Politics & Policy

Some Bush-Speak, Some Race Talk, Some Memory Lane, and More

Can I grin over the president, just a little–even though the topic is quite serious (a nuclear Iran)? In Brussels, he said, “This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table.”

I can’t tell you how much I love that–it’s better than “Now watch this drive.” President Bush has almost zero patience for boilerplate, even though he repeats it (as he must). And he just can’t help showing his impatience.

Also, I tend to like it when Bush is snippy. Remember when Gore said to him, over the phone on Election Night 2000, “You don’t have to get snippy with me”? I’d bet a million dollars that Bush was, in fact, snippy.

In Brussels, he said, essentially, “We don’t think we have to take out your nukes right this second. But, you know? We may.”

‐I wanted to take note of a couple of things in Bush’s big Feb. 21 speech. Did you catch that opening joke? I thought it was enormously shrewd.

You know, on this journey to Europe, I follow in some large footsteps. More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin arrived on this continent to great acclaim. An observer wrote, “His reputation was more universal than Liebniz or Newton, Frederick or Voltaire, and his character more beloved and esteemed than any or all of them.” The observer went on to say, “There was scarcely a peasant or citizen who did not consider him as a friend to humankind.”

I’ve been hoping for a similar reception. But Secretary Rice told me I should be a realist.

Bush also said, “. . . our strong friendship [that between Europe and the United States] is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe, and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us.”

That seems to me false, but maybe a necessary falsity. There is much that can divide us, for a very long time. If “peace and prosperity across the globe” depends on European-American friendship–well, too bad for peace and prosperity across the globe. I’m fond of quoting the adage, “We don’t have permanent alliances, we have permanent interests.” And it’s just possible that U.S. interests and those of, say, France have seriously diverged. Alliances aren’t forever. The record of mankind makes that much clear.

Said Bush, “After many false starts and dashed hopes and stolen lives, a settlement of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is now within reach.” I was taken with that phrase, “stolen lives.”

I interpreted what follows as a rebuke–a polite, semi-disguised rebuke–to certain Euros. See if you agree:

Together, we must make clear to the Iraqi people that the world is . . . with them, because they have certainly shown their character to the world.

An Iraqi man who lost a leg in a car bombing last year made sure he was there to vote on January the 30th. He said, “I would have crawled here if I had to. I don’t want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today, I’m voting for peace.”

Every vote cast in Iraq was an act of defiance against terror. And the Iraqi people have earned our respect.

Some Europeans joined the fight to liberate Iraq, while others did not. Yet all of us recognize courage when we see it. And we saw it in the Iraqi people.

Nice, no?

Well done, cowboy.

‐I’m going to go back to Howard Dean, for just a minute. You remember Governor Dean: the guy who said, “I hate the Republicans, and everything they stand for.” That wasn’t an extraordinary statement, was it? I mean, don’t Republican leaders talk like that–about Democrats–all the time? Not in public, they don’t. And, in my experience, they don’t do it in private, either.

(Don’t ask me to vouch for myself.)

Anyway, Dean’s latest is to have said this, while meeting the DNC’s “black caucus” (about that, more later): “You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room? Only if they had the hotel staff in here.”

I have talked about race obsession for a very long time; indeed, you might say that I have an obsession with race obsession. You see, I’ve known people like Howard Dean all my life; had some of them in my own family. These are people for whom skin color is supreme, for whom proximity to blackness is validation, and for whom a deficiency of blackness is condemnation.

(I’m talking about white people, of course–white liberals.)

Do you know this type? They flip through magazines, searching for black models in the ads; if there aren’t enough of them, they complain to the magazine. They judge a neighborhood, an institution, or even a cocktail party by its degree of integration. They can’t look at a crowd without taking a little racial census, mentally.

One of the reasons I affiliate myself with the Republicans is that I abhor this racial-mindedness. I think of what Condoleezza Rice said, when she spoke to the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. She was explaining why she became a Republican. She began, “I joined the party for different reasons. I found a party that sees me as an individual, not as part of a group . . .” That was number one, note.

