Politics & Policy

Growing up, &c.

John McCain has been portraying himself as a low-tax man, and I say, hurray: We could use low-tax men in high office (and we have one in the presidency now). But I have a very strong memory of McCain in a 2000 debate — the one held in South Carolina, hosted by Larry King. (What is American politics if it’s not hosted by Larry King?)

McCain attacked George W. Bush in the exact same terms used by the Democrats and the media: as an agent of the rich. He said, “Governor Bush has 38 percent of his tax cut go to the wealthiest one percent of Americans.” I don’t know who first uttered the obnoxious mantra “wealthiest one percent”: McCain or Al Gore. Gore uttered it longest, of course.

McCain further said, in that debate, “He [Bush] puts a whole lot of money into tax cuts.” Yup.

Bush made the natural point that McCain, in his rhetoric, was sounding “exactly like Al Gore.” As for this “wealthiest one percent” nonsense, Bush said, “You bet I cut the taxes at the top. That encourages entrepreneurship. What we Republicans should stand for is growth in the economy.”

Bush also objected to “targeted tax cuts,” or “tax cuts driven by polls and focus groups.” He wanted tax cuts for everybody, in this prosperous, but overtaxed, society. The other view, he said, was a “Washington, D.C., view.”

And that’s when McCain pounced. He said — switching words slightly — “It’s not the Washington mentality, it’s the grownup mentality. It’s the grownup mentality that recognizes that we have obligations and we have to pay them off.” (In other words, no tax relief before debt payment.)

This really stuck in my craw, and I’ll tell you why: For ages, the Democrats and the media had been saying that tax-cutting wasn’t “grownup.” That was their buzzword — and McCain simply parroted it. I thought, “Bill Buckley’s a grownup. Milton Friedman’s a grownup. Friedrich von Hayek’s a grownup. George Stigler’s a grownup. I, for that matter, am a grownup” (well, sort of).

I believe this was the day, or night, I turned fairly hard against McCain: when he said “grownup,” with this little smirking smile on his face. And they call W. a smirker (which he is). (But he smirks at what I think ought to be smirked at.)

I have other criticisms of McCain too, of course, and regular readers are well familiar — overly familiar — with these. But I’ve always remembered that smirking, taunting, mocking word “grownup.”

If McCain has changed his mind, or is simply seeking Republican votes — great. More power to him. But someone may want to question him carefully about his current view of grownup, versus not-grownup, policy.

‐Wonder if you saw a story out of Taipei: “President Chen Shui-bian said Thursday the name ‘Taiwan’ would soon replace ‘China’ on the island’s stamps, a move likely to anger Beijing.”

Yeah, what doesn’t anger Beijing? Taiwan’s very existence angers Beijing, as does the existence of anything not controlled by those brutes. One day, Beijing will swallow Taiwan, that plucky little democracy. And, until it does, Taiwan might as well live a little. And living includes determining your own frickin’ stamps.

By the way, I suspect that the world will gasp for, oh, about two and a half days after Beijing swallows Taiwan (violently, in all probability). And how long will the world gasp if Iran obliterates Israel with nuclear weapons? Three days? Four?

Perhaps a ghoulish contest could be held.

‐And did you read this glorious, glorious story, out of Grenada — tiny Grenada (liberated by Reagan et al. in 1983)?

“A diplomatic gaffe marred Saturday’s inauguration of a China-financed stadium on this Caribbean island when a band performed the national anthem of Chinese rival Taiwan.”

Oh, marvelous, just marvelous — play it again, Grenada.

This, I’m afraid, is a less funny story. The PRC prevented 20 Chinese writers from attending an International PEN conference in Hong Kong — Hong Kong, mind you, which is under the control of Beijing.

Some were warned not to go, while others who had permits to travel to Hong Kong . . . had their documents seized at the border.

The travel restrictions came after China’s recent ban of eight books, most of them works of history, including one about the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003. . . .

The crackdown came just weeks after the government relaxed decades-old restrictions on foreign media, giving them greater freedom to report the 2008 Beijing Olympics — a move that it hoped would burnish its international image.

Oh, yeah. 

But Chinese writers said the tolerance granted foreigners does not extend to those who write for a Chinese audience.

“It’s all for show,” said Yu Jie, a writer who has been blacklisted and unable to publish under his own name for more than two years. “They’re actually tightening their grip on China’s writers.”

