Politics & Policy

Not in Kansas, or in Austin, &c.

Back in the campaign of 2000 — seems like a while ago, doesn’t it? — George W. Bush talked a lot about how he’d gotten along with Democrats in Texas. He was almost above party politics. He was going to shove all that bickering aside, and do the people’s business. Just as he forged ties with Democrats in Texas — Bob Bullock and all that — he was going to forge ties in Washington.

And a lot of us said, “Fat chance, pardner.” Bush’s father had tried to do that during his own years as president. He even made a show of reaching out his hand — literally reaching it out — to Speaker Jim Wright, on Inauguration Day. And Wright was not only to bite that hand; he was to chew it up, spit it out, and cackle.

I thought of all this when Rep. Pete Stark (D., Calif.) made his remarks about Bush and Iraq — how Bush liked to send kids over there to get their heads blown off for his own amusement, etc. No, Dorothy, no, Toto: You’re not in Kansas anymore. And George W. Bush is not in good ol’ Austin, where the most you had to fear was the occasional tart quip by Ann Richards (R.I.P.).

In the main, Democrats aren’t as blunt or crude as Stark (good name, huh?). But he expresses the spirit of the thing.

‐As you may have heard, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.) was blunt about Rudolph Giuliani, and the feelings of his son, Andrew, toward him: “Sons respect and admire their fathers, but they love their mothers against cheating god**mn husbands.”

Quite right. Truer words were never spoken. Unfortunately, Rangel will never betray his great love: Castro.

‐I got all excited when I saw this headline: “CNN Takes Stock of a ‘Planet in Peril’” (over this article). “Hurray!” I said. “The mainstream media are now taking the global threat of Islamofascism and nuclear proliferation seriously.” But wouldn’t you know? The article turned out to be about the environment. Of course.

‐A word about Rush Limbaugh: This recent episode — Rush’s auctioning off of the Senate Democrat smear letter against him, netting millions for the Marine Corps/Law Enforcement Foundation — gives us the man in a nutshell: He is audacious, energetic, kind, mischievous, personable, pugnacious, brilliant, fun — generous. Very generous. To my mind, this one episode sums up an entire character and career.

Hats off. Seldom in life have I seen someone take a little adversity and make such sweet — mightily sweet — use of it.

A couple of side notes, please: I noticed this article in the New York Times. It begins, “After Rush Limbaugh referred to Iraq war veterans critical of the war as ‘phony soldiers,’ he received a letter of complaint signed by 41 Democratic senators.”

Is that the way it happened? No. Rush wasn’t complaining about war veterans critical of the war; he was complaining about people pretending to be war veterans, and making things up. In addition: The Senate letter, as I understand it, was not sent to Limbaugh, but to the CEO of the company that syndicates him.

Also, a reader wrote to ask me this: “Dear Jay: After the Senate threatened Rush — and remember the vast regulatory power of the federal government — did anyone utter the words ‘chilling effect’?”

Not that I heard, no. Because free speech is for liberals and leftists — for Izzy Stone and David Halberstam and Sy Hersh. Not for the likes of thee and me.

‐Years ago, Rick Brookhiser examined Bill Buckley’s reader mail, and came to these conclusions: The most interesting letters were from prison; and the least interesting were the ones signed “Ph.D.”

I thought of this the other day, because some of the worst mail I have ever received — nasty, stupid, sneering, demanding, persistent — came from someone who signed himself both “Dr.” and “Ph.D.” Now, you’re supposed to have one or the other: You’re supposed to have “Joe Blow, Ph.D.,” or “Dr. Joe Blow” — not “Dr. Joe Blow, Ph.D.” Similarly, you’re supposed to have “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” or “Dr. Marcus Welby” — not “Dr. Marcus Welby, M.D.”

So, I’m just warning you: If you receive mail from anyone signing himself “Dr.” and “Ph.D.” — watch out.

P.S. Have you read my 2002 piece on the honorific “Dr.”? There is much Impromptus-reader participation in it. If you’d like to, go here. (And, no, we’re not reopening the subject! But thanks.)

‐It has been much remarked that Al Gore has won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Nobel, in rapid succession. And doesn’t that validate him! Not really — not as far as I’m concerned. For Gore, those constituencies are very, very easy. The people who give those awards are his peeps, for sure. Fortunately, Floridians were just a little bit harder.

Not that you’re ever validated, or invalidated, by those who approve of you, or disapprove.

‐Thought I’d throw a language note at you. The other day, someone objected to the phrase “Please RSVP.” This someone noted, quite correctly, that “please” is embedded in “RSVP” — which means, Répondez, s’il vous plaît, or “Respond, please.” But the thing is, RSVP has become an English verb — French aside. So I, for one, find “Please RSVP” acceptable.

Am I just too liberal?

‐Care for some music criticism? For a review of the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, with pianist Imogen Cooper, guest soloist, go here. And for a review of the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, go here. Both reviews were published in the New York Sun.

‐A reader from Kennebunk, Maine, wrote me the following:

Mr. Nordlinger:

It is a pity that someone who likes and appreciates classical music can be so backwards in his political views.

