Politics & Policy

A Great Store, a Great Tour, a Great Party, and More

Do you remember how I said recently I was Cartered out? That is, I’d written so much about Jimmy Carter, I couldn’t say any more, no matter what he did (which is a lot)? Well, I’m afraid I’m Wal-Marted out, too. Wal-Mart has just been defeated in New York City; the activists have prevented it from coming (to Queens). Such a shame.

The activists, of course, had no need of Wal-Mart: They didn’t need jobs, and they didn’t need goods at Wal-Mart prices. They have the fortune to work and shop elsewhere. Wal-Mart is a godsend to the poor and the lower middle class. They generally don’t get a say in whether a Wal-Mart goes up. The activists would greatly prefer a vacant lot–with weeds growing between the cracks–to a Wal-Mart, which they deem an unmatchable offense.

Wal-Mart is an all-purpose bogeyman, responsible, in some people’s minds, for an array of ills. The anti-Wal-Mart mindset is a kind of religion, like dumb environmentalism, or dumb devotion to gun control, or dumb hatred of the SUV. You can’t reason with these people, can’t have an honest debate with them: Wal-Mart is simply their devil.

At least that takes the pressure off Target and McDonald’s.

But I’ve written a lot about this, and, as I say, I’m Wal-Marted out. I just find it heartbreaking when Wal-Mart is defeated on the basis of economic ignorance and class snobbery. The activists–because they are activists–get their way. And the people who would benefit from Wal-Mart, both as employees and as shoppers: screwed.

‐I wanted to be sure you saw the statement from Walid Jumblatt, reported in a David Ignatius column. I’ll provide a few paragraphs, leading up to the statement:

I dined Monday night with Jumblatt in his mountain fortress in Moukhtara, southeast of Beirut. He moved there for safety last weekend because of worries that he would be the next target of whoever killed Hariri. We sat under a portrait of Jumblatt’s father, Kamal, who was assassinated in 1976 after he opposed the initial entry of Syrian troops into Lebanon. With me was Jamil Mroue, a Lebanese Shiite journalist whose own father was assassinated by Arab radicals in the 1960s. It was an evening when the ghosts of the past mingled with hopes for the future.

Jumblatt dresses like an ex-hippie, in jeans and loafers, but he maintains the exquisite manners of a Lebanese aristocrat. Over the years, I’ve often heard him denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri’s death, he’s sounding almost like a neoconservative. He says he’s determined to defy the Syrians until their troops leave Lebanon and the Lahoud government is replaced.

“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” explains Jumblatt. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The hated George W. Bush did this. He won’t get the credit–but that’s okay. He did it, and the unblinkered will know it.

‐I had a superb experience yesterday, which I must tell you about. I had a tour of the Alexander Hamilton exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, given by my colleague Richard Brookhiser. He–a Hamilton biographer–is the curator of the exhibition. (Rick’s book is Alexander Hamilton, American.) The exhibition ends on Monday. If you possibly can see it before then: Treat yourself.

The exhibition is brilliantly conceived, and the texts are a particular pleasure to read: That’s no surprise; Rick wrote them. I would have recognized that writing even if I hadn’t known anything about the making of the exhibition. The texts are just like him: pithy, graceful, informative, right. Rick is also the voice of the audio guide; I didn’t hear that, however, as I had the real thing with me.

A neat and surprising idea was the printing of a special, all-things-Hamilton edition of the New York Post (a newspaper founded by the great man). It looks just like today’s Post, that sensational tabloid. It has headlines like “Congress Zaps France Over ‘XYZ’ Flap,” and “Election 1800: It’s Jeffers-won!” There’s a gossip page that asks, “Who’s your daddy?”

But I don’t mean to leave the impression of unseriousness. This Hamilton show is the best such exhibition I have seen, and, of course, it didn’t hurt to have Brookhiser at my side. You should have seen how he was treated by fans who recognized him: These history buffs–most of them women–did everything but throw their panties at him. I felt like I was being shown around Yankee Stadium by Derek Jeter or something.

I’m afraid I can’t offer you that luxury. But if you can get to the New-York Historical Society–at Central Park West and 77th St.–before the end of Monday, you won’t be sorry.

Your appreciation of Hamilton, and early America, will advance by leaps and bounds. Your estimation of Jefferson, I’m afraid, will decrease.

