Politics & Policy

Cheney on the tube, &c.

Vice President Cheney gave an interview on CNN, an interview that generated some controversy. (Yes, I know he’s not vice president anymore. I’m not used to it yet. Please give me a little while longer.) He criticized President Obama’s policies in the War on Terror. He said that they were putting Americans at increased risk.

That is indeed “an hard saying,” to use King James language — but no less true for that.

A friend of mine wrote me, “How did you feel about Cheney’s criticizing Obama? Is it sort of unseemly and Carteresque? (I agree with the substance of the criticism, of course).” (That “of course” is because my friend is like-minded — in broad agreement with me, and with Cheney.)

I was of two minds about the Cheney interview, frankly. Here are some thoughts — sort of scattered:

Cheney was asked about the Obama policies, point-blank. And he answered (honestly). I guess the question is: Should Cheney have agreed to be interviewed at all?

He thinks the country is at greater risk than before — and, whatever you think of him, it’s obvious that he knows a lot. Should he keep mum about the risks? Further, is a former vice president, and his obligations, different from a former president, and his obligations? Not sure — probably so.

Al Gore spent the eight years of George W. Bush stomping on the administration, night and day. Won several important awards for it. Of course, we do not necessarily want to adopt the standard of Al Gore. Bill Clinton himself frequently stomped on the Bush administration. I heard him do it every year at Davos.

But Bill Clinton should probably not be our standard either.

I remember that I was a little bit annoyed with GHWB, during all the Clinton stuff — the Lewinsky affair, impeachment, etc. He resolutely kept mum. Barbara Bush uttered a peep or two. But GHWB wouldn’t speak. He even said, at one point, “I was tempted to go off the reservation the other day, but . . .” Most people thought that Bush was honorable in his silence. I myself thought it was a little — weird. Almost abdicatory. I mean, you can take reticence, and that concept of honor, too far.

I’m pretty sure that GWB will say nothing, during the four or eight years of Obama. He will probably hold his peace thereafter, too. Cheney is a different matter — he has spoken out already, in answer to questions.

Norman Podhoretz, the great editor and writer, says that, in a piece, you should “pull the trigger” — you have to say what you think, at some point in the piece. I realize this isn’t a proper piece — just a breezy lil’ “impromptu.” But I should pull the trigger. I think Cheney should be free to speak, yes. He should talk honestly and constructively, just as he always has, frankly. It won’t hurt the Republic much. May even help.

‐If you were wondering: No, “abdicatory” is not a word — not an official word. But it’s naturally English, isn’t it? I mean, Shakespeare would have written it. (Not that I’m comparing . . .)

‐Robert Gibbs, the presidential spokesman, is attacking Rush Limbaugh again. Asked about Cheney’s criticisms, he said, “Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal.”

I want to say something about this business of popularity — I have mentioned it before, and want to go at it again. I’m so glad not to be a majority man — not to be majority-minded when my “side” is up, not to be that way when my side is down. Majorities are frequently wrong. And popularity is a fickle girl. I quote George W. Bush, who told a group of us NR-niks last December, “You know, popularity comes and goes. It just does. It comes and goes for an individual or a nation.” So true.

“Come out from the world and be separate.” “Be ye not conformed to this world.” “One with God is a majority.” Those are words that might sound very queer to Robert Gibbs and his White House colleagues. They are riding high and cocky right now. And I realize that Limbaugh and Cheney aren’t very popular now, according to polls and whatnot. So what? They’re popular with me — and I think they’re right.

‐Do you think that Gibbs knows what “cabal” means? From what he said, I doubt it.

‐Gibbs further said, “For seven-plus years, the very perpetrators that the vice president [Cheney] says he’s concerned about weren’t brought to justice.”

Do you have any idea what that means? I don’t. The Bush administration brought a great many “perpetrators” to “justice.” I do know this: The Obama administration, at the moment, is an odd, frequently nasty thing. May they get better.

‐I believe that Limbaugh-hatred — whipped up by the White House and its allies — has gone crazy. A reader of mine sent me something from the Washington Post sports section — they are even trashing Rush on the sports pages! Here, we see this about the American University basketball team: “Beat the military (Army) and now taking on Christianity (Holy Cross), meaning the Eagles are a win over OxyContin away from destroying everything Rush Limbaugh holds dear.”

What a sweet paper. Lovely, just lovely. How proud the people who work for it must be! They are happy smirky snarky inhabitants of the Kingdom of the Snarks.

‐Couple of weeks ago, we had an item in this column about the hammer-and-sickle hat from Adidas. You remember? Their ad copy read, “Show your love for the former USSR during training time.” Well, my homegirl Eliana Johnson, of the Hannity show, drew my attention to another hat, also from Adidas. It is a tribute to Cuban Communism, with Fidel’s red star. See it here.

Isn’t that lovely? And when you see the red in that star, think of the blood being spilled, this very second, in the Cuban gulag, where democrats and gays and anyone else who doesn’t fit in with the Revo are tortured, daily. Happy training! Thank you, Adidas!

But where are the swastikas? You would think that the Nazis would demand equal time . . .

‐Oops, I’m not done yet. Adidas also does a PRC hat — a Communist China hat, here. Really, really, really cool. By the way, the Chinese word for gulag is laogai.

