March 01, 2004,
Hang on to your hats, Impromptus-ites: I know Rosie O'Donnell a bit, and like her very much. She has a hundred sterling qualities. But she went a wee bit far, before her ceremony in San Francisco, when she said, "I think the actions of the president are . . . the most vile and hateful words ever spoken by a sitting president. I am stunned and horrified."
She was referring to Bush's statement on a marriage amendment. Far from vile and hateful, that statement was, I believe, thoughtful and measured. It ended with, "Our government should respect every person, and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should . . . conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger. ["Difficult debate" is exactly right.] In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and goodwill and decency."
But you can see Rosie's point: Anything that would thwart the desire of two people to marry would be seen, certainly by that pair, as vile and hateful. And this is why I believe gay marriage will go through is going through, actually. Those who want it, want it very, very badly; and the majority who oppose it, don't do so with sufficient vehemence. This question is being turned into a civil-rights issue a debate about gays, not about marriage and in civil-rights battles, the side viewed as pro-civil rights wins. The side viewed as seeking to block civil rights loses.
Most conservatives believe that there is no right to marry. But if America is to talk about gay marriage as a right ah, well, there will hardly be much of a debate at all.
George W. Bush is carrying out something remarkable: He is splitting off Germany from France, as can be seen by this report in the New York Times. These European countries behaved equally despicably in the run-up to the Iraq war. But Bush spies an advantage in buddying up to Schroeder, and cold-shouldering Chirac. And they say all the smarties say that GWB doesn't do nuance!
Nonsense. Bush, Condi, Rummy, and the rest will do nuance until the cows come home they just don't want to do it unproductively, which makes them enlightened hawk-realists.
NR's Rob Long has observed John Kerry in action for a long while, and he has delivered what I think is the best short utterance we have about the senator: "a slick operator without any of the slick."
Another friend of mine big, veteran journalist; not sure I can quote him by name; am too lazy to call said something the other day that struck me as crashingly true. I mean, as soon as he said it, I nodded my head off. He said, "I realize the future of Western civilization is at stake in this presidential race. But I'm bored with it already, and it's only February."
So guess who's erecting a fence? Israel, to keep terrorists out? India, to keep terrorists out (Kashmir)? Saudi Arabia, to keep terrorists out (Yemeni border)?
All are true, friends. Sort of interesting.
I have knocked Elizabeth Edwards wife of Candidate John Edwards in this space before, for the same kind of demagoguery her husband uses ("George W. Bush fricassees poor people's limbs," that sort of thing). But now I'd like to praise her for one little sentence, which tickled me. Campaigning in New York, she was asked about a specific Middle East proposal. "I hate to plead wife on this," she said, "but I'm going to have to let someone else answer." I hate to plead wife I will forgive her almost anything for that.
Many other commentators conservative have written about the Democrats' use of Max Cleland, and his losing campaign two years ago. (The Georgia Democrat lost his Senate reelection bid to Saxby Chambliss.) Cleland is being portrayed as a martyr, a victim of Republican, McCarthyite dirty tricks and a quadriplegic victim at that! I'm afraid that this story has already taken hold. It reminds me of a headline that the Wall Street Journal had over an editorial, concerning Bush and McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary: "The Legend of Carolina."
Bush was alleged to have done McCain dirty in that state. And "The Legend of Cleland in Georgia"? It has already entered the lore. Too bad.
The following is no legend, unfortunately: The Saudis formally banned Jews from their country (no great surprise). After some protest U.S. protest, of course they seem to have unbanned them. (To follow the story, go to the magnificent James Taranto.) And the Iraqi Governing Council? According to a fascinating and appalling report in the New York Times, it is keen to keep Jews Iraq-born Jews! out of that country.
Thanks a lot, fellas. Makes you almost want to de-liberate them. And the Israelis contributed a significant amount to their liberation these stories are not yet widely known, but they will come out in the fullness of time.
