Politics & Policy

A fruit of 2010, &c.

Last year saw just about the biggest Republican blowout ever — with GOPers winning races and chambers left and right. Does it mean anything? Well, consider this headline, from yesterday: “School voucher bills flood GOP-led statehouses.” (Article here.) That was one of the most encouraging headlines I’ve seen in ages. May those bills lead to actual good.

“You can’t fight City Hall,” people used to say. You can’t fight teachers’ unions, right? Wrong — you may not win. But you can certainly fight them. And why not be bold in the effort?

(And if you happen to be a poor black kid in D.C., you’re out of luck, babe. It’s just because the Democratic party cares so much about you.)

‐Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa (Republican), made an interesting comment about Tim Pawlenty the other day. He said that Pawlenty is “kind of like the tortoise that just keeps going.” The tortoise is not road kill yet. But what progress he is making is hard to see.

He was an impressive governor, Pawlenty was, and he has a lot to offer. He is better, I think, than his campaign, so far. If he’s going to lose, fine — most people lose, when it comes to presidential politics. I just hope he can make a good case for himself, before he goes, because he deserves it.

You know what I mean? He is not a joke — far from it — and should not have a joke of a campaign. He is, in fact, one of our ablest people, one of the ablest politicians on the Republican side.

As gravy — or maybe even meat — he has a solid understanding of world affairs and American foreign policy. (For the article in which the Branstad comment appears, incidentally, go here.)

‐Doesn’t it seem like Branstad’s been governor forever? Reason is: He was governor from 1983 — elected before Brezhnev died — till 1999. Then he took a dozen-year rest. And now he’s back.

‐Donald Rumsfeld, you recall, was the youngest defense secretary ever, and then the oldest. That’s a neat trick.

‐A famous American baritone once told me, “I was a young Don Giovanni, I’m a middle-aged Don Giovanni, and I’m going to be an old Don Giovanni.” And so it has been, and will be.

‐If you don’t know who Mart Laar is, you should really make his acquaintance. He is one of the most interesting and admirable men in politics. I wrote about him, a little, from the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010: Go here, if interested.

Laar is an Estonian, a leader of the so-called Singing Revolution back in the late 1980s and early ’90s. This was the Estonian people’s freedom struggle, against the Soviet Union. I have a piece about it in the current National Review. Why? Because PBS will shortly air a documentary on the subject.

Let me give you a dose of biography: Laar is a historian who has twice been prime minister of his country. He served in that position from 1992 to 1994, and again from 1999 to 2002. He was just 32 when he assumed the premiership the first time. Now he is defense minister.

And he is a true-blue free-marketeer. Before he entered government, he had read just one book on economics: Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. It sounded right to him. In his innocence, he thought you were just supposed to implement the ideas in the book. He didn’t know this was hard or controversial or unusual. Estonia, needless to say, is a dynamo.

Laar is also a founding member of the Foundation for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, or FICC. He is one of those who say, “The crimes of Nazism are well-known and widely condemned. Why shouldn’t this be so with those of Communism?”

I talked with Laar on the phone the other day. We talked a little about what is happening in Syria. The most important thing in any freedom struggle, he said, is international pressure. The Estonians had this — had international pressure on their side. The Tiananmen Square protesters had none of it. The world just wanted to get along with the Chinese dictatorship. And the Syrians, of course, have almost none of it.

Laar pointed out, however, that the Syrians have one thing the Estonians lacked: the Internet, the social media. Very, very handy, these things: They keep a dictatorship from monopolizing information. If a dictatorship can’t control and suppress information — it is in some danger.

I said to Laar, “One big difference between you and the Syrians, I imagine, is that you were occupied by a foreign power, the Soviet Union, and were demanding your independence, and the Syrians are tyrannized by a native dictatorship.” Laar dismissed this entirely. “We had our own Communists,” he reminded me.

No matter how forbidding the odds, said Laar, you have to try. People under dictatorship have to try to win their freedom. “You may fail, you can easily fail. But you nevertheless must try. You never know how weak a dictatorship is until you test it.”

How weak is the Syrian dictatorship? They are killing people at will: 14 one day, 72 the next, 34 the next. So far, they have killed over 2,000 men, women, and children. Does that mean they are weak, the dictatorship? Or strong?

I don’t think we know yet.

‐Did I mention the Chinese dictatorship? Have a tidbit: A journalist named Qi Chonghuai was arrested in 2007. He has just had years piled on his sentence. His crime? As this article tells us, he “wrote about a local official who had beaten a woman for coming late to work.”

Extremely dangerous, reporting like that.

‐Thought you might enjoy a little note on language — language and politics. In the last few days, we’ve been hearing about the “Progressive Caucus” in Congress. How that is distinguishable from the Democratic party, I’m not too sure.

Anyway, I interviewed Ed Koch several weeks ago. And he said, “When I was in Congress [in the 1970s], you were proud to call yourself a liberal, and those few people who called themselves progressives did so because they thought liberals weren’t liberal enough. Now everyone on the left wants to be a ‘progressive.’ I think they’re nuts.”

‐Feel like a letter? This is kind of interesting:


You mentioned that many of the founding editors and writers of National Review were ex-Communists. [In this blogpost.] A story: I’m going through a fairly involved weight-loss regimen right now that’s medically supervised. This includes regular consultations with nutritionists.

One complaint I’ve had during this time is that all of my nutritionists are young and thin little things. I want to pull them aside and explain to them that they have no idea how to lose weight, to lose serious weight. To them, an extra cookie is a sin; to those of us in the class, the whole bag is tempting.

They can recite book knowledge all day long, but they lack the credibility that comes with being able to say, “Been there, know how hard it is, but this stuff works — I proved it.”

I guess that’s why outfits like Alcoholics Anonymous are so effective: You hear from people who have been in the abyss and climbed back out.

I also imagine that was a powerful source of credibility for the ex-Communists: They had been there, they knew what it was like, and they had found the way out.

‐A final thought? A friend and I were talking about this the other day. Not so long ago, this country was full of hitchhikers. People hitchhiked all over the country. Especially young people — that was how you saw the country, if you didn’t have very much money.

There came a time when you couldn’t: It was just too dangerous. Such a shame.

It is a shame, yes, that you can’t hitchhike. But you know what is the bigger shame? That you can’t pick up hitchhikers. You want to stop and help someone, give him a lift. You may even desire the company. But is it wise?

I didn’t mean to end uncheerily — but gotta go, and I imagine you do too. See you!




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