Politics & Policy

A period of madness, &c.

Friends, I had a column last week on Miami — specifically, on a Cuban-American democracy event held there. I said I would later scribble some “lighter” notes on Miami, and I will. To look at last week’s column, go here.

Before getting to Miami — returning to Miami, so to speak — I thought I’d make a couple of further points about the Tucson shooting and its aftermath. I did a fair amount of posting — Cornering — about this. I did rather a lot of radio too. If you’re interested in those postings, you can find them through my archive, here. So, just a couple of points — then on to Miami . . .

#ad#‐The Tucson shooter, as we know, had no connection to politics, no connection to anything except his own madness. But what if he had been a Republican voter? An attendee at tea parties? A fan of Sarah Palin? A reader of National Review? What would that have proven? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Nor would it have proven anything if he had been a Democratic voter, a foe of the Tea Party, a fan of Howard Dean, and a reader of The Nation (or the New York Times editorial page).

Many of us were so eager to say, “He had no connection to politics” — which was true — I think some of us forgot to say, “So what if he had?”

‐Jodie Foster had nothing to apologize for, after the Reagan shooting. I’m sure she felt bad or weird about it, though. The Tucson shooter’s favorite movie stars, periodicals, or politicians, if he had any? They wouldn’t have anything to apologize for either. (They might feel bad or weird, however.)

The shooter’s classmates described him as a left-wing pothead. Should left-wing potheads feel bad? Most left-wing potheads I have known — and I’ve known a few, along with right-wing potheads — are as far from mass murder as they are from sensible politics or sobriety.

‐After the Kennedy assassination, a lot of people wanted to indict the entire state of Texas. The assassin was a Communist nut who grew up in New Orleans, Texas, and New York City. But who cared, when there was a whole state, thought of as “right-wing,” to indict and defame?

‐You know what’s wrong with targets on maps — targets of the kind Sarah Palin used, and the Democratic congressional committee has used? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Not one thing. Neither is there anything wrong with talking about “campaigns,” “battleground states,” “bombshells,” and the like. You know the expression “Give it a shot”? Nothing wrong with it, not one thing.

The idea that targets on a map — indicating congressional districts ripe for the taking, or ripe for challenge — would instigate a person to commit mass murder (rather than, say, make a campaign contribution) is lunacy. Sheer lunacy.

This has been a mad couple of weeks . . .

‐I sometimes think the whole country has Sarah Palin on the brain — especially the left side of the country. (What side of the brain they use, I’m not sure.) Something happens, and the first thought is, the first shout is, “Sarah Palin!” Her every breath, tic, and tweet rocks the nation. Bizarre.

I mean, I like her, but I also have other thoughts — thoughts about other people, issues, and things — during the day. No offense to her . . .

‐You know how people — politicians, writers, pundits — say they’re offering “prayers,” or that certain others are in their “thoughts and prayers”? I think 99 percent of the time, it’s just a line, just a verbal habit. I don’t think those people are praying for those others at all. Does that make me a nasty cynic?

‐I’m going to repeat something I said last week — so if you’ve heard it, from me or someone else, forgive me: If the wounded congressman had an “R” after her name, rather than a “D,” would we be having a national discussion at all?

#page#‐As you may know, the famous cartoonist Jeff Danziger drew a cartoon making it explicit — making explicit an extreme, ideology-driven point of view. He showed an assassin rising out of a steaming teapot. That’s what killed those people in Arizona: the Tea Party. With the blogger Ed Frank, Danziger had an exchange, which you can find here. Here’s what he said about the Tea Party:

I have been watching the development of this combination of loons and opportunists since it started. The Tea Party, the very name is ridiculous. Crazed fat people tortured by their lack of success in life, following the absolute worst of our politicians. Palin, Angel [Sharron Angle], Quayle’s rotten kid. These people are your choice for anything? The whole thing is based on unreality. Don’t you understand? And Mcveigh was reading that crazy shit from the enbd times or whagtever it is called.

I like it when people make things explicit. The cartoon he drew — that’s very explicit. Those words about the Tea Party — they’re very explicit. I believe that many people think exactly as Danziger does, but would not be so frank. And, for my money, the more frankness, the better. If you think that Tea Partiers are “crazed fat people tortured by their lack of success in life,” go ahead and say so. It just proves that you’re the “crazed” one (or that you don’t get out much).

(I know about four Tea Partiers, in my general neighborhood, and they’re all thin and successful.)

#ad#‐Well, I said there’d be a couple of items about Arizona, and, as usual, I way overshot. (Whoops.) Let me make just a few notes about Miami.

I found it an American city, but not quite an American city. It had aspects of a Latin American city, and of a Caribbean city (or town). But it was an American city nonetheless: an American city with serious Latino-Caribbean spice.


‐Looking at cruise ships, it was hard not to board one. We NR-niks are always boarding cruise ships in South Florida. Not this time . . .

‐I was delighted to walk around a baseball field, an entire baseball complex, actually. I heard the sounds of baseball: bats on ball, thwacks of balls in gloves. And there were little kids on one particular diamond: tots, really, in their baseball best. There have been kids and tots on baseball diamonds from time immemorial. It’s just that I hadn’t seen many in a while.

