Beware Elizabeth Warren? &c.

Senator Elizabeth Warren in Chicago on October 22, 2019 (Joshua Lott/Reuters)
On the 2020 election; Jay Leno; Charlotte, N.C.; Peter Collier; and more

For the last several weeks, I’ve said that the nomination of Elizabeth Warren by the Democratic party would be a gift to President Trump and the Republicans. I think she is far too radical for the country. Others have said, Not so fast.

Last week, I recorded a podcast with Robert Costa, the ace political reporter for the Washington Post (formerly my colleague here at National Review). Bob knows a great deal about politics, and other things.

I asked him about the Democratic field. And, first off, he said this:

“The criticism of Senator Warren is that she doesn’t have the personality or the profile to win nationally. Based on my reporting, talking to Democratic voters and swing voters, that’s wrong.”

Bob continued,

“To me, Senator Warren is not a candidate, she’s a message, and her message is powerful. It’s economic populism, and she is essentially trying to steal back the message of economic populism from the Republicans and President Trump. Instead of making immigrants a target for people’s grievances, she is making the wealthy and their assets and corporations the target, and that resonates with many people who feel like they’re not getting what they deserve from this economy while others succeed.”

The politics of grievance is ever powerful.

Listening to Bob, I was reminded of something that Kate O’Beirne said. This was many years ago. We were talking about the social issues — abortion in particular — which were once said to be an albatross around the neck of the Republican party. Stick to fiscal issues, people said. Kate said, “You know, many people are in the Republican party, or vote Republican, because of the social issues. They are redistributionists at heart.”

Her statement struck me as true at the time, and I have come to believe it even more strongly in recent years.

Radek Sikorski — who, like Bob and Kate, worked at NR, and who later became defense minister and foreign minister of Poland — said something to me last year. We were doing a podcast. I will paraphrase: The combination of right-wing cultural politics, if you will, and big, paternalistic government is just about the most potent electoral force out there.

I further think of Mitch McConnell, and a report from last summer. The passage I have in mind is: “Trump recently told West Wing aides that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told him no politician had ever lost office for spending more money.”

Yup. Canny old bird, McConnell.

Can Elizabeth Warren actually win the presidency? I have a boring answer, I’m afraid: If she is the Democrats’ nominee, we’ll see.

• Gordon Sondland is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. He donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. (Funny how that works out.) On October 8, Trump hailed Sondland as “a really good man and great American.” A month later, he said, “Let me just tell you: I hardly know the gentleman.” (Sondland had changed his story in the Ukraine matter.)

Has that ever happened to you? One day you’re the cat’s meow, and the next day, “Who are you, again?” It is a very common human experience, I’m afraid.

• As I have long said, in Impromptus and elsewhere, Trump likes to call people “little.” You might say that he literally belittles them. “Little Marco,” “Liddle’ Bob Corker” (I can’t explain the apostrophe), “Little Jeff Zuker” (meaning Zucker, the head of CNN), “Little Adam Schiff” (sometimes “Schitt”). The new one is “Little Michael,” for Bloomberg.

I think this reveals something very small about a man: this name-calling, this belittling. Some of my colleagues disagree with me. It’s no big deal, they say. Nothing to get your knickers in a twist about. “He fights,” etc. Talks like a reg’lar guy.

Whatever. I think you either see why this sort of thing matters or you don’t. Would you want your children to talk this way? Should standards for the American president be lower? Maybe they should — but how pathetic. What a sorry capitulation to a new, tawdry normal.

• In Vanity Fair, Nell Scovell wrote a piece about David Letterman, which is interesting. The title: “Ten Years Ago, I Called Out David Letterman. This Month, We Sat Down to Talk.” I’d like to address one passage of this piece:

Dave never sounds more Midwestern than when he’s owning up to a personal failing. Still, it’s gosh-dang refreshing to hear him voice regret. Compare Dave’s response to Jay Leno’s last month when he was asked about his hiring process for writers.

“I hire them based on material,” Leno said. “People just come up and give me the jokes and I read them and I decide whether to hire ’em or not. . . . One guy was so handicapped he couldn’t leave his house, but he wrote good jokes so it didn’t matter to me. A lot of times, I got a few female writers out of it.”

The author goes on to ridicule and scorn Leno for his comments. But, in my view, they’re not so bad. Hiring people based on the material they write. Are they funny or not? Sounds okay to me.

Let’s have a look at the article that Scovell links to, which gives a fuller picture.

