So, I’m reading this article about an interview Dick Cheney gave, and he said that Barack Obama became president looking “to reduce U.S. influence in the world.” (Article here.) I believe that. But I would like to hear Obama asked about it. “Did you come into office looking to reduce U.S. influence in the world? Do you think U.S. influence, on balance, has been bad for the world?” I think the answer might be interesting. I really do. But, in my observation, Obama is never asked interesting things, or seldom asked interesting things. He ought to be asked fundamental things — such as, “Do you believe the economy is a pie, meaning that, if one person’s slice is larger, another person’s slice is necessarily smaller?”
But I have been over this terrain before . . .
‐In his State of the Union address, Obama said, “Provocations of the sort we saw last night [from North Korea] will only isolate them further as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”
I almost fell off my chair in 2008, when he said the following, in one of his debates with John McCain: “I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons.”
As president, Obama has not only not advanced missile defense; he has set the program back. I’m not an expert. But I have talked to those who are. And, unfortunately, it’s true.
‐I was grateful for a blogpost by Pete Hegseth yesterday. (Here.) He said, in a nutshell, “We may think Barack Obama’s speeches are fatuous and repulsive; but they are effective, politically. They convince those who are not steeped in politics.”
This is a point I have been making — probably not very effectually — for years. I remember Obama’s speech at the convention in North Carolina last fall. All the righties said, “What a flopperoo!” I thought, and said (I think), “If only . . .”
‐Here is a piece from the Wall Street Journal — subscription only, I’m afraid. It’s about the Armed Services Committee, and its vote on Chuck Hagel. The piece says that Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, glared at Ted Cruz. Well, Ted is used to being glared at by liberals. I expect them to be doing it for years — while we conservatives grin like jack-o’-lanterns!
The article tells us, “Ms. McCaskill wrapped up her time lamenting the upcoming vote. ‘Am I sad this is going to be a party line vote? Yeah, I am.’”
If I had been there, I might have said, “Well, then vote against Senator Hagel!” Think she would have glared at me?
‐The resignation of the pope has provoked several thoughts in me. One of them is this: You can almost never get a U.S. senator to resign — or rather, to retire. Not to run for reelection. They’re loath to give up the status, the perks, and all the rest of it. Most of them, you have to carry out in a pine box. Remember how some Capitol Hill insiders used to refer to the Senate? “Strom’s nursing home.”
At far lower levels, a lot of us have trouble giving up our position, our little perks and whatnot. We cling for dear life. And this guy, Benedict, gives up the papacy? Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Humbling, in a way (in addition to humble).
‐I saw something, via Damian Thompson, of the Telegraph. He quotes Richard Dawkins — the scientist who seems to be the leading atheist in the world. Sort of the pope of atheism.
When Benedict announced his retirement, Dawkins tweeted, “I feel sorry for the Pope and all old Catholic priests. Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex.”
As Thompson says, what a nasty man. If I were an atheist, I’d want a better pope.
‐I have a lot of time for Larry Summers, Democrat though he may be. (“Have time for” is an expression from our British cousins.) When Harvard president, he did some welcome things: such as embrace ROTC students. They had been something like pariahs before. And, needless to say — or is it necessary to say? — he is an impressive economist.
Last weekend, he had an op-ed piece, whose headline was “The growth agenda we need.” To me, he sounded rather like a great presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Wrote Summers, “There should be little disagreement across the political spectrum that growth and job creation remain America’s most serious national problem.”
Here is some more:
A weak economy and limited job creation make growth in middle-class incomes all but impossible, add pressure to budgets by restricting tax revenue and threaten essential private and public investments in education and innovation. Worse, they undermine the American example at a dangerous time in the world.
We can do better.
Romney said that often: “We can do better.”
The economy is already taking a significant hit from increases in payroll taxes. Sudden across-the-board slashing of military and civilian spending will hurt the economy and seriously damage military readiness.
Yes. And how about this?
We are in the worst of all worlds: U.S. companies have nearly $2 trillion in cash sitting abroad because of tax burdens on bringing it home . . .
Yes. And how about this?
. . . the transformation of the North American energy sector needs to be accelerated. This will have economic and environmental benefits. Those who will decide whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline . . . need to recognize that Canadian oil not flowing to the United States will probably flow to Asia, where it will be burned with fewer environmental protections.
