! I note and make fun of this because I consider myself a conservative anti-Communist who knows when a sometimes-great newspaper is acting foolishly.

‐A nice word about the Times: I read something astonishing–astonishing for its candor–in an article by Neil MacFarquhar. Behold:

Pessimists in Egypt (some say realists) look around and see a political system barely altered since the 1952 revolution, when a group of army officers tossed out the monarchy and asphyxiated the democratic system slowly emerging from Britain’s colonial tutelage. President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a military autocrat, followed by another, Anwar Sadat, followed by a third, Mubarak, now 76.

Now, this is obvious stuff–but from the Times! Especially the bit about the democratic system emerging from colonialism! Holy cow! What next? Hiss guilty?

‐You have heard me discourse before on a theme I’ve borrowed from my friend, colleague, and hero David Pryce-Jones: The Communists in Eastern Europe–and in Russia–have never had an accounting, the way the Nazis did; this has much to do with the progress of the new states, or the lack of it.

So . . . every time one of these SOBs is made to face the music, it’s worth noting, and celebrating. Consider Karel Hoffmann, one of the brutes of Czechoslovakia: He has now been sentenced to four years in prison. The beauty part? Well, as David has pointed out, he will spend his golden years in the same prison that housed the liberal heroes he helped to persecute (and mind my use of the shining word “liberal”).


‐Let’s turn to a little language. The Herald Tribune reprints bits “from our pages” 100 years ago, 75 years ago, 50 years ago . . . I was interested in this item from 1904: “Italians in America have an organization called the ‘Black Hand,’ strongly resembling that notorious secret society, the Mafia, in Italy. Various crimes of revenge and terrorism have lately been traced to this gang.”

I was struck by the use of that word “terrorism”–I wouldn’t have thought it would appear so early, in the English-language press. I associate the term, in such long-ago times, with Russia.

Second, I was amused by this, in a Ralph Peters column: “The CIA is struggling to break out of its navy-blue-suit-and-no-dandruff approach to analysis.”

Nice (and perfectly understandable in context, which I have not given you).

And third, you know this trend, of smooshing words together, while still capitalizing the second? Two conservative groups–Citizens for a Sound Economy and Empower America–have merged into . . . FreedomWorks. I can’t say I like it much, but there’s no stopping this trend. In fact, it has stopped being a trend and become an entrenched tradition.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I told the tale of Mary Anne Marsh–although it’s not only her tale, but that of the Democratic party. To refresh your memory: I was sitting there on the set of Hannity & Colmes, and what did I hear from this lady’s mouth? (She is a Democratic political strategist from Boston–and a lovely woman, I’m told.) “Bush betrayed this country about why we went to war in Iraq, just like he betrayed them when he didn’t fight in Vietnam.”

This was something new under the sun–at least, to my knowledge. In the annals of Bush hatred and anti-Bush kookery, I had not heard that, by serving in the Guard and not in Vietnam itself, Bush had “betrayed” his country. That makes a whole lot of men betrayers, huh?! I mean, that is the new criterion: If you did not serve in Vietnam, you “betrayed” your country.

Well, as you might guess, I received a fair amount of mail on this, and I’ll share some with you now:

“Dear Jay: I spent the years 1962 to 1973 in the U.S. Navy. Most of the time at sea on a nuclear submarine. Now this person tells me that I have betrayed my country by not serving in Vietnam? Sir, she can go straight to . . .”

I’ll end that letter there.

In fact, I won’t print any more of the many I received. But put it this way: If America can–by some huge stretch–be defined as my readers, America ain’t happy.

Frankly, I’m not sure that Mary Anne Marsh knew what she was saying (although, when challenged, she repeated her charge: that Bush had “betrayed” his country by not serving in Vietnam). This campaign has made a lot of people a little nutso. But I think that Ms. Marsh reflects the fever of her party–a fever that shows no signs of abating (in fact, it may get worse, if Bush is reelected). Time was, liberal Democrats defended those who didn’t serve in Vietnam–in fact, they exalted them, as the “real heroes,” unwilling to advance an immoral war. Now, liberal Democrats say that if you weren’t there, in combat . . . why, you’re barely fit for office.

History is a strange. This country is strange. But I’m still grateful to live in it. Pretty much.

(No, very much–I’ll see you.)

‐Oh, hang on, one more thing: Vietnam vets were once “baby-killers”; now they’re heroes, and the only ones who get to pronounce on war and peace, as long as they’re for Kerry.

That’s an improvement, isn’t it? Sort of? Or not?

See you.


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