In the course of my work, I often ask people how they came to be conservative (I talk to a lot of conservatives). You may recall the piece I did on Indian Americans in a recent NR. (You are reading the print magazine, aren’t you? Good–I wanted to be assured.) I included in that piece a statement by an Indian American–a Muslim, as it happens–who outlined for me his political history. (Please bear in mind that when I say Indian American, I’m talkin’ Subcontinent, not Navajo.)

He said, “I became a Republican when I was 17, at Berkeley, of all places. This was in the ’80s, and the number-one issue on campus was affirmative action. I had gone to a high school where there were kids of every stripe and color, and race was never an issue. When I got to Berkeley, I thought I was in the Balkans, because everyone hated each other. I couldn’t stand the racial fixations. That’s what drove me to the Republican party.”

One more thing about Howard Dean, and his comments, and the DNC: Do you look forward, as I do, to the day when having a caucus based on race–e.g., the black caucus–will be seen more universally as gross? I mean, of all things to caucus around, politically: skin color! Better to caucus around your hatred of Social Security privatization (for example).

Okay, I’m done–for now.

‐Let’s turn to a little Larry Summers. The Harvard president is under attack, and who knows whether he will survive? The left-wing and PC knives are out for him. You may think that Summers–a Clinton Cabinet member–is safely liberal: but no. Many in Cambridge think him more appropriate to Hillsdale than to Harvard.

The ostensible cause of his current trouble is his speculation about women in the sciences. But is that really why they want him out?

Take a walk down Memory Lane with me. You recall a certain line about Nixon–about why he was done in by Watergate. I’ll recite it for you.

Watergate (went the line) wasn’t “about” the wiretapping of Larry O’Brien’s telephone. Oh, no. It was about payback–about getting Nixon, at last. For what?

For beating the beloved liberal Jerry Voorhees in 1946. For beating the beloved liberal Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950. For being part of the ticket that beat the beloved liberal Adlai Stevenson, twice. For opposing the beloved–and martyred–John F. Kennedy, even though he lost. For coming back from the political grave. For beating the beloved liberal Hubert Humphrey. For pursuing “peace with honor” in Vietnam. For being better–”better”–at expanding the government than LBJ. For . . .

You see their point: Watergate was an excuse to end Nixon, who had been vexing them for 25 years. And, as Nixon himself liked to put it, “I gave them a sword.”

And what are they–”they”–mad at Summers about? For confronting Cornel West (and prompting his departure). For speaking against the rise of anti-Semitism on campus–anti-Semitism disguised as disagreement with Israel. For having a good word for the U.S. military, including the ROTC (still banned from the Harvard campus). For warning against grade inflation. For wanting this great university to have standards other than multiculturalism, political correctness, and leftism.

And it could be that Summers has given them a sword–the sword being this women-in-the-sciences flap.

I hope he survives.

Just as, for many people, Ahmad Chalabi was a stand-in Jew–yes, this Iraqi Shiite–Summers is, for many people, a stand-in conservative.

Funny old world.

‐And now to someone else under fire–but less fire than President Summers is under. I’m talking about John Negroponte, Bush’s nominee for intelligence czar. I have looked into Negroponte and his accusers before. You perhaps remember a piece from June 2001. It dealt with Otto Reich, then Bush’s nominee for assistant secretary of state (Western Hemisphere), and Negroponte, then the nominee for U.N. ambassador. The Dodd/Kerry Left was seeking to block both nominations, on grounds of foul play in Central America. Negroponte got through; Otto did not (and what a travesty that was–don’t get me started).

Anyway, refresh yourself about Negroponte: He is, according to those who should know, the “consummate professional.” He worked in the Foreign Service for nearly 40 years. Was ambassador to Honduras (under Reagan), and ambassador to Mexico (under Bush 41), and ambassador to the Philippines (under Clinton). He also served with George Shultz at the State Department, and with Colin Powell on the National Security Council staff.

Everyone credible, as far as I know, highly valued his performance.

