You’ve heard about the “Kung Fu Fighting” case? It is a free-speech case, and also an End of the West case. (I’ve barely begun this column, and already I’m apocalyptic.) Back in April, a singer named Simon Ledger was into his usual set. This was on the Isle of Wight, at a seafront bar. Ledger was singing “Kung Fu Fighting,” that disco hit from 1974.
Two Chinese people happened by. Saying they were offended, they called the police. The police duly investigated. In a detail I love, they contacted Ledger while he was eating at a Chinese restaurant.
I was reminded of this episode when watching a video of Mark Steyn, here. Mark is giving a speech in support of Andrew Bolt, the Australian journalist who has been hounded by the courts for politically incorrect speech. To read about his case is to be worried for the West, genuinely worried. And don’t we normally think of Australia as particularly bold and free?
Anyway, Mark talks about the “Kung Fu Fighting” case in his speech. He even sings a bit of the song, encouraging others to join in — which leads me to the point I wish to make.
The Right is no good at “street theater,” never has been. I borrow the phrase from Bill Buckley: He once referred, with a slight sneer, to “the street theater of the Left.” They are very good at this, these theatrical protests. For instance, they will have a “kiss-in,” or a “die-in,” or a “teach-in.” It stands to reason that the Left is better at collective action than we are. Conservatives are apt to recoil at the very thought of a group.
But wouldn’t it have been neat if conservatives and classical liberals had leapt to Simon Ledger’s defense with a “sing-in” — a mass singing of “Kung Fu Fighting,” at the top of our lungs? The spirit would have been, “Come and get me, copper! You can’t arrest us all! Or can you?”
Perhaps we can have a rousing, colossal rendition of “Kung Fu Fighting” on the upcoming National Review cruise? It is inarguably true that, since the War on Terror began, most conservatives have been in favor of rendition. I note, too, that Simon Ledger performs on cruises. Maybe he’ll be on our boat? Or has the chilling effect chilled him off “Kung Fu Fighting”?
When I was growing up, I was made to understand that threats to free speech came from the right. Perhaps they did then. But when I, in fact, grew up — and here I’ll add the obligatory “to the extent I have” — I found that threats to free speech came from the left. “Kung Fu Fighting” aside, who has imposed “speech codes” on campus? Not we, not we.
‐Andrew Roberts, the historian, drops something tantalizing in the current Spectator. To read his “Diary,” go here. He attended a party on Martha’s Vineyard, a party also attended by the Clintons. “Bill told my wife Susan and me something rather shocking about one of the Republican presidential frontrunners, unrepeatable in a family magazine such as this. If it’s true, the race is still wide open . . .”
If the Democrats have bombs to drop on the Republican nominee — whoever he is — they will likely drop them a year from now: as Election Day approaches. In the meantime, the Republicans oughta — you know: vet.
‐It seems to me that the immigration issue is taking an inordinate amount of space in the Republican campaign. It’s taking an inordinate amount of space in conservative discussions generally.
Immigration is a damn important issue, of course. We need to come to grips with illegals. We especially owe something to the Southwest — where hospitals are stressed, ranchers are vandalized (and worse), and many people feel under siege. These people need relief, in the form of border control and clear, sensible law. We all need such relief.
But America is facing a screaming financial crisis. Unless we tackle “entitlements,” in particular, we will be flat on our backs. The immigration issue, while having its economic aspects, is not central to this problem. Also, there’s a war on. Jihadists and their supporters are trying to kill us, every day. What are we going to do about that, going forward (as they say)?
More broadly, there is the question of America’s role in the world: what we should be, what we can be. Crossroads City, as the first Bush might say.
One reason the immigration issue is taking so much space in the campaign, of course, is that Texas governor Rick Perry is in. The other candidates have an interest in depicting him as a doormat for illegals. In the most recent debate, Rick Santorum asserted that Perry was “weak on national sovereignty.” If you believe that, I have a bridge a few miles from where I’m typing that I’d like to sell you.