I’ve got to return to my Dumas Malone!

‐If you don’t want to go to the Hamilton exhibition, you can go to a symposium entitled “Post-Colonial and Feminist Scholarship After 9/11.” This is at Smith College. Have a taste:

One casualty of the War on Terror is critical thought. Those both within and outside the US academy who are invested in the complexity of human endeavors across the planet face rebuke for disloyalty to the War. [Really? From whom? Do they ever encounter anyone who disagrees with them?] Complexity must give way to partisanship: either you are for us, or against us. Postcolonial and feminist scholarship has resisted such polemical forms of understanding the world. This symposium addresses the shrinking of the academic sphere and the special urgency of postcolonial and feminist scholarship today.

At Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall, you can attend a panel concerning “What is the new surveillance? An overview of current conditions.” Later you can hear from such scholars as Joy James, “Africana Studies, Brown University,” and Amrita Basu, “Women and Gender Studies, Amherst College,” and . . .

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. One thing’s sure: I bet they’re not “invested in the complexity of human endeavors across the planet”; I bet they regard things as pretty simple.

‐I wish to direct your attention to an intriguing editorial in the New York Sun, which deals with Ahmad Chalabi’s future. When I read it, a little light flashed: I was reminded of an interview I did with Condi Rice, in the summer of 2002. Anyway, a passage from the editorial:

The head of the Iraqi National Congress has already made fools of those who ridiculed his lack of a democratic base, and he will still emerge as a formidable figure in the new parliament and, perhaps, the government. More substantively, he may be in a position to make good on what he once told a British broadcaster, in response to the question of whether Iraq needs another strongman like the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. “No,” Mr. Chalabi replied. “What Iraq needs is another Erhard.”

His reference was to the great West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, who some would argue did more, by setting the stage for free-market policies in free Germany, than any other man of his time to ensure the triumph of his country in the great contest with communist-controlled East Germany. He did this when West Germany was flat on its back, its stores barren of goods, and its people falling into fights over single potatoes. In 1948, he withdrew the old fiat currency and issued a new hard currency called the deutsche mark. Overnight–meaning within hours–his nation’s economy sprang to life. It set the stage for Erhard’s accession as chancellor 15 years later and ultimately, given the importance of Germany in the heart of Europe, for the West’s victory in the Cold War.

Okay, now please consider this portion of that interview with Rice:

CR: . . . One of the problems with the concept of nation-building is that it implies it’s our job to do. But of course, it’s really the responsibility of the people themselves, with international help, to build their nation.

JN: Sort of what happened in Germany and Japan?

CR: Certainly what happened in Germany. [There] you had the Marshall Plan, you had very strong–during the occupation–strong influences from the international community. But it doesn’t work without Erhard and the German market economy, which the Germans themselves were prepared to put in place.

JN: So we pray for those, then, in the Middle East? For an Erhard and an Adenauer?

CR: I think you find that if you can create the right circumstances, amazing people come to the fore.

Yes.

‐I want to take Tina Brown seriously, because she’s spunky, talented, and important, and all that. So I began to read her column yesterday. And in the second paragraph, I encountered, “There were so many blunders of tone in the first Bush term that Condi Rice in her Jackie O pearls was required to go and suck up to wounded European leaders in advance of the presidential visit.”

Oh, is that what Rice did? Suck up?

I couldn’t read on. Could you have?

‐Speaking of Tina Brown (ex-editrix of The New Yorker): There’s a cartoon in the current issue of The New Yorker that expresses nicely what the Left thinks of Bushian, Friedmanite Social Security reform. A bunch of fat cats are sitting around a men’s club, filling the room with cigar smoke, and one of them says, “Who’da thunk guys like us would ever have found ourselves looking forward to Social Security like this?”

You want to have an honest, robust debate with your political opposition–you really do. But what if they think you’re out to screw old people and enrich Wall Street? Can you talk to such people?

Can you?

‐In an Impromptus last week, I had an item about Richard Cohen, and a particularly obnoxious column of his. Forgive some repetition, but it’s necessary. Cohen wrote,

The line–the semiofficial one, that is–has changed on George Bush. Where once he was supposedly the sort of guy who eschewed books and even thinking and favored instead a decision-making process that was almost entirely the product of instinct, we are now told that the president reads books–really and truly. Among those cited, and famously so, is Natan Sharansky’s “The Case for Democracy,” which supposedly enthralled Bush because up to then, we may deduce, the case for democracy was not obvious to the man who heads the world’s most powerful . . . er, democracy. Better late than never, I suppose.

