Politics & Policy

Taking the pledge, &c.

As you may know, a group in Iowa called The Family Leader has crafted a pledge. They’re asking presidential candidates to sign it. So far, only Michele Bachmann has.

The pledge has to do with marriage and family. The group wants candidates to swear commitment to these joint institutions; to protect them from their many foes.

Bachmann has taken some grief over signing the pledge. The claim is, pledgers are advocating a ban on pornography. This is false. But the grief is taken, and given, all the same.

In my view, The Family Leader very definitely has its heart in the right place. But pledges are always a little problematic, aren’t they? A person’s word ought to be good enough. Must she sign her name?

Those who sign The Family Leader’s pledge commit to 14 bullet points. The first reads, “Personality fidelity to my spouse.” Presumably, a married person has already taken such a pledge. And if he is not inclined to keep it, an additional pledge on the campaign trail will make no difference.

You know?

‐Dame Stella Rimington is the former head of MI5. She recently commented on the security services of other countries. (Article here.) I loved what she said:

“The Italians were all ex-admirals and terribly courteous — lots of hand-kissing and bowing. The French were extremely good and seemed able to do anything. We worried about laws; they seemed able to do exactly what they liked, so we rather envied them.”

Vive la France (for the most part).

‐Michael Gove is just about my favorite member of any government. He’s the British education secretary — the Bill Bennett of Britain, I have called him many times. He is doing holy, necessary, and brave work.

The other day, he mixed up something about science — had Newton discovering the laws of thermodynamics. Tom Chivers wrote about it, a little sniffily, here. He said that Gove would never, ever mix up Shakespeare and Dickens. “But for some reason ignorance of science seems to be less shameful in certain circles than ignorance of the arts and humanities.”

On that, he is perfectly right. I’ve written about this matter before. Years ago, when Lawrence Summers was president of Harvard, he said that people would be ashamed not to know about, say, Hamlet. But they seem rather blasé about not being able to define “exponential growth,” or not knowing the difference between a gene and a chromosome.

I immediately looked up “exponential growth,” to be sure I had a handle on it. And I looked up the definitions of “gene” and “chromosome.”

You had me there, Larry (if I may be so boldly casual).

‐You know I like to report on Ted Cruz’s campaign from time to time. Especially when there’s good news. Ted is the sterling conservative — the golden conservative — who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Texas. He is a friend of mine. But that doesn’t prevent me from yelling about him as loudly as I can. In fact, it motivates me.

Ted is picking up endorsement after endorsement, and I particularly smiled at seeing this one: George P. Bush. That’s one of Jeb’s sons. And he is an unabashed politico. He himself will hold office one day, it seems certain.

“Jorge P.” said, “Ted is the future of the Republican party. He is a proven conservative, and his personal story embodies the American Dream.” He then compared Ted to Marco Rubio in Florida. And said, “[Ted] will inspire a new generation of leaders to stand up and defend American exceptionalism.”

I agree (for what it’s worth).

‐I smiled on reading something in a Steve Hayward piece, published in the July 18 National Review. That piece is called “An Environmental Reformation.” And the author mentions “the cliché about the ‘fragility’ of nature.”

So, why did I smile? I remembered a conversation I had with Thomas Sowell earlier this year. Readers may remember too.

He said, “What gets me is how people can get away with undefined terms. What do they mean by ‘fragile environment’?” I broke in, “They mean they don’t want you to go there.” Sowell laughed and continued, “‘The fragile environment’! I should be so fragile! I’ll be out somewhere, looking around me, thinking, ‘This environment has survived thousands of years of earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, and so forth’” — and yet it persists.

Just the greatest, Sowell. A conversationalist of immense persuasiveness.

‐Daniel Johnson, the editor of Standpoint (and the son of Paul), had a piece in remembrance of Elena Bonner. Of her husband, he wrote, “After Sakharov supported the U.S. Congress’s Jackson Amendment, which linked trade to unrestricted emigration for Soviets, including Jews, the Kremlin even floated rumors that Sakharov himself was a Jew who had changed his name from Zuckerman (zucker and sakhar both mean sugar).”

