Politics & Policy

Talkin’ Mitt, &c.

Romney supporters listen to their candidate in Muscatine, Iowa, Dec. 28, 2011.

You may have noticed that talking about politics can be very hard to do. Give you an example: You’re talking to a conservative, and he doesn’t like Mitt Romney. Doesn’t trust him. Thinks he’s a phony conservative. Not a conservative at all. Thinks his campaign is just a masquerade, a cover for beliefs that are moderate at best.

What can you say to such a person? Nothing, I find. You just have to shrug and say, “Okay.”

#ad#Obviously, Romney has done a lot of tacking in his political career: first on the Massachusetts stage, now on the national stage. “Tacking” and “tacky” are words that sound an awful lot alike.

I believe that Romney is a conservative, and that he would make a very good nominee and a very good president. Furthermore, I believe he is the only Republican candidate who can win.

But how can you prove such things? You can’t, is the answer. Any of these propositions would have to be tested. Think Newt can’t win, or Santorum? The only way to prove it is to nominate him and see. Think Romney would go all Elliot Richardson on us if he were in the Oval Office? Only one way to find out. Think he’d be more like Reagan? Only one way to find out.

Etc. A very great deal of political discussion is speculation — informed speculation, maybe, speculation of varying intelligence and credibility, but speculation all the same.

When people speak in absolute tones, as though their political opinions were chiseled on tablets from Sinai, watch out. The more people know about politics, I find, the less absolutely and obnoxiously they speak.

‐I was talking to someone the other day who told me, with exquisite condescension, that “political elites” disagreed with me. And here I thought I was one! Who does the certification?

‐This same fellow said he could not go along with something I said because — get this — “I’m a writer and I care about words.” And here I thought I cared a little about words, and did a little writing! Maybe I should return to the pro shop, selling sleeves of Titleists . . .

‐One thing’s sure about the Republican nominee, I think: He’ll be called a Klansman, in one way or another. In ways subtle or blunt. Rare is the Republican who escapes this treatment.

The Left has started early on Mitt Romney: A blog said that Romney was mouthing an old Klan slogan. This charge was quickly picked up by the Washington Post and MSNBC.

The Klan slogan, apparently, was “Keep America American.” At some campaign stops, Romney has urged people to “keep America America.” What he means is, let’s continue to be entrepreneurial, opportunity-minded, dynamic, and so on. He is not advocating the lynching of blacks and Catholics.

To their credit, both the Post and MSNBC apologized for, essentially, pulling a white sheet over Romney. But he will have to get used to it, if he’s the nominee.

I recall something from long ago: the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Liberals kept stressing that the House managers were white. Their race was somehow a big deal. On television, Eleanor Clift said, “All they were missing was white sheets.” She said the congressmen were like “night riders.”

Clift, of course, is one of the whitest women alive. America is a very, very weird country. Often a nasty one.

‐Mind a little plugola? In 1999, I wrote about the disgusting role of skin color in the Lewinsky-and-impeachment drama: “The Race Ace: Clinton at his most shameful.” You will find it in my 2007 collection, here.

‐I believe that Clinton greatly benefited from the Republican electoral landslide in 1994. For one thing, it prevented him from acting on his most left-wing instincts: no more “ClintonCare,” or “HillaryCare,” etc. Similarly, I think Obama benefits from the 2010 Republican landslide. A Republican House means he can do less harm. And there is that healthy Republican minority in the Senate.

Going from memory, I quote Mitch McConnell, after the midterm elections: “He can do no more legislative harm — only administrative.”

#page#‐Rotation in office is a beautiful thing, one of the key elements of our democracy. But almost everything has a downside. We change commanders-in-chief, in the middle of wars. George W. Bush thought that the Iraq War was important, and that we needed to win it. Barack Obama thought the Iraq War was illegitimate and criminal, and that the high imperative was to “end it” (win or lose).

Iraq appears in danger of disintegration. Will American sacrifice — all that blood, all that treasure — be for naught? Are we kicking it away? I will say something hard: The president seems not to care. He gives the impression of not caring.

#ad#‐There was a story out of Tunis, with the headline “New president calls for Tunisia’s Jews to return.” I thought of Saif Qaddafi, whom I met with other journalists in 2005. Let me quote from something I wrote at the time:

“[Saif] says that Libyan Jews in Israel should return to their homeland (from which they were kicked out, of course), because ‘they lived in Libya for hundreds of years, and speak our language, and share our mentality — they ought to contribute to the modernization of Libya. They were very active in trade and business.’ Yeah, I bet they were.”

In my mind, this brings up the terrible question, “Where will Israeli Jews go, if Israel goes down? If the world lets Israel be overwhelmed by its enemies?” But I will take up that terrible question another time.

‐A friend sends me this notice: The University of Michigan Alumni Association is preparing a trip to the Castros’ Cuba! Take advantage of the segregated beaches, restaurants, and hotels! (“Tourism apartheid,” some call it.) Enjoy a place where a single party rules! Where the media have only one point of view! Where dissenters are jailed and tortured! Where American aid workers are held hostage! And don’t forget the underage prostitution!

Oh, you’ll love your trip. Totalitarian Cuba is in some ways even better than Ann Arbor, which after all has a Republican party. Go Blue!

‐Charles Moore’s column on thrift and its importance was absolutely first-rate, as his columns predictably are. But it did give me a stab of pain. A slightly painful memory.

In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was a camp counselor. Each week (I think), the camp emphasized a quality — a virtue. Something to instill in the young and to be expressed by all. One of the qualities or virtues was thrift. I remember objecting to this, saying we ought to be emphasizing generosity!

Oh, what a moron I was. But it wasn’t very long after, I think, that I had a simple realization: The thriftier you are, the more you have to give to others. That is merely one laudable thing about thrift.

I hope I said something like that, before I left camp . . .

‐At the end of Tuesday’s Impromptus, I published the e-mail of a nine-year-old boy. I would now like to quote another nine-year-old boy: the son of friends of mine, who are both professional musicians. They have three boys, all of them musical. The 14-year-old played for me the Haydn Piano Concerto in D. When he got to the relevant point in the first movement, he looked at me and said, apologetically, “I was too lazy to write my own cadenza.” He then tucked into another.

The nine-year-old plays the guitar (classical guitar). He played a series of Christmas carols, announcing one as “What a Child Is This.” I will never think of it another way again. I mentioned this to his mother later, and she said, “I know — I can’t bear to correct him.”

While we were messing around, I said to him, “Nate, your philosophy of music seems to be, the faster the better.” He said — I swear — “At last, somebody understands me.”



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