Politics & Policy

King Skin, &c.

Well, at least the matter of the Illinois Senate seat hasn’t gone racial, right? Pyaah — right. The classic Bobby Rush said, “Let me just remind you that there presently is no African American in the Senate.” Then he warned against hanging and lynching. (Really.) (Seriously.)

In his blog, David Frum quoted Michael Tomasky, who said, “It must be said that Rush made an entirely fair point. In 2004, when they elected Obama, the voters of Illinois chose an African American senator. And so, in determining who should fill out his term, it’s reasonable that race count as a factor.”

#ad#Are we all ready to concede this? Are we all ready to be (old) South Africa, or India? A black officeholder must be replaced by a black officeholder? A white one by a white one? A left-handed Hispanic lesbian by a . . .

The racialism of this country is maybe its creepiest, most lamentable element. I have addressed this issue a lot in this column — probably too much — but, you know: Repetition is the coin of the realm (or at least a major part of it).

You may wish to think of the Illinois business this way: In 2004, did the voters elect to the Senate an individual named Barack Obama? Or did they elect a skin color? Did New Yorkers, four years before that, and two years after that, elect an individual named Hillary Clinton? Or did they want a white woman?

And if they had wanted a white woman — why not Kate O’Beirne (who has the advantage of being a) a native New Yorker, b) correct on all the issues, and c) magnificent)?

Anyway, enough of this . . .

‐A wise Republican head said to me the other day, “I actually think Obama is going to have a hard time of it.” Here was his reasoning: “Two things Bush has done right are Iraq (after the surge) and preventing a second attack. Those are big achievements to live up to — especially if you don’t believe there is any connection between the president’s means and these ends.”

‐During the Cold War, we used to speak of anti-anti-Communists. These were people (on the left) who were not exactly pro-Communist. But they so hated the anti-Communists, they were . . . well, anti-anti-Communists — the best, the fairest name for them.

Today, there are anti-anti-Islamofascists. They are not on the Islamofascist side in the War on Terror. But they hate those who are fighting, or attempting to fight, the Islamofascists more than they could ever hate the Islamofascists. They are anti-anti-Islamofascists.

The similarities between yesterday’s anti-anti-Communists and today’s anti-anti-Islamofascists would make a very good essay — perhaps by David Pryce-Jones or Norman Podhoretz. Of course, many of today’s anti-anti-Islamofascists were yesterday’s anti-anti-Communists — I mean, the same people, in the flesh.

And it’s all embodied in a publication such as The New York Review of Books.

‐People often ask me what to read — about Cuba, about Che Guevara (in particular), about Israel. Lately, several readers have said, “What should I read about Israel, to get the history right? People are always saying that a bunch of zealous Jews just showed up and, for no legitimate reason, kicked out a bunch of peaceable Arabs.”

Right. That’s what I was taught too. Anyway, I always say Joan Peters, Paul Johnson (in his History of the Jews), Martin Gilbert, Conor Cruise O’Brien. But if anyone can do better — please let me know. What there may be a crying need for is a sound — ultra-sound! — modest-size one-volume history. Something you could take to the bank. A Bernard Lewis-style book. (He has not concentrated on Israel, but rather on the Arab states, Persia, and Turkey.) That would be a serious service.

‐So, I’ve been thinking a bit about this Kathy Griffin affair. She’s the comedienne (she would hate that word, I imagine) who caused a stir during CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage. I was on a television show with her once. Very funny and talented woman, to be sure.

Accepting her Emmy in 2007, she said, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. So, all I can say is, ‘Suck it, Jesus.’ This award is my god now.”

Okay. So when New Year’s Eve comes, CNN apparently says, “Whom should we get?” And their answer is — Kathy Griffin. Who goes on to be — Kathy Griffin. Glenn Beck is a “heroin-addicted Mormon,” “knock the d*** out of your mouth,” etc.

Remember when John Edwards, during the 2004 presidential campaign, talked about “two Americas”? To him, there were two Americas — he meant, economically: Dust Bowl stuff. That is nonsense, of course. But there may well be two Americas where culture is concerned — where a sense of decency is concerned. And these two “countries” have increasingly little to do with each other. And the CNN-type America has huge contempt for the other one (probably more than vice versa).

A lot of people write and tell me that they feel like aliens — with no amnesty in the offing! I think their feeling is understandable.


‐Have you heard much good about President Bush lately? Do you want to hear something positive about him? If you need a little dose, try Norman Podhoretz, speaking at the 92nd St. Y in New York, a year ago: here.

‐So, I see a headline that reads, “Indian airline sacks overweight stewardesses.” And, so help me, I think, “Well, that’s progress: There was a time when it was hard for Indians to be overweight.” (By the way, the article is here.)

#ad#Also, did you catch that word “stewardesses”?! In some parts of the “Anglosphere,” you can be shot for it.

P.S. Yes, I know the story about the Indian in mid-century who wanted to travel to America, to see a place “where poor people are fat.” Have told it many times, usually when talking about the relative prosperity of nations.

