Politics & Policy

Presidential qualities, &c.

Senator Rob Portman (R., Ohio)

As regular readers know, I think a lot of Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Jeb Bush, and some others, and think they ought to run for president — they’d be good. (In the Oval Office, I mean, whether on the campaign trail or not.)

I have been singing the praises of Portman since long before he reached the Senate. He’s one of the most impressive public servants around. In fact, he’s one of the few about whom you don’t have to be embarrassed to use the phrase “public servant.”

#ad#We had him in our offices the other day — National Review offices. I asked him about the presidency: Did he think about running this year? Would he ever? He said, “You know, that’s a really hard job. A really hard job.”

It is, yes. And the kind of person you perhaps want in it is one who realizes this fact and who, moreover, doesn’t lust after the job. Is even somewhat reluctant to go for it.

Brass and daring are useful in the Oval Office. Modesty and humility are too. Some blend is ideal. And there you have Lincoln.

‐I’ve noticed something over the years, particularly in receipt of mail: People who hate Lincoln, people who hate Churchill, people who hate Israel? They overlap, to an extraordinary degree.

‐Portman jokes that I’m his only fan — but this isn’t true, given that he was elected to the House, selected to serve in an administration (Bush 43’s), and elected to the Senate. You have to have fans, legions, to do those things.

I’m still dreaming of dogcatcher, not able to contemplate going beyond. (Do they have dogcatchers on the Upper West Side?) (All the dogs are on leashes, from what I can see. And some of them are so tiny, it takes great alertness not to step on them.)

‐I remember a line that GWB used in 2000, against his opponent, Al Gore. The vice president, he said, had a “weakness for exaggeration.” He said that regularly (about Gore’s whoppers): “My opponent has a weakness for exaggeration.”

Well, so do most politicians, and so do most people, I think — but some have more weakness than others. Newt Gingrich is a big-time exaggerator, and he has been doing so with respect to Reagan. He refers to the “Reagan-Gingrich model” of government, and suggests that he and the Gipper won the Cold War, just the two of them.

By one tally, Gingrich has mentioned Reagan 55 times in the debates, and the other candidates have combined for a mere 51.

Some people have pointed out Newt’s weakness for exaggeration, and this has gotten some other people’s noses out of joint. I say, You know, Gingrich has a record of genuine accomplishment. Think of the role he played in the coming of a Republican majority to Congress, for the first time in 40 years.

Newt should not have to gild, stretch, and horn-toot quite so much.

By the way, what ever happened to Gore? I mean, besides winning an Oscar and the Nobel peace prize in the same year? Is he richer than Mark Zuckerberg or lagging slightly behind? Either way — he’s doing okay, at least financially.

‐I saw a headline, over this article: “Russia backs Assad, last friend in Arab world.” How sad for both of them.

‐Zhu Yufu is a Chinese democrat who spent from 1999 to 2006 in prison. Fifty-nine years old, he is back in again, and this report contains a chilling fact: Zhu’s wife says that, in his eleven months in custody, he has aged significantly, his hair and beard turning white.

I know something of what the Chinese authorities do to prisoners. You can well understand how a man’s hair and beard could turn white.

One of the things that offended the Communists was a poem written by Zhu. The last verse goes,

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.

China belongs to everyone.

Of your own will

It’s time to choose what China shall be.

That sort of thing, in “the People’s Republic,” can get you tortured and killed. We should remember that, even as we engage with the growing power in Beijing.

‐About a month ago, I ranted in a column about a University of Michigan trip to Cuba — a trip sponsored by the alumni association. Subsequently, I was contacted by a student reporter at Michigan, Stephanie Wang, who was researching a story on the matter. I sent her a piece to read: “Who Cares About Cuba? Ninety miles away, far from our minds.” And then I tapped her a little e-mail. To read Stephanie’s story, go here.

And I thought, here in Impromptus, I’d share with you my e-mail — which is a 101 kind of thing, but which may be of interest:

Cuba is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. It has been this way for more than 50 years. There is no dissent allowed, no freedom. Great and brave people are imprisoned and tortured every day. Some have starved themselves to death, in protest. People are forbidden to leave — but they risk their lives to leave, on rafts or anything else that can float. Sometimes they’re shot in the water, by government forces.

There is a “tourism apartheid” — segregated beaches, restaurants, hotels, shops, etc. Cubans who work in these places are carefully vetted by the Party. I know a Cuban American whose cousin couldn’t meet him in the lobby of the hotel in which he, the American, was staying. I believe some of these rules have been relaxed.

Tourism dollars are greatly prized by the regime. The regime needs those dollars as oxygen. I myself would not choose to vacation in Cuba, or any other totalitarian state. I would not feel comfortable vacationing in a place whose citizens are forbidden to leave. Voting with your feet — opting to leave — seems the minimum right.

But that’s just me.

There are a great many people in free and democratic countries who admire the Castros’ dictatorship more than they do the dissidents who are brutalized by that dictatorship. That, to me, has always been one of the mysteries and outrages of our era.

