Politics & Policy

The thing about Sarah, &c.

I’d like to say something about Sarah Palin — but I first need to say something about Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace laureate who was the subject of my column on Monday. I promise that my point about Ebadi will relate to my point about Palin.

About a year ago, I was talking to an Iranian friend of mine, an exile journalist. We were talking about his countrywoman, Ebadi. I was kind of griping about her. I said, “You know, if she wants to oppose the Afghan and Iraq wars, fine. She can denounce them if she wants — plenty of respectable people do. But why can’t she say one word for the people who suffered terribly, for years, under the Taliban and Saddam Hussein?”

I think I went on this way for a while. When I was done with my little rant, my friend said, “But then she wouldn’t be Shirin Ebadi, she would be Jay Nordlinger.” In other words, she has the right to be the kind of person she wants to be, rather than the kind I would have her be.

#ad#A few nights ago, I was having dinner with another journalist friend of mine — an American, a conservative, like me. We were talking about Sarah Palin. And we were saying what we had both wanted for her: We wanted her to go back to Alaska following the 2008 presidential election. Be the best governor she could be. Bone up like crazy, on issues national and international. Emerge for the 2012 presidential cycle informed to the gills, but still with her lovely, fresh, irreplaceable charisma. Then sweep the world.

That’s what my friend and I wanted for Palin (and us). But she wanted the TV reality show, the move to Arizona, etc. Fine. Her life, not mine. But . . .

Don’t you hate it, sometimes, when people aren’t what you want them to be? When they are, instead, what they want to be?

‐Do you think Anthony Weiner will survive his scandal? Brazen it out? He certainly could. He could be holding public office for decades to come.

During “Lewinskygate” and impeachment, a lot of us said that this was a test of America, as much as a test of a particular man, Bill Clinton. The president used a 21-year-old intern for sex in the Oval Office (as I remember). There followed perjury, subornation of perjury, abuse of power, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, etc., etc., etc.

And the American people were basically cool with it. Oh, yes they were. Those of us who were not cool with it were denounced as squares, prudes, killjoys, shredders of the Constitution. Clinton seemed to get ever more popular. His party had a field day at the polls in 1998, the sixth year of his presidency, a year that should have been terrible for Democrats. And make no mistake: If not for the Twenty-second Amendment, he would have been elected to a third term. Hell, he might still be president today.

The American people are a lot like Weiner and Clinton: They just wanna get they freak on. And they don’t really mind whether public servants do. Such is life in a “post-moral” society. The “Sixties” — to use a broad, metaphorical term — have won.

I’m sorry, dear readers: I’m just not very gooey about “the American people,” sometimes. I think I’ve met too many of them — and that does not exclude those who travel in conservative circles, believe me. I might be in a cynical mood just at the moment. I’ll let you know when it passes . . .

‐Last week, I had a blogpost, titled “Wives.” It was a little reflection on Mrs. Anthony Weiner and Mrs. Bill Clinton. I said,

Many of us said, during 1998, that much depended on how the wife reacted. What would Hillary do? Would she stand by her man, or declare that she had had enough? She chose to do the former: making accusations of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” That saved him (although Ken Starr saved him too, by tipping him off about the dress). (For chapter and verse on this affair — all of Lewinskygate and impeachment — see Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf’s Truth at Any Cost. It is the definitive book, so far as I know.)

A reader wrote me,


The mom of that girl out in Seattle has just called Weiner out on the carpet. She said, “I’m really upset. I feel like he’s a person of power and influence, who can make a statement and make all this go away.” Another quote: “As her mother, I’m really upset.”

That reminded me of what I often thought during the Lewinsky scandal of 1998: Where’s the dad? If it had been me, I would have marched to the White House and demanded to see the president so I could punch him in the nose. I wouldn’t have gotten in. But I would at least have let the press know what a lowdown, no-good, rotten guy I thought Clinton was.

If that had happened, I think Clinton doesn’t make it past a week. What do you think?

I don’t know. Interesting point.

‐Note the contrast between the behavior of former congressman Chris Lee and the behavior of still-congressman Anthony Weiner. The first gets caught in a “social media” scandal, and immediately resigns. Weiner lies for a while, until it becomes impossible: and then determines to brazen it out.

The next House election is a long way off. Year and a half. Will people remember Weiner’s scandal at that point? Will it lend him cachet? “Edginess”?

‐This is perfect: “NBC News is hiring former National Public Radio chief Vivian Schiller, who left this year in the midst of a political controversy . . .” (Rest of the story here.) NPR, NBC, ABC, XYZ — does it really matter? Is it not all one club, so to speak?

