Politics & Policy

A critical question, &c.

From what I’ve seen, Democratic presidential candidates have been pretty slippery on the subject of Iran — all noncommittal. Even for presidential candidates. Sure, they’re happy to denounce President Bush as a warmonger and a failure — but what would they do?

I think they should be asked quite seriously: “President Bush has said that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb — period. Do you support this stand? Or do you think it’s wrong?”

If the presidential campaign goes by without all candidates’ being forced to confront that question, the process will have failed (in my book).

‐Judge Mukasey has been confirmed as attorney general, with 53 votes. Not voting were the four Democratic senators running for president: Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Dodd. I wonder if they missed the vote for reasons of schedule — they had to be in a Davenport diner or something. Or whether they preferred not to vote at all.

If they vote for Mukasey, they get heat from the “netroots” — from the Democratic-primary Left. If they vote against him: Why have they opposed so conscientious, capable, and patriotic a judge — a man who has been confronting hard issues of terrorism for years?

Sure, all the senators made preliminary statements: “I don’t like him. He’s a threat to children, puppies, and the environment,” etc. But they should be asked: “If you had been there, what would you have done? Voted to confirm Mukasey or against?”

Incidentally, John McCain, a Republican senator who’s running for president, also didn’t vote. Despite his qualms — qualms that I believe were silly — he stated that he would support the nomination.

‐Speaking of McCain, you know that his mom popped off against Mitt Romney and Mormons. (You can read a story here.) Momma McCain has been out on the campaign trail with the senator, for the purpose of mitigating the age issue. McCain can say, “You don’t have to worry about my age. You can see how long-lived and robust we McCains are!” But when you use your mom as a prop, you run a little risk.

After his mother’s statement, McCain was sure to remind everyone how old she is. The message: “You can’t hold her accountable for what she says, given her years.” I wonder how the mother felt about that defense.

Anyway, maybe it would be better if we didn’t use our moms as props.

In future weeks — especially if Romney remains strong in the polls — we should expect to hear statements from the other candidates, along the lines of, “I don’t think the governor’s Mormonism should be an issue in this race.” I think of what John Edwards did, in the vice-presidential debate of 2004: He talked about the Cheneys’ gay daughter (he used the word “lesbian”). (At least he didn’t say “lezbo.”)

Question: Was Edwards simply and innocently making a point about gay marriage? Or was he reminding Americans that the Cheneys had a gay daughter?

And when Republican candidates say, “I don’t think the governor’s Mormonism should be an issue in this race,” will they be making a genuine statement about religion and politics — or reminding people that Romney is Mormon?

I believe that Romney should confront the issue of religion head-on at some point; that he should do it boldly, unapologetically. Mormons have been part and parcel of this country for generations; they’re as American as anybody. And he ought to be pretty feisty on the subject — I believe that Americans would respond well.

I myself know very little about Mormonism — like nothing. I do know this: Mormons I have known have struck me as unusually good citizens, good neighbors — good folks. Forgive the generalization, but if it’s positive, isn’t that kind of all right? I have long said: If you break down by the side of the road at midnight, you should hope that a Mormon happens along. You’ll probably get helped.

‐Fred Thompson said something the other day that impressed me. He was asked about Bernard Kerik, and his tangle with the law. The candidate said, “I heard about it a while ago. It’s been in the news, obviously, for a long time. But I don’t know anything about the facts of that case, and I really can’t comment on it.”

Refreshing. You know, ol’ Fred’s all right.

‐The Democratic Congress passed a spending bill, and the president vetoed it — and the Congress overrode the veto. And I thought of all those idiot Republicans and conservatives last year who said that the Republicans deserved to be thrown out, because of their big spending. The GOP had to be “punished.” Nice going, guys. Now the country as a whole is punished.

‐A reader writes, “I’m sure you saw this posted by Mark Steyn today” — this being this. It’s a letter from Jimmy Carter to his sister-in-law, Sybil. It’s an extraordinary document in many ways. For one thing, Carter has that interesting, neat, and excellent handwriting.

I remember the signature well. When Carter lost in 1980, I sent a letter to him, thanking him for his presidency and wishing him well. I had done the same thing for Ford, four years earlier. I was just a kid, and very patriotic. (Also, I think I had a soft spot for losers.) In both instances, the White House sent a letter back. I don’t have those, but I have a strong memory of Carter’s signature — and I’ve seen it in various other places as well, of course.

Anyway . . .

Carter’s opening sentence to Sybil is, “Lamentably, I killed your cat while trying just to sting it.” The second and third sentences are, “It was crouched, as usual, under one of our bird feeders. I fired from some distance with bird shot.”

