Politics & Policy

Presidentially debating, &c.

The Democratic presidential candidates refused to participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News. (It was scheduled for Nevada, as you recall.) But the Republican presidential candidates had their first debate on MSNBC — moderated by Chris Matthews. (If a word that contains “moderate” can be used about Chris!) That tells us a lot about our political and media culture. We conservatives and Republicans can’t afford to have a pariah; but the Democrats certainly can — they write off one TV network, they got scads of others.

Of course, Democrats would say, “But Fox News is a partisan network, and MSNBC is nonpartisan, neutral, and objective.” Uh-huh.

The above matter reminded me of something: I was talking to a Muslim friend once. I said, “Saudi Arabia outlaws all churches. Yet there’s a mosque on every street corner in America. Saudi Arabia outlaws the Bible. The penalty for possessing it is expulsion from the country — if you’re a foreigner. If you’re a Saudi, the penalty is death by beheading. Yet, in America, Korans are as plentiful as comic books.

“Aren’t Saudis, particularly those in the United States — such as students — ever embarrassed by this imbalance, this disparity? Don’t they ever think, ‘Hmm, how odd: They let us do our thing, but we don’t let them do theirs’?”

And my friend answered, “No: They regard this situation as perfectly normal and proper.” I will never forget the definiteness of his answer.

As I said, I couldn’t help thinking about this, when pondering Fox News, MSNBC, and presidential debates: The Republicans are happy to go on liberal networks, knowing that this is life; the Democrats, as I have stated, can afford to have a pariah. Networks are simply supposed to be liberal, or at least liberal-leaning; everything else is a freakish, hateful blight.

‐A small item from the AP has a deep significance, I think: “Islamic militants are confiscating music cassettes from public buses and ordering shops to only sell CDs promoting jihad in the latest push to Talibanize a lawless Pakistani frontier region, residents said Tuesday.”

Lenin was against music because he thought it softened people up; how appropriate that his cousins, the Islamists, are the same way.

‐And speaking of this general subject: There has been a lot of writing recently about the links between the Left — the hard Left — and radical Islam. These links are puzzling to some. But there is really no puzzle about it.

The Left goes where the action is: where the anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Western, anti-Judeo-Christian action is. In former times, that was Communism: the Sovs, Fidel, Hanoi, the FMLN, etc. At present, it is Islamism. Is it weird that atheist leftists find kinship with religious fundamentalists — with people who strive for a return to the 7th century? Not really: What matters is enemies in common.

‐This column has frequently noted the bad-a**-ness of Australian prime minister John Howard — indeed, his greatness. Have you heard the latest? He canceled a tour of Zimbabwe by the Australian cricket team, explaining, “The Mugabe regime is behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents. I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator.”

He also recognized the political-philosophical questions involved: “Whilst it pains me both as a cricket lover and as somebody who genuinely believes these things should be left to sporting organisations . . . [I am left] with no alternative.” (I am quoting from a BBC story, here.)

Yes, Howard is an hombre, and a thoughtful one, too.

‐Regular readers know that I collect the greatest hits of Jennifer Loven, the AP reporter — and I’ve got another one for you. What a wire-service reporter she is! Her reports contain more opinion than Mother Jones and National Review combined.

She begins this report, “The Bush administration and Kansas’ governor started Tuesday pointing fingers at each other over the response to last week’s devastating tornado. By lunchtime, both sides had backed down.” Fine. It is a few paragraphs later that we get the gem:

“In an approach reminiscent of the blame game played by the White House with another Democratic governor, Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, after the federal government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, [Tony] Snow at first said the fault for any slow response would be Sebelius’.”

Oh, is that how Katrina went? It seemed to me that much of the blame-gaming was played by the other side! In any event . . .

Always glad to have Jennifer’s opinions. Kind of weird, though, that they come in wire-service reports. Couldn’t she just write an Impromptus-like column?

‐Reagan’s White House diaries have been published. So we are enduring another round of, “Gee, he wasn’t the idiot we thought he was.” Whaddya mean “we,” Kemosabe? Twenty years from now, are we going to have to go through the same baloney with George W. Bush? “Gee, he wasn’t the idiot we thought he was. And he was amazingly clear-sighted about the major issues of the day.” Yes.

