Politics & Policy

That and Casablanca, That Infernal Debate, a Passel of Letters, &C.

Friends, I think I told you a couple of columns back that I was going to swear off writing about President Carter–it was just too painful, and tiresome. Well, he has a way of drawing you back in. The other day, at Emory, he said that his two favorite movies were Fahrenheit 9/11 and Casablanca.

What a combo!

Just thought I’d share that with you.

My apologies.

‐And I’d like to share this letter, too–because it addresses two things about which I’m an expert: Jimmy Carter and golf-course starters. Here you go:

Dear Jay,

I was golfing with my brother once and the starter was a nasty old retired man. Just a real jerk. Anyway, as we walked away from him my brother offered true words of wisdom. He said, “You know, everyone reaches a point in their life when they know they’re old. They know they don’t have that much time left. And at that point, they face a decision. I’ve seen it time and time again. Some seem to make a conscious decision to be happy for the rest of their lives, and the rest become increasingly bitter. That guy chose to be bitter.”

Jimmy Carter is that man. Everything he believes in, including himself, has been rejected by the American people and he won’t forgive them, so he’s reduced to spoiling their first hole.

I should say that I’m not endorsin’ this letter, blanket. But I like it!

‐A quick word about the first debate (my reaction column on it is here ). I don’t think we should read too much into it. Bush had a bad, bad night. It was an unfortunate night on which to have a bad night–the initial and key debate; 62 million viewers; a war to be defended and explained. But it was one bad night. And Kerry had an exceptionally good night, I think (in part because his opponent barely showed up).

But Bush can come back like gangbusters in the next two debates. He did that in 2000. In fact, I think his performance was maybe–maybe–a little worse in 2000’s first debate than it was last Thursday. And we’re all hanging on the example of Reagan in ‘84 (but will W. have a line on par with the “youth and inexperience” one?).

Bush is an uneven performer, like a lot of the greats (Horowitz, Domingo). He can give a great speech–I thought his recent convention speech was one of the best I have ever heard–and he can give a dopey speech. He can be fantastic in a TV interview–I understand that he was at his best with O’Reilly–or he can be mediocre, not quite with-it (I think of a Russert interview, of many months back).

Hell, I know myself when I write a good piece or more of a clunker.

But, gosh, there’s a lot at stake this fall. A lot. It goes so far beyond one man, President Bush. It’s a nation, a world.

‐I’m rather late to know this, but I was interested to discover the other day that the Kerry campaign had to alter Ted K.’s schedule in Pennsylvania. This was in mid-September. Why? Because he was scheduled to speak in Mary Jo’s hometown . . . and that was thought rather . . . Anyway, they canceled.

But if Ted did nothing wrong–if it was just an accident–what’s there to be embarrassed about?

‐Three cheers for the HUD secretary. Chastising the “black leadership,” Alphonso Jackson said, “[They have] convinced African-Americans that they are victims who must vote [Dem] to erase decades of discrimination.” These leaders “have made a living telling black people they are victims. As long as they keep them in victim mode . . .”

Etc. Wow! Go get ‘em, Jackson (Alphonso, that is, not Jesse).

‐I read excerpts from that O’Reilly interview with Bush, and wanted to highlight a particular slice. You know how the Dems–including both Kerrys, John and Teresa–have been on Bush for not immediately bounding from that Florida classroom, on 9/11? Said Bush, “I was thinking America was under attack. I was collecting my thoughts and I wasn’t about to panic a bunch of kids. And the program was winding down. I waited for the end of the program. I excused myself and went into action.”

People who have criticized Bush on this score should feel very, very shamed. Then, that kind of person just about never does.

‐Kerry tried to excuse his “$87 billion” statement by saying he’d made it late at night–he hadn’t. Remember Clinton tried the same excuse? When he told those rich Dems he’d raised their taxes too much? Dealing with a reaction, Clinton said (something very much like), “My momma told me never to talk late at night when I was tired. And she was right” (pronounced “raht,” because he was tryin’ to be folksy). Turned out Clinton had made the statement, at least once, in the wide-awake hours.

Birds of a feather, apparently.

‐How about the missus, Teresa? Last week, she was asked whether her job was to “shore up the women’s vote.” She answered, “No, that’s not where I come in. I come in everywhere. I come in on foreign policy. . . . You know what? I talk about life. It affects men and women.”

So it does. “I come in everywhere.” That phrase ought to be famous, eternally identified with her.

‐Rich Nadler, a writer-activist in the Midwest, is doing the Lord’s work, by running Republican ads on black radio. Rep. John Lewis has said, “[The ads] are a deliberate, systematic effort to try to discourage African-American voters from turning out and voting.”

