Debate-watching, &c.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the Democratic debate in Detroit on July 31, 2019 (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
On politics, North Korea, the campus, ‘Big Tech,’ and more

If you’re a partisan — of either the Democrats or the Republicans — I think you’ll know what I mean: There is great freedom in not caring very much about presidential debates. In 2016, when those 17 GOP-ers were having their debates, I cared very much — intensely. This time around, as the Dems are debating? No. It is so relaxing, frankly.

To a Democrat, I’m sure, the 17 GOP-ers in 2016 seemed alike, pretty much. The same with Dems to me today.

• Against his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden will never win a woke-off. They will out-woke him every day. He might as well aim for the sensible middle, or the Democratic version of it. Would that be enough to win the nomination? I don’t know. But I suspect that would be his best shot.

(Not that any Democrat ever sought or took advice from me.) (Not many Republicans have either, trust me.)

• Last week, Marianne Williamson, an unconventional candidate, was said to have scored big in her debate. Maybe so — but I had a memory of 2016. Carly Fiorina, one of the GOP contenders, scored very, very big in her debates. People were buzzing. But this did not translate into votes.

The electorate can be a mysterious beast.

• Like you, perhaps, I have been reading about suburban women. This article, for example: “Suburban women recoil as Trump dives into racial politics.”

Years ago, James Carville, the colorful Clintonista, made a famous crack — something like, “I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I would like to come back as the bond market. People say it determines everything.”

Maybe one would like to come back as suburban women.

• The North Korean dictatorship has been testing its missiles again. The following is an exchange between a reporter and President Trump on July 26:

Reporter: “Are you okay with North Korea firing off these short-range missiles?”

Trump: “Well, you said it: They’re short-range missiles. And my relationship is very good with Chairman Kim. And we’ll see what happens. But they are short-range missiles, and many people have those missiles.”

Reporter: “You don’t sound too spun up about it.”

Trump: “Nope. Not at all.”

Reporter: “They’re describing those short-range [tests] as a warning, and ‘short-range’ is short-range for the United States but not short-range for our allies, right? South Korea, Japan.”

Trump: “Well, he didn’t say — he didn’t say a warning to the United States, I can tell you that. He didn’t say a warning to the United States. But they have their disputes. The two of them have their disputes. They’ve had them for a long time. But he didn’t say that. But they are short-range missiles and very standard missiles.”

Conservatives have pointed out something for a long, long time: It can be downright dangerous to be an ally of the United States.

In Foreign Policy magazine, Elias Groll had an article that began,

In recent weeks, North Korea has been testing a short-range missile that U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed as “very standard.” In fact, it’s anything but: The new missile represents an important advance in North Korea’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon and evade American missile defenses, according to experts.

Defense analysts warn that the KN-23, a short-range, solid-fuel missile that is highly mobile and elusive because it is launched from a truck, appears to mimic a Russian-built missile that represents one of Moscow’s most advanced rockets and could potentially penetrate the most sophisticated U.S. defense systems.

I am not an expert in this field — but I would say: Take heed. Don’t be naïve.

• On Twitter, Trump wrote, “Chariman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true. He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!”

Some days, you think that the American people elected a Communist as president.

Kim Jong-un’s vision for North Korea is not “great and beautiful” — it is horrific and ugly. It is the continuation of a gulag regime, a “psychotic state,” as Jeane Kirkpatrick called it, ruled with an iron fist by one family.

I wish the United States had a leader who would say a word — one word — for the North Korean people, who have suffered persecution that most of us can hardly imagine.

• Then there is Hong Kong — President Trump and Hong Kong. In his remarks, Trump seems more sympathetic to Xi Jinping and the Communist dictatorship than he does to the democracy activists in the streets — all of whom are putting their necks on the line, and many of whom have been beaten to a pulp. I wrote about this on Friday, here.

My piece was circulated on Twitter, with the question, “What should be the American position on the democracy protesters in Hong Kong?” A popular response was, “None of our business.” I checked the bios of these responders — and a startling number advertise themselves as Christ-followers.


• Typically, Bret Stephens had an excellent column, here. This one is on higher education. One line stood out to me — an inspired and true line: “Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.”

• An author, Yuval Noah Harari, had a problem: In order to have his book translated into Russian, he had to submit to Russian censorship. He did it — arguing (rationalizing?) that the censorship did no harm to the central ideas of the book, and that it was better to have a censored book in Russian than no Russian edition at all.

To read an article about this, go here.

What would you do in such a situation (whatever the dictatorship was)? Would you say, “No way, jackasses, you’ll have my book as I wrote it or not at all”? You might like to think so. But . . . would you?

An interesting question, one that few of us will ever face.

• Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), a darling of the nationalist Right, is on the warpath against technology companies. He tweeted, “Social media ‘innovation’? What innovation? Big Tech doesn’t deliver for the American people, and that’s the biggest problem of all.”

A lot of people like their smartphones, their Facebook accounts, and so on. But leave that aside. I say, as a conservative: When politicians tell you that certain businesses have not “delivered” for “the people” — watch out. There is a long, unhappy history of this kind of thing.

• I got a letter from a young friend of mine, a college student. He had read something I wrote (here). He said that my last paragraph reminded him of a passage from John Stuart Mill. Did I have it in mind?

First, this was my last paragraph (a portion of):

The truth is, liberal democracy is something rare under the sun. People enjoy it only in parentheses, very brief. But it’s worth struggling to hang on to. And if people lose it in one age or place, it will be waiting for people in another. You can’t kill off these ideas. You can smother them for a while — even a good long time — but kill them, no. They will revive.

Did I have Mill in mind? No, but I should have, and I will in the future. Here is the Mill my young friend thought of:

The real advantage which truth has consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favorable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.

• Care for some music? Well, in this form — the latest episode of my podcast Music for a While. Some interesting stuff in there, I think. Certainly some good music.

• A little language? You have heard of a love triangle (maybe even been involved in one). My cousin spoke of a situation at her workplace — a love square (involving four).

• John Noonan, a defense expert, issued this report on Twitter: “Overheard in Senate:  ‘Just because Kim Kardashian wants something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.’”

Wise — you could put it in Bartlett’s.

• In a London club, someone pointed to a painting on the wall. “Who’s that?” she asked. We discovered she was an actress, who had sat for this portrait in the late 1910s. “Could it really have been a hundred years ago?” someone said. “She seems so contemporary. Not so far away.”

“A hundred years ago isn’t what it used to be,” I said.

To a 15-year-old, a hundred years ago seems like ancient history. To an older person, a 90-year-old, say? Not so much . . .

• Let’s end on this subject of age. A new season of University Challenge, the British quiz show (my favorite show on television), has begun. It has been going since 1962. The quizmaster, Jeremy Paxman, said, “For the first time, we’ve seen applicants whose year of birth begins with the number 2. And so they’ve never known a world without Harry Potter, Google, or the emoji.”

Have a good week, dear friends. I’m off to Salzburg — to the festival there, to do some work. One year, as I was going, Bill Buckley said, “Say hello to music for me!”


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