Politics & Policy

Making good, &c.

The president of the United States has declared flatly that Iran won’t be allowed to acquire the A-bomb, and the vice president declared the same, just the other day: “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons . . .” Do Bush and Cheney have the means to make good on their declarations? Or will the U.S., and the world at large, simply acquiesce in a nuclearized Iran?

About Iraq, Cheney said, “The American people will not support a policy of retreat.” Oh? I’m not sure he has a right to be so confident; maybe he should confine himself to saying that the administration will not support such a policy. Cheney further said, “The enemy tactics are barbaric.” On that, we can all agree, I hope.

‐A language note: Do you say “acquiesce in” or “acquiesce to”? Good speakers and writers say both; I’ve noticed that WFB tends to favor “in”; I myself swing both ways (so to speak).

‐I’ve spoken many times about Dick Cheney’s new reputation — “new” as of about five years ago. For years and years — all of my political life — he was a universally respected moderate-conservative from the West. He was Ford’s chief of staff, he was a congressman, he was a House leader, he was secretary of defense — universally acclaimed and admired.

But now he is portrayed as Attila the Hun, a “scarier” right-winger than even George W. Bush (who is no right-winger, as we know — but we’re not talking reason here). And why should this be so? Basically, because Cheney thinks it’s important to stand firm against religious fanatics and head-hackers, against the scorchers of populations and the stoners of homosexuals.

Funny, stupid ol’ world.

Anyway, I saw an ad in New York the other day — a poster. It was for a storage company. It said, “Your closet’s so narrow it makes Dick Cheney look liberal.” There was also something about Halliburton on the poster.

As I was saying, funny, stupid ol’ world. And I guarantee that Cheney is less narrow than most of my neighbors on the Upper West Side who have been walking by that ad every day (no doubt chuckling).

‐I should say something about Tony Blair. For some time, I have anguished my conservative friends in Britain by speaking warmly about Blair — I have driven these poor fellows up the wall. But I can easily explain myself: As a foreigner, I am relatively indifferent to what Blair does domestically; I care about what he does internationally. And, to use one of my least favorite modern phrases — but a phrase I find convenient — he “gets it.”

I’ll tell you something else about Blair: He is not, in my view, a hater. I know I’ve made this point in this column before. I have particularly made it when visiting Davos (for Blair is a regular attendee there). Give you an example: I once heard him say, “Why is it that every time I speak about global warming, it’s the coldest day of the year?” And he spoke with respect about people on the other side — people who are skeptical about global warming, and about the political agenda of environmentalists.

You simply got the impression that Blair didn’t hate you. And you do not get that impression from, say, Al Gore or John Kerry — not if you’re a conservative, you don’t. If you dissent from them on global warming, they denounce you as a destroyer of the earth. Their eyes burn with contempt. Not true of Blair’s — he’d rather understand your concerns and convince you.

Anyway . . .

George W. Bush said about Blair, “He’s a long-term thinker. I have found him to be a man who’s kept his word, which is sometimes rare in the political circles I run in.” Yes. And I like what Charles Moore, the great conservative journalist, said in The Spectator: “When we rediscover what the Labour party is really like, we shall miss him.” Yes again.

I’ll have more to say about Tony B. in future columns, but that’ll do for now.

‐Oh, hang on, wanted to make a further, small point: In his farewell remarks — or whatever they were — Blair said, “The British are special. The world knows it; in our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.”

Can you imagine if George W. Bush said something similar about the United States? The world would positively explode — I mean, even before the mullahs went nuclear.

‐A word about the French: After Sarkozy’s election, hundreds of university students in Paris “went on strike.” What does it mean to go on strike, if you’re a student? To refuse to attend class? Isn’t that called hooky? And who cares, really, if these students go on “strike”? Whom are they injuring, other than themselves? (Actually, the less Parisian education they have, the better off they may be.)

But this is not so amusing: Student and other demonstrators shouted, “Sarko, fascist! The people will have your hide!” (A Reuters story is here.) That, I submit, is the authentic voice of Leninism. Note the reference to “the people,” the presumption of speaking for “the people” — and this was after a free and fair election, in which “the people” really and truly spoke! It was the kind of election that these demonstrators would never permit, in their ideal society.

And “The people will have your hide.” Yes, behind these shouters is Leninism, or Jacobinism, or whatever we choose to call it. We are reminded that it never dies; that civilization must be always on guard against it.

And then there is “fascist”: “Sarko, fascist!” All of us who are conservative, or classically liberal, have had to be called fascist. It goes with the territory. And yet it’s no fun. I have been called fascist since I was in college. And those who do it are either malicious or ignorant — sometimes, I guess, they are both (and what a brutal combination: malice and ignorance).

Ordinarily, it does no good to try to reason with people: Fascists are centralizers of power; we are decentralizers. Fascists are nationalizers of industry; we are free-marketeers. Fascists are collectivists; we are anti-collectivists. It is no use to say any of this: “Fascist” is an epithet used by mean or stupid people against those they dislike who are perceived to be “on the right.” One result is that, when a real fascist comes along, there is no word left for him.

How odd that we who want to fight tirelessly against jihadists, or Islamofascists, are called “fascists”! How perverse that we liberal democrats, who wave the flag of universal human values, are called “fascists”! If you follow Jefferson and Locke and Lincoln and Churchill and Reagan — why, you are a fascist, at least according to some (to many).