‐When the history of China’s de-Communization is written — presuming that happens — people such as Yao Fuxin will have an honored place. Who he is? A “long-time labor activist,” who was “released from Lingyuan No. 2 Prison, Liaoning Province, after completing his seven-year term on conviction of ‘subversion of state power.’” That happened a few days ago. And I have quoted the report of Human Rights in China, that invaluable organization.

To read the report in its entirety, go here. But I would like to quote a little bit more from it: 

During his detention and imprisonment, Yao suffered two heart attacks and a stroke. In the Liaoyang Detention Center, he and 19 other inmates were made to sleep on one bed. There, a guard named Lang arranged for two death-row prisoners to watch Yao. Every time Yao closed his eyes to sleep, the two prisoners would step on him.

That is very, very familiar. Several ex-prisoners have told me that that happened to them. An entirely common technique. 

Yao went hungry often as there was not enough to eat. Vegetables were not washed before cooking, so he ate vegetables caked with mud.

HRIC also learned that in late 2002 and early 2003, as the weather got cold, Yao did not have enough clothing or warm bedding. He was placed near an open window, and often he would wake up covered with snow. When he requested permission to ask his family to bring him money so that he could buy bedding for the winter months, prison officials told him they could not get through to his family by phone.

According to sources close to Yao, he expressed that he felt it was his duty to fight for the interests of the people and the country, and that what he suffered was a price he was willing to pay.

That is fairly common too, believe it or not: such bravery and principle. I am in awe of the Chinese liberals and democrats I have met — what they have agreed to endure. The near cheerfulness with which they endure it. It is almost superhuman. In fact, you can drop the “almost.”

‐Is it terrible to say that, when I look at labor leaders such as Yao (or Walesa), and look at labor leaders in my own country — I see no resemblance whatsoever?

‐Well, let’s lighten up. I learned something interesting from this article about golf. Phil Mickelson made a DVD on the short game. And he was forced to “keep it simple for the consumers.” This “allowed him to go back to the basics, and his short game was superb at Doral” (a tournament he won last weekend).

That put me in mind of an opposite story: Trevino had to make, or chose to make, a video on putting. And the act of making the video made him too conscious of what he did, he later said. It messed up his putting for a while. (He was talking about long putts, specifically.)

Aren’t you fascinated? (Don’t answer that.)

‐Ever in search of the salacious, I read an article headed “Texas jail was an Animal House, authorities say.” But my point here is a language one — actually a pronunciation one. The notorious jail is located in Montague. And the name of the town is pronounced “Mahn-TAYG” — not like Romeo’s last name.

(I once heard a man say, “How can you remember which family Juliet belongs to? Her name rhymes: Juliet Capulet.” Have never forgotten it.)

‐If you’d like to receive Impromptus via RSS, please go here.

#JAYBOOK#

‐Thanks for joining me today, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to close with a word about Schuyler Chapin, that great FOWFB — friend of WFB. He passed away earlier this month. As it happens, the first time I met WFB, Chapin was there. This was at lunch, in some Washington hotel. (I can’t quite remember which.) Chapin wasn’t dining with us; he just happened to be there — and he was talking to Bill when I arrived.

Bill introduced us. I was a little fuzzy on Chapin’s background. I said, “You have something to do with music, don’t you?” Bill said, “He is music.”

Schuyler was not a musician: but he worked in music, for a long time, including as Jascha Heifetz’s tour manager. He also served as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. And he was a confidant of Bernstein. Etc., etc.

Schuyler attended the same school as Bill — the Millbrook School, outside of the city. (Ask not which one.) (NYC.) But Schuyler never graduated from Millbrook — he never had a high-school degree. Or a college degree. Somehow, that didn’t stop him, for his ascent was glorious. And his knowledge was very, very wide.

Bill thought him just about the best raconteur he ever knew. Once, he and Pat took Schuyler on a cruise with them. Schuyler’s wife — his first wife — had just died. She was Betty Steinway, of the piano family. His second wife was Catia — a delightful, elegant, beautiful lady of Greek origin. I saw her at the Metropolitan Opera on Sunday night, for the company’s 125th-anniversary gala. This was only a week after Schuyler’s passing. Catia looked brave.

In any case, the Buckleys and Schuyler went on this cruise. And Bill marveled that, in all their meals — 30 or 40 of them, one after another — Schuyler kept the stories coming, in the most charming and engaging way. I heard some of those stories myself — loved them, and his telling of them.

One concerned Heifetz in one of the Dakotas, as I remember. There was a terrible snowstorm — terrible. And very few people showed up to the recital. At the appointed hour, Heifetz came out onto the stage and said, “Look, since it’s only just us, why don’t we forget the recital and go back to my hotel, to have dinner together.” And a man at the back stood up and said, “Mister, I drove three hours in a blizzard to get here, and I’m not leaving till you sing something.”

Schuyler was one of the most elegant and cultivated men I ever encountered. He was aristocratic-seeming, but also humble and mirthful. I asked him once about his ancestry — both “Schuyler” and “Chapin” are well-known names in American history. He laid it out for me happily and unpretentiously.

Not many people could hold WFB’s attention, but Schuyler could. Bill delighted in his company. The rest of us did too. One of the best things Bill ever did for us was expose us, introduce us, to his wide circle. How lucky we were!

Anyway, that’s enough, my friends, and I’ll see you soon.

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