Dear friends: Long time, no talk to — where you been? I guess the question is more like, Where has my own bad self been? According to my archive — or what we grandly call my “archive” — I last wrote for this space on Monday, November 6 (though the column was published on the 7th). Anything happen since then?
Well, yeah, a few things: like the Republicans’ “thumpin’.” And the firing — or resignation, or retirement, or exit — of Rumsfeld. In the weeks after the election, I gave a heck of a lot of election commentary. And you heard and read a heck of a lot, I’m sure.
Should I add, or repeat, anything now? I guess not. I’ll just say: It’s possible to interpret the election as a Spain, pulled by the American people. Did they really check out of the Terror War?
Also, I hear a lot of conservatives saying, “If only we had been truer to our principles. If only we had spent less, been tougher on illegal immigration, prosecuted the Iraq War more vigorously.”
Okay, I share all those complaints, to varying degrees: But if your complaints are high spending, laxness on immigration, and tepidity in Iraq — do you turn to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats?
That is a question to wrestle with.
I talked to Gov. Bob Ehrlich of Maryland the other day, and he said that he had expected — and hoped — that 9/11 would be the “defining event” of our times. It has not turned out that way, to say the least. How do we know, for sure? Because Nancy Pelosi — Nancy Pelosi — is Speaker of the House. (You will hear more from me on Ehrlich another day.)
On the general subject of war, I might say that things are smelling rather like Vietnam to me. Perhaps you have been bothered by the same scent. Back in 1975, a Democratic Congress — fresh from a huge win, post-Watergate — cut off funding to the South, causing the government to fall. Something like 52,000 Americans had just finished dying to keep those people from Communism. President Ford pleaded with the Democrats not to starve the South, to maintain our commitment — but the Democrats had other ideas, and the country let them do it.
We were the ones who elected them in the first place.
Will this new Democratic Congress, controlling the purse, cut loose the Iraqis? Will we leave them to the jihadists, the bombers, the beheaders? Will Americans really mind?
A terrible question.
‐I suppose I should say something about Rumsfeld — although any words from me would be largely redundant. Regular readers know my view of him. I have written about him many times, interviewed him at length. I thought the timing of his exit — the day after the election — was bizarre and wrong. I like what Mark Steyn said, on NR’s recent cruise (about which, more in a moment): This was “unworthy and small” of Bush.
Readers have written to say, “You love Bush — adore him — but how can you justify his prevarication concerning Rumsfeld, in the weeks before the election?” The answer is: I can’t.
‐On to other issues, and please forgive me if this column will read a little diary-ish and la-di-da.
Before the NR cruise, I went to San Diego — or greater San Diego — with a lot of other NR-niks. Gave a speech at a country club in Rancho Santa Fe.
And about that area, a quick word: Is there any place in the United States more beautiful? In the world? I wonder. The air in Rancho Santa Fe is redolent with flowers, and with general Southern California-ness. And anyone who is not besotted with SoCal has yet to visit. Or is cracked.
At the country club, I spoke before a women’s group. These were Republican country-club women, scads of them, and you know the stereotypes about them: I grew up on them; I drank them with my mother’s milk. They’re all supposed to be Stepford-like materialists, right?
What a crock. First of all, the women I met are a very diverse group, despite their common membership in the Republican party. They are from different countries, and different backgrounds, and they have different personalities. In the main, they are idealistic and inquisitive — real readers and thinkers.
The people I grew up with in Ann Arbor wouldn’t give them half a chance. And the Ann Arborites would lose out, terribly.
As I’ve commented in this space before, it’s amazing how much of my adult life has consisted of unlearning things I was taught in my youth: such as about Republican country-club women. Amazing, the extent to which the beliefs, prejudices, and doctrines around me were ass-stupid.
