Politics & Policy

A particular barbarism, &c.

There was a time when I did a lot of reading about Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Knew a fair amount about it. And one of the things that most jolted me was the cutting out of tongues for dissent. I could just see it, almost feel it. Do you know what I mean?

It came back to me when reading an article by Raymond Ibrahim, here. As Ibrahim tells us, a professor at Al-Azhar University (the Muslim Oxford) has gone on television to call for the cutting out of tongues:

I have sworn to Allah, that any dog — for that is how Allah described them, for they are like dogs that are constantly panting — that any dog who mocks the Sharia, or mocks Islam, or blames it, we will cut out his tongue. I say this without hesitation: We will cut out his tongue! That’s it. The time of transgressing against Islam, and speaking insolence, has passed — it is over.

And so on. Ibrahim proceeds to give examples of the cutting out of tongues — in Yemen, in Bahrain, and in Australia. Yes, Australia.

This makes for very grim reading. But I remind myself that, now and then, we should face up to it.

‐I kind of smiled at this — found at Tom Gross’s website: “An Israeli court this week awarded the country’s first divorce to a gay couple, which experts called an ironic milestone since same-sex marriages cannot be legally conducted in Israel. (The couple had been married in Canada.)”

Nothing says “just like the straights” like divorce!

‐A Republican friend was complaining to me about Paul Ryan. His complaint was this: At the same time Ryan was running for vice president, he was on the ballot for Congress. He had a fallback position: If the Romney-Ryan ticket lost, the vice-presidential nominee would go back to the House. His life would continue as before. Therefore, he wasn’t “all in.” He wasn’t 100 percent committed to the battle for the White House. That, said my friend, was bad — bad and demoralizing.

I think he has a point.

‐I winced on reading this story: “The House has voted to name a federal building after Thomas P. ‘Tip’ O’Neill, the Massachusetts Democrat who served as Speaker from 1977 to 1987.” I know how we’re supposed to remember O’Neill now: Cuddly Irishman, liked his liquor, told great yarns, buddied with Reagan to get things done.

I’m sorry, but I can’t get with today’s program: I remember O’Neill, very well. He said the most vile things about Republicans, slandering them as people who hated the poor, and who would blow up the world, if given half a chance. He stood in the way — or tried to stand in the way — of everything that contributed to America’s economic recovery and our victory in the Cold War. He thought far better of the Sandinistas than he did of his fellow Americans who were trying to oppose the Sandinistas.

I know that all this is supposed to fade away, and I know I’m unsporting. My problem is, I was there.

The spirit is supposed to be, “Gee, they get some, we get some. We get to have the airport named after the Gipper. They get to have a federal building named after Tip — and a federal building isn’t much. Come on, this is America! This is democracy!”

Again, I’m sorry: Being right or wrong, about extremely important things, ought to count for something.

‐Listen to this: “A senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard claimed Friday that Western sanctions are helpful because they promote Iranian self-sufficiency and insisted the country’s leaders should welcome the measures.” (Article here.)

I couldn’t help smiling, just a little: For years, I’ve heard, from certain quarters, “The U.S. ought to cut off aid to Israel. It’d be good for them.”

I understand, but I doubt it. Of challenges, of tests, Israel has no shortage.

‐As you may have heard, almost 100 members of the Ladies in White were arrested and beaten on Sunday. The Ladies are a Cuban democracy and human-rights group. For a story on the latest, go here.

I wish to name some of the women arrested and beaten. I will name, arbitrarily, three from the first half of the alphabet, three from the second. Marlene Abreu, Lisandra Farray, Tatiana López. Bárbara Pausa, Berta Soler, Olga Torres.

You want to know something cute? The dictatorship accused the Ladies of not respecting the “grief of the Cuban people” over the ill health of Comrade Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan strongman.

‐I’ve been noticing headlines you wouldn’t necessarily have seen before November 6, our Election Day. “Obama tax plan no small deal to small businessmen” (article here). “Surprise: New insurance fee in health overhaul law” (here). Yeah, “Surprise”! Then you got this: “With election over, less attention to jobs report” (here).

Anyway . . .

‐Here’s a funny headline: “Mugabe’s party plans for resounding poll victory.” I bet they do.

‐During the campaign, Mitt Romney often quoted Pentagon chief Leon Panetta on the prospect of “automatic” defense cuts: “devastating.” Oddly, Barack Obama did not quote his own defense secretary as much as Romney did. In this article, we see what a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, has said about these looming cuts: “devastating to our national defense.”

A question — a rude one, but a sincere one: Does the president care?

‐At National Review two days ago, we had two visitors from Congress — two Californians, with adjoining districts: Kevin McCarthy and Buck McKeon. Their visits were separate, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. It was just California Republican Day, I guess.

McCarthy is the majority whip; McKeon is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He makes an important point about the defense budget: The national defense is a big part of what the federal government is for. It’s in the Constitution. Food stamps, Pell Grants, other things — worthy as they may be, they’re not in the Constitution.

