A lot of people have advice for the Republican party–what they can do, how they can “save” themselves. A lot of the talk has to do with moderating–with moving toward the left, or the center. You might think that the Republican party had a crisis on its hands.
Look, I’m all for advice. But it seems sort of strange. I mean, consider: The Republicans have the White House, and, of course, the executive branch that goes with it. They have an increased majority in the Senate, and an increased majority in the House. They have a majority of the governorships. They have about half of the state legislatures.
I mean, the GOP isn’t doing that badly, if you’re talking about electoral fortunes. (This is to say nothing about who’s right, who’s wrong, doctrinally.) If anyone should be a tad worried, it’s the Democrats.
It could be that a lot of the advice-givers like the party the way it was before: when that nice Bob Michel was Republican leader in the House, playing golf with Tip–before Gingrich and the “crazies” rose up. You know, when the Republicans were a permanent minority, just the way God meant it.
A great many people have a great many things to worry about it. Whether the Republican party is connecting with the voters is not a worry. Democrats should worry that Republicans are connecting with them rather too well.
‐I’ll tell you what is uncriticizable–well-nigh uncriticizable: the coverage of the tsunami tragedy. I, and others, find the coverage quite objectionable, but it’s hard to say why. I am someone who loves photojournalism; always have. But one more picture of an Asian tot with a desperate look on her face and outstretched hands . . . I mean, it’s a little cheap, isn’t it? A little too much. A great deal of journalism is exploitative, of course–but there is exploitation and there is exploitation.
And, of course, the tsunami gives plenty of opportunity–illogically–for West-blaming: The West should have prevented the earthquake, it should have prevented the tsunami, it should have had $100 billion in the region a week before the quake, it shouldn’t be rich at all, it should tax its people into penury, we are guilty, we are guilty, we are guilty.
And tsunami coverage, of course, allows journalists to express their “caring”–even though these men and women might treat their families or their colleagues down the hall like you-know-what.
(By the way, do you remember the old definition of a Marxist? “Someone who loves humanity in groups of one million or more.”)
As I say, it’s hard to put your finger on. And maybe I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. But . . . this is Impromptus, after all.
‐Perhaps you have seen reviews of Victor Cherkashin’s new book. Who’s he? An old KGB officer. And his book spills the secrets of all they did, all their triumphs over the West (which turn out to have been mini-triumphs, as the Big One belonged, not to the USSR, but to the West). I myself read an excellent review by a very spy-wise man, Edward Jay Epstein, in the Wall Street Journal.
I had a strange reaction to reading this review, and perhaps you will understand what I mean: “Back in the day,” the Cold War was everything, and I was steeped in it, knowing a million details–including about intelligence. I read endless books on the subject, whole libraries. I could recite the careers of Kim, Guy, and the boys by heart. And I knew the careers of many minor figures as well. I half-figured that I would spend years writing books of my own in this area.
And now . . . and now . . . my knowledge has kind of ebbed away, and the whole drama seems so old, so ancient, like the Athenians and the Spartans or something. And it was so . . . so recent, so all-consuming.
Strange, how history can change on a dime like that. Absolutely weird.
‐The Europeans have gone south, which doesn’t shock you, I know. When Castro cracked down viciously in March ‘03, even the Euros were forced to suspend, or reduce, contacts. I don’t believe they were appalled; they were just embarrassed. Some of the embassies even started inviting dissidents to events (those who were not yet jailed). Now, however, thanks especially to the efforts of the new Spanish government, regular relations with the regime have resumed, and those dissidents–have been shut out. They won’t be invited back.
Advocates of this approach say they can do more good chumming with Castro than they can hosting dissidents. Thing is–they don’t. Do any good, that is.
‐If I could recommend only one article to you this month, it would be Thomas Sowell’s on media coverage of our troops in Iraq: how they ignore the heroics of the living and “honor the dead”–but they don’t really honor them, because their way of honoring is just a backdoor way of opposing the war. Those who don’t really support the military can be seen to be “supporting the military” by “honoring the dead,” falsely. Etc., etc.
