Politics & Policy

Aargh! &c.

Chief Justice John Roberts

You’ve heard all too much about the Roberts ruling, I’m sure — I mean, the health-care ruling. Let me add two cents — not so much mine as those of a wise judge I know. “Incompetent,” he said. Roberts’s ruling was incompetent. “Silly, absurd, not worthy of respect. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was far more reasonable in her argument.” (Yikes!) “If a district-court judge pulled a stunt like the one Roberts pulled, he would be reversed by the next court in about two seconds.”

In the deepest cut of all, the judge said, “Roberts failed to do his duty — his constitutional duty. He’s not supposed to be looking at the political situation. He’s not supposed to think about his ‘legacy.’ He’s supposed to uphold the Constitution, plain and simple. The majority decision will come to be embarrassing. The dissent will stand as something true and admirable.”

I said, “So, do you think Bush 43 may have inadvertently saddled us with another Warren Burger?” “No!” said the judge. “Burger would never have written something so stupid” as the Roberts ruling. “He was not incompetent.”

#ad#‐Let me try something out on you: People say, “Wait for the next election. Settle this thing — settle health care — in the political arena, where it belongs.” I have used this kind of language myself, about various issues. But, you know? Every branch has its duty. We have separation of powers in this country. We have checks and balances.

The executive doesn’t have carte blanche for four years; Congress doesn’t have carte blanche, for any period. We do not elect a czar, who has four years to do whatever he wants, while the rest of us say, “Relax: There’ll be an election in due course.”

Remember, Richard Nixon won 49 states in 1972. It was one of the biggest presidential blowouts in American history. Within two years, he was forced from office.

If a bill is unconstitutional, it is the duty of the Supreme Court to say so. Every branch has a role, every officer has a part to play.

‐It is conservative doctrine that special prosecutors, or independent counsel (or counsels), are bunk. I’m sure this doctrine is right. I have been mouthing anti-special-prosecutor arguments since the 1980s. I believe them.

But this is what I get stuck on: How can a Justice Department, for example, investigate itself? How can people who work for the attorney general properly investigate him?

As I said, I get stuck on that. People say, “Well, sort it out at the ballot box. There’s always another election.” True. But don’t you kind of have to obey the law before then? I mean, you can’t stick your tongue out at the law and say, “You’ll have your chance in the appropriate November,” can you?

‐Conservative, or Republican-appointed, justices are always crossing over to the liberal side. We have seen Roberts. You had Burger, O’Connor, Souter, others. You have Kennedy. Do the liberals ever cross over to the conservative side? Aren’t their votes pretty much in the bag, rock-solid predictable? Isn’t all the “swinging” action from the right, so to speak? Conservatives are always “surprising” us. Do liberals ever surprise?

‐As a senator, Obama voted against Roberts’s confirmation, and against Alito’s. He could never have guessed that Roberts would throw him a lifeline. I couldn’t have guessed either.

‐I noticed in a post by Yuval Levin that the New York Times had referred to the Court’s liberals as “moderate liberals.” The others, including Kennedy, were labeled “conservatives.” I wonder what would be a “moderate conservative” in the Times’s book. Anyway, the paper had “moderate liberals” pitted against “conservatives.”

I was reminded of what the Times called George Zimmerman, the shooter in the Trayvon Martin case: a “white Hispanic.” We use language to express our reasoning (among other things). If your reasoning is warped, the language will come out warped. You know what I mean, I trust.

‐Politicians, like other people, change their minds. They reverse themselves. But they should probably explain themselves as they do so. If someone is, say, anti-death penalty and becomes pro-death penalty, he should probably say, “Let me tell you what accounts for my change of position . . .”

Remember Earl Long? He reversed himself on something, shortly after he was elected. He flat out broke a campaign promise. His press secretary said, “What should I tell ’em?” Earl said, “Tell ’em I lied.”

At least that was something. You’ve got to say something.

Barack Obama swore up and down that he did not have the power to grant amnesty, all by himself. He had to follow the law. We had a system in place, a set of procedures. But then he went ahead and said he was waving a wand and declaring amnesty.

Shouldn’t he explain himself? Shouldn’t he at least acknowledge that he is doing something he said he could not? Shouldn’t a journalist ask him about this matter, if he has a chance?

