Politics & Policy

Saint Colin, &C.

The other night, I was at a house where they wanted to watch 20/20–which included an interview by Barbara Walters of Colin Powell. I had forgotten what Barbara Walters was like. Not really–this was just a thumping reminder.

The theme of the interview was, of course, the usual, when it comes to the big media and Powell: What was a nice fellow like you doing in an administration like this? Walters spent the whole time pretty much baiting him to say what a louse Bush was, what a louse Rumsfeld was. The show laid heavy stress on the fact that Rumsfeld stayed on in the second term, while Powell did not.

But at the beginning, Walters said something quite weird: She said (and I don’t have a transcript, so I’ll have to paraphrase), The president has not given General Powell a formal role in Katrina relief, even though he is one of the most prominent black leaders in the country.

Huh? Bush was supposed to give Powell some role in Katrina relief? And because of skin color?

I’m supposed to be a big flag-waving right-winger, but, I swear, sometimes I hate living in America. And it’s almost always when race rears up.

Anyway, that’s how she began. Later, she asked Powell whether he thought there was a connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and 9/11. She said–in a kind of set-the-stage voiceover–that Powell’s answer was “somewhat surprising.” But his answer was–no. And she said, as an aside, “Even though that was one of the reasons given” (for the invasion).

Huh? Did the president or any of his top people allege that Saddam was connected to 9/11, in any direct way? (Obviously he was a friend of terrorism.) But I imagine it’s official thinking at ABC News that the administration pushed such a connection.

I could go on. Served me right for watching Barbara Walters–but there I was.

‐Oh, I wanted to say one more thing before leaving Powell/Walters: She asked him, “Does President Bush ever express doubt?” Powell said, essentially, no. That surprised me. I’ve been around Bush infinitely less than Powell has, and Ive heard him express doubt.

But whatever.

‐That same night–or it might have been the next one–I watched a little CNN, and I have to say this: I don’t care what people say about Fox News–if Karl Rove discoursed on that network all day long, it would not be more biased than CNN. It just would not. I was watching this lady that night–didn’t get her name (she interviewed Bill Schneider about Bush’s poll numbers)–and the Democratic National Committee would have blushed to be so exuberantly anti-Bush.

Did you know Bush caused Katrina? Or, if that’s a little extreme, caused the suffering that New Orleans has experienced? (Bush seems not to be responsible for suffering in Mississippi, or in parts of Louisiana other than New Orleans.)

Every once in a while, it’s nice to confirm that conservative media critics do not, in fact, exaggerate the extent of bias. I happen to hear CNN a few times a year–often in an airport lounge–and no matter how severe Brent Bozell is, the problem’s even worse.

‐I learned this lesson from Bill Buckley, long ago, and I’m sure you’ve learned it, too–but let me repeat it anyway, just out of duty (or habit): When you decide to tax a person less, you are not, properly speaking, giving him money. You are taking less from him.

So, here’s a news story about the chairman of the Democratic National Committee: “Dean said that instead of considering proposed estate tax breaks, the Senate should channel the money into disaster relief. ‘Shall we give that to the wealthiest people in the country, or should we rebuild New Orleans?’ Dean said.”

You simply cannot stop Democrats from talking this way. And a lot of them work for the country’s most important media outlets. (I remember WFB lecturing Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post on this very subject.) (In a column, I mean.)

‐This was a little tragic. But before getting to the nitty-gritty, I have to talk about Thomas Sowell’s latest book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals. This is a collection of essays–and brilliant. (Incidentally, I reviewed the volume for NR, here.) The title essay argues that black Americans inherited a “redneck culture,” which had come over from certain areas of Britain. While this culture faded out among American southerners both black and white, it retained a hold on blacks in urban ghettos. (I am simplifying, for brevity’s sake.) Sowell regards it as a monumental shame that the redneck culture has come to be seen as black culture–indeed, as black identity itself.

Anyway, let me describe an episode I witnessed outside Grand Central Station. Obviously, two young women have been in some kind of altercation–some inevitable jostling, no doubt. One of the young women is white, the other black. The white woman is really cussing the other out, using what you might call ghetto body language, to boot: “You pushed me, b**ch!* The black woman, walking away, has an amazed smile on her face, and screams back, “Stop trying to act black!”

I immediately thought of Sowell, of course. (Wouldn’t you have?) Heaven help us if what that vulgar young white woman was doing was “acting black.”

‐Over the weekend, I was reading some books to little ones, and found myself sort of having to correct the English as I went. For example, one book wanted me to say, “The same thing happened to Bobby and myself.”

