I cant help gushing about this president, and I feel especially
gushy when hes abroad: He represents us superbly, in my view,
standing for American principles, and Americanness. He combines
strength, logic, self-confidence, compassion, universalism, boldness,
and fun. I was never prouder of him more pleased about him,
is a better way of saying that than when he went about Europe
in his first year in office, explaining the need for missile defense
and inviting others to join us though saying plainly that
wed go it alone if we had to, as protection from nuclear attack
was rather important. Its a cliché to say that Bush
became an impressive leader, an impressive commander-in-chief, after
Sept. 11. I must say pat, pat I thought he was before.
In South Korea,
Bush did something that sent shivers down my spine. He mentioned
seeing a nighttime satellite photo of the Korean peninsula, which
showed the South awash with light and the North completely
dark. Said Bush, We want all Koreans to live in the light.
. . . My vision is clear. I see a peninsula that is one day united
in commerce and cooperation, instead of divided by barbed wire and
fear. Korean grandparents should be free to spend their final years
with those they love. Korean children should never starve while
a massive army is fed. No nation should be a prison for its own
was called the human-rights president. Mainly he called
himself that. Well, there was never more a human-rights president
than Ronald Reagan, who was never called that. And this one, George
W., is clearly a human-rights president too, reaching to the deepest
and best yearnings of people worldwide.
And while Im
on it, I just want to record the eye-blinking fact that Kim Dae
Jung is head of state in South Korea. This may not mean much to
the very young, but when I was growing up, learning about politics,
Kim was in a jail cell, as the countrys most prominent dissident,
opposing an authoritarian dictatorship. And here he is head
of state, like Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, and Lech Walesa.
sort of soft and fuzzy (dont worry, itll pass): Sometimes
the good guys win.
I mentioned Bush and missile defense. For many years a couple
of decades liberals and other smarties warned that the end
of the ABM Treaty would be the end of the world (basically). So,
Bush ended the treaty and: hardly a peep, from anybody. This
is in part because the Russians barely protested. And its
hard for Democrats and others to be more pro-Russian than the Russians.
Or at least it should be. Joe Biden seemed much more indignant and
offended (for the Russians) than Vladimir Putin. Must have embarrassed
Biden et al., on some level, you would think.
former secretary of everything in an Elliot Richardsonesque
way reminds one of all this in a refreshing op-ed
published in the Washington Post.
How do I love Paul Wolfowitz? Let me count the ways, or one way,
this time: In a speech the other day, he said, in the words of a
New York Daily News item, that the U.S. will consider
hitting first and asking questions later to prevent future terrorist
attacks. Wolfowitzs own words were: Weve
already lost enough Americans; were not going to lose any
more by hesitating.
it before, ladies and gentlemen: It was important that George W.
Bush won the election.
John Ashcroft is in trouble again, for waxing religious. In a recent
speech, he said, The call to defend civilization from terrorism
resonates from a deeper source than our legal or even our political
institutions. Civilized individuals Christians, Jews, and
Muslims all understand that the source of freedom and human
dignity is the Creator. . . . All people are called to the defense
of the Granter of freedom, and the framework of freedom He created.
. . . And this is our responsibility: The guarding of freedom that
God grants is the noble charge of the Department of Justice. It
is a cause in which all people may participate.
The usual suspects,
of course, went nuts. Which leads me to wonder: What do they think
of Americans and American speech in, say, the first 100 years of
our existence, Jefferson through Lincoln? Are they embarrassed?
Do they consider those Americans un-American? Or do they just think
weve . . . outgrown it?
I sort of dislike Internet ping-pong, in which one website reacts
to another, and on and on. I usually avoid it. But a foolish consistency
is the hobgoblin of little minds, and let it not be said that I
have a little mind. I have a medium-sized mind.
A lot of people
arent crazy about our stance against McCain-style campaign-finance
reform (were agin, big time), and Andrew Sullivan is one of
them. I would like to quote him, only because he writes so clearly:
anti-reform conservatives need to understand is that the current
system so beloved of their nemesis Bill Clinton has
led to a profound cynicism about government.
Oh, we anti-reform
conservatives understand that, all right (and, by the way,
were not anti-reform, were anti-McCain reform,
favoring a different, liberalized form of campaign finance). Its
just that we believe that politicians like John McCain and their
allies have convinced many people that their government is irredeemably
corrupt, that their politicians are puppets of monied interests.
(Actually, people, loving incumbents, tend not to believe that their
own representatives are puppets, just others.)
understandably believe and the legislative process lends
credence to the notion that their representatives are bought
and paid for. Not literally, in every case. I dont buy the
idea that every corporate donation corrupts everyone who receives
it. But structurally, the corruption is clear, and loaded against
ordinary citizens and in favor of unions and corporations.
perception is wrong, or at least faulty. Interests give money to
those politicians who are congenial to them. Interests normally
dont give money to change politicians minds. The NRA
donates to pro-gun politicians; the gun-controllers donate to anti-gun
politicians, and so on thats America, just like the
boys in white wigs imagined.
new legislation] also makes complete political sense for Bush. The
unconstitutional parts of the bill will almost certainly be voided
by the Court; Bush himself is adept at raising hard-money; and his
move to the center will be solidified. He should hold firm, ignore
Rush and NRO, and sign a bill if one reaches him.
cynicism! Youre president and you sign an unconstitutional
bill in the hope that the courts will bail you out, by declaring
what you know to be unconstitutional, in fact, unconstitutional?
