Politics & Policy

Plain mean, &c.

This business of canceling White House tours — it’s just mean. There is a great deal in government that can be trimmed. To cancel White House tours? To keep schoolkids out of what, in a way, is their national home? Mean. Stunt-like. Point-scoring. Small. Mean.

It’s mean in more than one sense: “offensive, selfish, or unaccommodating”; “small-minded or ignoble”; “penurious, stingy, or miserly.”


#ad#‐It used to bother Nixon that he was never given credit, by the liberal establishment, for all the liberal things he did in government — beefing up the welfare state and so on. I thought of that when reading the opening of this news report on Monday: “Few presidents in modern times have been as interested in gun control as Richard Nixon, of all people.” “Of all people”? I don’t think the reporter knows very much about RN (as he often styled himself). (He would leave out the “M.”)

I thought of another thing, when reading the news report: something I heard about “Saturday Night Specials,” long ago. This type of gun is mentioned quite a lot in the report. They were always being slammed for being “cheap.” Indeed, “cheap” was virtually part of their name, as in, “We gotta do something about these cheap Saturday Night Specials.”

When I was in college, I was part of a government-affairs program in Washington, and we were taken to meet a representative of the NRA — to which most of us were hostile, of course. And one of us said, “What about those cheap Saturday Night Specials, huh, huh?”

And the spokesman talked about poor black women in the inner city, who needed to protect themselves against criminals. They had very little money — and those cheap Saturday Night Specials were very important to them. Sure, us Richie Riches could afford upscale guns. But what about them?

I remember thinking, “That’s a good answer.”

‐On the question of Nixon’s styling himself “RN” — that’s how he titled his memoirs.

‐The headline over this article reads, “Biden: Victims will be loudest voices on guns.” Fine. But I hope those who have been helped by guns will have their say too — those who have been saved from beatings, rape, and murder, thanks to the possession of firearms. These arms, like swords and other things in life, are two-edged. There is more than one side to the story.

‐The headline reads, “White House: Obama committed to diverse cabinet.” (Article here.) But don’t get excited: Obama’s not going to have conservatives or non-Obamites in his cabinet. (Why should he?) “Diversity” does not relate to thought or opinion. In America, “diversity” means only skin color or ethnicity.

Isn’t that great?

‐The following story is illuminating, maddening, outrageous, and understandable:

A newspaper in the northern Mexico border state of Coahuila announced Monday it will no longer cover information related to drug cartels, citing safety concerns. . . .

In a front-page editorial posted on its web site, the newspaper said the decision “is based on our responsibility to watch out for the safety and security of over 1,000 workers, their families and our own.”

Totally understand. How maddening, that it should have come to this. (For the full article, go here.)

‐In this article, you can read what Fidel Castro has to say about the death of Hugo Chávez — his great sorrow. Castro’s sentiments are basically indistinguishable from those of Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, and other American “liberals.” Sometimes, our “liberals” protest when you say that they are not really liberal: They are part of the international Left. But their words and their actions contradict their protests.

I am reminded of something: that Pierre Trudeau asked Castro and Carter to be pallbearers at his funeral. Why the affinity of democrats for anti-democrats and tyrants? You get the feeling that, if some of our leaders in the democracies got the chance to exercise tyrannical control, they would.

Here is an article about John McCain. And I found these sentences particularly interesting: “McCain’s best buddy, Joe Lieberman, retired from the Senate last year. McCain still talks about how the Democrat-turned-independent might have been his running mate in 2008 if it weren’t for his support for abortion rights that never would have been accepted by the Republican Party.”

A couple of things come to mind. First, a question: Is McCain really anti-abortion? Or has he had to adopt this stance because he is an Arizona Republican, and would not fare well, politically, otherwise?

A truly pro-life presidential nominee: Would he pick a pro-choice running mate? I don’t know. Maybe he would. I guess it depends on how important abortion is to him.

Many people say, “The GOP would win a lot more votes if it were pro-choice.” (There are plenty of pro-choice Republican politicians, but the party on the whole is pro-life.) Could be. I’m not sure. I think that, if you switched your stance on abortion, you would win some voters and lose some voters. What the ratio would be, I don’t know.

I think of something my colleague Kate O’Beirne once said. I will paraphrase: “A lot of people are in the Republican party because they’re pro-life. They may be redistributionists at heart. They’re not in the GOP for the capitalism.”