‐You know about Meredith Graves: She’s the woman from Tennessee who tried to check her gun at the 9/11 memorial in New York and was arrested. She is now facing prison. It all went down like this, I believe:

#page#Just before Christmas, Graves drove up to the city. At the 9/11 memorial, she noticed a sign saying, “No Guns Allowed.” That’s when she remembered that she had her usual pistol in her purse. As a polite and conscientious Tennessean would, she asked a security guard where she could check her gun. The guard directed her to a policeman. She asked the cop the same question. He then arrested her.

She will, of course, be tried for illegal gun possession. New York is not like Tennessee. What she is caught up in is, in part, a culture clash. Apparently, she could go to prison for three and a half years if convicted. Her mother-in-law, who lives in New Jersey, was quoted as saying, “Everyone carries down there [in Tennessee]. . . . She was just being honest, and this is the treatment they give innocent people.”

#ad#Donald Rumsfeld used to say, “America’s not what’s wrong with the world.” And Meredith Graves, I submit, is not what’s wrong with America. Not by a long shot. But, just in case: Do you think they should lock her up for ten years, instead of three and a half?

One more question: Why was that “No Guns Allowed” sign at the memorial? If it’s such an obvious thing, I mean? There aren’t signs in front of convenience stores that say “No Robbery Allowed.”

‐Whether the late Joe Paterno was guilty, or how guilty he was, I don’t know. But I’m going to do a little post about him anyway. A friend reminded me of something I’d written in 2008. It was part of a journal I published on this site, regarding a tour of Iraq. In Faw Palace (Baghdad), a group of us met Major General Paul E. Lefebvre, a general “from Central Casting,” I said: “square, rugged, tough.” Also “thoughtful, articulate, and clear.”

This is the bit I wanted to cite:

General Lefebvre used to be a football coach. In fact, he served under Joe Paterno at Penn State. “Coach Paterno wrote my recommendation to go to officer candidate school,” says Lefebvre. “After working for Joe, I didn’t need the drill instructors to teach me about commitment and excellence — the only thing missing at Penn State is the Iwo Jima monument.”

When Lefebvre called Paterno to tell him he had been promoted to general, the coach wasn’t really overrunning with congratulations. Instead, he said, “What exactly have you done to prepare yourself for this position?” That’s Paterno.

I hope that someday we’ll have the true and unquestionable account of what happened at Penn State.

‐A shift of gears — for some music, namely this “New York Chronicle” in the current New Criterion. Knock yourself out. (Do people still say that?)

‐I have mentioned in this space that John Gross was just about the most civilized man you ever could know. His last book is now available in paperback. It is The Oxford Book of Parodies. A man with John’s combination of knowledge and wit was just the one to put it together.

‐I am reminded that a) Reagan’s birthday is Monday and b) the centennial exhibition on him is still on offer at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. But you can’t wait forever to see it. Let me republish a blogpost I wrote last summer — headed, “He Ought to Be in Pictures”:

In recent days, I’ve been doing some scribbling — more than usual — about Ronald Reagan. I heard from Sidney Hart, senior historian at the National Portrait Gallery. He has curated an exhibition on Reagan, in this centennial year. (Reagan, as you remember, was born in 1911.) The exhibition runs until May 28 of next year. Dr. Hart invites us all to make our way to Washington and stop by. He also welcomes our comments. (There’s a rare invitation!)

I definitely intend to see the exhibition, whose website is here. I know it has been done with understanding and taste — also with heart (and I’m not trying to make a pun on the curator’s name). This is a use of tax dollars all of us Reaganites can get behind.

I still have not seen it. But I think the invitation is too good to pass up . . .

‐A little language? In that post I quoted, I said, “I definitely intend to see the exhibition.” An old southern friend of mine used to say, “intend on seeing [the exhibition].” I loved that.

‐A month ago, I had a couple of indignant notes in Impromptus (here). Indignant Note 1: “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?” Indignant Note 2: “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 . . .”

A reader writes,


I feel your pain . . .

A while back we had some friends to dinner and got to talking about global warming. My friend — a pediatrician — is a down-the-line green believer convinced that Al Gore has it right and the rest of us are in denial. I — with graduate degrees in physics and fluid mechanics / heat transfer — am still somewhat skeptical, to say the least. His comment: “Well, I probably just have a different perspective on this because I have a technical background.”

As they say, priceless.


‐In my Impromptus of Tuesday, I noted the National American University and asked, “Don’t you hear a redundancy in that, or is it just me?” A reader writes, “My personal favorite is the University of Maryland University College.”

Yeah, that wins!

‐Finally, I saw a report that Michelle Obama had gone on a spree for high-end lingerie. Don’t know whether it’s true. Two points — one a language point, one an anecdote. Most of us pronounce “lingerie” in a way quite unrelated to the spelling, and to the original French pronunciation. How we get “lawnzheray” out of that, I have no idea.

Also, I believe Robert Mitchum said the following, when proposing to the girl who would become his bride: “Stick with me, kid, and you’ll be fartin’ through silk.”

That strikes me as quintessentially American. Do they say that in Japan? Finland? Well, maybe.

See you!



Most Popular


Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More