Yes, that was a specialty of the Kremlin. They said that Solzhenitsyn had changed his name from “Solzhenitsker.” And his patronymic, Isayevich — sounds a little Hebrew, doesn’t it?

Such beauties, those Soviet Communists.

‐A few weeks ago, I attended a wonderful event, in a little theater, or concert venue, here in New York. It was a launch for The Second Spring, by Joseph Bottum. Jody will be well-known to readers of this column. He was the poetry editor of First Things, the books & arts editor of The Weekly Standard, then editor of First Things. He is now a writer at large, as I see it: a writer for one and all, on any number of topics.

I had the honor of introducing him at the New York event. Rather than reproduce that introduction, I will do a little quoting from the publisher, St. Augustine’s Press: “The Second Spring contains the lyrics, melodies, and new piano arrangements (with guitar chords) for twenty-four songs: new words to old music.” (You can read more here.)

Yes, Jody has written poems, or verses, for two dozen songs, many of them known to us. I mean, the tunes are known to us; the words are new. And excellent words they are. They’re tender, tart, inspiring, amusing, and other things they should be. They are a bouquet of lyrics, for a songbook.

One of Jody’s missions in life is to rescue poetry — and maybe culture itself — from the curse of irony. That is certainly a mission to root for (and to join).

The event in New York was part poetry reading, part lecture, part concert, and part party. Three singers were on hand. Two were classical singers, and one was a folk singer. The classical singers were accompanied by a pianist; the folk singer accompanied himself on the guitar. All were admirable.

At the end, the entire audience — books in our hands — sang a Christmas song. A beautiful thing to do, no matter what the season.

May I quote my blurb? “Prima la parola, dopo la musica, goes the old saying — ‘First the words, then the music.’ Or is it the other way around? In any case, they go together like a horse and carriage (words by Sammy Cahn, music by Jimmy Van Heusen). Joseph Bottum has given us bolts of melody, lyrics for tunes old and new. Learn them, sing them — and look forward to this extraordinary writer’s next batch.”

I want to quote from Roger Kimball’s blurb, too: “There is a new current of vitality coursing through American cultural life, a current that is life- and beauty- and joy-affirming. I offer The Second Spring as Exhibit A in the brief for cultural renewal.”

‐I’ve been talking about language, after a fashion. Here are a couple of notes from a recent stay in an airport. (You know how those go.)

In airports, they say, “That flight has canceled.” Not “That flight has been canceled.” They’ll say, “If that flight cancels . . .,” or, “I don’t think your flight will cancel. But I can’t guarantee it won’t cancel.”

How long has this been going on? Not sure, but I kind of like it: a lingo, a grammar, for an industry.

Also, you hear “at this time” a lot, instead of “now.” “Passengers seated in Zone 2 may board at this time.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard “at this time” the other day . . .

‐Give you a ballet note? Okay, Veronika Part, the Russian melter, was the Sleeping Beauty the other night. After a particular dance, as the audience applauded, a man attempted to toss a bouquet to her. An usher blocked him. He then remonstrated with the usher, furiously, threw the bouquet down in disgust, and stalked out.

Fandom — weirddom.

‐When you have 20 minutes, treat yourself to this: Mark Helprin’s commencement address at Hillsdale College this year. As you might expect from this thinker, writer, and personality, it is bracing and provocative. You have to deal with it; you at least have to consider it. He says, in essence, “Save yourselves, and the country.”

I guarantee there wasn’t another commencement address like it this year. Or this century, probably. (I guess we’re entitled to say “this millennium,” but that’s just too cute.)

‐A reader sent me an article about a little girl — six years old — who made a hole-in-one. That’s pretty neat. But the kicker? Her name is Reagan Kennedy.

Have a great weekend, y’all.




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