Day after day, we’ve talked about in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens — an issue about which decent and patriotic people disagree. It is also a relatively small issue. I think of the passengers on the Titanic: Did they complain about the chicken paillard, as the ship was going down? I feel we are a little like that.
So, let’s get back to the real issue: Perry’s determination to violate innocent little precious twelve-year-old girls with a great big government needle, which causes retardation.
‐I wish to quote something from Charles Moore’s latest column, which is relevant, I think, to our discussion:
We have the certainty of rising unemployment, high taxes, the terrifying pointlessness of saving. There have been riots at home: there could be revolutions on the Continent. Yet in Britain, debate rages about nothing more earth-shaking than whether or not to cut the rate of VAT. It suits politicians to aerate about differences which are, in reality, small.
‐And have a few more lines from that column:
You are not supposed to “talk Britain down”. It is a genuine duty of leadership to whistle in the dark to keep people’s spirits up.
But I still feel that there is a gap in the market for political leaders who know how to talk both truthfully yet encouragingly about hard times.
That is very true, as much here as in Britain — more, probably.
‐When Mitt Romney talks about major and necessary reforms, he concludes with, “I’ll get that done.” He says this with a crisp confidence. A buoyancy. I sort of believe him.
‐If he’s the nominee, will he win his home state of Massachusetts? (I’m tempted to put “home state” in quotation marks.) Probably not, I would say. You recall 1972: Senator McGovern lost his home state of South Dakota. But he won Massachusetts.
Reagan won Massachusetts twice. The first time was probably because of an unusually large Anderson vote. The second time — he won all the states, except for Mondale’s Minnesota. (Fritz got D.C. too, of course. So had McGoo.)
‐Wish to tell you a story — true, as far as I know. A teacher is helping little boys with two subjects: penmanship and phonics. One boy gives her a paper with chicken scratch on it. She says, “I can’t read this.” He says, in a helpful tone, “Well, sound it out.”
‐I was in my home territory over the weekend, the Great Midwest — Milwaukee, specifically. Got a couple of language notes for you.
As his customers left his restaurant, a man said, “Good night, now.” That “now” sounds perfectly natural to my ear. I grew up with it. But it’s curious, isn’t it? “Have a good night, now.”
A notice in a hotel room said, “We’ll keep you afloat of any further changes.” This was probably just a mistake — “afloat” for “abreast” — but I still like it.
‐I have mentioned before, in this column, the greatest sign in any airport — the sign in the Milwaukee airport that says “Recombobulation Area.” After you go through security, and are all discombobulated, you can get recombobulated.
Also, this airport has ping-pong. What a friendly airport! And it has — drumroll, please — Northpoint custard.
In the early 1970s, a friend of mine who works in music coined a slogan: “Beverly Sills is a great high.” It was a very druggy time in America (a time that never went away, I guess). And Sills was a soprano who sang way, way above the staff.
Well, Northpoint custard is a great high, I’m here to tell you.
‐Does it kind of irk you, as it does me, that airlines are saying, “Pay more if you want to board earlier, thereby increasing the chances that you’ll get some overhead space”? I know that airlines must tighten their belts and work for every penny. But still . . .
‐In a recent column, I related a story that Walt Harrington told. A few weeks after the 1992 election, he remarked to President Bush (41) that he was sorry about his defeat. Bush said, “You know the worst thing about it, Walt? The embarrassment. It’s just so embarrassing.”
I’d like to close our column today with a letter from a reader:
I too was struck by what Bush said about losing. This is a phenomenon that few discuss: the sheer embarrassment of losing a tough-fought election, especially if you’re the incumbent.
I was a legislator for ten years, and when I got knocked off, I found that one of the most painful parts of it was that the winner’s narrative of himself and of the campaign seems to become true retrospectively. My opponent accused me of many things that were not simply false but off-the-wall — yet it seems that people internalize the winner’s narrative after the election, in much the same way they become convinced they voted for the winner, whether they did or not.
GHWB must be very strong to have dealt so well with losing the presidency. It is a heavy burden to bear. I think it unlikely that Obama would display the same grace, but I certainly hope he is put to the same test.