Politics & Policy

Ncna, &C.

People are saying, “If the New York Times–and Senator Kennedy and others–won’t accept John Roberts, they won’t accept anybody. That is, they will agree to no conservative on the Supreme Court. The Court might as well, in effect, be closed to conservatives. No Conservatives Need Apply. If they won’t take John Roberts, they won’t take anybody.”

I agree with that line–but I would stretch it to Bork. Look, Bork was our best and brightest. If he wasn’t qualified for the Court, no human being in world history has ever been qualified.

So, you might think of every confirmation of a conservative justice as a kind of gift. As found money. Nothing to expect.

That said, I’m a little worried about Mister Roberts, but that’s another discussion . . .

‐I meant, I’m a little worried about him as chief justice, not about whether he’ll make it.

‐Funny Hillary Clinton felt the need to vote against Roberts. She could come out for the flat tax, or have an affair with Jesse Helms, and she wouldn’t offend her left base. Evan Bayh, I could understand: He voted against Condi Rice for secretary of state! Talk about preparing for ‘08! If Evan Bayh went off to live in a commune with Joan Baez and Cindy Sheehan, he wouldn’t excite the Democratic base.

I’m a little surprised about Hillary and Roberts. Maybe she doesn’t think she could use the “moderate” cred.

‐In past columns, I’ve mentioned the tendency of people to come up to you–even if they don’t know you very well, or don’t know your politics–and say, “I hate Bush.” This happens with incredible frequency. Right-leaning friends of mine mention it all the time. People–in New York, in particular–come up to any Tom, Dick, or Harry and say, “I hate Bush.” They say it in full confidence that the other guy will agree. To them, it’s almost like saying, “I like puppy dogs and ice cream.” And yet, would you–a conservative–ever say, “I hate Hillary Clinton,” or “I hate Jimmy Carter,” or “I hate Barbra Streisand”? I can’t imagine it.

It might have to do with the towns in which I’ve lived (Ann Arbor, Cambridge, etc.). If you’re a conservative, you simply expect that others will revile your beliefs. I used to say, “I assume everyone’s a drunk, an adulterer, and an anti-Semite, until proven otherwise.” And in politics–more narrowly construed!–I always assume some variety of leftism. For one thing, it’s safer.

I had a point to make. Oh, yeah: I was talking to a dear old friend the other day. He’d had a conversation with a colleague of his, who said, “Bush should be impeached for Katrina.” And my friend–no right-winger–responded, “Well, it was a pretty big hurricane, you know. Affected an area the size of Great Britain.” And this colleague said, “Yeah, yeah, but I’ll pin anything I can on Bush.”

That was a lovely admission, I thought!

Another quick story (are you bored yet?): I was on a plane the other day, next to a dear elderly lady who lives in Greenwich Village. She had the New York Times with her (natch). There was a big photo of Bush on the front page. About halfway through our journey, she said, “What do you think of our president?” I gulped a little. I gave an answer saying I was generally supportive. She felt differently–very, very differently. But she continued to be lovely anyway, making me think, “There’s my kind of Democrat.”

‐Another quick story (perhaps the name of the column should be changed from Impromptus to Stories?): I was talking to a Houston friend, on Rita Day. Before the hurricane hit, she wanted to get a tree in her yard trimmed. But she wasn’t able to–because the man she would have hired had no gas. No gas with which to power his equipment.

I leave it to individual readers to draw policy implications and so on. I simply offer that as a tidbit, because it struck me as telling, somehow.

‐Someone sent me a story from the BBC, with an amazing headline: “EU drops hardline stance on Iran.” Ponder that, for just a bit. Had you known that the EU had a hardline stance on Iran?

‐I’ve had a Jim Hoagland column in my file for about a month, and wanted to share it with you. It has to do with Rice and the State Department. It begins,

Using a mixture of moxie and charm, Condoleezza Rice has improved relations with some of President Bush’s harshest critics overseas. The secretary of state will now try to work the same wonders with the battle-hardened policy warriors in her own bureaucracy.

Later, Hoagland writes,

To change the world, Bush believes that he must change Washington. To save the world, many diplomats at the State Department believe that they must change the foreign policy visions conjured up in the White House. Rice now occupies the crucial middle ground in a clash of ideas and political cultures.

Despite her success in defusing tensions with allies abroad in her first seven months, Rice still invites skepticism from mid-level Foreign Service officers who bridle at the thought of their beloved State Department becoming “White House Annex 2.”

It’s slightly depressing to have one’s fears confirmed–in this case, about the State Department. Note the wording: “their beloved State Department.” Actually, it’s the American people’s, and the president–democratically elected to our highest office–sets foreign policy. I have no doubt that many State Department people regard it as their mission to oppose and thwart Bush’s policies–to hold on until Hillary or someone else more acceptable comes in.

Can the State Department ever be brought into the American government, properly speaking? Must it always behave as a power or branch apart?

