Impromptus

In praise of traditional conventions, &c.

Former governor Ronald Reagan and President Gerald Ford — rivals for the GOP nomination — shake hands on the closing night of the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., August 19, 1976. (William Fitz-Patrick, courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library / Handout via Reuters)
American pageants, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Edward Snowden, Viktor Orban, Laura Loomer, Johnny Mercer, and more

People are eager to see the traditional political convention go the way of the dodo bird. I must say, I’ve always loved the conventions. If you like American politics, you love our national political conventions.

They are the Super Bowl, the World Series, of U.S. politics.

True, a lot of us are disenchanted with politics at the moment. I am not exactly jazzed about this year’s conventions. Frankly, it’s been a while. But still . . .

I’ve always loved the pageantry. The goofiness. The hats. The buttons. The speechifying (yes). The jockeying. The roll call. The balloon drops.

But back to the roll call: I remember Tommy Thompson, when he was governor of Wisconsin, heading his state’s delegation: “. . . the great State of Wisconsin, where eagles soar and Harleys roar . . .”

That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

As I look back on it, my first experience of a political convention was in 1976. I was twelve. I listened to the Republican convention in Kansas City on the radio — and thought it was thrilling.

Yes, the traditional political convention will come to an end, if it hasn’t already: too long, too pointless, too boring (for most). Nevertheless, a few of us nuts will miss them.

• One thing I have liked about the Democratic convention this year is the array of accents: the multifarious American accents. On television, people tend to talk the same way. There is a sort of neutral American speech. But not at the conventions. There, you get a wonderful American range.

In fact, the only one I have heard so far who didn’t have an accent was Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan. (That’s a joke, y’all: I’m from Michigan.)

• I love what Garry Kasparov — the chess-champion-turned-democracy-champion — tweeted on Tuesday: “Count your blessings if you live in a place where voting matters, and politics are often corny and boring. It is the peak of human society and you are lucky!”

Yes. The early Israeli leaders had a great, overwhelming hope for their country: that it would one day be “normal.” Normality was the sweet dream. This is well understandable.

• President Trump this week said, “The only way we lose the election is if the election is rigged.” In other words, the only legitimate result would be his victory. I think this is a pretty lousy thing for a leader in our democracy to say. I know that all of my fellow conservatives would think so, if a Democrat said it. We would be all over that Democrat like white on rice.

Or “like ugly on ape,” as Bush 41 would say.

• In 2007, Trump sent Vladimir Putin a letter. It went,

Dear President Putin:

Congratulations on being named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” — you definitely deserve it. As you probably have heard, I am a big fan of yours!

The letter was typewritten. But, with his pen, Trump underlined “I am a big fan of yours!” And how about “As you probably have heard”?

If Putin hadn’t heard it then, he has heard it now.

• Trump has signaled that he may pardon Edward Snowden, who has been Putin’s guest since 2013. In 2016, the House Intelligence Committee issued a bipartisan report on Snowden. Here is what Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said about it:

Edward Snowden is a traitor who is currently under the care, custody, and control of Russian security services. As the . . . report makes clear, he is also a serial liar and an exaggerator, who didn’t understand the programs he exposed. His disclosures of these lawful programs, which were fully briefed to both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, ha[ve] done irreparable harm to U.S. national security. Any thought to pardoning Edward Snowden should be immediately dismissed by President Obama, or anybody seeking to hold the office of the president.

Earlier this week, Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) weighed in with this:

Edward Snowden is a traitor.

He is responsible for the largest and most damaging release of classified info in US history.

He handed over US secrets to Russian and Chinese intelligence putting our troops and our nation at risk.

Pardoning him would be unconscionable.

I think that Cotton and Cheney know what they’re talking about.

Furthermore, I think that if a Democratic president — an Obama, a Hillary, a Biden — pardoned Snowden, Republicans would demand the president’s impeachment.

Don’t you?

National Review has published an editorial headed “Stand with Belarus.” The people in that country have risen up against the dictator who has ruled them for 26 years. They are risking life and limb.

