Politics & Policy

A Reagan flashback, &c.

(Library of Congress)

Reading Charles Moore the other day, I thought of Reagan. Come to think of it, I read Moore a lot, and think of Reagan a lot. Anyway, here is how Moore concluded a column:

We [i.e., the British people] have too much debt. We pay too-high taxes. We build too few houses. We are losing old jobs and costs prevent us creating new ones. We are having a bad time, and we want the people who rule us to lead us out of that, and think of little else. It is simple, but not easy.

Reagan was accused all the time of being “simplistic.” He was also called a “simpleton.” On the stump, Reagan would occasionally say, “There are simple answers. They’re just not easy ones.” He would insist on the distinction — or is it a difference? — between simple and easy.

‐In the Moore paragraph, you might have noticed a distinction (!) between the way the Brits talk and the way we Americans talk. They say, e.g., “costs prevent us creating new ones.” We would say, “prevent us from creating new ones.”

‐James Delingpole drew my attention to a term I had never seen. He did so in a blogpost late last month. “They’re calling it Global Weirding now,” he said. Apparently, “global warming” became problematic when the globe — well, stopped warming. I knew they had switched to “climate change.” I had not known about “global weirding.”

I remember the time when Al Gore began a speech, “We’ve been having some pretty weird weather lately, huh?” I thought that was one of the cheapest and most demagogic things I had ever heard.

Here’s a memory involving the term “climate change”: President Obama, speaking to students in Turkey, blasted his immediate predecessor by saying, “George Bush didn’t believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change. I think it’s important.”

(A) Obviously, Bush “believes in” climate change, because everyone acknowledges that climate changes. The debate is over a theory of man-made global warming, and what governmental policies should be. (B) It’s a pretty classy American president who trashes his predecessor on foreign soil, isn’t it? And to students!

Googling around, I found a February 2010 column by Thomas L. Friedman. The title: “Global Weirding Is Here.” The author counsels, “Avoid the term ‘global warming.’ I prefer the term ‘global weirding,’ because that is what actually happens as global temperatures rise and the climate changes. The weather gets weird.”

Uh-huh. That same month, February 2010, I wrote a column about the uses and abuses of the weather in the global-warming debate. In a subsequent blogpost, I published a letter from a reader:

Dear Jay,

You’ve reminded me of a dear old history professor friend of mine. Whenever someone made a comment about how unusually warm or unusually cold or unusually dry or whatever the weather was, he would tell the story of a farmer friend of his who once said to him, “John, I’ve been farming for 30 years. Only one of them was normal.”

I commented, “Perfect. The most scientific thing I’ve heard, about the climate, in months.”

‐So, Omar Sharif Jr. has come out gay and Jewish. What could possibly be more endearing to Egyptian society? I wish Naguib Mahfouz were around to weave this into a novel or short story . . .

‐I think I have my favorite sentence of 2012 so far. It comes from Paul Johnson, reviewing a book called Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe. I’ll print the sentence before as well:

“Lowe has much to say about revenge killings, though the evidence tends to be anecdotal rather than comprehensive. The trouble, of course, is that you cannot order people to kill Germans for six years, then suddenly tell them it is illegal.”

‐Last month, I had an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, about the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize. It was given to two Quaker relief organizations: the Friends Service Council in London and the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia. (The op-ed arose from my new history of the peace prize.)

I received several interesting notes on this subject, from Philadelphia-area Quakers, and would like to excerpt two here. The first comes from a gentleman in Swarthmore:

The tension between us pacifists and those who are moved to take up arms in support of what they see to be a great good or against what they see to be a great evil is never-ending. (I believe a distant, direct ancestor of mine may have been “read out of” his New Jersey Friends Meeting when he joined the Continental Army in 1775.) To us, it seems that every war, and the manner of its ending, has within it the seeds of the next war.

And the second letter, from a lady in Medford, N.J.:

I was in Oslo in 1947. I was attending the Oslo College of Industrial Design. I was fortunate to be invited to the Nobel ceremony. Henry Cadbury [leader of the committee in Philadelphia] saw my mother before he left for Oslo, and carried a gift for me.

My uncle, a Lutheran pastor in Norway, was curious about who the Quakers were, and when the AFSC was awarded the prize, his estimation went way up!

Henry was invited to stay with Norwegian Quakers, instead of a cold hotel. At one of the receptions held in this home, Henry was very glad to see me and speak English. In the living room was a larger-than-life painting, by a famous painter, of a man with outstretched arms and fully naked. I recall Henry staring at the painting — don’t know what he was thinking!?

Anyway, it was a very impressive ceremony, what with the King and the Royal Family.

‐A quick word about Ozzie Guillén’s words about Fidel Castro. Guillén is the manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team. He said, “I love Fidel Castro . . . I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [so-and-so] is still there.”