Bush himself can outraise his opponents in hard money? He should
feint to the center? Thats why he should ignore Rush Limbaugh
and National Review?
Just as I suspected:
We anti-reformers are the idealists. We are standing
on principle here. Aint we pretty?
Every year, the American Enterprise Institute gives a dinner in
Washington, which features a lecture by a Heavy. The dinner is a
formal affair complete with dancing and is attended
by le tout -wingery. Some people refer to it as the
conservative prom. Heavies doing the lecturing over the years
have included Presidents Ford and Reagan, Paul Johnson, Henry Kissinger,
Irving Kristol, Carlos Salinas (oops), and Alan Greenspan (who used
his lecture to warn of irrational exuberance ).
Heavy was one of the Heaviest, though he is in fighting trim: Thats
Norman Podhoretz, longtime editor of Commentary and one of
the major literary and political influences in this country. You
have heard me go on about N. Pod. before: He had much to do with
my political education, broadly speaking, and if you dont
like the result, you might as well blame him as much as anybody.
I first noticed his name believe it or not when I
was a youngster reading Richard Nixons book on Vietnam. It
was in a footnote, leading us to Podhoretzs own book about
Vietnam (called, straightforwardly enough, Why We Were in Vietnam).
And that led me to Commentary, and that was pretty much the
If you havent
read Podhoretzs memoir My Love Affair with America,
you should really stop reading this column right now and do so.
Also, you may remember that I wrote in a previous column about N.
Pod.s three hours on C-SPAN with Brian Lamb (that was a Booknotes
program). I met a man at the AEI dinner who said that he had watched
that program five times thats 15 hours of listening
(isnt my math impressive?). Having seen the show, I can understand
The theme of
Podhoretzs AEI lecture found here
was that the anti-war, and anti-American, Left needs to be
guarded against: still. Back in Vietnam days, this Left was very
small, almost negligible, numerically. But it succeeded in doing
big, awful things. It blew and it blew and it blew the house
down. It tipped the culture, it tipped the war, it tipped
policy and we were worse off for it.
little danger of that presently, because most Americans are on board,
despite grumblings by Norman Mailer one of Podhoretzs
ex-friends, as explained in yet another magnificent Podhoretz book,
Ex-Friends and other kooks. But Podhoretz warns that
from these little, fringy grumbles can grow large, ruinous roars,
scaring us away from a rightful path. One ought to be alert to those
who would demoralize us not criticize American efforts legitimately,
but confuse and demoralize us, illegitimately.
say, not everyone has embraced the Podhoretzian point of view. Some
say hes too dark, too shaped (or misshapen) by the horrid
1960s and 70s, not hep to the new times and the new mood.
After September 11, everything changed. I wonder.
At a minimum, I welcome Podhoretzs caution, and think of the
old Reagan 84 commercial about the bear in the woods. Some
people say there is no bear, that its a figment of our imaginations.
[Im paraphrasing.] But isnt it better to be armed, prepared,
just in case? What could it hurt? Besides which, as regular
readers well know, I, as a product of Ann Arbor, Mich., am all too
aware of the power of the anti-American Left, a potency absurdly
out of proportion to this groups actual numbers.
want a repeat. Neither do I. The war has been easy so
far, to the extent that any war, with its casualties, can be easy.
The Gulf War was easy, too the anti-war and anti-American
Left barely had time to develop, despite the cries of No Blood
for Oil! The new war may get harder, messier. And then . .
. Yes, no harm in being on guard.
Dumb of me, I know, to get irritated by Mary McGrory, the veteran
liberal columnist in the Washington Post. But she had a column
yesterday that I couldnt help gagging on. It was a typical
column, one that praised Colin Powell as an adult among children,
as the only sober, cautious presence in an administration of hotheads.
(By the way, whos the one who chose that secretary of state?
Oh, yeah: George W. Bush. But he never gets credit, from the Powell-lovers,
for having done so.)
Iraq, she spoke of the country that so many of the hawks in
Washington want to invade if they dont have to go themselves.
That is one of the great, nauseating, confused lines of this kind
of Left; Mark Shields talks that way all the time too. You
want to go into Iraq [for example], but youre not willing
to go yourself. How dare you! Shut your mouth unless youre
prepared to strap on a gun. Yes, maybe the president should
send Laura Bush, or perhaps the twins, if he doesnt have time
to fight, hand to hand, himself.
people who are given columns in the Washington Post are capable
of thinking that way that its basically illegitimate
to advocate a military action unless youre going to don fatigues
yourself is amazing.
is the Thank God for Powell theme. That anyone could
hold people as learned, experienced, and patriotic as Donald Rumsfeld,
Paul Wolfowitz, and Condoleezza Rice to be hicks with itchy trigger
fingers . . . again, amazing. Those three just to stick to
those examples are as civilized and humane as anyone Mary
McGrory or Mark Shields will ever meet.
