The Corner


‘Radical Left,’ ‘Fascist,’ Etc.

Left: image of Che Guevara at a public building in Havana, Cuba, in 2016. Right: Benito Mussolini in the 1940s (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters; Office of War Information / Library of Congress)

In the Middle East, a democratic transfer of power is very, very rare. It’s not as common as it should be in the rest of the world either. I begin my Impromptus today with a reflection on Israel and its lively, even raucous democracy. Do you know that, in Syria, Assad was just “reelected” with 95 percent of the vote? That’s the rule, in the Middle East, and in other regions of the world too.

In today’s column, I also address the GOP and Trump; Western business and China; the cancel culture; Jim Jordan; Andrew Giuliani; music; and more. Something for everyone to love, and hate, I think. Give it a try.

Here in the Corner, I’d like to spend a second on language. Senator Marco Rubio has called his Democratic challenger in Florida, Congresswoman Val Demings, “radical Left,” a “far-Left extremist,” and so on. Demings is an ex-cop and a onetime chief of the Orlando police. She is not what Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Abbie Hoffman, and the rest of the boys had in mind.

And the thing about calling someone like Demings “radical Left” — what language are you going to have left over for the radical Left? You’ve robbed us of words, of tools, that make sense.

Years ago, a famous columnist called me a “shill for the far Right.” In my response, one of the things I said was, “If I’m far Right, what are you going to call the far Right?”

Then there is the F-word — not “far” but “fascist.” I have been called a fascist ever since I embraced Reaganite views in my late teens and early twenties. People like me are anti-fascist, of course: in favor of limited government, individual rights, equality under the law, a free economy, etc. But this is of no importance to demagogues and ignoramuses.

You recall what Orwell said: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’”

I could tell a number of stories, but will confine myself to one. A friend of mine was having lunch with a famous musician. My name came up, via my friend. The famous guy said, “You mean that fascist?” (My friend defended me.)

I have not reviewed the guy since — not because I’m afraid my views would be colored. I observe “strict separation,” and would praise the devil himself, if the devil played well or composed well. It’s just that, frankly, I don’t want to see him.

Then there is the R-word, the scarlet R for “racist.” I have been called that, too, my whole career — a price for advocating colorblindness, One America, E pluribus unum, and all that liberal jazz. (Liberal in an older sense.) I wrote an essay about this in 2010, for those interested: here.

There are real racists, real fascists, real radical leftists in the world — millions of them. And if you misapply or otherwise abuse those words, you have robbed them of their power. You have, in fact, deprived us of meaningful, even necessary, words.

And just because politicians are boobs and demagogues, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be that way. (There are politicians whose IQ drops about 75 points when they speak in public. In private, they are not boobish or demagogic at all.)

I’m even mindful of words such as “great.” May I quote from a review, written in 2014? I had heard Matthew Polenzani and Kevin Murphy perform Die schöne Müllerin, the Schubert song-cycle:

I had never really thought of [Polenzani] for lieder, frankly — for German art songs. I wasn’t sure how Die schöne Müllerin . . . would go. I knew the singing would be beautiful. But would it be profound, idiomatic, transporting, shattering?

Yes, it was. It was all those things. In fact, it was one of the peak lieder experiences of my life. You know how people use the word “great” in everyday speech? As in “This tuna sandwich is great,” or “That was a great editorial in the paper on Tuesday”? This Schöne Müllerin was great in the sense of: in accord with the highest artistic standards and ideals.

And the piano-playing matched the singing. I can’t say this, as Kevin Murphy’s friend, but it’s still true.

Yup, it was. Remember it well. Anyway, enough words about words. Today’s Impromptus, once more, is here.


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