Politics & Policy

Singers, Presidents, Letters, &C.

Friends, I thought I’d share with you some inaugural jottings. Then we’ll have a few “regular” items, then some letters–maybe a lot of letters–then out. Okay?

‐The best line I heard uttered by a TV commentator yesterday was from a correspondent at Fox News. I forget who it was. He was noting that Senator Kerry was seated only 30 feet from where the president would speak, “And what a difference 30 feet makes.”

‐Um, shouldn’t Republican music be a little better? And–much as I love Hatch and Ashcroft–isn’t Inauguration Day a day for other composers? But then, maybe to have music from composers in your midst . . . is nice.

‐As I watched Laura Bush walk down a corridor, on her way to the inaugural podium, I thought, “What a big, awe-inspiring moment, for a girl from Midland, Texas.” And then I remembered: She must have attended the two Reagan inaugurations, because her father-in-law was being sworn in as vice president. And she attended the 1989 inauguration, because her father-in-law was being sworn in as president. And she might have attended the next inauguration, when her father-in-law was the outgoing president. She probably skipped the next one. And she was there in 2001, when her husband was sworn in . . . and was there yesterday. That would make it her sixth inauguration. Old hat. Practically boring.

(Not really–I’m just talking here.)

‐Will she ever attend an inauguration as a sister-in-law?

‐Someone was introducing congressional spouses, over a loudspeaker, and he said, “Mrs. Tom DeLay, Mr. Paul Pelosi . . .” Jarring, and interesting.

‐People will hate me for writing this–and I may hate myself for writing it–but I’m going to do it anyway: I love that a big fat woman was leading Bush out to the podium. There are millions of big fat women in America, and big fat men, and I was delighted to see this one–a shape you don’t often see on television.

I also note that the last couple of Republican Speakers of the House are big, big men.

And I liked that another person accompanying Bush was named “Bill Pickle.” That is so incredibly American: not “William S. Pickle,” but “Bill Pickle.” A perfect American name.

‐I should have known Denyce Graves would be there, to sing. That should sell a lot of her patriotic album, American Anthem. (I reviewed it once; it’s pretty good.) Next month, Graves will sing one of her signature roles–Dalila, in the Saint-Saëns opera–at the Met.

And I should have known that Susan Graham might be there (being from Midland)! She sang “Bless This House,” and I believe I remember that Grace Bumbry sang it, at some august event–in the White House, I think. I should check, but this is Impromptus!

By the way, I believe Graham sang the song too slowly, and in too stately a manner–despite the fact that this was a state occasion. The rendition was just slightly stilted, in my judgment.

Of all the Graham recordings, incidentally, I believe that the best is the live one, of a recital at Carnegie Hall. (It’s here, on Amazon.) At the end, she sings a hilarious novelty piece, written for her by Ben Moore. (On being a mezzo-soprano–he also wrote one for Deborah Voigt, on being a Wagnerian.)

‐I will let you in on something (partially): In the world of classical music, there’s a singer–quite well-known–who is a Republican, conservative Bush-supporter. Someone close to her said, “The White House really ought to invite her to sing sometime, because she’s the only one in the whole business who voted for him.”

No, I will not out her. Are you kidding?

‐A colleague wrote to say, “Did you catch the way Trent Lott pronounced mezzo-soprano — ‘mess-o-soprano’?” Yeah, but that’s a little better, somehow, than the way Jack Kemp pronounced it, in the 1996 vice-presidential debate: “mez-o-soprano.”

‐RFK Stadium is unbelievably ugly, in the long shot behind the Capitol. Just spoils the whole thing. What an eyesore. (Kind of cool in isolation, however.)

‐Oh, yeah, I meant to say something else about Denyce Graves: At the end of the song she sang, when she was sitting on that high F–actually, well short of that F–I was screaming at the television, “Palate, palate! Get that baby up, baby!” Never did.

‐My goodness, did Denny Hastert screw up the oath of office, as he administered it to Vice President Cheney. Hastert read too fast, and he read wrongly–but Cheney kept his cool, though one could tell he was annoyed. Denny might have been nervous. I should go easy. Still . . .

‐I hate to tell you, but “Hail Columbia” has an itsy bit of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in it.

‐Both Hastert and Justice Rehnquist said “Congratulations” to the oath-taker, immediately after the completion of the oath. I think “Congratulations” is inappropriate–may be just me. Congratulations on what? Winning the election? No, an oath–a vow–is a solemn thing.

‐Bush said, “Vice President Cheney, Mr. Chief Justice, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton, reverend clergy, distinguished guests, fellow citizens”–then the audience applauded. And Bush let them. Sheesh.

Three points (further points): I wish Bush had begun, “Fellow citizens”–just “Fellow citizens.” Because Cheney, Carter, Rehnquist, et al., are citizens. And this next point is actually my mother’s: She says that Bush should have found a way to acknowledge President Ford (who apparently was too infirm to travel); I agree. And third–Rehnquist had pretty much left when Bush began, so that was just slightly awkward.

‐Bush said, “I am grateful for the honor of this hour.” I believe a draft of his 2000 convention speech said, “Thank you for the honor of this hour”–and that Bush scratched “of this hour” in favor of “Thank you for this honor.” I think I remember reading that in some news account. But anyway, here is “. . . of this hour.”

‐Amazing how Bush got right into it–no introductory chaff, no folderol–just right into the challenge of our times. Marvelous.

‐When he said, “After the shipwreck of Communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical,” I thought of President Clinton–and how he must be burning.

‐When he said, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” I thought of FDR, in 1945: “We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away.” (That was Roosevelt in his fourth inaugural address.)