Bullsh**: They are an effort to get blacks to vote Republican.

We’re all supposed to admire John Lewis, a civil-rights hero, regardless of our party. Sometimes it’s hard.

‐Diane Sawyer asked John Kerry, “And if the generals say we’re going to need more troops to secure the [Iraqi] election?” Answered Kerry, “Well, you’re going to have to do what the generals say.”

Didn’t you grow up–as I did–on the doctrine of “civilian control,” which was far greater than Holy Scripture? Didn’t you grow up, as I did, on a doctrine of “Never trust the generals”? I think it was the likes of John Kerry peddling it.

Oh, well.

‐I’ve been awfully tough on Joe Lieberman over the years–never tougher than in the “Florida aftermath” (11 and 12/00), when the senator’s behavior was disgraceful–but give him an A for honesty: “I don’t find much difference between what [Kerry] is proposing [on Iraq] and what President Bush is doing.”

‐At the train station–Grand Central–on Saturday, the guy at the ticket counter was wearing a “Re-Defeat Bush” button. I seem to be seeing that a lot in public life–”public life”–lately. Anti-Bush, pro-Kerry buttons. It’s just slightly depressing.

Can you imagine doing so, in such a position? I hope not.

‐On the train, at a station stop, a guy said over the PA system, “Let’s go, folks. This is not the Queen Mary.”

‐Met a wonderful kid at a wedding reception–plays on the Clemson golf team. He said, “I really don’t know who I’m for in this election, but whoever the president is, I’ll back him 100 percent.” That statement was so pure, so patriotic, so idealistic–and so startling to me–I just had to sort of blink.

Made me feel slightly ashamed for my extreme partisanship. But just for a second.

‐Wonderful ad slogan for the Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the New-York Historical Society: “Ten bucks says you don’t really know him.”

P.S. The exhibit is curated by our splendid Rick Brookhiser.

‐I have a reader who likes the term pajamahedeen, coined by Kerry Spotter extraordinaire Jim Geraghty–but he prefers “Boxer Rebellion.”

That’s the blog assault on Dan Rather et al.: a boxer (as in shorts) rebellion. (Sorry for spelling it out a little.)

‐”Dear Jay: You ask what Lincoln Chafee could mean by ‘reproductive freedoms.’ While I was in law school ten years ago, the dean took a great deal of pride in the fact that we had a ‘reproductive rights’ student group. (At a Jesuit university, no less!) We used to complain to the group’s president that the photocopy machines in the library were constantly broken. She did nothing to fix them and indicated no regard, in my opinion, for the reproductive rights of her fellow students.”

Love it!

Mr. Nordlinger,

It may be ironic that G.I. Joe is made in China, but my experience is even more ironic than that. I was an active-duty Marine serving at Quantico, Virginia, in 2002. A request came down for a volunteer to escort a group of Marine veterans from the Korean War around the base. I immediately volunteered for this honor. . . . A highlight of the day was the stop at the Marine Corps Association bookstore. This is where they could buy some Marine Corps memorabilia. After about 30 minutes we got back on the bus and just as we were pulling away I heard this old veteran behind me start to laugh out loud. When I turned around to ask him what was so funny, he showed me the bottom of a Marine Corps ceramic coffee mug he had just purchased and said, “We spend three years killing and getting killed by those Chinese SOBs, and now they’re making our mugs.”

‐Friends, back, finally, to that first debate. My column on the subject provoked over 400 letters. I’m going to print a few for you. (And apologies to all writers, for I won’t be able to read all these letters, much less answer them. Wish I could.) Let me do a little breakdown first, however. About 90 percent of the letters said, “Yeah, felt the same way you did, such a shame–fingers crossed for the election.” About 5 percent said, “You’re nuts–you must have been looking at a different debate.” About 1 percent said, “You traitor.” About 2 percent came from nice liberals. About 1 percent came from not-so-nice, crowing liberals. And about 1 percent was . . . really ugly.

(Frankly, I don’t think I’ve done the apportionment quite right, but I’m not a math guy. See Derb, please.) (Who, given his origins, is a maths guy, not a math guy.)