Yup. Listen, a Romney presidency would have been a beautiful, and revivifying, thing. I think Summers would have approved, whether he could have said so out loud or not.
‐It is a longstanding theme of this column: Nobody, but nobody, cares about abuses of Palestinians — that is, abuses of them by the people who rule them, namely Fatah and Hamas. The world is ever alert for abuses of Palestinians by Israelis. But if other Palestinians are doing the abusing? Yawns, nothing but yawns.
From Tom Gross, I learned that “a Palestinian court has sentenced a man from a village near Nablus to a year in prison for insulting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook . . .”
A year, huh? What’d he do, exactly? The man’s lawyer “said her client was accused of photo-shopping Abbas wearing a Real Madrid shirt with the caption: ‘A new striker.’”
That gets you a year, in what must be a hellhole of abuse? What would get you five? Revealing the sole of your shoe to him?
‐I hadn’t thought of polygraph tests in years, before reading this story about an American who tried to spy for China: “Underwood came under suspicion when a polygraph examination by U.S. law enforcement agents detected deception in some of his answers.”
This used to be a hot topic. William Safire wrote about it a lot. I remember hearing about how William Casey, the CIA director, would entertain visitors by strapping himself up to a polygraph (if I have used the right words) and beating it.
The line the polygraph defenders used? A line I bought, and still buy? “It all depends on the skill of the operator. Polygraph tests are not infallible. But a polygraph test can be a significant tool in the hands of a skilled operator.”
I hasten to say — you knew this already — I am not an expert.
‐Did you know this? Bill Casey was National Review’s first lawyer.
‐I saw a headline: “Gun victims, academics join Senate firearms clash.” (Article here.) I imagine there are people we should call gun victims. I mean, we can imagine circumstances in which people really are victims of guns. But, in the main, aren’t we talking about people who are victims of other people who have used guns? A gun is an instrument: and has been known both to take and to save innocent lives. The women Jack the Ripper killed were not knife victims; they were victims of Jack the Ripper.
Or am I not thinking clearly?
‐In Britain, there is a rising Conservative member of Parliament named Jesse Norman. How rising? An article in The Spectator asked, “Could Jesse Norman be the next Tory leader?”
It would be hard to get used to another Jesse Norman. Jessye Norman, the soprano, has been so well-known, and for so long. And a Jesse Norman of the other sex! And another nationality, and race!
Yes, an adjustment would be hard . . .
‐A reader writes,
A few months ago I got a form letter from Planned Parenthood which began, in bold type: “The election results made it crystal clear: The American people don’t want politicians to meddle in our personal health care decisions.”
Funny — the results seemed to me to say exactly the opposite.
‐Another letter? In a column and a blogpost — here and here — I wrote about Robert W. Ramey, a pilot from the naval air base in Sanford, Fla. I quoted Wikipedia: Ramey “lost his life by electing to guide his crippled A3D Skywarrior away from a residential area.” By staying with his plane, he “not only gave his flight crew time to bail out of the aircraft, but also saved the lives of numerous families in the residential community.”
A reader writes me about John Ferrier, a man who did something similar. Ferrier kept a card in his wallet that said, “I’m Third” — i.e., behind God and one’s fellow man. Our reader says,
I heard about Johnny Ferrier when I was a young boy at summer camp in the 1960s. This was Kanakuk Kamp, in the Ozarks. Here is a link to the story. The story was part of the camp’s lore, and it is still being told there, as an inspiration to young people. (Both of my children went there.)
Johnny Ferrier was a camper at Kanakuk as a young boy, and his son Zach — who was only a baby when his father died — was my friend and fellow camper. I still have my “I’m Third” card, just like the one Johnny Ferrier carried, 50 years later.
Again, the link to the story is here.
‐Feel like ending on a little language? In an e-mail to a friend a few days ago, I said “Manhattan-bound” and “Connecticut-bound” — as in going to Manhattan and going to Connecticut. But “bound” can mean something like the opposite: You’re bound to a place, you’re confined to a place. You’re homebound. Or are you bound for home?
Crime-ridden means to be full of crime. When your home is mice-ridden, it’s full of mice. Yet to be rid of something . . .
Ach, English! I do love you, bedeviling as you can be.
I say the same to you, dear readers. Thanks, and see you.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s 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.