Politics & Policy

How private a sector? &c.

Last week, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post had a very nice column called “Why I’m Not Under the Tuscan Sun.” She was all set to go to Italy, when she realized her passport had expired. A passport office issued another one speedily. She got to the airport with plenty of time to spare — 2 hours and 15 minutes — but she missed her flight: The lines were that long.

Travel woes often lead to columns, and to good columns: WFB has written a million of them. (I remember one, in particular, collected in an anthology. The column is called “Beware Varig,” Varig being the Brazilian airline.)

In any event, I thought one thing was wrong with Marcus’s column: She wrote, “[M]y tale of travel woe [says] something about the unexpected capacity of government, so maligned for bureaucratic inertia, to perform with astonishing competence, and the inability or unwillingness of the private sector, so glorified for its supposed efficiency, to do the same.”

And what is wrong with that? Well, first of all, government is not “maligned” for bureaucratic inertia: It’s justly famous, or infamous, for that phenomenon. (Non-phenomenon?) I can cite Ruth Marcus chapter and verse, if she cares to hear it.

But mainly, there’s the private sector, and there are airlines and airports. The latter are socked with all manner of federal regulations, some of them justified, I’m sure, and some of them not, I’m equally sure. As an airline-exec friend of mine says, “We’re the most regulated deregulated industry in the world.”

Listen, if the airline Marcus used were genuinely private-sector, she’d have been in Italy before she left her house, I assure you. The free market is not “glorified for its supposed efficiency”; it is glorious, and efficient, when restraints are light.

‐Euphemisms, in general, are maddening, and a recent one, I’ve found particularly maddening: “redeploy our troops.” Ned Lamont and other such candidates are going around saying, “We must redeploy our troops.” What they mean is that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq.

Now, we can debate the policy question — and the moral question, etc. — all we want. I am merely focusing on a language question here. “Withdraw” is a nice, neutral word, whereas “bug out” or “retreat” would be an opinionated word. “Redeploy”? Sheer obfuscation, and reality-avoidance.

Watch out for it.

‐Like other conservatives — or war-supporters — I get a lot of mail from liberals (and others) saying, “General Shinseki was right, General Shinseki is great, General Shinseki this, General Shinseki that.” I’m all for it. But it’s interesting to see how the Left has changed. When I was growing up, all the generals were big, bad baby-killers, warmongering men who couldn’t be trusted. And now, any anti-Rumsfeldite who thinks he has a point to make shouts, “General Shinseki!”

I acknowledge that this is an improvement over the older Left. Back in the day, the only military big they admired was Adm. Gene LaRocque.

’member him?

‐A story last week reminded me of the difference a democratic military makes — an American-style military makes. The lead: “Three Camp Pendleton Marines will face courts-martial on murder and kidnapping charges in the death of an Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania . . .”

No, don’t let anyone tell you there’s no difference between the American military and the barbaric enemy we face.

‐I had kind of a dark laugh last week — a gallows laugh. This story began, “An Arab-American civil-rights group filed a lawsuit Tuesday aiming to prove that the federal government was guilty of racial profiling when it arrested more than 230 people for immigration violations.”

Many people would say, “Oh, how terrible.” Many others would say, “I wish.”

‐Every now and then, someone asks me — often a college student — how I came to be a conservative. I have spoken on this subject many times, but sometimes my memory grows misty. And then I’ll come across something that helps me remember: The Left repulsed me.

I thought of this over the weekend, when reading a story from Ohio. Cincinnati renovated its Fountain Square, and had a grand reopening. They asked a poet named Nikki Giovanni to write and read a dedicatory poem. She did.

It included the lines, “I am not a son of a bitch like Kenny Blackwell / I will not use the color of my skin to cover the hatred in my heart / I am not a political whore jumping from bed to bed to see who will stroke my need.”

Kenneth Blackwell, of course, is Ohio’s secretary of state, the former mayor of Cincinnati, and the current Republican nominee for governor.

Friends, this is the Left I grew up with. Women like Nikki Giovanni were a dime a dozen; men like Amiri Baraka were a dime a dozen. They were celebrated and honored and lauded constantly. They were at the center of everything. And I didn’t like it; I still don’t. The kind of performance that Giovanni put on was almost daily fare in my hometown. I never admired it; I never will.

And, yes, once in a while I’m reminded.

By the way, the Cincinnati Enquirer had a very cutesy lead: “If Ken Blackwell becomes Ohio’s governor, don’t look for Nikki Giovanni to be appointed the state’s poet laureate.”

