Politics & Policy

Barack ’n’ Hugo, &c.

You may have heard what Hugo Chávez said the other day: If he were an American, he would vote for Obama; and if Obama were a Venezuelan, he would vote for him — that is, Obama would vote for Chávez. Do you doubt it? Hard to. (For a story on Chávez’s remarks, go here.)

During the 2008 debates, Obama identified Venezuela, along with Iran, as a “rogue state.” Months later, as president, he was grasping Chávez with a soul-brother handshake and calling him “mi amigo,” his friend. Funny how things work out that way.

‐A headline said, “Chavez vows stronger socialist drive.” (Story here.) I thought, “If only our own incumbent, running for reelection, would let it all hang out that way . . .”

‐Another headline said, “Obama to designate Chavez home as nat’l monument.” I said, “Hey, wait a minute, that goes too far!” Turned out to be Cesar Chavez. (Here.)

‐Did you see this story? “Biden cites leaders for Hispanic Heritage Month.” The article informed us that the vice president, “along with his wife, Jill, hosted a reception celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month poolside on a warm fall evening Wednesday at their Naval Observatory residence.”

Biden “recognized” a string of officials: the labor secretary, Hilda Solis; the White House domestic-policy director, Cecilia Muñoz; the Colorado lieutenant governor, Joseph Garcia; and the Nevada attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto.

Those are all Democrats, by the way. Kind of curious. This was a national event, right?

Biden “also acknowledged several Hispanic-American Olympians and Paralympians on the 2012 Team USA.”

Great, great. I tell you what would be great: if the day came when these people told Joe Biden, the Democratic party, and the American Left in general to shove it. These people are Americans, are they not? Do they need a special month? Are they handicapped children, dogs and cats? I think we have a Spay and Neuter Your Pets Month, don’t we?

Disgusting. Demeaning. You wonder where dignity has gone, much less a sense of nationhood.

If you were an American Olympian, could you stand to be honored separately, because of your ethnicity? Because of where your forebears came from? I mean, could you stand it?

‐According to this report, Hillary Clinton “delivered a new, stark warning to Iran that it must stop arming and supporting the Assad regime.” Oh, that has them shaking in their boots, no doubt.

Do you know what Obama said during the ’08 debates? He said he would tell Iran, “If you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences.”

Ooooooooohhhhh . . .

‐You’ll love this: “Some political momentum could be on the line when a judge rules on whether to keep intact Pennsylvania’s tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification in next month’s presidential election.”

Yeah, the tough new law. It’s so tough to show ID. I mean, when do we ever have to do it?

Why do Democrats oppose these laws? You are right, my cynical but reasonable friends: the better to steal elections. I’m sorry to sound so crude. But — get ready for more crudity — sometimes the truth is like that. (For the above-cited story, go here.)

‐Uh-oh, this just in: “A judge on Tuesday blocked Pennsylvania’s divisive voter identification requirement from going into effect on Election Day, delivering a hard-fought victory to Democrats who said it was a ploy to defeat President Barack Obama and other opponents who said it would prevent the elderly and minorities from voting.”

Whew! Thank goodness democracy has been restored!

By the way, why don’t “the elderly and minorities” — does that include Jews, by the way? Japanese Americans? — protest at this claim that they, uniquely, are so inept or pathetic that, unlike their fellow Americans, they can’t produce ID?

Why does no one ever take offense? That is a (not-sweet) mystery of life.

‐In an Impromptus last week, I spoke of a certain tension on the left: between the impulse to honor Muslim demands and the impulse to defend women’s rights. This comes up a lot. It recently came up in Spain, where Muslim immigrants harassed meter maids in their neighborhood — they couldn’t stand the sight of women working, or something. So, naturally, the women were removed.

It has come up again in a story about IKEA. The company sent its catalogue to Saudi Arabia. And the company airbrushed out the women, Soviet-style. The company now regrets it, apparently.

So, which will it be? Which side, which impulse, will win out? When I was in college, the second-worst thing you could be was “ethnocentric.” (The worst thing you could be was, of course, racist.) It would have been “ethnocentric” of IKEA to send a catalogue picturing women to Saudi Arabia. Obviously, life in Sweden is different from life in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, it’s kind of not nice to airbrush women out of the picture, right?

