Impromptus

Being Jackie Mason, &c.

Jackie Mason on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 (Screengrab via YouTube)
On the late comedian; the vaccine wars; the SAT; the Cleveland Guardians; Bob Dole at 98; and more

Jackie Mason, the comedian, has died at 93. “Turned Kvetching Into Comedy Gold,” said the New York Times. “He kept the borscht belt style of comedy alive long after the Catskills resorts had closed and eventually brought it, triumphantly, to Broadway.” True.

I would see him around New York occasionally. He enjoyed being out, enjoyed being recognized — enjoyed talking with people. Jackie was “an adornment to society,” as Paul Johnson would say. I also think of another Johnson line: So-and-so “added to the gaiety of life.”

I remember a short-lived — very short-lived — sitcom: Chicken Soup. It starred Jackie Mason and Lynn Redgrave. He was Jewish — who could have known? — and she was Irish Catholic. They were in a middle-aged romance. (I mean, their characters were.) The public did not love the show, apparently: It lasted only from September to November in 1989. I remember its being odd and charming.

When I was at The Weekly Standard, we published a piece by Jackie: “A Dissent on Starbucks.” Google tells me that the article appeared in the May 27, 1996, issue. But I cannot find the piece itself, unfortunately.

WFB — William F. Buckley Jr. — knew Jackie. (Bill knew practically everybody.) He once told me what Jackie had told him. Something like this: “If you blindfolded me and parachuted me down to any spot in America — Provo, Utah; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; doesn’t matter — I would start telling jokes. It would take me a minute or two to gauge the audience. Then I could tell jokes for an hour and have them rolling.”

This was almost certainly true.

Yes, an adornment to society, a man who added to the gaiety of life.

• I was moved by an exchange between Kay Ivey and a reporter. Ivey is the governor of Alabama, and a Republican, of course. Alabama is the least vaccinated state in the Union. I think I was moved by Ivey’s exasperation, above all — her exasperation and her honesty.

Reporter: “What is it going to take to get people to get shots in arms?”

Ivey: “I don’t know, you tell me. Folks supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blamin’ the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are lettin’ us down.”

Reporter: “But as the leader of the state, don’t you think it’s your responsibility to try and help get this situation under control?”

Ivey: “I’ve done all I know how to do.”

I’m sure she is catching hell for her words — but I think of the phrase “plain speaking.” That was the title of a biography of Harry Truman. This lady engaged in some plain speaking. I was glad to hear it (especially in that marvelous accent).

(For a story, with a video, go here.)

• A speaker at CPAC this month noted that the federal government was hoping to get 90 percent of the population vaccinated, but was falling way short. The crowd responded with cheers and applause.

• According to this report, “nearly half of House Republicans still won’t say publicly​ whether they are vaccinated against Covid-19.”

Let me quote on:

Some of the 97 Republicans who aren’t sharing their vaccination status told CNN they don’t have a responsibility to model behavior to their constituents.

“I don’t think it’s anybody’s damn business whether I’m vaccinated or not,” Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told CNN.

The question of leadership, and setting an example, aside: Don’t you suppose all these guys are vaccinated? And that the anti-vax media personalities are, too?

• You may have noticed: Chest-thumping “common good” types become chest-thumping “Don’t Tread on Me” types when it comes to trying to combat a once-in-a-century pandemic. It seems to me that a “common good” approach is seldom more justified than in a pandemic.

Governor Ron DeSantis is selling merchandise that says, “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” By “Fauci-ing,” I guess they mean masking, social distancing, vaccination, and other public-health precautions. Okay. But when it comes to stopping, or slowing, the advance of this plague: What’re we gonna do?

That is my question.

As a rule, I am wary of “common good” types: When people say “common good,” they usually mean, “Do it my way — or else.”

So, I am making contradictory points here. But that’s my main point, I guess: You have to balance these things. You have to think it through. Kind of a pain — easier to have a dogma — but necessary and important all the same.

• Anthony Fauci has replaced George Soros as the Emmanuel Goldstein of the American Right, I believe. At a Trump rally, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) called for Fauci’s firing. The crowd chanted “Lock him up! Lock him up!” The congresswoman said, “Did you hear that, Tony? They want you locked up!” Very American, very conservative (in quotation marks, of course).

