Politics & Policy

Goodbye to Harriet, &C.

I will not add to the Miers pile, but I will say this: The whole affair left me queasy, as it did many I know. (I’m talking mainly–well, probably exclusively–about conservatives.) The nomination was ill judged. But Bush probably didn’t deserve all the grief he got, and Miers probably deserved even less.

On the Court, she might have been okay; she might not have. This is true of many nominees. (I doubt the first President Bush is thrilled about Souter. I have a feeling President Reagan wasn’t thrilled about O’Connor and Kennedy. And we know what Eisenhower said about Warren and Brennan.)

And I believe the Miers affair will be quickly forgotten. Do you remember Haynsworth and Carswell, back in the Nixon years? Not many do, except as trivia, or (not-nice) jokes.

A funny thing happened to me in the concert hall the other week. The LSO–the London Symphony Orchestra–was onstage, and the timpanist reminded me of somebody. He looked a lot like somebody. Who was it? Bernard Kerik–that was the guy! The timpanist looked like Bernie Kerik.

Remember when Bush nominated him to be secretary of the new homeland-security department? What a debacle that was? Real black eye for the Bush presidency?

Now, absolutely down the memory hole. Chertoff is in place, and basically nothing else matters.

I realize that the Miers nomination was much different–to the Supreme Court, a drawn-out ordeal. But there are similarities. And memories are brief–sometimes mercifully so, sometimes shamefully so.

You know all this. But sometimes, in this column, we fondle the obvious.

‐Every time I hear some Middle Eastern leader call for the destruction of Israel–as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did on Wednesday–I think of those famous words of a Holocaust survivor. Asked what lesson he had drawn from the experience, he answered, “When someone tells you he wants to kill you, believe him.”

Israel must take very seriously such threats as Ahmadinejad’s. The Israeli Left doesn’t–but the Left is like that everywhere, and, besides, Israel’s Left is much smaller than it used to be. Arafat & Co. accomplished that.

Similarly, the United States should take seriously the constant threats directed our way. Al-Qaeda and the rest are very clear about their intentions and desires. (If you’re interested in Islamist clarity, go to MEMRI.org.) A corresponding will to survive must be equally clear.

‐You’ve heard me make this point before, but indulge me again. When English conservatives started to cry against encroachment by the EU–this was years ago–I was a little skeptical. Surely England wouldn’t cease to be England. But gradually I understood their alarm. You may remember “the Metric Martyr,” the green grocer who was prosecuted for dealing in pounds, ounces, and the like. That prosecution was shocking.

I sputtered to my colleague David Pryce-Jones–a British conservative–”But pounds and ounces are English measures! This is the English system! How can the English–how can the British–stand by and allow this man to be prosecuted?” David answered, “The British people wouldn’t stand by and allow it–but the British don’t live here anymore.”

And now the U.K. has banned Piglet. Well, more precisely, the city council of Dudley, in Worcestershire, has banned images of pigs in its offices. It wasn’t the EU that objected, but a local Muslim or two. As a result, one woman’s Kleenex had to go–it was in a box showing Pooh and his porcine friend.

Could there be anything more English than A. A. Milne? Well, yes: pounds, ounces, yards, feet, gallons . . .

These things remain joking matters, for now. But you have to wonder (at least, I have to wonder, and I was slowish to this): How long will “for now” last?

‐A little more on the Metric Martyr: He was Steven Thoburn, of Sunderland–on the North Sea–dead last year, at 39. I should be clear about what he did: He offered his customers the opportunity to purchase according to English measures–but he also dealt in metric measures. He simply wanted his customers to have a choice.

But that was disallowed by the EU, and by a Britain that had submitted to it.

It was kind of a funny story, in a way: “Metric Martyr!” But in a way–in an important way–not.

‐Ellen Sauerbrey has been nominated to be assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration. Kenneth Bacon, of Refugees International, opposes her (as do other Democrats).