What I liked was “crouched, as usual” — the note of censure. The note of deflection of blame. So very, very very Carter.

Jay,

It’s very rare to read a critical word about Castro’s Cuba in a magazine like Sports Illustrated (like I need to tell you that!). [True dat.] So I wanted to be sure you saw something in the November 5 issue. When I read this, I wondered how it made it past the editors.

The piece is about Alberto Salazar, the long-distance runner, and here is what the reader had in mind:

[Salazar’s] father, José, had been a schoolmate of Fidel Castro’s, serving first in the rebel forces that overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista, then as a civil engineer for the new regime. One day in 1960 Che Guevara ordered José to scrap plans for a chapel in a community-development project, and Castro upheld the decision, declaring that in the new Cuba there would be no place for religion. “That day my father joined the counterrevolution,” Alberto says. “The secret police came for him an hour after he left for Miami.”

Mr. Salazar’s timing was good. So very many others weren’t as lucky. To read the entire article, go here.

‐Another reader alerted me to what Adam Ballard said. He’s a senior at the Naval Academy, and a fullback on the football team. Apparently, he has pro-level talent. But he wants to fulfill his commitment to the military. In particular, he’d like to be an officer in the Marine Corps, and lead a combat platoon in Iraq or Afghanistan. The way he puts it is: “When I’m older, I want to be able to look at my kids and tell them why they can go to any church and why your mom doesn’t have to wear a burqa.”

What a glorious young man. To read an article about him, go here.

‐In last Wednesday’s Impromptus, I wrote of John Bolton and his new book, Surrender Is Not an Option. In the course of my remarks about it, I mentioned his confirmation fight, in 2005. I will not repeat here what I said about it; one may consult that column: here.

I received a letter from Melody Townsel, which reads as follows:

Just read your NRO review of Bolton’s pack of lies.

You do know, of course, that I was never an employee of IBTC and, therefore, never in a position to be fired by them. I was employed at the time by Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, the Republican-leaning lobbying firm managed by party scion Charlie Black.

Because my testimony was found to be credible, it was entered into the Senate record, as given, in its entirety prior to the SFRC’s vote.

Sickening? It’s Bolton’s complete inability to deal in truth.

I placed a call to the president of International Business & Technical Consultants, Inc., Jayant Kalotra. He confirms that Ms. Townsel was not a direct employee of IBTCI. However, he says that the company asked that she be removed from the project in question; and that her charges against Bolton were false.

‐Did you see what David Mamet did, out in Hollywood? Taking off on the writers’ strike, he fashioned a cartoon, for the L.A. Times. According to this article,

[t]he cartoon, drawn in a rough scribble, shows two men, each wearing a “WGA on Strike” button. One, with sunglasses and a palm tree-decorated shirt, says: “Whaddaya think, will we end up on the breadline?”

“I don’t touch carbohydrates,” the other cartoon figure responds.

A lovely touch. Reminded me of one of my favorite jokes: On a Hollywood street, Zsa Zsa Gabor sees a wretched man with a sign that says, “Haven’t Eaten in Three Days.” She says, “Darlink, I admire your villpower.”

(I realize that’s a German accent; not sure what a Hungarian one is — my apologies.)

‐In other Hollywood news, Rebecca De Mornay has been arrested for DUI. I don’t mean to pick on her. It’s just that I haven’t heard her name in years — and we all kind of panted after her, when Risky Business came out. Didn’t we? (Maybe I should speak for myself . . .)

‐Several readers have written to say something like the following: “Jay, Paul Johnson says you’re ‘one of America’s most versatile and pungent writers.’ I guess he’s saying you stink. Ha, ha, ha!”

You could read it that way, if you insisted. But English is a big language, and no one knows it or employs it better than Johnson. According to Dictionary.com — today’s Webster’s! — two of the definitions for pungent are these: “caustic, biting, or sharply expressive” — as in “pungent remarks”; and “mentally stimulating or appealing” — as in “pungent wit.”

Ahem.

‐Seeing as we’re on the general subject: I’m going to leave you with my spiel — my book-promo spiel — published last week. Thanks so much. And now that spiel:

Friends, I’m afraid I have a book to flog. At the beginning of December, National Review will bring out Here, There & Everywhere: Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger. The book contains almost 100 pieces, on a great variety of subjects. It’s a little over 500 pages long, with a generous — and, I hope, useful — index. It is dedicated to Bill Buckley. It costs $24.95 — but we’re running an “NRO Special”: $21.95.

If you would like the book inscribed, that’s free. Or — to use an old line — you can have a “rare uninscribed copy”!

To order, please go here.