It would be nice to have the support, or the comprehension, of liberal elites when it matters.

‐Would “mattered” be better there? Can swing either way.

‐I wanted to make a quick comment about a story that “moved” about a week ago: the one where vandals in Baltimore defaced a billboard picturing Rush Limbaugh. The spokesman for the city’s Department of Public Works, Robert Murrow, said, “It looks like they took globs of paint and threw it on his face. It looks great. It did my heart good.” (To read a story about the brouhaha over this matter, go here.)

Well, the story sort of did my heart good as well. What I mean is, you sort of figure that this is the way people in government think. You sort of figure they are all left-liberals. And when a guy comes out and confirms it . . . And he is the spokesman for the department responsible for cleaning up graffiti! “It looks great. It did my heart good.”

This story was almost too good to be true. Vandals deface Rush Limbaugh’s image; spokesman for the Department of Public Works celebrates.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

And let me be Joe Sensitive Right-Winger here: If a conservative in Baltimore’s Department of Public Works (ha, ha) made a similar comment about a liberal figure, could he keep his job?

Oh, hang on, one more point: It’s not like the spokesman, Murrow, was called by a reporter for a comment. No, he called them. He called the Baltimore Sun, to report that he had seen the defaced billboard, and that it had made him feel wonderful! I assume that he assumed that anyone at the Baltimore Sun would be friendly. And that was the most normal assumption in the world.

‐There was a pretty unfortunate headline over an AP story: “Bush Moves to Counter Gas Emissions.”

Sorry, but sometimes the junior-high-schooler just comes out in me. Go, Trojans! (The nickname of my junior high.)

‐An Impromptus reader forwarded an article from the New York Daily News. It had the sentence, “The outrage was led by the Rev. Al Sharpton . . .”

That pretty much describes Sharpton’s life and career, doesn’t it? The leader of outrage. Then again, he is also a leading cause of outrage.

‐A different reader forwarded this interview from the Sacramento Bee. The interviewee is a political-science professor who has written a book about a spy for North Vietnam. The author very much admires him — considers him “noble.” I wonder whether he thinks the hundreds of thousands pushed into the South China Sea, or penned in reeducation camps, were “ignoble.”

There is probably no more vexing subject than Vietnam, no subject more painful to contemplate. A prominent writer and historian recently said to me that he simply can’t bear to think about Vietnam. The horrors suffered by the Vietnamese people after Saigon fell are widely ignored or dismissed. I quote the first sentence of the chapter on Vietnam in The Black Book of Communism: “Admitting the damage caused by Communism in Vietnam is today still anathema to many Westerners, who took a stand against French colonialism and American ‘imperialism’ in the area and found themselves in the same camp as the Vietnamese Communist Party.”

I have written before about Leonard Bernstein’s song “So Pretty.” I heard it the other night, in Deborah Voigt’s Carnegie Hall recital. The words are by Comden & Green, and the song was premiered by Barbra Streisand at a “Broadway for Peace” concert. Here are the words:

We were learning in our school today

All about a country far away,

Full of lovely temples painted gold,

Modern cities, jungles ages old.

And the people are so pretty there,

Shining smiles, and shiny eyes and hair . . .

Then I had to ask my teacher why

War was making all those people die.

They’re so pretty, so pretty.

Then my teacher said, and took my hand,

“They must die for peace, you understand.”

But they’re so pretty, so pretty.

I don’t understand.

This is exactly the mentality I was brought up with, concerning Vietnam. It took a while to discover the truth: I guess I was in my late teens. I was also well familiar with a famous poster: “War Is Dangerous for Children and Other Living Things.” Uh-huh: It turned out that the longed-for Communist “peace” was far more dangerous to children and other living things. Which, by the way, was more dangerous for Anne Frank? War or “peace”?

Thing is, no one ever looks back. I doubt Bernstein, Comden, Green, or Streisand ever gave a thought to those pretty Vietnamese children after April 1975. The artists had made their stupid, unthinking little point; and if hell then descended on those children, who cared? And if the Americans are forced out of Iraq, and the Iraqi government falls, and the victors make the blood flow even more greatly — will anyone care? Of course not. We will have “moved on,” never glancing back.