Sauerbrey is the tough, smart, principled, compassionate Maryland politician who was denied the governorship, in part because the Democrats–guided by Bob Shrum–played a racial dirty trick on her. Bacon was the Clinton Pentagon official who played a dirty trick on Linda Tripp (releasing classified information from her security file).

I admire Sauerbrey quite a bit–and I know whose side I’m on in this fight.

‐I saw a headline in the New York Times (or at least on its website–same diff?). It read, “An Anchor Intimately Recalls Katrina.”

Oh, he does? That’s good–the hurricane struck a couple of months ago.

‐A wire-service report served as a reminder: “In March, China enshrined in law a threat of ‘non-peaceful means’ as a last resort in achieving unification with Taiwan, but also called for more exchanges with the Taiwanese people.” Yes, by all means, “exchange” with them before conquering them and taking away their freedom.

If Taiwan is swallowed–”when” it is, I’m tempted to say–I wonder whether the world will care. What do you say? Some indignation, followed by yawns, or yawns right from the git-go?

‐On November 1, the Bush White House will host its third annual Diwali event. Before Bush, there had never been such an event in “America’s home.”

What is Diwali? The Hindu festival of lights–a big deal on the Indian calendar.

The cultivation of Indian Americans, and their political coming of age, is a special interest of mine, as readers of NR (may) know. At the end of last year, I published a piece titled “Pioneers! Rangers! Indians! A flourishing American ethnic group gets a little political.” You’ll find it here.

The Bush administration is not unaware of this group, and neither are Republicans in general. Indian Americans, while of course not uniform, are ripe for Republicanism–as that piece discusses.

Happy Diwali!

‐Many people have remarked on the similarity between the Cold War and the War on Terror, and I believe our Pryce-Jones was the first–certainly one of them (and none has done it so persuasively or eloquently). Well, the other day, Bush gave a speech at the Reagan Library. And he spent some time commenting on Communism and Islamism. I don’t think he had ever done so in such detail, or at such length. See what you think:

At the beginning of his presidency, Ronald Reagan declared that the years ahead would be great ones “for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization.” He dismissed communism as “a bizarre chapter in human history” whose last pages were being written. For eight years he acted on that conviction, and shortly after he left office, the Berlin Wall came down, the “Evil Empire” collapsed, and the cause of liberty prevailed in the Cold War. . . .

Because of Ronald Reagan’s leadership, America prevailed in the 20th century’s great struggle of wills. And now in this new century, our freedom is once again being tested by determined enemies. The terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, are followers of a radical and violent ideology. They exploit the religion of Islam to serve a violent political vision, the establishment of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus, and against Muslims from other traditions whom they regard as heretics.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard of Islamic militants that presume to speak for the Muslim masses. Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that the innocent can be murdered to serve a political vision. Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy pursues totalitarian aims. Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy is dismissive of free peoples, claiming that men and women who live in liberty are weak and decadent. And like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is doomed to fail.

It will fail because it undermines the freedom and creativity that makes human progress possible and human societies successful. The only thing modern about our enemy’s vision is the weapons they want to use against us. The rest of their grim vision is defined by a warped image of the past, a declaration of war on the idea of progress itself. And whatever lies ahead in the war against this ideology, the outcome is not in doubt: Those who despise freedom and progress have condemned themselves to isolation, decline, and collapse. Because free peoples believe in the future, free peoples will own the future.

If you’d like to see the full text of this quite interesting speech–generally overlooked, I believe–go here.

‐Ah, that Bloomberg, he sure knows how to campaign. I’m talking about the mayor of New York, of course. He’s in the homestretch of his reelection.

Remember when George W. Bush made sure that, when you got your tax rebate, you knew it was from him (basically)? A friend of mine–not at all political–exclaimed sometime in 2001, “I got my George Bush check today!” I then knew that W. had hit the political mark.

