Politics & Policy

Apocalypse Next Week? a Thursday Surprise? a Delicious Ad? and More

Let me begin with something apocalyptic. (Since when do you have a choice?) I think Nov. 2 will tell us a lot about the American people–and what it tells us may not be pretty. We are in a war, or at least we Bush supporters think we’re in a war. It is an exceptionally difficult war, of a new type. What will it say about the Americans if, at this moment, they turn to John Kerry of Massachusetts?

Will we be so terribly different from the Spanish?

This is a war requiring stomach, spine, and heart. (That’s a lot of body parts.) It also requires vision (eyes?). Some of us fear that Americans have become complacent, because, really, we haven’t been hit hard in over three years, and maybe Bush & Co. kind of overreacted? I mean, does there really have to be a war? Can’t we go back to the days of law enforcement and intelligence gathering–responding episode by episode? You know, they kill some of ours, we lob a missile somewhere, and talk sternly, and hold a nice funeral. Sept. 10 was so lovely.

In a discussion last year with Donald Rumsfeld, I asked, “Do you think the people will stick with the War on Terror?” He answered, quick as a flash, “They stuck with the Cold War.” True. But my feeling is that we lucked out a little there. We lucked out with the two terms of Reagan (granted, we elected him). And we lucked out with the rise of Gorbachev. Would the Americans really have had the stamina?

I would have hated to test it–beyond about 1990.

I know, I know: John Kerry doesn’t pledge to quit the War on Terror; he pledges to wage it more intelligently. Tell me another one: I believe this is a general-election pose, not too different from his recent, public hunting.

Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Michael Moore are not supporting Kerry because they think he’ll continue the War on Terror–certainly not because they think he’ll do a better job of it. They are supporting him because they think he doesn’t mean it. I bet they’re right.

In my view, this election is not a contest to determine how we’ll fight the War on Terror; it’s a contest to determine whether we will fight it at all. And the decision made by the Americans will be fateful.

George W. Bush and his people think that our security requires wholesale changes in the Muslim world–changes that we must abet. The other side–which includes a portion of the Right–believes that we can just hunker down, lashing out when some occasion demands. And if only Israel weren’t so damn troublesome, perhaps the Arabs would be calmer.

I have never liked the terms “pro-war” and “anti-war,” certainly the former. None of us is pro-war. It’s just that some of us think that it’s necessary to wage, while others do not. The Bush side thinks the war is a matter of self-defense; the other side thinks it’s a matter of belligerence, or arrogance, or utopianism, or servitude to “Sharon,” or something else bad.

As I have said before, I wish this election weren’t so important. But I’m afraid it is. If the Americans elected John Kerry in, oh, 1992 or 1996, that would be one thing. If they elect him in 2004–that will tell us something disheartening.

A little story: Some time ago, England had what was called “the Metric Martyr.” This was a fellow–a grocer or a butcher, I forget which–who sold his goods in imperial measures: pounds, ounces, etc. But because England is now beholden to Brussels, he was prosecuted for not using the metric system (hence, Metric Martyr).

I asked our senior editor David Pryce-Jones (a Brit), “How could the British people permit this? I mean, it’s their system–the imperial system, or the English system–to begin with.” David answered, “The British people wouldn’t permit it. The question is whether they remain the British people.”

I have thought about that story in the last few weeks.

‐I mentioned, above, how we sort of lucked out with Reagan. Let me explain, just a bit: A lot of what Reagan did was unpopular: SDI. Aid to the Contras. The installation of cruise and Pershing missiles. Eschewing summits. Walking away from a deal at Reykjavik. Withdrawing from UNESCO (a small but somehow mighty move). Reagan did not do what was popular, but what he figured was right. Most people remember Reagan fondly now; those two terms, however, were full of screaming, hatred, and pain.

What George W. Bush is doing now is hard, often unpopular, and right. Will the Americans give him another term, so as to finish the job, or at least further it significantly? It could make a great difference in how history views him. Of course, it could also make a great difference in how history proceeds.

‐In thinking about the results on Nov. 2, it is useful to think who in the world will be encouraged by them–and elated and emboldened–and who will be discouraged–deflated and weakened.

Think of Chirac, Schroeder, and whoever the fellow is in Brussels at the moment; think of Kofi Annan and the U.N. bureaucracy; think of Arafat, Assad, Zarqawi, the nuclear-arming mullahs. Then think of the new Iraqi government, and the new Afghan government, and Blair, and Berlusconi, and the East Europeans, and the Middle Eastern dissidents and democrats and liberals.

Have I mentioned that much hinges on this election?

‐Several times a day, people ask me, “Who will win the election?” I don’t blame them; I ask others the same question. But I am not so good with the answer. I am supposed to be a political expert, and to a degree I am. But, like many others, I am somewhat flummoxed by the present election. Consequently, I will not be surprised on Nov. 2 (or Nov. 3, or Dec. 11, or whenever the election is decided). If Kerry wins by a big margin, if Bush wins by a big margin; if one or the other wins in a squeaker–I won’t be surprised.

Because I just don’t know.

My apologies!

‐Speaking of surprises, or non-surprises: A reader asks me, “Will there be a Thursday surprise? A Thursday-before-Election-Day surprise?” You know, on the order of W.’s DUI, and the Iran-Contra indictments handed down in 1992. (Don’t know whether “handed down” is the right phraseology, not having a lawyer handy, so I may have flubbed it.) What could this year’s anti-Bush surprise be? Laura really never worked a day in her life, being AWOL from her jobs as a teacher and librarian for a full decade?

‐The older I get, the less I like ridicule, but it’s hard to ignore the John Edwards hair video. Have you seen it? It is almost beyond belief. We expect public figures, celebrities, to be vain, but this is outrageous. Whoever named Edwards the Breck Guy didn’t know the half of it. He doesn’t just check and worry over his hair, the way anyone would before going before the cameras. He goes at it, obsesses over it, to a nearly pathological extent.

Didn’t Michael Moore use video of this type against us in his movie? I can’t imagine that any Republican could be more hilarious than this.

Call me insensitive, or even malicious, but I can see a Republican ad out of this Edwards video–I mean, similar to the Kerry/windsurfing/”Beautiful Blue Danube” ad. Oh, how delicious!

And this should tell us something about the two tickets: At the bottom of the Democratic one, you have John Edwards, endlessly playing with, and admiring, his hair; at the bottom of the Republican one, you have Dick Cheney, who is stolid, sober, experienced, knowledgeable, all-business. The kind of man you’d want in . . . you know, like, a war.

Am I just too partisan?

And I remind you that, when Kerry announced his ticket, he said, “We’ve got better hair.” So they do.

‐I’ve got tons more, but I’m going to save it for another day (not necessarily a rainy one). Let’s have a little music. For a piece on James Levine–as he takes over the Boston Symphony–please go here. For reviews of the tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who premiered a new Previn work, and the Panocha Quartet, which appeared with the pianist András Schiff, please go here.

‐A little mail? One reader writes, “Did you see that Fidel Castro took a fall? I wonder if Jimmy Carter broke his nose.” Frankly, there are lots of noses–many of them from Hollywood, and from ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and CNN–in those parts.

‐In last Thursday’s Impromptus, I published a letter containing the old wisdom, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life.” Another reader wrote, “I think the more appropriate line about fishing is, ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll try to replace you with someone who’ll give him fish every day.’”

And still another reader wrote, “Here in Wisconsin, we say, ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll stay out on the lake all day drinking beer.’”

See you, brave Nov. 2nders.


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