Politics & Policy

How to Get Airtime, &C.

The recent flap over Rumsfeld–the insistence of a handful of retired generals that he resign or be sacked–reminds us of the great power of a minority with whom the media agree. Now, as the SecDef himself pointed out, a great many generals, retired or otherwise, support him. But they really don’t matter. Their view is not sexy or agreeable enough for prime time. The antis are the ones who bask in media glory.

Reminds me a little–just a little–of something Newt Gingrich said a long time ago. Because one of his sisters was lesbian, and left-leaning, she was on all the TV shows. She was a media star. Newt had another sister too, he said–but she was conservative, a member of the Christian Coalition (as I recall). Her phone never rang. No one wanted to talk to her.

You remember the 2004 Democratic convention, at which all the retired military people who supported Kerry lined up on the stage, to hail their man? You know: Stansfield Turner and that bunch. Well, that stage could easily accommodate all the military brass who supported Kerry. And they looked sort of impressive there, all lined up.

Of course, the Republican convention couldn’t pull the same stunt–gathering all the military people who supported Bush. Because Madison Square Garden has only so much room.

You take my point, and I certainly understand the principle of news-worthiness: Man bites dog and so on. I think I’ll just move on (although not dot-org).

‐All my life, I heard people warn about the influence of generals and admirals over Pentagon affairs: “Civilian control, civilian control,” they always stressed. And when a general uttered a peep about some matter of policy, the cries went up–from the left–that a military dictatorship was about to descend on our land.

That’s the way it was, in good old Ann Arbor town (where I grew up).

Odd that I’ve heard none of those voices in recent days. Have you?

‐It’s easy for the Right to mock the Pulitzer prizes; I’ve indulged in it, with my colleagues, for many a moon. But this prize, to the Timesmen, for the exposure of Bush’s efforts to identify al-Qaeda men, before they kill us? I’m afraid I don’t have words . . . except, That prize was awarded (in a sense) before the ink was dry on the pages.

‐You’ve read that Rob Portman has been appointed director of the OMB. He used to be in the House, from Ohio. I remember when I first heard his name. It was in early 1999, and I was interviewing Gen. Barry McCaffrey, then President Clinton’s drug czar. He was talking about Republicans he admired. And he brought up this young congressman, Portman. He said, “I hope he’s president of the United States in another twelve years. He’s one of the finest public servants I’ve met in America.”

Hmm–another twelve years. That would be 2012, more or less. Portman is sorta on track.

(Incidentally, that piece was called “Clinton’s Good Soldier,” and it was published in the May 3, 1999, issue of National Review.)

‐So, I’m reading this story from the Associated Press. And it’s about this Italian editor who has apologized for giving offense to Muslims. According to the article, “a humorous caption for a drawing” had caused the problem. Okay–so what did the caption say? That, the story declined to reveal.

Rather frustrating–and it figured.

The AP story is here. And my NR homie Max Pakaluk found the original item–caption, etc.– on this blog.

Knock yourself out, if you like.

‐Charles Taylor, the African brute, has been taken to The Hague, for trial. I was intrigued by the following line, from another AP story: “Taylor’s judges deemed it too risky to hold his trial in Sierra Leone, and asked that it take place far from his supporters who could cause trouble. The choice of The Hague was natural.”

And, you know what I’m thinking? Suppose it came time to try a Middle Eastern brute. Given the rise of Islamic radicalism in the Netherlands . . . would The Hague fill The Bill?

Forgive my cutesiness, but there’s a point in there, somewhere.

‐As longtime readers know, I have a standing interest in Democrats or liberals who criticize Republicans or conservatives on class grounds–you know, the Democrats who snicker at manual labor, or whatever. They’re the party of the common man, except when they don’t want to be.

Do you remember that ad that Bill Richardson ran against his gubernatorial opponent? “While I was cutting taxes for the people of New Mexico, my opponent was serving orange juice at 30,000 feet.” (Richardson’s opponent had been an airline steward.)

Anyway, I thought of all this when reading this article about Sean Hannity. It says, “Actor Alec Baldwin . . . called Hannity a ‘no-talent, former-construction-worker hack’ during a recent radio confrontation.”

First, I had no idea that Sean did construction work–makes me think even better of him. Second: Is this really the way liberals want to be talking? Isn’t that talk supposed to come from Republicans in limousines, running over urchins?

While I’m asking questions: Do you remember when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, during a speech in Australia, mocked Tom DeLay for having run an extermination business?

Anyway . . .

