Politics & Policy

Teach The Mothers Well, &C.

I was going to begin this column with a rant against airline travel, and the apparent contempt airlines have for their customers–but journalists are always doing that, and it’s kind of a cliché, and . . . I’ll return to it later.

‐Cindy Sheehan? I don’t have much to add, but I think she’s been badly misused. Obviously she’s off her nut. I mean, is one allowed to say that? I suppose so–certainly on NRO, land of the free, home of the brave. (At least the land of the free.) What bothers me about mainstream Democrats is that they pretend she is not nuts, and they let her–yes, they let her–serve as a kind of spokesman, when she should be off having a rest or whatever.

It reminds me of what Mitch Snyder, the “homeless advocate,” used to do in Washington, D.C. He’d have these poor homeless fellows as props–”Nothing wrong with Walter and Jeffrey here, just a little down on their luck, victims of a racist and capitalist society”–and they were obviously deranged. Snyder himself was barely hanging on. But everyone pretended.

And who has taught Cindy to mouth these lines? I know her greatest hits–about Bush as the world’s No. 1 terrorist, about a war for oil, or for Halliburton, or for the Carlyle Group–but Victor Davis Hanson taught me a new one in his piece last Friday: “Yes, he [Casey Sheehan, Cindy’s son] was killed for lies and for a PNAC neocon agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.”

No, someone had to teach Cindy to say that–”You’ve got to be carefully taught,” as Oscar Hammerstein said. Who are the culprits? Who are these nasty and heartless exploiters? I think of the kids I went to college with. They’d arrive from Muskegon or wherever, perfectly sane, and within a month they’d be in the grip of nonsense. They’d met some smelly hippie at some stall–or, more likely, a teaching assistant in a classroom–and lost their marbles. Some recovered them relatively soon; others suffered lasting damage.

The Cindy Sheehan story is outrageous on 50 levels.

‐VDH begins that piece, “It is becoming nearly impossible to sort the extreme rhetoric of the antiwar Left from that of the fringe paleo-Right.” I must quibble with him, on a couple of points: First, it is not “becoming” that way; it has long been that way. And it’s not “nearly impossible”–it is absolutely impossible, if you compare the relevant magazines, the relevant statements, and so on.

Other than that, Hanson is spot-on, as usual.

‐I am always wary of suggesting, or outright saying, that someone who holds obnoxious political views, or says obnoxious things, is . . . you know–meshugge. (Does it make me part of the neocon conspiracy to use that word?) I well understand how claims of mental illness were used in Soviet days. Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs. But still: Sometimes it’s mighty hard to refrain.

‐I understand that, if Michael Moore can be a Chief Democrat, certainly Mrs. Sheehan can. The modern history of the Democratic party can almost be written in Michael Moore’s life. And Jimmy Carter’s. (You recall that the 39th president invited Moore into his box, at last year’s Democratic convention.)

‐I’ve written endlessly–endlessly–about the behavior of Americans in Europe, and I should really stop, after all these years, but I am uncontrollable. The anti-Americanism of the Americans is something to behold. As readers of a long-ago essay know, the anti-Americanism of the Americans had a profound effect on me when I was in college. The anti-Americanism of the Europeans? No more remarkable than the crowing of a cock.

Oh, how abject, and cringing, and pathetic they are! You should have seen this woman in line at a counter in Charles de Gaulle Airport. She practically pounced on the French couple in front of her (they spoke a little English): “Oh, you’re from Paris? My son works for the Herald Tribune, and, boy, does he love France, and especially Paris, and how could anyone ever want to be anywhere else? I mean, really!” A translation: Please, please, please dont hate me–Im not like the others. And did I mention about my sons job?

Made me want to hurl. (Incidentally, I say this as a lifelong Francophile.) (Although that Francophilia has been sorely challenged of late.)

A couple more travel notes (but not that rant): I don’t know whether it was part of the now-late EU constitution, but I’ve always suspected that individual European constitutions mandate smoking–because everyone does. I had to smile when I saw a sign in one plane: “No Smoking.” They still need reminding, do they?

I remember the cataclysm when smoking was banned on domestic flights–only domestic flights–in America. (Or was it only the short hops, at first? I can’t quite remember.) Johnny Carson played a role here: He was a chain-smoker, but the anti-smoking forces found it helpful when he said, “No one is incapable of going without smoking for two hours.” I understand that some are, in fact, incapable. But Johnny probably spoke the truth as a generality. Funny what we remember, when prompted by signs and the like.

‐Can I tell you something weird? (Like I ever have to ask–and like I ever have many non-weird items.) I don’t think I will ever get used to the word “Achtung” spoken in Germanic countries. Too much growing up on WWII movies and TV programs. That word is forever stigmatized for me, somehow. I remember, several years ago, when I was in Vienna, and a little Thai-Austrian boy was running too close to the street, and his Thai-immigrant mother said, “Achtung!” One of the damnedest things I ever heard.

‐Some political notes from Salzburg? Okay, I’ll try to be brief. Did a seminar with Thomas Hampson, the American baritone. (I’ve written a little about this in a piece published in the current NR.) “Tommy Hamp” and I have jousted a little in the past, on various matters.

In the course of the seminar, he turns to me and says, “Are you still a Republican?” This was a bit of an outing, for those in the community who didn’t know, and perhaps just slightly discomforting. I respond, “With a capital R and a small R, you better believe it.” Or something like that. He then gives a sweet little speech about democracy, and civil disagreement, and concludes: “You’re just wrong.”