The editors say,

. . . the president of the United States should speak up for the people of Belarus and their rights. He should place this country on the side of their cause. We urged that he do the same for Hong Kong. The United States should stand for freedom, democracy, and human rights against the tyrants and torturers. In this way, we will be true to ourselves. It is hard to be genuinely American otherwise.

Of course, the dictator, Lukashenko, has friends, including in Europe. The foremost of them is Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary. This June, he visited Lukashenko, saying that it was an “honor” to do so. He also said the following:

“The president [meaning Lukashenko] and I have confirmed our agreement that our two peoples and two countries are much closer to each other than we tend to think.”

Orban said that he would work for the lifting of European Union sanctions against Lukashenko. That he supports the accession of Belarus to the World Trade Organization. Etc.

Viktor Orban and Alexander Lukashenko are a natural pairing. I hope that the United States will stand for something different.

• First, Marjorie Taylor Greene was nominated for Congress by Republicans in Georgia. She is “Q”-friendly. Now Laura Loomer has been nominated for Congress by Republicans in Florida. She is an Alex Jones-er. About Loomer’s primary victory, Greene tweeted her excitement.

President Trump tweeted his own. If Loomer is elected this November, she will be Trump’s congresswoman; he will be her constituent. That is downright poetic.

Trump also congratulated Matt Gaetz, for his endorsement and boostership of Loomer.

Millions of people rejoice that the new GOP is very different from the old. Some of us, however, consider this development a tragedy — for the country and even for the world beyond.

• I never knew about Marvin Creamer, but I do now: “Marvin Creamer, a Mariner Who Sailed Like the Ancients, Dies at 104.” He was an ancient mariner, you might say. This is the subheading of that obit, published in the New York Times: “No GPS for him, not even a sextant; the sun and the stars did nicely. He was the first recorded person to sail round the world without navigational instruments.”

A very brainy, very brave guy. I read the obit in astonishment.

• Brent Scowcroft has died at 95. A useful and remarkable life. I know many people who met him, dealt with him — even worked with him, or for him. I never met him, I’m sorry to say.

He was born in 1925 in Ogden, Utah, the son of a grocer. Went to West Point. Joined the Air Force. Master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from Columbia. Lieutenant general. Aide to Kissinger. National security adviser to Ford — and, years later, to Bush 41. The head of many a commission or other group.

Like Bryce Harlow and others we could name, Scowcroft was a man who gave the Washington establishment a good name.

• More and more, I see the word “technocrat,” and its companion “technocratic.” I think people use these words very lazily. I often want to ask what they mean. Is a “technocrat” someone who is not a vulgar populist or a dunce? By “technocratic,” do you mean “competent,” “serious” — “sane”?

Is anybody above the level of a political troll a “technocrat”? Is anyone with a policy idea in his head — just one — a “technocrat”? Anyone who has ever bothered to read a white paper?

You get my frustration, I trust. I know that “technocrat” and “technocratic” can be used meaningfully. I did so myself, I think, once upon a time. But I look forward to the evanescence of the lazy use of those words. When people say “technocrat,” I think they mean, “Your politics aren’t the same as mine, you seem to know something about government, and I hate you.”

• In a piece recently, I used the phrase “all life through,” to mean “all life long,” “at every stage.” “Whatever you or I may think, Penderecki had his own vision, all life through, and he was faithful to it, whatever it was at any given time.”

A very bright colleague of mine queried the phrase. She had never heard it. I said that I had always heard it — and used it — and believed it was part of a song.

My colleague found the song: “Where Are You?” by Jimmy McHugh (music) and Harold Adamson (lyrics), from 1937.

All life through
Must I go on pretending?
Where is my happy ending?
Where are you?

In a piece to be published soon, I wrote, “Schlesinger opens by observing that the Cold War is over and new wars have begun: not over ideology but over those old standbys: race, ethnicity, and tribe.”

I had the feeling that “those old standbys” came from a song — and the song turns out to be another 1937 hit: “Too Marvelous for Words,” by Richard Whiting (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics).

You’re just too marvelous,
Too marvelous for words —
Like “glorious,” “glamorous,”
And that old standby “amorous.”

I think that will do it for today, you-all, but it was a pleasure to be with you and I’ll see you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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