Politics & Policy

What’s to read? &c.

Let’s spend some time in this column on magazines. And we’ll begin with National Review (I blush to say). Have you been perusing your new issue? In my humble, or not-humble, opinion, it is brimming with worthy things, beginning with the cover story. The cover story is actually a cover editorial — on the Iraq War: how it goes, what we should do. The editorial is entitled “Stay.” And I hope and believe you will find it well argued.

I also believe that you’ll find our cover especially well composed.

Well, enough bragging — time for some more bragging. John J. Miller has a piece on that curious presidential candidate, Ron Paul. He is now running for the Republican nomination. In 1988, the Libertarian nomination was his. He didn’t get terribly far with it.

Kate O’Beirne has a piece on marriage and the underclass — or rather, non-marriage and the underclass. She has some surprising things to say about it. Theodore Dalrymple reflects on the idiosyncrasies of Senator Craig in the toilet. Ramesh Ponnuru tells us everything we need to know about health care. Indeed, his piece is titled, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Health Care (But Were Afraid to Ask).”

And there is a great deal more — I don’t mean to exclude a word.

My own contribution is a review of Norman Podhoretz new book, World War IV. The title gives Podhoretz’s designation for what most people call the War on Terror — or, as he puts it in his subtitle, “The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism.” In Podhoretz’s scheme, the Cold War was World War III, making the current conflict WWIV.

I’m not all that hung up on names — thinking we all know what we’re talking about, regardless — but I buy this.

As you would expect from Podhoretz, World War IV is a superb book. I wish I could thrust it into everybody’s hands. The choir will like it, but it is far more important that the non-choir digest it. If you know anybody who thinks that the Terror War is voluntary or hyped or distractive or whatever — try to get him this book.

In it, Podhoretz talks about the war abroad and the war at home, if you know what I mean. In February 2002, Podhoretz gave a big speech in Washington, D.C. Orient yourself in February ’02: five months after 9/11; more than a year before the Iraq War was launched. Back then, I wrote about Podhoretz’s speech, and what’d I say? A walk down Memory Lane:

Every year, the American Enterprise Institute gives a dinner in Washington, which features a lecture by a Heavy. . . .

This year’s Heavy was one of the Heaviest, though he is in fighting trim: That’s Norman Podhoretz, longtime editor of Commentary and one of the major literary and political influences in this country. You have heard me go on about N. Pod. before: He had much to do with my political education, broadly speaking, and if you don’t like the result, you might as well blame him as much as anybody. . . .

The theme of Podhoretz’s AEI lecture — found here — was that the anti-war, and anti-American, Left needs to be guarded against: still. Back in Vietnam days, this Left was very small, almost negligible, numerically. But it succeeded in doing big, awful things. “It blew and it blew and it blew the house down.” It tipped the culture, it tipped the war, it tipped policy — and we were worse off for it.

There seems little danger of that presently, because most Americans are on board, despite grumblings by Norman Mailer . . . and other kooks. But Podhoretz warns that from these little, fringy grumbles can grow large, ruinous roars, scaring us away from a rightful path. One ought to be alert to those who would demoralize us — not criticize American efforts legitimately, but confuse and demoralize us, illegitimately.

Needless to say, not everyone has embraced the Podhoretzian point of view. Some say he’s too dark, too shaped (or misshapen) by the horrid 1960s and ’70s, not hep to the new times and the new mood. “After September 11, everything changed.” I wonder. At a minimum, I welcome Podhoretz’s caution, and think of the old Reagan ’84 commercial about the bear in the woods. “Some people say there is no bear, that it’s a figment of our imaginations. [I’m paraphrasing.] But isn’t it better to be armed, prepared, just in case?” What could it hurt? Besides which, as regular readers well know, I, as a product of Ann Arbor, Mich., am all too aware of the power of the anti-American Left, a potency absurdly out of proportion to this group’s actual numbers.

Podhoretz doesn’t want a repeat. Neither do I. The war has been “easy” so far, to the extent that any war, with its casualties, can be easy. The Gulf War was “easy,” too — the anti-war and anti-American Left barely had time to develop, despite the cries of “No Blood for Oil!” The new war may get harder, messier. And then . . . Yes, no harm in being on guard.