After Voigt sang that song, the audience applauded with unusual energy and meaning. They just loved it. They would, wouldn’t they?

And, hey, how about those Cambodian children? They were kinda pretty too, weren’t they? Not after the bringers of “peace” got through with them, they weren’t.

Nice going, guys: That anti-Vietnam War movement just did wonders for the world.

‐Enough of that: Let’s think of something happier. The other day, Rick Brookhiser came into my office to read me a fantastic — a fantastic — sentence from a book. The book is New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors, 1485-1603, by Susan Brigden. And here is the sentence:

Melancholy, imported from Italy — like the rapier, the epic, the sonnet, the madrigal, fashionable black, homoeroticism, atheism and Machiavellianism — was the humour associated with the imagination, with genius, and the stance adopted by the young Elisabethan aesthete.

Just marvelous.

‐You remember Tom Poston, the tall, rubber-faced comic actor who was on Newhart, Mork and Mindy, and lots of other shows? He died the other day. And I was interested to read his obit, here. I like very much what Billy Crystal had to say:

“How rare that a gentle, sweet person could be so incredibly funny. I grew up watching Tom on ‘The Steve Allen Show’ as a kid. What an incredible gift to become friends with him and to learn about comedy from a true professional. He was a combination of Stan Laurel and Jack Benny.”

I also enjoyed reading that he had been an acrobat with the Flying Zepleys and had been an Army Air Corps man, in World War II.

‐Allow me to give you one music review, from the New York Sun: It is of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, here.

‐In yesterday’s column, I mentioned that the University of Michigan had given Bill Clinton an honorary doctor of laws degree. I chided them for that, of course. And a reader wrote in to remind me of something that I had intended to point out in the first place: Arkansas suspended Clinton’s law license, and the Supreme Court disbarred him. But the University of Michigan . . . you can always count on them.

Go Blue!

‐Also in yesterday’s column, I mentioned an ad — a poster ad — on the Upper West Side of New York. The ad is for a storage company and says, “Your closet’s so narrow it makes Dick Cheney look liberal.” A reader wrote in to remind me of another ad in that series: “Your closet is scarier than the Bush agenda.” I’d forgotten that one!

Well, say this: The shrewd capitalists at the storage company certainly know their audience.

‐A letter from a reader:


I had a “Che Guevara shirt” moment the other night. I was watching Miami Ink, and the young, female tattoo artist was wearing a red scarf and half-gloves emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. After my initial revulsion, I had to explain to my teenage son, who was watching with me, that this young woman obviously had no idea what the symbol actually meant. [Maybe she did.] But I made sure my son knew.

Amazing: If she had worn swastika-emblazoned garb, it would have been censored, or caused some type of outrage, but the hammer and sickle — nothing.

But of course!

‐Another letter (occasioned by an item of some weeks ago, concerning space flight, public expressions of faith, and today’s cultural climate):

Mr. Nordlinger,

Yes, we were once a different country. One of my favorite cartoon moments came from Walt Kelly’s Pogo. And, incidentally, Kelly was hardly any sort of conservative. Yuri Gagarin, not long after completing his space flight, mentioned that he hadn’t seen any angels, as any true New Soviet Man would be sure to note. A short time later, Pogo the possum replied, “I allus figgered it was them what was supposed to be watchin’ you.”


‐I know I’ve told you before about Jerry Falwell at Harvard Law School. (Falwell died yesterday, at 73.) This was probably the greatest forensic performance I have ever witnessed. The year was about 1986, I suppose. He spoke before an insanely hostile audience, as you can imagine. It was practically a lynch mob. And Falwell handled them with great deftness, humor, and style. He toyed with them as a cat with a ball of string. He teased them, insulted them, topped them — he knew far more than they, and he was 100 times more articulate. He was 1,000 times better mannered. The question-and-answer period was a joy to behold. Falwell was in his element — glorying in it, knowing he was knocking it out of the park — and he may even have won a few converts.

I observed Falwell for many years, and found much to admire about him. At a minimum, he was better than his enemies. (A low threshold, I acknowledge.) I’m sorry he’s gone.

All the best, dearhearts, and I expect to see you sometime next week — with a note or two about a conference in Jordan: “Davos in the Desert.”


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