Politics & Policy

Senator Kerry speaks, &c.

As a Republican, I would like to think that Kerryesque crudity will save the day — will rescue the GOP from disaster at the polls. If Al Gore hadn’t been so crude — so rude, so obnoxious — in the first debate of the 2000 campaign, we would have been cooked. But Kerry is too little, too late, I’m afraid.

I have a bright-side point, however: The Foley bomb went off a little early. Those IMs now seem like Egyptian hieroglyphics.

At least I hope that analysis is right.

‐I think it’s safe to say that the media don’t want you to talk about gay marriage — that is one topic that is off limits. Because it is a (dreaded) “wedge issue” for Republicans.

In this dispatch, an AP reporter said that Bush had “briefly brought up the topic, unprompted” — but he had been prompted, in my opinion, by the Jersey court’s ruling.

Other conservative commentators have talked about how the media (read, the liberals) have set the terms of debate: have decided what may be discussed, and what may not be; what ads are permissible and what ads are over the line. And those commentators are, of course, correct.

Listen, I believe my racial antennae are as sharp as anyone’s. I know a racial appeal, or a racial inference, when I see one. And the notion that that Tennessee ad was racist, or even racial . . . is nonsense on stilts.

‐Robert C. Byrd — “Fiddlin’ Bob” — is pretty candid on the campaign trail. The other day, boasting of his ability to bring federal dollars to West Virginia, he said, “Yeah, man, you’re lookin’ at Big Daddy.”

That is one philosophy of government: that the best representatives are those who secure the most tax money for their constituents. But it is a rather sorry philosophy.

Still, though, candor is a cherishable quality in politics.

‐Last week, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote a column I had read many, many times. Of course, I don’t mean that I had seen that particular column before; but I had seen plenty like it.

It is the column that says, “The election in State X is a test of the voters’ racial maturity. If they vote for Candidate Y, they are mature; if they vote for Candidate Z, they are immature. We’ll see.”

I remember when Tom Bradley was the Democratic nominee for governor of California. All the commentators said that the election was a test of Californians’ racial enlightenment. When they elected the Republican, George Deukmejian, they failed the test.

And I remember that they said the same thing about Doug Wilder: If Virginians failed to elect him, they were racist. They did not fail — they elected Wilder.

Strangely, commentators did not say the same thing about Bill Lucas, a gubernatorial nominee in my home state, Michigan. He would have been the first black governor — of any state — since Reconstruction. But that election was not a test of Michiganders’ racial maturity: Lucas was a Republican.

Yes, I have read Robinson’s column many times, under many different bylines. There are only so many columns under the sun. I find that I engage in repetition, too — a lot!

And I can make an analogy to music. In the concert halls, night after night, I hear new music, and there are just a few categories of new music. (I could list them for you; you would be bored.) Once, after hearing the premiere of a work, I turned to the critic across the aisle from me and said, “I’m so sick of that piece.” He threw back his head and laughed, knowing exactly what I meant.

Anyway . . .

‐Alan Greenspan had a public conversation the other day — you can read about it here — and he said several interesting things. For example, he said, “I’m a little saddened that we are putting up a wall down in Mexico.”

Well, so am I, bub. But that’s quite apart from whether the fence is a good idea — necessary — or not. Our sadness has nothing to do with it. I’m sad to have police departments, too. I’m sad to have nuclear weapons. Etc.

And consider this, from the article I’ve mentioned:

Discussing the strain of entitlement programs on the nation’s long-term fiscal health, Greenspan said Medicare is much more of a problem and harder to deal with than Social Security. “If you get beyond the political rhetoric” and assembled a group to solve Social Security, “it would take them 15 minutes. It would take them 15 minutes only because 10 minutes was used for pleasantries,” he quipped.

I believe that, and long have. And George W. Bush believes it, too — in fact, knows it. But no one will join him.

This should not stop conservative critics from lambasting W. as an anti-conservative horror. Yeah, great help you gave him on Social Security, guys. I’m sure our next candidates will really rush to reform that system.

‐Friends, I think I’ll just reprint, in toto, a news item out of Philadelphia. Needless to say, I’ll have a comment to make afterward.

City officials and Hispanic community leaders objected Thursday to the federal government’s plans to put monitors at city polling places on Election Day, saying those efforts could discourage people from voting.

The Department of Justice this month asked a federal judge to authorize appointment of monitors beginning with the upcoming Nov. 7 election and ending in 2009. The government accused the city of failing to provide sufficient election materials in Spanish and not recruiting enough bilingual poll workers.

But city solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said at a news conference Thursday that the federal government could not guarantee him that federal monitors wouldn’t follow voters into polling booths. It would be better to appoint local monitors, he said.

