Men of Kentucky, &c.

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin watches as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Richmond, Ky., October 13, 2018. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)
On governors, presidential candidates, flaring redheads, ‘pistarckles,’ and more

Kentucky’s governor-elect — though the incumbent governor has not yet conceded — is Andy Beshear, who has been the state’s attorney general. His dad, before him, was AG. Also governor.

In 2015, I wrote a piece called “The Dynasty Question.” You know what? Kids follow parents into lines of work — including politics. It is really quite remarkable. In that piece, I surveyed our 2014 elections — just one round of elections — and it was astounding how many participants were the offspring of politicians.

I don’t find this alarming — rather, normal. (People follow their parents into law, medicine, music, sports, etc.)

The outgoing governor of Kentucky — if, indeed, he goes — is Matt Bevin. He has had a remarkable family life, as you can read in a Wikipedia entry. For one thing, he and his wife, Glenna, adopted four children from Ethiopia. (I was reminded of this three days ago by an alt-rightist who sent me a nasty e-mail.) Bevin has worked for adoption reforms in Kentucky. I once sought to interview him on this subject — adoption — but was not successful.

Maybe he will write a memoir one day. I’d like to read it.

• We conservatives like to say that every Democrat has a radical-Left agenda. We mutter this line in our sleep. But, you know? Some of them do — have a radical-Left agenda. And that includes Elizabeth Warren — who makes Hillary Clinton look like Adlai Stevenson.

(When I said this on Twitter, someone responded, “Yeah — Vice President Adlai Stevenson.” This fellow was VP under Grover Cleveland from 1893 to 1897. He was the grandfather of Adlai Stevenson II, who was the Dems’ presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, losing to Eisenhower both times.)

Can Elizabeth Warren win? The nomination, sure, but the general? I remember the 2004 cycle, when people would ask me, “Can Howard Dean win? I mean, he can’t, can he?” I would answer, “Sure, he can. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it, but, yes, he could win. Each party has about half the country. Any major-party nominee has a chance to win. Still, Dean would be a severe underdog.”

Warren can win because each party represents roughly half the country. But I would not bet the ranch on her. I think her nomination would be a gift to President Trump and the GOP.

• An article from the Associated Press on Wednesday — out of London — said this:

In his Downing St. speech, Johnson claimed inaccurately that Corbyn had “sided with Putin” after a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury.

Corbyn initially asked for “incontrovertible evidence” that Moscow was behind the 2018 attack, as the British government claimed. He later said he believed Russia was responsible.

“Johnson,” as you know, is Boris Johnson — “BoJo” — the British prime minister. “Corbyn,” as you also know, is Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour party.

I thought of a report from the Washington Post, published last month. It was headed “Trump’s calls with foreign leaders have long worried aides, leaving some ‘genuinely horrified.’” Here is an excerpt:

In a summer 2018 call with Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump harangued the British leader about her country’s contribution to NATO. He then disputed her intelligence community’s conclusion that Putin’s government had orchestrated the attempted murder and poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.

“Trump was totally bought into the idea there was credible doubt about the poisoning,” said one person briefed on the call. “A solid 10 minutes of the conversation is spent with May saying it’s highly likely and him saying he’s not sure.”

• In an Impromptus earlier this week, I cited this article, also from the Post. Heading: “A presidential loathing for Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.” A smidgen:

Trump then peppered Volker with his negative views of Ukraine, suggesting that it wasn’t a “real country,” that it had always been a part of Russia, and that it was “totally corrupt.”

“Volker” is Kurt Volker, who was a U.S. ambassador to NATO, and later a special representative for Ukraine.

I know plenty of people who believe that Ukraine is not a real country, and not all of them are Russian. Some of them are just pro-Putin. And they wouldn’t mind seeing his Russia swallow Ukraine at all.

If I could question President Trump, I might ask him, “Do you think Ukraine is a real country? Do you think it rightly belongs to Russia? Do you think that the Kremlin poisoned the Skripals? Do you accept the conclusion of our intelligence community that the Kremlin interfered in our 2016 election?”

I bet he would be candid. And even if he were not candid — I bet one could tell his real views from what he said, which may be a form of candor.

• Did you read this line from John R. Bolton (or attributed to him)? “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.” JRB has a way with words. Years ago, when he was our ambassador to the United Nations, we were talking about the U.N. human-rights panel, and attempts to reform it. He said, “We want a butterfly. We’re not going to put lipstick on a caterpillar and declare it a success.”


• Last week, I heard Richard Brookhiser make some remarks about George Washington, of whom he is a biographer. He said something I never knew, or had forgotten: Washington was known for great self-control, yes — but he learned it. Achieved self-mastery. Earlier in his life, he had been a hothead.

I thought of Don January. (Funny linkage, I know.) He was a major golfer in the middle of the 20th century. By the time I came of age, he was a stalwart on the Senior Tour. He was known for his great calm. An ideal temperament — one that others should seek to copy. An insider told me that January had worked very hard at this. Because when he was a young golfer, he was a hothead, a club-thrower.

I also thought of something else, where Washington is concerned: He was a redhead. (Don’t know about January.) And redheads have a certain reputation, don’t they?

This got me to thinking about Tip O’Neill — who served as Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987. I don’t know if he was a redhead, early in his life. By the time I knew him — by the time I saw him in the media — he had a shock of white hair. Jim Wright, the Texas congressman, was his successor. And I remember something Tip said about him. Thanks to the Internet, I have found it. (What a thing, the Internet.)

I’m sure I read this article in the New York Times on December 8, 1986. The relevant paragraph:

Perhaps the most frequent criticism on Capitol Hill is Mr. Wright’s failure to control his temper. “Jim’s biggest problem is that he’s very thin-skinned, and he’s very quick to react,” Mr. O’Neill said in an interview. “He’s a redhead — he’s apt to flare.”

I was no fan of Tip, believe me (or of Wright). But I kind of love a time when it was okay to say, “He’s a redhead — he’s apt to flare.” These days, would that qualify as “hate speech”?

Frankly, I was amazed to hear Tip say that at the time — because, even then, it was very old-fashioned and politically incorrect. It was a bit of folk wisdom (endearing to me).

(I don’t have red hair, to the extent I have hair. What’s my excuse?)

• Stay with Rick Brookhiser for a minute — I wanna do a language note. In his latest National Review column, Rick uses the word “pistarckle.” I had never seen or heard it before. Turns out it comes from the Caribbean and means “confusion” or “commotion” — a to-do or controversy.

Rick explained in an e-mail to me,

I picked up pistarckle in the USVI. Years ago I bought a dictionary of Virgin Islands dialect that was called “What a Pistarckle!” The anecdote it told, along with the definition of that word, was of some chaotic dispute in the legislature. One member said, in exasperation, “’Tis like a fish wharf!” to which another replied, “’Tis worse than a fish wharf, ’tis a pistarckle!’”

I have loved it ever since. Never heard it spoken, though.

• Thanks for joining me, ladies and gentlemen. If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to fresh columns (or at least new ones) — let me know at

Last week, some of us NR types were in Palm Beach, Fla., for a gala of the National Review Institute. Not too many beat-up Chevys down there. I saw Jaguars, McLarens, Ferraris — the works. Beautiful machines. One beautiful machine was a gleaming white Isuzu, an extraordinary vehicle. It took me a second or two to realize it was . . . a garbage truck.

Ah, Palm Beach, where even the garbage trucks gleam and impress . . .

Have a great weekend, y’all, whether in Palm Beach, Peoria, or Charlotte, N.C., where I’ll be, for a wedding, which, God willing, will be no pistarckle.


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