Ah, race and the Oscars: an eternal theme. Julia Roberts says that
she feels guilty, wrong, having an Oscar (or two)
when Denzel Washington doesnt have one out of the sheer
racism of the Academy, according to Julia. Here we go again. A black
actor (for example) is nominated, and pressure mounts for his victory:
If he doesnt win if some other actor does its
an act of racism. This way, the Academy cant win. Spike Lee
says, when his movies are shut out, We wuz robbed, by
racists. When other movies are shut out theyre just:
shut out, I guess. Voted against. Someone or lots of someones
liked another movie better.
writing more on this subject. The American dilemma is still a dilemma.
In the meantime, maybe Julia Roberts could give Denzel Washington
one of her statuettes, easing her guilt somewhat.
A final word:
She did the worst thing that could possibly be done to Washington:
racialize (further) the Oscars. He is just a nominee for Best Actor.
Now some loudmouth bubblehead has made his category a racial test
Sen. Jim Jeffords (I, Vt.) is going to raise funds for Democrats
in this election cycle, weve learned. This says a lot about
his Big Jump. The annoying thing is he didnt go whole hog,
didnt make an honest man of himself, by signing up with the
Democratic party instead declaring himself an independent
and throwing the Senate to the Democrats, by voting with them for
control of that chamber. Im all for politics, believe me.
No dewy eyes here. But Im for politics without sanctimoniousness
and posing and pretending and preening in other words, for
politics without Jeffordsism.
I do hope every California Republican at least every California
Republican conservative is ready to pull the lever for Bill
Simon Jr. in the upcoming primary. Former mayor Riordan wouldnt
govern as a conservative, and it seems doubtful he would beat another
liberal, the incumbent, Gray Davis. Simon is a principled man who
is as liberals might put it non-threatening
(meaning, he doesnt come off like me: Hes gentle, sweet,
handsome, with a twinkle in his eye). Fear not a Simon nomination.
Look forward to a Simon governorship.
All right, the weather is spring-like here in New York, and Im
feeling giddy, which leads me to feel a little sophomoric: I just
read the headline Gumbo Forces New Orleans Airport Evacuation.
This is a terrorism story, serious business, but come on: How many
times has gumbo in New Orleans forced evacuation? Buster Holmes
used to be closed down periodically by the health department (and
I can taste the jambalaya there now). Did it ever get closed down
As regular Impromptus-ites know, I love speech, and slang, and regionalisms,
and resent the homogenizing of American English. Everywhere you
go, people talk the same. Everywhere you go, the food is the same,
too, which is a whole nother issue.
But not all
is lost. Where Im from, the girl or guy behind the counter,
after you place your order, says, For here or to go?
Always. Religiously. Here in New York, they tend to say, To
stay or to go? I dont know if this is an immigrant thing
an English as a Second Language thing or a New York
thing, but its very definitely a thing. Today, at my Subway
(the sandwich shop, not the underground), the girl said, Stay
or go? I have a hard time forcing myself to say To stay
or simply Stay, when I want to say, Here.
The New York way is nicely parallelistic: To stay or to go,
two infinitives. But I will forever hear, in my Michigan head, For
here or to go.
Hey, I never
promised that every Impromptu would be deep even that
any would be.
But speaking of depth, lots of it: I heard from many, many people
who had known Gen. Vernon Walters in some capacity, responding to
of him. Just went to show me that he had the same effect on
a great many others that he had on me: to be bowled over by a patently
I also mentioned, in that previous column, my interview with Maritza
Lugo, the Cuban human-rights heroine just exiled, and some readers
were kind enough to ask when and where the piece that resulted would
appear. It will appear in the next National Review, under
the title, I Cant Just Do Nothing. I will also
continue to report on and quote from this woman, who has much of
importance to say more than can be jammed into a single,
shortish magazine piece.
Okay, Im out. Have a fabulous a fabulous, as
Bush would say weekend, yall.
it interesting that Bush says fabulous constantly? We
used to think of this as a gay word: a gay word almost exclusively.
Maureen Dowd and other hotshots are constantly twitting Bush for
being out of touch with the culture, by which they mean
Sex in the City, etc.: urban, New York-L.A. pop culture.
If Bush were more in touch with the culture,
hed probably avoid fabulous, knowing that it is
identified stigmatized, if you like as a gay adjective.
(part of) what I love about Bush. He just doesnt care
hes his own person. He probably likes Judy Garland without
embarrassment, too! And I wonder what he thinks of the Merm!
And has he
seen Bea Arthurs latest show, and . . .
quit now, like I said.