Politics & Policy

Sonia, Sonia! &c.

Well, that was an amazing performance by Sonia Sotomayor before the Senate committee. The Sonia Sotomayor of the past was completely gone. Gone was the woman who talked about the role of “physiology” in judging, who insisted that impartiality, objectivity, neutrality — all of that — was a fantasy, and a bad one. In her place was a champion of impartiality, disinterestedness, and the rule of law: the rule of law, and nothing but. Doesn’t make a difference whether you’re a Latina or a whitey or whatever. “Empathy”? Never heard of it. Certainly has no role in the courtroom.

A funny thought occurred to me: Maybe President Obama should withdraw Sotomayor’s nomination? I mean, she seemed to repudiate everything he stands for in judging.

I must say I was especially grateful to those liberals who said, publicly, they were disappointed in Sotomayor’s choices: who said that her testimony before the committee was dishonest and disingenuous. They scored her for perpetuating the childish belief that judging can be impartial. They wanted the old, candid, racialist Sonia back. I would like to add that I think the old, candid, racialist Sonia would have been just fine. What I mean is, the Senate would have confirmed her anyway — there is that mountain of Democratic votes. She could have let it all hang out. She did not have to dissemble to stymie people like me.

The Sonia Sotomayor who testified before the committee, people like me could endorse and vote for. Somebody’s lying: either the Sonia Sotomayor of the past or the Sonia Sotomayor of the present. Or she has undergone a conversion. I doubt that such conversion has taken place. You?

A strange episode in current American history, if history can be current . . .

‐A quick language note: These days, people don’t use “score” very much the way I have used it above: “to berate or censure.” Generations ago, it was a popular word in headlines: “Smith Scores Jones for Abuses in Office,” etc.

‐Of all the things Obama has said in his half-year in office, I think the most offensive was his assertion that Israel must “engage in serious self-reflection.” The Israelis are experts in “serious self-reflection.” The Jewish people is expert in “serious self-reflection.” They have been seriously self-reflecting for several thousand years — they practically invented the practice. Israelis, since the founding — refounding — of that state, have had to do some urgent self-reflecting, and other reflecting. They live in a tinderbox; their existence and survival are threatened all the time. Barack Obama knows nothing about serious self-reflection compared with the average Israeli — compared even with a relatively unreflective Israeli. It’s their lives that are on the line, not Obama’s. It is they who have gone through war after war, not Obama. And those were wars of attempted annihilation: the annihilation of you-know-who.

People always speak condescendingly, ignorantly, and offensively about and to the Israelis. It’s kind of a world specialty. But I think our new American president may have taken the cake. Thanks a lot, BHO. (Is the “H” permitted now, with Obama safely in office? Is it positively cool? Is it verboten, or semi-verboten? It’s so hard to keep up. Maybe the New York Times or CNN can give us a list of rules every day. Or Gibbs could simply announce them from the podium.)

‐Speaking of “BHO”: You remember when the Hillary Clinton campaign got in trouble, during last year’s primaries, because those initials were used in internal memoranda? It was thought to be racist or something: because “H” stood for “Hussein,” and that was the one great unmentionable name — unless Senator Obama himself was mentioning it, to advance his interest.

Well, I had occasion to think about the Democratic primaries of 2008 the other day. Remember how some of us said there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two senators — between Obama and Clinton? They were peas in a pod. And yet Democrats, some of them, were acting like they were dead opposites. You may enjoy what Secretary Clinton said to Indians earlier this week (and I’m talkin’ South Asians, not Cherokees):

“I think the campaign magnified the differences more than they actually are. That’s what happens in campaigns. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. You draw differences and try to make them seem extremely large in order to convince people to vote for you rather than the other person.”

Oh.

‐You know who could use some “serious self-reflection”? Israel’s enemies in the Arab and broader Muslim world. And some people in these lands do, in fact, engage in such self-reflection. I have met some of them in my travels and studies. They’re worth their weight in gold. May they make inroads . . . And multiply.

‐I find the controversy surrounding Dr. Regina Benjamin one of the most depressing in memory. She is the southern doctor chosen by President Obama to be the surgeon general. She sets up medical clinics for the poor, etc. She is an example of the humanitarian in medicine. And what they’re saying — they, the controversy-makers — is that she’s too fat to be the surgeon general. She will set a bad example. What idiocy, what stupidity. To me, she is pleasantly plump: warm, inviting, reassuring. Also very pretty. She looks like she should look. She looks like a trustworthy doctor — someone you’d want to go to, or send your children to. She is well-nigh Norman Rockwellian (southern-black version). I am glad she will be surgeon general. And her body-crazed critics can go jump in a lake.

