Politics & Policy

Again, our national god, &c.

In yesterday’s Impromptus, I spoke of our “national god” (with some bitterness, true). That god is race — almighty skin color, to which we all bow down. Virtually no area of American life is exempt.

That certainly includes classical music. Many years ago, I wrote a piece on just this issue: the intrusion into classical music of race. That piece may be found in my 2007 collection, here.

The impetus for the piece was a subscription series of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra called “Classically Black.” Concerts of music by William Grant Still and other black composers? No. (That would be bad enough: segregated programming.) Here’s how it worked:

Say the orchestra had Beethoven’s Ninth on the program. (This is an actual, real-life example.) Say that one of the four soloists, for the last movement, happened to be black. The concert was part of “Classically Black.” See?

The god of race must be appeased. (Whether the Baltimore orchestra still does “Classically Black,” I don’t know. For the sake of progress, I hope not.)

In recent days, I’ve been following a sickening case in Atlanta. According to the Cobb County school system, two of its high-school choruses were denied the chance to perform with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra because those choruses weren’t “diverse enough.” The president of the orchestra said, “We want the stages of the Atlanta Symphony . . . to reflect the diversity of Atlanta.”

Does a music group have to “reflect” the community in which it performs? Does a sports team? Aren’t music groups and sports teams part of the very “diversity” of a community?

A Cobb County spokesman said that participation in the choruses “is determined on the basis of merit alone,” and that all students are welcome to try out. Parents of the choristers say that what the Atlanta Symphony has done is unfair — terribly unfair. The kids just want to make music. Isn’t that an innocent, wholesome desire, something that ought to be protected from the poison of race?

Members of the orchestra, upset at the episode, and wanting to repair community relations, have offered to perform at the schools, with the choruses, to raise money for those schools. They would do this free of charge.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in this column a hero of mine, Maestro James DePreist. A long time ago, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra approached him about being its music director. It was clear to him that they were interested in him for his race. (He’s black.) He would have nothing to do with the DSO.

“It is impossible for me to go to Detroit because of the atmosphere,” he said. “People mean well, but you fight for years to make race irrelevant, and now they are making race an issue.”

DePreist, by the way, is the nephew of Marian Anderson, the great American contralto — “the Lady from Philadelphia.”

‐Let me tell you something about Wednesday evening: I couldn’t get home, because President Obama needed to pass. I’ll explain in a minute.

When you live in New York, you put up with a lot of inconveniences: motorcades and the like. You are often having to take a backseat to VIPs, particularly when the U.N. is having some big convocation.

But there’s almost always an alternative route: You can always get where you’re going, somehow, even if the detour is long and annoying.

Have I told this story before? I’m sure I have. Several years ago, I was having to cover a Sunday-afternoon concert at Carnegie Hall. I was dashing over there, via my usual route — when I found I couldn’t keep going. It was the day of the New York City Marathon. My route was cut off.

In all innocence, yet knowing what I was about to say, I said to a policeman — this was perfectly legitimate — “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” He smiled. He knew the old joke. (“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.”) But he also knew I was serious. He told me what the detour was, and I got there in time.

Never before two days ago was I prevented from moving altogether. I was a few blocks from home. (On foot, I should say — same with the Carnegie Hall incident.) The time was 6:40. I had a 7:30 engagement. I needed to shower and change. And I couldn’t move forward. I couldn’t move anywhere. I was penned, by fences and cops.

I said to a man in blue, “I’m trying to get home. What can I do?” “Nothing,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. You have to wait till he passes.” Who was “he”? Obama. The Big “He,” as Monica Lewinsky once called another president.

Some event at Lincoln Center, apparently. Not sure. There were throngs of people, throngs of pedestrians, who couldn’t move — who couldn’t move until “he” came through. It was interesting to listen to them, as we waited and waited . . .

Almost all of them were Obama supporters, no doubt. A woman said to her husband (or someone), “I like him, but this is very inconvenient.” She said this somewhat uncomfortably. Even tentatively. I had the feeling she had never uttered a critical word about Obama — even on the subject of drones.