The above words appeared in the Impromptus of 2/22/02.

No harm in being on guard? I’ll say. As Podhoretz writes in his new book, the present-day anti-war movement is a “virtual clone” of the one we knew back when. As before, it has its respectable elements; but it also has its nasty, paranoid, and destructive elements. And these elements don’t necessarily reside on the fringes. In my NR review, I give one of my favorite examples:

On June 23, 2004, Michael Moore’s movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, had its Washington premiere at the Uptown Theatre. A who’s who of the Democratic establishment was there: Senate leader Tom Daschle, many of his colleagues, such party elders as Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. When the lights came back up, National Review’s Byron York, who was covering the event, questioned Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Did McAuliffe believe the movie? Did he believe, specifically, that President Bush went to war in Afghanistan, not to overthrow the Taliban, not to rout al-Qaeda, but to benefit business cronies who were itching to build a natural-gas pipeline? McAuliffe said yes: “I believe it after seeing that” (the movie).

Swell. A month after this movie premiere, Moore was a guest in Jimmy Carter’s presidential box at the Democratic national convention.

Look: The disunity in our country is so severe, there are people who believe that Islamist terrorists didn’t commit 9/11 — it was an “inside job.” And such people are to be found not only on the left; they exist on the right, too. They are the descendants of those who believed that FDR engineered Pearl Harbor, in order to get America into the war.

In some quarters, this president was known as “Franklin Delano Rosenfeld” — because he was working on behalf of the Jews, or being manipulated by them. You also heard, “He lied us into war.” And those exact same words are uttered about George W. Bush — again, on both the left and the right.

About two months ago, a Democratic congressman likened 9/11 to the Reichstag fire. About a month ago, Michael Dukakis — the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee — was talking about the upcoming presidential election. He warned, “We’re probably not going to outstrategize them [the Republicans]. And some crazy guy will blow up a building with three weeks to go, you know, and then we’ll be back in Bush-land again.” What ever could that have meant?

Finally, a great many Americans freely state that they fear President Bush more than they do Islamofascism — that Bush and all he represents is the greater threat. This is a sad truth of our times on this sixth anniversary of 9/11.

Podhoretz was lamentably right back in February 2002; and his critics — those who pooh-poohed him — were lamentably wrong.

I wish to make one more remark about World War IV. Podhoretz is very good on Bush’s speeches (even as he is good on Bush at large). For example, he discourses on Bush’s second inaugural address, an intensely controversial speech. He traces its antecedents back through our history: Reagan, Kennedy, Truman, FDR, Lincoln, the Founders (certainly in the Declaration). You may not like Bush’s second inaugural; but you can’t argue that it’s new, radical, or un-American.

And don’t you love it when a virtuoso author makes a pet point of your own? I had this experience when reading Podhoretz. Said he,

I believe that future historians will be mystified by the endlessly repeated complaint from conservatives today that Bush has failed to explain what this war is all about and what it will take to win it. For it will seem obvious in retrospect that he has done precisely that in a series of speeches among which are some of the greatest ever made by an American president . . .

How many times have you heard me make that point, Impromptus-ites? It is always claimed that Bush has failed to communicate. I would claim that people have failed to listen.

‐Enough of National Review. (How dare I write that sentence!) On to The New Criterion. Its new issue, too, is brimming with worthy things — ultra-worthy things. There is none worthier than Anthony Daniels’s treatment of Kerouac’s On the Road, whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated. Daniels’s essay is truly anthologizable — almost instantly classic — and one could quote every word. But may I confine myself to a few choice bits?

Kerouac-worship “led to an inflamed individualism without individuality, and mass self-obsession without genuine self-examination.”

And try this swatch:

Moriarty [the Neal Cassady character in On the Road] treats women abominably and uses them solely as objects for his gratification; he is violent towards them; no single instance of consideration towards any of them is given in the book; he has several children by them, all of whom he abandons without a moment’s hesitation or subsequent thought for their fate, though he himself is the victim of an unfortunate upbringing. This, it should be noted, makes him not less, but more culpable, inasmuch as he is perfectly aware of the effect that such an upbringing can have upon a child.