But about Saudi Arabia, once more: A German friend writes me, "I heard something remarkable from a friend who went to the desert kingdom on business. At the airport there, he noticed that all the Americans and Brits were given a hard time. (There were no Israelis around, of course.) But he, as a German, was treated with a most kindly smile and a warm welcome. Then, when he was retrieving his passport, the Saudi officer started laughing and called out, 'Heil, Hitler!'"
Lovely and utterly believable from anyone with an ounce of experience in that part of the world. (See always see the horrifying but indispensable MEMRI.org.)
A little Libya? The U.S. has lifted its travel ban, and "invited American companies to begin planning their return . . ." this according to the AP. See what happens when you play ball, Moammar?
You will remember N. Gregory Mankiw as the man who landed in hot water for speaking the truth about "outsourcing": He pointed out the plain fact that it is good for the American economy. As chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, however, he caused some discomfort some discomfort in the White House, and among Republicans in Congress. As for the Democrats, they were thrilled; any perpetuation of economic ignorance tends to help them.
Well, an excellent report on Mankiw pronounced "Man-CUE" appeared in the Times, containing the following information, which I particularly enjoyed: "[Mankiw] is . . . an Ivy League academic and is scheduled to return to Harvard by September 2005. He is wealthier than many professors, mainly by virtue of his best-selling college economics textbook."
And, "He describes himself as a lifelong Republican, which sets him apart from many Harvard colleagues. He distributed campaign literature for Richard Nixon in the early 1970's, and he grew up in Cranford, a fairly affluent suburb in New Jersey, the son of an engineer and a teacher. He drives a BMW 330i and a Honda S.U.V. He does not 'buy American' for the sake of American jobs, and he is emphatic in his belief that free trade ultimately benefits everybody."
A man to celebrate. Slightly amazing he can stay alive in Washington.
Was anyone else touched by the news that J. K. Rowling, the former welfare mother who wrote the Harry Potter books, has become a billionaire? Is a billionaire? It does the heart good.
Some days ago, I had a letter from Serge Schmemann, the longtime New York Timesman and now the editorial-page editor of the International Herald Tribune. He had discovered an impromptu from March 2003 criticizing something he had written in a book review. That item went on to read:
"I suffered through Serge Schmemann when he was reporting often comically (although it was serious then) from Moscow. One did the same when he was in the Middle East, sockin' it to the bad old Likud. . . . Forgive my whining and sighing, but . . ."
He wrote to ask what specific reporting from Moscow I had objected to. I responded, "I'm not able to cite particular pieces that offended; I just recall doing a lot of 'whining and sighing' over reporting that I found too tender toward the Soviet government and too hard on Americans and other Westerners doing all they could to oppose, thwart, and finally upend that government. . . . I apologize for a lack of specifics. It's been a while; only the impression remains, and forgive me if it is a false one." I invited him to write a letter, to be published in this space.
Here it is:
"You wrote that you 'suffered' through my writing from Moscow. That surprised me, since I thought I had a decent reputation among dissidents, refusedniks, and Soviet experts for critical reporting, and I probably took more personal grief from Soviet authorities than any other reporter of my era. So it was a relief to learn, when I queried you about the source of your suffering, that you lacked 'specifics,' and based the smear on a lingering 'impression.'"
A reader writes, "I came upon an interesting line in a recent New York Times editorial that endorsed John Kerry for the Democratic nomination. (Wonder whom they'll endorse for president.) There was a statement that I wound up reading three times: 'What his critics see as an inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect his appreciation that life is not simple.'"
What exquisite understanding! I have no doubt that, in the future, the Times's editors will extend it to inconsistent conservative politicians.
Another reader writes, "Do you remember how in 2000 George W. Bush was accused of 'talking down' the economy? Well, I can tell you as a stock trader that the Democrats' constant tirades about how bad off we all are is doing some near-term damage to the market. I wish this discrepancy would be brought up by the GOP."
Finally, an aviation website informs us that Brothers to the Rescue will fly again, hoping to waft leaflets over to Havana leaflets containing such subversive material as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.