Politics & Policy

The One and Only, &C.

Can you believe what President Bush said in the Baltics? Can you believe he went to the Baltics, before visiting Russia for the 60th anniversary? Oh, yes, you can, if you know President Bush.

I have said it before, friends, and will remind you again: There will never be another like him. Enjoy it while you can. The clock is ticking till January ‘09.

‐Speaking of Russia: When President Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty three and a half years ago, everyone–well, certainly the media, Europe, and the Democrats, if you can spy differences between the three–said the sky would fall. Well, the sky hasn’t fallen. The U.S. is quietly going about anti-missile defenses, I trust, and Russia is busy trying to ward off mass starvation.

And with Iran, North Korea, et al. working on nukes, I think of an old political slogan (as regards SDI): “Now More Than Ever.”

‐You might have noticed that I said “between the three,” above. You might have learned, from a manual, that “between” is for two, and that “among” is for three or more. Well–as with a lot of nonsense one has learned–forget it.

And do read your Shakespeare. Or is he a linguistic derelict?

‐Many people are cackling that Bush will lose over Social Security. Evidently, he will. He does hard things, this president–or rather, he attempts hard things. He’s not just marking time, doesn’t have his finger in the air. In the 2000 campaign, he said, over and over, “I’m runnin’ for a reason”–and he was usually referring to Social Security. He didn’t want to be president in order to occupy the Oval Office, or ride around on Air Force One, or hear “Hail to the Chief” played when he walked into a room. (In fact, he doesn’t permit that tune much.) This is a guy willing to take on “heavy lifts”–those are his words.

It may well be that the country isn’t ready for Social Security reform. An entire major party–the Democrats–is against it, and much of the other party is nervous. And the media are almost 100 percent against reform. To enact something this big in American life, you need at least a substantial chunk of the other party. And that, we don’t have.

No one likes to repair the roof when the sun is shining. But then when it pours–they get busy. So it may prove with Social Security. And everyone will say, “Ol’ Dubya was right, back in the aughts.” (Is that how we’ll refer to this first decade of the century? Stay tuned.)

Pity we can’t right Social Security now, though. Bushian reforms–in the IRS, in health care, in other entitlements–are worth much, much more than any budget of the moment. Small-government conservatives may yet regard Bush as the best thing that ever happened to us.

‐We now have proof that Fidel Castro reads National Review–or has a flunky who does, feeding him interesting copy. In our April 11 issue, Otto Reich had an article on the Castro-Chávez axis, which menaces Latin America. (Chávez, of course, is the Venezuelan strongman Hugo.) Well, Chávez traveled to Havana, for a summit with his friend. And, on April 30, Castro quoted from Otto’s article.

Otto had written, “With the combination of Castro’s evil genius, experience in political warfare, and economic desperation, and Chávez’s unlimited money and recklessness, the peace of this region is in peril.”

And, according to Reuters, “Castro, 78, read out Reich’s words to a delighted audience in Havana’s Karl Marx Theater.”

Yeah, I’m sure those Cubans were delighted–but not half as delighted as Cubans at large will be when the gaseous old tyrant finally meets his reward.

Do you think he’d care to read out those words, next time he’s in the Karl Marx Theater?

I wish to keep going, just for a second. As you may know–I think I mentioned it in a previous column–Otto’s full name is Otto Juan Reich. Funny name, right? He’s named that way for a reason: His father, Walter Reich, escaped from Nazi Austria, finding refuge in Havana. (How he got there is a hair-raising tale.) Walter married a Cuban woman, Otto’s mother. Walter’s parents–and Otto’s grandparents–were murdered in the Holocaust. When Castro seized power, Walter Reich had to flee again, with his family, to the United States.

The Hitlers and the Castros are always chasing people out, when they are not doing worse things to them.

There: That’s something else for Castro to read out in the Karl Marx Theater.

Over to you, Fidel.

‐I first wrote about Jian-li Yang in this column, on August 13, 2001. (The column in question is here.) Boy, that seems a long time ago. I have written about him many times since.

He came to my office, to talk about China, and human rights, and to try to interest me in attending a conference he had organized. Jian-li was then a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the head of the Foundation for China in the 21st Century (which he had established). As I wrote at the time, he was one of the most impressive people I had ever met. He had spectacular scholarly credentials, including Ph.D.s from both Berkeley and Harvard. But more than that was a shining spirit, which evinced a true love of man and freedom. He had been a Tiananmen Square leader, and he wouldn’t stop working in behalf of his fellow Chinese.

We have just marked the third anniversary of Jian-li’s imprisonment, in the vicious PRC. All you need to know is at a website, www.yangjianli.com. Jian-li’s wife, Christina Fu, is a brave and persistent woman, and their kids–Anita and Aaron–persist too. Christina and the two children, by the way, are American citizens; Jian-li has “permanent resident” status here. That designation rings hollow now–but I hope to see him again, as do lots of others, especially a certain three.

‐Joe Klein has been writing about Hillary Clinton, and this is what he has had to say: “. . . she is not even vaguely the left-wing harridan portrayed by the Precambrian right.”