‐I was looking at a photo of “Hollywood’s Next Wave” — a group photo (young actors and actresses). And the caption read, “From left, Jessica Szohr, Penn Badgley, Blake Lively, Chace Crawford, Ed Westwick, Leighton Meester, and Taylor Momsen.” And I’m thinking, “You know, it’s getting very hard to tell boys’ names from girls’ names. I mean, who’s a boy and who’s a girl?”

Is that a fair comment?


‐A brief story about the above-advertised book: Shortly before Christmas (or “December 25,” if the word “Christmas” gives you the heebie-jeebies), I was on Bill Bennett’s radio show. We were talking about Christmas music, among other things. And a little girl — aged eleven — called, and wound up singing us a Christmas carol. It was “Once in Royal David’s City.” Could have brought a tear to your eye.

Bill says to her, “Stay on the line, because I want to send you a book — a present.” And then he says, with friendly, playful sarcasm, “Of course, Mr. Nordlinger may want to send you his 700-page tome.” (For the record, it’s a meager 500.) I say, “Ah, don’t wish her that. That’s only if she’s been a bad girl this year!”

Anyway . . .

‐On the general subject of young people: My 13-year-old nephew communicates in text — in text messages. But he is very, very parsimonious in his words. He essentially has two of them, and they total three letters: Those “words” are “Ya” and “K.” The former means “Yes,” and the latter means “Okay.” That’s pretty much it, out of him.

So, a typical conversation between us will go like this:

Me: Are you around, wonderful one?

Him: Ya.

Me: Everything going all right?

Him: Ya.

Me: I love you tons, neph.

Him: K.

The other day, after some harassment, I wrested out of him, “U2” (“You too”). I felt like I had been awarded War and Peace.

‐More on language: A friend wrote (not in text), “Have you noticed the fashion of calling attorneys general by their adjective? I was reminded just now when Geraldo called Jerry Brown ‘General Brown.’”


‐I got a letter from a naval officer serving in Bahrain. He wanted to know about instrumentation in a work by Tan Dun, a contemporary Chinese-American composer. I’m thinking, “The military people I encounter tend not to be the stereotype I grew up with in Ann Arbor. At all.” In the mind of “Ann Arbor,” to use a shorthand, military people were all grunting savages.

‐Ran across a video commentary by Penn Jillette, of the Penn & Teller magic-and-comedy team. He is an atheist, and was given a Bible, or parts of a Bible, by a fan. An interesting and moving clip, you may find: here.

‐Roger Ebert, the film critic, referred to Che Guevara as a “fiercely ethical firebrand”! My friend Rick Brookhiser commented, “His ethics were fierce, all right.” True dat.

Question: Is Ebert a totalitarian, who would have us shot, or confined to a gulag, à la Che? Or is he just ignorant? I vote the latter.

‐You know how the abortion people can’t stand the license plates that say “Choose Life”? Well, I got a taste of that the other day: Saw a Florida license plate (in Manhattan) that said, “Support Soccer.” I’m thinking, “Support soccer? Like it needs more support? I mean, does every baseball diamond in the country have to be grassed over for soccer? Has a sport ever been the beneficiary of more propaganda — including ideological propaganda — in the history of man? Cripe!”

Pardon my trivializing of the issue of abortion, by the way. (It’s like the least trivial issue in the world.)

‐Letter from a reader: 

Hi, Mr. Nordlinger,

Thought you might appreciate this little story. My son is a freshman in college, and he’s been reading National Review for a couple of years (it’s his morning-cereal reading). I bought him a subscription to NR before he left for college. He’s now home for Christmas, and I asked him if he’s getting much of a chance to read it. He told me, “No, but I like carrying it around.” I asked, “Oh, why is that?” He responded, “It makes me feel subversive.”


‐Speaking of lovely: I first saw Helen Suzman on Firing Line, many years ago. Bill had her on opposite an old-line Boer. At one point, he (the Boer) said to Suzman, “Why, Helen, you’re hysterical.” And she said, in essence, “I am hysterical, because a system so evil as apartheid makes me hysterical. Why doesn’t it you?”

She died on New Year’s Day, age 91. She was a great woman. I loved her. And she was a great liberal. She once said, “I am proud to acknowledge that I am a liberal . . . who adheres to old-fashioned liberal values such as the rule of law, universal franchise, free elections, a free press, free association, guaranteed civil rights, and an independent judiciary.”

Autres temps, autres moeurs.

‐Oh, allow me a P.S. (I know this Impromptus has gone on): Paul Johnson tells the story about Churchill meeting a young MP in an elevator, right at the end of Churchill’s life. The ex-prime minister says, “Who are you?” The young man says, “I’m Bill Mallalieu, sir, MP for Huddersfield.” “What party?” “Labour, sir.” “Ah. I’m a liberal. Always have been.”

Damn right. And how could it happen that, in America, “liberalism” would come to mean race preferences, speech codes, and abortion?

Anyway . . .

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