‐Another standing interest of mine: The extraordinary regard that Czechs–from Václav Havel on down–show for the Cuban people. It is a touching, nearly unique relationship. I wrote about it in a piece called “Solidarity, Exemplified” (subscription required).

You perhaps saw this story, from late last week, about Castro’s expulsion of a Czech diplomat. The diplomat’s real offense, you can be sure, was to have cared about the actual people who have to live under this dictatorship.

It would speak better of the world if more diplomats, from more countries, were expelled by Fidel Castro.

‐A friend of mine sent me this story with the Subject line, “Your tax dollars at work.” The gist of the story is this:

The reputation of the “Ugly American” abroad is not . . . just some cruel stereotype, but–according to the American government itself–worryingly accurate. Now, the State Department in Washington has joined forces with American industry to plan an image make-over by issuing guides for Americans travelling overseas on how to behave.

Under a programme starting next month, several leading US companies will give employees heading abroad a “World Citizens Guide” featuring 16 etiquette tips on how they can help improve America’s battered international image.

Let me lay it out for you, real simple-like: If you wait for the world to like Americans, you will wait a very long time. Indeed, you may be waiting while a-moulderin’. Plenty of people appreciate the United States. As for the others–just smile at them, and wish them well.

And, frankly, I like it when foreigners, in America, act like foreigners–act like themselves. Diversity. Makes the world go round, you know? I don’t think we all have to be alike.

Indeed, as we say here in the U. S. of A., “Vive la différence.”

(By the way, for an essay I wrote years ago on my experience as a student abroad, and how it helped shape me, please go here.)

‐I offer this story from the Associated Press, concerning the harassment of the American ambassador in Caracas. My only interest, for the moment, is in the story’s byline: Christopher Toothaker.

Should have been a dentist, ha, ha, ha.

‐I’ve got lots more for you, folks, but I’m rushing, so I think I’ll head into some soft stuff (or rather, more soft stuff, I should say: I’m having fun with people’s names).

Was in Galveston the other week, after mingling with the NR throng at our fundraiser in Houston. (Again, thank you, one and all.) Not unlike Washington, D.C., and other places, Galveston has streets known by letters: Q Street, R Street, and so on. But they also have 1/2 streets, as in Q1/2, R1/2. Extraordinary. Perhaps unique in all the world.

And, may I say, I was terribly moved by the memorial to the storm victims. That storm hit in 1900, killing over 6,000 people. The sculpture, down by the sea, is by David W. Moore, and it depicts a family: father, mother, and child. The father’s arm is outstretched, and he is looking heavenward, both fearful and defiant. The mother is cradling their child.

I was reminded of something that E. H. Gombrich said, in his famous book about art: A work doesn’t have to be particularly refined to be moving. Sometimes basic, or blunt, expression will do it.

And it’s true.

‐Outside my building, they’re shooting a movie. Trailers are lining the street. (As in, “I need my own trailer, and three separate ones for my assistants, and mine has to be stocked with Evian and Beluga caviar.”) The stars of the movie are Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Drew is surprisingly small, and . . . well: She oughta be in pictures. And, by golly, she is.

‐I haven’t given you any cute kid talk lately. May I? The other day, I was with a six-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother. She was talking about how her brother had been hit, accidentally, with a baseball bat. “Yeah, he was hit by a seven-and-a-half-year-old!”

I loved that inclusion of the half year. So much more painful to be hit by a seven-and-a-half-year-old than by a mere seven-year-old!

‐More language? This time from Tiger Woods. I haven’t given you any golf slang lately–and this was new to me:

“It was a terrible putt. It was flat-out terrible, an explosion. Gunpowder all over me.”

Let me translate, a little, for the non-golfer: An “explosion” (on the green) is when you hit the ball much, much harder than expected or intended. When I was playing more regularly, we referred to “power surges” (and they were bad).

I had never heard the gunpowder business–excellent.

‐A little music criticism, from the New York Sun: For a review of Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Metropolitan Opera, please go here. For a piece on the relationship between Mstislav Rostropovich and Shostakovich (a perennial topic of music writers), please go here. And for reviews of the pianist Fazil Say and the soprano Eilana Lappalainen, please go here.

Thank you.

‐Finally, a letter, from a regular and astute reader:

Like you, I’m bugged by people who won’t say “man” and “woman.” I notice it on Dr. Laura’s show: People call up and say, “I’m a 30-year-old female.” It always sounds like a police report to me. People like that also call themselves parents instead of mothers or fathers.

Have a good one, guys, and I’ll see you.

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