Before our luncheon, the Rancho Santa Fe group recited the Pledge of Allegiance — without a trace of irony. How my old crowd would have hooted at that! And the group honored a nearby charter school, which endeavors to provide a broad, sound, “traditional” education. (Sadly, such an education is no longer traditional.) The school had just had a major Veterans Day ceremony.
Do our run-of-the-mill public schools have the same? I doubt it.
Thought you might get a kick out of the dear and interesting lady who met me at the airport. She is a firecracker of a woman, southern-born. Before I got there, she told me she was going to meet me with a star-spangled sign saying, “Welcome Jay Nordlinger, Managing Editor, National Review.” I said ha-ha.
And lo and behold, what did she do? She greeted me at the airport with exactly such a sign. You could have blown me down. At a New York or San Francisco airport, we might have been lynched. But in San Diego, we were just fine. And then she loaded me up with See’s candy, which later put me in a heavenly coma.
Speaking of later: I went up to Santa Monica, in L.A.-land, for a little messin’ around. Can you tire of that pier, and that walk along the Pacific? If you can . . . well, you are not me, is all I’ll say.
Is Santa Monica ultra-liberal, and a magnet for every bum on the planet? Of course. But if I were a bum, I’d want to go there myself — and have half a mind to join them.
‐Let’s move on to the cruise — that NR cruise, which sailed up and down the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico. I can safely say that a glorious time was had by all, and that our cruisers — our passengers — were all fired up. They weren’t demoralized in the least by the election, as far as I could tell. On the contrary, they were energized, recommitted, whatever the word is.
Of course, it helped that we had a world-beating lineup of speakers. Get a load of this: Bernard Lewis, Victor Davis Hanson, and David Pryce-Jones; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; Robert Conquest, Arnold Beichman, and Ward Connerly; Dinesh D’Souza, Cliff May, and Pat Toomey.
You feel like a little legal talent? How about Bob Bork and Ken Starr? They were superb judges, and they would be superb — even ideal — Supreme Court justices. It says something about our country, and not very flattering, that they are not on that court.
But enough of my sour grapes.
And then we had a slew of us NR rats: Rich, Kate, Ramesh, Stephen “Media Blog” Spruiell, Bill Rusher, John O’Sullivan — and, of course, the captain of us all, WFB.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a speaker or three, for which I’ll pay, but forgive me.
By the way, you may know that Bill Rusher, formally, is William A. Rusher — making his initials WAR. And as I reminded our passengers, NR once employed men named Savage, Vigilante, and Lynch.
Now, that is right-wing.
‐What I said about the women at the country club applies equally to NR cruisers. Think of how the Left would mock our ship, full of NR-reading conservatives, all from the same mold. But, again, what a crock: The passengers are all different — of different backgrounds, different ages (yes), different nationalities. You meet an impressive diversity on an NR cruise. You have hippy-dippy types — California New Agers. You have rad, high-tech, libertarian types. You have Jewish ex-Communists. You have, natch, your traditional, meat-and-potatoes conservatives.
(Mmm, meat and potatoes.)
A famous though ill-informed writer once said to me, “National Review: Isn’t it for Corn Belt Republicans?” Yes, ma’am — and for everybody else.
‐I’ll give you just a little taste of our panels. Wish you had been there! Moderating one, I said, “You know, it’s amazing to me that I call Judge Bork — Judge Robert Heron Bork — ‘Bob.’ It’s as though you knew Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and said, ‘Whassup, Ollie?’”
I then turned to Bork and said, “So, Bob . . .” And he answered, “Yes, Mr. Nordlinger” — bringing down the house. I responded, “That’s exactly as it should be.”
And we had a rollicking session with Mark Steyn about music, on which he is expert, as he is on virtually everything else. (I could have done without that “virtually,” I believe.) I asked him which team was better: Rodgers & Hart or Rodgers & Hammerstein. He said — I am summarizing succinctly — “The first team wrote better songs, the second better musicals.”