The old question is, “What are parties for? To win elections or to stand for something, thereby giving voters a choice” (speaking of choice)? I like parties that stand for something. And if they lose, fine — what is right is not always popular, and what is wrong is not always unpopular.

As we all know . . .

#page#‐Tony Campos is an almond grower in the Fresno area. He’s not just an almond grower — he’s more like an almond king. But, as I say in a piece in the current National Review, he wasn’t born a king, or a prince.

My piece is called “An Entrepreneurial Life: Pictures from struggling, wonderful California.” I went out to Fresno to see some entrepreneurs: to find out how they live, what they do, and what their obstacles are, if any. One afternoon, I met Tony Campos and learned his story. I learned it mainly from his friend Richard Spencer, a fellow entrepreneur.

#ad#I want to share that story with you, here in Impromptus. I tell some of it in the magazine — but want to tell more here.

Tony was born in the Basque country. He came to this country in 1952, when he was 17. He had not a penny. Well, he had a few pennies: He was able to take a bus from New York to Wyoming. He was going out West to work as a shepherd.

In New York, I believe, he was in line at a food stand or in some eatery. The woman ahead of him ordered French fries and mustard. So that’s what Tony ordered. He ordered it five or six days in a row, because that’s what he knew to order.

He tended sheep in Wyoming for a while. Then, with his brothers, he moved to California. They tended sheep there. Then they got into farming. Eventually, they hit on almonds.

Let me interrupt this story to mention this: I remember reading, long ago, that Paul Laxalt’s dad was a shepherd from the Basque country. (Laxalt, you recall, was governor of Nevada, and then a senator.) I asked Tony whether he knew the family. He does indeed.

Anyway, they got into almonds, he and his brothers. In the beginning, they worked by hand, and that work was often back-breaking. Today, Tony (the only remaining brother) has a big, gleaming operation, with equipment that reminded me of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Business has never been better, according to Tony. This is because of a global market, as I understand it: He sells to 62 countries. Nevertheless, he could be doing a lot more. He is constantly hamstrung by regulation — regulations relating to food safety and employment, primarily. As I say in my piece, he understands the need for regulation. But why so excessive, and costly, and perverse? Money and time that he could spend on expanding the business, he spends on regulations.

His daughter Jeannine shares with me a piece of paper — actually, two pieces of paper. On them are all the regulatory agencies and offices that Campos Brothers has to respond to. I count 72. Federal, state, and local. Wouldn’t 71 agencies and offices be enough? How about 61? How about 41? And the thing is, Jeannine tells me, these people sometimes make flatly contradictory demands.

The Social Security Administration says, “If you do X, you will be criminally liable.” The Department of Homeland Security says, “If you don’t do X, you will be criminally liable.” So what the hell do you do?

Wrap your mind around a regulation in the pipeline — a regulation that is apparently coming: A kit fox wanders into your almond orchard and takes a dump next to a tree. You have to quarantine off a sizable area around the tree. You have to “cleanse” it, destroying all the trees within.

Well, why not keep Mr. Fox out in the first place? You can’t — he’s on the endangered-species list.

And so on, and so on. The government can tie you up in all sorts of ways. It’s amazing that some people can stay in business.

From what I can tell, Tony Campos is right out of Horatio Alger. He has done a lot of good for many people — his family, his employees, their families, his customers.

And let me repeat something I say about Richard Spencer, in my magazine piece. What is true of him is true of a great many others — including his buddy Tony, of course. Yeah, he’s rich. Yeah, he’s part of the “1 percent.” But (a) he’s worked his butt off, (b) he has provided goods and services that people need or want, (c) he’s paid millions in taxes, (d) he’s given millions to charity, (e) he’s employed thousands of people.

How can that be bad? If we demonize the entrepreneur, and overtax him and overregulate him, we’re only harming ourselves. We may think we’re standing up for the little guy or whatever. But we’re really shafting him and everyone else.

Thus endeth Free Enterprise 101.

‐Feel like a little music? For my latest column in CityArts, go here. I talk about Lorin Maazel conducting Don Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera; the Vienna Philharmonic and a newish piece by Jörg Widmann; and a new piece by Stephen Hough.

‐Cutesy headline of the week? Well, my eye caught this, from the Associated Press: “National knife rights movement gets twist in Texas.” Is that more cutesy or more clever? I can’t tell.

‐Finally, no life — none — deserves the opening line of this obit: “The woman Richard Burton left to marry Elizabeth Taylor has died.”

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.

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