Obviously — blindingly — true. But how many people would think to say it?

Have one more sentence: “Kerouac is an important writer because he was a prophet of immaturity.”

Oh, yes.

Mark Steyn reviews World War IV, and David Pryce-Jones dices President Sarkozy’s book. P-J has many sharp things to say about Sarko, but I especially like what he says about the former president, Chirac.

Preoccupied with French standing in the world, he deployed his energies to build a coalition with Russia, Germany, and the Arab world. Opposition to American foreign policy was the sole feature common to these powers, but that was enough, and Chirac gloried in it. No amount of murder and terror could disturb his support for Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat. Essentially an unimaginative man, he left urgent domestic issues to take care of themselves — politics for him has been all about intrigue and place and money. Thus a miasma of corruption at home and abroad envelops him, all the more putrid since he had the law changed to remove himself beyond the reach of accountability. No previous President, not even de Gaulle, has been so thoroughly Bourbon.

Rarely has one man been so well judged, and demolished, in a single paragraph.

And my own contribution to the new New Cri.? It is musical, an appreciation of the late Beverly Sills, soprano and American original.

‐Spend a second on a third magazine: The Western Standard. This is a wonderful read, whether you’re Canadian or not. I never knew that Canada could be so interesting, until meeting The Western Standard. I have just read the July 30 issue — I’m a little behind — and Mark Steyn’s column therein is boffo. It takes up an old theme — prolonged adolescence — but does so with extraordinary freshness. The title: “Teenage Wasteland.”

And I have praised before The Western Standard’s obits, which are the department of Victor Olivier. In this 7/30 issue, the first obit concerns Gus Wickstrom, “a folk meteorology hero,” as the title explains.

He was born in Gull Lake [Saskatchewan] but spent most of his life in and around the village of Tompkins, Sask., near the Alberta border. He dropped out of school after the ninth grade to work on the family farm, and a few years later worked his own spread as a grain farmer until the early 1990s. As a young boy, he learned a piece of Swedish folk wisdom from his father that was eventually to bring him to the attention of local and national media. Legend has it that a freshly butchered pig’s spleen held clues to a region’s coming weather. Wickstrom decided to make it into an art form . . .

And so on. Remarkable. Obits have a grand, colorful tradition in the British countries (loosely speaking), and The Western Standard extends it.

‐Oh, there is so much to say about bin Laden’s speech, but I especially cherished his praise of Noam Chomsky. And that reminds me: Remember when I was talking about what Bush did — poking the sleeping dog of Vietnam, and causing our liberal pundits to howl with rage and resentment (and guilt)? Anyway . . . a reader sent in the following note:

I was in Cambodia recently and visited one of the killing fields with a guide who had been a child when the Khmer Rouge took over. Knowing that Chomsky and others blamed the United States for the genocide I asked him if he believed the same. It was the one and only time I heard him laugh during the tour.

I’ll bet.

‐A little music? Three years ago, I wrote a piece on Luciano Pavarotti, after he retired from the Metropolitan Opera. NRO reprinted it Friday — here. I will let it serve as my “statement,” really. I have written about the Pav Man for as long as I’ve been writing. (Indeed, I believe my second published piece, written many years ago, was about him.) (My first piece was about golf.)

Some readers have written to ask me, “What should I listen to?” I answer, “Just about anything — dip in at random.” Pavarotti participated in many complete-opera recordings, and there are scads of anthologies — arias and songs. I like a two-CD set from Decca called Tutto Pavarotti. But just about any will do.

Only last month, Renée Fleming was talking about Pavarotti, in a public interview with me (Salzburg). The great soprano said, “His technique was perfect — absolutely perfect.” It could well be that the Voice of the Century was the Technique of the Century, too. And the Fleming interview brings up an important point: You know who really knows Pavarotti’s worth? Other singers. And they are virtually unanimous in their awe at the Fat Man. I once heard a famous tenor reduced to speechlessness when trying to describe Pavarotti’s ability.

Efface the image of the schlocky, mugging guy who hung on too long. He was as good as it gets — the Caruso of our times, and an immortal.

I’ll see you later this week, guys. Bless you.


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