Maybe I should tell you a little about this book. It’s a grab bag, with eight chapters: “Society,” “Politics,” “People,” “The World,” “Cuba and China,” “Music,” “Golf,” and “Personal.” The pieces were written over the last dozen years: 1995-2007. Most are from National Review, but many appeared in The Weekly Standard, and some appeared in yet other publications. There are speeches, too. (Speeches, but no pontificating — I think.)

What’s in Chapter 1, “Society”? Let’s see: my bit on the honorific “Dr.” A piece on racial identification (boo, hiss!). A piece on rap and guns. A piece on the prevalence of Spanish in America. A piece on the verbotenization of “Christmas” — that sort of thing.

“Politics” contains an account of Election Night 2000, a couple of look-backs at Clinton, a piece on the New York Times, an essay called “The Joy of Tokenism.” (That springs from a visit to “Renaissance Weekend.”)

As for “People,” there are about 20 of them — people, that is. These are profiles of, or interviews with, George W. Bush, Robert Conquest, Natan Sharansky, Phil Gramm, Naguib Mahfouz, Condi Rice, Al Sharpton, Garrison Keillor, Maxine Waters, Bob Shrum, Rosie O’Donnell, Donald Rumsfeld, Cap Weinberger, Rodney Dangerfield . . . You want more? There are more!

“The World” has dispatches from Europe — East and West — and from the Middle East. A lot of Davos stuff; a speech on Solzhenitsyn. “Cuba and China” is what you’d expect. People say, “Why do you write so much about human rights in those countries?” And one answer is — because others do not.

“Golf” is a shortish chapter, but — I like to think — one of the best. I talk about Tiger, Hogan, the movies (Tin Cup, etc.) . . . “Music” contains no criticism — no pure music criticism, or practically none. Instead, these are feature pieces, largely about personalities: Pavarotti, Marilyn Horne, Meredith Willson (the composer of The Music Man), Birgit Nilsson, and so on. There are several dispatches from Salzburg. And there’s even a piece on the music of political conventions and presidential campaigns.

Finally, that chapter called “Personal” — which is autobiographical and (consequently!) often a little offbeat.

Anyway, the book, again, can be ordered here. And do you mind if I throw some blurbs at you? This is a terribly immodest act, but . . . so’s book promotion. The blurbs are from Paul Johnson, Mark Helprin, Norman Podhoretz, Mark Steyn, and Rush Limbaugh. Here you go:

Paul Johnson: “Jay Nordlinger is one of America’s most versatile and pungent writers. He is at home in geopolitics and sociology, in sport and music and literature, and to all these topics he brings an inquiring mind, deep knowledge, and an engaging style. This collection shows him at his wide-ranging best.”

Mark Helprin: “Like all great reporters and essayists, Nordlinger seizes upon the essential details that give a story life in the present and years after. What is most striking about these essays is not their integrity, fearlessness, wit, superb craftsmanship, and the long view they reveal, but that Nordlinger is a man in full. When he writes, ‘For me, the personal transcends the national, historical, and political,’ you know immediately how his portrait of our age has transcended contemporary affairs to read like history. And though always written in pursuit of the enduring and the true, his pieces are so dense in fact and sparkling anecdote that to read them is like opening one present after another. A good man is hard to find: You have found him.”

Norman Podhoretz: “No matter the subject — and what subject has he not touched upon? — Jay Nordlinger writes like the great conversationalist he is. The easy informality of his style never fails to engage and delight, the wide-ranging cultivation it reflects never fails to enlighten, and the energy that propels it never fails to amaze.”

Mark Steyn: “Unlike most of us political pundits, Jay Nordlinger has many other strings to his bow. In fact, most of us don’t even have a bow, but Jay does: You’re as likely to find him at Bayreuth or Salzburg as at a political convention. Or at Augusta National. He has what British politicians term a ‘hinterland’ — a vast array of interests beyond politics that most normal people call ‘life.’ He writes brilliantly about music, and profoundly about golf, and very perceptively about those strange little linguistic tics that seem to pop up out of nowhere and catch the spirit of the age. For his fans, this long overdue Nordlinger reader is a virtuoso display of his rare versatility, on subjects from Rummy to Rosie, Cuba to comedy, ethnic cleansing in Iraq to ‘erotic vagrancy’ in Hollywood. He is a Jay of all trades and a master of . . . well, almost all (we have a few musical differences).”

Rush Limbaugh: “Jay Nordlinger is a Renaissance man, and this book proves it. It’s witty, grabbing, and fun. Nordlinger tackles an array of issues, big and small, with rare humor and insight. He also says nice things about me — which counts for a lot. I couldn’t put it down.”

Is there any other personality like Rush’s? Thank heaven for him.

I’m done book-flogging, for now . . .

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