When Jay Leno hosted NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” the comedian led a staff of around 200 people, including writers and producers who worked closely with the host.

To ensure that he hired the best employees, Leno only cared about one thing: their material. “A lot of times people write me jokes, and I’d go, ‘I like these jokes — hire that person,’” he tells CNBC Make It.

Leno was never interested in hiring people because of their connections. Instead, he let their talent and abilities speak for themselves. “An agent never submitted jokes to me for his client,” the host of CNBC’s “Jay Leno’s Garage” says. “People just come up and give me the jokes, and I read them and I decide whether to hire them or not.”

The strategy helped prevent Leno from turning down good writers due to an unconscious bias, he says. “Maybe I might have been influenced by things, like That guy seems kind of old. But I hired them based on material,” he explains.

He is singing my song. I love blind auditions in music — for orchestra seats and the like. You don’t know whether the player is young or old, black or white, fat or thin, attractive or un-. All you know is how the person plays. What a beautiful concept.

And connections! “Leno was never interested in hiring people because of their connections.” Oh, my gosh, I’m so grateful for this. In the 1990s, I was hired at The Weekly Standard with zero connections (and precious little experience). All they cared about was what I could do. (They administered a test, and I implemented a test, too, when I became managing editor of National Review.)

I am indeed so grateful. And I’m liking Leno more and more.

• They have come after David McCullough, the historian. Whom do I mean by “they”? The woke brigades, essentially. McCullough is not woke enough for them. John Bicknell, another historian, has the story, and astute analysis, here.

• May I recommend another piece? It is a beautiful piece, a powerful piece, an unusual piece (and a long one, so reserve a stretch of time). Tom Junod on Mister Rogers. Holy-moly. To say it once more, powerful.

• Above, I asked, “Whom do I mean by ‘they’?” — which reminds me of a Twitter antagonist (I’ve got billions of them). I had been reading the news and thinking about Donald J. Trump and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Iraq War vet who serves as director for European affairs on the National Security Council staff. These are very, very different men, in character, experience, ideals, etc.

I tweeted, “Whom do you like better — Trump or Vindman? That tells you a lot about what kind of conservative — what kind of American — you are. I think all of us — pro-Trump, anti-Trump; pro-Vindman, anti-Vindman — can agree on that.”

One of my antagonists (who bills himself as “a regular guy” in his handle) said, “I’m for the conservative who cares about the middle class. Generally speaking they don’t start a sentence with ‘whom’.”

Two points: “Middle class” is an amorphous, often self-serving term, usually employed by politicians and people who talk or write like politicians. Joe Biden, for example, claims that people call him “Middle Class Joe.” I think he named himself that. And, as I am not the first to point out, very few people consider themselves anything other than “middle class.”

Point deux: The grammar thing? My antagonist would have hated Bill Buckley and his National Review. That type always did. WFB had to contend with them and their sniping his whole career — and now, of course, he’s free of contention (but if he is not, I’m sure he’s handling it very well).

(A reader once told me — in a friendly, charming way — “I dropped my subscription to NR after too much untranslated French.” Those were the days . . .)

• In Charlotte, N.C. — very appealing place — downtown is “Uptown.” That takes a second or two to get used to.

• Not taking any time at all to get used to is Midwood Smokehouse, where the staff is friendly and the food bodacious. Don’t forget the jalapeño cornbread or the pecan cobbler (warm, with vanilla ice cream).

• Stately is one thing — but this wonderful house almost abuses the privilege:

• A radiant fall morning, in Charlotte:

• Met a lovely woman from nearby Waxhaw, who grew up on a farm, and whose father was one of 21 children. His dad had had approximately half with his first wife and the other half with his second. I thought of Bach: who had an even 20 children, also with two wives. Only half of the Bach children lived to adulthood. In that Waxhaw family, they all did.

It occurs to me that, with 21 kids, you’re just one shy of being able to field two football teams.

• An obit of Peter Collier, the writer and editor, appeared in the New York Times, here. He was a joy to talk with. On the phone, he might begin a conversation with, “What the f***?” He said it so genially — like a cool Californian. He meant, “What’s goin’ on? How’re you doin’? Great to talk to you.” He was so warm, and so cool, at the same time.

Among his books was a biography of Jeane Kirkpatrick — excellent book — which I reviewed in NR, here.

Thanks for everything, Peter, and I’ll see you later. I’ll see you later too, ladies and gentlemen. Stay cool (and warm).

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to


The Latest