Couple of days ago, David Brooks published a column on John Stott, a British evangelical leader. There has been some discussion of this column–but I would like to make a queer point.
In 1989–also in 1988, the presidential-election year–there was quite a lot of good press for Barbara Bush. But the praise always came with a companion point: “unlike that b**ch Nancy Reagan.” (No, I don’t mean “butch.”) You couldn’t say something nice about Barbara Bush, the new Republican First Lady, without saying something mean about Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Bush couldn’t be admirable for her own sake; she had to be contrasted to Mrs. Reagan. In fact, if you were a liberal journalist–and if you were a journalist, you probably were–the damning of Mrs. Reagan was your ticket to praising Mrs. Bush.
My point? Brooks says more than once that John Stott is good, unlike that fool Jerry Falwell. (In fact, that is his ending–”Not Falwell, but Stott.”) Fine. Everyone is entitled to his opinion about Falwell, as about Nancy Reagan. But I personally would be more inclined to listen to praise of Stott if I didn’t have to endure the anti-Falwell stuff along with it.
“Serkin was great, unlike that showman Horowitz.” Actually, that’s a colossally dumb opinion. But if you like Serkin–just say so.
Know what I mean?
‐I hasten to add that David Brooks is great and indispensable and to the New York Times op-ed page what a light is to night, or medicine to a sick ward.
‐I confess to having a soft spot for Falwell for a couple of reasons. First, people who hate him number some of the worst people on earth. (I realize this is a poor reason to like somebody.) And second–as I have written before–Falwell gave maybe the finest, most dazzling forensic performance I have ever seen. He was at Harvard Law School, before an insanely hostile audience–a mob. And especially during the Q&A, he played with them as an exceptionally clever and confident cat does with a ball of yarn, eventually batting it out of sight.
‐There are other reasons as well–he has given speeches and interviews quite moving in their humanity. But I digress . . .
‐A reader sent me news from my hometown, Ann Arbor, Mich.–but this is a common American story. Says the article, “District considers lower honor standards: Reduced GPA would raise consistency, minority participation.” “Raise consistency,” I don’t understand. The bit about minorities–I certainly do.
The nub of the thing is that standards for the honor society must be lowered to accommodate “underrepresented minorities like black and Hispanic students.”
There are a million points to make about this, but I will make just two: 1) It’s amazing that grade inflation hasn’t taken care of this problem already. Doesn’t everyone receive an A? And 2) Why aren’t black and Hispanic students and their parents ever outraged at this gross condescension?
Or are they?
‐Speaking of standards, magazines and newspapers–usually conservative–occasionally publish examples of what education used to be like. “Listen to what you had to know to pass the sixth grade on the prairie in 1875!” The dumbing down of our education is a staggering phenomenon. Today’s college degree is the equivalent of, what? A ninth-grade diploma four generations ago?
(I once did a piece on leafing through my grandmother’s Greek primer, intended for primary-school students, I believe. I was going to teach myself Greek–I didn’t get past about page 3.)
Anyway, The Spectator has published an entrance exam required of eleven-year-olds seeking admission to a Birmingham school in 1898. I could barely understand the questions, much less answer them.
‐I hate to wade into this, but I wish to say something about John Kerry and his service in Vietnam. Yes, I know the time has long past, but wait a second.
In the New York Post, I read an article about James Jordan, a 47-year-old sergeant major, who “w[on] a battle with the Army to delay his retirement so he could complete a full, year-long deployment with his troops.” The only reason this was newsworthy is that Jordan is the brother of Michael, the basketball legend. James Jordan said, “We are currently at war. We are doing things, and it requires leaders to do certain things. That’s what I am, a leader.” He was set to retire on April 29 after 30 years in–”[b]ut the father of three requested . . . permission to delay his retirement so he could finish the full deployment.”
“In the end,” said Jordan, “you’ve got to figure out what is good for the team. I felt what was good for the team was some stability at the top.”
Now: At the time Kerry’s war record was being debated, I received a lot of mail from veterans saying, “Kerry left his troops. Left his men. Skedaddled out of there early. I knew people who tore off IVs, who walked out of hospitals in the middle of the night, who hid injuries, who lied–who did anything to stay with their troops, not to be sent home, because they thought it was their responsibility, as leaders.”
I’m fairly sure I didn’t publish any of this mail. I was squeamish–even though it wasn’t I saying it. (You can’t imagine me squeamish, huh?) What Kerry did was perfectly human, you might say–certainly not damnable. He was there four months, he had an opportunity to leave early, so he did. Far be it from me to knock him.
But to turn around and tout yourself as a great leader because of your Vietnam experience?
That’s all my correspondents were saying. And I was reminded of it when reading this James Jordan story.
‐So, in violation of my rule, have I attacked Kerry in order to praise Jordan? I don’t think so–and hope not.
‐Last Sunday, the Post had a piece on those Gotti grandkids, the ones with the reality-TV show. The point was that these kids are “mobnoxious,” as the headline put it.
My favorite part was the comment from someone who works at a mall: “I’ve seen them push fat girls who want autographs out of the way. They only stop for pretty girls.”
