Politics & Policy

Exodus to Texas, &c.

There has been a lot of talk, the last couple of years, of Texas’s economic success. The talk has intensified because Gov. Rick Perry looks like he may run for president. Texas has been almost the lone exception to the nation’s economic pain. (The “lone star,” yuk yuk yuk.) People, particularly employers, are leaving California and other states in droves, to go to Texas. “G.T.T.,” read the signs of the 19th century: “Gone to Texas.” Something like those signs can be seen now.

Well, you want to hear a taxi story? Okay. Romanian taxi driver in New York City. Makes a good living — $100K a year. But not really: because he is barely scraping by on that $100K. He can’t get ahead. Can’t save. Taxes, fees, regulations, and all. A studious sort, he did a big study of the United States, with an eye to what he might do. He decided to go to Texas. The reason: It’s friendly to small business.

Man’s going to Austin. He’s not going to drive a taxi. He’s going to try to buy a franchise — maybe a fast-food place — and make a go of it. I bet he succeeds.

By the way, do you remember one of my favorite sayings, which comes from Aaron Wildavsky, the late political scientist (Berkeley)? “One story is an anecdote; two stories are data.”

‐I was talking with a good friend of mine, a true-blue conservative Republican. Does some political work in Albany. I asked how Andrew Cuomo, the new governor, was doing. He said, “On the economic front, great. Perfectly. He’s doing everything right. I can’t think of anything I would do that he’s not doing.” Holy-moly. I said “Why is that so? Why is Cuomo performing so well?” My friend said, “He has no choice. We’re up against it. Something’s got to give. We just have no choice, and he knows it.”

I can’t help thinking of one of Burnham’s Laws (i.e., the maxims of James Burnham, the intellectual who was one of the pioneers of National Review): “When there’s no alternative, there’s no problem.”

‐Back to Texas for a minute: For a long time now, I’ve been ballyhooing my friend Ted Cruz, who’s running for the U.S. Senate. He’s competing for the nomination to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison, who’s retiring. Ted’s website is here. My little piece about him, when he announced, is here. It links to my prior piece about him (bigger). And I could ballyhoo on — and will.

But now George Will has written a column about Ted. The title, in the Washington Post: “In Ted Cruz, a candidate as good as it gets.” Exactly. And when the biggest guns take notice of this fact, and trumpet it — what need is there of little ol’ me? What a delightful development. And inevitable. Ted Cruz is well on his way to national conservative leadership, and we’re all the better for it.

‐I was particularly grateful for Mona Charen’s column yesterday, for this reason: It pointed out that the 1980 presidential election was a close-run thing. Reagan pulled away at the end, but at the very end. This was no cakewalk.

For years, I have had a peeve — have I mentioned this before? — about another presidential election, the one in 1984. Yeah, Reagan won it 49 states to 1. But don’t you dare believe that this was foreordained, or anticipated by all. Throughout the campaign, we heard of the strength of the Democratic ticket. And saw it. Geraldine Ferraro was an especially potent factor, ready to win the votes of women and “Mediterranean ethnics.” And when Reagan stumbled, badly, in the first debate . . .

I watched The McLaughlin Group in those days — we all did, all of us who were crazy about politics. I heard everything that Jack Germond, among the others, said about the campaign. And after that big November day, when Reagan romped, Germond published a book, with his partner, Jules Witcover, called “Wake Us When It’s Over.” You know, yawn, yawn, yawn: It was always going to be a historic Reagan landslide.

Nonsense. I remember being infuriated by that title — thought it was misleading and dishonest.

Look, you don’t win until you win (most of the time).

‐Yelena Bonner — or Elena Bonner, take your pick — was one of the great dissidents and human-rights activists in the history of the Soviet Union. She was dogged, fearless, righteous, like all the best. Her greatness may have been slightly obscured by the fact that she was married to a man of almost fathomless greatness, Andrei Sakharov. As for La Bonner, she was cantankerous, impossible, and wonderful.

She passed away over the weekend. Last year, I had the privilege of interviewing her. We did this via e-mail, through the good offices of a dear Russian-American friend of mine, who translated. Bonner and I talked mainly of the moment in 1975 when Sakharov won the Nobel peace prize. She happened to be out of the country when the announcement was made; she was in Italy, receiving eye treatment. She stayed out of the country until she could represent Sakharov at the Nobel ceremony. The Soviet government refused to let him out.