It was really satisfying. I long ago grew tired of seeing baseball diamonds grassed over in favor of soccer (no offense to the “beautiful game,” barf). I guess I am willing to cede, or concede, soccer’s primacy among the young. (How did that happen? And so fast? Liberal parents’ fears that their children would get hurt in the traditional American sports?) But I’m glad that “the national pastime” has not been forgotten, in this nation.

‐One pleasure of walking around Miami was hearing the varieties of Spanish: not just Cuban Spanish but lots of Spanishes — from Central America, from the Caribbean, from South America. Maybe even from Spain itself. The world of Spanish is a big world, and the differences are keen and interesting.

‐One of many things I admire about Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Miami Republican who has just retired from Congress, is his candor. Some years ago, I asked him how assimilation was going in Miami. Most politicians would reply, “Great, no problem, thanks.” Diaz-Balart said, “Badly.” He went on to explain that the influx of immigrants from South America and other points made it difficult for an Americanization to set in. But, of course, in time, it does . . .

‐I enjoyed seeing one sign, which I saw a lot: “HABLE INGLES EN 6 MESES. RESULTADO EXCELENTE.” What does that sign tell you, or suggest? A fair amount, and all good.

‐They say that if you can’t have fun in South Beach, you can’t have fun. A legitimate proposition.

‐Beautiful girls and beautiful cars compete for attention. A blonde here, a Lamborghini there. A black-haired bombshell here, an Aston Martin there . . .

‐I notice a lot of French tourists — saying, “Beh, oui” . . .

#page#‐I got in trouble with some Florida friends — two of them — when I did my journal from Marrakech. (That was last fall.) I said that, next to the orange juice of Marrakech, the orange juice of Florida tastes like . . . what, Kool-Aid? I promised to repent and sin no more: not to knock Florida orange juice again or even hint that it may not be No. 1.

Well, a lady in South Beach was selling orange juice, “fresh es-squeezed.” It was quite good. But that of Marrakech . . . what do they put in that stuff, some sort of narcotic?

#ad#‐I’ll tell you where Miami stands tall, really tall: Café Versailles in Little Havana is as good as its reputation, which is very high. The sandwich cubano; the plantains; the moros rice — talk about narcotics. Give me a glass of Marrakech orange juice to go with, and I might just . . . float off.

‐The day after I got back from Miami, I was walking in Central Park, and a group of young people, Latins, asked me where the John Lennon memorial was. I couldn’t quite tell them, but I told them I would walk them to it. They were warm, vibrant, fun — much like the people I had just left. They had flavorful Spanish, or Hispanic, accents. After some minutes, I said, “Where are you from?” I’m glad I didn’t say, “What country are you from?” Because they answered, “Miami.”

‐Care for a little language? Okay. I’m puzzled by the International Labour Organization (winner of the 1969 Nobel peace prize, by the way). (The U.S. withdrew from it in the 1970s. Maybe we should have stayed withdrawn?) I can understand all-British: International Labour Organisation. I can understand all-American: International Labor Organization. But why the mixture — “Labour” and “Organization”?

‐Care for a little music? For my “New York Chronicle” in the current New Criterion, go here. For a piece in City Arts, go here.

‐Yesterday, I had a little piece at the Corner, in honor of Martin Luther King — specifically, about his winning of the Nobel peace prize in 1964. Check it out, if you wish.

‐Finally, John Gross — the superlative English writer who passed away last week. You can read a great many articles about him, in publications both British and American. (In publications originating in other places too, I imagine.) I will say just a little about him.

I loved him. He was one of the most delightful friends I had, or anyone could have. He was learned, witty, humane — totally civilized. I’m not sure I ever knew a more civilized man. David Pryce-Jones, Tony Daniels — they are in the same league. But the league has very few players.

London, for me, was barely imaginable without him. We would meet for lunch or pastries, to catch up on the latest, to range over the world. When he was up to it, he’d give you a tour, of some London neighborhood. He would point out who had lived there and why the neighborhood was important. I doubt there was ever a better London tour guide, or a more devoted lover of London.

John knew everything — essentially everything — and it was said that he was “the best-read man in Britain.” But, as others have observed, he wore his learning lightly — very lightly. There were no airs about the man, at least that I could detect. He was humble and courteous, big-hearted and amusing. A lover of life, a drinker-in of life: of literature, of course, and art, and music, and theater, and politics, and history, and jokes, and everything. A couple of hours with him went by like a breeze.

On the very weekend I heard that John was in the hospital — “in hospital,” he would say, like all Brits — I was intending to e-mail him. The reason? Kind of an odd one. More than once, John told me that, when he read my “New York Chronicle” in The New Criterion, he was amazed that I would seldom use the word “performance,” “perform,” or “performer.” How could I do that? How could I write about performers and performances, while using those words so sparingly?

When I was writing this particular chronicle, two weekends ago, I kept saying “perform,” “performance,” etc. I was conscious of it. I wanted to tell him so!

His son Tom and I once had a discussion of him — how John was a little of everything: a great Englishman, a great Londoner, a great Jew (secular division, maybe), a great American (after a fashion — he spent a lot of time here), a great critic, a great anthologist — hell, a great man. I wish I had known him a little longer. But I’m glad I knew him at all. And he is unforgettable.



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