Sincerely . . .

Yes, isn’t it, though!

‐Last week, I received a note from my friend Michael Walsh (novelist, screenwriter, music critic, etc., etc.). He had spotted an item in the news:

Nearly half of Americans feel the U.S. economy is in a recession, marked by a significant decline in economic activity, according to a survey released Thursday. The poll by the CNN-Opinion Research Corporation found that while 46 percent of Americans hold that belief, 51 percent don’t. Black citizens were more pessimistic than whites, findings show. Sixty-nine percent of black Americans feel the United States is in a recession, while only 42 percent of white Americans feel the same way.

Commented Walsh, “Since when did Family Feud — in which the correct answer was not necessarily the factual one, but the one most people thought was correct — become the norm for reporting?”

I thought that was absolutely brilliant: Family Feud-style journalism. It has become rampant in the last two decades or so. The only thing that’s missing is Richard Dawson, kissing the women. (On the mouth, he did — every time! From the eight-year-olds to the eighty-eight-year-olds.)

‐My remarks on Soviet paraphernalia — CCCP shirts and the like — in recent Impromptuses (is that the plural?) provoked quite a bit of mail. I got many letters like the following:


I recently purchased a T-shirt with a CCCP emblem on the chest. I did this for nostalgic reasons. You see, I used to hunt Soviet warships and practice sinking them with 120 of my friends in the early 1980s.

This letter was signed by a sonar technician on a fast attack submarine.

Another reader sent me an article from a University of Washington alumni publication — here. It’s about a onetime professor of journalism, who, as the article points out, was “the last man alive to have interviewed both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.” The professor had on his office wall a huge Nazi flag — which had flown over SS headquarters in Berlin.

That was a hell of a trophy.

Let’s switch gears. Another reader told me about a magnificent Cuban-American professor, and an incident on a train:

He saw a young man wearing a Che shirt. As they were getting off the train, the professor asked him if he knew anything about Guevara’s murderous career. The young man said something like, “He was a liberator and a revolutionary, and I would wear a shirt picturing any rebel. I would wear a picture of George Washington.” Ignoring the odious comparison, the professor said, “It’s interesting that you chose him, because if you were wearing a T-shirt with George Washington’s picture on it, Che would crush you like a cockroach.” Then the professor walked off.

Isn’t that marvelous?

Finally, a reader says,

Last week, I saw someone near Ground Zero wearing a T-shirt that said, “Communism killed 100 million people and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” — with Che’s face below. Where can I get one?

I don’t know, but I salute its inventor and manufacturer!

‐In a recent column, I mentioned David Letterman, and how bitter and nasty and political — partisanly political — he seems to have become. I received a lot of seconding letters. One went like this:

I started watching his show the very first week it came on and was a devoted fan for many years. But like you, I have noticed a change from the early, fresh-faced, fun-lovin’ Dave to a more cynical, opinionated, going-through-the-motions Dave.

My wife and I can hardly stand to watch him anymore; in fact, we don’t unless we’ve heard about a particularly interesting guest. He has become an overt shill for Hillary Clinton, Gore, and their ilk, and closed-mindedly, open-mouthedly hateful toward Bush and all Republicans. His interview of Bill O’Reilly showed how close to the surface his political rage boils. The fun is gone.

And David Letterman without fun is like ballet without tights (or something).

Another one:

I’m sad for David Letterman. I “came of age” as a big admirer of his show and his sense of humor. I used to tell people that my dream job was to be a writer on his show . . .

But you’re right: In recent years, he seems to have soured. Meanwhile, when I watch Jay Leno, I’m continually impressed by how “nice” he seems, and real. And I never get the sense that his politics (whatever they are) are affecting his ability to poke innocent, inoffensive fun at current events. As for Dave: I can hardly stand to watch him anymore.

It’s hard to say, objectively, whether this is simply a matter of my own tastes’ maturing — could be. But it seems clear that Mr. Letterman has not matured in his own views. He seems only to have become more bitter. I mourn the “loss” of him.

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I thought you’d appreciate this. The September/October 2007 issue of the University of Illinois alumni magazine has an article about corn (er, what else?), with a sidebar entitled “A brief history of corn.” In it, we find the following: “Borne eastward by European interlopers beginning with Christopher Columbus . . .”

“Interlopers”! So that’s what the European explorers and settlers really were! My maternal and paternal grandparents emigrated from Russia to the United States some 100 years ago; I guess they were interlopers, too.

At least I don’t have to pay for the magazine. (I became a lifetime member of the alumni society 30 years ago, and the magazine seems to follow me around wherever I roam.)

This writer lives in Switzerland.

‐Finally, I want to share with you a short, graceful letter, written in response to the Al Gore Nobel and all the global-warming fever. I think this letter is the loveliest, most surprising thing. The reader says,

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

When I was a young man, I always heard that the best way to avoid an argument was to stay away from any discussion involving politics or religion. “Just talk about the weather,” was the sound advice. Boy, how things have changed!

See you.


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