It was in January 1996 — the State of the Union address — that President Clinton proclaimed, “The era of big government is over.” (He then said, “But we can’t go back to a time when our citizens were just left to fend for themselves.” Was there ever such a time? Really?) Obviously, the era of big government is back — or there is a new, big-governmental era or something.
And I am reminded: You never really win. You never really close the case for an open economy, and the open society. You have to fight for these things, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. The socialists and collectivists never rest, never let up.
Some of us were on a National Review cruise when Milton Friedman died — this was in 2006. The Friedmans themselves were to join us for that cruise, but Milton fell ill.
We scrapped our last panel discussion — whatever was scheduled — to devote a panel to him. In the course of the two hours, we heard a lot about how Friedman had changed the world, and won the argument. He had discredited socialism, put it in the dustbin, etc. At the end of our session, I, as moderator, said to Norman Podhoretz, “You never really win, do you?” And he said, no, of course not.
I have thought about that quite a bit in the last year or so. You?
And I also think of a song I often think of — an old, hippie song: “Teach Your Children Well.” It’s so true. Every generation, you get people who know nothing: and the world fills their heads, and hearts, with what it will. That filling makes a staggering amount of difference.
‐Got a bulletin from the World Economic Forum (the Davos people): “Switzerland Replaces United States at Top of Competitive Rankings.” “The United States falls to second.”
‐Had to chuckle at this headline from the Associated Press: “Israel-Europe relations strained under Netanyahu.” Yeah, because they were so good before, Europe being so enamored of Israel and all! To its credit, the report spoke of “growing friction in the Jewish state’s already tricky relationship with Europe.” (Italics mine, of course.) “Tricky” is putting it mildly. Europe, most of it, would sell Israel down the river in a heartbeat.
Is that too harsh a thing to say — or a realistic thing to say?
‐I have a lot of time for Jack Straw — a lot of time. He is a British Labourite who makes a contribution. In international forums, years ago, no one was better at defending the Iraq invasion and occupation, or “occupation,” if you like. Then he said he would not meet with constituents in burqa anymore — you had to show your face, if you wanted to talk to him. (This is what President Obama, in his Speech to the Muslim World, called vile discrimination, right?) Now he has come out and said clearly: The Brits released the Lockerbie terrorist for Libyan oil.
“No Blood for Oil!” used to be the cry. Should it be changed to “No Release of Mass-Murderers for Oil”?
Anyway, Straw is a man I have time for — regardless of the myriad complaints I might have, or you might have.
‐I loved reading this line from Reuters: “Director Oliver Stone says the U.S. media and government have demonised Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leftist South American leaders, and argues in a new film that they were right to stand up to Washington.” I love that word “demonised.” Why? Because Chávez himself, in a speech to the U.N., called President Bush “the devil.” Chávez is a real demonizer, a literal demonizer. We, his critics, are honest assessors of him.
‐You want some good news out of Russia? Been a while since you heard any? Well, the AP tells us that “Russia has made a once-banned book recounting the brutality and despair of the Soviet Gulag required reading in the country’s schools. The Education Ministry said excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1973 epic ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ have been added to the curriculum for high-school students.” (Full article, here.)
That almost takes my breath away. Sometimes history comes around right, you know?
‐This is a tough/sad issue: Human Rights Watch. I don’t know if you have been reading the news and commentary on HRW. Their Middle East activities are tragic. They fundraise among the Saudis. Their view of the Arab-Israeli conflict is essentially that of Jimmy Carter, or Edward Said. I mean, they are heartbreaking, if not outrageous, in this area.
But they are superb on China — I mean, they do some of the best China work of any human-rights group. You can learn a lot from them.
Is a group like HRW sort of like a general university faculty, with good departments and bad ones, sound departments and flaky ones? “Personnel is policy,” right? It all depends on who’s on the job. And is it any fair relying on a group in one area while ignoring it, or denouncing it, in another?
I have also had this problem with Amnesty International – knowing what to do, how to think, about them.
I will keep thinking — and I’m reminded of something. May amuse you. When Christopher Hitchens is on your side, you get a thrill, because he is such a good writer and polemicist. Then he will write something that appalls you. Should you feel guilty for enjoying him when, as you see it, he’s on the side of the angels?
I have also had this problem with Rod Liddle — feeling guilty when he is with me, and I am grooving to him. Because, in another piece, he will make you sick to your stomach.
A final word on the human-rights business — a point I have made endlessly: Most human-rights groups, unfortunately, have no interest whatsoever in what Arab governments do to Arab people. They are concerned about what Israel is doing, or alleged to be doing, to Arab people. There is a huge field of Arab human rights to be plowed — but no one’s interested. Except Arabs.
