Impromptus

An enormous presidential power, &c.

President Trump tours prototypes for a new U.S.-Mexico border wall near San Diego, Calif., on March 13, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
Trump and the Wall, the U.S. and NATO, Buckley and Bloomberg, and more

One of the great powers of the presidency is the power to focus attention. There are a thousand things competing for attention at any given time. And the president can say, “We’re going to talk about this one.” And we do.

Donald Trump has chosen to talk about the southwestern border, and, more broadly, immigration. So our media outlets are dominated by those stories, and so is the “national conversation,” as people say.

We could talk about the deficit, the debt, and the looming, fearsome problem of entitlements. But about those things, there is virtual silence. People kind of cough and say “Oh, yes” and go back to the Wall.

Here is a story from Monday: “China Grants Ivanka Trump Five Trademarks as White House Continues Trade Negotiations with Beijing.” Have you heard much about that? No, it’s not on the agenda.

Have you heard much about this? “United Nations: 13,000 killed, 30,000 injured in Donbas since 2014.” (Article here.) This is a quiet war — but wars are never quiet for the people in them.

If you watch golf on television, you will often hear an announcer say, “Smith is moving quietly up the leaderboard.” You know what that means? The “quietly”? It means that the network hasn’t shown Smith yet.

• Last April, the Treasury Department placed sanctions on several Russian oligarchs and their companies for “a range of malign activities around the globe,” in the words of Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Last month, the administration announced that it was lifting sanctions on three companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a key Putin crony.

To many noses, the deal struck by the administration smelled. In the House, 136 Republicans — 70 percent of the caucus — voted to block this lifting of sanctions. The Republican-controlled Senate voted with the administration, however, with eleven Republican defections: including Rubio, Cotton, and Sasse.

Good for those eleven, and the 136.

• On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times had a tweet: “The Trump administration took the unusual and provocative step of recognizing the leader of the political opposition in Venezuela as the country’s legitimate president.” Senator Rubio responded.

And responded hotly: “Ridiculous tweet by major U.S newspaper: So far 13 other nations,including 11 Latin American ones plus Canada & France took the same ‘unusual & provocative step’. But since Trump did it they conclude it must be bad. Truly extraordinary bias.”

Not necessarily. It was an unusual and provocative step. Also a correct one, in my judgment. (For National Review’s editorial on the subject, go here.) I have been doing media criticism my whole life. But such criticism can be too automatic, and erring.

• There used to be an expression: “goo-goo.” It was a name, actually, used in derision. “Goo-goo” stood for “good government,” and if you were a goo-goo, you wanted good government: not machines such as Tammany Hall. The term originated in the 1890s.

I learned it from Bob Novak, who would apply it scornfully to Republicans he didn’t like. (I learned a lot of political vocabulary, and other things, from Bob, which I draw on regularly.)

Well, I am feeling goo-goo-ish on the government shutdown: I think the two sides should come to an agreement, pronto.

By the way, “goo-goo” is not to be confused with “Good goobily goop!” or “Great googly moogly!,” exclaimed by Grady on Sanford and Son.

• Martha MacCallum of Fox News asked the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, “If Montenegro is attacked, should young men and women from the United States fight to defend Montenegro?” He did not answer, certainly not directly. She asked him again. Same story. “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” he said.

We have long had a policy of strategic ambiguity concerning Taiwan and China. It seems now that we have a policy of strategic ambiguity concerning NATO countries.

Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says that an attack on one is an attack on all. It has been invoked only once — by the United States, after 9/11. (The Afghan War is, in part, a NATO war.)

I remember saying after a trip to the Baltic states in 2016: If you’re not going to defend them, tell them now. Let’s be honest, and on the record. Standing in Tallinn, in 2014, President Obama said, “The defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London.” Is that off now? Fine. Let ’em know. Don’t pussyfoot around. Be clear, in part so they can plan.