(I was going to say something other than “jump in a lake,” but then I remembered this is a family column — most of the time.)

In preparing to write about this, I was looking at a news article, which had a photo of Dr. Benjamin. And I thought, “Hang on, I think I know this person.” I had forgotten her name. I had not forgotten her act. Some years ago, I was at a large conference, dominated by liberals. I was one of the handful of conservatives there. And, at a big plenary session, I made some statements about race: I said I thought the country was too soaked in race; that we could use a rest from race; that race-consciousness was killing us; that separate graduation ceremonies, and separate proms and so on, were heartbreaking and wrong; that we should not give up on the integrationist ideal; that we should cling to E pluribus unum; that we should not be black and white but Americans and human beings; etc. You know: my usual anti-racialist spiel.

These remarks fell pretty flat, I figured. And, when the session was over, I made a beeline out of the hall. And as I was leaving — racing — someone was chasing after me. Running, I think — in high heels, I think. It was a woman, and one of the few blacks in attendance. When I turned to greet her — not knowing what was coming — she said, “I just wanted to thank you. That was great. It really needed to be said.” Do you think I was touched?

And I realized, looking at the news article, that this was Dr. Regina Benjamin. Which has nothing — nothing — to do with my feeling about the “fat” controversy. Just so you know. I was going to write what I’ve written about the controversy before I realized that I had encountered this woman.

I must say, I will love Regina Benjamin forever.

‐“President Obama on Monday extended by six months a task force charged with determining how terrorism suspects should be interrogated, held in custody or handed over to other countries, putting in jeopardy his promise to close the military detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by January.” So said a news article two days ago. You might say, “Ha, ha: Obama got himself in a pickle, by sounding off about Gitmo as a senator and candidate, when he had no idea what he was talking about. He is now paying for his irresponsibility.” You could also say, “Good: If Obama realizes he has been an idiot on Guantanamo — so much the better. He prizes national security and sensible policy more than he does his congressional and campaign rhetoric.”

Now if only we could get some apologies to GWB & Co. . . .

‐A headline about the recent Henry Louis Gates scandalette read, “Charges dropped against black Harvard scholar.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the racial element were taken out of it? Could that ever happen? Ever? Can there be a confrontation between a black citizen and a white policeman (who is also a citizen) without the elevation, or demotion, of the confrontation to a “racial incident”? Could Gates ever be merely — merely! — a Harvard scholar, instead of a “black Harvard scholar”? Could that happen even in the lifetime of a child born today — July 23, 2009? I don’t know . . .

‐The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants Frenchmen to be able to work on Sundays, if they choose. They have been prohibited — not for religious reasons; for socialist, anti-capitalist ones, basically. Many people said that the election of Sarkozy would make no difference. All big French politicians were socialists at heart, and the French people at large were too wedded to socialism, or at least their big, big almost-all-powerful state. Sarkozy would fail to liberalize, or show no interest in doing so.

That has proven wrong, I think. Sarkozy is dealing with the margins — but the margins are where you have to start. In general, his presidency has been something to applaud. And our hands are not overly occupied in applauding for national leaders . . .

‐A little language? Or rather, a further language note (for I had one above)? A few weeks ago, I asked our John Derbyshire — who is British-born, as you know — “Is it easy for you to say ‘math,’ rather than ‘maths’?” (Derb talks about math quite a bit, given that this is one of his regular subjects.) He said, essentially, “Oh, I say ‘math’ when speaking to Americans and ‘maths’ when speaking to Brits. It’s sort of like driving on the right side of the road, or the left — you switch naturally.” At least Derb does.

Anyway, I thought of him when reading this note from Charles Moore, in Moore’s weekly Spectator column:

Sometimes it is possible to spot the usage of a word on the turn. This year, the English word ‘maths’ is being supplanted by the American ‘math’. You can hear radio presenters veering between the two, wondering which they are supposed to be using. It is mysterious why such changes come about at any particular moment, but once they have started, they are oddly inevitable.

For some reason, I would hate to lose the British word “maths.” It’s one of those things that make (no, not “makes”!) those people different, and, much of the time, delightful.

