The Tuesday

U.S.

The Lessons of the Assassins

Sirhan Sirhan (at left), convicted of killing Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, pleads his case during his tenth parole hearing at the Corcoran State Prison in California in 1997. (Reuters)

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Killers
“If the 9mm pistol round was worth a damn, Pope John Paul II would have died a martyr.” So declared a hardened veteran, one of those old-school tough guys who says that the reason to carry a .45 is that they don’t make a .46.

(Save your breath, fellow gun-nuts: I know, I know. That’s just how the joke goes.)

It has been a while since the last assassination, or near-assassination, of a major political figure made headlines in the United States. But we have some assassins and would-be assassins in the news. One of them is 77-year-old Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian who is serving a life sentence in California, having been incarcerated since 1968, when he assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in retaliation for his support of Israel.

Sirhan is up for parole, having been declared a “suitable” candidate with the support of both Douglas Kennedy and his crackpot brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Other members of the family and many in law enforcement oppose releasing Sirhan on any grounds. If he is paroled, he should be put on the first plane to the Palestinian statelet to live out his days there. Forgiveness is difficult, but forgetting would be somewhat easier with him 7,600 miles away. If the experience of terrorists paroled from Israel prisons is any indicator, he’ll be petitioning to remain under the loving care of his imperialist oppressors, where the standard of living is considerably higher.

A similar figure of more recent infamy is now entirely at large: On Monday, a federal judge approved the unconditional release of 66-year-old John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.

Hinckley was, thankfully, a terrible shot with a relatively low-powered weapon, a .22-caliber revolver. (Sirhan Sirhan had used a .22 revolver to kill Robert Kennedy — it is a humble weapon, but still a deadly one.) Hinckley fired six shots and missed Reagan with all six. But, even so, the damage was considerable: Reagan was struck and nearly killed by a ricochet; press secretary James Brady was shot in the head, suffering a wound that left him with a permanent disability and brain damage that ultimately killed him; Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy caught a bullet in the chest that damaged a lung and his liver; D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty was shot in the neck, suffering damage to his spinal cord that forced him into retirement.

That was in late March of 1981. In May of the same year, the Turkish fanatic Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square, possibly on orders from the socialist regime in Moscow, which was intent on keeping the pope’s native Poland under its thumb. Two weeks later, the president of Bangladesh was assassinated. In August, it was the president and the prime minister of Iran. In October, it was Anwar Sadat of Egypt.

In 1984, the Irish Republican Army attempted to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and her entire cabinet; Thatcher survived, but five of her Conservative Party colleagues were killed in the bombing of their party conference. That was on October 12.

On October 31, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for her bloody removal of Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple at Amritsar, resulting in the death of Sikh pilgrims and damage to the temple. Her death was followed by a period of terror in which some 8,000 Sikhs were massacred in reprisals.

The rest of the 20th century continued to be bloody for heads of government and heads of state: The president of Palau was assassinated; the prime minister of Sweden was gunned down; the prime minister of Lebanon died in a car bombing; the president of Burkina Faso died after a coup d’état; the president of Lebanon died in another car bombing; the president of the Comoros died after a coup d’état; a combination of assassinations and coups claimed the lives of the chief executives of Liberia, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Rwanda, Burundi again, Rwanda again, one or two such deaths almost every year leading up to the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. After that, things did not stop but slowed down a little, with a decade passing between the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the deaths of the presidents of Chad and Haiti in April and July of this year, respectively.

The majority of these murders were straightforwardly political. But, in some cases, the closer you look the further away politics seems to be. John Hinckley Jr. was famously obsessed with Jodie Foster and seemed to believe that assassinating Reagan would get her attention: Foster had been cast (at age 12) as a prostitute in the celebrated film Taxi Driver, in which Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle contemplates assassinating a political candidate.

Mehmet Ali Agca had a number of political enthusiasms — from Turkish ultra-nationalism to Marxism and Palestinian liberation — but he seems to have been mostly just crazy. (He may have been a tool of more put-together fanatics.) Pope John Paul II went to extraordinary lengths on behalf of the man who tried to murder him, ultimately securing a pardon for him, and Agca, in turn, showed up at St. Peter’s to lay roses on the sainted pope’s tomb after his canonization. But he also has spent years predicting the imminent end of the world, now declaring his desire to become a Catholic priest, now declaring: “I am Christ eternal.”

John Hinckley Jr. was working at a Virginia antiques mall before COVID-19 interrupted commerce. It’s a funny old world.

This raises a few points.

One, we are always telling ourselves that we live in the most dramatic times, the most critical and urgent times, the times when everything we love and hold dear is most at stake. But that isn’t true. The 32 years between the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv were bananas. When Andy Warhol got on the wrong side of angry feminists, he didn’t get canceled — he got shot. And if we don’t remember that all that well, it’s because Bobby Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. got shot the same year, and Warhol lived. After King’s assassination, there were coast-to-coast riots in which dozens of people died, thousands were injured, and tens of thousands arrested. I don’t think we should minimize what happened on and around January 6, but, as I have argued before, the riot is the least of it. Riots are, for Americans, normal — it’s the effort to discredit and delegitimize the election that is remarkable and more dangerous. Which brings us to:

Two, politics attracts kooks, including kooks to whom politics is only incidental to their kookery. Religion is the same way. Everybody who has ever been to a Latin Mass or a hot-yoga class has encountered people who were going to be neck-deep in kookery one way or another, and happened to light upon one kook perch instead of another. Anybody who has ever been to a political rally, party convention, or election night afterparty has had the same experience. Democrat or Republican, Left or Right, there will always be a contingent of kooks — conspiracy nuts, people who dream about overthrowing the government, fanatics who believe that we would be well on our way to utopia if we just made one big policy change, etc. (The Fair Tax guys and the Universal Basic Income guys are basically mirror images of one another.) Every kook has a class of kulaks he wants to liquidate. There’s no bright line of demarcation on the journey from Sean Hannity to Michael Savage to Alex Jones to Flat Earth Mystery Cult Neo-Nazi Hobbits.

