Politics & Policy

A debate fantasy, &c.

Can I indulge in a little fantasy? (No snickering or accusations, please.) I wish the GOP presidential nominee this year had said something like the following — perhaps in the last debate:

“Senator Obama keeps talking about President Bush. Well, I’m not President Bush. But I think he’s a fine man who has done many fine things. He looked the central evil of our time — Islamofascism — right in the eye, and didn’t blink. He has done necessary and hard and often unpopular things. He has had at least some role in keeping this country safe from murdering beasts for the past seven years — something no one thought possible. I have had my disagreements with President Bush, and he has made mistakes, as anyone would. But I’d sure as hell rather stand with him than with those who hate him and mock him and blacken his name.”

#ad#Would the GOP ticket have done less well at the polls? I doubt it. And the anathematization of President Bush, along with the weakness about him displayed by the Republican party, has been disgusting.

‐Mark my words: For the next several years, experts will huff and puff about reforming the Republican party and making it viable again. (I might be one of them!) And then political fortune will change, as it always does. And we’ll get good candidates, instead of sucky ones. And they will get less skillful ones. And we’ll win again, as always happens — and the huffers and puffers will say, “See, we did it! We GOP-changers did it!” Well, if it makes them feel better . . .

‐Saw something kind of cute from Reuters (inadvertently cute): “Clinton [Hillary] stresses the need for Arab-Israeli peace, but is considered a favorite of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.” (For the article, go here.) How do you like that “but”? Because we all know that the pro-Israel lobby hates peace.

‐This is not so cute: In my recent Iraq journal, I spoke of commanding general Ray Odierno, with whom our group had an interview. What I did not know was something I learned in an article a reader sent me:

“[Odierno] knows what’s at stake and has seen firsthand the personal toll of the war. Odierno’s son Tony lost his left arm when a rocket-propelled grenade blew up his humvee in Baghdad in 2004. The general says his son’s injury has given him a bond with other parents who have had a child injured in combat. ‘I understand,’ he says, ‘what the costs of this fight are.’”

‐A reader says, “This is the first Guns N’ Roses album in 15 years and is easily the most anticipated rock album of the decade. The album is called Chinese Democracy. And from the cover art to the lyrics of the title track, you see that Axl Rose really does care about the Chinese struggle. Like most artists, he came to it through the Tibetan cause — but we’ll still take it. He even mentions Falun Gong.”

Yes, we’ll take it. Will we ever.

‐In the general realm of music and politics, let me tell you a quick something about John Adams. He is the American composer (probably the most famous classical composer in the world, along with Philip Glass) who recently composed Dr. Atomic. This is an opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the search for the A-bomb. In a note on his opera, Adams described his coming of age during the Cold War. His was a childhood “always clouded by the absurdities of air-raid drills, ‘family’ bomb shelters, arsenals of nuclear warheads, and the chatter of politicians invoking the evils that lurked behind what Churchill with his gift for epithets had so evocatively dubbed the ‘Iron Curtain.’”

For The New Criterion (forthcoming), I wrote, “I wonder whether Adams ever found out about those evils behind the Iron Curtain — by reading The Gulag Archipelago, for example. I wonder whether he today acknowledges that there were evils at all.”

I hope you will read about Dr. Atomic and much more when that issue, the December issue, comes out.

‐A reader wrote to me, “My mother was born in what is now Poland and occasionally someone would find that out and ask if she wanted to join the Polish-American club or something. With her usual talent for being truthful and polite she would quietly say that she hadn’t been considered Polish when she lived there and she saw no reason to start now.”

This reminded me of an episode several years ago. In an article for National Review, I referred to the late George Szell as “the Hungarian-Jewish conductor.” And many people wrote to me, “Why did you have to drag his religion, or ancestry, into it?” To me the answer seemed obvious, but, obviously, it wasn’t: At the critical hour, Hungarians at large did not consider Szell — or Eugene Ormandy or Fritz Reiner or Georg Solti (to name only conductors!) — their fellow Hungarian. The likes of Szell were something very, very different. So, now that everything’s hunky-dory, why should Hungary (not to pick on that country in particular) get credit for Szell, Ormandy, and the others?

As I said, one would have thought it was obvious . . .

‐By the way, I was not the biggest fan of Georg Solti on the podium, but his memoirs are among the best I have ever read from any musician — or from anybody, frankly. I was stunned when they came out, shortly after his death. (Finishing them was the last thing he ever did.) I reviewed them for The Weekly Standard — this was in 1997 — but two seconds of Googling has not surfaced that review. I can give you the Amazon link for the memoirs, however: here.

