Politics & Policy

Against the Tide, Part I

A post-election lunch meeting, November 29, 2012

Dear friends: In a recent issue of National Review — the one dated December 3 — I had a piece called “Against the Tide: Notes on the culture and what’s possible.” I’d like to do a “blowout” of this piece here in Impromptus — give you what’s in the piece, essentially, and more. If you’re up for it, I think I’ll just begin . . .

‐Do you remember what our president said about Mitt Romney in one of his campaign ads? “Mitt Romney. Not one of us.” That was pretty blunt of him. Maybe Obama can be credited for that.

#ad#Nixon talked just the same way. “That guy they want me to appoint: Is he one of us?” Thatcher talked just that way as well. There’s a biography of Nixon called One of Us. There’s a biography of Thatcher called One of Us.

Here’s the thing: They both talked that way in private. But Obama talked that way in a campaign ad.

What did Nixon and Thatcher mean? They meant, “Is he a conservative, like us? Is he on our team?” (We won’t get into the debate now over whether Nixon was a conservative. He was certainly seen as a right-winger in his time. The Left hated no one more.)

What does Obama mean by “us”? Who are the “us” that Romney is not one of? I’m not completely sure. But I know that I’m not one of them either. Neither, possibly, are you.

You’ll recall John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee. He went around saying there were “two Americas.” He meant rich and poor. He was a bald class warrior. (Bald even though he had excellent, and famously pampered, hair.)

There is another way of seeing two Americas: two Americas where culture and morality are concerned. What a scary word, “morality”! How un-modern.

Anyway, it is perfectly clear — a Nixon phrase: perfectly clear — which of the two Americas is on top.

‐Romney was a man out of his time. (Funny how the tendency is to refer to a losing candidate in the past tense. Romney seems to me full of magnificent life.) He was out of his time, and out of step. A throwback: a conservative businessman who believed in free enterprise, loved his church, gave a ton to charity. He didn’t even drink, poor bastard.

People said of him, “He went through the Sixties and was completely untouched by them.” Some meant this admiringly, others damningly.

I mean it admiringly, of course.

‐Let me spend a moment on this business of charity. Charity strikes me as very old-fashioned. I remember Michael Kinsley on Firing Line, sneering at charity. People shouldn’t receive charitable funds or charitable goods; they should get checks from the government, because it’s their right.

Joe Biden talks constantly about caring for the poor. He brays about “the social doctrine.” What he means is, people should pay more and more in tax, and the government should be the dispenser of charity. Biden has given scandalously little to charity in his life.

Here’s a paragraph from a USA Today article, published during the ’08 campaign: “The Bidens reported giving $995 in charitable donations last year — about 0.3% of their income and the highest amount in the past decade. The low was $120 in 1999, about 0.1% of yearly income.”

And yet our vice president wants to make you look like a Scrooge and a sinner if you balk at paying higher taxes.

Well, to hell with him. I’ll take a Mitt Romney any day, who makes a ton of money, gives a ton of it away — and gives his time as well.

Hang on, let me give you a quick update on Biden — here’s a line from a Politico article published in September: “Biden and his wife, Jill, gave 1.5 percent of their income away in 2011, with charitable donations totaling $5,540 out of $379,035.”

‐More Mitt Romney, a man out of his time, and out of step. Toward the end of the campaign, the New York Times ran a (very good) article that marveled at the candidate’s language. It was called “Gosh, Who Talks Like That Now? Romney Does.” The paper observed that, “in Romneyspeak, passengers do not get off airplanes, they ‘disembark.’ People do not laugh, they ‘guffaw.’ Criminals do not go to jail, they land in the ‘big house.’ Insults are not hurled, ‘brickbats’ are.”

#page#Here’s another word or phrase that Romney is “guilty” of: “Darn good question.”

To me, Romney talks absolutely normally. Remember when he went to Michigan and said that the trees were all the right heights? I (a native Michigander) knew exactly what he meant. Yet Romney was supposed to be exotic, idiotic, or both.

Well, if he is, I am. “Mitt Romney, Jay Nordlinger, and lots and lots of others. Not one of us.”

Good. Glad of it. I would much rather be part of Romney’s minority than Obama’s majority.

#ad#‐I have never seen Mad Men, but I understand it’s an excellent show. I also understand that it’s the Left’s view of what America was like before the Left took over everything, basically. (Do you know what I mean by that?) Mark Helprin says that the show is, at its core, a lie. He knew the world depicted in the show very well; the show smears that world.

Anyway, you may remember something that David Axelrod, the president’s political strategist, said about Romney: “I think he must watch Mad Men and think it’s the evening news. He’s just in a time warp.”

‐After the election, the Washington Post ran an article headed “The Republicans’ 1950s campaign.”

‐During the campaign, Obama ran an ad featuring an actress named Lena Dunham. It was pitched to young women, and to the hook-up culture they inhabit — and that almost everybody inhabits.

“Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody,” said the actress. “You want to do it with a great guy.” She was not talking about a husband. (Hope I haven’t given you too great a shock.)

Question: In a country in which that ad doesn’t backfire but succeeds, can a man like Mitt Romney be elected?

“The culture is a sewer.” I heard Mark Helprin say that, some years ago. It hasn’t gotten any less sewer-y. Almost everywhere I walk, certainly in Manhattan, I see ads — just ads, now — that are frankly pornographic. No one bats an eye, I guess. It’s just normal, the new wallpaper.

“Paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space,” wrote T. S. Eliot. That was a long time ago. He hadn’t seen anything.

‐This business of two Americas, in the cultural-moral sense, is a familiar subject. I mean a much-examined subject. One of the best examiners is Gertrude Himmelfarb, who in 1999 published a book called One Nation, Two Cultures. There is the dominant culture, she said, which used to be the counterculture. Then there is a more conservative culture, which is now a kind of counterculture. Or a “dissident culture,” to use her words.

Her book came out in the wake of the Lewinsky affair, which pitted Bill Clinton versus Ken Starr. There could hardly be two more different Americans. One as decent as the other is not. Which one reigns as the nation’s political sweetheart? And which was thoroughly demonized?

Ken Starr is so decent, he probably saved Clinton’s presidency — in this sense: He told the president what evidence he had, though he didn’t have to. That allowed Clinton to shape his testimony — his lies — just so.

You will find this story, the full story, in a book called Truth at Any Cost, by Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf.

‐Bill Clinton was, I guess, the star of this year’s Democratic convention. George W. Bush did not attend the Republican convention. They probably wouldn’t have wanted him there.

George W. Bush — one of the most admirable Americans — a kind of pariah?

Clinton remarked later, mischievously and also truthfully, I think, that he, Clinton, was the only person to say anything good about George W. Bush at either convention.

Screwy old world.

Okay, I think that’s enough for today, ladies and gents. Thanks for joining me. I’ll continue tomorrow.


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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