Politics & Policy

Do they know something? &c.

Reading about Condi Rice, George Bush, and their new efforts in the Arab-Israeli conflict, I had a memory — of the 2000 campaign. The candidate, his foreign-policy adviser, and the rest of the team said that the U.S. should be more modest in this area. The parties themselves had to come to agreement. They (read: the Arabs) had to want peace. And, once they were ready, the U.S. would be happy to act as facilitator.

This is precisely what happened at Camp David, in the 1970s.

The Bush team took a considerable amount of criticism for its stand, charged with “passivity” and the “abdication of responsibility.”

True enough, 9/11 changed a lot: including Team Bush’s views of the American role in the Middle East. Still, I wonder if Bush and Rice know something. I wonder whether they see an opening in the Arab-Israeli standoff that is hidden from the rest of us. Because they seem to be acting against the wisdom they dispensed in 2000.

Stay tuned . . .

‐Thought you should know about this item from Havana: “Cuban police rounded up a group of young people wearing white rubber wristbands stenciled with the word ‘cambio,’ or ‘change,’ and held them for hours before releasing them without filing charges . . .”

What kind of regime is scared of white rubber wristbands stenciled with the word “change”? A totalitarian one, of course.

‐Speaking of this very Communist regime: Today, George W. Bush awards Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dr. Biscet, as you know, is a prisoner of the Cuban regime. And this recognition, by the American president, has infused Cubans with hope, joy, and energy. To see my original comments on this award — in Friday’s Impromptus — go here.

‐On the subject of Medals of Freedom: Last week, I heard from my friend and comrade Scott Johnson, of Powerline. He said, “Why hasn’t Thomas Sowell received a Presidential Medal of Freedom?” Good question. I was surprised to hear that he hadn’t. Does GWB have one more shot at these babies? And might he remedy this oversight next year?

Sowell is not a seeker after awards — far from it. He might not even show up to receive it. Still, they should at least ship it to him.

‐Curious little story here: According to the AP, “The White House on Thursday sympathized with Arab-Americans who took offense to a memo that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote saying that ‘oil wealth has made Muslims averse to physical labor.’” Oh? Have a little more of the story: “As Pentagon chief, Rumsfeld wrote scores of internal memos which employees called ‘snowflakes.’ In May 2004, Rumsfeld wrote that oil wealth had left Muslims detached from the ‘reality of the work and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world.’”

Too true. Have some more of Rumsfeld: “Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed. An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism.”

Too true again. But the White House, unfortunately, objected. It apparently did not rebut Rumsfeld — but objected nonetheless.

Couple of questions: Who gave these internal memoranda by Rumsfeld to the press? Why? (Okay, I’m going to ask three questions.) Also, after 9/11, weren’t we supposed to abandon PC as too dangerous in this new age? Weren’t we supposed to speak and inquire clearly and boldly, without fear, without our usual restrictions and hang-ups?

Yeah, right.

‐I’ve been following John Edwards a little bit, and am amazed at his persona for this election cycle. He is becoming ever more extreme. He fancies himself a tribune of the people, some combination of Atticus Finch and John L. Lewis. Alternatively, he views himself as the second coming of William Jennings Bryan. And he has a broad messianic streak. Does he regard himself as some kind of savior?

Have a taste of the latest. I’ll quote this report:

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Saturday called reversing global warming a “great moral test” and said the next president needs to stand up to industries resisting change.

“This is the great moral test of our generation. Are we actually going to leave this planet and America better for our children than we found it?” Edwards said at an environmental rally in New Orleans.

“Why have we not addressed the issue of climate change and global warming?” Edwards said. “I’ll tell you why, no question about it: oil companies, gas companies, power companies and the lobbyists in Washington, D.C. We have to have a president who will stand up to these people.”

Last month Edwards picked up an endorsement from the national environmental group Friends of the Earth Action.

I bet he did. And why did Edwards give a speech like this in New Orleans? Because he attributes Katrina to global warming? And how fare the hurricanes this year? And, I swear, when he says “oil companies, gas companies, power companies, and the lobbyists,” I think, “Lions, tigers, and bears — oh my!”

Edwards went to the Senate from North Carolina as a centrist Democrat. Now he is pulling this other act. I wonder where he’ll finish up. Will he be like Ramsey Clark, who once held a very respectable position: attorney general of the United States (under Johnson)? Teasing can be enjoyable (for the teaser), but, frankly, it’s no fun to watch John Edwards trek farther and farther into the fever swamps.

Ambition can create a little madness.