‐Speaking of magazine issues past — I have something much past-er for you. Actually, a reader shared this with me, and it is from Time magazine, July 1961, on the death of Whittaker Chambers. Our reader notes that you would be hard-pressed to find writing in today’s magazines such as the writing here: 

Hiss’s flat denial that he had ever known Chambers began the long series of dramatic hearings and trials that could hardly have been better cast by Hollywood. Chambers, the emotional brooder, who claimed among his friends a New Orleans whore named One-Eyed Annie, v. Hiss, the cool, well-bred Harvard Law School graduate who had been secretary to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

The thought occurs to me: Would some of today’s Obama supporters, of varying stripes, prefer Hiss to Chambers?


‐I bring you something delightful from the world of American commerce: You order something from Headsets.com; they send it to you with a heart-shaped sticker saying, “Packed with Customer Love by Robin [or whoever].” But that’s not the main thing: In the box are a handful of Tootsie Rolls. Very surprising, and a nice touch.

#ad#P.S. I pause to note that WFB used to praise various American enterprises — for example, one winter, his Smith-Corona typewriter, which he hadn’t used in ages, started up and purred like a cat. He immediately wrote a testimonial about Smith-Corona, and sent it to them. “Use it as you wish,” he said. (I paraphrase.) “I want no remuneration — what I’ve said is simply true.” They never answered him.

‐In a recent issue of National Review, I had a piece called “A Perpetual Hissing: Notes on an unfavorite practice.” (The title comes from Jeremiah: “Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.”) Wanted to share with you just two responses to that piece. Fellow says, 

I am a conservative in Chicago and was at a cocktail party recently. I said that I liked Dick Cheney a lot, mostly to get a reaction, but also because it’s true. Until reading your article this morning, I didn’t have a term for the response expected and duly received: a unanimous group-hiss.

And the second missive:

Sometime in the late ’70s, Norman Mailer came to Zellerbach Hall at UC-Berkeley to give a talk. The place was sold out. This was during the period when he was writing pieces refuting Germaine Greer. He walked onstage wearing cowboy boots, Levis, and a shirt and jacket . . . and he had a rolling sort of John Wayne gait.

As he stepped up to the microphone, he said approximately the following: “I know that about half of you here tonight hate my guts because of my stand on feminism. So let’s get that out of the way. I want you to hiss me. I want you to let all of your feelings toward me out. Come on, hiss me!”

And the most spine-chilling hiss arose from the audience. It lasted ten seconds. I’d never heard anything like it before, and I haven’t since. It was authentic and deeply felt. And when it subsided, Mailer leaned into the microphone and said, softly, “Obedient bitches.”

That is the best thing I’ve ever heard about Mailer.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I had an item about Bay Area Republicans — actually, this was a continuation of a discussion started earlier. And readers sent me a great many interesting notes — one of which I posted on the Corner yesterday. May I reprint it here today?

You think it’s bad in San Francisco? I live in Madrid, Spain, and people here assume that, just because I’m American, I’m for Obama. One night, at a dinner party I was hosting, a guest went into my study to use the telephone, and upon entering yelled out in horror as he saw my framed 1980 campaign poster of Ronald Reagan (“Let’s Make America Great Again”) on the wall. I ran in to see what was going on and he actually spit on it! I have given up talking politics here. Thank God for the Internet and podcasts.

And my comment: “Well, Reagan’s used to being spat on. And so are George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Robert Bork, and some other people. I hope they have Windex in Madrid. In the meantime: May this dear woman meet some better friends.”

‐I have a friend who was raised in California — no, I don’t honor the old “reared”/“raised” distinction — but has lived since Down East (to borrow the title of a magazine). Recently she was back home and said: “. . . the food out here is mind-blowing. I don’t even know why I bother eating at all on the East Coast.” Deliciously put!

‐Well, friends, I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving. I have a friend who told me yesterday, “I like Thanksgiving, because you can’t really mess it up — you can’t make it other than what it is. Sort of like a name that is nickname-proof.” I myself will spend part of the holiday week in good old Ann Arbor town. A reader reminded me that, some years ago, Ann Arbor declared itself a nuclear-free zone (while it enjoys the protection of the American nuclear umbrella, of course — I wish there were a way to exempt such places). What this means is: I guess I won’t be able to bring my nukes with me. Shoot!

Lame joke to end on, but — I wish you, again, a wonderful Thanksgiving. And among the things I have to be grateful for is (are?) — y’all. Awww. Later.

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