The sticking point is his tenure in Honduras. The Left repeatedly tries to link him to right-wing horrors there, and these charges are absurd. Are smears. In my view–this is a tad psychological–the Left is embarrassed about Central America, same as they will be about the Middle East, affected for the good by George W. Bush.

Central America is one of the great democratic success stories of the last quarter-century. This story is seldom told, though, because, when you tell it, much credit falls on Ronald Reagan. That president and his men–including Negroponte–steered a democratic course in Central America. They beat back both the undemocratic Left and the undemocratic Right. This can be seen most starkly in El Salvador, where they did everything they could to support the democrat Duarte, against the Communist guerrillas and the extreme Right.

Duarte actually kissed the American flag, at the White House, which gave liberal Dems the vapors.

Today, all the countries in Central America are democratic–and that was no sure thing, 20, 25 years ago. In fact, you would have been prudent to bet against it.

When I did that 2001 piece, I talked to George Shultz about Negroponte, and the charges against him. He said, “You go to a country [as ambassador] and not everything that happens there is your fault, but you do your best and you work toward democracy, which John did, superbly.”

I believe him.

‐Well, I have about six more items for today, but I’ve gone on and on, and I should wrap this up. I have been extraordinarily unpithy in this column. Will return to likable brevity later (or at least brevity).

Let me share with you a quick letter: A reader says, “Jay, I should never have doubted my daughter. She goes to Cal State, Chico, and she said she didn’t have Presidents’ Day off–but had Cesar Chavez’s birthday off (March 31). I checked the school calendar, and lo and behold”: Presidents’ Day is a school day. But CC’s b-day–sacred!

Don’t get me wrong: I like American diversity, as you know. But . . .

‐Ara Berberian, the old operatic bass, died. He was from Detroit. When I was young, I’d confuse him sometimes with Ara Parseghian, the football coach. Anyway, I see in Berberian’s obit that he “practiced law for a year. He also tried out for baseball’s minor leagues. When he sang the national anthem at the 1984 World Series at Tiger Stadium, he called it a bigger thrill than his Met debut.”

Wonderful.

‐Speaking of music: Have some criticism from the New York Sun, if you like. For a review of Renée Fleming in recital, please go here. For reviews of Richard Goode and André Watts in recital, please go here. For a review of the New York Philharmonic, led by Riccardo Chailly, please go here.

‐A reader says, “Remember the old sentence that ends in not one but five prepositions? A kid sends Mommy downstairs for a bedtime reading book. She gets the wrong one, so the kid says, ‘What did you bring that book I don’t want to be read to out of up for?’”

‐”Dear Mr. Nordlinger: You recently wrote about George W. Bush and religion–his critics maintain that he wears it on his sleeve; I beg to differ. I’ve been following politics for over 25 years, and I watch about 20 hours of news a week. To be sure, the president is a man of faith, but I have never seen him do one photo-op entering or leaving church. Contrast this with a few of his predecessors.”

Ah, yes. Remember when the Lewinsky scandal began? Clinton began going to the United Foundry Methodist Church, at 16th and P (I believe), the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman presiding. I was covering politics assiduously at the time. Clinton would wave a big Bible at the cameras. One of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen.

But no one called him on it–I mean, no one who mattered. (I did!)

‐Okay, a few letters on New York, and then we’ll quit. A week ago, I did a little item on The Gates–Christo’s big installation in Central Park–and something Fran Lebowitz said. She said, “This [a happening like the installation] is why we live in New York, this is what is great about New York. This is New York flag-waving. The only thing I don’t like is that it attracts more tourists, and I try to repel tourists.”

I then went on a little rant about Lebowitz as a New York type, and about how some lefties long for the old days of crime, squalor, fear, etc., and . . .

But I don’t want to re-rant. Check out the relevant item, if you wish.

Anyway, three letters:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Two weeks ago I visited New York for the first time in my life, and to be frank, I’d been dreading the experience. I’d heard all sorts of things about the dirt, the noise, the crowded conditions, the crime, the rudeness and unfriendliness of New Yorkers–essentially, I expected to experience what you referred to as “Dinkins-era New York.”