I volunteer!

‐I have just spent time in Taiwan, examining the differences between that country and China, finding out about the relationship between the two. So I think the below news gave me an extra jolt:

Chinese security agents abducted a Taiwanese businessman who practices Falun Gong from an airport in southern China last week, placing him at risk of torture and imprisonment. . . . “His relatives drove him to the airport and watched as he walked into the passenger-only area, but he didn’t arrive at the airport in Taiwan,” the man’s wife said at a press conference at Taiwan’s parliament on June 22. “We contacted his relatives in China immediately; they went to check and told us that he was taken away from the airport to ‘assist in an investigation of Falun Gong activities.’”

Uh-huh. For the rest of the report, go here.

The PRC is an unfree, immoral, cruel, brutal, disgusting country. It is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. It is plainly unwilling to let a Taiwanese businessman come and go. Sure, the Free World, and the rest of the world, has to deal with the PRC. But I don’t see why we can’t tell the truth about it as we do.

‐I’ll tell you whom I admire: the people in the Kaping district of Tangshan, in Hebei province. Listen to this:

At 6 a.m. on June 9, 2012, approximately ten security agents forced their way into the home of 58-year-old Mr. Li Zhen . . . When Li’s wife screamed for help, dozens of neighbors came out, forming a human wall in an attempt to prevent the abduction. The standoff reportedly lasted for two hours before officers forced a shoeless and shirtless Li into a car in handcuffs and drove away.

A human wall, to protect an innocent man. What a beautiful thing. And to hold out for two hours against PRC authorities — a fine stand. Not good enough, however. (Full story here.)

#page#‐In Thursday’s Impromptus, I mentioned I was in Houston, and glad to have landed at the George Bush airport — an airport named after the 41st president. I said that he ought to have something yet bigger named after him.

Many readers sent me a picture of the Bush aircraft carrier — a “supercarrier,” actually — asking, “That big enough for you?”


#ad#‐It was an honor, when I gave a book talk, to meet readers of National Review. One man said he was working on an oil rig 90 miles away and had driven to Houston to hear the talk. He said he discovered NR in the 1960s, and was like a thirsty man who had been presented with a nice, cool drink. In those days, he said, “I read every word, even the ads at the back.”

I know what he means. I had a similar experience with NR, and with Commentary, and with The American Spectator. They enriched me and kept me company.

‐In the audience was Chase Untermeyer, who was an ambassador to Qatar under 43. (Feel free to say “Qa-TAHR,” rather than “Gutter” or “Cutter”! It’s perfectly good English. For a 2002 piece I did on this general subject, go here.) I said to Untermeyer, “You were personnel director under 41, weren’t you?” He looked at me guardedly and said, “Did I turn you down for a job?”

No! (I’ve been turned down by others.) Untermeyer must get that a lot. In any case, he is a gentleman, and what a public servant should be, I think.

‐Some years ago, I was staying at UCLA, and went for a long walk in the morning. I happened on this neighborhood that was paradisiacal — one of the most beautiful places of human habitation I had ever seen. I asked someone where we were. He said, “You’re in Bel Air, man!” Oh — that would explain it.

I tell you, River Oaks in Houston is not far behind. I have walked through it on different occasions. The houses tend to be very large, but not vulgar. They are different from one another too. The grounds are beautiful. The birds chirp and sing their heinies off. What’s not to like?

“Obscene wealth,” is the phrase I grew up with. The word “obscene” was attached to “wealth” like jelly to peanut butter. (Remember when Orwell said you always heard about “rabid anti-Communists” but never about “rabid anti-fascists”?) Well, in my view, there’s nothing obscene about River Oaks. It must attract a lot of envy, though.

‐How would you pronounce a street called “Willowick”? “Willow-ick” or “Willo-wick”? Makes a big difference.

‐In a different neighborhood, Afton Oaks, there is a street called “Newcastle,” also spelled “New Castle,” on at least one sign. I smiled at a memory. At a golf course in my hometown, one of the holes was labeled a par 4 on the scorecard — but a par 3 on the sign at the tee. (Or maybe it was the other way around, I can’t remember.) A friend of mine, who went on to be a professional golfer, swore that this was part of the greatness of the course.

