Politics & Policy

Fast times in New Jersey, &c.

I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to Chris Christie videos like some people are addicted to porn. I could watch them all day. I particularly like it when he confronts schoolteachers: because no one ever confronts schoolteachers (except maybe unruly, pugnacious, or precocious kids). Schoolteachers are always sacrosanct, politically — but not with Christie.

Have I mentioned that he is governor of New Jersey? I’m sometimes unsure how much knowledge to assume, here in Impromptus. My inclination is to assume a great deal.

Christie confronts teachers, all right (because they confront him). But he takes care to distinguish them from the teachers’ union. In his view — or at least in his rhetoric — the rank and file are one thing, their union another. The line goes like this: Schoolteachers, good; their union, bad. Schoolteachers glorious and unselfish; their union mean and corrupt.

I used to follow this line, I think. And I’m sure that all practicing politicians should. But I have my doubts about it. It seems to me that if schoolteachers wanted better union leadership, they would have it. If the union leadership isn’t representing schoolteachers — let those teachers say so. But do they?

The teachers and their union: Is there any real difference? Isn’t the main difference that the union is available to play bad cop? (Accept a one-year freeze? Pay a dime for health care? Not on your life, you school-wrecker and child-hater!)

On the subject of education generally, I like to quote my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru: “If the American people wanted better schools, they’d have them.” I’m not 100 percent convinced of that; but I very much appreciate the line.

For many years, conservatives said — maybe they still say — “Black Americans, on the whole, are conservative. They are certainly well to the right of their leaders — their self-appointed leaders. Black Americans favor traditional morality, law and order, school discipline and reform. Jesse Jackson, Ben Hooks, and Al Sharpton are far outside the black mainstream. The ‘black leadership’ is like Bella Abzug; black Americans are more like Gerald Ford.”

I myself talked that way. But I stopped, at a certain point — when black Americans kept voting for the Democratic presidential nominee 88 percent, 91 percent, 94 percent . . . I said (to myself), “Do not commit the error of condescending. If people are voting a certain way — maybe it’s because they want to. Maybe they know full well what they’re doing. Sometimes you have to take no — such as ‘no to Republicanism’ — for an answer.”

I have had a long-running argument with Armando Valladares, the great Cuban dissident. He believes that people in the Free World who are pro-Castro, or soft on the regime, are merely ignorant: They have no idea what takes place inside the country. They are brainwashed, by Castroite propaganda. Wait’ll the regime falls, just as the Nazi regime fell, and the camps were exposed: Then everyone’ll know; then everyone’ll despise the regime.

No, they won’t. They could despise it now. I do. You do. Armando does. (More than 20 years in the gulag will do that to you.) Information about Cuba has been available since Castro seized power in 1959. About a decade ago, after years of debating Cuba, I had a terrible thought: If people in free countries are defending Cuban Communism — maybe it’s because they like it.

Is Michael Moore ignorant? No — he’s on a side. I realize I have chosen an extreme example; but he is certainly not an isolated one.

‐Speaking of Moore, I see that he’s one of those who want a mosque built, not near Ground Zero, but on Ground Zero itself. And the Pennsylvania field — plant one there, too? How about the Pentagon? Just think what could be built in place of that strange old structure . . .

‐A friend of mine asked me whether I had read Jeffrey Goldberg’s write-ups of his interview with Fidel Castro. I said I had glanced at them and stopped — I expected to return to them in due course. Why had I stopped? Well, the dictator was referred to, constantly, as “Fidel.”

Let me quote from a piece of mine about Cuba, published way back in 2001:

Cubans and Cuban Americans feel a persistent hurt over the general American attitude toward them. One exile in Boca Raton reports that he can no longer talk with his Anglo neighbors about his homeland. “If I explain to them the reality of Cuban life, all I get is, ‘Oh, you’re a right-winger,’ or, ‘You’re biased against President Castro.’” Can you imagine being biased against the tyrant who deprives you of rights, throws you in jail, and makes life so intolerable as to force you into the open sea on a homemade raft? Many Cubans especially resent this honorific “President” before Castro, as if the dictator were the equivalent of a democratic leader. Worse is the affectionate, pop-star-ish “Fidel.” We would never hear, for Pinochet, “Augusto.” Gus!

Hell, people don’t even refer to President Obama, the chief executive of a great liberal democracy, as “Barack.” (Vice President Biden does — in public. It was the subject of an essay I had in a recent National Review.)

Some people might claim, “You have to call Fidel Castro ‘Fidel’ now, because his brother Raúl is the junior dictator. You have to be clear which Castro you mean.” A) There are many ways of doing that. B) People in the Free World have referred to the dictator — the senior one — as “Fidel” ever since he was installed, more than a half-century ago.

