Politics & Policy

The veep speaks, &c.

Just a couple of words about Dick Cheney. He said to troops aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, “I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat.”

I wish he hadn’t said that. First, because we don’t know, in fact, whether the American people will support a policy of retreat. And second, because I, for one, bet they will. They — we — merrily let South Vietnam go, with all the hell that ensued.

I wish Cheney had simply said, “This administration will not support a policy of retreat” — which is true.

But did you catch what he did to John McCain? Very nice. He let the world know that McCain “ran over to me and apologized,” after the senator had said some “nasty things” about Cheney. (I am quoting Cheney’s characterization: “nasty things.”)

And, of course, he defended Donald Rumsfeld against McCain’s attacks. In a classic example of Cheney understatement, he said, “I know a little about the job” — meaning, secretary of defense (a position in which Cheney served from 1989 to 1993). I will sorely miss that man.

As McCain unloaded on Rumsfeld, I would enjoy seeing Rumsfeld unload on McCain. I’m sure that he has very strong opinions about the senator. But that is one pleasure I imagine we’ll be denied.

‐You have probably heard what David Geffen, the Hollywood macher, said about the Clintons: “Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.” I’m sure I’m not the only one to have thought of Bob Kerrey, the former senator (D., Neb.): “[Bill] Clinton is an unusually good liar. Unusually good.”

You can say that again (or for a third time).

‐I like very much what Condi said yesterday: “Poland and the Czech Republic are independent countries. They make their own decisions.” Moscow has badly, badly needed reminding of that lately.

‐Communist and other police-state thugs are utterly predictable. They treat political prisoners pretty much the same way, year after year. Sometimes I’m tempted to think that, if you’ve heard one story, you’ve heard them all.

Yet one must never ignore individual stories. Take that of Xu Zhengqing, as reported by HRIC, or Human Rights in China (here). He has been monitored by hardened criminals, beaten, tormented — subjected to the customary cruelty. Yet he is resisting in every way he knows how.

An inspiring man, Xu Zhengqing, not to be forgotten, as is true of so many.

‐You know how you think something, but are slightly reluctant to say it, for whatever reason? And then someone else comes along and says it, and you feel emboldened, comforted, validated? That happened to me last week, when reading NRO.

I have sometimes said — although I don’t think I’ve written it — that America’s abandonment of Vietnam was our worst moment since slavery. I’m afraid I’ve read too much on the subject to think otherwise.

And I was struck by what Michael Novak wrote, in this piece:

. . . [Democrats] have repeated their deed of 39 years ago, turning victory into defeat, setting the stage for last-minute departures by helicopter, banging with rifles the up-reached hands of friends of the United States, who are begging not to be abandoned.

I thought that day that that obscene, humiliating, disgraceful departure from the United States embassy in Saigon was the most dishonorable day in American history. I still feel sick thinking about it.



And I shudder on reading the words “banging with rifles the up-reached hands of friends of the United States.”

Oh, something else Michael wrote in that piece: “Let historians look back on my words with mockery if they will. I would rather stand at [George W. Bush’s] side any day, than among those who for the second time bring dishonor upon this nation.”

Hear, hear, and hear again.

‐Michael Gove reminded me of Cap Weinberger, and I’ll tell you why. Gove, just to refresh, is the British writer and parliamentarian — and, in a recent column, he had this to say, about black tie: “It is a code which enables even the most ill-favoured of us to share in the elegance of a [Cary] Grant or a [Daniel] Craig . . .”

Now, why Weinberger? I’ve told this story before in Impromptus, and will tell it again — it is Weinberger’s story, given in his (wonderful) autobiography. In the Reagan years, he was invited to debate E. P. Thompson at the Oxford Union. (Thompson was a terrible Marxist professor, if you’ll pardon the redundancy.) The question before the house was, “Is there a moral difference between U.S. foreign policy and Soviet foreign policy?”

The two men had been instructed to wear black tie, and Weinberger, of course, complied. Thompson did not — he was wearing the relaxed clothing of a professor. According to Weinberger, Thompson said that “he had never believed in black tie, that it was just a mark of class distinction.” Cap’s reply? “On the contrary: My father used to say that black tie was the most democratic of all costumes, because everybody wore exactly the same thing.”


