Politics & Policy

‘When I’m president,’ &c.

You don’t mind if I say something I say every four years, do you? I’ll vote for the first presidential candidate who uses the conditional: who says, “If I were president, I would do X,” or, “If I’m elected president, I will do Y,” or, “I aim to implement Z.”

Presidential candidates, no matter how far-fetched, are always saying, “When I’m in the Oval Office, I’m gonna do X.” “In my first 100 days, I will do Y and Z.” Give me a break. I understand the need for confidence, even a little swagger, but please: A little grammatical modesty would go a long way.

The other day, Michele Bachmann said, “Let me be abundantly clear — my ability to function effectively has never been impeded by migraines and will not affect my ability to serve as Commander in Chief.”

I wish I could run for president, if only to be the first to say “would.” Would you find that refreshing and appealing, dear friends and voters? Shall I thump my tub? Listen, when I’m president, I’m gonna fix the budget, fix immigration, restore American power in the world, and eliminate the mosquito.

Oops, I’ve slipped the grammatical leash already. But at least I haven’t promised anything about ocean levels.

‐As this article tells us, Democrats and Republicans are having a tussle over Ronald Reagan. As they fight over the budget, they are evoking the memory and example of Reagan. Each side is doing this. Which is a little strange.

But not really: Democrats really appreciate dead Republicans, or retired ones. It is an old, old story — a full-blown pattern. Whoever the Republicans of the moment are, they’re extreme, and right-wing, and beyond the pale. Whoever the Republicans of the past are, they were moderate, and reasonable, and public-spirited.

Democrats have sung the praises of Barry Goldwater for a couple of decades now. While he was in the saddle, they vilified him as Attila the Hun or a Nazi. Martin Luther King, in his Nobel lecture, said he represented “a dangerous Fascist path.”

Reagan, of course, was a racist, a warmonger, a hater of the poor, a nuclear cowboy, a racist. Did I mention “racist”? They did, every two seconds. Bush 41, when he came in, was a heartless right-winger. Democrats would always compare him with his father, the late senator Prescott Bush. “His dad was such an admirable, gentlemanly Republican, but the son has thrown in with the far Right.” Bush 41 actually had to defend himself at a press conference, saying he thought his dad would be proud of him.

Then, when Bush 43 came in, the Democrats said, “If only he were like his father, that sweet, civilized, and patriotic man!” I joked at the time, “What if one of the twins becomes president? The media and the Democrats will say she is an extremist, nothing like good ol’ W., a man you could do business with.”

Maybe someday the Democrats will say something nice about a Republican who’s alive and working. But don’t count on it.

One more thing: That article I linked to? It’s an Associated Press report by Tom Raum. It includes a sentence that goes, “The big bipartisan agreements of the Reagan years were mostly cobbled together by [Tip] O’Neill’s forces and moderate Republican leaders such as Sens. Howard Baker of Tennessee and Bob Dole of Kansas, and Rep. Barber Conable of New York.”

Dole as moderate? That’s just great. When he was working, the Democrats and the press said he was a hard conservative, an arch right-winger. He was the one who was put on the 1976 ticket, as a sop to the Right, which was anti-Rockefeller. Now Dole gets to be a “moderate.” I can’t wait to find out what the AP says about Jim DeMint 20 or 30 years from now.

‐In fairness, I must say that it drove Democrats nuts when Reagan cited FDR, Truman, and JFK. In the ’84 campaign, Walter Mondale said, bitterly, “Stick to your own heroes: Harding, Hoover, and Nixon.” But Reagan, remember, had voted for and loved FDR and Truman. He also campaigned for Hubert Humphrey, when HHH ran for mayor of Minneapolis!

JFK, it is true, he was not high on. But they had supply-side tax cuts in common . . .

‐When hearing about the Norway massacre, I had many thoughts, of course. And one of them was this: The police don’t carry arms. I learned that on a visit to the Norwegian Nobel Institute last year. A staffer there gave me that fact about the police. For him, it was a sign of Norway’s essential peacefulness. My reaction was, “That’s not exactly reassuring. Who would want his police unarmed?” I didn’t voice this, of course.

I then heard that the police took 30 minutes to reach the scene of the massacre. Then I heard it was an hour and a half. A man armed to the teeth can kill a lot of people in an hour and a half, when he is unopposed. No one on the scene, apparently, could pull a gun on him.

Anyway, Norway’s heart is breaking, as you know. And so are the hearts of those who love her.

‐You will want to look in on the Syrian protests every now and then. Many people are doing remarkably — incomprehensibly — brave things. The dictatorship’s forces have killed about 2,000 so far. Two weeks ago, I mentioned one of these victims, Ibrahim Kashush. He was a singer, singing songs of protest, rallying people against the dictatorship, giving them heart. They slit his throat, the dictatorship did. And cut out his vocal cords. Then they dumped him in the river.

The New York Times has a compilation of videos from Syria: here. I recommend it, although the subject is hard. The subject is uplifting, in a way, too. These people are just fed up: fed up with subjugation, fed up with hopelessness.

‐Mayor Rahm Emanuel makes an interesting interviewee. Prickly sort. Last week, he crossed swords with a reporter named Mary Ann Ahern. She wrote about this sword-crossing here.

I want to excerpt two sentences: “The mayor stood up to leave. ‘I look forward to our future interview,’ he said before unclipping his lanyard microphone and dropping it to the floor . . .”

Dropping it to the floor — for someone else to pick up? Really? It’s just a detail — a tiny detail — but the you-know-what’s in the details.

‐When the news about Rep. David Wu was breaking, a reader wrote me, “A little language, please: I keep reading that this guy had an ‘unwanted sexual encounter’ with a teen.” That is, the encounter was unwanted by the teen, not the congressman. “What the hell is an ‘unwanted sexual encounter’? Don’t normal people call it rape?”

I too am bothered by that term. It seems to me a lame euphemism. If we mean rape, we should say so. If we mean something lesser — maybe we could spell it out. Be more specific. “Unwanted sexual encounter” seems to me in the realm of “undocumented citizen” or something: just too vague and/or weaselly.

Maybe I’m wrong.

‐A little music? For a piece in City Arts, go here. It’s about ballets of Rodion Shchedrin, performed at the Lincoln Center Festival, and a recital by Koji Attwood, a young Kansas pianist.

‐In last Friday’s Impromptus, I published a story from Stuart Laughton, a top trumpeter (La Scala, Canadian Brass, etc.). He studied with Gil Johnson. Who studied with Sam Krauss. Who studied with Saul Caston. All three of those men served as principal trumpet in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stu’s story concerned Caston.

The orchestra played in the middle of nowhere one time — way out West — and Rhapsody in Blue was on the program. Amazingly, Gershwin was in the audience. The lesson from Caston: Always play your best, because you never know who’s out there.

A reader writes me,

In his last year, Joe DiMaggio was fighting injuries. But he was playing his heart out. One day, late in the season, he made a dramatic diving catch. The game meant nothing — it didn’t affect the pennant race or anything. Someone asked him, “Why did you risk hurting yourself further, in a meaningless game?” He said, “I always remind myself that there might be someone in the stands who’s never seen me play before.”

And that made me think of Robert Shaw, the late choral conductor (and orchestral conductor, sometimes). Whenever he conducted some familiar, canonical work — e.g., the Missa Solemnis — he said to his forces, in the final rehearsal: “Remember: There will be people in the audience who will be hearing this work for the first time. And there will be people who will be hearing it for the last time. Make it good.”




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