Ugh, the myself, from people too insecure or ignorant to say me! (Myself is always the refuge–false refuge–of those who don’t know how to use I and me.) Just killed me. (Killed myself?) Actually, I didn’t care much–I knew it would make a nice item for Impromptus.

‐Okay, another quick vignette: I’m at a train station–not Grand Central; different city–and someone is being picked up by someone else. Possibly a friend, possibly a relative. Anyway, this SUV pulls up and the guy on the sidewalk greets his friend or relative with the words, “Just what the world needs–another one.”

I swear: This guy was everyone I ever knew in Ann Arbor. The non-Ann Arbor person might say, “Thanks for the ride. Nice of you to pick me up. How are you?” But in my hometown–environmental scolding would get top billing, for sure.

‐You may have read my Q&A with Jesse Helms, published a couple of weeks ago. The Tar Heel senator has just published a memoir–Heres Where I Stand–and gave what was characterized as a final round of interviews. I liked all of his answers (Helms was utterly himself), but I especially liked what he said when asked who were the most interesting people he had met in his political career.

He said, “This question would require a second book! It is simply impossible to single out the most interesting. Maybe it was my early training as a journalist, but I’ve found every person I ever met has some quality that makes him or her interesting and unique as a person. Sometimes you have to dig a little harder, but everyone has a story of interest.”

I guess one of the reasons that answer struck a chord with me was that I feel the same way (journalist’s training or not). (Frankly, I’m not sure I was ever trained. Journalism ain’t brain surgery, y’all.) Just about everyone is interesting, and if someone finds a person dull, he may well be a dullard himself. Receptivity is key here.

I know I’ve often said to you after National Review cruises: The snorting Left would say we’re all alike, a bunch of white, National Review-reading conservatives aboard this ship. You know: slapping the Velveeta between slices of white bread, washing it down with martinis (or Hi-C). But they’re all different–happy, sad, lucky, unlucky, bright, less so. If you get past the superficialities, you will find at least some of the real person.

Hell, there’s even more diversity in Ann Arbor than I let on (just a smidge)!

‐I should probably write some sort of personal essay on New Orleans, having spent a lot of time there, and loving the place, dearly–more than I do most places. But you’ve read a lot of that sort of thing lately, and I may find an opportunity to say my bit later–probably much later.

‐Um . . . I never thought it was fair to run your hate mail, at least the worst of it. We all get such mail, no matter what our own political coloration. You can always make the other side look as toxic as possible. But I thought I’d give you just a peek, if only for entertainment purposes. This was from a reader in the Netherlands–I will run it raw (as it came in):


It is all hands on deck innit, to save your precious nincompoop, what a sorry state of affairs you are in when America cannot find a better leader than this nitwit.

Remember Roosevelt, Kennedy and look at you now.

It is disgracefull, and the worst is, people abroad do not take you serious anymore. This silly monkee with his jew Neocon-handlers is leading you country into ruin and perhaps that is a good thing.

The man signed it “Greetings” (before giving his name)!

The most remarkable thing about this note: How’d he know that American literary idiom “innit”?

‐Have another letter, of a quite different character:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

As you can tell from where I live [Bay Area], I am surrounded by the Left. Your observation about global warming as a dogma for every season is certainly the case here. Whenever a “right-thinking” colleague of mine attributes something to global warming, I immediately state with utmost conviction: “We would not have global warming today if Al Gore had been elected president.”

Without exception, every right-thinker has agreed with me, in all seriousness. Never once has a person even asked whether I’m kidding. These are the same folks who all think that conservatives–particularly a certain rancher from Crawford–are nitwits.

I just love that letter. In fact, I may start using his line: “We would not have global warming today if Al Gore had been elected president!”

‐And a heart-warmer to conclude:

Dear Jay:

A very good friend of mine recently adopted a little girl from China. During this rather lengthy process, he came to meet a great many people also adopting. He had a conversation with one of these folks about the naming of the child, and she made clear her opinion that the children should maintain their heritage and culture, and should be given a Chinese name. After the adoption, the woman again saw my friend–and his child–and she asked him her name. He introduced his little girl as Reagan, which prompted her to say, “You didn’t name her after . . .,” to which my friend said, “Damn right I did: after Ron himself.”

I love that story, and it is powerful to me on many levels . . .

I marvel at our citizens who carve out a place in their lives for a little girl with a medical condition who was destined for oppression, and a life as a second-class citizen, and give her a chance to live a better life. As if this weren’t enough, to name her after a president who knew the value of freedom and the evils of Communism . . . well, that’s just about perfect.

I’ll say.


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