But one must not whine. The other day, I brought up the “fascist” business with Roger Kimball, the conservative writer and editor. I said, “Are you ever called a fascist?” Brightly — for he is a bright kind of guy — he said, “Early and often!” In the past, I knew of Reagan-supporting Jews who had tattoos on their arms who were denounced as “fascists.” (And when I say tattoos, I’m not talking about the biker kind.)

Anyway . . . an old, old story. But annoying all the same.

‐I know someone — a British conservative intellectual — who refuses to say “Nazi.” Always, always, to him, it is “National Socialist.” Makes some people very uncomfortable.

‐A little presidential commentary. I guess we’re all supposed to be down on Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper — especially on the issue of abortion. But I liked very much what he had to say in a speech the other day (which you can find here). Receiving an award from a right-to-life group, he said,

“I recognize that [this] is awarded for where I am on the issue of life, not for where I have been. I respect the fact that you arrived at this place of principle a long, long time ago. And I appreciate the fact that you are inclined to honor someone who arrived here only a few years ago.”

He also said, “I am evidence that your work, that your relentless campaign to promote the sanctity of human life, bears fruit.”

Nice. Very, very nice. Sincere? I don’t know — I suspect so. In any case, nice.

‐But I have to rap Mitt on language, just a little bit. In his 60 Minutes interview, speaking of polygamy, he said, “That’s part of the history of the church’s past that I understand is troubling to people.” Oh, Mitt: history of the church’s past! But maybe he was making sure that people knew it was a long, long time ago . . .

‐Freedom House has identified “the worst of the worst” — that is, the most repressive regimes on earth. (For a story, go here.) North Korea is there, of course, and Burma, and Sudan — and Cuba. That’s a head-scratcher. I was taught that Castro’s is a just society where health care and literacy abound, where black people are respected, and where the poor have dignity. Is that not true? Was I possibly misled? But Wayne Smith, Jorge Domínguez, Anita Snow, Lucia Newman, PBS, and NPR wouldn’t lie . . . would they?

‐The University of Michigan has bestowed on Bill Clinton an honorary doctor of laws degree — which is fitting, because we all know what a fine upholder of the law Clinton is. Nice job, Michigan! Go Blue!

‐Did you hear about the Syrian parliament? (Probably a more diverse place, philosophically, than the University of Michigan.) It declared a nationwide referendum for May 27. On that day, Syrians will decide whether Bashar Assad will remain as president. Wonder how it’ll come out.

Of course, this is the compliment that tyranny pays to democracy: They know that they are wrong; so they imitate the forms of democracy. (Parliaments, referenda . . .) Perhaps one day Syrians will have the real thing. Perhaps.

‐Ah, the uses of racial grievance. George Lopez’s TV show got canceled (as we can read here). And he said, “TV just became really, really white again.” (You see, Lopez is a “Latino,” and therefore not part of whitey’s racket.) Isn’t that just wonderfully convenient? Your TV show is canceled — as happens to TV shows constantly, predictably, inevitably — and you get to cry race. Sort of like Spike Lee at the Oscars.

One thing’s clear: Lopez has learned the American creed — the new American creed — well: racial grievance.

‐For some people, George W. Bush can do nothing right. He is not allowed to do one thing right — because he is either a demon or a dufus, depending. Depending on what? Depending on his critics’ rhetorical, ideological, or psychological need at the moment.

Take this little slip with the Queen of England. Bush said “1796” instead of “1976,” immediately corrected his error, and was absolutely charming about it. And much of the press acted like he pulled down his pants and mooned the woman.

Anyway, Bush was again absolutely charming when conducting a symphony orchestra in Virginia. You can read about it here. And the photos are especially good. The anti-Bushies will be nauseated — because Bush can do nothing right, nothing interesting, nothing endearing, nothing graceful, nothing human. Balanced people, I think, will smile.

‐Let me lay on you some reviews from the New York Sun: For a review of the soprano Deborah Voigt, go here. For a review of the mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson, go here. For a review of the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Christoph Eschenbach, go here. For a review of the baritone Matthias Goerne, accompanied by Eschenbach at the piano, go here. For a review of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with the violinist Janine Jansen, soloist, go here. For a review of the soprano Latonia Moore, go here. And for a review of Bill Viola’s “Tristan Project” — Wagner has something to do with it too — go here.

Had enough? No? For a recordings roundup, go here. Under discussion are a pianist named Tzimon Barto (né Johnny Barto Smith Jr.), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink, and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

‐I’m going to end by noting a bad story — one that concerns a man who chained and locked up his son for three weeks. But it’s a good and moving story, too: Romeo and Juliet. I know you’ll see what I mean:

A father chained and locked up his 19-year-old son for three weeks for marrying against the family’s wishes in eastern India, a police officer said Friday.

Police rescued Raghu Amin Mollah from his father’s house Thursday on the outskirts of Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal state, said Joy Biswas, a police officer who took part in the operation. [A house for Mrs. — or Mr., or Ms. — Biswas!]

“Yes, he was kept in a room locked and chained,” Biswas told The Associated Press.

The father, Abed Ali Mollah, has been arrested and charged with illegally detaining and torturing his son for 21 days, he said. Biswas said Abed Ali Mollah opposed his son’s marriage to Shahnaz Khatun, 18, because of enmity between the two families.

Police acted after Khatun filed a complaint against her father-in-law, Biswas said.

The Hindustan Times said the two teenagers had grown up in the same neighborhood and fallen in love. They eloped and wed in a mosque on the outskirts of Calcutta, Biswas said.

In rural India, most marriages are arranged by the parents, and it is unusual for young people to choose their own partners.

I love it — just love it (not the chain-and-lock part). May Raghu and Shahnaz have a long and beautiful life together.


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