Big laughs. I simply shrug to the audience, “It’s my cross to bear.” Hampson murmurs something about the significance of that word “cross.” Ah, yes! The specter of the “Religious Right,” always before us!

Nonetheless, Hampson is a phenomenal talent, and a winning performer, no matter what the setting. He later thanks me for being willing to act the foil. I suggest I was Leporello. (Don Giovanni reference.)

Okay, flash-forward to a reception a couple of days later. A lady who lives in Germany approaches me about the Hampson seminar, and the political hijinks that took place. Turns out she was born in Panama. She knows my thinking on Cuba, and she leans in, saying–with a determined look in her eye–”You are not wrong.”

A nice, nice moment. It’s the kind that can get you through all the rest.

What else? I meet an expat lady, at another reception. (Same one, actually–now that I think about it.) She knows that I’m a political journalist–because I’ve been described that way–and she asks, “How’s politics, back in the U.S.?” I answer quite neutrally: “Oh, you know: divided, just as it has been for several years.” She persists: “Well, what about impeachment? Is that going to happen?” I say, “Excuse me?” She says, “You know, impeachment–over the Downing Street Memo. I heard they might do that.”

Ah. Yes. Downing Street Memo, or DSM. The black helicopter of the Left.

I allow that I don’t think President Bush will be impeached. But I can help her out on another score. She asks whether Hillary Clinton will be reelected in New York. I say: Not to worry!

Okay, a group of us goes to Garmisch, Germany, to visit the Richard Strauss home. We are shown around by the composer’s grandson, Dr. Christian Strauss. I have a fun fact for you, NR fans. You know Kate O’Beirne, our Washington editor? (Of course you do–question was strictly rhetorical.) One of her sons was delivered by this same Dr. Strauss. The O’Beirnes were stationed in Garmisch, with Husband Jim in the Army.

Anyway, I don’t know if you know this, but when the Americans came to Strauss’s villa, at the end of the war, he greeted them on the doorstep with, “I am Doktor Richard Strauss, composer of Salome and Der Rosenkavalier.” (Interesting choices, those two.) The music-loving Americans let him off very, very lightly, not taking over his house, for example.

So, we’re in the composer’s study, and his grandson is telling us about how, one day, a soldier from Texas walked in. This must have been a fair piece into the occupation. The very mention of the word “Texas” sends up gales of laughter and snorts–apparently, “Texas” is a byword for everything crude and risible. Seems that the Texan sat in Strauss’s chair, put his feet on the table, pointed to a sculpture of Beethoven, and asked, “Who’s that?” The family answered, “The Gauleiter of Munich.” From that day forward, the Strausses referred to Beethoven, in that sculpture, as “the Gauleiter.”

A charming story–but you know what I’m thinking: If not for boys from Texas, Western Europe might have been in chains for a while longer. In addition to which, the Allies were awfully generous toward Strauss, considering.

Okay, I’ve got about four more, but let me give you a final story: Friend of mine is at a gala dinner, seated next to a German woman. Subject of Israel comes up. Uh-oh. She won’t get off it. She asks, “Why does there have to be an Israel?” My friend hazards that it has something to do with relatively recent events, on soil much like this. Lady still won’t let go: “Why couldn’t the Jews have gone to Madagascar?” Friend simply stares at his schnitzel.

Oh, yeah, I wanted to tell you about the (new) modern-art museum, up on a mountain in Salzburg. I won’t even bother to ask, “How can they call it ‘art’?” The word “art” has been abused even more than “liberal.” (Quick quiz: Are the most illiberal people you have ever met “liberals”?) About the museum, I will say merely that I checked out when I got to the large posters of Britney Spears. Graffiti had been scrawled on them (by the “artist”). There was the word “Suck,” with an arrow pointing to the subject’s mouth. And a Star of David was etched into her forehead. Why, I don’t know.

Again, this is where I checked out. I can’t look at most contemporary art, even for the sake of criticizing or decrying it. This is yet another reason that Roger Kimball is a saint.

‐Well, that’s a depressing way to end, isn’t it? Sorry about that. But I should scoot soon. Let me dump on you a load of music criticism from Salzburg, published in the New York Sun.

For a review of Die Gezeichneten, an opera by Franz Schreker, please go here.

For a review of The Magic Flute (I forget the composer), please go here.

For a review of La Traviata, please go here.

For a review of the violinist Midori in recital–just one name, please, like Cher or Newt–please go here.

For a review of Mozart’s Mitridate, please go here.

For a review of the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli in recital, please go here.

For a review of the baritone Matthias Goerne in recital, please go here.

For a review of a Camerata Salzburg concert, please go here.

For a review of Thomas Hampson in recital, please go here.

For a review of a concert featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in his 80th year, please go here.

That oughta hold you–really hold you.

‐I’ll leave you with a golf note. For reasons I won’t go into–and for reasons that probably aren’t valid anyway–I’m not crazy-, crazy-nuts about Brad Faxon, the PGA Tour star. He’s a fine player, though–obviously–and he won the tournament last weekend. Now, this tournament is the one in Connecticut–the former Greater Hartford Open, now one of the many tournaments called the Buick–and it is not really a marquee event. On Sunday night, I e-mailed a friend of mine, saying, “Well, Faxon won.” He replied: “A feeble last hurrah at the least prestigious event on the PGA Tour.”

That must be the coldest putdown of a victory in all history. Wouldn’t you say?

See you.

Oh, I never got to my rant on air travel! Later.

Later.

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