Do you know what Mehmet Ali Agca wanted to do when freed? Write a book with Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code guy.

And, laugh all you like, but there are not very many novels that have outsold The Da Vinci Code — in fact, there are only eight — and, with the notable exception of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, they mostly are books that have been in print for a the better part of a century or more, the most recent being The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in print since 1950. The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003, has outsold The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1885, four-to-one.

It’s a kook’s world, and we’re just living in it.

Words About Words
Flounder or founder? All of us do one or the other from time to time, but you’ll be happier if you know which is which.

Flounder is a fish, and to flop about in an awkward and impotent and generally piscine manner is to flounder. You’d think those two words would be directly related — flounder in the sense of flop around fishily and flounder in the sense of the fish itself — but they are not. Flounder in the floppy sense goes back to the 16th century in English, and it has a near cognate in Dutch (flodderen). It may be a portmanteau of blunder and founder. Flounder the fish is a much older word related to the Old Swedish flundra, meaning a flat fish.

Founder is often the word a writer really wants when he reaches for flounder.

To founder is to sink, especially all the way to the bottom, or, by analogy, to collapse. It originally was a transitive verb: “We foundered the enemies’ ships.” Founder comes from the Latin fundus, as in fundamental or foundation. In that sense, founder also is a noun, meaning “one who founds.”

So, foundering or floundering?

President Biden couldn’t remember the name of the Australian prime minister, and he stood there floundering until he settled on “that fella down under.”

The Biden agenda is foundering, and it will founder entirely if congressional Democrats ever figure out how to do elementary math.

At the annual corporate dinner, the founder ordered the flounder.

Rampant Prescriptivism
I don’t know if it is muscle memory or what, but there are a few things I can count on typing the wrong way. E.g.:The Agence France-Presse photographer who took that famous photo describes it less dramatically, saying only that the agents had ‘twirled’ the reigns [sic] of their horses at the Haitians, and that the situation was ‘tense.’” Many thanks to the 6,000 of you who wrote me with the correction. “Reins.” A few of you asked how I could make such a mistake, having grown up in Texas. I know that there is a contrary impression out there, but we don’t actually ride horses around town.

Usually.

From Instacart: “Only 18,894 days before your free-delivery coupon expires.” Better hurry! In 18,894 days, I’ll be just a little over 100. I’m thinking that is an editing error.

From a reader: What’s up with “You need to . . .”? This is a pretty passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) and condescending way of saying “You should,” or “You ought to,” or, “What would be required in this situation is.”

“You need to” is a sneaky way of putting the onus on the person being addressed rather than on the speaker. So, instead of, “I wish you were not so agitated,” or “Your emotional state is making me uncomfortable,” it’s “You need to calm down.” “You need to listen,” “You need to understand where he’s coming from,” “You need to get with the program” — all of these are, I think, manipulative.

You need to knock it off.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away
You can listen to my friend Jonah Goldberg and me discussing many things on The Remnant podcast here. The show notes contain the terms “Charles C. W. Cooke,” “John Eastman,” and “Satan’s balls.”

What our so-called pro-choice friends most fear is that the abortion issue will be settled through democratic consensus. More in the New York Post.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. The original Satan’s balls thing is in there.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

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In Other News . . .
To no one’s great surprise, murders were up 30 percent in 2020.

And the new Leader of the Free World is . . . Olaf Scholz, probably. The center-left politician promises to raise some foreign-relations challenges for the Biden administration.

Recommended
Do read Henry Foy and Sam Fleming in the Financial Times “Big Read” on Europe and “strategic autonomy.”

Paris’s very public fury triggered private alarm among some member states, say EU diplomats. While many understood why France was livid about the lack of consultation by the anglophone trio ahead of the announcement, this was intermingled with concern about the collateral damage French anger could do to the EU’s broader agenda for re-engagement with the US after the tempestuous Trump years.

Anxiety ran particularly deep within capitals that are staunch advocates of Nato and the military alliance with the US — including some former communist states. A claim by Thierry Breton, the French European commissioner, in the Financial Times that “something is broken” in the transatlantic partnership provoked acute irritation among some. That anxiety spilled into the open on Wednesday, with blunt comments from Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen, who on a visit to New York told the Danish newspaper Politiken that Biden was “very loyal” to the transatlantic alliance and that she felt absolutely no frustration with the US administration.

By the time Macron spoke to Biden on Wednesday, a concerted effort was under way in Europe to dial down the angry rhetoric. The message emerging by the end of the week was a reaffirmation of the partnership, in sharp contrast to earlier messages from France and elsewhere that Europe needed to be better equipped to stand alone. “We were frank and open but we have not put into question the transatlantic alliance,” Michel tells the FT. “There is unity of the liberal democracies. We have decided to stand together.”

In Closing
Somewhere, out there, is an Amazon delivery man. Katy is ready. Always ready.

(Photo: Kevin Williamson)

Pancake? Less ready.

(Photo: Kevin Williamson)

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