Anyway, a few samples:

While I am certain that we will be voting for different candidates in November, I share much of your thinking. The president did let a lot of softballs pass him by. Kerry is naturally vulnerable on hundreds of points, as anyone with a 20-year voting record would be. While I rarely agree with Mr. Bush, I did expect more from him in the debate. His performance was repetitious and unenlightening. Especially compared with his infrequent press conferences–where I have often felt he holds his own–this debate was something of a letdown. Perhaps he was emotionally drained from his visits with hurricane survivors earlier in the day, as his staff has suggested. Perhaps it is the job itself that is emotionally draining. Knowing that soldiers and civilians are dying in a war you authorized would take a toll on anyone. Lincoln looked like a dead man walking after four years of civil war. FDR and LBJ showed equal strain. Perhaps Mr. Bush’s heart isn’t as in it as it once was. Or perhaps his strong polls and favorable electoral map went to his head. In any event, as much as I would like to see him lose in November, I would prefer to see him go down with a fight. I think we saw that fight in Kerry on Thursday night.


Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

I kept thinking as I was watching the debate, “Why don’t you bring this up? Hit him with this!”

And listen–I am a lifelong Democrat. If not for 9/11 and our fight against Islamofascists, I might consider voting for Kerry. But I am convinced that in this dangerous time in our country’s history (and indeed the history of the world) a left-wing president like Kerry would be a disaster for this country and all of civilization. Maybe that sounds a little melodramatic; but I truly believe it.


Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

As painful as it was to read your initial reactions to Thursday night’s debate, you won an instant fan with your admission that what you feel for President Bush is, quite honestly, love. I’ve never had the nerve to say it to anyone–well, maybe my mom–but I know exactly what you mean: I just love the guy. He’s in my nightly prayers and, lately, a lot of anxious little day ones besides, and when I think about how much he’s hated around the world, it breaks my heart a bit–probably more than it breaks his! He seems to stride along without much concern for the evil wished on him by all the millions who despise and demonize him; he has the strength of firm convictions and the solid ground of his faith, and he just perseveres, doing his best, under conditions that would make me want to go find my own secret cave in Pakistan and just wait out the rest of my term. (Well, maybe not Pakistan. Maybe Montana.)

I love that he gets tears in his eyes when he thinks about the courage of our servicemen, and I love that he was worried he’d tear up at his inauguration if he thought too much about how proud his dad was of him on that day. (I went ahead and misted up for both of them. Okay, so I’m a crier.)

I love his smiles and his wit and his lack of pretentiousness, and his familiar way with people he’s just met. And I love the courage and integrity and nobility and graciousness and flat-out class that I think his parents probably instilled in him. I could go on with my litany of reasons (this barely cracks the surface), but I guess you get the idea.

N.B.: This lady works at a place where everyone else is left-wing, and she doesn’t usually get to talk this way.


Your article touched me, especially in your fondness for Bush. I share much of what you wrote. And, as you know, this battle is bigger than all of us. We are in a war for the future of the free people of this planet. And eloquence and debating skills just don’t weigh in that heavily. Heart does. And Bush has it in spades.



Cheer up! Like Rocky Balboa, Bush may have been knocked down, but he has the heart to see this through to the end. And I am damn proud he’s my president.

Okay, folks, here we will take a . . . a little turn. Sorry about this.


The many points you suggested Bush should have done in the debate are all suicide for him. It appears you have your Israel cap on and don’t read much on the lies about Iraq. Iraq never took part in 9/11 but Israel did. Why don’t you be a good American and read some of WHATREALLYHAPPENED.COM, ANTIWAR.COM, INFORMATIONCLEARINGHOUSE.COM. By the way, they are all sponsored by good American Jews.

Why is it that you have such a dislike for Kerry? Is it that he does not sport his Jewishness? I wish you would write for America, not for your beloved Israel. Shame on you–Junior Bush is an idiot and a lackey. He has made a mess of America.

So, Jay, don’t worry! The Converted Kerry is a real rabid Jew–he will support the Zionist cause, 4ISRAEL!


Mr. Nordlinger,

If Bush weren’t such a strong backer of Ariel Sharon, you would never vote for him. You know that Bush is a moron, a dimwit, but you like his planners, like Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, because they allow Israel to wreak havoc on, and deliver mayhem and death to, the Palestinians.

Under the despicable Nazi regime, the Jewish people suffered terribly, but now the Jewish people in Israel/Palestine have turned into the Nazis, as is demonstrated every day.

The Palestinians are not the German Nazis and should not be required to pay the price of the terrible harm the Nazis inflicted on the Jewish people.

You back Bush because Bush backs the monster Ariel Sharon.

That’s why.

Tell The Truth, Mr. Nordlinger.

Okay, you caught me! I couldn’t put one past you!

Sorry to end like this–but this is a segment of America, singing. Thought you should hear some of it.

Happy Debate Week II, y’all.


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