Someday–someday very soon–I’m going to share with you a very, very depressing encounter I had not long ago with a Foreign Service officer.

‐Oh, what the hell, how about now: I was at dinner with this guy, who gave every indication that he didn’t think much of my politics or employer–or of the Bush administration. I was searching for small talk. It so happened that I had met another Foreign Service officer in the region, on a previous trip. This fellow had two sons, about ten and eight. He was hoping to be posted back in the United States–in Washington–because his sons had never lived in America. He wanted them to have that experience.

My guy snorted, “Yeah–introduce ‘em to the joys of Burger King.” I let that slide. But later I asked him, “Do you really think that’s all there is to American society and culture? Burger King?” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that great institution, believe me.) Then this guy said, “Well, there’s jazz.”

“Anything else?” I inquired. He couldn’t think of anything.

Then he said that all kids should be made to live abroad. “Just American kids,” I asked, “or all kids? In other words, should Dutch kids have to live abroad, or Botswanan kids, or Laotian kids?” Clearly, he had in mind the Americans, trapped inside their boobish, blinkered homeland.

Later–because now our conversation was really open–I commented that the Foreign Service seemed to me about 95 percent Democratic. He said, “No, more like 80 percent.” That sounded pretty low to me. Then my guy said, “Can we help it if the Republican party has no interest in the world?” (No interest in the world! The Republicans I know are obsessed with the world!) “Can we help it if Republican congressmen brag about not holding passports?”

1) I very much doubt that there is a congressman–from either party–who doesn’t hold a passport. 2) I doubt even more that, if there is such a congressman, he brags about it.

Also, I think it’s fairly universal that like hires like.

Also . . . but I told you that it was a depressing encounter, and I think we’ve done enough.

‐Had a million things to tell you, folks, but am running out of time. Went off on tangents I didn’t expect.

Do you remember how, some weeks ago, we had a few items on state mottos? At any rate, someone sent me a note: “Jay, do you know what Connecticut’s real motto is? ‘Like Massachusetts, but with less character.’”

Friends, bear in mind that I didn’t write that–it was this jokester. I’m just relatin’. Me, I love all Nutmeggers, and their state.

Another reader said, “Yes, Maryland may have a dorky motto [“Manly deeds, womanly words”], but it does have the most attractive flag.”

You know, I have long thought that–thought it when I lived in Maryland, and saw it flying at gas stations and so on. It is beautiful. A little fancy, but still beautiful.

‐Speaking of states, check out this most interesting letter:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I’ve re-read your article “Love on the Arno” from July 2000. I especially noted the following:

“She was appalled by Mary Lou Retton, the little ball of fire and joy from West Virginia (perhaps the self-hating American’s least favorite state).”

That’s how you know it’s an old essay–the bit about West Virginia. Not now!

It might be interesting to draw up a chart of “the self-hating American’s least favorite state” over the years. On brief reflection, I’m guessing:

1925: Tennessee (Scopes trial)

1964: Mississippi (civil rights) (Phil Ochs: “Find yourself another country to be part of”)

1984: West Virginia

2001: Florida (post-election)

2005: Texas

I am missing anything?

Finally, I predict that if Mitt Romney runs for and wins the presidency in 2008, Texas will be much forgotten, and the animus will be directed Utah-ward.

As I said: most interesting.

‐In the ongoing category of Only Thomas Sowell Could Have Written That: “Many of the same people who cry ‘No blood for oil!’ also want higher gas-mileage standards for cars. But higher mileage standards have meant lighter and flimsier cars, leading to more injuries and deaths in accidents–in other words, trading blood for oil.”

Brutal.

‐Do you care to see a perfect–a perfectly composed–opening sentence? “To someone of my age, who has seen the world and now wants only repose and beauty, Lake Como is the perfect place.”

That’s Paul Johnson, in his current Spectator column.

‐I was standing next to Naomi Campbell. Well, I was standing quite, quite near Naomi Campbell. We were in a hotel lobby a couple of days ago. And I just want to report to you–in case you were wondering–she’s kind of pretty. Just a little.

In truth–and here I’m borrowing a concept I learned recently from someone else–she’s unphotogenic. Downright unphotogenic. No matter what she looks like in photos, they don’t do her justice. At all.

‐A little music criticism? (What a comedown from Naomi Campbell.) These reviews have been published in the New York Sun.

For a review of the New York Philharmonic’s season-opening concert, with piano soloist Evgeny Kissin, please go here.

For a review of the subsequent Philharmonic concert–with another piano soloist, Lang Lang–please go here.

For reviews of Verdi’s Falstaff at the Metropolitan Opera, and of the Met’s Ariadne auf Naxos (Strauss), please go here.

Talk to you soon, y’all.

‐P.S. In case you were wondering about the title over this column–”NCNA, &c.”–that stands for “No Conservatives Need Apply” (to the Supreme Court). (I was taking off on the NINA signs–No Irish Need Apply. The extent or very existence of those signs will not be debated in this column, but thanks very much!)

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