Politics & Policy

The lady is unavailable, &c.

Apparently, some of the press is getting a little annoyed at the unavailability of Hillary Clinton. Sure, she’s available to be president; but she’s less available to take questions. So, what else is new? Hillary has always behaved this way, and so, to a degree, has her husband.

Their technique is this: Whenever a question is challenging or difficult, they or their flacks say, “That is mean-spirited,” or “That is Republican-inspired,” or “That is a baseless attack.” They paint legitimate questions to be illegitimate ones.

I was once at a Hillary press conference — this was when she was preparing to run for the Senate. As far as I know, I’m the only person who has asked her, “Do you stand by your assertion that the charges against your husband stemmed from a ‘vast, right-wing conspiracy’?”

She said, “I’m not going back, I’m going forward,” as she jabbed her finger at the next questioner. No journalist ever followed up, to my knowledge. And Hillary took very, very few questions during that 2000 campaign. Nor did reporters seem all that eager to ask them.

And you recall what George Stephanopoulos did in Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. The Clintonites would duck tough or awkward questions, and, if reporters persisted, Stephanopoulos would say, “That has been asked and asked. We have dealt with that over and over. This is old, tired material. Do you want to embarrass yourself? Do you want to be a laughingstock?”

And the reporters would generally shut up. Stephanopoulos was right on one thing: The question — whatever it was — had been asked. It had just not been dealt with. I understand that George Stephanopoulos now works in journalism.

Consider 1998, 1999, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was in bloom. President Clinton essentially decided not to meet the press. When he did meet with them — the very few times — he would have some other head of state alongside him. This would be a joint press conference, or photo-op, or what have you. The thinking was that reporters wouldn’t dare ask about a sex-and-perjury scandal in the presence of another head of state — especially a super-dignified one, such as Nelson Mandela.

And has Clinton ever been asked about his anti-terror policies? I recall that Chris Wallace did: and Clinton merely exploded at him, and pretended to be persecuted — pretended that Wallace was acting as a Republican tool. Also said something about Rupert Murdoch and global warming.

It was the most bizarre episode — but classically Clintonian.

And George W. Bush? As far as I can tell, he stands in front of the press, taking on all comers — Helen Thomas accuses him of skinning puppies, serving Israel, whatever. It’s simply part of what it means to be in public life; and it is definitely part of what it means to be president.

Does Hillary Clinton deal with the press? Not really. And, with one or two exceptions — the “pretty in pink” press conference — she has not been made to do so. I’m glad that some MSM-ers are starting to get annoyed. May it continue.

And you remember the old line “Never complain, never explain”? The Clintons and their people don’t abide by that first part: “Never complain.” But they certainly have the second part down.

‐A brief reflection on the “Huckaboom”: In recent months, I’ve been doing a little traveling, speaking to various groups — mainly conservative. And many people have expressed support for, or at least a liking of, Mike Huckabee. They do so rather sheepishly. And they’re sure to say, “Of course, he can’t win.”

Well, you never know — you never quite know. No one has voted yet. No one has pulled any lever, for anyone. And people can vote for whomever they like — for whatever reason they like (or none). They draw the curtain behind them, and that’s it. They make their choice. If someone who “can’t win” has enough support — why, he’ll win.

Think Carter in 1976. He’d be up in the snows of New Hampshire, saying, “My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for president.” People would respond, “Jimmy who?” Eventually, the Carter campaign had buttons printed up that said, “Jimmy Who?”

Lo and behold, the guy pulled it off — this one-term governor from Georgia. Next to his background, Huckabee’s looks well-nigh Gladstonian. And, by the way, the first line of Carter’s 1976 convention speech was, “My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for president.” The crowd went wild, and Carter grinned and grinned (as I recall).

No, you never know — you never quite know. And if you think Mike Huckabee should be president, you should vote for him. And if you want to know why he shouldn’t be president — why, just ask me, or anyone else who works for National Review!

‐In the last Republican debate, Mitt Romney said something that made me cringe. It had nothing to do with policy. It had to do with language. He said, “. . . the difference between Mayor Giuliani and myself.”