One young woman shouted — playfully, perhaps drunkenly — “Revolution! Are we serfs? Do we have to wait for the king?”

At about 7:05, Obama came through. I had been waiting 25 minutes. I don’t know how long others had been waiting. The crowd cheered. A man tried to get a chant of “Four More Years” going, but it was just him. We had to wait another six minutes: At 7:11, we were allowed to proceed.

A question: Were the people cheering their president, the American president, no matter who he was? Or were they cheering their O, specifically? I think the latter. If it had been George W. Bush causing such a wait, such an inconvenience, I think the crowd would have been quite ugly.

I understand all about presidential security, believe me. I think of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy. I think of the shots at Ford, Reagan, others. I do not take presidential security lightly.

But what happened yesterday, it seemed to me, was ridiculous — ridiculous and unfair. My Mark Steyn juices started to flow. Were we citizens — free-born citizens — or not? I understood having to wait. But for so long? For more than a half-hour? How about ten or fifteen minutes? Did Obama realize he was making people wait, and making them late?

Certainly making me late? I thought of the coming election, and I thought of an old movie slogan (I think): “This time it’s personal.”

‐I have a memory, from sometime during the GWB administration. I was doing a story on Rumsfeld, and traveling with him a little. We were at the Broadmoor, in Colorado, where a conference of NATO defense ministers, I believe, was taking place. Sometime in the morning, we left in a little motorcade for the airport. It was all very quiet, very orderly. All traffic laws were obeyed, etc. Just placid.

A Rumsfeld aide said to me, “You should have seen some of the defense ministers, leaving earlier. They left as in a big show: sirens blaring. They wanted to be as conspicuous as possible.”

I wonder: Does security sometimes depend on quietness, rather than “Hey, everybody, I’m coming!” I’m no expert, believe me.

‐Hugh Hewitt has done something very useful: The Brief Against Obama. You know Hugh: lawyer extraordinaire, writer extraordinaire, radio host extraordinaire. One of our MVPs. Now he has put, between hard covers — well, the brief against Obama. The case against the 44th president and his reelection.

The book is divided into three parts: “Domestic Policy Failures,” “Foreign Policy Failures,” and “Leadership Failures.” There is a lot of failing to detail, when you’re writing the brief against Obama. Hugh has done it with skill and verve.

Often in life, it’s nice to have something to brandish. Something you can wave around, and hand out. “Here!” you can say. “Take a look at this, it’s all there!” And it’s nice to have something that you yourself can consult, whenever you wish. “Why do I think what I think? Ah, here’s the reminder . . .”

As he does pretty much every day, my friend Hugh has performed a public service.

‐Not long ago, I was walking in Riverside Park (along the Hudson River), near Grant’s Tomb — yes, that Grant’s Tomb, object of the famous joke. I noticed a sign that said “General Grant National Memorial.”

And that word “General” was interesting to me. How about Eisenhower? “General Eisenhower” or “President Eisenhower”? Well, both, I suppose. But I think his presidency — that two-term presidency — eclipses his generalship.

I had a friend, a writer, who insisted on writing “General Sharon,” when Ariel Sharon was prime minister of Israel (2001 to 2006). Sharon had been a general, yes. But he had been a political figure for more than 30 years. He was one of the founders of the Likud party, for heaven’s sake. He was at the center of Israeli politics for decades.

Then he founded another party, Kadima! How many people found two parties in life? How much more political can you get?

But from my friend’s pen, and others’, “General Sharon.” Why? Respect for the man’s military past? Not at all: They wanted to make him seem more war-like, not quite legitimate as a democratic leader.

Back to Ulysses Grant: Ought he to be known to us — to posterity — as “General Grant,” rather than “President Grant”? Well, I can see that: It is for his generalship that he is most renowned.

I think that’s enough for one day. Be hollerin’ at you soon, hurricane in Tampa or not . . .


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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