Of course, people say “Che” too. “Guevara” sounds practically strange.

‐Jump to American politics? I notice that President Obama is trying to use John Boehner, the House minority leader, as a bogeyman. A few years ago, Republicans tried to scare the electorate with the thought of “Speaker Pelosi.” Didn’t work. If that didn’t, I doubt “Speaker Boehner” will.

‐My favorite bumper sticker of all time, maybe: I saw it on Capitol Hill, after the 1994 elections: “Speaker Newt: Deal with it.” I believe this was an echo of a famous comment by Mayor Marion Barry, after he had been reelected, yet again . . .

‐Jump back to Guevara for a second: A reader sent me an e-mail headed “A win for decency.” It attached an article that began, “Che Guevara, as it turns out, isn’t much of a pitchman in South Florida. The 24 Hours of LeMons car race is dropping the image of the guerilla fighter from its logo . . .”

It would be better if this could happen outside South Florida. But still, as the reader said, a “win.”

‐A little language? In the article above, we find “guerilla.” I write “guerrilla.” Dictionaries accept “guerilla” — but it will forever look wrong to me, I’m afraid.

‐I read the following in a New York Times report entitled “Democrats Plan Political Triage to Retain House”: “Representatives John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, chairman of the Budget Committee, and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who is seeking a 10th term, are among the senior Democrats who have appeared to gain little ground in the summer months in the toxic political environment.”

Toxic, huh? I hope the two Times reporters meant for Democrats — you know what I mean? Some of us consider the environment rather wonderful.

‐Sweet news out of Peru: Abimael Guzmán, the Shining Path leader, married his longtime lieutenant and lover (in that order?), Elena Iparraguirre. They are in prison. He is 75, she is 62. And they are two of the most murderous people of our time.

An article from the Associated Press said, “For years, the couple had complained through their lawyers that officials did not allow them visits and erected obstacles to prevent a wedding. They shared a cell in the naval base for their first 11 years behind bars, but later Iparraguirre was moved to another prison.” Here is one more extract from the article: “President Alan Garcia said in February that the two should be permitted to wed, saying if it’s within the law, even ‘the most despicable criminal’ is still human and should have the right.”

A liberal democracy is a remarkable thing. Guzmán and his band deprived a great many people of their lives — a great many. Shining Path deprived them of marriage and everything else that comes with life. Five years ago, I did a piece called “Terror on Trial: Thinking about Shining Path, and those like them.” The “insurgents” in Iraq are very, very much like Shining Path.

May all such people be beaten back and beaten down, so that people may marry and live.

‐Lately, Human Rights Watch has been fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Why is this effective? Because HRW is decidedly anti-Israel, and . . . well, some of the sheikhs like that. HRW became so bad that even its founder, Robert Bernstein, disavowed it, with heavy heart. HRW, he said, had lost the ability to distinguish free societies from unfree ones.

But along comes George Soros — and gives HRW $100 million. That’s a lot of clams. A lot of money, even for big-time philanthropy. Think of it: $100 million. I expect HRW won’t have to fundraise in Saudi Arabia so much. But I would not look for the group to point out human-rights abuses in that country. Israel, you can bet, will be its perpetual focus.

Kind of like the “human rights” panel at the U.N.

‐A short while ago, I read something I thought was hilarious — although the story in general is a long way from hilarious. To quote this AP report, “A man abruptly pushed a woman into the side of a moving New York City subway train . . .” The woman, Ute Linhart, “was hospitalized with broken ribs, a crushed sinus cavity and other injuries.”

She said, “As the impact happened, I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to be dead.’ Then I realized that I was in so much pain, I couldn’t possibly be dead.”

I suspect Ute Linhart has an exceptional spirit.

‐Does it make me a hater and an anti-patriot if I think that our president looks unbelievably dorky on a bicycle, wearing a helmet? Guilty, guilty.

‐This summer, Paul McCartney won an award from the Library of Congress — and he was celebrated at the White House. In the course of this celebration, he made a really, really stupid anti-Bush remark, which had the gathered Obamites laughing like hyenas. (I blogged about this here, and thereafter.) I see now that McCartney is to receive a Kennedy Center honor. Perhaps he is working on his anti-Bush jibes even as we speak. And they would surely go down as well at the Kennedy Center as his original jibe went down at the White House: The crowd is the same, basically.

‐Oprah is to receive a Kennedy Center honor too. (Do I need to say “Winfrey”? No more than you have to say “Castro” or “Guevara.”) You remember what she said during the presidential campaign: that Obama is “the one.” Or should that be “One”? Those in the grip of Obama fever were saying that he would be our great healer: a post-racial president, a post-ideological president — even a post-partisan president.