Well, look what I received in the mail, couple of weeks ago: “The Mayor and the City Council have approved a second property tax rebate. Your enclosed . . . rebate check is the City’s way of thanking you for keeping New York City strong during difficult times.”

Thank you, Bloomie! (Oh, and you too, City Council.)

‐Let’s have a little language: A friend of mine asks, “How come ‘funnest’ isn’t a word? I can say ‘fastest.’ I can say ‘loudest.’ I can say ’stupidest’ [which, when I was growing up, was thought low-class]. But I get hooted at when I say ‘funnest.’”

All I can say, in response, is: The English language is weird–utterly weird and inconsistent (and completely glorious)–and I wonder how a foreigner ever learns it. I wonder how a native speaker does.

But mark my words: Say “funnest” often enough, and get enough people to join you, and it will be a word, rest assured. In fact, in a pure sense, it is a word, the moment you let it escape your lips. Even if Random House doesn’t agree.

‐Care for some music criticism, from the New York Sun? For a review of the Munich Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Philippe Entremont (who doubled as piano soloist), please go here. And for a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Itzhak Perlman (who doubled as violin soloist), please go here.

‐Couple of columns ago–I’m talking about this one–I commented on the extreme worldwide popularity and influence of Michael Moore. That is a lamentable fact (the popularity and influence, not my commenting on it). A reader writes,

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Last month my wife and I were on vacation in Mongolia (highly recommended, by the way). While at a ger camp in the Gobi Desert I was chatting with one of our Mongolian guides (a bright 18-year-old chap). I had not shaved for ten days (looking very scruffy), had my baseball cap on, and am somewhat rotund. The guide looked at me and said, “When I first saw you I thought you were Michael Moore.” A young Mongolian guide. In the Gobi Desert! Worst insult I’ve ever had.

You see? Frightening.

‐I’ll close with this, and catch you later.

Dear Jay,

A few weeks ago, I returned to my home in New Orleans after being “evacuated” for 32 days. I was fortunate in that the damage to my property was minimal, but I did lose my job because of Hurricane Katrina.

After several days of cleaning up and cleaning up and cleaning up, trying to find groceries, trying to find friends, looking in the paper for jobs, etc., I began to feel overwhelmed. It is difficult to describe what life is like here, but the word “challenge” comes to mind.

Anyway, in my bedroom I keep a file folder of what I would call “inspirational things,” for lack of a better term. As I leafed through the sheets of paper, I found an excerpt from one of your columns. It concerned a dinner encounter with a couple in Metullah, Israel, and the point of the story was a woman’s willingness to keep on going even after losing her husband, children, mother, father, and grandmother. She eventually remarried, had more children, etc.

It would be difficult for me to explain how damaging to the psyche Hurricane Katrina has been. Everyone has been affected to one extent or another, but the biggest loss after property and lives is that of relationships. In my own case, I taught math in the same school for 16 years. It was a magnet school with 1,400 children and about 100 total staff. There was very little turnover on the staff and always a waiting list for students. Today, that building sits empty, with staff and students spread to the four corners of the nation. And that scenario, with some variations, is true all over the city. Whole churches are gone. Miles and miles of neighborhoods–blue-collar to professional–are simply empty. The latest statistics show that only 60,000 residents are actually sleeping in the city. (Our pre-Katrina population was close to 500,000.)

At any rate, when I consider that woman whose story you told, it helps me. My loss and the losses in this city do not compare with what happened to her, but the commonality is that she lost her whole frame of reference in life. And that is what has happened to the city of New Orleans.

It is the last paragraph that helps me personally: “This is how I think of Israel: a determination to live, in spite of the worst. A refusal to surrender to death. A refusal to succumb to evil. A decision to live. To keep living. To choose life, not death. To go on.”

I’m glad to know that story.


The Latest

A Revolt in Cuba

A Revolt in Cuba

Last month, thousands of Cubans poured into the streets, daring to protest the government that has ruled them for 60-plus years.