National Security & Defense

The living Garry Kasparov, &c.

Garry Kasparov in 2008 (Photo: Olegkozyrev/Dreamstime)
Russia and our Right, Betsy DeVos, Roberta McCain, Liberace, and more

The first time I heard it, I thought it was simply an aberration, a horrible mistake. But now I have heard it again — from another prominent conservative. I think the aberration or mistake is more like a talking point.

Steve King is a leading conservative congressman — a Republican from Iowa. On television, he was asked about President Trump, Vladimir Putin, America, and Russia. That’s because of what Trump had said, also on television.

Bill O’Reilly had said to him, “Putin’s a killer.” The president answered, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

In the old days — BT (Before Trump) — we conservatives referred to this as “moral equivalence,” and we didn’t like it so much.

Steve King was questioned about Trump’s remarks. And in the course of his answer, he brought up Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, now a champion of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Listen to the congressman:

“Dissent? I would say, Garry Kasparov has long — and now he’s in the United States — he lived a long time in Russia with a very loud megaphone of dissent against the regime, and he’s still alive and well, so …”

So, why does everyone have his panties in a bunch about Putin? Kasparov’s not dead yet, you see? He’s still yakkin’ about freedom.

This is what I heard before. And now I have heard it again, from a man considered a model conservative. I’m not sure I know of a more disgusting talking point. What if they had Kasparov’s corpse? Would they then concede Putin is bad news? Or would they shrug that one off, too?

While in Russia, Kasparov was arrested and beaten. He has been in exile since 2013, and for very good reason: If he returned to his native country, he could end up like some of his friends and fellow democrats — imprisoned, poisoned, or dead.

Kasparov’s friend Vladimir Kara-Murza is in the hospital again. In a coma again. Poisoned — again.

Republicans and conservatives were always on the side of such people. That’s the way it was when I joined up in the 1980s. That’s the way it should be now.

‐Speaking of Putin: Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are now working against Emmanuel Macron, the French presidential candidate. Unlike Madame Le Pen and Monsieur Fillon, he is not pro-Putin. Strange how that happens — n’est-ce pas?

‐I have hailed Betsy DeVos before, and let me hail her again. She is now the education secretary. She was Trump’s most controversial nominee, I gather, and definitely one of his best. She is a very, very rich woman who could be doing all sorts of things with her life — including lounging around (which would be fine with me). Instead, she has dedicated herself, for all these years, to helping the less fortunate: to ensuring that even poor or otherwise disadvantaged kids have a decent education.

Secretary DeVos, in another context, would be hailed as “woke” — that is, alive to injustice, and determined to remedy it.

I’m not sure we should have a (federal) Education Department. But if we do, Betsy DeVos is a superb person to lead it.

‐John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has declared that President Trump will not be invited to speak in that body. He is persona non grata because he’s a no-goodnik (according to Bercow).

May I just point out, as others have, that Bercow was pleased to welcome Xi Jinping, the boss of the Chinese Communist Party, and therefore the boss of China? China is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag (laogai).

If Mother Parliament tolerates the likes of him — surely she can tolerate our democratically elected president, whatever his nature. Also: We are cousins.

‐Longtime readers may know of my great regard for James DePreist, the late American conductor. He was black — indeed, the nephew of Marian Anderson. And he had a firm and sound view of himself as a musician and as a man.

One time, he was under consideration by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to be its music director. He got wind that they were interested in him because he was black. So, he withdrew his name from consideration.

“It is impossible for me to go to Detroit because of the atmosphere,” he said. “People mean well, but you fight for years to make race irrelevant, and now they are making race an issue.”

I thought of him when reading this article about a comedian named Shappi Khorsandi. She withdrew her novel from “the longlist for a new British book prize exclusively for writers of colour because she ‘felt like my skin colour was up for an award rather than my book.’”


‐There are perfectly good words — even honorable and noble words — that can make your skin crawl in certain contexts. I am beginning to feel that way about “people.”

“We the People!” people like to say. Often, I find, they don’t mean you and me — they mean themselves and their friends. Period. In France, Madame Le Pen’s slogan is “In the name of the people.” Uh-huh. Then there are “people’s republics” — etc.

When politicians, especially of a dogmatic or demagogic type, brandish the word “people,” beware.

‐Trump is confusing. This week, he has sworn that he does not know Vladimir Putin. Other weeks, he has spoken, indeed boasted, of knowing him.

Remember him in one of the Republican debates? “I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates.”


‐Some people are having a peculiar debate: Does it matter whether the president tells the truth? About what? Well, about illegal voting. And crowd size. And murder rates. And terror attacks, apparently suppressed by the media.

Does it matter?

During the campaign, a Trump man said to me, “He’s not a liar, he’s a BS-er.” The BS-ing, he thought, was excusable, even charming.

To be continued …

‐Yesterday, Roberta McCain, widow of Admiral John McCain, mother of Senator John McCain, turned 105. She was born in the administration of William Howard Taft. Woodrow Wilson was gearing up to challenge him for the presidency. A few days after she was born, Arizona — which her son now represents in the Senate — became a state.

She has seen a lot, and weathered a lot, in her life. Beautiful lady, too.

‐I received a note from a pianist friend of mine. The note had a link — to an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show in 1986. The guest, or one of them, was Liberace, who was on his last legs: He would die a few weeks later.

My friend said, “As you know, he was really a good pianist. We all know that. But listen to him play the Christmas music, at about 14:20. His playing is so touching, so musical. It’s easy to think that he is all frills, but the underlying simplicity and sincerity is there. There’s a reason I responded to him as a kid.”

I listened (and the video is here). Ladies and gentlemen, I’m thinking of a particular pianist — I don’t think I’ll name him, but he is a senior pianist, lionized all over the world. People listen to him with reverence in Carnegie Hall, the Grosses Festspielhaus in Salzburg, and elsewhere. He can’t play half as well — not half as well — as Liberace did, on his last legs. With nothing like the fluidity, control, or musical sense.

Honest Injun.

‐I’ll end on a language note. Besides the music, I listened to Liberace speak for a minute or so. I had not heard him speak, I think, since I saw him on television when I was very young. I was less attuned to language then — accents and the like. And I never realized until now that Liberace spoke with a honking Upper Midwestern accent. I mean, right out of Central Casting.

I’ve Googled, and he was from Wisconsin.

Thank you for joining me, dear readers, and I’ll check you later.

A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.


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