Politics & Policy

Just like Bill Clinton (yeah), &c.

President Bush said this about post-January 20: “One thing I don’t want to do is stay on the stage. The spotlight needs to shift to President-elect Obama . . . because he’s the president. Therefore, I won’t try to get it shifted to me. And I’ll be very respectful of him during his presidency.”

Well, that’s just like Bill Clinton, right? And Jimmy Carter, another great man . . .

‐We’ve been reading a lot lately along the lines of, “Whoa, the Obama administration faces some extremely serious problems and threats: a nuclearizing Iran, a plotting al-Qaeda, a deranged North Korea, a financial meltdown . . .”

#ad#Oh, really? But they have been problems all along — I mean, our real problems. Not the problems we’ve been reading about, such as, “Bush is trying to take away our civil liberties, and he’s listening in on our phone conversations, and he’s torturing detainees, and he’s flushing Korans down the toilet, and he’s firing U.S. attorneys, and he’s loading the water with arsenic, and he’s lining the pockets of Enron and Halliburton, and he’s removing the ozone layer, and he’s whipping up hurricanes in order to torment black people, and . . .”

Do you think mainstream liberalism will ever be ashamed of its behavior and expression during the George W. Bush years?

‐For the last many Decembers, I have noted Bush’s pardons — because they seem exceptionally reasonable, just, and few. Here’s a bit from an AP report: “Before leaving for the holidays, President Bush commuted one prison sentence and granted 19 pardons . . . With this latest batch, Bush has granted a total of 191 pardons and nine commutations. That’s fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their two terms.”

The article continued, “Included in the latest list is Charles Winters, who died in the 1980s in Florida. Winters helped ship arms and aircraft to Jews trying to found their own state in the Middle East. He was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act and served 18 months in prison.”

Yup, that’s Bush — his kind of pardon.

‐I turned to an article about the pope — and I was terribly impressed by his hair. There was a photo, showing him when his headgear has blown off. That is a serious head of hair on that octogenarian. I mean, has any 20-year-old ever had more follicles? Extraordinary. Go here.

‐In the December 22 & 29 issue of The New Yorker, I read a short story by Alice Munro, the veteran Canadian writer. (It’s called “Some Women,” and is found here. A subscription is required.) The writing is so good, it is eye-rubbing. It is perfectly simple, without a self-conscious line in it — without an affected or too-fine or overly “literary” line in it. There is no line about which you, or she, would say, “My, what an accomplished line that is.” Instead it is good, honest writing — well-nigh perfect.

After reading that prose, I felt sort of cleansed — as though weights and encrustations and layers of goop had been taken off.

‐Was barreling down a New York City expressway the other day, and noticed that the name of the Triborough Bridge has been changed to Robert F. Kennedy. What isn’t changed to Robert F. Kennedy? (Answer: Those things named after his brother John, of course.) Early in George W. Bush’s first term, the name of the Justice Department building was changed to RFK.

Why not start in on the states? Who needs musty old names like South Carolina and New Hampshire anyway?

P.S. Yes, I know there was good in him, and that he was murdered. But come on . . . Will it be 2078 and we’re still naming things after the handsome, intense young man who had a brief, shining career in the 1960s?

‐I wonder what the press would make of a conservative Republican president, or president-elect, who spent his vacations in Hawaii — even if he were from there. I wonder . . .

‐But didn’t Obama campaign for president as a Midwesterner — a Kansan? “I got my values from the heartland.” Oh, whatever — “boob bait for bubbas,” as Moynihan once said. (Would be better just “boob bait,” or “bait for bubbas.”)

‐A word on Eartha Kitt, who passed on the other day. I saw her once, in Central Park. (I mean, other than on the stage.) Even sitting on a park bench, with a woman who seemed a nurse of some kind, she radiated charisma. Your eyes were just drawn to her — extraordinary-looking woman, and a real talent.

‐In a couple of columns, I’ve had some comments on hacky sack (for instance, here). Was interested in this letter from a reader: 

Hello, Jay,

Your item about hacky sack caught my eye. A little over ten years ago, I was a missionary for the LDS church, serving in New Jersey. It was very common for us to play in our free time, though we called the game Sipa (a term probably imported by missionaries who had served in the Philippines). I’m not sure how things are now for missionaries in New Jersey, but in 1996 about one in three had a crocheted Sipa in his luggage.