In Oslo, Bonner read two speeches for Sakharov: his acceptance speech and his Nobel lecture. In the middle of the lecture, Sakharov did something amazing: He named the names of about 100 political prisoners “known to” him. Through Bonner, he just started reciting their names, beginning with “Plyush, Bukovsky, Glusman, Moros . . .”

Bonner said to me that “the listing of names brought joy to the prisoners of conscience, and to their relatives. More important, it somewhat protected them from the camp administration. Besides, listing specific people, and caring about a particular person, as opposed to general arguments about human rights, fulfilled a most important inner need for Sakharov.”

The year after Sakharov died, which was in 1989, the Nobel committee gave the peace prize to Mikhail Gorbachev. This sickened Bonner, who sent a letter of protest to the committee. Her thoughts on this changed over the years. She told me, “I [now] maintain an incomparably more peaceful attitude toward this event” — meaning, the prize to Gorbachev. And “I respect Mikhail Sergeyevich personally.”

In her final years, she was dismayed at the increase in anti-Semitism in Norway — home of the Nobel peace prize — and throughout Europe and throughout the entire world. And she could never quite reconcile herself to the fact that Yasser Arafat had joined her husband in the “club of Nobel laureates,” as she put it. (Arafat shared the peace prize with two Israeli statesmen in 1994.)

Bonner: “I’d like to remind you that, in 1973, there came to our house two members of Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, who threatened to kill Sakharov and our whole family — and they knew about the recent birth of my first grandson! — if Sakharov did not cease his pro-Israeli statements.”

I loved Yelena Bonner — the best kind of fighter — and I’m grateful for her life.

‐A quick ballet review? Shostakovich wrote The Bright Stream, or The Limpid Stream, in 1935. It was pretty much a hit — until the authorities decided they didn’t like it very much. And the authorities’ opinion was more important than the public’s. Pravda came out with one of its infamous editorials: “Balletic Falsehood.” One of Shostakovich’s collaborators, Piotrovsky, was sent to the Gulag and tortured to death. Others were a bit luckier.

No one saw this ballet until — get this — 2003. And the American Ballet Theatre, at the Metropolitan Opera House, did it this season. The score is wonderfully Shostakovich-like: whimsical, brash, rude, coarse, tender, snorting, amused, sarcastic. You know that Shostakovich mode, or modes. There is even a spot of flatulence — along with more elevated stuff.

And The Bright Stream — which has to do with life on a collective farm — is flat-out hilarious. How many “comedy ballets” are laugh-out-loud? Not many, is my impression. And the ABT brought it off splendidly, with the women, Veronika Part and Stella Abrera, delicious.

In one scene or act, a male dancer impersonates a ballerina — playing on all the stereotypes. Cory Stearns did this brilliantly. And a ballerina impersonates a male dancer, playing on all the stereotypes. Abrera had all the moves — including that swagger.

What a bright, gay (in the old sense), merry-making show. No wonder Stalin & Co. hated it.

‐Some music? I want to offer a piece: “The Right Notes,” published in the May 16 National Review. It’s on the late composer Lee Hoiby, and, specifically, my friendship with him. It’s sort of a memoir — a brief one.

In it, I quote from several of Hoiby’s letters, including one in which he reflected on tonality:

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I had some thoughts about music which recur to me today. In tonality, the tonic is Home. You can leave, go many places, have many adventures, stray where you like, but you can always come home. Without tonality, you set out, you may have a lot of fun and do a lot of things, but you have no map, you can never come home. You are lost.

Anyway, enjoy that piece — it’s interesting, I think, because Lee was (is).

‐Close with a name? This one is really fun, I hope you’ll agree. It’s from Mr. Todd Barney of Marietta, G-A:

. . . When my wife and I were expecting our first child in 2000 (turned out to be children, twins), we did the usual thing of picking out potential names. I was pushing hard for Frederick Nathaniel, which would have given us Fred N. Barney.

No soap. Oh, well. Probably for the best. . . .

. . . did I mention that I did most of my growing up in Flintstone, Ga.?

There was a bonus in there: I like the expression “No soap.” Had never heard. Thanks, my friends, and see you.




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