Celebs who would push fat girls out of the way–what could be more disgraceful?
‐Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page published an essay by Martin Palous about Europe’s prospective abandonment of Cuban dissidents and democrats. That is one subject–but another one is the amazing, touching relationship between Czechs and the Cuban opposition. Mr. Palous, you see, is the Czech ambassador to the U.S. From Havel on down, Czechs seem to have considerable affinity for the Cubans and their struggle, when the rest of the world turns away, or worse. (In this, I very much include Americans.) There is a piece to be written, about the Czech-Cuban relationship. I will never forget the presence of Havel in Miami. Perhaps I will write that piece, before long.
‐Remember this: There is practically no journalistic offense you can commit against Israel. Virtually any libel is excusable, maybe even laudable. The Jenin massacre? If it didn’t happen, it should have.
And how about little Mohamed al-Dura, the Palestinian boy whom Israeli soldiers shot at for 45 minutes until at last they succeeded in killing him? Do you know that legend?
Well, Nidra Poller does–and in a New York Sun article, she debunks it. An instructive read. (And incidentally, Poller is “a novelist living in Paris,” which is kind of interesting.)
‐Our John Danforth has been doing a bracingly strong job at the U.N.–and it’s not reported much, except by Benny Avni at the Sun. Danforth does not mince words in that word-mincing body. As reported in an Avni piece, he said, “One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this.” The subject was Darfur, in Sudan, and the U.N.’s inaction. “One wonders, if there can’t be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle, why have this building? What is it all about?”
Fundamental questions being asked at the U.N., by the American ambassador. By George W. Bush’s ambassador. Excellent.
Oh, yes, that Nov. 2 election made a difference.
‐A word of advice: If you want to believe that Palestinian leaders desire a two-state solution; if you want to believe that Oslo was other than a ruse, a “Trojan Horse,” as one of those leaders famously described it–do not read the reporting of the Middle East Media Research Institute’s Steven Stalinsky (here, for example), and stay far away from MEMRI altogether. Because they’ll tell you what Palestinians say in their own language, repeatedly and unmistakably. And you don’t want to hear it.
‐Weeks ago, I meant to highlight something from the great Charles Moore, writing on the U.S. election in The Spectator. “The only similarity” between Ohio in ‘04 and Florida in 2000, he said, “was the Democrats’ (and therefore the television’s) desire to take away the legitimacy of the result.”
“. . . the Democrats’ (and therefore the television’s) . . .” I’ll always love him for that. He is an understander.
‐Something to love the New York Post for? According to reports, the jailed Martha Stewart has been hiding culinary items like chives in her brassiere. The Post’s headline: “Nice Spice Rack.”
‐Something not to love John Kerry for: On returning to the Senate, he snarled, “Despite the words of cooperation and moderate-sounding promises, this administration is planning a right-wing assault on values and ideals we hold most deeply.”
Values and ideals you hold most deeply? Like what, partial-birth abortion? But a judge already gave you that.
‐Recently, The Spectator ran Books of the Year features–here is one–and a book repeatedly recommended was The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, whose 60 volumes cost 7,500 pounds (beaucoup bucks). Every suggester felt the need to find a way of saying that the price is worth it (if you can afford it at all). The way I most liked was proffered by Christopher Howse: “Sell your daughter’s pony and buy the new DNB.”
“Sell your daughter’s pony”–lovely.
‐George Will’s column yesterday began disturbingly: “The White House used the front page of Monday’s Washington Post to cashier a Cabinet member. A story headlined ‘Bush to Change Economic Team’ said: ‘One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long.’ Obviously the office will need filling before ‘very long.’”
I hope it’s not true. That doesn’t sound like the George W. Bush way of doing things. That sounds like the Old Washington–cheesy, snarky, mean–way of doing things. The George W. Bush way of doing that should be to sit a fellow down and say, “Here it is.”
‐Was very much taken with the response of Dino Rossi–the Republican winner of Washington’s ultra-close gubernatorial contest–when asked whether the election amounted to a tie. Said he, “A tie is actually when you tie.”
It reminded me of the beautiful innocence of Sonny Bono, who, early in his political career, was asked what he thought of illegal immigration: “Well, it’s illegal, isn’t it?”
‐Couple of letters, then out:
My stepson’s kindergarten teacher sends fliers and other pieces of information home to parents regarding aspects of the children’s education. One flier had the following quotation: “We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.” I looked to see who said that–Mao. Great. We’re using the words of mass murderers to uplift our children. I wonder if “thinking too small” applied to persons who thought that the bourgeoisie could not be fully liquidated.
I just read your article “Button It” from the 11/29 issue of National Review. It always irked me to see my history professor with her Kerry-Edwards button as she would teach us about colonial America–about how Indians were peaceful until those nasty Europeans came in, and about how the “insurgents” in Iraq can be equated to the Minutemen, “doing an effective job” of getting America to want to leave Iraq. And like you, I noticed that the anti-Bush buttons and bumper stickers vanished the day after the election. Once, the faculty parking lot was full of those stickers; but they were relatively sparse in the student lots.
Well, that’s something!