February 19, 2004,
You've all read about the Kerry flap, and the amazing evolution of the young woman's parents' public comments. (If you're not familiar with this story, that's okay: It does not really bear on the point I'm about to make.) There is much to be said about the Kerry-Polier drama, of a psychological and even a political nature. But I want to talk a little language.
The Poliers said, in a joint statement, "We appreciate the way Senator Kerry has handled the situation [?] and intend on voting for him for president of the United States."
I love "intend on," instead of "intend to" so American. It mixes "plan on" and "intend to," for one of those wonderful American compounds, like "irregardless."
Hey, the linguistic angle of this story is about all that's left.
Newt Gingrich is right on the money, when it comes to his analysis of the Democratic race. Said the ex-Speaker, "Howard Dean made John Kerry look normal. [So true.] And I think it will be only over the next month or so, as Kerry emerges more and more, that we realize that this is actually with the exception of Howard Dean as liberal a Democrat as we've seen on the national stage. And so I think that you'll see a very clear liberal/conservative race by summer."
As regular readers know, I'm out of the prognostication business, but I believe that's true. I will repeat a statement from an earlier column: If you have to run against someone and you do you could worse than have as your opponent the more liberal of Massachusetts's two senators.
I wanted to be sure you caught Colin Powell's remarks at a recent congressional hearing. You've likely heard about his defense of Bush on the National Guard business. But did you get this?
Powell noticed a staffer, sitting behind the congressmen, shaking his head, while the secretary was commenting on Iraqi WMD. "Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there? Are you part of these hearings?"
A Democratic congressman, Sherrod Brown, then appealed to the committee chairman: "Mr. Chairman, I've never heard a witness reprimand a staff person in the middle of [answering] a question."
But Powell rejoined, "I seldom come to a meeting where I am talking to a congressman and I have people aligned behind you giving editorial comment by head shakes."
I just love (what I imagine to be) the tone in Secretary Powell's voice: "Are you shaking your head for something, young man . . .?" As far as I'm concerned, it was one of Powell's finer hours.
So get this: Judge Laurence Silberman and ex-senator Charles Robb are to be co-chairmen of the commission on pre-Iraq-war intelligence and some Democrats are calling for Silberman's removal because he is a conservative. As Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, put it, the judge's "partisan views would taint the inquiry."
I think Silberman is a first-rate judge, who is just the kind of man to head such a commission. But you want to complain about partisanship and you have Chuck Robb sitting there, as co-chairman? I mean, this isn't some non-partisan lamb, LBJ's son-in-law!
A sad story out of New York: The mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is pushing hard to end "social promotion" in public schools. This is the unkind practice of shuffling kids on to higher grades, whether they learn the material of the current grade or not. And who is trying to stop the mayor's reform? The Big Bad Unions? No the parents, particularly a group called the United Parents Association of New York City. (Sort of sounds like a Big Bad Union.) In their eyes, an end to social promotion is "punitive and unfair."
I'm reminded of something I once heard Ramesh Ponnuru say: If parents really wanted schools to be better, they would be.
But at least we have a stalwart (federal) secretary of education because we have a stalwart U.S. president. Said Rod Paige on a recent day, "It makes no sense at all to chain a student to a school that's not serving him well."
Say what you want about this administration's education policy, you didn't hear that kind of talk from Governor Riley, did you? Hmm?
Um, the Washington Post had an article on opposition to the smuttification of country music, and it said, "An editorial in the online edition of the conservative National Review (not usually a hotbed of music debate) . . ."
I beg your pardon? I beg your pardon?
If we are not a "hotbed," it's because we settle issues so decisively and irrefutably.
My girl Kim Strassel, of the Wall Street Journal, had a column on Michael Bellesiles, the historian who read guns out of the early Republic, and who was discovered to have falsified much of his research. One of the best lines in this excellent column: "It turns out Mr. Bellesiles is still riding his dead horse, his nonexistent guns still blazing."