Anyway, Sowell–as usual–has seen clearly, and written clearly. I somehow wish that everyone could read this article. Every once in a while, you run across one like that–one that you would like to place in everyone’s hands.
‐Another article that bears reading is by the always-enlightening Daniel Pipes. Here he examines the lexicon of the Middle East–”refugee,” “collaborator,” “settlement,” etc.–and explains how misleading it can be.
‐And do you have Roger Kimball’s latest book yet? It is The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, and it exposes those saboteurs, and makes mincemeat of them. Thank goodness.
The saboteurs are–in brief–trendy-Left professors and critics. Their assaults against art are mind-boggling, and revolting. They are almost unbelievable. In fact, Kimball reports that many of his readers have wondered whether the assaults are real, or merely parodies. They’re real, all right–and they’re the kind of rot that is awarded prizes.
In my view, trendy lefties try to spoil art, not only by politicizing it, but also by sexualizing it–and in the most vile ways. You can’t help thinking that they’re trying to prevent you from enjoying art, ever again. And they’ll succeed, if you let them. You should see what they do to John Singer Sargent’s Daughters of Edward D. Boit. Stomach-turning.
But, in this book he has written, Kimball faces down the spoilers, and restores the glory–and sanity–of art. I say again: Thank goodness.
‐You can look forward, in the next issue of NR, to a piece on the recent Sikh riots by the splendid Anthony Daniels. The Sikh riots? In Birmingham, England, rioters stormed a theater, injuring policemen, breaking glass, and forcing the evacuation of the audience. The play they objected to was written by a Sikh woman, who had portrayed a rape and murder inside a temple. The theater company withdrew the play.
An interesting thing about this interesting case is that it brought forth a clash of liberal pieties: On one hand, liberals love–or say they love–”minorities,” and everything about them; on the other hand, they love–or say they love–free expression. When the two clash, if they clash, which wins? Not the free-expression side, it seems. (I have other choice examples of these “clashes of pieties,” but we’ll save them for another day.)
Anyway, as I said, you can look forward to that splendid analysis. In the meantime, let me give you a wonderful quote from a New York Times article. It is from a Sikh leader in England. Says Mr. Singh, “We are not against freedom of speech, but there’s no right to offend.”
Ah, I see!
As your mother might have said, I think someone has a lot to learn.
‐Let’s have a little language. I was struck by a comment in a Shirley Chisholm obit: “Anyone that came in contact with her, they had a feeling of a careness . . .” I love that word, “careness.” English is such a big, accommodating, proteanly expressive language! The other month, I celebrated that language in a review of a book that celebrates it: David Crystal’s The Stories of English. (The review is here.)
‐Let’s have a little music: For a review of the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s Turandot, please go here. And for the December installment of my New Criterion “chronicle,” please go here.
‐In Monday’s Impromptus, I had a little item touching on Dan Aykroyd, and this elicited a ton of mail. The New York Post had reported his New Year’s resolution: “To look [others] in the eye for the fond, warm embrace that wafts across this great, free land, and let us remember this phrase: ‘Death to our enemies! Go, Marines!’” Somehow, I doubted the sincerity of the actor’s comment.
But lotsa people had read that he supported Bush in 2004, because he thought the reelection of the president was necessary to the War on Terror, a war necessary to prosecute and win. At the same time, Aykroyd looked forward to backing Hillary in ‘08.
Make of that what you will!
‐I’d like to publish some letters concerning Che Guevara, prompted by my piece in the current issue of NR, entitled “Che Chic.” I found these letters–and more, that I am unable to publish–extraordinary, for various reasons.
Thank you to all who wrote, and who do write. I wish I had time to read and answer everyone as I should.
‐”Dear Jay: Che Guevara was also the architect of La Violencia in rural Colombia in 1962-64. La Violencia’s most infamous activities included stopping busloads of Colombian peasants and slitting the throats of women and children and then kidnapping young boys to train in their guerrilla army. I know this because I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia from 1962 to 1964.”