That “myself” landed on the ear like a bag of garbage. Is there any usage uglier? You might rejoin, “At least he didn’t say ‘between Mayor Giuliani and I’!” I’m not sure which is worse: “Myself” is the retreat of the man who’s unsure of “I” and “me.”

Oh, “me,” “me,” “me”! Use it with confidence! Where you would say “us,” say “him and me,” and where you would say “we,” say “he and I.” Governor Romney has switched his position a lot in recent years (for the better). Can he switch it on certain English constructions?

‐You probably noted that Arab foreign ministers would not shake hands with the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. They treated her like a pariah, as she said. Or, as a Dutch diplomat said, while all this was going on: “They shun her like she is Count Dracula’s younger sister.”

I had a memory, from many, many years ago. Ted Koppel, on Nightline, had a discussion, between Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians insisted that a fence — a literal fence — be erected between the two sides: the Palestinian and the Israeli. And, throughout the program, the Palestinians would not make eye contact with the Israelis. The Israelis, of course, were imploring the Palestinians: “Make peace, make peace.” The Palestinians would not make eye contact.

That was a long time ago — before Oslo, intifadas, the Israeli fence. But I couldn’t help thinking of it, when reading about these Arab diplomats who would not shake the hand of Tzipi Livni. I wonder whether they would make eye contact with her — probably not.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is very, very hard to reach historic peace accords with people who won’t shake your hand, who won’t look at you — who won’t let you live. Sadat was willing to look at Israelis, and shake hands with them. And to let them live. But he is no longer here.

Did the recent behavior of these Arab diplomats — diplomats! — make them look silly and guilty in the eyes of the world? Not a chance, I’m afraid.

And one more thing, before leaving this topic: Yasser Arafat was a big hand-shaker and eye-contact maker. At least he became so. So I guess a handshake and eye contact — are maybe not worth so much?

To be continued . . .

‐I’m going to hit you with more memories. When I was coming of age, there’d be anti-black graffiti, or anti-gay graffiti. And disturbingly often it turned out that these graffiti (sorry for the fancy usage) had been spraypainted by members of these very groups: blacks and gays. Why were they doing it? To foster an impression of victimization? To have the bliss — if you can possibly imagine — of feeling victimized?

There is enough genuine victimization in the world without making it up.

You may have read about the noose at the Baltimore firehouse: It was planted by a black firefighter. My reaction, on hearing the news, was, “Gee, what a surprise.” And I think it’s horrendous that such a reaction should be natural.

You know what I mean?

‐Gonna throw an ad at you:


‐Back to the column. On Monday night, I was at a Boston Symphony concert in Carnegie Hall. The program included a work by Henri Dutilleux, a Frenchman born in 1916. And in the audience was Elliott Carter, the American composer born in 1908. (His centennial will occur a year from this month.) As I remarked in a review, they have some serious compositional experience between the two of them.

And I was reminded of my favorite bumper sticker of the 1996 campaign: Thurmond-Helms ’96. Don’t Let 200 Years of Experience Go to Waste.

‐Speaking of music, have some reviews from the New York Sun. For Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride at the Metropolitan Opera, go here. For the soprano Measha Brueggergosman in recital, go here. For the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Sir Simon Rattle, go here. And for the New York Philharmonic, under Gustavo Dudamel, with the violinist Gil Shaham, soloist, go here.

Hold you?

‐Couple of weeks ago, NRO ran a piece I wrote in 2004 called “Going Timesless: Who dares give up the ‘newspaper of record’?” (Here.) This was part of “Tuesdays with Jay,” whereby the site is running one piece per chapter of Here, There & Everywhere. (The book has eight chapters.)

Received a note about this piece from a distinguished scholar, and wish to share it with you:


I can remember exactly when I gave up reading the Times — about 15 years ago. They published a two-column article, above the fold, left-hand side of the page, “revealing” that people who fly first class on airplanes get better treatment than people who fly coach. That kind of condescension I didn’t need. I stopped reading the paper then and there, and I’ve never missed it. Not one day.

I was tickled by that letter — and I hope you’re having a fine week. See you.


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