Impromptus

A run to the border, &c.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks during a press conference in Mexico City, June 8, 2021. (Carlos Barria / Reuters)
Kamala Harris and the migrant crisis; paying college athletes; Hong Kong and Taiwan; a wedding in Israel; and more

I have adapted the title of this column — today’s installment of Impromptus — from an old Taco Bell slogan. Do you remember? “Make a run for the border.” The full jingle was, “Taco Bell has your order. Make a run for the border.” To walk down Memory Lane, ad-wise, go here.

Let me now quote the first paragraph of a CNN report:

Vice President Kamala Harris will head to the US-Mexico border on Friday, her office confirmed, following weeks of criticism that she hasn’t visited the area despite being tasked by the Biden administration with trying to stem the flow of migration from Central America.

There is almost always value in being somewhere — in traveling to a place. This is true whether you’re a vice president, a journalist, or someone else. At the same time, I agree with Patrick Chovanec, who tweeted,

I think arguing over whether the VP has or hasn’t, should or shouldn’t visit the border with Mexico is one of the least interesting, and least substantive, conversations to have about either immigration or security. It’s all about performance, either way.

Yeah.

Another issue: I don’t believe that Kamala Harris is a very good politician. But what am I talking about? She got elected senator from California and is now vice president.

Well, those California circumstances were interesting — advantageous to Harris, even ideal. Still, I give credit where credit is due. I’ll never be a senator from California or anywhere else (barring a strange turn of events). But . . .

She began her 2020 presidential campaign with great hoopla — she was a leading candidate. And every day, it seemed, enthusiasm for her drained. Actually, she withdrew before she got to the starting line: before the Iowa caucuses. That’s how badly she fared.

To quote a CNN report, “Kamala Harris fell as quickly as she rose.”

I have a suspicion that Joe Biden did her political career a favor by choosing her as a running mate — more than she did him a favor by accepting. I’m not sure.

I’m pretty sure that she did poorly in the vice-presidential debate, versus Mike Pence. She had a lot to work with and did not make great use of it. I’m not sure she did her ticket any good.

A question: If you’re a Democrat, and you run for the next open Democratic presidential nomination, and Vice President Harris is running too — will you be seen as a spoiler? A bad guy? Someone who’s trying to rob someone of her due? Someone who’s trying to thwart a historic presidency?

The likes of Pete Buttigieg must have to think of that (though Buttigieg, granted, would be historic in his own way).

• Most of the people I respect think that college athletes ought to be paid for their work — for what they do on the football team, basketball team, etc. They ought to get a piece of the pie, meaning all that dough that comes into college sports. Everyone else is benefiting — coaches, athletic directors, broadcasters. Why not the athletes, who make it all possible?

If you’ve never heard the voice of a dinosaur — I’m going to provide one. Hear me roar, or moan, or what have you.

It’s a privilege to go to college. (I wish I could re-enroll right now.) It’s a double privilege to go to college on a full scholarship. It’s a triple privilege to play a varsity sport. My goodness, you’ve won the lottery.

You don’t want to do it? Great — there are thousands willing to take your place.

If you want to go pro, great. The big leagues may be out of reach, when you’re 18 — but you got the minors, the G League, and so on. Knock yourself out.

I think of my grandfather: the three-sport star; the intellectual, curious about the big wide world; and dirt-poor. He scraped and scraped to get an education.

Ladies and gentlemen, we today are so spoiled, so pampered — beyond belief. A full scholarship, and a battery of academic helpers, is some kind of insult.

You want to pay college athletes? Fine. But please, then: Drop the “student-athlete” charade. Don’t make them go to class, go through the motions, “work” toward some “degree.” Just cut the crap, okay?

So, that is the voice of a dinosaur. Also, I may be the last person who thinks that the Olympics ought to be for amateurs.

• I have learned the name of Dana Stangel-Plowe, and I hope many others do, too. George F. Will wrote about her in a column headed “A teacher pushes back against K-12 critical race theory indoctrination.” That column begins,

In a June 8 YouTube video that should be watched especially by parents of school-age children, but also by everyone else, Dana Stangel-Plowe says, “Today, I am resigning from a job that I love.” She had taught English at New Jersey’s private Dwight-Englewood School since 2014 but could not continue.

