Politics & Policy

Words from Pope Al, &c.

Stuck in an airport the other day, and unable to get away from CNN, I heard an interview with Al Sharpton. The subject was the comedian Michael Richards, who had recently delivered his anti-black rant. The CNN host was unbelievably obsequious with Sharpton, fawning all over him: “Thank you so much for joining us, Reverend. I know that you’re in the middle of your radio show, Reverend, so feel free to leave at any time. We’re happy just to have a minute with you, Reverend. May I polish your limo with my tongue, Reverend?”

You know how it goes.

And what was “the Reverend” saying? He was saying that he refused to accept an apology from Richards. And I was thinking, “Why should Sharpton be the dispenser or withholder of apologies? Steven Pagones is still waiting for an apology.”

That name may sound familiar to you. Pagones was one of the men whom Sharpton accused of raping and otherwise brutalizing a girl named Tawana Brawley. This was in 1987. And Pagones was an assistant district attorney, in Dutchess County, N.Y.

Of course, the entire Brawley affair was a hoax, a lie. And Sharpton could have shown a little inner strength by apologizing. We all make mistakes, even egregious ones. And isn’t Sharpton supposed to be a Christian? Isn’t that where the title “Reverend” comes in?

In any case, Sharpton refused to apologize, and ostentatiously so.

I wrote an article on Sharpton six years ago, called “Power Dem.” You may find it here. And I thought you would be interested in the following, relevant excerpt:

After [Pagones] was cleared, he held a press conference, which Sharpton, in his theatrical fashion, attempted to crash. “Your accuser has arrived!” he bellowed. Sharpton had said before, “We stated openly that Steven Pagones did it. If we’re lying, sue us, so we can go into court with you and prove you did it. Sue us — sue us right now.” Oddly enough, Pagones did. He spent a decade of his life pursuing a defamation case against Sharpton and his accomplices, finally winning that case one glorious, cleansing day in July of 1998. His life had been a hell — of death threats, illnesses, and assorted other agonies. He said to an interviewer in 1997, “I know that Sharpton doesn’t care how I feel. [But] I will follow him and make sure he pays up as long as I live. Wherever he goes, he’ll find me waiting for him.” Sharpton now owes Pagones $65,000 in damages, money that the victim will probably never see.

Eventually, a clutch of Sharpton cronies did pay Pagones. It was thought that Sharpton had to “get this behind him,” in order to proceed with his political career.

At the heart of any case against Sharpton — and against the notion of a New Sharpton — is his persecution of Steven Pagones. It has been, to use the word for which there is no substitute, evil. He has never apologized for his deeds, and nothing piques him more than to be reminded of them. “If I saved the Pope’s life,” he has sniped, “the media would ask me about Brawley.” In soft moments, he has come close to apologizing (“I have regrets”). In harder ones, he is angrily defiant (“Never, ever!”). Liberal journalists — white — patiently explain that, for a black leader, an apology is a complicated matter: a question of politics and tactics, not of right and wrong. As Sharpton himself has said, to apologize would be “all about submission.” White folk “are asking me to grovel. They want black children to say that they forced a black man coming out of the hardcore ghetto to his knees.” Jesse Jackson gained nothing by apologizing for his “Hymietown” remark, so why should he? Only last year [1999], Sharpton said of his role in the Brawley case, “If I had to do it again, I’d do it in the same way.”

And here is CNN, licking Sharpton’s boots, treating him as the arbiter of apologies or non-apologies. You can understand, I hope, why I was sickened that day, in the airport, when I was trapped and unable to get beyond earshot of CNN.

I was furthered sickened when I saw the media run to Jesse Jackson, for his pronouncements on Michael Richards. Would he absolve him? Convict him? Jesse Jackson is a despicable liar, adulterer, and demagogue. He has been a disgrace on the national stage for at least two decades. And yet the media — white liberals, mainly — insist on making him and Sharpton co-Popes of Black America. Do black Americans give their consent? Do they have a choice?

It is enough to make any American weep.

By the way, in the 2004 presidential primaries, Sen. John Kerry referred to Sharpton as the “compass” of the Democratic party.

‐It wasn’t just the media, but Michael Richards himself who ran to Sharpton and Jackson. And that reminded me of Henry Kissinger. (Bear with me.)

Years ago, he made a famous comment about Europe, which I will now paraphrase: “How can I consult Europe? Do you have an address or phone number?” When the EU was solidified, everyone said that Kissinger’s question was answered: There was, indeed, an address, and a phone number — in Brussels.

It is convenient, surely, for a Michael Richards to have a Pope, or two Popes, of Black America — someone to go to. It is convenient for CNN too, and for many others. But why should black Americans need a Pope, or a Vatican? Are they not Americans, numerous and diverse? Richards never asked Justice Thomas what he should do. (Course not.)

