Politics & Policy

The least mad dog, &c.

Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon (Photo: Air Force Staff Sergeant Jette Carr)
Mattis, Iran, Gorsuch, ‘a newspaper,’ and more

Some nicknames are ironic, as when you call a huge person “Tiny” or a bald person “Curly.” How about “Mad Dog,” our defense secretary, James Mattis? He must be the least mad dog around.

I noted this last month, when Mattis flew to Iraq. Reporters asked him about that country’s oil. Should the United States seize it? That’s what the president has been advocating for a long time.

Mattis replied, “I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil, and I’m sure that we will continue to do that in the future.”

More recently, the president said that Germany owed America “vast sums of money,” on account of NATO. As I said in a column earlier this week, the president seems unclear on how NATO works.

Testifying in the Senate, Mattis was asked about this very thing: whether Germany owes us money. Mattis gave a matter-of-fact answer about how NATO works. (For a news article, go here.)

If Mattis keeps up his sanity and truth-telling, I’m afraid there will be repercussions. Anyway, I’m glad he is at the Pentagon, and I congratulate the president on this cabinet pick, among other sterling ones.

‐Nowruz is the Iranian new year. President George W. Bush used to send Nowruz greetings to the people of Iran, excluding the dictatorship. Interviewed by the Voice of America’s Persian service on this holiday in 2008, Bush said, “My thought is that the reformers inside Iran are brave people,” and “they’ve got no better friend than George W. Bush.”

President Obama changed tack. At Nowruz, he pointedly sent greetings to “the people and leaders of Iran.” He said that the United States sought “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

Some of us thought that there was no respecting a dictatorship that, among other things, stones girls to death for the “crime” of having been gang-raped.

I now see that President Trump has sent his own Nowruz message: “To the Iranian people and all those around the world celebrating Nowruz: On behalf of the American people, I wish you freedom, dignity, and wealth.”

Sounds good.

‐Everyone says that Neil Gorsuch has done a great job at his Supreme Court hearings. (By “everyone,” I mean everyone on the right.) So, hurray, hurray, huzzah, huzzah. But I was thinking: If I were a senator, I might be a little bit miffed.

Ever since Bork, basically, no one has said anything — no Supreme Court nominee has said anything, in these hearings. They are anodyne, empty, practically worthless. The nominees pretend they have no views, no politics, no life. They are blank slates, waiting to be written on, maybe.

Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you my views on Citizens United! Jeepers creepers! I’m not that kind of girl!

Oh, grow up. We’re going to have Republican nominees and Democratic nominees. Conservative nominees and liberal nominees. That’s the way the thing works. Sometimes conservatives get a president (and thus nominees); sometimes liberals get a president (and thus nominees).

One of the things I devoutly wish for is a less infantile, more grown-up political culture.

‐During a hearing, Senator Sasse conveyed a question from his wife: “How in the world is Gorsuch able to go so many hours at a time without peeing?”

I thought of ol’ Strom, who reminisced about his filibusterin’ days. Paul Douglas, the liberal Democratic senator from Illinois, would place glasses of water or orange juice near him, tempting him. Strom was pretty disciplined.

Yet blacks got their civil rights.

‐In Washington this week, I was talking with a smart, experienced lawyer — a true conservative. He marveled at what Mitch McConnell did, blocking Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, waiting for something else.

For many on the right, McConnell wears a black hat, the epitome of the Establishment RINO. But what McConnell did was gutty as hell, said my friend, and a tremendous service to the general conservative cause (and the cause of constitutionalism).

Wonder if the Right will ever credit him …

‐Are there no jobs in Detroit, or too few? Then job-seekers in Detroit should move to Texas. “No fair!” some people say. “Why should they have to move?”

This got me to thinking. A lot of people in Detroit started out in Appalachia, or their parents did. Or their grandparents did. A lot of them started out in the Deep South. (I know this, being from southeastern Michigan.)

Did they want to move? Did they want to leave their birthplaces? Probably not. But they needed jobs, and the auto factories had them.

All right, how about their forebears? A lot of them came from England, Scotland, or Ireland. Did they really want to leave those places and cross the ocean, to the new and unknown world? Surely not. But they did it, for opportunity.

Should Detroit be the final resting place, so to speak? Should no one have to move again, ever?

You get my drift. And this is the subject of a long essay or study — preferably by Kevin Williamson — rather than a lil’ impromptu.