I asked him to name the best of the following musicals: Oklahoma! The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, or The Sound of Music. Unhesitatingly, he said Carousel.
That struck me as an unconventional choice, and it won some healthy applause from our audience. Personally, I’m not sure I’d put anything over Oklahoma!
I asked, “Is Stephen Sondheim any good?” Mark gave a comprehensive, wise, and hilarious answer — but I believe I can boil it down to: Not really.
“Ella or Sarah?” I asked. He demurred, replying, “I’d rather say Peggy Lee.” Fine.
So, you see, dear readers, on an NR cruise, it’s not all elections and campaigns, taxes and immigration, war and woe. We can let our hair down — and not just after hours.
‐As you may know, Milton and Rose Friedman were scheduled to join us, on our Mexico cruise. They withdrew at the last minute, because Milton was ill. He passed away while the cruise was in progress. WFB arranged a special tribute session to him, and I found it enlightening, fun, and moving, all three.
As I told the audience, I happened to be on a panel with Friedman, once — this was an NR-cruise panel. It dealt with economics, and I was fairly mortified to be on it. I said to the folks that day, “Look, I can barely balance my checkbook. What am I doing here?” But it was enjoyable nonetheless, and Friedman, of course, was as gracious and easy-going as he was brilliant.
I remember a different panel as well: Milton was on it, and I, serving in the role of moderator, asked him about school choice. Wasn’t it a no-brainer? I asked. Wasn’t the idea so obvious, so promising, and so salutary that the public should embrace it immediately, wholeheartedly, and gratefully? “Yes,” he smiled.
I remember the warmth and delight of that smile. And you will recall that Milton was the father of the school-choice movement.
Another memory: of Friedman’s saying that he favored any tax cut, of any kind, no matter how modest or partial — because surely it would do some good. We were not in danger, anywhere in the world, of undertaxation.
I remember Milton and Rose on those cruises, holding hands as they walked. Someone said they looked like salt-and-pepper shakers, perfectly paired — and they did.
Wasn’t it great to have him as our champion? You couldn’t screw with him — no one on the left, no one in any camp, could touch him. He was too smart, too steeped in knowledge, too adept. Plus, they had given him the Nobel Prize, miracle of miracles! He was our answer to Galbraith, Samuelson, and the rest of the socialists who were always being jammed down our throats. He could beat them all, single-handed.
And he could talk to anyone: He could talk to his fellow economists, on the theoretical, abstract, and technical levels. And he could talk to the man on the street — as he did in his famous television series, Free to Choose. A passenger on our cruise, a young whiz of an investor, said that this series had made him a conservative (or classical liberal, or whatever — you’ve heard my pontificating about these terms). And that is true of countless individuals.
Everywhere I go, when or if I tell people I work for National Review, they say, “Bill Buckley changed the world.” And so he did. And so did his buddy, Milton Friedman. Rarely does a person change the world; you’re lucky if you can change, or help, or influence, one person in your family, or neighborhood.
We’ll miss Milton, of course. But he did his work. Man, did he.
‐Friends, I have a million other items for you, built up over the weeks. But you’ve had enough, for one column. Lay some music on you? In fact, I’ll load you down.
Here are six pieces published in the New York Sun. For a review of a couple of Christmas albums — Roberto Alagna and Anne Sofie von Otter — please go here. For a review of the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Christoph Eschenbach, with violinist Leonidas Kavakos, soloist, please go here. For a review of The Barber of Seville at the Metropolitan Opera, please go here. For a review of a recital by Magdalena Koená, the Czech mezzo, please go here. For a review of the pianist Hélène Grimaud, please go here. And for a review of a concert performance of Dom Sébastien, Donizetti’s last opera, please go here.
The story of that opera is strikingly contemporary, by the way — Europeans vs. Moors, a death struggle. You might even say that the libretto is “ripped from the headlines,” though it was penned in the 19th century, and concerns events in the 16th.
Anyway . . . nice to see you!