Then there is Congressman Madison Cawthorn (R., N.C.), another darling of the Right. “I’ll tell you, when we take the majority back in 2022, I’ll make sure consequences are doled out. We want to prosecute this guy to the full ability of the law.” Cawthorn was talking about Fauci, of course.

We’ll see how it all pans out.

• For The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan has written a piece headed “The University of California Is Lying to Us.” Let me quote the first paragraph:

Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” is the cry that once stirred a nation to action, but out here in the crumbling state of California, we’re at a lower ebb. A hobbled people rally to a revolutionary whimper: “Put your pencils down.”

In May, the University of California announced an immediate end to the use of standardized testing in admissions and scholarship decisions at the nine schools in its system that accept undergraduates.

I have quoted Abigail Thernstrom many times, but my regular readers will forgive me, I hope. In 2001 — 20 years ago! — President Richard C. Atkinson, of the U-Cal system, proposed the dropping of the SAT. Abby said to me — I can just hear her tone of voice — “This is a dagger aimed at the heart of Asians.”

• Readers have heard me say this many times, too: Bill Browder did a great and good thing in the world when he spearheaded “Magnitsky laws.” These are laws that allow governments to sanction individual human-rights abusers — by denying them visas, for example, or freezing their assets. Three years ago, I wrote about Browder — and his extraordinary family — here.

Let me quote a headline from Thursday: “Biden to impose Magnitsky sanctions on Cuban officials in response to shocking human rights abuses currently taking place in Cuba.” (Article here.) Good, good.

• So, the Cleveland Indians will be the Cleveland Guardians. Will take me a long time to get used to it — I will probably never. But there will come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when Guardian fans won’t know the team was ever called the “Indians.”

I wrote a piece about this once. (I speak that sentence almost every day of my life.) Few remember that the Stanford teams were once the “Indians.” Or that JFK Airport was “Idlewild.” (Isn’t that a beautiful name?) My piece is called “Goodbye, McKinley: The rise and fall of names.” You may find it interesting.

When I circulated this piece on Twitter, a tweeter responded, “I was born in the late ’80s, less than five years after Burkina Faso was renamed, and only today — from you — did I learn that it had once been called ‘Upper Volta.’”

Yup. That’s the way it goes, ever and always. Sic transit gloria mundi, as WFB would say.

• I am so pleased by this news. The National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, gives a Liberty Medal. And the two recipients this year are Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong entrepreneur and pro-democracy activist who is now in prison; and Loujain al-Hathloul, the Saudi human-rights activist who was recently released from prison, but is still under tight restrictions in her country.

For a piece I wrote on Loujain at the beginning of this year, go here. For my latest piece on Hong Kong, published this month, go here.

Hats off to the National Constitution Center, for its head and heart.

• Manhattan, in New York City, has only one golf range. You hit into a net that extends into the Hudson River. You see some interesting things on the river. For example, a man comes by in a speedboat, waving a giant “Trump 2024” banner.

In recent days, a small plane has flown back and forth, bearing a banner that says “Unborn Lives Matter.” The banner also has a picture of a fetus.

A golf camp is going on at the range. Seeing the plane, and the banner, one little kid said, “Black Lives Matter.” An older kid corrected him: “Unborn.”

I realize that “All Lives Matter” is verboten — but “[Fill in the blank] Lives Matter” is an interesting formula, and I suspect it is here to stay for a good long while.

• Last Thursday, Bob Dole marked his 98th birthday. I thought of a crack he made in 1988, when he lost the GOP presidential nomination to Vice President George Bush. Trying to console him, someone said, “There’s always ’96.” (The presumption was that Bush would win the general election in 1988 and run again in 1992.) Dole responded, “Yeah, that’s how old I’ll be.”

He was 73 in ’96, and he indeed won the nomination that year. But he lost the general, as you know, to President Clinton.

And today, my old boss is 98. Why do I say “my old boss”? Well, I am seizing some license. In the fall semester of the 1984–85 academic year — the period in which Dole became Senate majority leader — I was a college intern in his office.

But enough Memory Lane. Hope you are doing well, my friends. Have a good week. 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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