Politics & Policy

Obama at prayer, &c.

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When Barack Obama started running for president, in about 2007, he seemed very familiar to me. Indeed, I thought I knew him intimately. He was just like people I had known in Ann Arbor, Mich., my dear old lefty hometown. He was an obvious product of the university culture. He was like a grad assistant (with unusual political skills).

Years ago, I talked to Rush Limbaugh about the New York Times. He said (approximately), “I don’t just know it like the back of my hand. I know it like my entire naked body.”

I felt the same about Obama — which leads me to his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he said we must not “get on our high horse” about Islamist terrorism, because the West was guilty of the Inquisition, the Crusades, and whatnot.

This was a staple of my upbringing — virtually the soundtrack of my life. If ever you mentioned the Gulag, for example, someone would say, “What about slavery?” (meaning slavery in the antebellum American South). If you talked about what Beijing was doing to the Tibetans, someone would say, “Well, what did we do to the Indians?” If you talked about people who were shot trying to scale the Berlin Wall, someone would say, “What about Selma?”

People were petrified that someone might think America or the West was any good. It’s not that they were Communists — there were very few of those around. They may have been somewhat pink. Mainly, they were confused, miseducated. They embraced “moral equivalence,” as conservative critics called it: the belief that the United States and the democratic West were no better than the Soviet Union and the Communist East.

The worst sin you could commit — besides racism, the greatest of all sins — was jingoism or “ethnocentrism.” Even patriotism was suspect (very). Everything had to be even-steven. If you mentioned a depredation behind the Iron Curtain in one breath, you had to mention a depredation of the United States or the West in the next breath — no matter how far back you had to go.

I remember thinking, “How will self-flagellation over the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears help a political prisoner having the sh** beaten out of him right now?”

Henry Ford, my fellow Michigander, said, “History is bunk” — and to a degree it is. History is harmful if it blinds us to present reality and prevents us from acting to improve the present situation.

Like you, I could talk for hours about this subject, but let me end with this: If a man is still griping about the Inquisition and the Crusades, he’s probably unfit to wage the War on Terror (as we called it in the bad old days).

‐Several years ago, the NASA administrator, Charles Bolden, said in an interview that President Obama had given him a sacred charge: to help Muslims “feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

I can just see Obama saying that, demanding that. When Bolden made this admission, I said, “Well, what about equal time? How about making Jews feel good about their contribution to science, math, and engineering?”

It’s obnoxious to quote one’s own jokes, I know. But I have a serious question: Someone should ask Bolden, “How’s it going? How are you doing in your mission of making Muslims feel better?”

We should have a report. Congress should exercise its oversight. (By the way, are Muslims sick of being condescended to by this president and others?)

‐Steve Kroft, the 60 Minutes personality, has been caught in an affair, and one phrase has stood out to me: He was “really paranoid” that “right-wing zealots” would find out about the affair and use it to harm him and his news network, CBS. (For a story, go here.)

The phrase that grabbed my attention was “right-wing zealots.” And if liberals had found out about Kroft’s affair? They would have been cool with it? There is much food for thought — and snorting and arguing — here.

In his texts to his mistress, Kroft “boasted of his relationship with President Obama, whom he referred to as ‘Barry.’” (I am quoting this story.)

I wonder how Obama feels about Kroft’s referring to him as “Barry.” Is that common among the president’s friends and supporters? Does Valerie Jarrett, for example, refer to Obama as “Barry”?

If a conservative called him “Barry” — would that be kind of … you know, like, racist?

Moreover, I thought of something Kroft said a couple of years ago when asked why Obama liked to be interviewed by him and 60 Minutes. Obama, said Kroft, “knows that we’re not going to play ‘gotcha’ with him, that we’re not going to go out of our way to make him look bad or stupid.”

Oh, yes. For Obama, being interviewed by Kroft or anyone else at CBS is much like giving a speech (to a friendly audience). For Obama, 60 Minutes is a safe zone.

Just like for Republican politicians over the years, right?

‐Stay on the subject of TV-news personalities — I’d like to say something about Brian Williams, the NBC anchorman (if he still has his job). In the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush often said that his opponent, Al Gore, had “a weakness for exaggeration.” Gore was telling whopper after whopper (in his attempts to aggrandize himself). Bush’s phrase for it was neat, I thought: “a weakness for exaggeration.”

I think this is what Williams has, too. It’s not the worst thing in the world — but it’s not the best. A lot of people have this problem, even if they are otherwise honest and good. I hope that Williams reforms and gets on with life. (I hope the same, of course, for Kroft.)

‐Recurringly, I write about language and its effect on politics. Lately, I’ve been thinking about Republican opposition to Loretta Lynch, the attorney-general nominee. You may think she should be denied the job — but what about the politics? Lynch is a black woman (and a liberal). Good luck with that.

Also, her name is Lynch. Republicans against the nomination would form a “Lynch mob,” get it? This phrase would be in every publication in America, if not around the world — along with “Lynching” and so on.

Impossible. This is an impossible situation, for Republicans.

Often, I have written about our weakness for alliteration. This plays a role in politics. The Left talks constantly about a “war on women” — it’s the two w’s that stay in the ear. The other day, in the British media, I read about a new Labour trick: They are accusing the Tories of a “war on Wales.”

This stuff works, I’m afraid — a failing of humanity.

‐Last week, I had the pleasure of having a sandwich at the Shubee Shack in North Redington Beach, Fla. I asked the young woman behind the counter, “Is ‘Shubee’ a person’s name?” No, she said: A shubee is someone who likes surfing and the beach scene but does not surf himself.

A friend of mine thought that “shubee” derived from “shoes on the beach.”

Hmmm. Maybe an investigation is in order. Mark Steyn once called me “the master of the American vernacular.” He said this somewhat tongue in cheek — as well he should have — but I took it as a high compliment, and I’m stickin’ to it.

But I ain’t the master of squat unless I can get to the bottom of “shubee.”

‐I met a young woman named Signè — that is her first name, I should specify. I had never seen it before. The accent was throwing me off. Signè told me that her name — which can also be Signe or Signy, I think — is a Scandinavian name. Neither of her parents is Scandinavian. They saw the name on the back of a boat in a yachting magazine — and, after some checking, went with it.

‐Near the Tampa airport, I saw a sign for Floribraska Avenue — a jarring, crashing merger of “Florida” and “Nebraska.” Seemed almost indecent, when I first saw it. A nasty, counter-natural hybrid.

‐I also saw the Hotel Floridan, which really threw me off — not “Floridian,” but “Floridan.”

My brain reels from unaccustomed strings of letters …

‐Let me retreat into music: for a review of a double bill at the Metropolitan Opera. To read this baby, go here. The double bill consisted of Iolanta, by Tchaikovsky, and Bluebeard’s Castle, by Bartók.

Have a wonderful week, y’all. Thanks.


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