‐A little music? In recent days on NRO, I have had two pieces concerning music: The first is here, and it discusses Lee Hoiby, the American composer, chiefly of songs. The second is here — and it is a big interview piece with/on Lorin Maazel, the American conductor. This is an expansion — a “blowout,” as I call it — of a smaller piece I have in the current National Review.

‐Down in Phoenix — well, Phoenix is “down” only if you are up from it — there is something called The Barry Young Show, on radio station KFYI. It is a rollicking good time. At least I found so, when I appeared on that program. We talked about Obama, Sonia, and a number of other things. Care to listen? Someone sent me a link: here ’tis.

‐Okay, you may find this funny, you may not. You will recall that President Obama presented Queen Elizabeth II with an iPod — thoughtfully loaded with his speeches. A friend of mine sent me an e-mail with a news story about this, and she said, “Who is this monster?” (Bear in mind that Elizabeth knew Churchill.) Well, Obama recently visited the pope. And a reader wrote to me, “Maybe he’ll give him an iPod loaded with Reverend Wright’s sermons?”

I found that amusing, but then, I’m in that mood . . .

‐Friends, this has been a long Impromptus, and I should wrap up — but I want to say a few things about the cruise. The National Review cruise, recently completed. It was wonderful. Wish you had been there. And, if you were there — don’t you agree it was wonderful?

We cruised the Eastern Mediterranean, and I will comment on a few of our stops. Dubrovnik: fabulous Dubrovnik, and the fabulous Croatian coast. NR passengers fanned out for a variety of tours. And, after, several people said that their guide — different tour guides — had cried or teared up when speaking about the war of the ’90s. That awful, unspeakable war. One passenger suggested that these guides cried on cue, to increase tips. I doubt it, very much.

Santorini! A place absolutely what it is cracked up to be: mind-blowingly beautiful. Almost unique. It’s nice when a place lives up to its billing. Not for nothing does the Greek Tourism Ministry, when it makes posters for Greece, use pictures of Santorini! (Of course, the Parthenon serves pretty well, too.)

Taormina! Physically beautiful, of course — dramatic and breathtaking — but isn’t it pleasurable to be among the Italians? (And don’t argue that Sicilians aren’t really Italian. That’s a discussion — a long and multifaceted one — for another time.)

Finally, it was rather sobering to visit the Temple of Artemis (or Diana) in Turkey, or what is left of it: It’s just a dusty, nasty lot, basically, with one full column left — a column on the top of which, when we were visiting, storks were nesting, insouciantly and insultingly. The temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People used to journey for weeks and months to reach it. To see it might crown a life. Now, you would not notice the site, if you passed by. It is a . . . nothing. Like everything material, eventually. Thank God for the spiritual . . .

On this cruise of ours, we had wonderful speakers, maybe a dozen of them. I’ll mention just a few (which is reckless, of course). Once, when I was introducing John Bolton, I said I had a fantasy — not X-rated. A Republican once again becomes president. He nominates John Bolton for secretary of state. And the Republicans have such a wide margin in the Senate — he is confirmed.

Someone said, later, “Why not Bolton for president?” I said, “Let’s not get too greedy.” And, on the platform, I said, “What do we know about where Bolton is on domestic matters? He could well be a socialist.” Bolton went on to assure us he is not. At all.

Pete du Pont is a perfect American prince — democratic. Tony Blankley may have spent just a brief time in his native England, but some of it remains in his speech (and what marvelously fluent speech it is). Christina Hoff Sommers is not only intellectually sound, as everyone knows, she is also elegant — as everyone also knows. One day — a particularly hot, bright, semi-tropical day — she busted out a lacy white parasol. Remarkable.

Finally, I want to say a word about NR’s cruisers — our passengers, our guests. I have said this before: They are a strikingly diverse, interesting, and nice bunch. (Of course, there are some lulus, as in every crowd.) They defy the stereotype of conservatives, although they have some beliefs in common. They are traditional and hippie-ish; High Church and New Age; richer and poorer; happy and sad (though most seem happy, I’m glad to say). They have come through a lot, as people do: wars, divorces, unemployment, the death of spouses, the death of children, etc. It is a varied and impressive group, from whom you can learn a lot.

When I was growing up, I was taught that the diverse and interesting people were on the left. To the right, you got just a lot of stuffy, cigar-smoking country-clubbers. Probably bigoted, too. What a load of sh** (like so much of what I was taught, back then).

Anyway, I’m grateful to have traveled far and wide with NR readers, over this past decade or so. Coming on the next cruise? Good!

#JAYBOOK#

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