Politics & Policy

A McCarthyite smell, &c.

It’s an old song, and I have sung it many times: Liberals can get away with all the McCarthyism they want; conservatives, no. (Thanks a lot, Tailgunner Joe.) In attacking Republican budget plans, President Obama has been saying, basically, that they’re un-American.

Here is a cutesy line: “To restore fiscal responsibility, we all need to share in the sacrifice, but we don’t have to sacrifice the America we believe in.” Here is another line, cutesy or not: “We’re a better country because of these commitments” — meaning a slew of social-welfare programs. “I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments.”

Meaning, I guess, that America was a nothing before 1965 or so (or maybe before 1961, year of our president’s birth?).

You remember Howard Dean, that liberal avatar, right? He said of John Ashcroft, attorney general of the United States, “not a patriot.” Man, if a Republican had said that about, say, Janet Reno . . . And you remember Joe Biden, saying that those who resisted higher taxes were unpatriotic?

I often recall Charlie Rangel, who denounced tax cuts as, not quite unpatriotic, but racist: “It’s not ‘spic’ or ‘nigger’ anymore. They say, ‘Let’s cut taxes.’”

A weird country. Listen, Paul Ryan and his brethren may be wrong in their solutions (although I’m confident they’re not). But what is perfectly clear is that they’re trying to save the country.

This report on North Korea is worth a skim. The beginning:

Visitors paying their respects at the memorial palace housing the body of North Korea’s late founder patiently waited through security checks and scans along a winding corridor. Their shoes were dusted before they stepped through a fierce wind tunnel to sweep away any remaining specks.

Man, that’s security, or should we say fussiness? Some more:

So revered is the former leader that he remains the nation’s “eternal president” 17 years after his death, his beaming face on billboards, portraits and the small pins every North Korean wears affixed to their shirts and jackets.

Jeane Kirkpatrick once said, “North Korea is a psychotic state. And we have very little experience of dealing with psychotic states. They are rare in history.”

On this matter of reverence for Kim Il-sung, I remember Jimmy Carter’s trip to North Korea, one of his most sickening ever. Carter claimed he had been able to “observe the North Koreans’ psyche and their societal structure and the reverence with which they look upon their leader.”

Yes, because if there’s one thing Carter’s great at, it’s observing an entire people’s psyche, plus their societal structure. And he knows reverence when he sees it.

Can you imagine him in Stalin’s Russia in, say, 1936? (Yes.)

Talking about Kim, Carter said, “I find him to be vigorous, intelligent, surprisingly well informed about the technical issues, and in charge of the decisions about this country.” Funny thing about monstrous, totalitarian, absolute dictators: They tend to be in charge.

Carter also said, “I don’t see that they,” meaning the North Koreans, “are an outlaw nation.” Of course not. A wonderful international citizen, North Korea. And he described Pyongyang as a “bustling city,” where shoppers “pack the department stores.” Why, he was reminded of the “Wal-Mart in Americus, Georgia.”

In truth, North Korea was a starving and pulverized nation. Same as it is now. A Potemkin village had apparently struck Carter as real.

If you’d like to know something of North Korea, I recommend Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, by Kang Chol-hwan, an incredibly brave and valuable man. I shook his hand last year, in Oslo. A great honor.

‐Have one more article on North Korea:

North Korean defectors in South Korea flew propaganda leaflets across the border Friday to denounce the North’s third-generation political succession, drawing the ire of locals wary of possible retaliation.

A group of about 10 defectors and activists used large helium-filled balloons to send what they said were about 200,000 leaflets and 1,000 U.S. dollar bills from near the heavily fortified border. Another group of South Korean activists sent more balloons with leaflets.

South Korean citizens sympathetic to the North and residents of the border city of Paju tried to stop the leafleting, blocking a road with a large truck. Scuffles erupted as the activists prepared to float the balloons.

Much to think about there. You know who I think are the “South Korean citizens sympathetic to the North”? The ones doing the leafleting. (What I mean is, they are sympathetic to the people — who need sympathy — not the dictatorship.)

And hats off to those North Korean defectors who have not forgotten their suffering fellows back home.

‐Have another article, this one out of New Delhi, and concerning Tibet:

The Dalai Lama on Friday asked the international community to persuade the Chinese leadership to exercise restraint in handling the latest troubles at a blockaded Tibetan monastery in western China.

That is pure Dalai Lama, isn’t it? Let me retype the sentence, using italics to emphasize what I mean by “pure Dalai Lama”: “The Dalai Lama on Friday asked the international community to persuade the Chinese leadership to exercise restraint in handling the latest troubles at a blockaded Tibetan monastery in western China.”

A very polite man, the Dalai Lama. In 1989, he won the Nobel peace prize, you may recall. The chairman of the Nobel committee, Egil Aarvik, gave the presentation speech. May I quote a little?

This is by no means the first community of exiles in the world, but it is assuredly the first and only one that has not set up any militant liberation movement. This policy of nonviolence is all the more remarkable when it is considered in relation to the sufferings inflicted on the Tibetan people during the occupation of their country. The Dalai Lama’s response has been to propose a peaceful solution which would go a long way to satisfying Chinese interests. It would be difficult to cite any historical example of a minority’s struggle to secure its rights, in which a more conciliatory attitude to the adversary has been adopted than in the case of the Dalai Lama. 


