Politics & Policy

The perils of 100 percentism, &c.

Sarah Palin in 2010 (Reuters photo: Rebecca Cook)
Political tribalism, PC vs. art, a wonderful life, and more

Over the years, I’ve noticed something about pro-choice people (or pro-abortion people, or pro–abortion-rights people): They can’t give anything. They can’t budge an inch.

They can’t move on “late-term abortion.” Or “partial-birth abortion.” Or even “born alive.” They can’t move on “parental consent” or “parental notification.” They just can’t.

Because if they do … the Very Bad People will win. Also, the structure of abortion at large may come tumbling down. (If abortion is wrong at eight months, why is it right at seven? Etc.)

The abortion people are 100 percenters. They can’t go to 99.9 percent — the mentality just won’t allow it.

Travel with me to 2009, please. No, to ’08 first. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice-president. I had met her before, at the governor’s mansion in Juneau. Liked her a lot. And in the campaign — the 2008 presidential campaign — I loved her.

In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Charles Murray was asked, “What do you think of Sarah Palin?” He answered, “I’m in love. Truly and deeply in love.” I knew the feeling.

Not only did I love her, I felt terribly defensive of her, and protective of her: because of the hatred directed at her. The animal hatred, the psychotic hatred. It made me sick. I lived and died with this woman, and wanted to defend her from her enemies.

In 2009, after serving two and a half years, she resigned her governorship. And I wrote something very, very gentle in a column. I said something like this:

People are allowed to live their own lives. They are allowed to choose their own paths. We may wish other paths for them, but we don’t have a vote.

If I had my way (said I), Governor Palin would serve out her term — then reemerge on the national scene more experienced and better prepared than ever.

But I don’t get my way (I continued). We can’t make choices for other people. Sarah Palin has made hers. And I wish her nothing but the best.

The reaction from my readers, many of them, was thunderous. And vicious. You would have thought I had attacked Governor Palin with a chainsaw. That I had burned her house down. Nothing I had ever said, written, or done counted for anything. I was a traitor, an enemy, a RINO, and all the rest of it.

I must say, I was shocked. I wouldn’t be today, because I know the Right better now, but I was shocked then. I also understood (if you can be shocked and understanding at the same time): Any criticism — even gentle criticism, even implied criticism — was piling on. It was joining the Left. It was signing up with the Very Bad People.

All right, now we come to Trump: His fans, many of them, can’t abide any criticism of him. Any critic is an enemy: not just of Trump, but of America, of conservatism, of life. Many a righty is as touchy as any lefty, easily “triggered” and in need of a “safe space.”

I understand entirely, or feel I do. But I also think I know that this mentality is exhausting and counterproductive. All-or-nuthin’, black-or-white, is a lousy way to live.

As much as anyone today loves Trump, I loved Reagan. I walked every step with him, bled every step with him. Every criticism of him, I felt keenly — more than he did, for sure. (Maybe even more than Nancy did, which was hard.) I bled with him through Bitburg: “Yeah, but he promised Kohl …” I bled with him through Iran-contra: “You can’t keep an eye on staff 24/7 …”

Not only did I love him, I despised his enemies. And was loath for them to win. (“Win.”)

I doubt I’ll give my whole heart to a politician again. I don’t want to be a 100 percenter, a black-and-whiter, at least in politics. But I know myself a little: and I can make no guarantees …

‐A friend of mine sent me an e-mail, saying, “Killing Aida!” What did he mean? He was referring to this piece I wrote a few months ago, titled “Killing Aida: A mortal threat to art.” It was about the clash between identity politics and art, basically. The two cannot coexist. One or the other must go.

My friend linked to an article from London, which began, “Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has defended his new musical after critics slammed it as ‘unforgiveable’ for having an all-white cast.” Unforgivable (to use the American spelling)? That is very strong.

The article continued,

Fellowes has found himself at the centre of a race row after his West End play Half A Sixpence, based on the 1905 novel Kipps by HG Wells and playing at the Noel Coward Theatre, was targeted for its lack of diversity.

