Seeing the Saudis clear, &c.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (left), talks with Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh on December 9, 2018. (Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court via Reuters)

On a problematic ally; the current politics of the GOP; Willard Scott and Barbara Bush; and more

One of the most annoying people in the world is the person who sees both sides — and even sympathizes with both sides. You want to side with either Smith or Jones, X or Y. You want everyone else to, too. There must be no Smith–Jones or X–Y alliance.

Speaking of alliances: Our relationship with the Saudis is endlessly problematic. Personally, I would love to cut them loose. I have done a fair amount of reporting on Saudi oppression. I have talked with the family members of political prisoners. This is a vicious, nasty regime.

Think bone saw.

And yet I am told, by wise and experienced heads, that our alliance with Saudi Arabia is vital. I wrote a post about this two years ago: “The Damn Saudis.” I pressed a former president, George W. Bush, on the subject in 2016. In the summer of 2002, I pressed a national-security official on the subject. (Not the president, I should stress, but not far beneath, either.) “My gosh!” I said. “What about the Saudis and al-Qaeda and the hijackers and all?” The official said — coolly and knowingly — “The Saudis have done everything we have asked of them.” And we really needed the help then — bad.

For about 20 years, there has been a debate over releasing classified information pertaining to Saudi Arabia and 9/11. One side says, “Release! Transparency! Knowledge!” The other side says, “Foreign-policy delicacy. Dark, messy world. Realism.” I sympathize with both sides — always have. (This is annoying, for me not least.) But I would err on the side of releasing.

Which apparently President Biden has as well. I recommend a column by George F. Will (I could write those words every week): here. His bottom line is right in the title above the column: “It’s about time.”

• On August 12, as horror was unfolding in Afghanistan, Mitt Romney tweeted, “America must not stand idly by as our Afghan friends are brutalized by the Taliban.” He spoke of “honor” and “simple humanity.” “There is no time to spare,” he said. Josh Mandel had a response, suggesting that we send “RINO Mitt” to Kabul, while bringing American troops home.

(“RINO” means “Republican in Name Only.” As recently as 2012, Romney was the Republican presidential nominee. But he is certainly an alien in his party now.)

In more recent days, Mandel has called Alexander Vindman a “liar,” a “traitor,” and a “commie.”

(Vindman was born in the Soviet Union and was brought by his father to America when he was three. The children’s mother had died. Alexander eventually joined the U.S. Army, rising to lieutenant colonel. He was wounded in Iraq.)

There is a lot more in the Mandel account than that, but turn to J.D. Vance — who, like Mandel, is running for the Republican Senate nomination in Ohio. Recently, another Republican politician, Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, referred to January 6 rioters who have been arrested as “political prisoners” and “political hostages.” Vance pronounced this “correct.”

He also said, “The white working class loved Donald Trump. As punishment, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will kill as many of their children as they can.” (This was in response to an article headed “White House proposes removing penalties for fentanyl trafficking-related offenses.”)

One could go on. The point is, this is a race to the bottom: the race to be the most low-down, the most demagogic of all. Do Mandel and Vance mean what they say? Or are they just playin’? Playing to the “base”? Being base in order to win the base? It’s hard to tell.

But the low-down and demagogic approach is effective — otherwise, people wouldn’t adopt it. It’s what gets the votes, the clicks, the donations, the “likes.” This is true in politics and the media, both.

I’ve been thinking of William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review, a lot in recent days. He labored for 50, 60 years to create a decent Right — a Right free of nativism, crankery, proud ignorance, and general boobishness. (You recall that, in 2002, Michael Walzer published a famous essay titled “Can There Be a Decent Left?” That question remains on the table, as I see it.)

WFB labored to create a conservative politics that was smart, informed, persuasive, and even stylish. He could throw elbows with the best of them — but the elbows were sharp, in more than one sense. They were intelligent, and well aimed, and had a point. Often, they were witty. WFB won a lot of people over (including me).

(Everywhere I go in the world, people, on learning where I work, say, “Bill Buckley was my hero,” or, “Bill Buckley changed my life.” It happened at the Salzburg Festival last month.)

I believe that people who admire WFB, and support his efforts, have their work cut out.