He makes another important point: After a conflict, we always draw down too quickly — too quickly and too much. “We never think we’ll have another war,” says McKeon. That is absolutely and sadly true. We have always lunged for some “peace dividend” — only to find that we have to build back up, in a crisis. Better to keep your powder dry, and plentiful. It is war-preventing, for one thing.

As I’ve mentioned in this column before, George C. Marshall gave one of the strangest, and best, Nobel lectures ever. He spoke of the danger and irresponsibility of demobilization, demilitarization, and disarmament. To read his words in 1953, go here. They apply.

A little more about Buck McKeon: He told us he volunteered for Goldwater in 1964. He was shocked when Goldwater lost. “I was just a young man,” said McKeon. “I didn’t know anything about politics.” He went on to say that he was shocked when Romney lost, last month. “And I do know a thing or two about politics now!”

Yes, politics will surprise us — not always for the worse, I like to think.

McKeon is my kind of American — even in the way he uses our language. His is an American tongue. The last syllable of “Vietnam” rhymes with “bam.” The first syllable of “Roosevelt” rhymes with “blues.” What with the reelection of Obama and our desperate economic straits, “We’re in a pickle.”

We sure are.

‐Also in New York on Monday was Ted Cruz, the senator-elect from Texas. He is entering the Senate at a key time: The country is at a crossroads, or about to go off a cliff. The Republican party is searching for leadership, following the defeat of Mitt Romney (splendid, impressive man). The party is in a panic over Hispanics.

Yes, an interesting time, a key time.

And think of this: In Ted’s first run for office, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Not from Delaware, not from a small state, or a sparsely populated one — from Texas. He may have had some luck, yes. But he has huge, huge talent — brains, discipline, eloquence, guts, etc.

I’ve been looking forward to Ted’s political career for many years. Now it’s launched — which I find kind of thrilling.

‐I’d love to see a list of people whose first run for office landed them in the Senate. Almost all, I bet, had more advantages than Ted did (famous fathers, private fortunes, what have you).

‐On Monday night, I spoke to an event for MEMRI — the Middle East Media Research Institute. So did Norman Podhoretz — who told me about MEMRI in the first place, I think, years ago. People have referred to “the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute” so much, some of us have joked that “invaluable” might as well be part of the organization’s name: the Invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute.

In 2002, I wrote a piece titled, perhaps inevitably, “Thanks for the MEMRI (.org).” It all still applies. MEMRI is like an intelligence agency for the entire world.

‐Last week, Linda Bridges had an elegant piece — a typically elegant piece — titled “Light & Truth in New Haven.” It was about the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale. This is an undergrad organization. (Not “underground organization.”) And it is a point of light, as Bush 41 might say. It was founded by Lauren Noble, a 2011 graduate of Yale, and a point of light herself.

I will not add to Linda’s piece, except to say this: M. Stanton Evans, the veteran journalist, proved once more that he has one of the driest wits in the West — or East. Some years ago, I heard him say, in a superbly deadpan way, “You always hear that you’re supposed to start out liberal, then become conservative at some point. My view is, you should start out conservative, then get more conservative over time.”

It was all in the delivery. Honestly, it was hilarious.

At Yale the other day, he said something else. Someone mentioned that charm was a big part of Alger Hiss’s appeal — charming liar, Hiss was. Whittaker Chambers, who told the truth, had less charm, as charm is usually counted. Stan said, “As someone who has gone his entire life without being charming, I appreciate what you said.”

Of course, no one without charm could possibly have made that remark. Stan is full of it — charm, that is.

‐Also at Yale, our Neal Freeman — friend and aide to WFB — introduced the keynote speaker, Mitch Daniels. If you missed Neal’s intro, published at NRO last week, go here. I’m not sure I’ve heard a better introduction. If you ever speak somewhere, you should have the luck to be introduced by Neal.

(Myron Magnet is damn good at it too.)

‐A little language? Three items above, I said, “I spoke to an event . . .” Can you speak to an event? In a sense, sure. The sheer flexibility and adaptability of English is a joy. (Like the use of “is” there.)

‐Got a little correction for you: In my recent series “Against the Tide,” in the third part, I described the Witherspoon Institute as “an elegant little conservative speck on the Princeton University campus,” “tolerated” by that university. Actually, the tolerated elegant little conservative speck I had in mind was the James Madison Program. The Witherspoon Institute is an elegant little conservative speck — but just off campus, and independent.

‐Feel like a letter? A reader writes,

I was driving around with my 13-year-old son and two of his friends. One of the boys was describing how his mother had been accosted after one of his football games by a “bum.” Evidently the bum wanted money from her to buy “medicine” or he would “die.”

The boy described how he could barely understand the man because his speech was so “slurry.” Then he said — this is when I thought of you — “It’s almost as if he were talking in cursive.”

Very nice. See you soon.


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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