Politics & Policy

What Bush told Putin, &c.

President George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Beijing, 2008 (Reuters photo: Larry Downing)
RT, CNN, Lewinsky days, Roy Moore, Mitt Romney, Russia, North Korea, Faulkner, Simon & Garfunkel, and more

In the press, they’re calling it “tit for tat.” The United States required that the American branch of RT — formerly “Russia Today” — register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. RT, as you know, is a Russian state television network, a propaganda arm of the Kremlin. In retaliation, the Kremlin is set to designate certain American outlets in Russia as foreign agents.

While all of this was going on, President Trump issued a tweet. He said that Fox News “is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

This declaration by the American president must have been very satisfying to the Kremlin. They will almost certainly find it useful. Furthermore, I wonder this: Is anyone at Fox News slightly uneasy about the president’s constant boostership of them? Or is it strictly a windfall for Fox?

It is natural for dictators to believe that other leaders, including democratic ones, enjoy the same control that they do. It is natural for them to believe that other leaders do what they would do.

From Dana Perino, I learned of a story about George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. Later, I brought it up with Bush.

You remember that Dan Rather and others were fired by CBS News for false (and malicious) reporting about Bush. At some point after that, Bush and Putin met. Bush pressed him on democratic reforms, including freedom of the press. (Can you imagine an American president doing that now?) Putin said, approximately, “Who are you to talk? You had Rather and those people at CBS fired!”

Bush gave him some friendly advice. He said, “Vladimir, whatever you do, don’t say that publicly. The people in America will think, ‘Man, he has no clue what’s going on.’” Putin didn’t listen to him.

There are media outlets under the control of government. And media outlets independent of government. That is a crucial distinction, which ought not to be blurred.

‐You may have seen a clip of David Gauke, a British parliamentarian and government minister. He was approached by an RT man. And he said that he would not talk to RT, given what RT is.

Check it out here.

‐In the days of the Lewinsky scandal, I had a line. I had a belief. I said, “If it were one of ours — if it were a conservative Republican in office — we would be first in line, demanding that he go. We would be at the White House gates, baying for his departure. Because he was making the rest of us look bad. He was tarnishing our name. We would not want any association with him. It would be incumbent on us, above all, to remove him. Remember: We care about morality and character, unlike our opponents!”

Those opponents, the Democrats? They were circling the wagons around the president — their president. Almost no criticism of him escaped the lips of a Democrat. Instead, it was constant defense, and constant attacks on the president’s critics.

Was I right, saying that conservative Republicans would behave differently? Obviously, one has had reason to reconsider. We have seen the Right and Donald Trump; we have seen the Right and Roy Moore.

Yet I think I was right, at the time. This was before the two terms of Obama. In recent years, the prevalent feeling on the right has been this: Republicans were supine before Obama. The Bushes, McCain, Romney, and the rest of them were total wimps. They were virtuous to a fault. What we need is a big bruiser, like Trump, to save our country and MAGA. We need the Roy Moores, warts (or predations) and all.

In any event, I see the power of tribalism, more clearly than I ever have. I see the power of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Indeed, I have heard that troublesome bromide quoted.

Very often, there is no principle involved. It’s just tribe versus tribe, blue versus red, us against them. Kind of a sorry way to live.

‐On the subject of Judge, and Candidate, Moore: He said the other day that Alabama had stood up for its rights during the Civil War. If I could ask him just one question, it would not relate to the sexual and criminal allegations against him. It would be, Are you glad that the Confederates lost the war?

I wonder what he’d say.

‐On the subject of Mitt Romney: Word is, he will run for the Senate in Utah, if Senator Hatch decides not to. I wonder why Romney would do it. He’s 70. He’s lived a long and illustrious life. He had a big career in business. He saved the Salt Lake City Olympics. He was governor of Massachusetts. He was twice a presidential candidate, and once a nominee. He has lots of grandchildren.

Why public office, again? I’m not sure. Maybe he just has the itch. I have certain itches myself. (I know, there are powders for those …)

‐On the subject of Russia: I’m often told, by my critics on the right, “Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know! Quit being so stuck in the past!” (I used to be told this by critics on the left — times have changed.)

I know very well that Russia is not the Soviet Union. My question often is: Does the Kremlin know?

I ask that question when seeing stories like this: about a Ukrainian historian being tortured by psychiatric treatment, as in Soviet days.

So, I ask again: Russia is not the Soviet Union — but are you sure that Putin et al. know that?

‐You have seen, probably, the video of a North Korean soldier, making a dash for freedom. Other North Koreans fired a hail of bullets at him, wounding him badly. But he made it to the other side, where he is being cared for.

(Go here.)

I keep thinking of the Berlin Wall, where so many were killed — so many trying to escape the Soviet bloc. I well remember something that Caspar Weinberger said. It made an impression on me.

Weinberger, as you recall, was Reagan’s first defense secretary. In congressional testimony, I believe, he pointed out a curious fact about the border between West and East: All the soldiers were facing the same way — east.

The NATO soldiers were facing east to defend against the Warsaw Pact; the Warsaw Pact soldiers were facing east to prevent people from escaping. They had no fear of NATO. They were simply keeping the inmates in.

A powerful illustration.

‐I winced a bit when reading Mario Vargas Llosa, the great novelist, on the writers who have influenced him (here). He singled out Faulkner. Of those Vargas Llosa read when young, Faulkner is one of the few who still mean something to him. “I have never been disappointed when I re-read him, the way I have been occasionally with, say, Hemingway.”

Why did I wince? The truth is, I have always loved the idea of Faulkner. I have long wanted to be a Faulkner-lover. But I love the idea of Faulkner more than I do the works themselves.

Which is annoying to me. (Maybe later.)

‐Ladies and gentlemen, I have started a new podcast, Jaywalking, which is essentially an audio version of Impromptus, with added touches, such as the playing of music. The inaugural edition is here. Kick the tires, see what you think.

‐A few days ago, I was on a country road — a dirt road. A man had a wheelbarrow full of dirt in his driveway. He was going out into the road, to fill potholes.

That’s civic action. Individual action …

‐In Central Park (New York), I passed a man playing that Chinese instrument with one string, or two. I can’t remember the name or structure. Anyway, he was playing “The Sound of Silence,” by Simon & Garfunkel. “Cultural appropriation”? Cultural blending, certainly — something that civilization has always had, and always will.

There are Simon & Garfunkel songs I like better. But who asked me, right? In any case, thanks for joining me, dear readers, and I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. There are always things to be grateful for, no matter what else is going on.

Up with gratitude, down with complaint. I’ll try to remember that until at least next Thursday or so. That’d be a week!



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The Republican Party Needs to Honor George W. Bush

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

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