• Early in 2017, Thomas Massie, the Republican congressman from Kentucky, said something extraordinary — and extraordinarily candid. He was talking with Emily Jashinsky of the Washington Examiner, who wrote,

To explain 2016, Massie looks to previous cycles. Rand Paul’s upset victory in 2010, Ron Paul’s enthusiastic following in the 2012 presidential race, and his own win in the 2012 congressional primary all looked, at first glance, like a libertarian wave.

Uh-huh. And?

“All this time,” Massie explained, “I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas — they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along.”

Shrewdly perceived.

• About a week from now, there is a gubernatorial election in California — a “recall election.” One of the GOP candidates is Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego. He has a long record, and a solid one. As mayor, he dealt with some difficult and important issues, such as homelessness. I interviewed and wrote about him earlier this year.

And who is the leading GOP candidate? The candidate with all the juice behind him? A talk-radio host — of course. Nothing could be more emblematic of today’s politics.

• Last week, Megha Rajagopalan, the foreign correspondent, tweeted, “The most American push alert ever?” She was referring to the below alert from the New York Times:

‘The Most Boring Election Ever?’

In Germany, the race to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel is the most important in years. But the two frontrunners are anything but exciting.

• Love is the most powerful force in the world. Unless it’s hatred. Unless it’s sex. Anyway, there has been a millennia-long competition.

The aforementioned J.D. Vance said, “I think our people hate the right people.” (By “our people,” I believe he means Trump Nation, basically.) Stephanie Slade wrote about this in a piece for Reason. She quotes Vance’s press secretary as saying the candidate “strongly believes that the political, financial and Big Tech elites . . . deserve nothing but our scorn and hatred.”

Huh. I can think of a lot of political, financial, and “Big Tech” “elites” who deserve a lot more than scorn and hatred — who, in fact, deserve praise and gratitude. I like the laptop I’m typing on. And YouTube is the greatest invention since the wheel.

Hubert Humphrey spoke of “the politics of joy.” There is also the politics of hatred — and it is very, very effective. It has been so since the world began. When I was coming of age, the Left employed it, big-time — the politics of hatred, resentment, grievance. The Right has now caught up, and more.

I’ll tell you a secret — not a secret, because I’ve told it a hundred times in this column: I loved Ronald Reagan, yes — but, even more, I hated his enemies. Their hatred of him, I felt personally.

Do you remember this line from The Simpsons? I have quoted it often. Homer is trying to assuage Apu about his (Apu’s) impending fatherhood. “Kids are the best,” he says. “You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the Internet and all.”

In any case, beware too much politics of hate. It can be bad for the soul — individually and societally.

• Speaking of Reagan, did you see this obit? “William G. Clotworthy, ‘Saturday Night Live’ Censor, Dies at 95.” Hang on, what does that have to do with Reagan? I’ll quote:

He became especially close friends with the host of “General Electric Theater,” Ronald Reagan, and was among those encouraging him to move into politics in the 1950s. When Mr. Clotworthy told Reagan he should run for mayor of Los Angeles, he recalled, Reagan replied, “Nah, it’s president or nothin’!”

(Last year, I wrote an essay called “The Question of Experience: On presidential candidates and what they’ve done.” Some interesting stuff in there, you may find.)

• Another obit: “Robert Middlekauff, Historian of Washington and His War, Dies at 91.”

Middlekauff’s best-known book is The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. I will quote a part of the obit that absolutely rang my chimes:

The phrase “glorious cause” comes from George Washington, the book’s central figure. In his prologue, Professor Middlekauff noted that the title was not ironic: The Americans, he wrote, “believed that their cause was glorious — and so do I.”

• One more obit: Willard Scott. Margalit Fox has written up his life fabulously. It is an entertaining obit of an entertaining guy. He was “an adornment to society,” as Paul Johnson would say. He “added to the gaiety of life,” as Johnson would also say. Let me quote a story from the obit by Fox — a story I never knew, and love:

In January 1989, the country’s new first lady, Barbara Bush, broke ranks from the inaugural parade for her husband, George H.W. Bush, to dart over to Mr. Scott, broadcasting from the sidelines, and plant an impromptu kiss on his cheek.

“I don’t know Willard Scott,” Mrs. Bush explained afterward. “I just love that face.”

Would that we all had such faces! Thanks for joining me, everyone, and see you later.

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