Looking back, I suppose we didn’t really think about any connection to the drug culture, and were just looking for a highly portable game that we could enjoy in short bursts.

Interesting indeed. And a friend of mine wrote the following: “Hacky sack is a totally stoner game — which is odd, considering the quick reflexes and foot-eye coordination needed to play.”

I’d never thought of that. (And a wonderful term: “foot-eye coordination.” Maybe it’s common among soccer types, but that would mean it is uncommon among me, so to speak.) Of course, those under the influence always think they’re doing well — that they’re knockin’ ’em dead: Musicians think they are really groovin’, comedians think they are really slayin’ — and hacky-sack players may think they’re Pele reborn.

(Not that Pele isn’t fully alive. I’ve seen him at Davos — short fellow, and, even at his age, he looks like he could do a standing leap right over you.)

‐Last week, I was complimenting a colleague on a colorful garment she was wearing. I said — I often say — “I’m so sick of seeing black in New York. I mean, I like black as much as the next guy — probably more. But where is imagination or a sense of variety?” And she related a funny story: A priest once told her, “Why does everybody wear black? I mean, I have to — but why must everyone else?”

Beautiful.

‐How about a little language? In a recent column, I wrote “the exact same thing,” or “the exact same” something. And a few readers wrote to say, “Isn’t ‘exact same’ redundant? Do you need the ‘exact’?” Well, it’s not a question of need: The “exact” there is an intensifier (as WFB would say), rather like the “single” in “the single best book I’ve ever read.”

#page#

Sometimes, it’s best just to flow with the language (and other times, of course, not).

‐A reader of ours wanted to be sure we saw an interesting name, featured in this article

NEW YORK — A co-founder of an Internet gambling company and one of the world’s richest people pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating the federal wire act and agreed to forfeit $300 million as part of a co-operation deal.

A smiling Anurag Dikshit, of the British colony of Gibraltar, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Manhattan . . .

#ad#When you’re feeling blue, just remember your name’s not . . .

‐A note from a friend: 

Jay,

This is how living on the Upper West Side of New York can really mess up your head.

I went to a party last night and had a conversation with a friend who is a deeply religious Jewish woman. I mentioned to her that when I sing Biblical passages in Hebrew I do so with a rather exotic accent because my teacher was from Ethiopia. “But aren’t you an atheist?” she asked. After assuring her that I am anything but, I asked her why she would ask such a question. She stated without irony that because I was so intelligent and well-educated she just assumed that I must be an atheist!

Anyway, Merry Christmas.

Wowser.

‐Over Christmas, I heard from a friend who was celebrating with family in Litchfield County, Conn. And that reminded me of a small, nice Bill Buckley moment. I related it to him, and I’ll relate it to you.

One night, we were having a big editorial dinner — lots of people there. And a lot of people spoke, on some big issue or other. This went on for an hour or two, and Bill was winding down. His eye caught his sister Priscilla, then as now a resident of Sharon, Conn. He said, “Pitts, would you like to speak for Litchfield County?” (She demurred, chucklingly.)

I wish you could have heard the tone with which he said it: a combination of sweetness and light mockery, with an eyebrow slightly arched. Very him.

#JAYBOOK#

‐Do you have an RSS feed for Impromptus, or desire one? Go here.

‐I was distressed to learn that David Frum is leaving NRO. He is one of my favorite writers and (more important) favorite people — and always has been. He could write for Field & Stream, for all I care — or Acoustic Guitar — and I would still follow him, seek him out.

‐End with a kid story, very cute — a kid story involving Christmas, no less? Okay. There’s this little girl, age three, who lives in far Long Island. She said that she wanted to see Santa Claus. In the middle of the night, as he was making his rounds, she would say, “Stay with me, Santa. I want you to be with me.”

An adult asked her, “And what would Santa say?” The little girl answered, “Oh, Santa doesn’t talk — he just shouts glee.”

See you, Impromptusites — and thanks.

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