That was really a nutty moment in American political history, I’m afraid. Take the health-care debate: President Obama behaved with all the statesmanship of John Mitchell, or Rahm Emanuel.

‐A note from a reader, concerning a bumper sticker: “I saw an interesting one over the weekend on a pickup truck — a work truck, not a vehicular fashion statement (the guy had a toolbox in the bed, along with some equipment). The bumper sticker had a black background and said in bold white block letters: ‘Bail Out Studebaker.’”

Very clever. Deep, even.

‐Feel like a little Americana (or was that Americana enough)? A reader told me of a street in La Conner, Wash.: Pull and Be Damned Road. Well, I’ll be damned. Another reader told me about a bridge in Tennessee: named for Burrill E. Measles. He said, “A finer American name I cannot imagine.”

‐Feel like a little language? The other day, I was wanting to write a noun for “pristine”: “Pristinity” seemed right to me; alternatively, “pristineness.” Dictionaries contained neither — offered no noun to go with the adjective “pristine.” I decided I needed one: either “pristinity” or “pristineness,” preferably the former.

A colleague said to me, “Fear not to neologize!” I said, “As the Reverend J. might say, ‘Don’t apologize, neologize.’”

‐A little more language? My colleague and I were talking about this, too: We say “Iraq War”; but “Afghan War.” Those are unequal. We would never say “Iraqi War” or “Afghanistan War.” Strange.

We refer to the “Korean War.” But we would never say “Vietnamese War.” We say “Vietnam War” — and not “Korea War.”

Strange, so strange. I will never understand English for as long as I live.

‐A little more language? I’ll tell you what Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware Republican, was reported as saying. I’m not sure she said it — she was reported as saying it. “The Republican party has lost its way. They get behind candidates like my opponent who don’t even support the Republican platform, who continue to support the Democrats’ agenda, lock-step-and-barrel.”

I get a kick out of that: “lock, step, and barrel.” It’s almost as good as “insinnuendo” (the first Daley) or “refudiate” (Palin). The language is large, man.

‐You want to hear a little about Nantucket? I was there for a few days recently — and, no, not to recite limericks (though I could). For some reason, liberal Democrats flock to Martha’s Vineyard: That would include President Clinton and President Obama. And you hear about Martha’s Vineyard. These liberals are loud, or at least attention-getting.

I don’t doubt that Nantucket is equally liberal Democratic — where there are rich people, there are liberal Democrats, in my experience. (Tell me again how the GOP got to be the “party of the rich”?) But Nantucket is not known as such a liberal Democratic redoubt.

And if Republican presidents, when they vacationed, played in the playgrounds of the rich, wouldn’t that be kind of . . . criticized? I mean, what if George W. Bush had gone to Saint-Tropez, instead of Crawford, Texas, which, in summer, is barely habitable? Anyway . . .

‐Nantucket smells good — it just does. It smells good even as you step off the airplane. Everything smells fresh, pure, cleansed. A friend of mine tells me that, at night, there is a sweetness. She’s right.

‐A sign in a shop says, “If you ask if the fish is fresh, you have to go to the back of the line.” I’m almost tempted to ask . . .

‐Just about everything — every house, every building — has those characteristic gray shingles. People think this makes the island look nice and neat — and it does, I’m sure. At the same time, it’s a little . . . monotonous?

‐Corn, at a certain time, in certain places, tastes as sweet as any dessert. Odd to think that corn — in those particular circumstances — can rival chocolate.

‐At an athletic club, I see little kids — just tots — taking their tennis lessons, in their tennis whites. The little girls are in skirts. I wasn’t sure that kind of upper-crust America still existed. But lo . . .

‐Much of Nantucket is “preserved” — off-limits for building. This is great for those with houses. But what about those who would like houses of their own? Must they wait for homeowners to quit the island: either by opting to live elsewhere or dying?

It is an old, old conundrum: preservation versus development. “I’ve got mine, thank goodness — now no more building. And I say this for nature’s sake, you know!” And yet, we all like plentiful nature. This is indeed a conundrum — I just wish the enviros would acknowledge it as such, which they don’t.

Who is the most eloquent of all on this subject? Thomas Sowell. Of course, that goes for many subjects.

‐I’ll tell you what is nearly impossible to do: get in and out of the ocean gracefully. I suppose some people have that gift; I lack it. When the terrain — if that’s the word — is rocky, I am hopeless. Of course, with lovely Caribbean sand, I am much better — practically ready for a role on Baywatch. (Not really.)

How do you get out of Impromptus? Goodbye, and thank you.




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