#page#‐Let’s have a few reviews — some mini-reviews. First, Giselle at the American Ballet Theatre (or rather, from the ABT, at the Metropolitan Opera). There’s something I often say about Verdi: Amazing how good he’s gotten, in the last 20 years or so. When I was a kid, I thought he was simpleminded and often silly. Obviously, a few things were masterpieces — Otello, Falstaff, the Requiem. But his catalogue at large! All those rinky-dink melodies, all that oompah-pah — organ-grinder stuff.

But for some reason, in the last 20 years, he has become a full-blown genius. A man of bottomless profundity (in addition to theatrical wiles).

#ad#Oh, did I dislike Giselle, in earlier years! Thought it was la-di-da, insufferable, absurd. I thought the score, by Adolphe Adam, was perfumed and dumb. (I did like Adam’s Christmas carol, however: “O Holy Night.”) Now that I have grown up — and put away childish things (mainly) — I see that Giselle is nothing less than a masterpiece. And it is there to touch all who are willing to be touched.

It certainly helps to have a dancer — a prima ballerina — such as the ABT’s Diana Vishneva. I remember what Valery Gergiev, the Russian conductor, said to me in a public interview (Salzburg). We were talking about people who sneer, stupidly — which is the only way to do it — at Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, et al. One of the things Gergiev said was: “You can perform anything in an insipid way, but that’s not the composer’s fault, it’s yours.”

‐Also from the ABT came Lady of the Camellias, the ballet fashioned from the novel by Dumas fils (the same novel from which Verdi got La traviata). This ballet is accompanied, if that’s the word, by music of Chopin. There is a particular dance, a dance for two (to use the technical language), to the Largo from the B-minor sonata. It’s just about the most romantic thing you’ve ever seen in your life.

The ABT had three pianists on hand, including Koji Attwood — yes, two t’s — a splendid young musician from Kansas. A big technique, this fellow has (though that was not really called upon in Lady of the Camellias). And he rolls his own. By that I mean, he’s the sort of pianist who creates his own transcriptions and whatnot.

The prima ballerina on this evening was Julie Kent, celebrating her 25th year with the ABT. I mean, the company was celebrating her career with this very performance. At the end, there was one bouquet after another, as Kent’s colleagues took the stage to pay tribute. Also on the stage were the dancer’s two children, including a little boy who, shy, or embarrassed, could not quite lift his chin off his chest. His mother brought him all the way to the front of the stage.

A first-rate experience, all the way around (for the audience, I mean — not sure about the little boy).

‐Koji Attwood reminds me of something: Jane Addams’s father was John H. Addams, an Illinois businessman, banker, and politician. He was a founder of the Republican party. And he and Lincoln knew each other well. Lincoln addressed letters to him “My Dear Double D-ed Addams.”

‐About the Roy Hargrove Quintet, at the Village Vanguard (Greenwich Village, New York), I wish to say three quick things:

1) A really good drummer, Montez Coleman.

2) Yes, I know Mayor Bloomberg is “Nanny Bloomberg,” and that the Vanguard by rights ought to be filled with smoke. But still: Rather pleasant, to sit in a jazz club, smoke-free. Wrong. But pleasant (for some).

3) Let me whine, once more, about what I call “the overamplification of American life.” The Vanguard is tiny. Has a very low ceiling. Basketball players almost have to duck. There was a quintet of jazzmen in this tiny room. Could have blown the roof off, regardless. And they had amplification — microphones. Why? Why? And why don’t people think this is abnormal, unnecessary, harmful, and wrong? Why?

So weird.

‐Monday night was a wonderful one — a doubleheader, for me. First, I went to a book party for my friend Margot Morrell, who has just written Reagan’s Journey: Lessons from a Remarkable Career. Margot examines this career step by step. She shows how Reagan set his sights on certain goals and pressed on toward them, no matter what the adversity. The brutal abandonment by Jane Wyman. The tanking of a movie career. An assassination attempt. And so on. Margot understands what is important, and gets to the essence of the man. She has the humanity required for this great subject.

She also had the humanity for another great subject, Ernest Shackleton. Her book Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer was a runaway bestseller, as why wouldn’t it have been?

After her party, I went across town to the Mannes school, to hear my friend Ignat Solzhenitsyn play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106, nicknamed the “Hammerklavier.” This is one of the most fearsome, most sublime, most demanding works in the entire repertory. Ignat has what it takes to do it justice. In this, he does not have much company.

For his recent recording of Schubert works, go here. For his recent recording of Brahms works, go here. I believe there is a Beethoven album forthcoming.

Did I say it was a good Monday night? Yeah — a really good one.



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