‐”Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I thought of you last week as I finished a tour of Cincinnati’s new National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and stood in the gift shop staring at a plush Che doll (‘What the . . .?!’). Having just come from the ‘Un-Freedom’ exhibit, highlighting present injustices around the world, I found the cuddly, Muppet-like toy particularly ghastly and absurd. I will show you a picture of what I saw: here. Was this inclusion the result of ignorance? Probably. Did I leave the museum with less respect for its keepers and content? Yep.
“The museum workers were all so sweet and kind, I didn’t want to confront them there, so I wrote a letter.”
‐”Hey, Jay: My dad graduated from Georgia Tech here in Atlanta so I grew up a Tech fan and frequent their website. I was on the site today, and one of the pictures on their home page showed students standing around a statue of Guevara in Cuba. If you hold your mouse on the picture, the caption reads, ‘Studying abroad in Cuba.’ There are smiles all around, and Guevara is holding a small child. I was quite disheartened and showed my wife the picture, at which she quipped, ‘I wonder if, after holding the child, he killed it.’”
‐”Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I read your article after returning from a week in Cuba with a group sponsored by my synagogue. The purpose of our mission was to support the remnants of Jewish communities in Havana and elsewhere.
“I fell in Havana on the first day of our trip, and I suffered a head wound and lots of bruises. This enabled me to see firsthand the vaunted Cuban medical system. Imagine having a swollen hand but no ice at the hospital to treat it. (But there is ice at the tourist hotels!) I was placed in a hallway, suffered through a 20-minute power blackout, and was sutured while lying on a metal gurney with only my head protected by a sheet of brown paper. The man on the next gurney was having his stomach stitched after a knife fight. There were no ‘privacy’ curtains. There were also no blankets, and the hospital had no medicine. We had to go to an ‘all night’ pharmacy–which was behind someone’s apartment door–to get the only antibiotic available: tetracycline.
“There were pictures of Che all over Cuba–on billboards, postcards, and calendars. Our tour-bus driver had Che’s picture attached to his inside window. Santa Clara has a huge monument to Che, and the Museum of the Revolution is filled with ‘romantic’ images of this butcher. All of the billboards in Cuba spouted Castro’s propaganda. [Here follows a long, sad description of the country, and the dangers its people constantly face.]
“Needless to say, I was glad to return to the United States. In fact, when I got off the plane in Miami, I literally kissed the ground. We are very lucky.”
‐”Jay, the Left admires anyone who kills and tortures on a sufficiently grand scale in furtherance of the great utopian dream, but the tedious day-to-day routine of actually running a Communist state dims the luster somewhat. That’s why you can always find Trotskyite factions, but will almost never find a self-described Stalinist among Western leftists. To the Left, Castro is Marlon Brando, revered for his total body of work; but Guevara is James Dean, who never compromised his hipness by getting old and fat.”
I wish I had written that.
‐”Jay, so few Americans take the time to put learning a little history before what may be fashionable. Thirteen years ago, I made this mistake, as a rebellious teenager in love with all things ‘anti-establishment.’ It took the words of my father to stop my purchase of a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt with Guevara’s likeness emblazoned upon it. ‘I won’t have my son wearing a shirt that glorifies a Communist thug who murdered and oppressed thousands of innocent people whose only crime was to seek the freedom you have to buy this piece of s*** at the mall.’
“As I get older I can only look back and thank those who have tried to put the substance of the world, instead of the style, in front of me. I’m also thankful that my Old Man doesn’t rub it in–too much.”
‐”Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I currently attend a local liberal arts college where I am double major in international studies and history. As part of my international studies major I was required to take a modern Latin America class last spring. During the class we studied Guevara as if he had been an idealistic, revolutionary hero fighting for the disenfranchised, U.S.-oppressed people of Cuba. Admittedly I knew very little of Guevara but searched out additional information beyond class due to my ever-increasing distrust of the professor. You can imagine my feelings after discovering who Guevara really was in contrast to the opinions of my very liberal professor and the political propaganda that we received in class.”
What a wonderful student. But how many are like her? And why should they have to fight and scramble so to learn–or rather, to unlearn what they are paying to learn?
‐Finally, readers wonder where to go to get that “Mickey Guevara” T-shirt, the shirt with the Mouse’s ears on that “iconic” face of Che: You go to www.thedissidentfrogman.com!