Politics & Policy

The shocking speed of entrenchment, &c.

Ronald Reagan shakes hands at a campaign stop in Indiana, 1980 (Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
On Obamacare, Islam, Russia, Twitter, Seattle, and more

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking, “How quickly things get cemented. How hard they are to reverse — even when they were just put in place.”

During the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter promised the National Education Association that he would establish a federal department — a Department of Education. He was elected. The department opened its doors in May 1980. During the ’80 campaign, Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the Department of Education. He was elected.

So, when he was sworn in, the department was less than a year old — the paint had barely dried.

Did Reagan abolish the Department of Education? Of course not. He expanded it.

Two seconds ago, President Obama normalized relations with the Castro dictatorship. President Trump has amended Obama’s policy — but he has left most of it in place. Normalization is cemented, apparently.

Two seconds ago, Obamacare came into being. Trump and other Republicans have vowed to abolish it — vowed at the top of their lungs. “Repeal and replace!” has been the cry. Will the Republicans do it? Or will they leave most of Obamacare intact, even though they control the White House and both houses of Congress?

How quickly, dear readers, do things get cemented. It’s really kind of amazing.

‐During the Republican primaries of 2016, I backed Ted Cruz (an old friend). One of the things I said about him, repeatedly, was this: I don’t know whether Obamacare can be repealed and replaced. I also don’t know whether Iran can be kept from getting nuclear weapons. Frankly, I doubt that those things are possible. But if Ted is elected, he will do whatever is humanly possible — crawl over broken glass — to accomplish those goals.

I still believe that (and I believed no such thing about the other candidates, even the ones I admired).

‐A group in Mosul, Iraq, blew up a 12th-century mosque — one with a leaning minaret, à la Pisa. Who did such a wicked, unconscionable thing? What anti-Islamic villains blew up this ancient mosque?

A group calling itself the “Islamic State.”

What the hell is Islamic about them? Seriously. I know we must take people at their word, religiously. But still …

‐Alexei Navalny is the leading opposition politician in Russia. He has been attacked, physically, but not yet killed. In Irkutsk, one of the largest cities of Siberia, a man named Bugaev rented space to the Navalny campaign. Then he had the hell beaten out of him by “unidentified attackers.”

You know what he said afterward? “I am completely apolitical. I am interested in the material side of life.”

Here’s the thing about a dictatorship: You can’t be apolitical. They won’t really let you. It is one of the most insidious things about a dictatorship.

‐Steve Rosenberg, a BBC correspondent in Russia, reported on a poster in Crimea. It said, “The task of a journalist is not to criticize the authorities. It is to find a common solution that suits all sides.”


‐The New York Times had an article about Senator Tom Cotton as “Trump’s coach.” Let me quote a paragraph:

“I hope that traditional Republicans reflect on the 2016 election and think about what they got wrong in the preceding four and eight years,” Mr. Cotton said, describing himself and the president as “right about immigration” and adding, “Republican elite consensus in Washington is wrong.”

I think that by “wrong” the senator means unpopular. Republicans aside, I hope that conservatives never confuse what is right with what is popular.

‐In The Spectator, Roger Scruton, the great conservative philosopher, had an article about the “post-truth” age. It is one of those gratifying pieces of writing that Scruton has spent his life producing. Here is a sentence about President Trump:

“This extraordinary person, whose thoughts seem shaped by their very nature to the 140 characters of a tweet, makes no distinction between the true and the false and assumes that no one else makes such a distinction either.”

Later, he adds that, for what it’s worth, “I would say that Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan are ahead of Mr Trump in the post-truth stakes.”

‐Scruton, I should say, is now “Sir Roger.” I need to get used to that (and it is a wonderful development).

‐Are you on Twitter? One of the interesting things about that medium is that you are attacked by people who know nothing about you.

Recently, National Review’s David French objected to the disruption of a play by activists of the Right. Someone tweeted at him, “serious question: did u speak out against left stomping on free speech?”

David answered, “When I was suing universities, leading teams of First Amendment lawyers, and condemning speech codes and PC nonsense for 20+ years.”

David was the president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He was also senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Also, he fought in the Iraq War.

I could go on. The point is, David French is like a poster child for the defense of free speech.

On Twitter, nothing matters. It is always Year Zero. Minute Zero. Once in a while, I’ll criticize Trump for his softness on Putin. And people will tweet, “You NEVER said anything about Obama and Castro!”

Yes. I’ve never had a chocolate-chip cookie either.

‐A reader from Michigan sent me an article and said, “This gives me hope for the future.” The article is by Kaylee McGhee, an editorial intern at the Detroit News. She is a student at Hillsdale College. Her article begins,

“The burden of rationalizing President Donald Trump’s erratic behavior is one the Republican Party carries, but not one constitutional conservatives should be eager to share.”

It continues,

“As a young conservative in the era of Trump, Twitter and all things social media, I have been repeatedly pressured to join the ranks of my peers who abide by the ‘love Trump or hate America’ logic.”