‐I remember an early lesson I had in how the Left — the hard Left — hates liberals. Standard American-style liberals. I was in the office of a professor of mine, a Marxist-Leninist. And we were talking about The Nation, which I was then reading. I said I liked Christopher Hitchens. She said — she spat — “He’s a liberal.” I don’t think I had ever before heard the word “liberal” used pejoratively by a non-conservative.
Just a little memory, is all.
‐I am not one, I hope you know, to get all wee-weed up about bad mail. All of us in this business get bad mail — sacks of it. But I had an experience recently that rattled me a bit. A writer at a left-wing website went after me (in a very crude, stupid, and ignorant way). I then heard from some of the site’s readers: and they were vile. Absolutely vile. Nasty, hateful, even sexual stuff. Depraved. You wouldn’t want to handle these e-mails with five pairs of gloves.
I was thinking, “These are Americans? This is how Americans talk to political writers they disagree with, or think they disagree with? This is how they talk to perfect strangers?”
I had a similar experience during last year’s political conventions. Was writing a lot on the Corner, as we all were. And the left-wing hate mail — especially anti-Palin — was so bad, it kind of unnerved me. I said to Kathryn Lopez and Jonah Goldberg, “Is it always this bad?” They said, no, not really: In the most intense political periods, the “animal spirits” come out. That was Jonah’s phrase — “animal spirits.”
And “animal” is the word.
As I’ve said many times, I shudder to think what NRO readers are sending left-wing writers (if they send). I like to think, but can’t be sure, that their missives are less crude and uncivilized than the ones I have received.
And have you looked at “zombietime” — its collection of “Kill Bush” signs, bumper stickers, and such? I mentioned it in Monday’s Impromptus, and you can find the zombietime collection here. It is not for the fainthearted, or weak-stomached. I think of America as such an easygoing, live-and-let-live country. “Non-jacobinical,” as I’ve written. Not necessarily.
Someday, I will do a piece on the coarsening of American culture, as indicated by the tone of the political debate. Then again, you have read a hundred such pieces. Maybe I’ll do something else . . .
‐Yesterday, was walking to work and saw posters advertising a TV show. The posters showed two people, basically naked. (Their arms did some covering up.) The show was called The Beautiful Life. And the tagline (or whatever) was, “What are you looking at?” Pretty clever: You put up naked people, then say, “What are you looking at?”
I was reminded of an encounter I had in Salzburg, several years ago. Was covering the festival there. There was a production of Der Rosenkavalier. And, being the Salzburg Festival, they had full-blown fellatio, copulation, etc. — though on the sides of the stage. (Sorry about “full-blown.”) At a lunch with some friends, I mentioned this, and how distracting, wrong, and ghastly it was. A man said, “Oh, so you were looking at that, huh?” Ha, ha, leer, leer. I could only reply, “Of course I was. The director meant for me to. That was why it was there. It was not there to be ignored.”
‐Years ago, I had a discussion with a friend — about whether to eat Ben & Jerry’s. I have written about this discussion in Impromptus. My friend was from Vermont, no less. We were both conservatives, anti-Communists. We were both ice-cream lovers too, big-time.
We said, “Do we not eat Ben & Jerry’s, because they’re on the left and contribute to left-wing causes?” We concluded, quickly, no. For one thing, it is like the Left to make everything political — including food. It is not like us.
Yet everyone has limits. A reader sent the following:
You’ve written about how you put aside people’s politics to enjoy their food, music, etc. I do the same, especially when it comes to Ben & Jerry’s. However, they now have a flavor called “Hubby Hubby” to celebrate gay marriage in Vermont. I’m afraid they’ve finally crossed the line. That really stinks, because I love Ben & Jerry’s.
Yeah, don’t we all. What would it take for me to stop? Some celebration of Gulag (as WFB might write)? Let me think . . .
‐I wonder whether you’ve seen this video of Jack Webb explaining the facts of life to Barack Obama. A wonderful idea.
‐On the Corner two days ago, I had an item on the term “teabaggers” (here). This is an obscene putdown that has unfortunately gone mainstream. Also on the Corner, Kathryn Lopez quoted a CNN reporter, Jessica Yellin, who said, “A group of approximately 100 self-described ‘teabaggers’ are gathered on the sidewalk outside the first Specter townhall . . .”
A reader wrote in pointing something out: Did the protesters really describe themselves as “teabaggers”? Really?
And here’s a point of my own: “Yellin” would, actually, be a good name for a protester.
‐Friends, I’ve got loads more, but I’ve gone on long enough. Let me close with a little letter about language:
I once had a lady friend tell me, “It takes two to tangle.” My hearing isn’t great, so I begged her pardon and asked her to repeat. Same phrase. I said, “It should be ‘tango.’” She was indignant and claimed it was certainly “tangle,” and asked me, “What the heck is a ‘tango’?” Funny stuff.
Sure is. And I like “two to tangle”! Think I may start using it . . .