‐Charles Moore, another first-rate British writer, reminded me of William Safire. In a recent Spectator, he wrote, “. . . our great iconoclasts are actually much happier kicking people when they are down, as Mr Blair now is, than when, because they are up, they need kicking the most.”

I have often quoted a Safire maxim: “Kick ’em while they’re up.” This has particularly comforted (or justified) me in my music criticism: If you’re knocking the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, instead of the bloke down with the civic orchestra, who cares (as much)?

‐Regular readers know that I’ve never been rah-rah about parents in the matter of abortion. What I mean is: The pressure from them is not infrequently toward abortion. And I was reminded of this when reading this chilling story from Italy.

Parents, husbands, boyfriends — they can be the most abortion-mad, and abortion-insistent, folk around.

‐Did you see this ghastly story out of Romania? A 23-year-old nun died during “an exorcism ritual.” She “survived several days without food or water, but died of dehydration, exhaustion and suffocation.” Now a priest and four nuns, who participated in this thing, are going to prison.

My thought was, “Geez: They should have obtained a Florida court order.” (I know, I know, completely different situations, yeah, yeah . . .)

‐Be sure that you have a handle on the thinking of the Democratic party: The revelation of secret programs designed to protect America from al Qaeda — heroic. The revelation of Valerie P. Wilson’s role in her husband’s Nigerien caper — treasonous. The work of the Central Intelligence Agency as concerns Iraqi WMD (and many other things) — deplorable. The right of Douglas Feith to question the CIA’s findings — nonexistent.

And so on.

Do you think you understand? If not, let me help you: If it injures what may be regarded as conservative or Republican, it’s right. If it may be seen to benefit such forces, it’s wrong.

All clear now?

‐Let’s have a couple of music reviews from the New York Sun: For a review of the clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, go here. And for a review of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, at the Metropolitan Opera, go here.

‐A further note about music: I have long observed that there are two groups of people who love Puccini: common folk and true musicians (e.g., other composers). The only people who are anti-Puccini are middlebrows, idiot middlebrows, who have been told by someone, somewhere, that Puccini is sappy, sentimental, and insubstantial. They think they are expressing a sophistication by running down this remarkable composer.

So I smiled when I saw something in a New York Philharmonic program recently. It was a reminiscence by Manuel Rosenthal, the late composer-conductor who was a student of Ravel:

One day he was speaking to me in glowing terms about Puccini. And being the silly, impertinent young man I was, I started to sneer. At that Ravel flew into a towering rage, locked us both into his little studio at Monfort l’Amaury and sat down at the piano. He then played me the whole of Tosca from memory, stopping about 50 times on the way to ask: “Have you anything to complain of about that passage? Look how good the harmony is, how he respects the form, what a clever, original, and interesting modulation there is in that tune.” Finally he took down the score to show me how perfect the orchestration is. He said, “This is exactly what I did with Le tombeau de Couperin: this economy of means by which two solo instruments in Puccini’s orchestra produce such an impact — that is the mark of a great artist.”

You bet your a** . . .

‐Finally, a little language — via a letter:

Dear Jay,

I’ve noticed that fewer and fewer people are saying “You’re welcome” to me. Instead, when I say “Thank you,” they say “Thank you.” I find that I’m using “Thank you” in place of “You’re welcome,” too.

Yes. Steve Moore, that great explicator of economics, once told me something interesting: An economy such as ours has been described as a “thank you/thank you” economy — because it is filled with reciprocity, mutual interests, being worked out. You want a cake, and a man has a cake to sell. You give him the money, he says “Thank you.” He hands over the cake, and you say “Thank you.” You have both been benefited — and equally.

Now, you occasionally do someone what might be called a pure favor. For example, you rescue him from the side of the road, taking him to the nearest gas station. When you get there, he says “Thank you.” And, chances are, you say “You’re welcome” (unless he has provided extraordinary conversation or something).

Anyway, that’s my quick take on this little subject. Thank you for joining me. (“Thank you!” I can hear you say. Or maybe just, “You’re welcome”!)


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