I know it’s been a while–since Friday night–but can you stand a little debate commentary? I’ll be brief (for me).
Our guy, President Bush, showed up. He hadn’t really shown up before. This was the true Bush, Bush as he is. He didn’t do his best–I hope he’ll do his best, or close to it, tomorrow night–but he represented himself. In the first debate, he hadn’t given himself a fair shake.
Last Friday allows us to say, “This is Bush. If you want to vote against him, go ahead. But don’t vote against that impostor who was present in the first debate.”
Senator Kerry did well, sure. He always would. He is a skilled debater. But I thought he was a bit stiffer than in the first debate, when he was really fluid. He also struck me as condescending. For example, he ostentatiously–and repeatedly–first-named the Regular Joe questioners. Bush did this too, but not as much, and more naturally, I think. When Kerry said, “Marie,” or “Walter,” I sort of cringed. They’d never call him “John.”
And how about his answers to those questioners about stem-cell research and abortion? Did you have the impression, as I did, that he was really saying, “I feel sorry for you, you snake-handling boob, I really do”? Could’ve been me.
I thought Bush’s closing statement was surprisingly strong–really strong. Practically moving. Almost as though he were reading from an excellent script. You could put that whole closing statement in a television ad.
But he let a thousand opportunities go by, as one must, really, in a situation like this. (I’m sure the Kerry partisans also say, “He let a thousand opportunities go by”–or maybe 250.) Kerry simply doesn’t run honestly. That is my principal complaint. This is a fairly straightforward contest between a Texas conservative and a Massachusetts liberal: Choose. But Kerry has blurred himself, with the complicity of the Left–which will go along for the sake of the victory–and with the complicity of the news media.
As a result, no one knows how very left-wing he is. This Haydenesque anti-war activist. A guy who campaigned on the nuclear freeze–which would have been a gift to the Soviet Union. A guy who fought Reagan every step of the way, and who now invokes the name of Reagan in debate–without contradiction. Kerry opposed the installation of the so-called Euromissiles, which did so much to check the Soviet Union. He opposed SDI, which everyone–most important, the Russians themselves–says hastened the Empire’s collapse. He painted Reagan as a warmonger, bent on getting us into another Vietnam in Central America. Of Grenada, he said, “The invasion represented a bully’s show of force against a weak Third World nation.” What does that say about Kerry’s geopolitical understanding? What does that say about his regard for Grenadians, who were freed from a cruel dictatorship? What does that say about his concern for U.S. students on the island?
Havana and Moscow knew exactly what Grenada meant; Kerry didn’t.
I could go on–but you know all this. Several months ago, I spelled out much of Kerry’s record in an article called “Back in Sandinista Days . . .” No one paid attention, of course, except for some interested, hyper-politicized conservatives. Because there is a strange silence on Kerry’s record, a record of standard New Left activity and thought. He spent half the time on his famous subcommittee chasing the Loony Left theory that Vice President Bush–then gearing up to run for president–was in on drug-running. He was in bed with the Christic Institute, IPS–all that rabble. And now, as with Reagan, Kerry glowingly invokes the name of the first Bush.
But he’ll get away with it. I know that the Old Media are weakened–but they are still behemoths. If I am interested in Kerry’s past, that means nothing. If Dan, Tom, and Peter are . . . now we’re cooking.
I really don’t care how people vote as long as they know what they’re voting for. (Needless to say, I care–but you know what I mean, in this instance.) In the last few days, I’ve thought about 1992. In that year, Governor Clinton of Arkansas ran a quite conservative campaign, getting to the right of the incumbent Republican on issue after issue. Americans elected him by a plurality. At the time of his inauguration, Barbra Streisand shrieked into a microphone–this was at an event held in the Cap Center, outside Washington–”We’re in, we’re in! At long last, we’re in!” And I remarked, “What do you mean, ‘we’?” Clinton hadn’t campaigned that way. He was anything but Hollywood Left.
But it didn’t matter: He was in, and so were they.
This is how it could happen next month. Americans may vote for this tough-minded, articulate hawk we see in the debates–the guy who looks uncannily like Senator Kerry, the longtime senator from Massachusetts. And then, when he’s in, that whole crowd will be in: Charlie Rangel, the Deaniacs, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, all of them. It’ll be their victory.
‐Here is a fear: that, after the first debate, voters underwent a shift. They lost confidence in President Bush, and gained confidence in Kerry. They saw that Kerry was a plausible president. He didn’t show up in a tie-dyed shirt. He was a sober, informed, conservative-sounding guy who was pledging to win the War on Terror. And they said, “Oh: He’s okay.” If they were looking for an excuse to fire Bush, and hire Kerry, that first debate gave it to them.
This is what the pros say about 1980: Voters were looking for an excuse to fire President Carter, but they weren’t sure about Reagan, who had been portrayed as a dumb, crude, racist nuclear cowboy. But Reagan wasn’t that way at all, before the cameras. So . . . goodbye, Jimmy; hello, Ronnie.
I say again, yikes.