I was pleasantly surprised. Manhattan has about as much dirt, noise, and crowding as any other American city I’ve visited. The thing that really surprised me, though, was the friendliness of nearly every New Yorker I met. I can think of precisely one unpleasant person I encountered during the whole of my visit. (Hmm, maybe it was Fran Lebowitz.) Everyone else–from commuters to construction workers–with whom I came in contact was pleasant and helpful and outgoing. I was even rescued by a total stranger in the subway when I swiped my eight-year-old niece onto the 59th Street platform and suddenly realized that I had no more credit on my MetroCard. This woman was willing to shell out $2 to help a total stranger.

Is this what New Yorkers are really like? If so, God bless them.

Um, yeah. Yeah–that’s what they’re like.

And the second letter (a doozy):

Jay,

This past May I had the pleasure of my first visit to your great city. Now, I was born and grew up in a very small mining town in Arizona. Lived all my life here in AZ, school in Flagstaff and then here in Phoenix for the past 25 years.

Y’know I was a victim of prejudice against NYC. Frankly, everyone in Arizona–I mean natives, or those who’ve been here a long time–pretty much “hates” “the East” (but keep in mind that “the East” can be anything east of AZ), for good reasons or bad.

So, a chance comes to go to NYC, and I take it. By now, I’m a little more rational about NYC: I think watching two airplanes slam into the WTC, and the aftermath of all that, helped a lot. But anyway, I’m determined to keep a very open mind about my upcoming visit.

And once I get there, WOW!!! I mean, the taxi ride from Kennedy was great, speeding up for pedestrians in crosswalks, the Haitian driver listening to a Christian radio station, driving with one hand, gesturing with the other, left-hand turns from a right-hand lane, driving on the other side of the yellow line–I mean, you can’t plan something like that, right?

Times Square, what a blast!!! I woke up one night at 2:30 a.m. and just decided to see what was happening down there. Still hundreds, if not thousands, of people about. Just seeing things I’d seen on TV, read about, wondered about–all that. I had a great time calling my wife and starting the conversation by saying, “You’ll never guess where I am right now . . .” and telling her about the Empire State Building, Central Park, Wall Street, Ground Zero (choking up). Subways with every imaginable culture, race, religion, economic situation. Strolling gospel groups singing, offering a song, and taking a collection as they moved through. The street musicians and artists. All this and more. Going to a real-life honest-to-God Broadway play and then going to the Carnegie Deli and stuffing my face with food.

And I’d be the worst sinner to leave out how friendly everyone was. You expect to see the stereotypical dour terse person who would sooner kill you than help you, but I sure didn’t see that. I’m pretty gregarious and would talk to people who talked back, nicely. Helpful people in the subways, ticket lines, the police, etc. Nice people.

So, I decided that everyone probably needs to live in NYC for, oh, I don’t know, a year. Take some trips outside during that time, but experience NYC for a year and you’ll be a better person. I still prefer AZ for a whole lot of reasons, but, I promise you: I will NEVER turn down a chance to return to your city. Liberal or not. I don’t care.

And number three (of a great many–and, as I do from time to time, I’d like to apologize for not answering, or reading, all my mail, and I ask your indulgence):

Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

The comment from Fran Lebowitz brought back memories of a certain type of New Yorker. (Although I live in the DC area now, I used to live in NJ and commute into NYC.) The idea that just because you rent a dingy apartment on the Lower East Side you somehow have “ownership” over Manhattan is laughable. Beyond the fact that Fran Lebowitz and her ilk reserve the right to keep the rest of the world out of the city, they have an aura of self-satisfaction about them–as if New York is somehow their accomplishment. Apparently, they are responsible for all the skyscrapers and museums and parks that have been built in the past 200 years.

These people are much more virtuous than the rest of us. The same people who don’t want to share MoMA on a Saturday afternoon with the rest of the world lecture us on how greedy it is to drive a Chevy Suburban.

I just love that last line. See you later.

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