Impromptus

‘For the people,’ &c.

Senator Kamala Harris speaks to the media after announcing she will run for president, January 21, 2019. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)
Kamala Harris, King Baudouin, Bill Buckley, Tom Brady, and more

Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) is running — running for president. Her slogan is “For the people.” Ah, yes: “the people,” as always. This has been the cry of politicians forever. It is at the heart of populism.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s slogan is “Au nom du peuple,” “In the name of the people.” Sure. In 2000, Al Gore talked about “the people versus the powerful.” President Trump calls the media “the enemy of the people.” Blah, blah, blah.

“People over profits.” Remember that one, of yore?

In some times and places, people are properly skeptical. After World War II, many Americans flinched at invocations of “the people.” The word Volk was sort of dirty in America. We were even a little hesitant about Volkswagens. Really.

And let’s not even start about “people’s republics” and all that other commie BS.

Anyway …

With her slogan, “For the people,” Senator Harris is invoking her prosecutor past. Fine and dandy. But, in general, I would be wary of invocations of “the people.” There are benign invocations — “We the People” — and much less benign ones. When politicians say “the people,” they usually mean “my supporters,” or “the people I favor.”

And who are the non-people? They are the bad people: the bankers, the fancypants, etc.

Allow me a memory — a personal memory, a family memory. I was in college, I think, and going on about politics, and talking about “the people.” This was at the dinner table. “The people” this, “the people” that. No doubt I was obnoxious. And my father raised his hand, kind of mockingly, and said, “I’m a people.”

That ticked me off. And it was a great comeuppance.

• President Obama, in 2013, got into some hot water. He called Kamala Harris “the best-looking attorney general in the country.” Let me give this some context.

Speaking at a fundraiser outside San Francisco, Obama said, “You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country.”

He added, “It’s true! C’mon.”

• While we’re on the subject: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), too, is running — running for president. You recall what Harry Reid, who was then majority leader, said, right? “We in the Senate refer to Senator Gillibrand as ‘the hottest member.’”

That was pre-Harris. I don’t know how he’d vote now.

• Many politicians pretend to dislike politics. Others dislike it for real — they sort of grit their teeth through it. And others love it openly. I give you Jerry Brown, the outgoing governor of California, who has been in politics forever and a day.

Asked what he would miss, he said, “What will I not miss? I like it all. I like fundraising. I like sparring with the press. I like attacking my opponents. I like being attacked. I like the whole thing. People in this business like attention, and you get a lot of attention as governor.”

I appreciated this candor — indeed, loved it (and understood it). (If I ever got into the arena, you’d have to drag me out kicking and screaming.)

• Sunday, January 20, marked the midway point of Trump’s presidential term (or his first one, if you like). Time is a funny thing. Presidencies often seem to take forever, while they’re going on. To me, Bill Clinton’s lasted about 100 years. So did Obama’s. Then they’re over, in the blink of an eye.

• In my view, 2020 is a juicy opportunity for a Republican or conservative who wants to be president — and who would be willing to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination, or run as an independent in the general.

You hear that Trump has near-unanimous support in the Republican party and among conservatives. Maybe. But maybe not. Someone might want to test the proposition. Trump people are very touchy about a challenger. If Trump is as popular and invincible as they say — why worry?

Strange things happen in politics (as in other areas of life). You never know. Consider Trump in 2016! Wow, historic. And consider Emmanuel Macron in 2017. Like Trump, he was making his first run for office — any office. And, like Trump, he won the presidency of his country.

I think of 1992, the Democratic primaries. Very few wanted to run, because President Bush (41) looked so formidable. But there was a governor of Arkansas who wanted to be president, and he was going to run come hell or high water, dammit. So he did. He had weak opposition: a little-known ex-senator, Paul Tsongas, and a few others (including Jerry Brown!).

Fortune favors the bold. You never know. “Never up, never in,” we say in golf. And when others are standing on the sidelines, there is an opportunity for you.

• Reading about Virginia, I thought of Belgium. Let me explain. A story in the Washington Post last week began,

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, only the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia, briefly bowed out of his duties in the state Senate on Friday in protest of a tribute to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Fairfax (D), who normally presides over Richmond’s upper chamber, stepped off the dais and let a Republican wield the gavel while Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George) marked Lee’s 212th birthday with praise for “a great Virginian and a great American.”

Now, let me quote a New York Times report out of Brussels, dated April 4, 1990:

The civilian Government temporarily suspended King Baudouin I from power today after he declared that he could not, in good conscience as a Roman Catholic, sign a new law permitting abortion.

After declaring the King “unable to govern,” the Cabinet assumed the King’s powers and promulgated the abortion law, which was published in the official gazette.

Okay. You may be pro-Lee or anti-Lee; pro-abortion or anti-abortion. But you see my point regardless: Two men stepped away from their official duties out of conscience (and democratic politics proceeded).

• On Thursday, Daniel Hannan, the British writer and politician who is a leading Brexiteer, tweeted, “I’m getting slightly tired of being told why I voted Leave by people who voted Remain.” (That “slightly” is so British, isn’t it?) I thought of WFB (William F. Buckley Jr.). Once, someone said to him, “Actually, what you believe is that . . .” and WFB interjected, “I’m the world’s foremost authority on what I believe.”

• Many, many of my colleagues think there should be no State of the Union address — not this year, not ever. Not live and in the House, at least. Too much of a spectacle, too tawdry, too un-republican.

I get all that. But the conservative in me regards SotU as a tradition, an American rite, and a well-established one. It comes once a year, like the Super Bowl (and at about the same time). If you don’t want to watch it, I understand entirely. Sometimes I don’t want to either (and it’s sort of my job). But, you know? We don’t have to watch it, if we don’t want to.

• Speaking of football: I am rooting for the New England Patriots, which rather surprises me. Let me take you back to 1986.

Jack Nicklaus won the Masters, which made many of us crazy with joy. Why? He defied the odds. Many people had thought he was too old to win again. Also, the victory affirmed his greatness.

And that brings us to Tom Brady. I think that’s why I’m Pats-minded.

Incidentally, Jim Harbaugh, the quarterback and coach, regards Brady as the best football player ever. These are parlor games — but one could certainly make a case.

• Feel like a little music? Let me throw a couple of reviews at you. This one is of a performance of Pelléas et Mélisande, the Debussy opera, at the Met. And this one is of a New York Philharmonic concert: Jaap van Zweden, conductor, and Yefim Bronfman, piano soloist.

The good old days? Sometimes they’re now.

• For the New York Times’s obit of Nathan Glazer, go here. I had him for two classes. He was a celeb to me — the pages of Commentary come to life! Let me quote a line from the obit: “He once said that he held positions often no different from those of many others, but that he was the one who would go to meetings and speak up.”

Yes, yes. Bless those who are willing and able to speak up. They do many (silent) others a favor.

• I was in a restaurant over the weekend, and the bill was delivered in an old book: A Boy Scout on Duty. Here is the cover:

Here is the title page:

And here is the book’s inscription:

I found this moving, in a variety of ways. The penmanship. The relationship between a mother and a son. The rugged old name “Robert Brown.” The appellation “Mama.” The idea of giving a gift at Easter — and the gift of a book, at that. And a book that supports a moral understanding. The fact that the year, 1928, is between two terrible wars, world wars.

If you, too, are moved, you’re probably a conservative — a conservative of some kind. Conservatism is more than Trump rallies, Fox, and Drudge. It is even more than Burke, Kirk, and other names that may rhyme or not.

Anyway, I wish you a wonderful day. Thanks for joining me. If you want to drop me a line, do so at jnordlinger@nationalreview.com. Later.

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