After Hillary won the New Hampshire primary — that is, after her tears and sniffles — she said, “I found my own voice.” That made me wonder: What voice, or voices, had she been using, in her long, long — and very successful — political career? I myself would have been a little bit hesitant to say, at this late date, “I found my own voice.”
‐While we’re on the subject of Hillary, I was rather impressed by what she said about the Lewinsky business, ten years on. She sounded, to me, unusually human: “I really had to dig down deep and think hard about what was right for me, what was right for my family. I never doubted Bill’s love for me, ever,” etc.
But there was something that brought me up short. She said, “I had to decide what I ought to do. I think it is so important to be able to hear yourself at a moment when it is hard. . . . There are so many times when you really have to listen to yourself.”
Listen to yourself? Either that sets a new standard in self-absorption, or I am misreading what the dear senator said.
‐On to Bill Clinton: I was interested to see that he blew up at a reporter, out West. I remember his extraordinary blowing up at Chris Wallace, when Wallace did some questioning about Clinton-administration anti-terror policy. I was amazed at his lack of self-control (or what seemed to be such a lack). Clinton has been a democratic politician all his life — a fabulously, historically, successful one. And democratic politicians are supposed to be used to tough questioning, even rude questioning. They’re supposed to be masters at give-and-take, thrust-and-parry.
Yet, somehow, Bill Clinton seems rarely to come in for questioning — other than the friendliest, gentlest kind (the kind that occurs at Davos, about which, more at the end of this column). And that is passing strange.
‐In recent weeks, the Clintons have been on the defensive, racially. Isn’t that delicious — considering their decades-long playing of this card? (It seems I spent half the 1990s writing about this . . .)
‐On the afternoon of the Michigan primary, I got an e-mail from an old friend of mine. He said, “Call the ACLU! Ann Arbor has become a bunch of racist disenfranchisers! They asked for a photo ID to vote this morning!”
Well, whaddya know? Couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for NR on the federal Voter ID bill, which the Democrats opposed as . . . well, an attempt at racist disenfranchisement. It was called, “‘Poll Tax!’ They Cried.” Will anyone do any crying at the good lefties in Ann Arbor?
‐A soberer subject: Some years ago, at Yad Vashem — the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem — I looked at the aerial photo of Auschwitz, taken by U.S. forces in 1944. In 1980, President Carter gave this photo, and others like it, to Israel. I remember thinking — not for the first time — about how much we Americans knew, and what, if anything, we did.
The other week, George Bush stood in front of that same photo, and remarked to his secretary of state that we should have bombed — should have bombed the tracks leading to the camps. (A long, detailed, and excellent AP report is found here.)
Sometimes, simplicity is the highest eloquence, and I very much admired what Bush wrote in the guestbook at Yad Vashem: “God bless Israel, George Bush.” What else can you say?
‐When I spotted the headline over another AP report — “Castro Says Not Ready to Campaign” — I thought, “Yeah, what else is new? He has eschewed and crushed democracy for almost 50 years. He’s not going to go democratic now.” But then I realized, sadly, what the headline meant. The article’s first sentence was, “Fidel Castro said Wednesday he is not yet healthy enough to address Cuba’s people in person and can’t campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary elections.”
Right: “elections.” Sham elections, of course, the homage that anti-democratic states pay to democracy.
It should pain people that the media are forced to say — or are apparently forced to say — “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (meaning Communist, totalitarian Korea). And it should pain people that the media refer to rote exercises in Cuba as “elections.” Can’t there be another word for untrue elections? The debasement of language goes hand in hand with the debasement of thought.
‐Last week, a Cuban former political prisoner sent me a YouTube clip, saying, “Jay! The youth in Cuba are losing their fear and expressing their dissent!” The clip — here — shows an underground, alternative music scene. My friend Pedro was encouraged. Maybe you will be, too.
‐Before we leave Latin America, a reader sent me the following note, not long after the New Hampshire primary:
Last week, in the midst of hundreds of political ads up here in N.H., I heard one from Joe Kennedy on a Boston station. His ad was for a home heating oil giveaway. At the end he mentions that the oil was donated by Citgo, “a company owned by the people of Venezuela.” Wow. I expect this summer he will give away sugar from the people of Cuba. Or organs from the people of North Korea.
Well said (although I might point out that Communist Cuba, at least at one point, had to import sugar, confirming the old line that, if the Eskimos went socialist, they’d have to import ice).
‐Jonathan Mirsky is one of my favorite writers, particularly on China, but I was chagrined by something he wrote in the current Spectator. Reviewing a book about Henry James, he referred to “today’s anti-terrorist frenzy.” Well, I often wonder whether people are frenzied enough. There’s a fine line, of course, between proper alertness and paranoia, or frenzy. Are we really erring on the side of frenzy?
And when something happens, doesn’t everybody say, “Why couldn’t you fools connect the dots? Why were you asleep at the switch?”