‐Hell is freezing over, and Birnam Wood is on the march. I’m about to quote Kate Michelman, favorably — even admiringly. The abortion-rightser is an Edwards man, and she said about Hillary, “When unchallenged, in a comfortable, controlled situation, Senator Clinton embraces her political elevation into the ‘boys club.’ But when she’s challenged, when legitimate questions are asked, she is just as quick to raise the white flag and look for a change in the rules. She then calls questioning ‘attacking’; she calls debate among her peers ‘piling on.’”

Well done, Kate. Couldn’t have said it better myself. (Though when it comes to Kates, I still vastly prefer O’Beirne.) (And Smith.)

‐This article here had some fascinating things to say about ol’ Fred — Senator Thompson. As you know, he has a reputation for laziness. And what did the caption under his high-school-yearbook photo say? “The lazier a man is, the more he plans to do tomorrow.”

Of course, I think Thompson’s response to charges of laziness is excellent: He has been able to do quite a lot in his six decades and change; if that’s laziness, we should all take it up.

And that article gave us some new Nixoniana — at least new to me:

When [Sen. Howard Baker] became vice chairman of the Watergate committee a year later, he picked Thompson as Republican counsel.

President Nixon couldn’t have been more underwhelmed by Thompson.

“That kid,” Nixon called him. “Dumb as hell.”

“Well, we’re stuck with him,” H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, harrumphed.

Baker told Nixon: “He’s tough. He’s 6 feet 5 inches, a big mean fella.”

Thompson, an administration loyalist, gradually realized Nixon might be lying.

I think we’ll find that ol’ Fred wears well. And if none of the other presidential contenders emerges, he could be a kind of fallback candidate — a consensus choice, or second choice. Few people are strongly for him; and just about no one is strongly against him. That’s not the worst position to be in.

‐I almost feel sorry for Senator Obama — really, I almost do. He had this “politics of hope” line. (Hubert Humphrey had the politics of joy!) So now every time he makes a criticism of another candidate — specifically Hillary Clinton — that candidate’s spokesman says, “Hey! What happened to the ‘politics of hope’?” Must frustrate Senator Obama. Not that I’m losing a lot of sleep over it.

‐In recent weeks, I’ve addressed, taken questions from, and mingled with three groups of young people: students at the Ashbrook Center, on the campus of Ashland University (in Ohio); students at NYU (which is to say, New York University); and, also in New York, Opus Dei. These young people have been polite, cheerful, and interesting. Almost makes you think that the future may be all right.

Or is that too sanguine an observation for this often-Chicken-Little-ish column?

‐Last week, it came to my attention that some Internet antagonist had attacked “Mike Potemra and his disciples.” My first reaction was to laugh; and my second was to reflect.

I’ve known NR’s distinguished literary editor for quite a while — since we lived across the hall from each other, in a dorm. He is one of the smartest, funniest, and nicest people around. I’ve learned a thing or two from him. Come to think of it, I am a Potemra disciple — and awfully proud to be!

‐In that Friday column, I praised the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, calling it unique, or nearly so. That provoked a lot of mail, saying, “What about this college?” or “What about that?” Well, the Ashbrook Center is not exactly a college; it is a public-affairs institute, or enclave, midst a wider university. Even so: I understand that there are other worthy institutions in American higher education. But so few that . . .

Anyway, you do not want a jeremiad on this subject. Not another one, and not just this second . . .

‐Care for some music criticism? Here is a piece published in the New York Sun. It’s on Edgar Meyer, the bassist and composer, and a trio he leads.

‐Was in Stamford, Conn., a couple days ago, and saw an amazing artifact: a huge, huge, long, long Cadillac DeVille. I can’t tell you the year; seems to me late ’60s. That car was about half the length of a football field; and it must have weighed as much as an elementary school. Have to tell you, I practically wept for what cars once were — so secure and safe, for one thing! — and what America once was. Nostalgia: a stupid vice. But there you go.

At a U2 concert in Ireland, the lead singer Bono asks the audience for some quiet. Then he starts to slowly clap his hands. Holding the audience in total silence, he says into the microphone, “I want you to think about something. Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies.”

A voice from the audience yells out, “Then stop clapping, you a**h***!”

‐Did you enjoy yesterday? My father used to say, “It’s the best day of the year — better than Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and all the rest.” And that day is Fall Back — the day on which we get to set our clocks back an hour. Correspondingly, what’s the cruelest day of the year? Spring Forward. But it’ll be a while before we have to worry about that.

Friends, this hasn’t been the most exciting Impromptus on record. Just a tad boring, don’t you think? I’m a little drowsy writing it. I promise to do better, real soon. But that story from the Indian newspaper was funny, wasn’t it?

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