I might say, too, that it would help if Sharpton or Jackson ran for something — I mean, besides president, and those aren’t real campaigns: Those are just show-off opportunities. And this leads me to my favorite comment, ever, by Marion Barry, the former mayor of D.C. At one time, it was bruited about that Jackson would run for mayor. And Barry said, “Oh, Jesse don’t wanna run nothing but his mouth.”

Bingo, Shep. (Marion Barry’s erstwhile nickname. He took as his middle name Shepilov, because he admired D. T. Shepilov, a Soviet propagandist. Pals used to call Barry “Shep.”)

‐I realize the word “Orwellian” is overused and misused, and I don’t want to be guilty of it myself. I also realize I have commented on the ubiquity of CNN at airports before. But really. I was in the Detroit airport the other day, and you just can’t get away from CNN. As soon as you move far enough away from one monitor, you are assaulted by the next. The entire place is blanketed by CNN, yakkety-yakkety-yakkety.

I was reminded of stories from behind the Iron Curtain, where people were constantly bombarded by propaganda over loudspeakers: in downtown streets, in neighborhood streets. You couldn’t get away from yakking Big Brother.

Now, please: I don’t wish to compare the CNN monitors to those Communist loudspeakers. But I was painfully aware of not being able to escape CNN — wherever I went — and if I could appeal to the Detroit airport’s czar, I would say: “Sir, this just isn’t right.”

And, by the way, I mean no particular disparagement of CNN. I wouldn’t like to be held hostage to any network, even the Golf Channel.

‐I found the Memphis airport much better, and for this reason: Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue. The young, plump woman behind the counter said, “We specialize in pork,” and do they ever.

Barbecue and no mandatory CNN: Those things make Memphis’s airport a heaven.

‐The following headline, out of the AP, made me want to barf: “Rep. Reyes: 1st Hispanic Intel. Chairman.” Well, big friggin’ deal. I believe I’m the first Ypsilanti, Mich.-born part Scot to be managing editor of National Review. Can’t we cut the ethnic crap, at long, long last?

And will someone please name me one Hispanic — outside the crazies at MALDEF and such organizations — who gives a rip that Representative Reyes, whoever he is, is the first Hispanic chairman of the Intelligence Committee? Does it matter not at all what Reyes believes, or what his competence is?

‐Another AP headline: “Cubans Hope for Castro Parade Appearance.” Well, it depends on what Cubans you talk to, baby. And the Cubans the AP is willing to talk to — well, yes, those probably would hope for Castro’s appearances, and his eternal rule. The AP has been one of Castro’s best friends in the Free World, and that’s saying something. Ask any Cuban about this — any democratic Cuban — and you’ll get an earful. (Trust me.)

‐In last Thursday’s Impromptus, I had a little appreciation of Milton Friedman. (Second-to-last item.) You want to see a really nice appreciation of him? Read Donald Rumsfeld’s, given in 2002, when the White House declared a kind of Friedman Day. I know the SecDef’s supposed to be in bad odor now — not with me, he isn’t.

Have a taste of what Rumsfeld said: 

. . . George Shultz came to me and asked me if I would run the wage/price controls for the United States of America. It was the country’s first peacetime experiment. As I recall, it was not Milton Friedman, but H. L. Mencken who once said, “For every human problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” Richard Nixon found it.

You got it!

‐Yesterday’s NRO included a piece of mine on Bob Ehrlich, the governor of Maryland, who was defeated on Election Day. (The article, “Exit of a Champion,” is here.) Ehrlich was one of our best and brightest, and it hurts to lose him. It may be true that he will never again be able to run for anything, given how liberal the Maryland electorate is (and it’s hard to run for president after you’ve lost a gubernatorial race). (Nixon did so, successfully — but he had been vice president.)

A reader writes,

Any chance Ehrlich would be interested in being nominated for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals? President Bush has been trying to fill that seat for years, but the Dem senators have balked at his picks so far. Ehrlich would be great on the court. Just an idea.

And a good one — but Ehrlich strikes me as much better suited to an executive position.

‐Lay some music on you? For my “New York Chronicle,” published in the November New Criterion, go here. I have some New York Sun reviews for you, too. For the Metropolitan Opera’s Don Carlo, go here. For the New York Philharmonic, under Lorin Maazel, with the pianist Leon Fleisher and the soprano Nancy Gustafson, go here. And for the Miró Quartet, go here.

That ought to hold you.

‐Last, I can’t help sharing with you a photo, sent to me by a reader. I don’t say it’s fair. I do say it’s funny (and that it has a point). The photo shows a man — an extraordinarily brave one, by the evidence — dressed in a keffiyeh. He’s in San Francisco. And he’s going around with a sign that says, “Thank you, S.F. liberals! You die last.”

Here you go.

And have a good one.


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