Politics & Policy

SDI à la russe, &c.

You’ve read about how the Russians want in on the missile-defense action? A story in the Daily Telegraph began, “A top Kremlin official has told the United States Russia wants ‘red button’ rights to a new US-backed missile defence system for Europe, a move that would allow it to influence the shield’s day-to-day operational use.”

I thought back to Reagan, and his quest for SDI — for a missile defense. He always said that, once the U.S. got the technology, we would share it with the Soviets. That way, one and all could be assured that the American goal was entirely peaceful and defensive. No one would have an advantage. Conservatives went along with the Gipper, on this as on nearly everything else.

I remember a TV show, moderated by Marvin Kalb, with Caspar Weinberger and Robert McNamara as guests. McNamara and Kalb were laughing it up, incredulous at the notion that we would share important technology with the Soviets.

Anyway . . .

‐I can hear some of you saying, “Red-button rights? I wouldn’t give them Red Buttons rights!”

‐Israel has made and deployed a missile-defense system. It’s called Iron Dome. Israelis can’t really afford to mock and deride missile defense, as so many Americans have. Why? Because Israel has come under rocket attack. Necessity is the mother of invention. Those attacks from Gaza have concentrated the Israeli mind — scientifically and otherwise.

Shouldn’t the American mind be concentrated too? Why must a crisis be upon us before we will act?

I said a million times, while George W. Bush was campaigning for his Social Security reform: No one wants to repair the roof while the sun is shining. It has to be raining and storming. But then, of course, the house may take on a lot of water.

‐There will come a time, probably, when America has missile defense: a big, excellent missile-defense system. Then everyone will say he was for it all along. Just as everyone was for doing what it took to defeat the Soviets in the Cold War.

Riiiiight . . .

‐In the 1992 presidential campaign, Gov. Bill Clinton went around saying, “We won the Cold War.” Reagan, at the convention — one of his last public appearances — said, “Whaddya mean, ‘we’?” The Democrats had checked out of the Cold War in, oh, 1972, would you say? (No fair counting Scoop Jackson.)

‐One of the most vexing stories I have read of late is this one, out of Jamaica: Jamaicans are bleaching their skin, in an effort to better their life chances. Skin color is an old, old story, played out in the Caribbean, in India, in the United States, all over. Let me quote a bit from the linked-to article:

[A] 23-year-old resident of a Kingston ghetto hopes to transform her dark complexion to a café-au-lait color common among Jamaica’s elite and favored by many men in her neighborhood. She believes a fairer skin could be her ticket to a better life. So she spends her meager savings on cheap black-market concoctions that promise to lighten her pigment.

Damn it. What’s wrong with people? I remember the old slogan “Black is beautiful.” Why not? I remember Alberta Hunter singing, “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” Boy, did she sing it bawdily. I used to work with a young woman who described someone she fancied as “black as sin.” I wish you could have heard the way she said it — lasciviously. Sssin.

Around the same time, I heard two black men tell “Yo’ mama so black . . .” jokes. One would tell one, the other would come back with another one. It was almost like the dozens. A sample: “Yo’ mama so black, she went to night school and they marked her absent.”

I also heard one of them say, of Africans who sold goods in a particular New York square, “Man, they so black, they purple!”

Skin color — what a crock, cluttering up the human mind, hindering our achievement. As though the Jamaican slum-dwellers didn’t have enough to worry about . . .

‐When reading about the sentencing of the former Israeli president, I thought of something. This guy was convicted of rape and sentenced to seven years. I thought, “What must other Middle Easterners — Arabs, Persians, Turks — make of this?” Some of them marvel at the Israeli political system, in which legislators, some of them Arab, heckle the prime minister. Some of them marvel at the openness of the Israeli press: where you can say what you please, criticize the authorities to your heart’s content.

What do they make of the imprisonment of a former Israeli president for rape? Maybe they think this shows the glory of true democracy. Or maybe they think he was framed by his political enemies . . .

‐“I just miss being anonymous,” said President Obama. (Story here.) “I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit, getting my car washed, taking walks. I can’t take a walk.”

You know, a lot of us would be happy to arrange a return for Obama to private life. Are you with me?

I thought of the vice-presidential debate of 2000. Joe Lieberman was trying to twit Dick Cheney for making so much money in the private sector. He said, among other things, “I can see my wife, and I think she’s saying, ‘I think he should go out into the private sector.’” Cheney replied, “I’ll help you do that, Joe.”

‐You remember another glorious moment from that debate — related?

Lieberman: I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, “Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?” most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago too!

Cheney: I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.

As the Bush-Cheney speechwriter John McConnell remarked, “Who wants to be a comedian now, Joe?”

‐Let me offer a little music criticism: For my “New York Chronicle” in the current New Criterion, go here.

‐End with a little Masters criticism — I mean, some criticism of the television coverage of the tournament? I have made some of these criticisms before. I hope you don’t mind a little repetition . . .

The attention to nationality in golf coverage has become absurd. It is well-nigh cuckoo. Not every event is the Ryder Cup. But commentators are determined to Ryder Cup-ize every event. One of the commentators, last weekend, said that so-and-so was “low American” — the American in the field with the lowest score. Who cared? They were all golfers, individual. The Masters has never been a nationality-tinged event. It is a universal event, an event for the (borderless) Nation of Golf.

A commentator said that Angel Cabrera was “representing South America.” No, he wasn’t — he was representing himself. This is a very, very individual game. If an American wins the Masters, it’s no reflection on me, believe me.

They kept emphasizing that the South African Charl Schwartzel won 50 years after Gary Player, another South African, won. Marginally interesting, as a piece of trivia. But irrelevant.

Every foreign player is referred to as an “international player” — as though he came from Trieste or something! What do you call Americans in the British Open? “International players”?

The American commentators have adopted the conceit of calling the British Open “the Open,” while calling the U.S. Open “the U.S. Open.” Can’t we leave that to the British — to Peter Alliss and all?

I heard a new language tic: So-and-so is “tied fourth,” rather than “tied for fourth.” Maybe it’s not new. I have been a little out of touch.

But thank you for being in touch, with this breezy lil’ column — crotchety lil’ column, actually, in this last section! I’ll see you later.

P.S. The very first piece I ever wrote, for publication, was on the subject of nationality and golf (“My Country, Ryder Wrong”). It can be found in the below-advertised collection.

P.P.S. Pardon the plug! But it’s sort of interesting, isn’t it? That my first piece was on the topic I’ve just been discussing?




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