One of the raps against George W. Bush was that he treated our allies badly: He was arrogant toward them, insensitive, cloddish. Of course, this was a bad rap: He handled our alliances — and our other relationships — well, as I argued at length.
I thought of the rap against Bush the other day when I read what the current vice president, Joe Biden, said about our Afghan allies: “Daddy is going to start to take the training wheels off in October — I mean in next July, so you’d better practice riding.”
Condescending and appalling. Whatever you think of Bush and his team — Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and the rest — they’d have sooner slit their wrists than said that.
‐I sometimes forget what a bore Bill Clinton is, or can be. He seems kind of flashy. But then he starts talking, and you realize, “Oh, yeah.” Some people had this reaction to his White House press conference the other day.
I remember what David Brinkley said, and got in trouble for saying: “. . . he’s a bore [meaning Clinton], and will always be a bore.”
I also think of something that was said about John Glenn, in the presidential primaries of 1984: He got more applause on entering the room than he did on leaving it. When he entered, he was the space hero. When he left, he was the boring Democratic politician.
I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that, on the campaign trail this year — he made trillions of stops — Clinton got more applause on entering those Democratic halls than he did on leaving them.
‐I think the United States should be beyond wanting the World Cup — the big soccer tournament (for those who need reminding). The United States is bigger than that. Let littler countries scramble for it, desire it — be disappointed when they don’t get it.
Apparently, the United States put in a bid to host the 2022 World Cup. And the relevant organization handed it to Qatar. Barack Obama said, “I think it was the wrong decision.” For heaven’s sake, the president of the United States should not be talking this way. He should be saying, “Good for Qatar! I hope they have a great Cup.”
Why should the United States give a rip where the World Cup is played? Are we so much reduced in the world that our president whines, or even expresses regret, when a dinky little Third World country gets to host a soccer tournament? How pathetic.
‐About ten days ago, I read a news story that began, “The U.S. Air Force’s secrecy-shrouded X-37B unmanned spaceplane returned to Earth early Friday after more than seven months in orbit on a classified mission, officials said.” Frankly, I was relieved. Why? Because it showed we were doing more than Muslim outreach.
Remember that NASA fiasco?
‐I hope you enjoy the next issue of National Review — for many reasons. One is this: I have a piece on John Bolton, who is always a treat. He’s thinking about running for president, and thinking about it hard. In fact, I believe he is running. If he’s not running, I’ll eat my hat. I’ll even give up hot-fudge sundaes — which, I’m here to tell you, would be hard.
One of the things Bolton and I discussed was the press. When he was at the U.N., the press kind of liked him, I’m pretty sure. Oh, they couldn’t stand his views and policies, of course. But they liked his candor, his accessibility, his quotability. The afternoon “gaggle” — or whenever Bolton held it — was one of the best shows in New York.
In our recent interview, I asked him, “How do you think the press would treat you, if you ran for president?” In answer, he went to fish that day’s Washington Post out of the garbage. It included a piece by Dana Milbank on retiring senator George Voinovich. And the piece said this: “Voinovich isn’t a violent man. To the contrary, one of his finest moments in Washington was when he broke with his party and tearfully announced his opposition to John Bolton, whom George W. Bush had nominated to be U.N. ambassador even though Bolton had once proposed blowing up U.N. headquarters.”
Bolton was steamed about this. I’ll tell you why he was steamed in a second. First, here are the facts.
In 1994, Bolton said, “The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” What he meant was — obviously — the Secretariat was ridiculously overbureaucratized, ridiculously overstaffed. He had in mind something Barry Goldwater once said about the State Department: You could go ahead and fire the first six floors. (The important people, the decision-makers, were on the seventh floor, as they are now.)
Bolton never said anything about blowing up the U.N. And what a nasty charge, in this day and age: after 9/11; after the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Iraq. That’s why Bolton was so steamed. And he said, “That’s the way it will be,” if he runs for president. That’s what his press will be like.
I told him that his proposal to lose ten stories was kind of low — we can do without more stories than that. Made him laugh.