Yes, it’s an “anti-terrorist frenzy” until the bombs go off, and then Bush, Blair, and the boys are criminally derelict.
‐Last week, I had a wonderful time in Palm Springs, doing a little speaking around. My friends there are top-of-the-line — everyone should have such friends. And I want to make just three remarks about this beautiful and inviting region. No, make that four.
1) Gary Stone is a skilled, friendly, and sharp radio host you should tune in to whenever you can. (No, that should not be “tune into” — you know that, Impromptus-ites.)
2) The place is so clean — certainly where I was — you could eat off the streets. And I kept seeing the streets being cleaned. I had the feeling of what it might be like to live in Singapore (with more abundant golf choices, and less caning).
3) In the airport, you walk outside. I mean, when you’re “inside” the airport, you walk outside, from building to building, or pavilion to pavilion — for example, from the arrival gate to the baggage claim. I had never seen an airport so open-air. And I wonder what happens when it rains . . .
4) One shop — not in the airport, but on the area’s Rodeo Drive — had a sign advertising “Fashion for the Curvaceous Figure.” I was thinking, “Is that curvaceous as in fatties, or curvaceous as in Loni Anderson?”
When I got back home, to Manhattan, I saw another sign that amused me — this one at a bakery. It says, “Leave Door Slightly Ajar (a Bit Open).” Some definitional help for those new to English!
‐And speaking of that book, you want some more fun with inscriptions? A reader asked me to sign, “From one refugee from liberalism to another . . .” I found I had to put quotation marks around “liberalism” — because the kind of “liberalism” we’re talking about (i.e., Marxism, leftism, socialism, kookery, what-have-you) is hardly worthy of the name.
But this is an antique terminological debate, and one should really just give up. Still, doesn’t it sort of stick in your craw to refer to illiberals as “liberals”?
Also speaking of that book: NRO has now published the last excerpt — this one from the chapter titled “Personal” (here). This particular piece has to do with a brief — a very short-lived — attempt to teach myself Greek. The other excerpts, you can find in the publisher’s note, preceding the Greek piece. Knock yourself out, and thanks.
‐Let’s look ahead a little bit: In the next issue of NR, I’ll have a piece on George Shultz, whom I interviewed recently, at length. The former SecState is an exceptionally keen analyst, of just about everything. We think of him as a foreign-policy guy, because of his long years at the State Department. But he is, of course, an economist — a Ph.D., a professor; and a former secretary of the treasury (and of labor; and OMB director; etc.).
May I tell you something weird about his Wikipedia entry? It says, “Shultz was a leading proponent of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.”
What the . . .?
Also in the next NR, look for a piece on the New York Philharmonic’s upcoming visit to North Korea. Were they right to accept the invitation from Kim Jong Il’s regime? Or wrong? Among people I greatly respect — as foreign-policy thinkers, as human-rights advocates — there is a bit of a split. Most people are opposed, regarding the visit as an outrage. But others say, “Well, could do some good — or at least not do any harm.”
Anyway, I canvassed a lot of people, and intend to quote many of them. But let me give you, here, a statement — a typically eloquent statement — sent to me by Armando Valladares. Valladares, as you know, is a Cuban former political prisoner, the author of Against All Hope, one of the greatest prison memoirs we have. Armando wrote to me, in part,
An honest intellectual has a duty, and that duty is to society, and he has to be committed to the historical truth and the defense of human dignity. An intellectual becomes a threat to society when, despite his academic education, he uses the medium of his intellectual or artistic calling — books, movies, etc. — to deceive and lie to the masses. An example of such an intellectual is Gabriel García Márquez, who says that the only country where human rights are respected is Cuba! My books are banned in Cuba and in North Korea. If the Communists believed in “art for art’s sake,” as they claim; if they believed that art should not be mixed with politics — such bans would not exist.
I think that the New York Philharmonic should not accept an invitation from one of the bloodiest regimes in history. To go and perform there is an affront to the hundreds of thousands of Koreans who have been killed by that dictatorship. Those who agonize in the jails, those thousands who are languishing in hunger at this very moment — in solidarity with those unfortunate people, the Philharmonic should reject the invitation, and say why they are rejecting it. That would be correct, that would be moral, that would be an act of solidarity with this enslaved people.
If the invitation had come from the apartheid regime in South Africa, I’m pretty sure the orchestra would not have dared accept it. If they had, the whole world would be condemning their visit. As always, we see the double standard of those who see with only one eye.
That’s what I think, Jay.
That oughta hold you. All these reviews were published in the New York Sun.
‐An Impromptus reader wrote to tell me he saw a bumper sticker — one that left him “speechless.” That sticker: Grades are for meat and eggs — not children!
Now, that, my friends, is “progressive” education!
‐Well, this has been a long Impromptus — the next ones will be shorter, more digestible (I think). And they will come from Davos, where the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum is being held. I should say, too, that I am miles behind on my mail, for which I apologize. If I don’t catch up — will you forgive me? And have a splendid week. See you from Switzerland.