I will give Klein some writing advice, although the author of Primary Colors shouldn’t need it from me. (That is not a sarcastic remark, incidentally: Primary Colors is a very well written book.) If you say “left-wing harridan,” you are trying to paint Hillary Clinton’s critics as extreme. So it doesn’t do much for your point to follow it up with “Precambrian right.”

Besides which, the Left has been calling conservatives knuckle-draggers, Neanderthals, etc., all my life. For such bright people, can’t they vary the language, just a little bit?

Furthermore, Klein writes, “The Clinton line in 1992 was, Buy one, get one free. We’ve already had that co-presidency–for its full, constitutional eight years. What’s more, I suspect there would be innate and appropriate populist resistance to this slouch toward monarchial democracy. There is something fundamentally un-American–and very European–about the Clintons and the Bushes trading the office every eight years, with stale, familiar corps of retainers, supporters and enemies.”

I disagree, heartily, and will be writing more about this in the (near) future. These are all democratic choices. Monarchies and dynasties have nothing to do with it. If the electorate wants to choose multiple Adamses, that’s its business. Or multiple Harrisons, or multiple Roosevelts, or multiple Bushes, or Clintons, or Kennedys, or Joneses, or MacGillicuddys, or whomever.

What matters is process. We all like metaphors, but we should probably be less lazy in our language. Damascus–now there, they have a dynasty (and not a good one).

‐I heard our senior editor David Pryce-Jones say something chillingly interesting, about the creepiest Europeans, who are appallingly numerous. In the 1930s, they shouted, “Jews to Palestine!” Now, they shout (in effect), “Jews out of Palestine!” You can’t win with these people: You just have to beat them, or survive despite them.

‐On to something a bit lighter: In the past, I have praised Zack Wamp and Chris Chocola as especially choice congressional names. (There were some other ones, but I’ve forgotten.) But now I’ve discovered . . . Elton Gallegly.

He’s been in Congress forever! Why hadn’t I noticed?

‐On to something not so light. You know how Air America, or whatever it’s called, recently joked about killing the president? I had a flashback to John Kerry, that statesman. Sometime after the ‘88 election, he said, “Somebody told me the other day that the Secret Service has orders that if George Bush is shot, they’re to shoot Quayle.”

Yuk, yuk, yuk. These Democrats’ll really slay you.

‐On to something very pleasant: Like everyone else, I greatly enjoyed the NR/NRO event in Atlanta on Thursday, and I look forward to more. National Review readers are among the nicest people I’ve ever met–and the smartest, and the best informed. I doubt I express strongly enough how appreciated they are.

And I apologize–for the millionth time–about failing to get to the mail. I wish I could, believe me.

‐Down in Atlanta, I got an old question, and I should answer it more often than I do. Let me re-run an item I published in January 2003. I should re-run it every few months, particularly for the benefit of new readers. But all others would get awfully tired of it, wouldn’t they (you)?

I got a note from a fellow saying, “I eagerly await your next ‘Impromptus’–by the way, is that the name of some kinda Roman emperor?”

“Impromptus” is simply the plural of “impromptu.” It should be pronounced “Im-PROMP-tooze.” An “impromptu” is, among other things, a piece of music, improvisatory and spontaneous in character. Also brief. Like these items. Sometimes.

A handy musical dictionary says, about impromptu, “A title used for single-movement piano pieces; it implies a free, casual nature to the composer’s inspiration. Among the earliest examples [of impromptus] are Schubert’s; later composers include Chopin, Schumann, Skryabin [or Scriabin, as I transliterate it, more normally] and Fauré.”

Also, a plain old English dictionary defines impromptu–adjectivally–as “made or done without previous preparation.” I’ll say!

‐Speaking of music: Some criticism from the New York Sun?

For a review of the young clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, in recital with Anna Polonsky, please go here.

For a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, with pianist Martha Argerich, please go here.

For a review of La Clemenza di Tito at the Metropolitan Opera, and a review of a joint recital by the soprano Dawn Upshaw and the pianist Richard Goode, please go here.

For a review of Evgeny Kissin and James Levine in a two-piano recital, please go here.

For a review of the Kremerata Baltica–not inappropriate, considering the president’s trip!–please go here.

And for a review of Itzhak Perlman in recital, please go here.

I’ve got more, but that oughta hold you–and then some.

‐One letter, and then out:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

Perhaps because of all the attention given the nomination of John Bolton, and of various would-be federal judges, there has not been much said about Gen. Peter Pace’s nomination to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To illustrate what a good choice this is, I offer an answer that General Pace gave at a Pentagon press conference at the beginning of the fighting in Afghanistan. [For a transcript, go here.]

A reporter said, “On tunnels and caves, does the United States have the kind of embedded capability that it developed during World War II, during Vietnam, to specialize in going into tunnels, caves, analyzing it, fighting in it? Do we have that special–(inaudible)–anymore in the ranks?” General Pace answered, “Our specialized approach to caves and tunnels is to put 500-pound bombs in the entrance.”

Have a real good week, dear hearts.


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