Politics & Policy

All er nuthin’, &c.

As longtime readers may know, I’m a fan of the Detroit Lions. Coming from Michigan, I’m a Lion, a Piston, a Tiger, a Red Wing — all of those. Early in the NFL playoffs last month, we Lions took a bad loss to the Dallas Cowboys. We think we were shafted by officiating, but be that as it may . . .

Sitting in front of the TV, I saw something that increased my agony and fury: Chris Christie in the box of the Cowboys’ owner, whooping it up. The governor of New Jersey is a big Cowboy fan (which is strange, but his right).

Never mind Christie’s hugging of Barack Obama in 2012: His hugging of Jerry Jones stuck in my craw like an auto frame. For several days, I could have strangled him.

There was a time I adored Chris Christie, and thrilled to him. He had recently been elected governor, and he was getting a handle on New Jersey’s budget. He was giving public-sector labor unions a sorely needed dose of reality. He was standing up to their representatives unflinchingly. I think I wrote, “I watch his videos like porn.”

In 2012, Christie was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. I was one of the few who liked his address, a lot. People said, “He just talked about himself!” That was fine with me. He was talking about himself to make broader and important points.

I’m getting to my own point: I have swung from one extreme to another. I think of a song from Oklahoma!: “All er Nuthin’.” “With me, it’s all er nuthin’. / Is it all er nuthin’ with you? / It cain’t be ‘in between’; / It cain’t be ‘now and then.’ / No half and half romance will do!”

Romance is one thing; politics is another.

I should not generalize from my own sins, but I think there’s a tendency to extremism on the right. You know what’s coming: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Yeah, yeah, but politics is messy, and so is human life.

By and large, politicians are neither saints nor sinners, heroes nor goats. They are mixtures. We hope for as little goat as possible (though I like goats a lot — the animals, I mean. I think they get a bad rap, same as snakes, probably).

“Well, what about Goldwater and Reagan!” Yeah, what about them? They were great. But, believe me, conservatives carped at them regularly, while those men were alive and working. I have written about this many times. Only posthumously are they viewed as spotless conservatives.

These days, William F. Buckley Jr. is seen as a spotless conservative guide. Wonderful. For years, though, right-wingers denounced him as a sellout who wanted to remain in the good graces of the New York Times, as he snarfed caviar on his yacht. (Bill did snarf caviar on his yacht. Today’s populists would have hated his guts.)

(To make matters worse, Bill called the stuff “cav,” which they probably do at Happy Rockefeller’s house. I met Happy at Bill’s house, by the way. She was an honored guest.)

For some of us, politicians can do no wrong or no right. Reading this website, you might think that UKIP’s Nigel Farage is a perfect person and politician. Meanwhile, the Tory PM, David Cameron, is a worthless person and politician. The truth is, they both have their strengths and weaknesses. A Cameron loss in May would be a catastrophe.

There was a time when Rick Perry was a paragon of conservative virtue. His state, Texas, was carrying America on its back. It exemplified everything that America should be about. Every other state was a wuss. Perry’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had been a wuss — a Yale priss, like Buckley — but Perry was our Marlboro Man, our hardscrabble champion.

Then came the 2012 presidential primaries, and Perry transgressed in a debate. He sinned on immigration. He said, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” Oops.

We immigration restrictionists are heartless, huh? Well, to hell with you, buddy (or former buddy).

Perry also got in trouble on a vaccination issue. One of his opponents, Michele Bachmann, a darling of the Right, accused him of “going around poking innocent little girls with the big-government needle.” That is almost an exact quote.

I think Perry is now rehabilitated, where the Right is concerned. But you never know. Someone who is kosher today may be absolutely verboten tomorrow.

Marco Rubio was once a heartthrob of the Right. So was Paul Ryan. Both of them fell from favor on the issue of immigration. Rubio was a sellout, and Ryan was no longer “Ryan” but “Ryano.” “Paul Ryano.” Get it? “RINO.” “Republican in Name Only.”

Lindsey Graham is “Grahamnesty.” Get it? “Amnesty.” When did the Right get so cute with names?

Graham is not a conservative poster child. But there is plenty of good in him, from a conservative and even a right-wing point of view. Same with Christie. An “all er nuthin’” attitude can blind a person to men in full.

My friend Ted Cruz is a darling of the Right today. But just you watch: He will sin someday, crossing some political line. He will zig when he should have zagged. Then he’ll be a RINO, a sellout. People will say, “I remember when Cruz was on our side!”

(I once asked Eugene Genovese why he was kicked out of the Communist party, at age 20. He shrugged and said, “I zigged when I should have zagged.” The Communists always had some reason, some excuse, some purity test.)

It looks like we’ll have ten or more candidates in the 2016 Republican primaries. From my point of view, there’s good in all of them. I like some more than others (and Cruz is my guy). But I think each of them has merit, as well as less meritorious qualities or stances.

You know this old line? “Nobody’s perfect but thee and me, and I’m not so sure about thee.”

At heart, I’m an “all er nuthin’” guy. I am an absolutist. But politics is an unfit arena for absolutism. Bill Buckley liked to quote a remark attributed to Talleyrand: “Surtout pas trop de zèle.” “Above all, not too much zeal.” That can be hard for me to remember, particularly when I see Chris Christie whoopin’ it up in the Cowboy owner’s box. I am all zèle.

In fact, I wake up all zèle, and go to bed all zèle. It can be exhausting.

Conservatives are not Communists. They are conservatives. If a politician zigs when he should have zagged — according to our lights of the moment — he is not a non-person, deserving of banishment to Siberia or execution in the Lubyanka.

And remember a Reagan line — because we all so love the Gipper: “If someone agrees with me 70 percent of the time, he’s my 70 percent friend, not my 30 percent enemy.”

I apologize for sounding preachy in this column. Mainly, I am preaching to myself. I’ll even quote the Bible, which we’re still permitted to do, there being a narrow conservative majority on the Supreme Court: “Physician, heal thyself.”

‐I was looking at a receipt from Spirit Airlines. On the tax line, it said, “Government’s Cut.” I liked that. Refreshing. Honest. Different.

‐I saw a T-shirt in Manhattan: “God belongs in my city.” Whoa.

‐I passed a bar on the East Side: the Sin Bin. I liked that, too: truth in advertising.

‐A little language? I have a whopping instance of a dangler for you. I came across an article beginning, “Like many San Franciscans, overpriced coffee is a considerable portion of my weekly budget.”

Overpriced coffee is not a San Franciscan. Or is it?

‐A little music? For my “New York Chronicle” in the February issue of The New Criterion, go here. For two Web reviews, go here and here. They are of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Riccardo Muti, at Carnegie Hall.

Thank you for joining me, dearhearts! (And, no matter what Rick Perry says, I know you have a heart.) And remember: Surtout pas trop de zèle. I guess what I’m saying is, Do as I say, not as I do. I follow the slogan “Give ’em zèle.” Or “To zèle with you.”

We could do this all day …

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