Yet she has resisted. Hope for the future indeed.

‐Every now and then, I would like to like the ACLU. I want to be a good civil libertarian. And I know that the ACLU has performed good, periodically. Also, Ira Glasser was for many years the head of the ACLU, and he is, as far as I can tell, a swell guy. He was a friend of Bill Buckley’s. In fact, it was Glasser who took Bill to the only baseball games he ever attended: a Yankees game and a Mets game. (I think Bill was at each game only very briefly.)

Yet I cannot like the ACLU, or even respect it. A recent episode reminded me why.

Our ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, condemned the manifold human-rights abuses by the chavista dictatorship in Venezuela. The ACLU then issued a statement, saying, “It’s hard to take Ambassador Haley seriously on U.S. support for human rights in light of Trump administration actions like the Muslim ban and immigration crackdowns.”

Every nation has a right to control its borders. People are trying to get into the United States. They are trying to get out of Venezuela.

The Maduro regime is denying its citizens rights, starving them, and gunning them down in the streets.

The ACLU lacks all moral sense. It is an obscenity.

‐On to something pleasanter: Seattle. I spent a few days there recently. On the right, we know Seattle as a hippie-dippie-flaky place. And there is a lot of that. What may be underappreciated is that Seattle is also a hotbed of free enterprise.

There is a crane on every corner. Construction is going crazy. Why? Amazon. Seattle is also the home of Microsoft, Costco, Expedia, Starbucks, and more. There are old standbys such as Boeing and Nordstrom. And there are start-ups galore.

‐On the streets of Seattle, there are almost as many beggars and vagrants as there are in San Francisco. Why is this? The welcoming of it, of course. But a lady I talk to also ventures another explanation: the relaxation of drug laws. People are strung out, lying there. Or they are reasonably awake, trying to get money for their next hit.

I don’t know. I do know this: People who are in favor of drug legalization tend to see no evil — no evil in consequence of legalization. And people who are against legalization probably see too much evil.

‐I understand, very well, the freedom arguments in favor of drug legalization. I have a wide libertarian streak. But let me tell you: Drug users are some of the least free people I have ever seen. They are in bondage.

‐My colleagues are a book-writing crew, and I have several of their books on my reading list. Let me tell you about two of those books.

Stuart Isacoff is a music scholar, and a superb one. He has written When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph, and Its Aftermath. Cliburn, the pianist from Texas, won the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. This was a fascinating and important event. Isacoff knew Cliburn. This is a juicy book.

Carl Cannon is the well-known political journalist in Washington (son of Lou). Politics aside, he writes on a range of subjects. He is also an excellent purveyor of history. His new book is On This Date: From the Pilgrims to Today, Discovering America One Day at a Time. Such a good idea, and superbly executed. (I have dipped in.)

‐Patricia Knatchbull has died at 93. Known as Lady Mountbatten, she was the daughter of the illustrious Louis Mountbatten. In 1979, the IRA bombed them: bombed the family as they were out on their fishing boat. Four people were killed: Mountbatten himself (age 79); Lady Mountbatten’s mother-in-law, Doreen Knatchbull (83); Lady Mountbatten’s son Nicholas (14); and Paul Maxwell, a boat hand (15).

To read the New York Times’s obit of Lady Mountbatten, go here.

She herself was bloodied in the bombing, and had to have 120 facial stitches. Later, she referred to this work as “my IRA face-lift.”

If that is not an example of British stoicism, I don’t know what is.

‐My colleague Rick Brookhiser knows that I like names. And he gave me three doozies from the 13th Congress. Federalists all, they were Epaphroditus Champion (Conn.), Amos Slaymaker (Pa.), and Outerbridge Horsey (Del.).

Horsey was, formally, Outerbridge Horsey III. Slaymaker had a sister named Faithful — Faithful Slaymaker.

‐Care for some music? I’ve published some posts at The New Criterion. This one is on Maria Grinberg, a Russian pianist who lived from 1908 to 1978. Great pianist, very hard life. This one is on Swan Lake — so you have music and dance for the price of one.

‐I do a podcast called Q&A, whose archive is here. My most recent guest is Jack Pitney, the conservative political scientist. He started reading National Review at 13. Corresponded with William F. Buckley Jr. Professor Pitney’s mother still keeps the letters from WFB.

‐This was so unexpected — you can hardly believe it. On a recent morning, my doorbell rang at 5:15. It’s very, very unusual for my doorbell to ring. Even more unusual at 5:15. What gave?

I opened the door to an elderly man with a cane, a mustache, a cap, and a little dog. In a Central European accent (I believe), he spoke to me the following sentence: “I have come to walk Eduardo’s dachshund.”

Honestly, it was like out of a movie — a spy drama, perhaps. The sentence seemed like a code phrase: “I have come to walk Eduardo’s dachshund.”

As it happens, I have a neighbor, Eduardo. The gentleman had misread the address.

I hope you have a good week!


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


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