Oh, the tension, the tension . . .

‐Last week, some of us National Review types were in Madison, Wis. Many, many people have remarked, over the years, on the similarity between Madison and my hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. They’re in the same region of the country. They’re homes to universities.

Big difference, though — well, three differences: Madison has two beautiful lakes and a capitol dome — really, really beautiful. Dogs us, I’m afraid.

‐Outside the capitol, I was pleased to see a statue of Lincoln. But it turned out it wasn’t Lincoln: It was Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian-born Civil War colonel.

‐On another statue, I saw the word Forward. I said, “Holy-moly, they’ve got the Obama campaign slogan inscribed on the statuary already?” But no — it has been the state motto since the mid 19th century.

‐Up on the University of Wisconsin campus, I did indeed see Lincoln — for real. Very fine statue too. In his lifetime, he was known as homely — painfully homely. He would make jokes about his homeliness. In my opinion, he is the handsomest man in our history. His inner greatness makes him so.

‐One little food stand, near the campus, is called “Thai-riffic.”

‐As in Ann Arbor, the beggars are apparently daily fixtures. They are sort of friendly. They get up in the morning and go to work, so to speak. It’s what they do, every day. They always have fresh crops of students — the guilt has not worn off yet . . .

‐Met a lady from Mississippi. Has lived in Wisconsin all her adult life. Told her about my visit to Oxford, Miss., last year. Had such a wonderful time in that town.

She is an alumna of Ole Miss. I said, “I walked around the campus. Such pretty girls, by the way.” “Oh, yes,” she said. Then, narrowing her eyes, looking absolutely earnest: “Even the ugly ones are pretty.”

‐I think I’ve mentioned a couple of friends in this column before: Peder Moren and Phil Stark. They are pillars of Madison business, and pillars of Madison conservatism. Is “Madison conservatism” a contradiction in terms? No, not entirely!

Phil is a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. I sat with him at dinner last week. He told me he went to high school with Lee Hoiby — the late composer, who was a friend of mine. When he died last year, I wrote an essay, or appreciation, here.

‐I’ll give you a definition of heaven: You’re sitting at The Old Fashioned restaurant, on Capitol Square. The dome is out the window. You’re having a walleye sandwich and cheese curds. Heaven, I tell you.

‐On to Fond du Lac. A big lake, Winnebago is. Almost a Great Lake. Can we say there are five and a half Great Lakes? Five and a quarter?

‐At the entrance to a park on the lake is a Spanish–American War memorial: “To Those Who Served in the War with Spain, 1898–1902.” Quite moving. World War I came not many years later. It was so big and awful, it overshadowed the little war with Spain. But the little war was awful too, as all wars are.

‐In Fond du Lac, there is a Rienzi Road. After seeing it, I could not get Wagner’s overture out of my head. (I didn’t mind.)

‐I was startled to see something in someone’s yard: a black Sambo, like a lawn jockey. Shocking, actually.

‐I saw a Mazda, parked on the street. It didn’t seem to me a very old car — kind of a normal car, from the ’70s or ’80s, I guess. But the license plate said “Hobbyist.”


‐E. J. Hobsbawm, the most influential historian in the English-speaking world, has died. I will not speak ill of him. I spoke ill of him for years, when he was living, working, and influencing, and will again, after a decent interval. He did a lot of harm. Stalinist.

Oops, there I go . . .

‐A great historian and great man, Gene Genovese, has died. For my profile of him last year, go here.

‐Barry Commoner, the environmentalist who ran for president, has died. Was a big deal in Ann Arbor, as I recall!

‐Care for some music? For my “Salzburg Chronicle,” published in this month’s New Criterion, go here.

‐Back to historians for a minute. I was talking to someone about Jacques Barzun. I wrote a profile of him a couple of years ago. (Here.) He was born in 1907. Lives in San Antonio, Texas. His interest in history was instilled by his great-grandmother, whom he regularly visited. She was born in 1830.

Right today, in 2012, you can see a man in Texas whose career as a historian was launched by a Frenchwoman born in 1830. How ’bout that?


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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