In the press not long ago, I read that Michelle Obama had had some ribs, and that made me feel good. She is not just a tofu-and-sprouts woman (not that I don’t love tofu and sprouts). (Seriously.) Years ago, William Safire referred to Michael Dukakis as an “eat-your-peas” politician. The governor was such a scold. And Michelle has almost literally been an eat-your-peas politician, or politician’s wife.
Politician’s wife. You heard Sarah Palin use that phrase about her, right? Well, not about her specifically. She was speaking generically. Palin said, “Instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us, according to some politician’s — or politician’s wife’s — priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us, as individuals, to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions.”
“Politician’s wife” was a killer phrase. It ticked a lot of people off. Only a female politician could have said it, really. Oh, Palin: The more the world hates you, the more I love thee.
I’m reminded of a story, told to me by David Pryce-Jones. Tito had just “fired” his fourth wife. Apparently, she had tried to interfere too much in his work. From Britain, Margaret Thatcher happened to be visiting. I don’t believe she was prime minister at the time; but she was a very important Conservative.
Tito, grumbling, said, “Women shouldn’t meddle in politics.” Thatcher, just for the sake of clarity, replied, “Mr. Tito, I don’t ‘meddle’ in politics. I am politics.”
‐I was very pleased to read Mitt Romney’s piece on Israel, and the stance and attitude of the Obama administration toward that country. I must say, I don’t care whether Romney wrote the piece. I am not an innocent babe about politics. All I care is that he read it and agrees with it.
I gather we’re all supposed to be down on Romney now. “MassCare,” old news, time for a fresh face, and all that. But I like him. I think he’s an all-arounder, sound in all the important areas of public life: economics, domestic policy, foreign policy, the “social issues.” Plus, I think he’s an upright guy.
Put it this way, the Republican party, and America, could do worse, much worse.
‐We could do a lot worse — a whole lot worse — than John Bolton, too. He is a dark horse. But sometimes the darkest horses are the best, you know?
In recent columns — this one, for example — I have been talking about the interview I had with Bolton in December. This interview resulted in a National Review piece, “‘The Man with the Mustache.’” It has also resulted in these Impromptus driblets.
Bolton says there are two kinds of secretary of state, really — two different models. One is the Jim Baker model. Baker famously said he was going to be the president’s man in the State Department, not the State Department’s man in the White House. The other model — well, Bolton says that Colin Powell became essentially the State Department’s man, reflecting the priorities of the permanent bureaucracy, which were, of course, rather different from George W. Bush’s priorities.
About Condoleezza Rice, Bolton has mixed feelings. He certainly respects her. (He respects Powell too, I feel sure.) Rice defended him, when he was under absurd attack. But they parted ways on policy — particularly where Iran, North Korea, and the Arab-Israeli conflict were concerned. In Bolton’s view, Rice gravitated toward the Powell model, taking the traditional State Department positions.
“And she brought Bush along with her. I think that, in the second term, there was only one voice in his ear. Rumsfeld was disregarded. Cheney was disregarded. It was Condi. So that explains why, on North Korea and Iran, the last two or three years of the Bush administration were not fundamentally different from the approach Obama has followed in his first two years. In fact, if anything, the Obama administration is less willing to negotiate with North Korea than the Bush administration was.”
I look forward to Condi’s memoirs, concerning her eight years with W. (more, if you count the pre-2001 period). And I plan to read Bush’s Decision Points. I’m tickled that this book is a phenomenal bestseller. Did you hear what Bill Clinton said about it? He is certainly qualified to say. He said the book tells you what it’s like to be president.
‐Speaking of Clinton, and Bolton: Bolton was at Yale Law School the same time the future president and Hillary Rodham were. I asked him for memories. “I remember him as very gregarious, never in class, always talking to someone out in the hallway or in the dining room or something like that. I remember her as very rigid, unfriendly — hard-core left-winger.” I asked what the two of them might have seen in each other. Bolton said, “I never understood that. I never understood that.”