And I commented as follows:

This must be disingenuous–because Cohen can’t be so stupid as not to know that the debate is over the role of democracy in checking terror and changing the Middle East. And he can’t be so stupid as not to know that the Sharansky position remains, throughout the West–certainly in Washington, D.C.–a minority position. Has Cohen ever talked to Brent Scowcroft? How about virtually the entire Democratic party?

Well, I received a note from my colleague Rachel Friedman, who was an assistant to Sharansky on his book. She writes, “Cohen’s premise in his very first paragraph is off: Bush has said on more than one occasion that Sharansky’s book merely confirmed what he already felt and knew; it offered a theoretical basis and a powerful argument for ideas he firmly held before reading it. So it’s simply false to say that the book ‘enthralled Bush because up to then, we may deduce, the case for democracy was not obvious to the man who heads the world’s most powerful . . . er, democracy.’ Obviously, one has to have ideas in order to feel them confirmed by someone else.”

Rachel continues, “Just as an aside, Cohen’s suggestion (implied if not explicit) that a desire to shape history is essentially the same as the belief that history is one’s own–’and not anyone else’s’ — is ridiculous and odious. What, exactly, is the alternative to trying to shape history? Leaving it to others to shape, of course. Maybe the difference Cohen misses is the difference between ambition and hubris: Ambition in the service of noble ends is a good thing; it’s not at all the same as the (hubristic) belief that one has the power to attain all of those ends, and in exactly the way one wants. No one thinks the U.S. has the power to achieve all we think it should achieve–say, democratizing the entire Middle East in the next four years. That would be delusional. But those of us who support Bush believe we at least ought to try.”

What a marvelous note.

And I received this one, from a reader: “Richard Cohen says that it’s uniquely American to believe History is our pal. Actually, it’s not ‘Americans’ but Marxists who believe this, that History is somehow pre-bent in their direction, via the inexorable action of the Dialectic. Cohen probably buys this Leninist line himself, in its watered-down, defeatist-Democrat version.”

I don’t know if that’s true about Cohen, but I love that word: “pre-bent”!

‐Speaking of words: I was interested in an article our ex-NR colleague Meghan Clyne had in the Sun yesterday–about a speech by Congressman Anthony Weiner. (For the article, please go here.) Who’s Weiner? An extremely annoying Democrat who desires to be mayor. He is a protégé of Chuck Schumer, and he is, in fact, Mini-Schu. The speech he was giving was disrupted by a bunch of “burly” unionists, as Meghan writes, who object to Weiner’s opposition to a West Side stadium. (Parochial issue–you don’t have to know the details.) Anyway, Weiner said, in an interview–about the unionists–”Those guys are my peeps. I have much more in common with those guys than I do with the people in City Hall.”

Those guys are my peeps (meaning, people). That’s either charming or nauseatingly political, and nauseatingly unself-aware. My money is on: not charming.

Weiner also said–about what I take to have been a hint of thuggery in the air–”I may not look like much [he’s scrawny], but I can handle myself . . .”

That, I did like, I must admit.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I had a riff about Nixon, and all the things the Left hated him for, pre-Watergate: the defeat of Jerry Voorhees, the defeat of Helen Gahagan Douglas, etc., etc., etc. Lots of readers wrote to say, “How could you have omitted the nailing of Hiss, and the exoneration of Chambers”–the most important sin of all? And the answer is: I don’t know; I just whiffed.

Also, I had an item touching on Bill Clinton, who, during the Lewinsky scandal, would wave his big Bible at the cameras outside the United Foundry Methodist Church. I said that he started doing this once that scandal broke. Informed readers have let me know that Clinton was doing it before–so I stand corrected, and am sorry.

Anything else from yesterday’s column? Yes, but our time is running short, and I’ll say a couple of more things, then leave. Have a great weekend, incidentally.

‐For my review of the Orion String Quartet in the New York Sun, please go here.

‐Finally, I wish to say what a pleasure it was to see NR and NRO readers at the Buckleys’ last night. It was a fine party, and I don’t know any group smarter or nicer than our readers. Is so, so gratifying.

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