“It’s all for show.” You’re exactly right, Mr. Yu.

‐Sticking with East Asia, this was good news, I thought: The Peace Corps is in Cambodia for the first time ever — “to teach English at rural schools.”

The story I’ve linked to tells us that “Cambodia is the 139th country to receive a mission from the Peace Corps, which has about 7,500 volunteers in 73 nations. Before Cambodia, the last to be added to the list was Mexico in 2004.”

Mexico, huh? That late? I wonder whether it was a matter of Mexican national pride (which one could well understand).

‐And now, a word from Celebrity Land. In this interview, the actress Jessica Lange calls Che Guevara her “idol.” I will give you my reaction (and what do reactionaries do but react?): I don’t think Jessica is malicious — I don’t think she loves killing, and gulags, and more killing. I don’t think she’s for the torture and penning of homosexuals. Neither do I think she’s stupid. I think she’s just ignorant, or propagandized, like many people (most?).

By the way, for pertinent writings on Guevara, go here.

‐I’d like to tell you a funny story, related to me the other day. Not long ago, a very grand man gave a lunch in the House of Lords. In the course of the lunch, he proposed a toast: “To the Queen!” Another grand old man piped up, “Damn fine movie.” The place convulsed in laughter.

I have a couple of things to say about that movie, if you don’t mind — I realize I’m not a movie critic, and that you get enough music from me. But just a few lines.

A damn fine movie, yes, just as the jokester said. But how did they know all that? Meaning, how did they know what the Queen thought, how did they know what the Queen Mother advised, how did they know what Prince Philip said, and how he behaved? And can he really be such a twit? How did the moviemakers know that Prince Charles was wetting himself over assassination? Were there moles in the palaces?

The presumption seemed to me extraordinary. And there is always the question of how much license is wise when you’re dealing with recent events, real people, and so on.

Also, we keep hearing, in that movie, that Blair’s ascension in 1997 marked the end of 17 years of Tory rule — and so it did. But we also hear that this rule has been “establishment rule” — which is nonsense. Margaret Thatcher shook things up more than Tony Blair, or any other Labourite, ever could. Hers was, indeed, a counter-establishmentarian tenure: She took on the universities, the media, the unions, all the entrenched interests — everything the establishment had to offer.

Reagan used to say, “We are the change.” So it was with Thatcher & Co. Major was a little gray, I’ll grant you.

End of commentary.

Oh, can I gripe, just a little, about watching movies in liberal New York? The problem is, you’re apt to get liberal commentary all the way through — as I did, when trying to watch The Queen. (And we want no commentary, of any political stripe.) Two Upper West Side ladies were yakking and yakking behind me. They’d see something onscreen they didn’t like — something traditional, something royal, something “conservative” — and they’d comment, or snort. For example, hunting trophies would appear in a corridor, and they’d broadcast their horror and disapproval.

I shot them a glance or two, but they wouldn’t stop. Eventually, I moved.

Come to think of it, I’ve always gone to the movies with the Left — ever since boyhood: in Ann Arbor, in Cambridge . . . One thing the Left did, always, was hiss. They didn’t like something, they’d hiss. I grew to detest this habit and sound.

Today, before liberal audiences, I am now and then hissed. If I could get conservatives to make a pact on one thing, it would be never, ever to hiss anybody. If you don’t like what someone is saying — just take it, until it’s your side’s turn, or leave.

Okay, end of sermon.

‐Care for a concert review? For a review of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra — published in the New York Sun — go here. This was a program of serenades, and it included Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, in which Stanford Olsen and Stewart Rose were soloists.

‐Finally, wanted to share with you something I spotted in the Telegraph. I found it amazing and touching. It is a concluding item from a W.F. Deedes “Notebook” column:

My sister Hermione Phipps, who died this week, had spent all her professional life, including the war years, in MI5, tactfully described in the family circle as “the Foreign Office”.

I have no idea what she did, for, in a long and happy association, we never discussed her work.

There was a day in the 1950s when I was a junior minister in the Home Office, and we were called on to decide whether or not to admit a certain individual to this country.

I was advised to consult MI5. The voice that responded to our telephone call was my sister’s. We never subsequently talked about even this minor coincidence. She belonged to an age in which the confidential business of the state remained confidential.

Isn’t that remarkable, and dated, and — admirable?

See you.

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