‐Hurray for John Howard! Or rather, hurray for Australians, for reelecting him. This was a blow to the terrorists and their state supporters, and a shot in the arm for the liberalization of Australia. (By liberalization, I mean desocialization, of course. The “right-wing” Howard is leader of the Liberal party. They have their terms straight down there, to their infinite credit.)
NR’s–and The National Interest’s–John O’Sullivan had a good column on Howard, in which he said,
Australia has been a faithful U.S. ally in every American war since 1917 without needing (in John Kerry’s words) to be either “coerced or bribed.” At risk was a splintering of the English-speaking alliance (America, Australia, and Great Britain) that has been the moral and military core of the war on terrorism.
A Howard defeat would have been a setback for the Anglosphere, a disaster for the United States, and a catastrophe for George W. Bush (and Tony Blair). And it would have been celebrated as such–make no mistake–by France, Germany, Middle Eastern despots, the United Nations, and the massed NGOs (non-governmental organizations) of the “international community.”
I have a little Howard story I like to tell. When he was consul-general in New York, I had the pleasure of knowing Michael Baume, a veteran Australian pol and a friend of Howard’s. I was at a reception attended by a host of Australian officials, including the prime minister. Michael introduced me to him. I said, rather formally, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Prime Minister. We are so delighted to have Mr. Baume here in New York . . .” and he threw his head back, laughed, and said, “That old son-of-a-bitch? Let me tell you about this fellow”–whereupon he was off to the races, in an earthy, impolitic way. And I was a journalist, mind you, whom he didn’t know from Adam.
I thought that incident said a lot about the fabled informality of Australians, and about the general warmth and likeability of that breed.
Okay, end of anecdote.
‐It seems too obvious to say, but you have to say it: Afghans and Iraqis who serve in government do so at great risk. They are all heroes, to varying degrees. I thought of this truth when reading about the assassination of that Karzai minister–and I was disgusted anew at the Kerry campaign’s attitude. I allude to their statements during Prime Minister Allawi’s visit to Washington.
Or hadn’t you guessed that?
‐Speaking of disgusting: Have you seen Jeff Danziger’s cartoon of Condi Rice, portraying her as Prissy, from Gone with the Wind? It is here–and it is beyond foul. This is a man employed by the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times; whose work is syndicated by the New York Times.
There is a sickness in this country, ladies and gentlemen. And it doesn’t blow from the Right.
‐Let me keep going: Did you see that memo from Mark Halperin, the political editor of ABC News, demanding that the Bush and Kerry campaigns not be treated equally, because the Bush campaign . . . well, has to be stopped (in a nutshell)? This ought to be a very big deal. But it will not be a big deal, for two reasons, in my view: 1) People like us (if I may rope you in, Impromptus readers) already know the big media are this way; and 2) it takes the cooperation of the big media to have anything made a big deal of, despite the vaunted (and growing) power of the blogosphere, etc.
So, I can ask the Bob Dole question, “Where’s the outrage?” But I can’t ask it with any heart.
‐Jimmy Carter has won the Nobel Peace Prize; Yasser Arafat has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Hell, Le Duc Tho won it. But now this Kenyan . . . the tree-planter who spreads conspiracy theories about AIDS.
Can we now, at long last, retire the Nobel Peace Prize as something worthy of respect? In fact, I have almost begun to think of it as a badge of shame. But then, once in a blue moon, they actually give the thing to someone good, so . . .
‐The Vatican is now willing to support multinational troops for the purpose of helping Iraq. The secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said, “The child [a new Iraq] has been born. It may be illegitimate, but it’s here, and it must be reared and educated.” Uh-huh. And Saddam Hussein’s government? That is a legitimate child, in the eyes of “realists,” who have done everything imaginable to let Iraqis and other such people down.
‐Here is another “realist,” Jacques Chirac, in China: The EU arms embargo, imposed on Peking after the Tiananmen Square massacre, has “no foundation or justification.” He was speaking directly to Hu Jintao, the PRC strongman. The embargo “is a measure motivated purely and simply by hostility toward China.” A more repulsive statement–a more repulsive lie–would be hard to find. It’s the Communists, not the imposers of the arms embargo, who have expressed hostility to China, by murdering and repressing its people.
In related news, Jean-Michel Jarre, a French pop star, gave a concert in the Forbidden City, but he ditched Cui Jian, who was supposed to perform with him. According to the Daily Telegraph, Cui is China’s “best-known rock star,” and “has been subject to an informal ban by the Chinese government since the Tiananmen protests, when his songs were sung as anthems by student demonstrators.”
The Forbidden City is not forbidden to the French; it is certainly forbidden to the Chinese–the “wrong” Chinese.
Are you a little sick of being told that you ought to be ashamed, as an American, because the French don’t respect us? Why doesn’t anyone ever ask whether we respect them?
‐Folks, this hasn’t been a very fun Impromptus. I have a lot of cutesy language items and so forth, but I think I’ll knock off now, to regroup. (Can one person regroup?) (Hey, there’s a cutesy language item!) Anyway–go Bush.