And let's not forget the work of Melissa Seckora writing for National Review in exposing this very sad case.
A hero of Cuban freedom and truth-telling is Carlos Eire, the Yale professor who has written a memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana. A newspaper ad for the book includes a quote from People magazine, to wit, "This rich, engrossing memoir has the magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez." García Márquez, of course, is the Cuban dictatorship's best friend among the literati (and that's saying something). I must say, it made me cringe to see Eire's and García Márquez's names linked.
But it is a literary point, yes? Even if the Cuba Eire describes is all too real, with no magic in it.
You want the British health-care system? Well, let me put that differently, because I feel I know you, Impromptus-ites. You know people who want the British health-care system (if not the Canadian)?
Consider this letter from The (London) Spectator, its advice column ("Your Problems Solved"):
"The other night I was rounded on at a dinner party by a shrill female television producer [is there any other kind?] who said I shouldn't have jumped the queue by going privately for a small operation I have just had. At the time, I couldn't quite articulate my justification for going private, other than a selfish wish to bring my discomfort to a close as quickly as possible. If I had had my full wits about me and been feeling more physically robust, how could I have best defended myself . . .?"
The answer's not really important. What is, is that this is what HillaryCare would give us.
But you knew that!
I quote to you a letter published in the Wall Street Journal, from a visiting professor at Salem State College, in Salem, Mass.:
"'Like' is one of three expressions I forbid in my college classes (along with 'very' and 'a lot') to force scholars [!] to think before they speak. One student is the enforcer and clicks a toy cricket every time 'like' raises its head. The first week of class sounds like a frog pond."
That's a charming letter, and I applaud the thrust of it, but anyone who stigmatizes "very" is . . . well, worthy of opprobrium himself. "Don't use 'very'" is one of those idiot instructions, like "Keep your head down" (golf) and "Sing from the diaphragm." So dumb. As a great writer I know once said his name rhymes with Hark Melprin "Of course you need 'very': It means 'very.'"
"A lot"'s okay, too.
And I have even softened on "like"!
A friend of mine called and said, "You've got to quote Ethan Hawke," interviewed in the March Details. And what has this actor-philosophe said?
Ah, here we go: "I think that George W. Bush is probably the least prepared person to be president of the United States that's been elected in a long time, if not ever." Okay, I'll keep going. "Clinton is a self-made man. He actually came to it with a desire to do good. Think about it we have an ex-coke fiend as a president." I will still keep going it gets better. "And he has a sense of entitlement that I think Bill Clinton never had. Had he had it, he would have said, 'I'm not going to go under oath about my sexual affairs it's not relevant to my presidency.' Martin Luther King suffered from infidelity [suffered from!], and so did John F. Kennedy. And you're much more likely to find great leadership coming from a man who likes to have sex with a lot of women than one who is monogamous. . . ."
That, my friends, is the artist and intellectual in America, 2004. Congratulations.
Couple o' letters, then out.
"Dear Jay: Thought you'd get a chuckle out of this. Yao Ming, the NBA center, was asked what American music he has learned to like. He said, 'I like the national anthem. I listen to it 82 times a year.'"
And a fine song it is.
And how about this?
"So, I'm making out with my girlfriend [good start] with a Dem debate on in the background. Dr. Dean begins explaining how wonderful his program of having a social worker visit every new mother in Vermont is. The making-out stops, my girlfriend pushes me away, and begins listening. She begins to ask me about this program: 'Do they actually go to every house, or just, you know, people who give birth to crack babies or something?' I tell her, 'No, every house gets visited by a social worker upon the birth of a baby, I guess to talk to them about health care, domestic abuse maybe I don't know.'
"My girlfriend, enraged, explains that if a social worker somebody from the government were to ever try to talk to her after having a baby, she would . . . well, it can't be repeated in polite company. But suffice it to say, although I knew it already, this moment made it crystal clear: This girl is a keeper."
All right, then!