The teacher has taken a stance that is well-nigh heroic — and I don’t think I need the “well-nigh.”

• Let me recommend, too, a piece by Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor: “How the Southern Baptist Convention Rejected Populist Fundamentalism.” The piece is about the SBC, yes, but it also has wider application. Cross begins by recalling WFB and his stance against the JBS. I am speaking of William F. Buckley Jr. and the John Birch Society.

Then there is a paragraph I would like to quote in full. My eyes practically leapt out of their sockets when I read it.

Since 2015, populist insurgents have found it easy to take control of existing conservative institutions. The playbook is simple: Accuse your opponents of being in league with the Left as part of an elite plot to destroy fill-in-the-blank. Whether those accusations can be substantiated or not is immaterial. Once they are made, the debate is frozen at the point of accusation and those accused are on the defensive, soon to be routed. Fear of the accusation is often enough to get everyone to comply.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen this play out before my very eyes, all around me.

• “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We will not see them lit again in our lifetime.” This is what Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign minister, said in August 1914. He was talking to a friend, John Alfred Spender. At dusk, they were looking out the window, across St. James’s Park. Workmen were lighting the lamps along the Mall.

Grey’s remark has come down to us as “The lights are going out all over Europe.”

They have been going out in Hong Kong for some time now. But the forced closure of Apple Daily, the pro-democracy newspaper, is a major snuffing out of a light.

This is the paper founded by Jimmy Lai, the Chinese entrepreneur, now imprisoned. The Taiwanese edition of the paper — it will continue to publish.

This is the point of Taiwan, or one of them. Apple Daily can publish in a free country; it cannot in an unfree one.

“The Chinese, and other Asians, aren’t made for liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a Western fetish.” You hear this from Asian Communists and other illiberals; you hear it from Western illiberals of various sorts. It’s a lie, as Taiwan, South Korea, and other countries prove.

In 2012, I had a chance to visit Apple Daily’s offices in Taipei. In the lobby was a bust of F. A. Hayek, the great classical liberal. Jimmy Lai is a strong admirer of Hayek’s. Underneath the bust was an inscription, coming from Hayek’s Nobel lecture:

The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society.

• For decades, I heard from the Left that Fidel Castro was popular with “his people.” For many years now, I have heard the same about Vladimir Putin and Russia — from the Right, usually.

The answer in both cases: If that’s true, why doesn’t he allow free and fair elections, to prove it? Why does he ban political parties? Why does he censor the press? Why does he imprison, exile, maim, or kill his critics and opponents?

Yeah, why?

Let me raise a glass to Rachel Scott of ABC News, who, at the recent Geneva press conference, confronted Putin with his modus operandi and asked, “Mr. President, what are you so afraid of?”

To read about this full exchange, go here.

• A piece you will want to read, when you have the time: “She Fell Nearly 2 Miles, and Walked Away.” (The subheading: “At 17, biologist Juliane Diller was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Amazon. Fifty years later she still runs Panguana, a research station founded by her parents in Peru.”)

So impressive, in so many ways. You’ll see.

• “Fans Miss Hungary-France Game After Traveling to Bucharest Instead of Budapest.” As they say in the streets of — oh — Toulouse, “D’oh!”

• For decades, when I saw or heard the name “Josh Bell,” I assumed the violinist, from Indiana. Now, apparently, I should assume the first baseman of the Washington Nationals. Gotta keep up, hard to keep up . . .

• Last month, Haviv Rettig Gur was a guest on my Q&A podcast. He explained the latest Hamas war, and many of the things that surround the subject. HRG is a senior analyst of the Times of Israel. He is, indeed, a superb analyst, and teacher. You will find that podcast here.

Well, he is back by popular demand — to explain the latest in Israeli politics: Bibi out, a crazy-quilt coalition (or so it may seem) in. The new podcast is here. An hour with Haviv Rettig Gur is an education, and a delight.

• In response to this tweet, Seth Mandel said, “The heart swells.” Yes, it does. The tweet has a photo, too, showing Gilad Shalit and his new bride, Nitzan Shabbat. For more than five years, Gilad Shalit was on the minds of many Israelis, and many others: He was a captive of Hamas. And to see him, alive and well and smiling, on his wedding day — yes, the heart swells.

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

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