The Justice Department said Thursday that monitors would not enter the booths without voter permission.

“No federal observers would ever enter a voting booth unless specifically requested by and with the expressed permission of a voter, and to suggest otherwise is just untrue,” spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Does this story exasperate you as much as it does me? No amount of coddling is ever good enough for certain people. And if you go out of your way to coddle, they don’t like your particular form of coddling.

Maybe we just treat Americans as Americans, people as people, and be done with it. Just go vote, you whiners — and do it in English, splendid language of the country in which we live.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’ll never be elected dogcatcher.

‐Would you like a letter to the editor from the state of Virginia? You will find it here — and this is how it begins:

To the Editor:

We had an interesting experience at Clifton Day this year. Myself, my 11-year-old son and a friend were walking up the street in the big crowd when we encountered Mrs. George Allen and her entourage. A large proportion were skinheads. We are a very political family and we talk politics around the breakfast and dinner table on a daily basis. For some reason, Mrs. Allen introduced herself to my son, who has a sweet “howdy-doody” face with freckles. Here is the exchange:

Mrs. Allen: “I am Mrs. George Allen.”

My son: “You suck.”

Me: “She’s Mrs. Macaca.”

Mrs. Allen: “Oooooo, don’t teach your children to hate.”

Me: “Teach your children to think. (We chant) Stop the corruption.”

Charming, charming, charming. And this letter made me like Mrs. Allen, of whom I had never even thought.

‐In early September, the New York Times published an editorial saying that, what with the transfer of 14 CIA prisoners, “President Bush finally has some real terrorists in Guantánamo Bay.”

The Department of Defense sent a response, noting that “terrorists [who] have been held at Guantánamo Bay have included personal bodyguards of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda recruiters, trainers, and facilitators. One notable individual held at Guantánamo was Mohamed al-Kahtani, believed to be the intended 20th hijacker on September 11th.”

The Times did not publish this letter, contending that the editorial had been “somewhat lighthearted.” I found out about all this on a Defense Department website: here.

You know, from the earliest age, you’re told that “the military-industrial complex” is your enemy, and that papers such as the Times are your friend — at least I was. And then you grow up and find out that, in the words of a great song, it ain’t necessarily so.

‐So, Sweden opened a new embassy in Washington. And, at the gala opening, they had a pop singer, Ola Salo. When he saw some planes flying overhead, he said, “In this country, you don’t know where those planes are headed. I hope they fly into the White House rather than here.”

Yup. Of course.

And, according to this report, the relevant producer “told the Washington Post that he was flabbergasted by Salo’s comments. ‘I was more stunned at the reaction of the crowd, because they laughed and clapped.’”

And what is so stunning, or even surprising, about that? It is perfectly natural. As Impromptus readers know, I was at an Upper East Side dinner party a few years ago, when the subject of 9/11 came up. I mentioned that the Pennsylvania plane had been destined for either the Capitol or the White House. My hostess said, “I wish George Bush had been killed that day.”

No, I am not in the least surprised. It is creepy to live in this country, sometimes.

‐Well, enough of that. Care for some music — some criticism from the New York Sun, that is? For a piece on Ivo Pogorelich, and a review of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, please go here. For a review of the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater, under Maestro Valery Gergiev, go here. And for a recordings roundup, go here.

That roundup involves Hilary Hahn (violinist), Boris Berezovsky (pianist), a new Tristan und Isolde (conducted by Donald Runnicles — the guy who said he’d quit his American posts if George W. Bush won reelection, but didn’t), and Beverly Sills.

Knock yourself out.

‐Speaking of music, check out the following letter:

Dear Jay,

Are you familiar with the Three Stooges episode “Micro-Phonies”? It is perhaps their finest. It features Curly in drag as Señorita Cucaracha, lip-synching “Voices of Spring,” as well as my all-time favorite bit: Moe, Larry, and Señorita Cucaracha lip-synching the Sextet from Lucia [which I had mentioned in this column]. Followed by a food fight, of course — great stuff!

I don’t remember seeing this episode but would, of course, adore it.

‐Finally, a letter from an old friend in Michigan:

Oh, how the Detroit News has fallen! Check out this article, and this line: “In the most recent Congress, [Sen. Debbie] Stabenow received only a 26 percent rating — out of 100 percent — in voting in favor of industry issues, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.”

Gee, I thought percent meant “out of 100.” Have to check with Derb — maybe it means out of 200, or 609, or 3.14 now.

Of course, given my math — or lack of math — I have no right to chuckle at anybody.

Happy Post-Halloween, Happy November, my friends!


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