‐Here was the nub of it: “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” Connecting freedom and democracy to our security is realism.

‐Perhaps my favorite line: “America’s influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.” No, let me identify my favorite clause: “fortunately for the oppressed.”

You think W. would have let Solzhenitsyn into the White House in 1975?

‐As I was listening to W., I thought of my dear Jimmy Carter: I wanted to say to him, “So, you think youre a human-rights president, huh?”

‐Fox News cameras did excellent work: When Bush said, “. . . rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators,” a camera went right to Jeane Kirkpatrick–whose most famous essay was “Dictatorships and Double Standards” (Commentary). The camera got her right on the word “dictators”–excellent.

‐As Bush was talking, Jim Jeffords had on his face the sourest look I have ever seen. I mean, ever (and I’ve seen some sour looks). I think his milk policy curdled or something.

‐When Bush said, “. . . yesterday, today, and forever,” I had a quick nervous thought about George Wallace. But, of course, we get this from the Bible (Hebrews).

‐If I were a dictator, I’d be shaking in my boots over this speech–which, of course, is one of the points of such speeches (and Bush has given many like it; this is just the crystallizing one). (For other Bush speeches, you may wish to see the NR book We Will Prevail.)

‐”. . . even the unwanted have worth.” Fabulous.

‐Of course the Left would disrupt the speech. That’s what it does; it has certainly done it all of my life, on college campuses and beyond. For them, freedom of speech means the freedom to shut you up. They, naturally, are never shut up.

‐But I don’t wish to end my inaugural–particularly my inaugural-address–remarks on a gripe: That speech, my friends, should be chiseled on a wall. It is magnificent, because magnificently true and right. If ever anything deserved the adjective Lincolnesque, this is it.

‐You know, I said we’d have some regular items, then letters, but let’s skip the regular items–and have some letters.

“Thought you might enjoy this. I was driving in to work here in Cambridge, Mass., the other day, and on a road near MIT I was behind a car with a Massachusetts license plate that had a bumper sticker saying, ‘I’d rather be in Ann Arbor.’ As if Cambridge weren’t left-wing enough!”

‐”Jay, during the primaries, a young man wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt asked me to register to vote. I asked him point-blank, ‘You don’t appreciate the irony of asking someone to vote while wearing that shirt?’ Shamefaced, he turned away.”

‐”Jay, in your Impromptus about conservative caring vs. liberal caring, there is a whole arena that you don’t touch, and understandably so: that of religion. Over my life, I have attended three churches: a liberal church in a liberal denomination, a moderate church in a liberal denomination, and a conservative church in a conservative denomination. Need I answer any of the following questions? Which church gives the most to missions? Which has the most volunteers for missions and community services? As a bonus–which is the most ethnically diverse?

“As you observed, this is a topic that can go on forever, so I’ll stop before I do.”

‐”Recently on the Boston Globe letters page, a reader wrote in to chastise all those who criticized Prince Harry for his costume-party putsch–for not considering that perhaps the prince wore that outfit as a means of protesting Tony Blair’s support of President Bush. Only in Boston/Cambridge!”

If only that were true.

‐”Jay, when I was growing up, my father would never discuss his politics. We suspected that he was conservative, and perhaps–since it was the late ’60s and early ’70s–he didn’t think it was wise to air his views. In any case, I recall a discussion about our role in Vietnam involving youthful relatives. My father had never voiced his opinion on the war but was clearly growing more irritated as the adolescents pontificated on the subject. Finally he stood up and said, ‘Have you ever seen someone get in a boat and try to get to Vietnam?’ Then he left. Nobody said anything for a few seconds, and then the subject changed.

“The same, of course, applies to Cuba.”

‐”I live in the only ‘red’ county surrounding Philadelphia and was Christmas shopping in a large chain bookstore. After waiting in line for an ungodly amount of time I got up to the cash register and placed the books on the counter. The book on top was Sean Hannity’s Let Freedom Ring. The twenty-something clerk said, ‘It should be called, “Let Idiots Rule.”‘ Shaking my head, I looked at him and simply remarked, ‘Seems to me they already do.’”

‐”Jay, did you see this cartoon? It calls President Bush a racist and Condoleezza Rice a hater of blacks. Have you ever seen anything more vile?”

Yes–all the other cartoons of this nature.

‐”The other day, I was going to a meeting at Toronto City Hall and noticed a display in the lobby. It was sponsored by the Cuban consulate in Toronto, and it showcased how great relations between Cuba and Canada are. It included pictures of former prime ministers Chrétien and Trudeau with Castro, Canadians participating in the Cuban May Day parade, and–get this–Canadians from Revenue Canada (our IRS) teaching the Cubans how to better collect taxes. We are teaching Communists how to collect taxes! Sometimes I think this country is crazy.”

No, not crazy–just without conscience.

‐”Your Kansas writer says that they say, ‘Do what?’ for, ‘Pardon–what did you say?’ Well, here in East Texas, we also use it as an exclamation of disbelief. For example, ‘Hey, I just saw Jay Nordlinger wearing a Che shirt.’ ‘Do what?’”

‐”Jay, I’m tired of the suffix ‘-gate’ to go with every scandal. I propose another one: ‘-quiddick.’ Don’t you think it’s about time?”


‐And finally, how you like this? “Jay, a reader talked about Tater Peeler Road, in Lebanon, Tenn. Well, my father grew up near Lebanon. He told me the story behind the naming of the road. Apparently, the road was so rough and curvy that if you drove a wagonload of potatoes down it, the potatoes would bounce around in the wagon so much that they would peel themselves.”

Isn’t that terrific?

Good weekend, y’all.


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