‐I was struck by something when reading an obit of Kika de la Garza, the Texas Democrat. It was this: “He described his goal in Congress as bridging ‘the tremendous gap between the consumer and the fellow who rides on the tractor or who is picking the fruit.’”

That’s a very hot topic today.

Here is a fascinating story from the Washington Post, headed “White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to be Trump’s eyes and ears.” There’s a guy at the Pentagon whose job is to monitor Mattis. Other Pentagon hands refer to this guy as “the commissar.”

The bigger concern, I’m sure, is the existing bureaucracy, or the “deep state,” as some like to say (borrowing a term from Turkey).

I thought of George Shultz, who was secretary in three departments: labor, treasury, and state. I interviewed him in 2008. Here’s the part I was thinking of:

… Shultz had positive experiences with departmental bureaucracies, the source of so much conservative frustration … When he became labor secretary, people told Shultz that he, as a Republican, could never get anything done. The department worked for George Meany and the AFL-CIO, period. But Shultz says that he and other political appointees “worked hard, and the career people responded. They knocked themselves out for us, in an honest way.” Shultz had an equally happy experience at the State Department: The career people may not have adored Reagan’s foreign policy, but they too “knocked themselves out for us. I have nothing but good things to say about them.”

Huh.

‐President Trump gave an interview to Time magazine — whose Michael Scherer brought up the old story about Ted Cruz’s father and Lee Harvey Oswald. The president replied that he had nothing to do with the story.

He said, “Well, that was in a newspaper,” and “I was referring to a newspaper.”

Interesting how, in Trump’s mind, the National Enquirer is a “newspaper” — while so many other outlets are “fake news,” or, as Trump tends to tweet it, “FAKE NEWS.”

The National Enquirer is the virtual epitome of fake news. Think of babies conceived by humans and extraterrestrials (in inconceivable ways).

If you point this out, people will say — trust me, I know — “John Edwards!” In 2007, the National Enquirer had the story — the true story — about that politician and an extramarital affair.

Yes. But on the other side are countless stories about the ET babies and the like (including Cruz-Oswald). And if you think the Enquirer will ever target Trump, rather than his opponents – don’t wait up nights.

‐As you know, the North Koreans recently conducted further missile tests. In response, the United States moved a missile-defense system to South Korea. Now the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, says that this move was “a response completely out of proportion.”

Right. Not if you’re in South Korea, looking at the wrong end of a Nork nuke.

‐In a television interview, Senator John McCain described Kim Jong-un as “this crazy, fat kid that’s running North Korea.” I hugely appreciate the senator’s bluntness.

‐So, here’s another Nazi, or apparent Nazi, 98 years old. There is an extradition issue. I have been reading these stories my entire life. You have too, probably. Someday, there will be no more — no more such stories, and no more Nazis. (That is, no more Nazis from the Third Reich. Nazi types, we will always have with us.)

‐There is an expression in golf, “Every shot pleases someone.” I thought of this when reading this story: “US president helps fuel surge in Mexican tourism to Canada.”

‐I admire Pete du Pont and Steve Forbes for many reasons, and here’s one: They are scions of wealth, and they understand and defend capitalism. This is relatively rare, in my observation. Usually, scions of wealth — inheritors of wealth — are rather sheepish about capitalism, even antagonistic.

Over the years, I have made this point to both du Pont and Forbes. I wish I could have made it to David Rockefeller, personally. I would have liked to compliment him, thank him.

He has now died at 101. Rockefeller said, “American capitalism has brought more benefits to more people than any other system in any part of the world at any time in history.” (See this article.)

Yes. David Rockefeller had a superb education, by the way: It included studies with Schumpeter and Hayek. Not too shabby.

‐Let’s have a little language. Now and then, I use the word “conversatin’,” for “conversing,” because it is an old Americanism and I like it. Riding home on Amtrak the other day, I heard it over the public-address system: “No conversatin’ in the Quiet Car.” It warmed my heart. I thought I was getting to be the only one …

‐A little music? For a post on Elina Garanca, the Latvian mezzo-soprano, in recital, go here. A little more music? For a post on Miah Persson, the Swedish soprano, in recital, go here.

At the latter recital, I sat next to a woman with a sign on her back. (I didn’t see it when we were seated. Only at intermission, when she was walking around.) The sign said, in huge letters, “NO!” And, underneath, in smaller letters, something about resisting fascism.

I often feel very strongly about things, but I have never worn a sign. Maybe I should. More effective than Web columns? Than tweets?

See you!

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

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