True. And, you know? Castro has wanted to kill a lot of people too — mainly Cuban democrats and human-rights activists, some of the best and bravest people we have ever known. Curiously, they are not “still there.”

As a rule, when Castro wants you killed — you get killed.

‐Mike Wallace passed away over the weekend. I wrote a little something about him in this column almost ten years ago — it was in February 2003. (Go here.) The occasion was “Interlochen Night at the New York Philharmonic.” Interlochen is an arts academy and summer camp in northwestern Michigan. At the intermission of a concert, there was a little ceremony. Or was it after? Or before?

Anyway, let me excerpt what I wrote about it:

Also present was Mike Wallace, who was at Interlochen in the 1930s. I want to tell you something lovely about his remarks. He was talking about a conversation he’d had with the founder of the camp, and the founder said, “‘Now, Myron’ — because that’s my name: Myron . . .” I loved that about Wallace: that he said, pointing to himself, “that’s my name.” Notice the tense.

Conservatives — my fellow conservatives — might be disappointed to know that Wallace is absolutely charming and engaging and fun. He, of course, teased me about being a “right-winger.” And he knew Nancy Davis before Ronnie did. Wallace told me about her mother, one of the great earthy talkers of all time.

Additionally, Wallace is a handsome devil, in his 80s. How in the world did he get all that hair? Or keep it, I should say?

I’ll never forget that about Wallace — not the hair, but that he said, “That’s my name: Myron.” He switched to “Mike” for “stage” purposes. “Myron” was maybe a teensy bit Jewish. But, late in life, he was saying, “My name is Myron, you know.”

I got a huge kick out of talking to him, and being teased by him.

One more thing: For my Nobel book, I used an interview he conducted with Cyrus Eaton in 1957. Eaton was a fellow-traveler of the Soviet Communists and founded the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. For the Wallace interview with him — superb — go here.

‐On the general subject of music: Here is my “New York Chronicle” in the current New Criterion. And here is my column in the current City Arts. It’s about two pianists, Bronfman and Perahia.

‐Finally, a painful subject — John Derbyshire, with whom National Review “parted ways” over the weekend. When it comes to race, Derb is outré, by the lights of most of us.

From what I can tell, Derb’s view of man is basically materialist. He would say “scientific,” I suppose. He thinks the rest of us have our heads in the sand. He looks the truth in the eye, but the rest of us look away.

But you know all this . . .

If Derb is a racist, he’s a peculiar kind. I don’t think he bears any individual any ill will. I don’t believe there is malice in his views. Some people who have read him will find this hard to believe. But if they knew him, they would not, I think. Derb is not the malicious type. He is kindly. Acrid, sometimes, but kindly.

I don’t have much patience with John’s critics on the left. Race is almost all-important to them. Not to me. It is one among other important things.

For example, John is strongly for abortion — certainly legal abortion. Does anyone care about that? That view, to me, is at least as offensive as Derb’s views on race. My nearest and dearest, life-long, have been pro-abortion.

Derb thinks that George W. Bush is a moron, and the Iraq War a crime. I doubt his views on these matters differ much from Michael Moore’s.

If not for his views on race — a big “if not,” granted — Derb might be quite welcome on the left. In any event . . .

The man is outrageously talented, one of the most sparkling writers of our time. He is deeply learned. There is almost nothing he can’t write about, to the profit of readers. He is one of those rare writers who make me read about topics I have no interest in. I’ll even follow him on math, as far as I can (which is not very far).

He has been kind to me, especially when kindness counted most. His wife is one of the most beautiful women in Greater New York. His daughter is one of the most enchanting. I have not seen his son in a while, but I enjoy hearing stories about him! Any son of Derb and Rosie’s is bound to be exceptional.

Derb sometimes writes like an ogre — Mr. Pessimist and all — but he’s one of the blithest spirits I know.

His “Straggler” column in NR has been extraordinary. A jewel in our crown. These columns should be collected, anthologized, placed between hard covers for generations to come. So should any number of his essays. I remember him on Kipling in The New Criterion. One of the best essays I have ever read on that writer, or any writer.

To go into difference once more: I am religious, Derb is not. I’m sure he thinks of people like me as Big Softies. I’m used to this: Many on the right think of me as a marshmallow, while many on the left denounce me as Attila the Hun — a skinner and eater of kittens. C’est la vie, in the American political world, which is a screwy one.


There are many reasons to regret or despise John’s race jaunts, particularly the latest one. But one reason, only someone who works at NR could have, probably: He has put the magazine in a terrible spot. This episode has been agony, for many of us.

I’ll miss Derb around the office keenly. He visited a couple of times a month, spreading his unique Derbyshirian qualities. But I will read him always, seek him out — and appreciate him forever.

There’s a phrase that Derb will know, because he knows all poetry, or damn near: “despite and still.” Derb could recite the whole poem (backward, and in Swahili). I know only the phrase. You have to use it a lot in life.




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