Le coeur a ses raisons. (Sometimes another organ is involved, but that’s a “whole ’nother issue,” as we said in Washtenaw County . . .)
‐Forgive me if you have seen this already, but I had not. A reader drew my attention to a column that William F. Buckley Jr. wrote not long after the assassination of President Kennedy. It’s the kind of column many of us had to write following the Arizona massacre, some weeks ago. The reader found Bill’s column in Athwart History, the Buckley collection edited by my friends Linda Bridges and Roger Kimball. Some excerpts:
Hate. How many times we have heard that word during the weeks since the tragic assassination of President Kennedy. And against whom has it been almost universally directed? Not against the Communists, of whom Lee Harvey Oswald considered himself one. Moments after the assassination some of the most influential – and self-righteous – opinion makers in this country jumped to the conclusion that an Extreme Rightist did it. In a matter of hours a Communist was apprehended, and it transpired that it was he who had done the job.
That disappointing reversal meant only a change in tactic. It could no longer be said that a rightist assassinated President Kennedy; but lynchers do not give up easily. The story then became that the Right had (1) created an “atmosphere of hatred” which (2) generated the impulse which (3) galvanized the trigger-finger of (4) a Communist assassin. . . .
. . . how would you feel if . . . you were accused of having a psychological hand in the assassination of the president of the United States?
You would not be drawn toward love. You would be driven toward the hatred in which so many alleged friends of the memory of John F. Kennedy are trafficking.
Isn’t it strange how (so many) things just do not change?
‐Not long ago, I did a little appreciation of Jacques Barzun. This venerated scholar was born in 1907, and now lives in San Antonio. He came to this country when he was twelve. (From France, I should say.) When he got to New York, he was disappointed not to see cowboys and Indians on Broadway. He had grown up on James Fenimore Cooper. That was his idea of America.
I just related this to Richard Pipes, the great historian of Russia — told him that Barzun had read Cooper. He quickly replied, “Oh, we all did.” (Pipes was born in Poland in 1923. High-tailed it out, just in time. He actually saw Hitler — saw him when the German conqueror was doing his victory lap in Warsaw.)
(I once met a man who, when a young journalist, interviewed Hitler — Richard Helms, who became director of the CIA.)
‐Care for a name? A great name? A reader forwarded this article, which says, “The Rev. Demon Sox, a retired Lutheran minister, grouted cracked tiles in a bathroom at his home near Irmo that he suspects the blasts caused.” The Rev. Demon Sox: No, I don’t think I can do better than that today.
‐Care for some music? Well, some music criticism (second-best — at best). For a piece in City Arts, go here. I discuss a Berlioz Requiem, conducted by Robert Spano; the pianist Jonathan Biss in a Beethoven concerto; and a new soprano, Lori Guilbeau, of Louisiana. Big ol’ voice. Huge. And refulgent.
‐A reader writes, “Somehow I just know that somewhere, sometime, Obama wore a Che T-shirt.” Well, the odds are short, very short (unlike Obama). Remember when journalists drove themselves nuts trying to prove that GWB had used cocaine? Remember how they were on that trail for years — a trail that never led anywhere?
Anyway, Obama in a Che T-shirt: If he didn’t wear one, he’s one of the few Americans who haven’t. It is a widespread plague, Che-ism. (I’ve never written about this topic, have I?)
‐Let me close with a couple of notes about Florida. I write you from St. Petersburg, where they have a Department of Leisure. I noticed that this morning. A sign in a park said, “Department of Leisure, City of St. Petersburg.” I love that name, “Department of Leisure.” There are so many connotations. So many images come to mind.
For example, I can just see workers in this department, wearing Hawaiian shirts, their feet on their desks, sipping from drinks with umbrellas in them . . .
‐Isn’t much of the City of Las Vegas kind of a Department of Leisure? (Not that there’s any leisure in ruination by gambling.) (I will not get on my high horse, although I could . . .)