I have to wonder: If Right had attacked Left on such an occasion — and in such a fashion — would the paper have been so cutesy?

‐Speaking of my hometown (Ann Arbor): My friend Eddie tells me that anti-Israel protesters are protesting outside a synagogue, regularly. And he makes an excellent point: The anti-Israel people are always saying they’re not anti-Jewish, just anti-Israel. (We can debate whether there’s a meaningful difference, in this day and age.) And if what they say is true: What the hell are they doing demonstrating outside a synagogue? Why don’t they go to an Israeli consulate or something?

You’ve heard me say it before, and I’m afraid you’ll hear me say it again: Ann Arbor has taught me a lot, most of it negative.

‐Of course, Israel’s ambassador was attacked — physically attacked — in Ireland. (A story is here.) He had had the audacity to speak at a university. Funny that he should have fancied himself free to do that. And a mob attack on an ambassador made huge news worldwide, didn’t it?

Yeah, right.

And do you think anyone was arrested in the attack?

Yeah, right.

‐You may recall an item from last Wednesday’s Impromptus. It included this amazing news bulletin: “Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has been using campaign donations instead of his personal money to pay Christmas bonuses for the support staff at the Ritz-Carlton, where he lives in an upscale condominium.”

There’s a lot of deliciousness packed into that single sentence, isn’t there? First, there’s the fact of Reid’s using campaign donations instead of his own dough to tip his doormen. Second, there’s the fact that this Democratic lion lives in the Ritz-Carlton — “in an upscale condominium.”

I’m guessing there are few downscale condominiums at the Ritz-Carlton.

Anyway, this news story went on to tell us that Reid was “personally reimbursing his campaign for the $3,300 he had directed to the staff holiday fund at his residence.”

The story did not tell us over what period of time the $3,300 was disbursed. But a reader wrote in with a fascinating point: “Now that Reid has to reach into his own pocket, will he pay the doormen less, or the same? Power to the People.”

Yo!

‐A little language. Reader writes,

Jay,

You apologized for using “breathtakingly simple,” instead of just “simple,” in something you wrote five years ago. I was reminded of something that Bob Newhart, the comedian, once said: “Henry David Thoreau famously admonished, ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify.’ Wouldn’t it have been better if he had said it only once?”

Beautiful.

‐Got a load of mail on the Boy Scouts. One reader said this:

The Seattle Seahawks were temporary tenants of the football stadium at the University of Washington a few years back, when the Seahawks’ new field was under construction. My dad and I attended a pre-season game, in the heart of Seattle. A beautiful August day, the sun, the lake, the mountains . . .

Just before game time, a color guard of local Boy Scouts marched in with the flag, and the crowd rose to their feet and began to boo.

Jim McDermott, Patty Murray — I’d been embarrassed by my state, but that was the low point.

Just for the record, Washington is a wonderful place, but Seattle is [less great]. It’s all things wrong socially, overpriced and wrapped in a traffic jam.

Sometimes we publish strong opinions, here in Impromptus . . .

‐I loved a note from a pro-Rumsfeld reader who said, “I’ll read any article about Rumsfeld, even if it’s the most vicious attack you can find. I’m just hoping they’ll quote him.”

‐In those Impromptus — that Impromptus? — from last Wednesday, I mentioned the historic occasion, just a few weeks ago, when Bill Buckley brushed up against Mr. T in a restaurant across from Lincoln Center. Two giants of our culture, passing in the night.

A reader wrote in,

“When my wife was on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, the ABC limo driver gave us tales of celebrities he had driven. The two nicest: Gene Simmons of Kiss and Mr. T.”

I believe it.

‐In that same column, I (not very nicely) wrote the following: “[W]e understand that Senator Hillary has taken to wearing a cross. Nixon used to say that you could tell Ted Kennedy was running for president when he slimmed down. And speaking of harbingers of presidential runs . . .”

Well, a Michigan reader responded, “I heard Governor Engler say at the Biennial Republican Conference up at Mackinac Island that you could tell whether he or Spence Abraham was running for office the next year by whether they ate the rather large ice-cream dessert served at the Grand Hotel banquet during the conference.”

‐Finally, speaking of Michigan,

Jay,

Would you please pen a few words about our beloved Bengals [the Detroit Tigers, who are in the World Series]? I’d love to hear your thoughts on our winning the pennant. (I still can’t bring myself to say “the ALCS” — makes my skin crawl. Besides, doesn’t it sound a lot like “ACLU”?) (Ha! That was my own Impromptus moment.)

’68, ’84, ’06 — gems amid the slag.

Consider it done. And, of course, go Tiges.

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