Bush got a kick out of his ambassador’s performance at the U.N. — he also got a kick out of his ambassador’s reputation. Once, seeing Kofi Annan, Bush said, “How’s Bolton doin’? Has he blown the place up yet?” On a later occasion — I believe in Washington — Bush said to Annan, “Has Bolton been a demon up there?”
Oh, he was a righteous demon.
‐On December 10, an editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal that amused Bolton. How’s that? Well, the editorial referred to Nancy Pelosi’s “streets-of-Baltimore grit.” Pelosi is a San Franciscan, as you know, but she is an adoptive San Franciscan: She grew up in Baltimore.
Bolton said, “‘Streets-of-Baltimore grit’! Her father and brother were mayors of the city!” Bolton himself is a Baltimorean. His dad was a firefighter, his mother a homemaker. Neither graduated from high school. Bolton did — and went on to Yale College and Yale Law School.
Bolton just thought that was funny: “streets-of-Baltimore grit.” To him, Pelosi’s family was pretty fancy-pants.
I was reminded of a story, dating from 1988. Dick Gephardt was running for president, in the Democratic primaries. He kept saying, and his people kept saying, that he was the son of a milkman. “Son of a milkman, son of a milkman,” that’s all you heard, for months. Reagan, in the White House, was amused. He was the son of an itinerant, alcoholic shoe salesman. As far as Reagan was concerned, milkman was a great job. The milkman was a pillar of the community. The milkman’s kid had prestige, man!
‐May I give you a report from Nicaragua? It comes from a friend of mine who travels there often. Get ready to chortle (if you’re anything like me):
Since Daniel Ortega and the Communists have taken over once again, the populace is becoming more and more regimented. Ortega even has the temerity to play on the devoutness of Nicaraguan society: His new slogan is “Christianity/Socialism/Solidarity.” Whole neighborhoods are now renamed in honor of Hugo Chávez, and U.S. aid is barely tolerated.
Anyway, there is virtually no English spoken in Nicaragua. It is simply not a part of their orientation. I was riding in a car with a former high official in the democratic government, a highly educated individual, but one who struggles with elementary English. When asked about the future of his country, this elegant man with impeccable Old World manners replied, in perfect English, “We’re f***ed.”
‐In a column a couple of months ago, I talked about — “bragged on,” Bill Clinton would say — a young cousin of mine, Pasquale Greco. He is a filmmaker, and I linked to a short, called Lake Stacey. For that column, go here; for Lake Stacey, go here.
Well, this Wunderkind from Wheeling developed a bit of a following among Impromptus-ites, and since then I have heard, “More ’squale, more ’squale.” Okay. He is always doing one video or film or another, but I give you two Doritos commercials.
As I understand it, there is a contest called “Crash the Super Bowl.” You submit your own Doritos commercial, to be played during the Super Bowl. The Wunderkind and his posse have made two: here and here. First, a little video is played talking about the contest. You can hit “Skip,” in the upper right-hand corner. Then the Doritos commercial is played. The first is about a guy who, after being struck by lightning, turns everything he touches into Doritos. The second is about strip poker.
And we’ll have more ’squale later. The kid is working on a Men in Black movie now, so is shooting his own material in stolen moments.
‐End with a Lincoln story? I can never get enough of Lincoln stories — same with Churchill stories, and Reagan stories. A few weeks ago, I talked about Lincoln’s love of words, names, language in general. Jane Addams’s father was a friend of his. And Lincoln used to address letters to him, “My Dear Double D-ed Addams.”
And do you remember what he said about his future in-laws, whom he found a bit hoity-toity? “One ‘d’ was good enough for God, but not for the Todds.”
Well, a reader sends me a new one — a new one on me, at least:
I think my favorite story of this sort is about Lincoln and Stanton walking along the streets of D.C. and coming upon a harness shop with the owner’s name on a sign at the entrance, “T. R. Strong.” “T. R. Strong,” Lincoln is supposed to have said, “but coffee are stronger.”
That’s what I’m talkin’ about. If anyone has a right to bad puns — it’s the greatest man in our history. A man whose melancholy and burdens were at times so great, he deserved a little levity.