In The Stage, a performing arts publication, a critic wrote: ‘In a cast of 26, there is not one non-white face. That, for a new production, is unforgiveable.’

However, the screenwriter, 67, has claimed he was simply making sure the casting was historically accurate.

He said: ‘We are trying to reproduce Folkestone in 1900, and I think you must produce something that is believable.’

(Folkestone is a port town on the English Channel.)

It is too much to ask people that they relax on race. Sooner ask that they quit likker ’n’ porn. Race is almost an addiction, or a devotion. But people like art as well, and I hope enough of them will want to save it from politics — identity politics in particular. It is not the worst thing in the world to portray Folkestone as it was in 1900, is it?

The people who can really break this spell are “people of color” — saying, “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Lighten up. No pun intended.” And, “Not in our name.”

‐An old friend of mine asked me the other day, “What are you?” She meant politically. I was able to trot out an old line (of mine): “Of all the things Ronald Reagan did for me, maybe the best was to give me something to call myself: a ‘Reaganite.’ That’s what I am. I could give a lecture, on the Scottish Enlightenment, Meyerian fusionism, etc. — but if one word is called for, ‘Reaganite’ suits beautifully.”

Along these same lines: About a week ago, I was thinking, “What are people like me going to call themselves, in this age of nationalism-populism-Buchananism-Trumpism? What are we going to call the old-style, Reagan conservatives?” And I swear, this phrase came to me: “alt-Right.”


‐I wrote a blogpost about Mexico and President Trump’s treatment of that country — of its president in particular. I received a note from a longtime diplomat, with lots of experience in Latin America, which I thought you might like to see:

Thirty years ago, a Latin American president told me, “Lo que nos dice es tan importante como la manera que lo dice.” (“The manner in which you say something is as important as what you say.”) What we are witnessing is a problem of communication based on cultural misunderstandings. We could accomplish all our national objectives with Mexico and make friends at the same time.

I believe it.

‐A friend of mine from back home — Michigan — sent me a picture of a bumper sticker in Dexter. It says, “PROUD PARENTS of GREAT KIDS that are sometimes A**holes and that’s OK.” (No asterisks.)

‐I know a wonderful and distinguished family in Chicago: the Stamoses. On January 30, an obit read, “A son of Greek immigrants who rose to be a respected Illinois Supreme Court justice, John J. Stamos developed a reputation for integrity to match his legal wisdom.”

Have a bit more:

He went to Bowen High School and DePaul University and entered the Army in World War II.

Because he knew how to type, Mr. Stamos was assigned to clerical duties at a military psychiatric unit in Belgium. But after the Battle of the Bulge, the hospital took in the physically wounded. Mr. Stamos became a litter-bearer, ferrying injured servicemen to treatment.

His son Jim commented that he had seen his dad choke up only twice: when his wife died (Jim’s mother) and when he spoke of carrying the injured.

Give you something a little lighter, from the obit: “He had a puckish sense of humor. In the late 1980s, when the TV show ‘Full House’ became popular, he received a letter from a young female fan of actor John Stamos. She asked for an autographed picture.” So, he sent her one — in his judicial robes. Poor girl.

I’m going to close with a letter that Jim Stamos sent me. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and see you later.


I wrote last week that my father was about to turn 93. He did not make 93. On Saturday, two days before his birthday, we had a party for him and my oldest son, who shares his name and his birthday, 70 years apart. The whole family, grandchildren included, were at the house. He had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis for a year (and no other ailment), and after dinner, before the cake, he felt sick, sat down, and died with my doctor wife and one of my sisters holding him. 

He was a remarkable man of the 20th century. …

We buried him on Thursday. … After the traditional Greek ceremony at the church, we went to the cemetery where, after a few more prayers, a bugler played “Taps.” All of us lost it when the bugle played. Then two impossibly serious young soldiers ceremoniously folded the flag from his coffin and presented it to my stepmother with the traditional words of thanks from the president of the United States and a grateful nation. The day was cold and bright and perfect. And as I placed a rose on his coffin, what I felt most keenly was gratitude. He led a blessed life and it was a gift to share it.

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