Politics & Policy

Condi talk, &c.

There has been some Condi talk — Condi-as-veep talk — and I will add a few words. More talk, that is! I understand the enthusiasm for her; I also understand the opposition.

Last year, I heard her give a speech in Prague, during a Reagan centennial celebration. It was a boffo speech — a defense of democracy promotion, basically, against its various attackers. The Q&A was just as good: Rice was crisp, factual, strong, interesting. I thought, “You know, she’d be good on the stump.”

The first time I heard her give a speech was at the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. That too was boffo. I remember one line in particular. She was glad, she said, to belong to a party that “sees me as an individual, not as part of a group.”

She was national security adviser in the first W. administration, and then secretary of state during his second. I had very much looked forward to her tenure as secretary of state. But it did not set the world on fire, did it? (Maybe the point of foreign policy is not to set the world on fire.) The “freedom agenda” seemed to sag badly.

Okay, flash-forward to a few weeks ago. I was at dinner in Houston with about ten politicos. Actually, there was one non-politico at the dinner. The question arose, “Who ought to be the GOP vice-presidential nominee this year?” We gave the expected answers, and the expected arguments: Rubio, Portman, Ryan, Christie, and so on.

The non-politico said, “Rice.” She said it somewhat sheepishly. We all pounced on her immediately, saying, “No chance.”

But why had she named Condi? She had attended the recent Romney gathering in Utah, with her politico fiancé. Rice was a speaker. By all accounts, she absolutely killed. (For the benefit of the unslangy, “killed,” these days, means “wowed the audience.”) Maybe the one non-politico at the dinner in Houston knew more than — or at least as much as — the rest of us?

The liabilities of Rice as veep nominee need not be rehearsed here. But I will comment on one of those liabilities. In the press over the last week or so, she has been described as “mildly pro-choice.” Actually, that is her self-description. I first heard her use it in an interview with me in 1999. At the time, she was a veteran of Bush 41’s foreign-policy shop and an adviser to the Texas governor, W.

Would a “mildly pro-choice” official who put a dent in abortion be better than a pro-life official who did nothing? Sure — but that is “a whole ’nother issue,” to be taken up another day, perhaps.

My main point, for now: I can understand the enthusiasm for Condi, even as others are bewildered. To hear her speak is to be pretty impressed. And to ask, “Why not?”

‐We all know that, in January 2009, Chief Justice Roberts screwed up the oath — screwed up the oath for Obama. The big question is: Has he now screwed up his own oath?

‐I am full of advice for the Romney campaign, and we know how much free advice is worth. And yet — let me offer a memory from the 1980 Republican primaries. George Bush ran, as you remember. He would later be known as “President Bush,” and, still later, as “Bush 41.” But in the 1980 primaries, he lost to some washed-up actor. Can’t remember his name.

One thing Bush said was, “He’s had his chance.” He was referring to the incumbent president, Carter. “He’s had his chance. He’s had his chance to lead. He’s had his chance to get us out of these messes. He has failed. Let someone else have a chance.”

I think Romney should make a similar argument this year. It is, for one thing, nonideological. There are plenty of excellent ideological — or, better, political or philosophical — arguments to make. But that’s a good nonideological one: “He’s had his chance. He has made things worse. Bring us on, give us a chance.”

Ordinary people — I’m not talking about political nuts like you and me — might well nod in agreement.

‐I hope you are enjoying the current issue of National Review, or will soon. Lots of good stuff in there. My own contribution is an essay called “A World of Labels: ‘Moderate liberals’ and other interesting creatures.”

“Moderate liberals”? Well, you remember what the New York Times said: John Roberts had joined the Court’s “moderate liberals” to uphold Obamacare. Roberts and the other four Republican justices were “conservatives.” That includes Anthony Kennedy, famous as a swinger. (I’m talking about his voting record, not his “personal life.”) But the Democrats — Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan? Just “moderate liberals.”

Ginsburg, reflect, was general counsel to the ACLU!

The New York Times has come up with some screwy phrases lately. You recall the paper’s description of George Zimmerman, the shooter in the Trayvon Martin case? “White Hispanic.” I can’t help wondering: Is Justice Sotomayor a “white Hispanic”? I guess not: In its editorials, the Times refers to her as a “Hispanic,” period. There must be some color chart, unseen by the rest of us . . .

In my NR piece, I discuss this world of labels, not so much race and ethnicity as the strange world of American political taxonomy. Most people, I imagine, would like to think of themselves as “moderate” — certainly as opposed to “extremist.” But remember Barry Goldwater in 1964! “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Goldwater was a conservative, of course: the author of The Conscience of a Conservative, no less. But he was also a classical liberal: a free-marketeer, a constitutionalist, a decentralizer, an anti-statist. Being a classical liberal is enough to get you labeled a right-winger or worse. (I can testify from personal experience.)

Martin Luther King gave his Nobel lecture in December 1964, a month after LBJ trounced Goldwater. He said the American people had showed “great maturity” in rejecting “a dangerous Fascist path.” It was not MLK’s finest moment, obviously.

One more thing, before I leave the subject of labels: In Europe, leftists are likely to refer to you and me — I mean, Reaganites and Thatcherites — as “neoliberals.” That is a great putdown from the left. It refers to dog-eat-dog capitalists, social Darwinists, people who would leave Grandma in the gutter.

Here in America, “neoliberals” used to refer to Charlie Peters and those around the magazine he edited, The Washington Monthly. These people were, in my estimation, moderate liberals. And let me give you a quick memory of Peters on Firing Line.

Noting that Reagan had removed lowest-income people from the tax rolls, he said, “I can’t believe it, but Reagan actually did something good for the poor.” Whereupon WFB said, “Yes, because as we all know, Reagan absolutely hates the poor.” I wish you could have seen and heard him. Maybe you did!

‐End with a little music? Or a poor substitute for music, namely reviews? For a review of the New York Philharmonic’s Fourth of July concert, go here. For an earlier review of mine, also in CityArts, go here. This one addresses two different subjects: Lang Lang, the Chinese pianist, and the use of music in a movie called Moonrise Kingdom.

Thanks much, and catch you tomorrow, for another mélange.


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.


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