‐On Tuesday, I was walking along the West Side Highway (Manhattan), in a drizzle. Passed the Chinese consulate — wicked place. As usual, there was a line of people, protesting, across the street. I mean highway. Whatever. And when I say “line,” I mean they’re configured that way: in a straight line, a horizontal line, facing the consulate.

On this occasion, they were yelling, “China out of Tibet!” Their yells kind of stirred my passion, as I walked by. I’m glad they’re there. In China, you can’t yell at the government, unless you want very painful things to happen to you. Here, you can yell to your heart’s content.

Wouldn’t it be something if China got this someday?

Here’s some welcome and happy news:

Israel hopes to attract Christian tourists with a new pilgrimage route unveiled this week in the Galilee, a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples.

Developing sites linked to Jewish history has long been a priority for the Jewish state. But the Gospel Trail, inaugurated Thursday by Israeli tourism officials, is a nod to the growing number of Christians traveling to the country in recent years, outnumbering Jewish visitors.

The whole development is good for Christians, good for Israel, good for everyone. Do you mind if I cite an old joke? (Well, even if you do . . .) I’m thinking of the one about Jewish merchants on Christmas Eve, singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

‐I’d like to print a letter from a reader. I have received several like it, over the years. (Incidentally, I have been writing Impromptus for ten — ten years. Began in March 2001.)

Hello, Mr. Nordlinger:

. . . My wife and I were on a Carnival cruise ship all last week, sailing from Ft. Lauderdale to Panama and back. (Nothing beats cruising, eh?) Sunday, April 10, around 0930 local time, we were about halfway through the Florida Straits when a “vessel in distress” was reported and our very large ship spun around and picked up a gentleman who turned out to be a Cuban national, fleeing his island paradise. His “vessel” was a half-deflated raft with an old bed sheet as a sail.

The ship continued on a reverse course (now headed NE) to rendezvous with a Coast Guard cutter dispatched from Key West. After a few hours, the Coasties showed up, picked up the man, then headed off. So did we.

Needless to say, the vacation took on a slightly different tone for my wife and me, wondering what would happen to the fellow who risked everything like that, as so many have (most, unsuccessfully). Don’t know, probably will never know. . . .

By the way, the name of our ship was Carnival Freedom.

In accordance with our “wet foot, dry foot” policy, the man would have been returned to Cuba. If you’re able to touch land, you have a chance to stay in the United States. If you’re caught in the water — i.e., with “wet feet” — you’re sent back.

Everybody happy?

‐Okay, on to lighter fare (after that disturbing interlude). A little language? A reader writes,

Riding on a bus Friday afternoon, April 15, I passed a large group of teachers who were protesting. I had no idea the teachers were protesting in Los Angeles. They held a huge banner which they obviously spent money on to have commercially produced. The banner read,

Less Teachers

Less Education

More Delinquency

Shouldn’t that be “Fewer Teachers”?

What are you, some union-busting, child-hating fascist?

‐A little music? For my latest piece in City Arts, go here. I touch on three conductors at Carnegie Hall: James Levine (with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Yuri Temirkanov (with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic), and Riccardo Muti (with the Chicago Symphony).

‐A little more music? The Philadelphia Orchestra has declared bankruptcy. Their pension obligations, etc., have been killing them. They are a little arts-world example of what has happened to Greece, to Wisconsin — of what is happening all over.

When will there be enough wake-up calls to . . . you know: waken?

‐A little more music? Had a conversation with David Sanborn in the ’hood the other day. He has been one of the leading saxophonists since the ’70s. The calendar says he is supposed to be in his mid-sixties. Nonsense. He looks about 37. And you know how jazzmen are supposed to be cool? How you want and expect them to be cool? Sanborn is, very: and smart, and interesting, and fun.

Nice when people are what they should be.

‐Speaking of cool cats, my colleague Kevin Williamson told me about something remarkable. It is an artwork, located outside the dinky but delightfully named town of Valentine, Texas. This is in the southwest of the state. And some 35 miles from Valentine is a slightly larger town, Marfa — which sounds to me like certain southerners, and certain Brits, saying “Martha.”

You know what they call the Health and Safety Executive in Britain, don’t you? “’Elf ’n’ Safety.”

Anyway, the artwork in question is a Prada storefront — just that, a storefront, an installation. A sculpture. In the middle of nowhere. An intriguingly quirky thing. Check it out.

‐And our lil’ finale here — a reader names the next generation:

The next generation will need a name of some kind, same as previous generations were called the Me Generation, Generation X, etc. In light of the mountain of debt we will bury them under, I propose that we call the next one the Bagholder Generation.

A person left holding the bag is one who ends up bearing all the responsibility for a burden that should have been shared. It’s a perfect name for the sorry wretches coming up, and what makes it sweetest for us older types (the Piggish Generation?) is that most of the bagholders are too young to vote on the position we’re putting them in.

They don’t even know they’ll be bagholders yet, but they’ll find out soon enough.

Strength to Paul Ryan’s hands.




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