“Everyone has his own private NATO,” I often say. (It echoes the once-popular phrase “own private Idaho.”) Some say that the Baltics aren’t really NATO. Too far east. Okay. Where does your NATO begin? Poland? No, can’t do that, because they’re always getting into scrapes with Russia. France? Well, aren’t they a bunch of cheese-eating weenies anyway?

Etc. Everyone has his own private NATO, separate from the real one. I wonder what Secretary Pompeo and President Trump think.

• Our Kevin Williamson wrote a piece titled “Why Not Bloomberg?” Why not Michael Bloomberg, the businessman and ex-mayor of New York, for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020? Kevin writes, “The Democrats could do worse. And they almost certainly will.”

That is an old phrase from a Republican speaker of the House at the end of the 19th century. (Can’t think of his name right off.) I learned it from Bob Novak (to continue a theme of mine).

Bloomie is an interesting guy, politically and personally. As a businessman, too. I understand he is an extremely important businessman of our time. Other writers are more equipped than I to say why.

My ears pricked up when he said something at the Democratic convention in 2016:

“I know what it’s like to have neither party fully represent my views or values. Too many Republicans wrongly blame immigrants for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on climate change and gun violence. Meanwhile, many Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction.”

You don’t hear that very often at a Democratic convention (or a Republican one).

Let me tell one story, from my Bloomie repertoire. Or rather, let me correct one. You may hear that Pat Buckley, wife of William F. Buckley Jr., blew smoke into Bloomie’s face at dinner. Bloomie is a staunch foe of smoking, as you know, and he was particularly renowned for warnings about second-hand smoke.

What happened is this: Pat lit up. And people around the table tittered. Pat, misreading the titters and thinking that Bloomie was objecting, looked at him and said, “Do you mind if I smoke in my own house?” And he, defending himself, said, “Of course not.”

As in a game of telephone, this became “Pat Buckley blew smoke into Bloomberg’s face, ha ha.” Not true. I was there, sitting on one side of Bloomie while Pat was on the other.

By the way, WFB banned smoking from his table after Pat died.

• Our Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece called “The Case against National Solidarity.” The subheading: “National solidarity is awesome — when it’s on your terms.” I thought of something I used to say about education.

I was for a common curriculum, from sea to shining sea, with Americans learning the basics: Betsy Ross, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and all that good stuff. Real readin’, ’ritin’, and ’rithmetic. But I wanted my people in charge of the curriculum, you see: Bill Bennett, Abigail Thernstrom, E. D. Hirsch, Linda Chavez, et al. How likely was that? Not very. Any national curriculum would probably be shaped by the lefties who usually control education.

So … let a thousand flowers bloom — charter schools as far as the eye can see, including the Farrakhanite ones and all the others I would find distasteful.

You know what I mean, I trust.

• The daughter also rises! I’ve been waiting for Priyanka Gandhi to rise for quite some time now. I have followed her since she was a teenager, really. A news item:

Priyanka Gandhi became the latest member of India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty to officially join politics yesterday (Jan. 23). The 47-year-old Gandhi has been appointed …

You get the idea. She has a position. Keep an eye on her, as well as brother Rahul, the Congress party chief.

• A taste of sports? The headline read, “Klay Thompson hit 10 straight 3-pointers, tied NBA record in rout of Lakers.” (Article here.) “They went in tonight, fortunately,” said Thompson. “When you got the hot hand, you’re just looking for that little ounce of space, because all you need is an inch or two. That thing is just flicking off your wrist so easy, and it just happened to be one of those nights.”

That thing is just flicking off your wrist so easy. I thought of something that Arnold Palmer once said: When you’re really hitting it well, the clubs feel like toothpicks in your hands. Light as feathers.

• “BUY GOLD.” That’s what Jonah says, when things appear to be going far, far south. I chuckled when looking something up in the National Review archives. I was searching for a piece I wrote about music, published in 1999. Found it. Next to it was an ad, capitalizing on the Y2K anxiety. (Remember that?) The ad bannered, “Buy Gold!”

Later.

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