‐The sweetest thing about Houston at this moment? For me, it’s all the Ted Cruz signs — signs for this Senate candidate, who is a friend of mine and would make a superb addition to the upper chamber, and to conservative leadership nationally. Oh, I hope he wins, on July 31 . . . (That is the date of a Republican “runoff” election.)

‐While I’m talking about friends of mine, I noticed something amusing in the Telegraph — on its website. Now, Anthony Daniels, as you may know, also writes under a pen name, Theodore Dalrymple. He is one or the other. The opinion page advertised a piece by “Tony Daniels.” I have never seen “Tony” in Tony’s byline. But you clicked on the link and found a piece by “Theodore Dalrymple.”

That must have confused some readers . . .

(Superb piece too, as usual — on Rousseau and his miserable, substantial legacy.)

‐The other day, some friends and I were discussing euphemisms — to which I am becoming increasingly averse. To call something by its right name is a wondrous, and vital, thing. I was reminded of a recent letter from a reader: “I saw a girl wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘I’m not hearing-impaired, I’m deaf.’ I wanted to propose marriage to her.”

‐Another reader says, “The Obama campaign has asked you to send donations to the reelection effort rather than wedding, birthday, or anniversary gifts to your friends. What’s next, ‘Pawn Your Jewelry for Barack’?”

Hmmm . . .

‐You will want to know how Polina Semionova, the Russian ballerina, did in Swan Lake — I mean, when she starred with the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday night. Let me put it this way: The audience screamed and screamed for her like I’ve never heard an audience scream for anybody — including in Italian opera houses and Upper Midwestern hockey arenas. The audience didn’t want to leave. They wanted to keep screaming.

And they were right. Semionova has all the tools, physical and artistic, and the results are . . . I want to coin a word: pantheonistic. Worthy of the pantheon.

‐A little music? For a review in CityArts, go here. It deals with Emanuel Ax (the pianist), Alan Gilbert (the conductor), and the New York Philharmonic. And Mozart. 

‐In Houston, a man whose book I signed said, “You talked in a recent column about having dinner with any three people in history. Well, what three Nobel peace laureates would you choose to have dinner with?” I thought for a second, then thought for another second. I was holding up the line. I finally said, “As Bill Buckley would say, that question’s like Peking duck: requires 24 hours’ notice.” I then said I would answer his question in a column.

We are really in eeny-meeny-miny-moe territory here. I mean, you could throw a dart, as Reagan once said. Let me just blurt out three names: Fridtjof Nansen, Albert Schweitzer, and Andrei Sakharov. Also on my shortlist — high — are Carl von Ossietzky and Albert John Lutuli.

Actually, I’d most like to have dinner with Liu Xiaobo, because that would mean he was out of prison.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.

Most Popular


Holy Week with Saint Paul

Just the other day, I ordered a replacement copy of The Passion of the Christ -- it can be so impactful for Holy Week meditation. In the years since its release, it’s become something of required Lenten viewing for me. But this year, there is a new movie to help with prayer, Paul, Apostle of Christ, released ... Read More

Heckuva Job, Paul and Mitch

As Thursday's editorial makes clear, the omnibus spending bill is a disgrace. That may be why about 40 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Democrats) voted against it. Apart from the absence of a DACA/Dream amnesty, the immigration portions represent a comprehensive victory by the anti-enforcement crowd. ... Read More
White House

Bill Clinton Redux

Stormy Daniels could have stepped right out of the 1990s. She would have been a natural in a Bill Clinton scandal, and, in fact, all the same means would have been used against her. Donald Trump’s tactics in these cases are almost indistinguishable from the Clintons’. The effort to shut down the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

California’s Pro-Nuclear Renegade

If California’s upcoming gubernatorial race gets decided solely by money, Michael Shellenberger doesn’t have a chance. The latest campaign filings show that Shellenberger, an environmentalist from Berkeley, has about $37,000 in cash on hand. The frontrunner in the June 5 California primary, Lieutenant ... Read More

Encouraging Signs in Iraq

Last year, relations between the Iraqi central government and the Kurds reached what was possibly an all-time low when the Kurds held an independence referendum in which 93 percent of voters opted to secede. The timing was no coincidence: Iraqi forces had retreated from Kurdish territory in 2014 as the Islamic ... Read More